News for Nerds - April 6, 2012

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 4/6/2012 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - April 6, 2012

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we look at the hidden benefits of fruit, we go back in time to play with fire, and we get a better understanding of how we got hooked into the Facebook universe. But first: watch out, he's a biter.

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The Tyrannosaurus Rex is probably the most famous (and most infamous) dinosaur in our popular culture.

But over the past few years, some of the T Rex's accepted traits have been called in to question. For instance, there is some speculation that the 40 foot-long dinosaur was not able to run, but instead would just 'plod along'.

Others have questioned how forceful the famous T Rex bite might be, saying it's possible he was more of a scavenger than a hunter. Well, according to this article from National Geographic, speculation over T Rex's bite can now be put to bed.

Biomechanicists in the U.K. used laser scanners to digitize juvenile and adult Tyrannosaur skulls. They then used computer models to reconstruct the animal's jaw muscles, and thus analyze his bite. What they found was that T Rex was capable of a maximum bite force of 35,000 to 57,000 newtons at its back teeth. To put that in perspective, it's about ten times as forceful as the ferocious bite of the modern alligator.

That makes it the most powerful bite of any land animal, ever. But it still pales in comparison to the prehistoric 'megatooth' shark -- a beast that grew to 50 feet in length and weighed 30 times more than today's biggest great white. The megatooth had a bite force more than three times greater than even the T Rex. Yikes.

Here's a cool video that demonstrates the Tyrannosaur's chomping ability:

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From prehistoric animals to prehistoric man, it's been an interesting week for new discoveries.

An archeological team from Boston University and the University of Toronto reported this week that our ancient ancestors may have had control of fire as much as 1.7 million years ago. That's a full 300,000 years earlier than previously suspected.

The archeologists point to the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, where microscopic traces of wood ash, animal bones and stone tools were found in a layer dated to 1 million years ago.

A previous exploration of that same cave appeared to yield wood ash and charcoal sediment dating back 1.7 million years. The BU and Toronto teams are now focusing their attention on that possibility -- and on what it could mean for the development of early human traits such as increased brain size and pair bonding.

The currently-accepted record-holder for oldest evidence of human fire dates back 790,000 years, at the Israeli site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.

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The intersection between math and sports is a busy one.

Calculating batting average, reducing the slice in a golf swing, measuring the speed of a slap shot -- these are all examples of math invading the world of sports.

But Cambridge professor John Barrow has taken it a step further. Barrow has calculated that record-holding Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt could shave nearly two-tenths of a second off his 100-meter time... even without running any faster. By improving his reaction time out of the blocks, and by taking advantage of optimal allowable wind speeds, Bolt could theoretically lower the world record to an absurd 9.40 seconds.

Barrow didn't stop there, either. He's also come up with equations to help improve times for triathletes and rowers. Which is all well and good -- but can he help me correct my slice?

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Have you joined Facebook, the social networking community with a reported 800 million users?

If so, do you remember when (and why) you first signed up? Did you navigate there on your own, or did a friend invite you to join?

As reported in Science Now this week, there's an interesting new study about the social factors that draw us into sites like Facebook. Turns out, it's not how many of your friends already belong that entices you to join -- it's what types of friends that matters.

The study is important because it flies in the face (pun intended) of most of what we think we know about why people make decisions. There are decades of research that seem to indicate that the more people you know who do something, the more likely you are to do it.

But this study, which is based on data collected from 54 million Facebook users, shows that we're more likely to sign up for Facebook if multiple, unrelated groups of friends are already signed up, than we are if all of the existing users are friends from one larger social group.

Read the entire article for a closer look at the study, what it means for social networking, and what the broader social implications are.

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And finally, a story about the newly-discovered benefits of grapes, other fruits, and even red wine.

Doctors have been touting the benefits of resveratrol, a type of natural phenol that has shown positive effects on cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory issues in rats, mice and humans.

Now, researchers have stumbled onto a compound known as piceatannol -- which is actually converted from resveratrol after being processed by the human body -- that might help in the fight against obesity.

From the article: "Piceatannol binds to insulin receptors of immature fat cells in the first stage of adipogenesis, blocking insulin's ability to control cell cycles and activate genes that carry out further stages of fat cell formation. Piceatannol essentially blocks the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow."

Plus, you know... eating more fruit and less junk tends to block the maturation of fat cells anyway.

That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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