News for Nerds - The Contagious Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 6/21/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Contagious Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we learn why toothpaste and orange juice don't mix, we take the world's most dramatic self-portrait, and we glimpse the future of license plates. But first, here are your headlines.

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Not to shatter that wonderful memory of your 7th grade school play, when the crowd erupted in applause as you finished your perfectly-delivered monologue, but scientists now tell us that clapping is contagious -- and largely meaningless.

Yup, it's true. A Swedish study from the University of Uppsala shows that it only takes a few people to start clapping for applause to spread through a group, and for only one or two individuals to stop before it quickly dies out. And all this time you thought you were such an excellent Willy Loman.

The research was conducted by studying video footage of groups of undergraduates as they watched a presentation. What scientists found was that even one person clapping enthusiastically can start a chain reaction where others join in. The performance itself, no matter how terrific, had almost no effect on the duration of the applause.

Says lead author Dr. Richard Mann, "The pressure comes from the volume of clapping in the room rather than what your neighbor sitting next to you is doing. In one case an audience might clap on average 10 times per person. Another time they might clap three times as long."

This is known as a form of 'social contagion,' which reveals how ideas and actions gain and lose momentum. The hope is that it might shed some light on other related areas, such as the lifespan of trends or how ideas spread virally across the Internet. It's a pretty cool concept, really. How about a hand for these clever Swedish scientists?

- from BBC News

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Are you familiar with the term electrophoretic? Well, you should acquaint yourself, because electrophoretic technology might just change the way license plates work.

A company in South Carolina has introduced electronic license plates that can display certain bold words when necessary -- helpful indicators like STOLEN or UNINSURED or LOHAN. This is possible because of electrophoretic technology, which is also known as an 'e-ink' display. Chances are you're already well-acquainted with the practical applications of e-ink, which is used in ebook readers like the Kindle and Nook.

Electrophoretics are a natural fit for license plates because they don't require any power to display an image (or a word), and only a limited amount of power to change the image (or word). The display could gather kinetic energy from the movement of the car on the road, or even solar energy, and then tap into that energy only when needed.

There are other benefits, too -- beginning with the possibility that you would never need visit the DMV again to get new plates. However, there are also some pretty frightening potential hangups as well. For instance, what if someone hacked into that database? And if our license plates are connected to the DMV database via cellular connection, are our cars then able to be tracked on a permanent basis?

Lucky for us, we don't have to worry about the government watching us or sifting through our personal information, right?

- from Popular Science

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Here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:

  • Think fast: When you talk on your cell phone, do you hold the phone to your right ear or your left? According to a quirky new study, the answer to that question might indicate which side of your brain is dominant.
  • NASA's Cassini Probe is about to take one heckuva selfie: a snapshot of Earth as seen from the orbit of Saturn, a billion miles away.
  • Why can whales hold their breath underwater for an hour, while other mammals (like you and me) can't? The answer, of course, is an electrically charged protein called myoglobin. Isn't that what you guessed?
  • And finally, I bring you an answer to the age-old question: Why does orange juice taste so bad after brushing my teeth?

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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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