News for Nerds - The Cupid Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 2/14/2014 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Cupid Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week I'll show you some Star Wars' science that is now a reality, I'll explain why whole milk might make you slimmer, and I'll share some spectaular solar sightseeing. But first, here are your headlines.

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Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Today is that special day when couples celebrate their love for one another, and when men rush to the grocery store on their way home from work to snag some flowers and pick through what's left of the greeting cards.

Yes, it's a day for love. But what causes those romantic feelings in the first place?

New studies indicate that love may not be an emotion, but rather a drive. It's similar to an addiciton, or hunger. In fact, that feeling of euphoria is a result of chemical reactions in our brain. (Romantic, huh?) One recent study used functional MRI machines to show which areas of the brain light up when we think about our spouses. I'm sure the answer is on the tip of your tongue: it's the ventral tegmental area, which is located in the brainstem and which controls feelings of motivation and reward, and the caudate nucleusis, which is located in the front of the head, toward the center of the brain.

The interesting thing about these two parts of the brain is that they are also associated with the brain's reward system. The ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleusis are both packed with dopamine, which is your body's 'feel-good chemical'. Dopamine also helps you focus on what you want, and it pushes you to take action and reach your goals, including the pursuit of a romantic interest.

There are other chemicals at play here, too -- I'm looking at you, epinephrine and oxytocin -- but you'll have to read the full article to get the scoop on that. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make a quick run to King Soopers.

- story from The Society for Science, photo from AnonMoos via Wikimedia Commons

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Have you been following the Olympic Winter Games this week? It seems like the security concerns (and the weird bathroom arrangements) have been getting most of the attention, but I'm always so impressed with the skill of these athletes from all over the world.

But what makes a good Olympian? Certainly you need great coaching, and a strong nutrition plan, and the support of family and friends. And what about talent? Are Olympic athletes born with some sort of genetic predisposition for athletic prowess?

Uzbekistan sure seems to think so. That country has been studying the genes of its top athletes for the past two years, and they have picked out a set of 50 genes that they believe contribute to athletic greatness. Uzbeki leaders are preparing to begin testing the genes of kids as young as 10 years old next year, in an effort to try and identify their future stars.

There is some merit to this -- an Australian rugby team already tests for a specific gene that is found only in the type of fast-twitch muscle fibers that help with sprinting and jumping -- but the skeptics seem to outweigh the proponents at this early stage.

Says journalist David Epstein (who has written a book about the role genes play in sports), "It doesn't make much sense to [test] at the genetic level at this point. What they are trying to do is learn about someone's physiology. If you want to learn about someone's physiology, you should test their physiology instead of their genes."

I'm thinking of getting my genes tested. At this point I haven't ruled out a bid for the 2016 pole vault squad, but maybe my DNA has other plans for me.

- story from Popular Science, photo from the U.S. Dept of Energy via Wikimedia Commons

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And here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:

  • For the first time ever, an amputee with a bionic hand has had his ability to feel restored. It's a remarkable story accompanied by some remarkable video. This bodes extremely well for amputees and the world of prosthetic limbs. We are officially living in the future.
  • Many of us enjoy the occasional glass of milk, whether by itself or poured over some cereal. And for years we've been warned to stay away from whole milk and gravitate toward skim milk instead. Not so fast. Two new studies indicate that maybe we've been doing it wrong. Whole milk, they say, might actually make us leaner.
  • And finally, here's a mind-blowing look at the sun, courtesy of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has been watching our mother star for the past four years. Watch, and enjoy.

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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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