News for Nerds - The Shocking Marlboro Edition
- 4/19/2013 |
- 10:00 am
Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we learn about some surprising similarities between humans and their pets, we explore a fast new way to get to Mars, and we listen to the song of the whippoorwills. But first, here are your headlines.
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Smoking cigarettes is a harmful (and expensive) habit. There are many treatments out there for folks who want to quit smoking, but the cost and efficacy of those treatments varies greatly.
Scientists at the University of South Carolina, however, may be on to something with a new type of shock therapy. It's called transcranial magnetic stimulation, and it has already been approved by the FDA for treatment of depression.
Here's how it works: coils are placed over the forehead which send magnetic pulses into the prefrontal cortex for about 15 minutes. It's a painless procedure, and it doesn't require sedation or anesthesia.
In one experiment, participants who received the treatment showed 'significantly less' desire to smoke. In fact, there was a positive correlation between nicotine dependence and a decrease in cravings -- meaning that those who smoked the most saw the greatest decrease in cravings.
It remains to be seen when, or if, the FDA will approve the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation as a tool to quit smoking. Even though it is already in use for people with depression (and also, strangely, to prevent people from lying and to treat adult ADHD), its use is controversial in those circles. If you're a smoker, stay tuned.
- from Popular Science
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And now, for some uber-nerdy goodness, let's talk about life, the universe... and Moore's Law.
Moore's Law, if you're not familiar, is a principle that states that computing power (think processors, apps, etc.) doubles approximately every two years. Start with today's computers, work backwards using Moore's Law, and you'll wind up with the 1960s as a starting point -- which happens to be when the first microchip was invented.
This is pretty well-trod ground in the world of computer science, but now two geneticists have applied Moore's Law to the rate at which life on Earth grows in complexity. And the results seem to indicate that organic life first came into existence long before Earth itself.
More specifically, what they found is that by replacing Moore's variable of transistors with nucleotides -- the building blocks of DNA and RNA -- and by replacing circuits with genetic material, the equation tells us that life first appeared 10 billion years ago. Which has caused some head-scratching, because the Earth is less than half that old.
To be clear, this doesn't prove that life existed before Earth. But it does raise some interesting possibilities, including the notion that primitive bacteria-like organisms could have reached our planet by 'hitching a ride' on interstellar comets or asteroids. It also seems to debunk the idea that there are scientifically advanced alien species, since aliens would be expected to evolve at a rate similar to our own.
One researcher involved with the project says that if he were to place a bet, he'd say it's "99 percent true that life started before Earth -- but we should leave 1 percent for some wild chance that we haven't accounted for."
- from LiveScience
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Here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:
- A study of bacteria living among family members and their pets has a surprising outcome: "The microbial connection seems to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and their children." Sit Booboo, sit. Good dog.
- Trees that are under drought stress make an audible sound. That's right, trees can tell you when they're thirsty. How else do you think I've managed to keep my ficus tree alive for 22 years?
- And finally, this story about space travel hasn't gotten much attention, but it might be a big-time game changer. NASA is funding a project to build a fusion engine that would cut down the travel time to Mars to a mere 30 days. The possibilities are staggering.
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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!