Author Archives: anon

Better Dressed Dopamine

My name is Victoria and I am a shopaholic. I mean it!

The feeling I will soon describe will be familiar to millions: a surge of excitement as they find that must-have item in the shop, followed by a sickening sense of let-down shortly afterwards.

It may be some relief to discover that scientists not only know why it happens and can now provide some pointers or theraphy to avoiding it.

The feeling is caused by the release of a specific chemical in the brain. A very special one! One ralated to cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine consumption among others. Dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure, is released in waves as shoppers first see a product and then consider buying it.But the more recent news is that the anticipation rather than the buying itself produces the discharge of the chemical and drives the process. The effect of the naturally produced chemical lasts only a short time and can leave the shopper feeling let down when brain chemistry returns to normal. Rats release dopamine when they see a new part of the cage to explore, but the level drops quickily once they enter it.

“Dopamine is all about the hunt and the anticipation. It is released as you conjure up in your mind the thought of this purchase and anticipate how it will look and how you will use it.” Gregory Berns,  neuroscientist at Emory University

Neuroco, a London consulting firm, uses portable monitors strapped to shoppers to produce “brain maps”. These studies can be quite beneficial for retailers, who benefit greatly from understanding what keeps costumers entering the shop.

Dopamine is also related to survival, but nowadays it may be more about the urban jungle. If a woman sees a dress that can help her “survive” or increase her social status at some party, she will see it as a “must have”. But if she buys it, the euphoric feeling will soon be gone. On the other hand, a more profound feeling of dissapointment will set into  place if she does not buy it. Both ways, she will be even harder to satisfy the next time as she needs a “biger dose”.  So, what can she do?

First of all, try to first visit new shops after the closing hour or check out the collection on the web page. Entering a store you have seen before will not produce such a strong effect. Secondly, avoid shopping sprees in new areas or cities or simply leave the credit card at home. Going with friends will only make the feeling more intense.  Buying and returning the product is also a very bad idea.

Last, but not least….think of the enviromental impact of such bad and impulsive shopping!

Tutorial: Find the DNA in a Banana

If we could zoom in on a single, tiny cell, we could see an even teenier “container” inside called a nucleus. It holds a stringy substance: the  DNA. DNA contains a code for how to build a life-form and put together the features that make that organism unique. If we remove DNA from millions of cells, however, we will be able to view it without a microscope. That is what we will do today!




•     One ripe  banana
•     Half cup of water
•     Teaspoon of salt
•     Resealable zip-top bag
•     Dishwashing soap or detergent
•     Rubbing alcohol
•     Coffee filter
•     Narrow glass
•     Narrow wooden stirrer

•     Place your bottle of rubbing alcohol into the refrigerator or freezer and let it chill for the duration of this experiment.
•     Peel a banana.
•     Put the peeled banana in a resealable zip-top bag and close the bag.
•     On a hard surface like a tabletop or kitchen counter, mush the banana in the bag for about a minute until it has a fine, puddinglike consistency and until all lumps are gone.

•     Fill a measuring cup with a half cup of hot water and a teaspoon of salt.
•     Pour this saltwater into the bag, and close the bag. Gently mix and slosh the saltwater and mashed banana together for 30 to 45 seconds.
•     Add a half of a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent or dish soap into the bag. Again, mix around the contents gently. You do not want the mixture to become too foamy.
•     Place the bottom half of a coffee filter in a clear glass cup. The top part of the filter should be folded over the rim of the glass to keep it in place.
•     Carefully pour the contents of the bag into the filter and let it sit for several minutes until all of the liquid has dripped down into the cup. (You can now throw out the coffee filter and its contents.)
•     Take the rubbing alcohol from the refrigerator. Tilt the glass and slowly pour the alcohol down the side of the cup until there is a layer that is 2.5-5 cm  thick. You want to keep the alcohol and the liquefied banana as separate as possible, so complete this step slowly.
•     Let this two-layered mixture sit for eight minutes. During this time, what do you see happening between the alcohol and the banana liquid layer? It looks cloudy and may have some tiny bubbles in it. The longer you wait, the more defined this layer becomes. This is the DNA pieces clumping together.
•     Stick the wooden stirrer into the cup. Spin it in place so that cloudy layer spools around it. Remove the stirrer. Can you capture some of the stringy middle layer on your stirrer and remove it from the cup? The substance that you see on the stirrer is DNA!

Do modern women prefer less manly men?

Aparently, the anser is YES. First of all, take a look at how the style of male icons has shifted. More rugged Sean Connery was replaced by celebrities as David Beckam, known to spend more time at the beauty salon than the average european female or the infamous Bieber.











It is well known that depending on the menstrual cycle, women tend to be attracted by different types of men. Hormonal changes slightly influence the sexual drive that is after all very carnal, despite all our rational development. When ovulating, we seem to be drawn to more masculine features and more dissimilar genetic make-up, while when they are not fertile women tend to prefer more affectionate, with caring personalities, even with feminine  or boy-ish features (the gay friend we all secretly dream about). But this one is a monthly cycle, so why have we eliminated the strong male figure from our preferences? The answer seemd to be related to the birth control pills that practicaly makes women infertile all year long and mimic some pregnancy hormones that draw them to nurturing relatives. It seems logical and dozend of researchers troughout the globe have studied the changes.

Another possible cause are the estrogens found in our daily products consumed by men and women alike: from the natural estrogen found in soy to the one in fertilizers and animal food.

So, where will our choice in men take us? The answer is not very clear, but the excessive estrogen may cause a slight change in population and the dissapearance of the macho male. If women tend to be less attracted to masculine figures and men become less masculine (see Justien Bieber), their offspring will have increased chances to have a deficitary immune system and many other health problems. Secondly, even if women are in a relationship with a more similar male (a less masculine figure), they are less sexualy satisfied and tend to cheat once off the pill.

Iceberg breaks after New Zeeland earthquake

On Tuesday, February 22nd, a 6.3 magnitude quake shook New Zeeland, causing severe damage to major cities on the south island, especially Christchurch.Every year, thousands of earthquakes occur in New Zealand that are too small to be felt. However, in the 15 years between 1992 and 2007, New Zealand experienced over 30 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or more. But one unexpected side effect was a 30 million tonne block of ice sheared off a New Zealand glacier just minutes after the violent earthquake.

It created waves up to three metres high for 30 minutes which rocked two sightseeing boats on the lake at the time.
The enormous iceberg — estimated to weigh 30 to 40 million tonnes — began ripping off the Tasman Glacier at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park accompanied by a loud noise which sounded like a rifle shot, a local tourism official said.
The officials say that the earthquake was only the trigger and that they expected the huge block to fall at one time or another.

Recent seismic activity in Chile

According to USGS, on Friday, February 11, 2011 at 20:05:31 UTC a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the offshore Bio-Bio region, very close to where last year’s magnitude-8.8 quake spawned a tsunami and devastated coastal communities. In the following hours, a dozen aftershocks ranging from magnitude-3.9 to magnitude-6.3 shook the seismically active area.
Skyscrapers swayed in the capital of Santiago, and in the inland town of Cauquenes, mothers ran into the streets carrying babies in their arms, as stated by Yahoo News.
Fortunately, no tsunami was formed as in the last’s years mega quake and the communities were better prepared for the hazard. The 8.8 magnitude earthquake last year killed more than 500 and produced massive devastation in all the cities near the coast.
So…why no tsunami this time? It seems there is a huge difference in strenght between the two big earthquakes, the 8.8-magnitude quake being about 800 times larger in terms of energy released, said Natan Becker, an oceanographer at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. After all, magnitude is measured on a logarithmic scale.
The Chile region was hit by 10 earquakes with more than 6.5 magnitude only in the last 10 years, so we can only hope they use the latest technology advances to increase the level of safety.

I take thee…Cocaine

Of all drugs, cocaine creates the greatest psychological dependence, because it stimulates key pleasure centers within the brain and causes extremely heightened euphoria. Drugs like this mess with the brain’s circuitry and hijack the reward system. Cocaine cravings are said to be so strong that just the memory of the feelings associated with use of the drug trigger the desire to use it again, even after long periods of abstinence.

A new rat study has shown that the chemical effect the drug has is less important then the psychological factor in creating the addiction.

“Cocaine use triggers long-lasting cellular memories in the brain, the study found—but only if the user consumes the drug voluntarily.”

A team led by Billy Chen and Antonello Bonci, both at the University of California, San Francisco, trained three groups of rats to press levers that delivered cocaine, food or sugar. The researchers injected cocaine into a fourth group. When they examined the rats’ brain tissue, they found an increase in synaptic strength within the reward center in those rats that had self-administered sugar, food or cocaine. These cellular memories were short-lived in the sugar and food groups, but in rats that had self-administered cocaine they persisted for up to three months after consumption had stopped. Most interestingly, the brains of rats that had consumed cocaine involuntarily did not show such imprints.

So the pharmacological effects of cocaine alone are not enough to create pleasurable memories connected to the use of cocaine. The motivation for taking the drug seems to me a much stronger component to the process of getting hooked.

Dr.Chen working on the project states that the team is working to find ways to remove the long-term cellular memory left by voluntary cocaine use, which eventually could help treat addiction in humans by taking away the desire

This fact throws into question a lot of previous studies with cocaine, where rats or monkeys or others were injected involuntarily.

By the way…if somethings works on mice, why does it necesarily have to work on humans? It doesn’t, but researching on animals always gives some good clues, here’s why.

And it’s not only mice and humans that partake: waterways in Canada have been found to contain relatively high (pun intended) levels of cocaine, morphine, and oxycodone.

Skellig Michael – the monastery in the middle of the sea

Photo by Jerzy Strzelecki.

“An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.”– George Bernard Shaw

Photo by Kyle Watson.

Skellig Michael (from Sceilig Mhichíl in the Irish language, meaning Michael’s rock), also known as Great Skellig, is a steep rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean about 15 kilometres from the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. After probably being founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Gaelic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Photo by Jibi44.

Faulting of Devonian sandstone and gravels has created a U-shaped depression, known today as ‘Christ’s Valley’ or ‘Christ’s Saddle’, 130 m above sea level in the centre of the island, and this is flanked by two peaks, that to the north-east rising to 185 m and that to the west-south-west 218 m. The rock is deeply eroded and weathered, owing to its exposed position, but is almost frost-free. Landing is possible at three points, depending on the state of the sea. These communicate by flights of steps with the principal monastic remains, which are situated on a sloping shelf on the ridge running north-south on the north-eastern side of the island; the hermitage is on the steeper South Peak.

Photo by Devek.

Faulting of Devonian sandstone and gravels has created a U-shaped depression, known today as ‘Christ’s Valley’ or ‘Christ’s Saddle’, 130 m above sea level in the centre of the island, and this is flanked by two peaks, that to the north-east rising to 185 m and that to the west-south-west 218 m. The rock is deeply eroded and weathered, owing to its exposed position, but is almost frost-free. Landing is possible at three points, depending on the state of the sea.

Photo by Niki.L

The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish Christians. The monks lived in stone ‘beehive’ huts (clochans), perched above nearly vertical cliff walls. These communicate by flights of steps with the principal monastic remains, which are situated on a sloping shelf on the ridge running north-south on the north-eastern side of the island; the hermitage is on the steeper South Peak.

Photo by psyberartist.

The site is exceptionally well preserved, since it positioning discouraged most unwanted visitors and tourists. Even so, the monastery on Skellig Michael survived a number of Viking raids in the 9th century, notably in 823. The community at Skellig Michael was never large – around 12 monks and an abbot. Some time in the 12th century the monks abandoned the Skellig and moved to the monastery of Augustinian Canons Regular at Ballinskelligs on the mainland.

Even if it is one of the best known monasteries in Europe, it as also the least visited due to the harsh conditions and lack of transportation.

A Waterfall Catches Fire?

The famous El Capitan’s Horsetail Falls, in the National Park with the same name offered some very lucky visitors a strange scenery. El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world and the waterfall that forms on it offers one of the most spectacular views of the park.
An even more astonishing view of the waterfall is created by reflections of sunlight that illuminate the water falling below a certain angle, a very special angle. This view can be rarely seen in a period of about two weeks in late February. To photograph an event so rare, you may need to stick around for weeks, for years in a row. The reason is that the phenomenon depends on a number of quite strict natural conditions that must occur at the same time. And it all depends on pure luck.

1: The first and most important condition is for the waterfall to exist. It is made out of water resulting from melting snow and ice on top of the mountain. It melts between December and January and is quite likely that in late February there is not much snow to melt.
2: It is a highly specific angle at which sunlight must hit the falling water, so the position of the sun is condition #2. This is only possible in late February and at early dusk. If it’s a cloudy day, you only get to see a gray waterfall. Not to mention the crazy unpredictable weather also famous in the park.
3: The 3rd challange is getting an entry permit in the area in winter time, due to the road covered in great snow and dangerous hiking paths.

What’s funny is that even though nature already puts on a fantastic fire-water show at Yosemite, the park put on a similar man-made show for almost a century. In the early 1900s, David Curry wanted to attract more campers to his Camp Curry site and he figured falling fire would do the trick. It’d been done in the past — burning bark was poured from the towering Glacier Point cliff creating a lovely cascade of fire-orange flakes down the rock’s face. But Curry made this spectacle a nightly event, and it became quite popular with visitors. For better or for worse, the fire fall tradition was extinguished in 1968, when officials decided that pouring fire from a cliff wasn’t the safest thing for a national park.
Fortunately, there were others lucky enough to capture the phenomenon and share it with the world.

I can see it in your eyes…

Just when the DaVinci Code craze seemed to be long over, some members of Italy’s national committee for cultural heritage state that they have discovered a code in Mona Lisa’s eyes. Magnifying high-resolution images of the world’s most famous painting would reveal hidden letters and numbers added by Leonardo Da Vinci, said Silvano Vinceti, president of the Committee.
Harder to decode are the letters writen in the left pupil. CE, B, 72 or just L2? The researchers don’t seem to see the same thing here. But if the DaVinci Code fans are thrilles, the scolars aren’t.

“I can’t offer any comment on the scientific value of this ‘finding’ since the scientific basis to support it are missing,” Carlo Pedretti, the world’s leading scholar in Leonardo studies, told Discovery News.

The other problem is that the numbers cannot be seen on the magnified picture, but only on high resolution photos of it, but as some seem to be inlove with the portait, others try to find more scientific explanations for her famous smile.

“Attempts to solve the enigma around her smile, described by the 16th century artist and writer Giorgio Vasari as “more divine than human,” have included theories that the noblewoman was happily pregnant, suffering from asthma, had facial paralysis or that the smile was the result of a compulsive gnashing of teeth.”

She also seemed to suffer from hypercholesterolemia, an inherited cholesterol disorder. But until the researchers agree on her diet and other hidden messages she send us, we can only hope for a chance to see the work.