Science!: Dark Matter, Google and Junk Food


Addicted to Pizza

I like pizza. I mean, I really, really like pizza. I’d even go so far as to say I’m addicted to pizza. It’s delicious, it smells great and it reminds me of my childhood, when my Dad, then working as a pizza delivery guy, would bring home fresh pizzas all the time. I crave that greasy, cheesy goodness nearly every day. Thankfully, instead of blaming my nearly non-existent willpower and the development of the Pizza Hut iPhone app, I can just admit the secret, horrible truth: My name is Lauren Admire, and I’m addicted to pizza.

Whew, feels good to finally say it.

This week, scientists have found that rats that consumed a diet high in junk food had brains which mimicked the brains of those addicted to heroin. In the study, one group of rats was fed a reasonable, low-calorie diet. The other group of rats was fed a diet consisting solely of Ho-Hos, cheesecake, bacon and pound cake. (Guess which group I’d prefer to be in.) The rats offered the plethora of junk food quickly became compulsive over-eaters and obese, corroborating recent findings that eating fatty foods cause your body to ignore appetite-suppressing signals.

Researchers Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny decided to test if the over-eating was affecting the pleasure centers of the brain. Rats from both the control and the fast food group ran on an exercise wheel while the researchers stimulated the pleasure centers in their brain. The more they ran, the more stimulation their pleasure centers received. The group of rats on a junk food diet ran the most, which indicates that they needed more brain stimulation to get the same level of “good feelings” that the control group received while running for less time. This is a basic example of habituation. The more junk food, cocaine or sex you receive, the quicker your pleasure centers become used to the stimulation. Once this happens, the pleasure centers require ever increasing amounts of stimulation in order to achieve the same level of pleasure that they received when eating or running less. This is exactly why drug users begin to take larger doses of drugs – they aren’t receiving the same “high” that they did before, and they need more of the drug to get the same high.

After five days of eating the junk food diet, rats were acting like druggies on their fifth year of meth (puts the character of Templeton into a whole new perspective, don’t it?). Their pleasure centers had been dulled to the point that they needed to eat even more food in order to get the same stimulation that they had when eating less. They became addicted to junk food.

To test exactly how addicted these rats were, the researchers performed another test. In order to get to the delicious piles of junk food, rats would have to endure a shock. Rats from the healthy diet group stopped eating entirely in order to avoid the unpleasant shock. The junk food rats, on the other hand, endured the shock over and over again in order to get to the delectable, tasty treats. Even more alarming, when the junk food was taken away and replaced with salads, the junk food rats refused to eat. “They starve themselves for two weeks afterward,” Kenny says. “Their dietary preferences are dramatically shifted.” So, the next time you’re trying to decide between an apple or a slice of pizza, think twice. Pizza is the gateway food.

Sources: Science News,Discover

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Dark Matter Is Weird

We only know about four percent of what constitutes the mass of a galaxy. Astronomers and laymen alike can look up into the sky and identify these visible bits: stars, moons and planets. What makes up the other 96 percent of the mass is unknown. Isn’t that terrifying?

The most well accepted theory is that there exists something called dark matter and dark energy. You can’t see dark matter, but you can see how it affects the surrounding area. According to Richard Panek, “Spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way [are] spinning at such a rate that they should have long ago wobbled out of control, shredding apart, shedding stars in every direction.” Dark matter is what keeps them together – or so astronomers believed.

However, now scientists are arguing that dark matter may not act in the way they believed it did, and many even doubt that it exists at all, which throws all kinds of questions back into the fore: What comprises the mass in the galaxy not accounted for by visible matter? What pushes galaxies apart, and what keeps them from spiraling out of control? Dark matter is named such because it is “dark,” as in unknowable, cast in a void of comprehension. Dark matter cannot be detected in either the visible spectrum or the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s even postulated that it’s nonbaryonic, meaning that it’s not made of what most matter is made of. Dark matter may be made of neutrinos or black holes.

The popular speculation behind the role of dark matter is that it acts as an invisible halo which holds galaxies together. Instead of there being a variety in the sizes of dark matter halos dependent on the mass and kind of galaxy they’re corralling, scientists have found that the dark matter halos are consistent throughout all galaxies. Dr.Zhao, a researcher at the SUPA Centre of Gravity, explains it another way: “The pattern that the data reveal is extremely odd. It’s like finding a zoo of animals of all ages and sizes miraculously having identical, say, weight in their backbones or something.”

This observation could mean that there’s another unidentified force acting on all galaxies. This finding may revolutionize our current theories on gravity and how it works on a cosmic scale.

Source: Science Daily


Google Cures All

Is there anything Google can’t do? Google has managed to give us the most popular search engine, Google Earth, an Android programming system for phones and now it can even help fight dementia. When test subjects were put in front of a computer and asked to start Googling random questions, scientists found that there was increased activity in the inferior and middle frontal gyrus – areas which control decision-making and complex reasoning – but only in the brains of those who already had experience using computers and the web.

The study kicked off with two groups: one which was computer savvy and another group which couldn’t tell a computer from a piece of toast. The web savants had twice as much brain activity as those who were less experienced with the mouse and keyboard. Researcher Gary Small explained the results: “The way I theorized it is that when we are confronted with new mental challenges, we don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t engage neural circuits. Once we figure out a strategy, we engage those circuits.”

To further investigate these findings, participants were strapped into an MRI and asked to either read lines from a book or perform basic Google searches. The brains of those who read lines had normal regions of the brain activated: the areas that control language and reading. However, those who Googled how is babby formed saw increased activation. Here’s the kicker: Only participants who had previous knowledge of using the internet saw the increased brain activity. Older participants who had less experience with computers and the internet saw no increase when asked to perform the same Google searches.

Professor Liz Zelinski claims the results aren’t that surprising: “If you wanted to study how hard people can exercise, and you take people that already exercise and people that don’t exercise, aren’t they going to be different to start out?”

Next step for Google: creating world peace.

Source: CNN


Rocks Proves Climate Change

There’s new evidence that our recent climate conundrum might not just be natural variation. Sediments taken from a lake in the Arctic show that climate has changed dramatically since the mid-20th century, and it’s likely from human causes. These sediments reflect climate information from the past 200,000 years, and while other variations in the sediment show climate change from natural causes, the latest variations indicate that normal climate cooling is being overridden by factors such as greenhouse gas emissions.

According to researcher Yarrow Axford, “The 20th century is the only period during the past 200 millennia in which aquatic indicators reflect increase warming, despite the declining effect of slow changes in the Earth’s axis which, under natural conditions, would lead to climatic cooling.”
The extracted sediments go back 80,000 years further than the oldest reliable ice cores. Not only do the sediment cores show a dramatic variation in climate change in the 20th century, but other factors buttress the claim that the climate is warming instead of cooling.

Mosquito-like midges typically flourish in cooler climates, but they have been abruptly declining since the 1950s; two of the midge species have disappeared completely. Further, diatoms, a type of algae, have increased dramatically due to declining ice cover. Co-author John Smol of Queen’s University states: “Our results show that the human footprint is overpowering long-standing natural processes even in remote Arctic regions. This historical record shows that we are dramatically affecting the ecosystems on which we depend.”

That seems to add even more evidence to the ongoing debate over whether or not climate change exists. To read more about climate change, check out this site, which provides answers commonly asked questions, as well as well-researched evidence.

Source: Science Daily, Green Car Congress

Lauren Admire could study dark matter all day.

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