Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Emotional Contagion

I learned a new expression today, emotional contagion. I thought it sounded like a "misery loves company" kind of thing, but it turns out it is more related to unconsciously picking up on emotional cues via the eyes.

Officially, Emotional contagion is the tendency for two individuals to emotionally converge. 

Still a bit confused? Me too, until I read research done by Univ. of Tennessee, Assistant Professor, Garriy Shteynberg, Ph.D. on the "psychological impact shared attention (also referred to as shared experience) has on culture and the mind." They basically study how shared attention affects another person's memory, emotion, and goals.

Christine Fawcett, Ph.D., of Uppsala University, Sweden studies emotional contagion by recording the changing a person's pupil size in response to seeing another person’s pupils dilate or contract. Working with 6-9 month-old babies, Fawcett's team showed infants black circles of different sizes designed to look like pupils. They recorded how the infants’ own pupil sizes reacted to these. and also showed the infants images of black squares as a control.

Their results were not super surprising (i.e. babies pick up on your mood), but the fact that they did not respond to the different sized black squares was interesting. 

So if you subscibe to the old saying, "the eyes are windows of the soul" you might be closer to correct than you thought. Go science!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Super Massive Black Holes Explained (so anyone can understand)

 Most of you know how much I love all things space. Combine that with the brilliant cartoon artwork of Jorge Cham, several astrophysicists talking about their work, and my day is made! 

When it comes to astrophysics and phenomenon like black holes, most of us think we have the topic covered. After all, the television and film industry has devoted a huge amount of reel space to presenting dangerous scenarios concerning black holes and their ilk.

It turns out there is a lot of straight forward science that is not well understood like black holes don't actually suck material in. (The word "hole" probably threw the scriptwriters off.)

Anyway, check out the video or read the explanation at PhD Comics. Both make it easy to explain to friends at a bar, baseball game, or during speed dating. Go science!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Nanotechnology & Q-carbon Diamonds

Diamonds are not only a girl's best friend, they are important in many industrial applications. Recently, scientists from North Carolina State University found a way to make another form of carbon (besides graphite, graphene, and diamond) at room temperature/pressure in the air. 

Too simple to be true? Well, it is if you have a laser that can heat  a substrate like glass, sapphire, or a plastic polymer to over 3,727 degrees Celsius (6,740 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few seconds and then cool it super fast. The result, called Q-carbon, is 20-500 nanometers thick depending on how many times you do the laser-pulse/cooling process. The internal diamond structure can also be controlled by changing the duration of the laser pulse.

Diamond nanoneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, drug delivery applications, industrial processes, and high-temperature switches and power electronics are all possible, explains Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State.

Like a lot of super small nanotechnology materials, Q-carbon has cool and unexpected properties. It glows in low levels of energy and can be magnetized. Since it is also inert, Q-carbon can be used in the body to fight disease,  repair/replace damaged joints, and as artificial retinas. 

Since Q-carbon can be formed on a silicon substrate, it has important applications in electronics and communications too. 

So next time you think about diamonds, you may have an entirely difference reference than the faceted gem of romantic fame. Go science!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Google Science Fair

Did you know Google has a science fair? Yes! Another in a list of cool things Google is up to. Well, just a heads up... They are accepting submissions again (February 21, 2016 to May 18, 2016) on the Google science fair website. They even have a place to "Hangout with Science Superstars" where you can tune in to hear leading scientists talk about their work and take part in virtual field trips. Very cool. 

They have scientists on duty in a Google group help forum to answer questions about your science fair project. Always a plus! 

So, what are you waiting for? Submit your work. Join the science conversation. You just might win a $50,000 educational scholarship. Go science!