Last modified: Saturday, October 8, 2005
Vol. 2, no. 10
July 5, 2005
Indiana Science Monthly is a selection of recent news stories about Indiana University scientists and their research. Comments or questions about this newsletter may be directed to David Bricker, Office of Media Relations (812-856-9035 or email@example.com).
June science news:
* Revising Einstein -- again
* The physiology of emotions
* Robots on the verge of learning
"Robo-pups created with curiosity in mind" (COGNITIVE SCIENCE)
June 22, 2005
EXCERPT: A litter of robotic puppies exhibiting a form of artificial curiosity is being put through kindergarten at Sony's research and development lab in Paris, France... The Aibo pups display an innate artificial curiosity similar to that seen in baby animals. They slowly learn to explore the surrounding world, before playing with toys and trying to communicate with other Aibo dogs.
* "Aibo" and other robotic pets are becoming more sophisticated, thanks to improvements in sensory devices and artificial intelligence programming. Some day the robots may be able to seek information actively, instead of merely encountering it. IUB cognitive scientist Olaf Sporns tells New Scientist magazine's Will Knight, "Robots that are driven by curiosity may be able to develop on their own, without programming or supervision."
"Relativity violations may make light" (PHYSICS)
June 21, 2005
EXCERPT: Physicists picture light and other electromagnetic radiation as arising from underlying symmetries in subatomic particles and force fields. But Robert Bluhm of Colby College in Maine and Alan Kostelecky of Indiana University say quantum-scale violations of relativity may also create light.
* IUB theoretical physicist Alan Kostelecky and colleague Robert Bluhm (Colby College) have shown that light can arise from "symmetry violations" -- momentary aberrations in Einsteinian rules for space-time. Kostelecky tells Astronomy magazine reporter Francis Reddy, "This is an alternative, viable way of understanding light, with potential experimental implications. That's what makes it exciting." Kostelecky's ongoing work may help replace or amend Einstein's theories of general and special relativity, which are incompatible with quantum mechanics.
IU press release:
"Sun-free photosynthesis?" (BIOLOGY)
June 21, 2005
EXCERPT: Photosynthetic bacteria may be able to live without solar light, instead using thermal radiation from hot fluid for energy, according to a study in this week's PNAS. Researchers led by J. Thomas Beatty of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, have found obligately photosynthetic green sulfur bacteria at a deep-sea hydrothermal vent more than a mile below the ocean surface.
* When asked to evaluate the report's significance, IUB biologist Carl Bauer tells The Scientist reporter Melissa Lee Phillips, "They're seeing photosynthesis where there's no sunlight... This is actually very typical green sulfur bacteria."
"Genes blamed for fickle female orgasm" (BIOLOGY)
June 8, 2005
EXCERPT: Is this the ultimate excuse for poor performance in bed? "Sorry, darling," the man says, just before falling asleep. "It's your genes." ... According to a study published this week, up to 45% of the differences between women in their ability to reach orgasm can be explained by their genes. Despite decades of surveys and conjecture about the role of culture, upbringing and biology in female sexual function, from Freud in 1905 to the Hite report in 1976, this is the first study of the role of a woman's genes.
* Whereas the frequency of orgasm with intercourse is nearly 100% in human males, the frequency of paired orgasm and intercourse is somewhat less in human females. Why the difference exists is a mystery. IUB Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science Elisabeth Lloyd recently published a book arguing that natural selection did not play much of a role in this sad state of affairs. Lloyd also argues that women's inability or difficulty to reach orgasm is common and should not be stigmatized. She (rhetorically) asks New Scientist reporter Rowan Hooper, "What definition of 'normal' could possibly justify labeling a third of women as 'abnormal'?"
"The Value of Positive Emotions" (PSYCHOLOGY)
EXCERPT: Positive emotions -- joy, interest and contentment -- are a puzzle to scientists. From an evolutionary point of view they don't seem to have the same survival value as negative emotions such as fear or anger. The negative emotions elicit specific actions to run or attack, which must surely have helped our ancestors survive the dangers of life on the savannah. But what's the survival value of feeling joy or contentment? Psychologist Fredrickson argues that positive emotions allowed our ancestors to broaden their minds and build resources -- intellectual, physical and social -- that served them in good stead during hard times.
* IU School of Medicine psychologist Robert Levenson and UCSF physiologists Wallace Friesen and Paul Ekman are authors of several publications showing that so-called negative emotions are preceded by measurable physiological changes in the brain. Positive emotions lack known signals.
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