News for Nerds - The Sinkhole Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 3/8/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Sinkhole Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll show you how coffee shops boost productivity, how German scientists have created something called 'air-writing,' and, of course, we've got robots! But first, here are your headlines.

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Did you hear the tragic story about the guy in Tampa who disappeared into a 100-foot-wide sinkhole last week?

His brother heard a loud crash coming from the bedroom, followed by cries for help. When he rushed in to investigate, there was nothing there -- the entire room, all of the furniture, and even the 36 year-old man that was lying in bed, had all collapsed into a giant sinkhole.

As wild as this sounds, it's actually not all that unusual in places like Florida. Sinkholes are, basically, the result of rock deposits below surface land being dissolved by ground water. In 2011 alone, one insurance company received more than 4,000 claims from Tampa-area residents, paying out $314 million to settle those claims.

Says a spokesman from the Hillsborough sheriff's office, "Florida is famous for bugs, alligators, pythons, hurricanes, and now sinkholes. I think our salvation is that for most of the time, our weather is picture-perfect."

But hold on just a minute, because that weather is also part of the problem. Officials say that February marks the start of 'sinkhole season' in high-risk parts of the country. That's because, in places like Florida, this is the driest time of year, but also the start of rainy season. Over time, acidic rain can eat away the limestone and natural caverns that lie under the ground.

- from NBC News, CNN, The Tampa Bay Times, and The Blaze

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Have you ever noticed that when you cook something pungent in your house, after a while you don't notice the smell anymore? Then you walk outside for a few minutes, and when you come back, Pow!, the smell is back?

I got to wondering about that phenomenon this week, so I did a little research. Turns out, this is a result of something called 'Olfactory Adaptation,' or 'Odor Fatigue.' Your body becomes oblivious to a certain stimulus -- in this case, smell -- so that it's still able to respond to any new stimulus that comes along. Pretty clever, huh?

This doesn't just happen with smells, in fact. Our bodies are constantly going through sensory fatigue of one kind or another. For instance, it takes only a few minutes after getting dressed in the morning to stop noticing the sensation of your clothes pressed up against your skin. If you leave the radio on in the background all day, at some point you may stop hearing it.

Smell is a bit more obvious though, because, like taste, it is matter-based. Other sensations, like seeing and hearing, are energy-based, meaning that they rely on energy and not mass to trigger them. Once a molecule has triggered a response in your nose, it must be disposed of, which takes time.

Science is cool.

- from and

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

  • The world's Fish Oil love-fest continues. A new study shows that pregnant women taking DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, give birth to bigger (and generally healthier) babies.
  • German scientists have come up with a glove-like wristband that recognizes handwriting movements as you write in the air with your finger, and transmits them into typed letters. Because thumb-texting can be so tedious.
  • There's a website called Coffitivity which provides you with a looping 10-minute recording of ambient noise from a coffee shop. The idea is that background noise boosts creativity. You be the judge.
  • And finally, for my long-time radio partner Jane London: more robots!

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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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