Hexbyte Glen Cove Consumers might not return to old product choices once finances improve thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Consumers might not return to old product choices once finances improve

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

When faced with job losses, a sudden drop in income, or other stormy economic conditions, consumers will likely need to shift their purchasing priorities and preferences. Those changed preferences outlast the contraction and shape choices even after income recovers.

In a series of studies, Penn State Smeal College of Business-led researchers say that consumers may not return to their original spending patterns even after those gloomy economic clouds finally clear up. The findings suggest that, despite their own tight budgets, businesses should continue to reach customers during uncertain economic times, or face negative consequences that stretch beyond the contraction.

The studies build on work seeking to understand how consumers behave in uncertain economic conditions, said Gretchen Ross, a former Penn State Smeal doctoral student in marketing and currently an assistant marketing professor at Texas Christian University.

“There’s this idea that when we have an expanding budget trajectory, we tend to add more categories to the budget, then when we have a decreasing budget trajectory,” said Ross, who was the first author of the paper. “In other words, we spend on more categories on the upward, than the downward. So, we started thinking what happens when you experience a contraction in your budget, but then are able to go back to your original state? For example, what would happen if you lost your job and needed to cut some budget categories, but then you find a new job and go back to previous income levels. Would we go back to spending our income on the same categories?”

According to Ross, consumers typically shift their priorities and preferences during the contraction and those shifts persist after resources are restored. Further, these shifted preferences may be more stable than initially thought.

“As an example, if your income increases, you might start buying fine wine instead of boxed wine,” said Margaret Meloy, professor of marketing and Calvin E. and Pamala T. Zimmerman Fellow, who also serves as the Marketing Department chair. “However, when your budget constricts, going back to boxed wine may feel so aversive that it makes more sense to stop buying wine entirely. In other words, consumers might cut out entire categories of consumption during contractions. When economic resources return, consumers may continue to skip the wine because they have discovered they weren’t enjoying it that much in the first place,” she added.

Judicious marketing

The researchers, who published their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, one of the top journals in its field, suggest that companies need to watch marketing budgets closely during these contractions.

“You have to prevent your brand from ending up on the cutting room floor when budgets contract,” said Meloy. “If your brand disappears during the contraction, there’s a lower probability that it will return as budgets re-expand. During an economic downturn, it may not be a time to cut your marketing budget; you may want to spend it judiciously on those most likely to cut your brand during the contraction.”

Ross said that companies should also look for ways to help customers manage times of economic struggles.

“There may be ways that companies could help customers during this time,” said Ross. “For example, let’s say I’m experiencing a financial contraction, it’s not that I don’t want to go to Starbucks for a coffee, I just can’t afford it. Perhaps Starbucks could help me by giving me coupons, that might help me stick with the company.”

The researchers conducted several experiments to show that the effect stretched across other domains including time, space and money.

To test a loss and return of resources of time, the researchers recruited 119 people to test how their responses to how they would budget time in a travel scenario. They were asked to allocate time for an original itinerary and then later asked how that itinerary would change if it was shortened and then restored.

Similarly, the researchers recruited 123 participants to explore a loss and restoration of space resources. In this scenario the participants were asked which vegetables they would plant in a garden of 21 rows and then which they would plant it if the space was contracted to seven rows. They were then asked about their plan when the garden was eventually restored to its original dimensions. Did individuals decide to leave some of the vegetables in the initial allocation out of the final allocation across the 21 rows?

To test , the researchers recruited 223 participants to manage a $300 budget that was cut to $100 and then eventually restored back to $300.

“In every domain that you can show a robust effect, it indicates there’s something fundamental to the way you’re forming preferences,” said Meloy.

The team recruited 178 participants for a follow-up study, referred to as a consequential choice study, that tested the preference-forming effect with real resources—in this case, candy.

Finally, the researchers investigated the preference selection of people who faced a real-world example of contraction during the 2018-19 government shutdown.

The researchers said future work may look at how resource contractions affect the saving patterns of consumers once resources are restored. Do people save more after experiencing a ? Another area of research might be to investigate whether preference refinement affects choice satisfaction. For example, researchers could examine how contractions during the COVID-19 pandemic may alter satisfaction with a simpler lifestyle that lasts after the pandemic ends.

More information:
Gretchen R Ross et al. Preference Refinement after a Budget Contraction, Jo

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Hexbyte Glen Cove DNA-inspired 'supercoiling' fibers could make powerful artificial muscles for robots thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove DNA-inspired ‘supercoiling’ fibers could make powerful artificial muscles for robots

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Shutterstock

The double helix of DNA is one of the most iconic symbols in science. By imitating the structure of this complex genetic molecule we have found a way to make artificial muscle fibers far more powerful than those found in nature, with potential applications in many kinds of miniature machinery such as prosthetic hands and dextrous robotic devices.

The power of the helix

DNA is not the only helix in nature. Flip through any biology textbook and you’ll see helices everywhere from the alpha-helix shapes of individual proteins to the “coiled coil” helices of fibrous protein assemblies like keratin in hair.

Some bacteria, such as spirochetes, adopt helical shapes. Even the cell walls of plants can contain helically arranged cellulose fibers.

Muscle tissue too is composed of helically wrapped proteins that form thin filaments. And there are many other examples, which poses the question of whether the helix endows a particular evolutionary advantage.

Many of these naturally occurring helical structures are involved in making things move, like the opening of seed pods and the twisting of trunks, tongues and tentacles. These systems share a common structure: helically oriented fibers embedded in a squishy matrix which allows complex mechanical actions like bending, twisting, lengthening and shortening, or coiling.

This versatility in achieving complex shapeshifting may hint at the reason for the prevalence of helices in nature.

Fibers in a twist

Ten years ago my work on brought me to think a lot about helices. My colleagues and I discovered a simple way to make powerful rotating artificial muscle fibers by simply twisting synthetic yarns.

These yarn fibers could rotate by untwisting when we expanded the volume of the yarn by heating it, making it absorb small molecules, or by charging it like a battery. Shrinking the fiber caused the fibers to re-twist.

We demonstrated that these fibers could spin a rotor at speeds of up to 11,500 revolutions per minute. While the fibers were small, we showed they could produce about as much torque per kilogram as large electric motors.

The key was to make sure the helically arranged filaments in the yarn were quite stiff. To accommodate an overall volume increase in the yarn, the individual filaments must either stretch in length or untwist. When the filaments are too stiff to stretch, the result is untwisting of the yarn.

Learning from DNA

More recently, I realized DNA molecules behave like our untwisting yarns. Biologists studying single DNA molecules showed that double-stranded DNA unwinds when treated with that insert themselves inside the double helix structure.

An untwisted fibre (left) and the supercoiled version (right). Credit: Geoff Spinks, Author provided

The backbone of DNA is a stiff chain of molecules called sugar phosphates, so when the small inserted molecules push the two strands of DNA apart the double helix unwinds. Experiments also showed that, if the ends of the DNA are tethered to stop them rotating, the untwisting leads to “supercoiling”: the DNA molecule forms a loop that wraps around itself.

In fact, special proteins induce coordinated supercoiling in our cells to pack DNA molecules into the tiny nucleus.

We also see supercoiling in , for example when a garden hose becomes tangled. Twisting any long fiber can produce supercoiling, which is known as “snarling” in textiles processing or “hockling” when cables become snagged.

Supercoiling for stronger ‘artificial muscles’

Our latest results show DNA-like supercoiling can be induced by swelling pre-twisted textile fibers. We made composite fibers with two polyester sewing threads, each coated in a hydrogel that swells up when it gets wet and then the pair twisted together.

Swelling the hydrogel by immersing it in water caused the composite fiber to untwist. But if the fiber ends were clamped to stop untwisting, the fiber began to supercoil instead.

As a result, the fiber shrank by up to 90% of its original length. In the process of shrinking, it did mechanical work equivalent to putting out 1 joule of energy per gram of dry fiber.

For comparison, the muscle fibers of mammals like us only shrink by about 20% of their original length and produce a work output of 0.03 joules per gram. This means that the same lifting effort can be achieved in a supercoiling fiber that is 30 times smaller in diameter compared with our own muscles.

Why artificial muscles?

Artificial muscle materials are especially useful in applications where space is limited. For example, the latest motor-driven prosthetic hands are impressive, but they do not currently match the dexterity of a human hand. More actuators are needed to replicate the full range of motion, grip types and strength of a healthy human.

Electric motors become much less powerful as their size is reduced, which makes them less useful in prosthetics and other miniature machines. However, artificial muscles maintain a high work and power output at small scales.

To demonstrate their potential applications, we used our supercoiling muscle fibers to open and close miniature tweezers. Such tools may be part of the next generation of non-invasive surgery or robotic surgical systems.

Many new types of artificial muscles have been introduced by researchers over the past decade. This is a very active area of research driven by the need for miniaturized mechanical devices. While great progress has been made, we still do not have an artificial muscle that completely matches the performance of natural : large contractions, high speed, efficiency, long operating life, silent operation and safe for use in contact with humans.

The new supercoiling muscles take us one step closer to this goal by introducing a new mechanism for generating very large contractions. Currently our fibers operate slowly, but we see avenues for greatly increasing the speed of response and this will be the focus for ongoing research.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Mammals' brains: New research shows bigger doesn't always mean smarter thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Mammals’ brains: New research shows bigger doesn’t always mean smarter

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Credit: Javier Lazaro/www.lazaroillustration.com

If a friend boasts of having a “big-brained” dog, your reaction is probably not to ask “relative to what?” You would simply assume your friend thinks their dog is pretty smart. But are we always right to equate big brains with greater intelligence?

In a study published today in Science Advances, we and our colleagues describe how the relationship between large brains and “intelligence” in isn’t as straightforward as you might assume.

A key problem is that, in evolutionary terms, a “large brain” doesn’t just refer to the absolute size of the brain. Rather, we refer to mammals as big-brained when their brain volume is large relative to their body mass.

There are many examples of intelligent animals that are also large-brained for their size. Humans are a particularly extreme case; our brains are roughly seven times larger than expected for an animal of our size. Dogs are also famously large-brained and smart, as are whales, dolphins and elephants.

This big-equals-smart equivalence has also been applied in research on mammalian brain size evolution, under the assumption that relatively large mammalian brains evolve in situations where natural selection favors greater intelligence. But what if it’s not brain size that became larger, but that became smaller?

To investigate this question, we assembled the largest data set of brain and body masses of mammals from the existing literature. In total, we compiled size data for 1,400 mammal species, including 107 fossils.

We then assembled an for these species. This allowed us to ask how brain and body size have related to each other throughout the evolution of mammals, starting from before the extinction of dinosaurs.

Our analysis revealed a mixed bag of evolutionary trajectories in brain and body sizes. For example, elephants are large, large-brained, and also known to be very intelligent. We saw that this combination arose through the elephants undergoing an even greater increase in brain size than expected for their large body size.

Brain to body size plot highlighting humans and hominins (species ancestral to humans) in red, dolphins in black, other toothed whales in grey, bears in blue, and seals and sea lions in purple. Author provided

In contrast, the evolutionary lineages for humans and dolphins—both among the largest-brained mammals on Earth—were particularly unique in having larger brains but smaller bodies compared with their close relatives (chimps and gorillas for humans; other toothed whales for dolphins). This unusual combination makes their brains spectacularly large among mammals.

Strikingly, some mammals that are known to be very intelligent underwent stronger natural selection on body size than on brain size. The California sea lion, for example, famous for its circus-trick smarts, has an unusually small brain relative to its body mass. This is because when the evolutionary ancestors of seals and sea lions began living in water, evolution favored massive increases in body size—perhaps to conserve body heat, to ward off predators such as sharks, or more generally because gravity is less of an impediment to large body size in water than in air.

This means California sea lions’ relative brain size is much smaller than expected, given their intelligence. So how are they so smart? One possible explanation is that, despite their relatively smaller brain size compared with their close relatives, California sea lions have up to four times more volume dedicated to brain areas that support intelligent behavior, such as learning complicated tricks.

This seems to make them much smarter than other mammals with comparable brain sizes, such as bears, and shows why sea lions can learn skills that are not in their innate repertoire of behaviors, such as making vocalizations on command.

Evolutionary upheavals

Our analysis also revealed that cataclysmic events in evolutionary history left their hallmarks in mammals’ brains. For example, there was an acceleration in increases in brain size relative to after the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. We think this may be due to the fact many mammals found new habitats to live in that were previously occupied by dinosaurs, often requiring new adaptations in either brain or body size.

Another intriguing pattern is a substantial rearrangement of the relationship between brain and sizes between 30 million and 23 million years ago, when Earth cooled rapidly and some big evolutionary changes (such as the evolution of seals and sea lions) happened.

Evolutionary tree of mammals—different colours represent groups of species that share a similar brain-to-body size relationship. Author provided

Some of these changes left legacies that still endure today. They have resulted in some of the biggest (elephants and whales) and smallest (bats and shrews) mammal brains on Earth.

Given that the evolution of brain size and intelligence is even more complex than we realized, how do we go about trying to understand it more fully? We definitely need to consider the evolutionary background of present-day mammals. However, it is also important to understand how the various parts of the evolve relative to one another.

For example, humans and dolphins not only have large brains overall, but also an astoundingly large neocortex, which is the powerhouse of intelligence.

In the meantime, next time your friend boasts about their big-brained dog, remind them size isn’t everything.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mammals’ brains: New research shows bigger doesn’t always mean smarter (2021, April 29)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame

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Lake Salda in southwest Turkey is at risk after the site was picked to create more green spaces for the public

Boasting azure waters and white sands, a Turkish lake that NASA thinks hides secrets about Mars threatens to become too popular for its own good.

Lake Salda gained international renown when US scientists began poking around in preparation for the Perseverance rover mission, which has been beaming back videos from the Red Planet since February.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory even posted a picture of the pristine lake on its site before touchdown, saying it might resemble what an “aqueous” Mars looked like billions of years ago.

Now, the 4,370-hectare (16.9-square mile) lake in Turkey’s southwest has been picked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of a project to create more green spaces for public use.

The news spells disaster for local activists and lawyers, who fear that the twin blows of NASA and Erdogan’s interest could open the floodgates to tourists.

Splashing around in its waters, the sea of humanity could destroy the very ecosystem that made the lake special in the first place, campaigners warn.

“The future of the lake is at risk if millions of people come,” said Lake Salda Preservation Association head Gazi Osman Sakar.

‘It’s alive’

The lake is most famous for the White Islands area with the brilliant sands, as well as endemic flora and fauna such as the Salda seaweed fish.

Activists fear the twin blows of NASA and development could open the floodgates to tourists at Lake Salda

There are also minerals of different origin. NASA thinks one of them, hydromagnesite, is similar to the carbonate minerals detected at Jezero Crater—a former lake on Mars that the rover is now exploring.

The hydromagnesite sediments along Lake Salda’s shoreline “are thought to have eroded from large mounds called ‘microbialites’—rocks formed with the help of microbes,” NASA said.

This all folds into the mystery about possible life on Mars, in some microbial form a very long time ago.

There are many tectonic lakes like Salda across the world.

But what makes Salda unique, geology engineer Servet Cevni said, is the lake’s transformation into a closed ecosystem with its own living mechanism.

“Because it’s alive, it’s so sensitive to outside interventions,” Cevni told AFP.

Yet that intervention is already on its way in the form of nine small buildings that have appeared near a planned People’s Garden by the lake.

Sakar said some of the white sand has already been moved from the White Islands area to another called People’s Beach for road construction.

“The project should be cancelled,” Sakar said. “The lake cannot be protected while it’s used.”

Graphic locating Lake Salda in Turkey studied by NASA scientists due to its similarity to Jezero crater on Mars, landing site of the Perseverance Rover looking for ancient signs of life.

Court battle

Swimming is forbidden at the White Islands but people are still able to take a dip in other parts.

Sakar’s association wants the lake off limits entirely for swimming to preserve its ecosystem. Instead, he proposes creating observation posts for visitors to see the lake.

“If single-cell organisms die, Salda is finished,” the engineer Cevni agreed. “Those White Islands won’t be renewed, that white structure won’t come together.”

The damage thus far can be recovered in 150 to 200 years if people do not destroy it further, Cevni said, adding: “If we do, it won’t ever recover.”

The Lake Salda Preservation Association has seen its legal bid to cancel the green spaces project rejected in court.

Sakar is appealing the ruling and also campaigning for UNESCO to put Salda on the world heritage list.

“Salda is dying,” Sakar said.

“If single-cell organisms die, Salda is finished,” warns geology engineer Servet Cevni

But campaigners are not the only ones expressing concern.

Aysel Cig, a goat-herder who lives in a village close to the lake, said things were more pleasant before Salda gained its fame.

“Our lake, our village was much cleaner three, five years ago,” she said.

Responsible tourism

But besides dirt and foreign organisms, tourists also bring cash, which the locals around Lake Salda welcome.

Suleyman Kilickan, 60, worked in a cafe with plenty of outdoor seating by the lake that employed 30 people before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Interest in the lake rose considerably with the NASA mission, Kilickan said, noting that most of his visitors were foreigners who appeared to be respectful of the lake.

“If there’s tourism, there’s life,” Kilickan said.

“I would encourage tourism,” he said, emphasising the importance of ensuring visitors act responsibly.

Interest in Lake Salda rose considerably with the NASA mission

The environment ministry said last month it would limit the number of visitors to the White Islands area to 570,000 a year.

Nearly 1.5 million people visited the lake in 2019, and 800,000 came last year during lulls in coronavirus restrictions.

But Nazli Oral Erkan, of the Burdur Bar Association’s Environment Committee, said the proposed cap was not enough to protect the lake.

“Salda is like a natural museum,” she said.

© 2021 AFP

Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame (2021, April 28)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove 'Impossible to adapt': Surprisingly fast ice-melts in past raise fears about sea level rise thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Impossible to adapt’: Surprisingly fast ice-melts in past raise fears about sea level rise

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Devising models to predict sea level rise is notoriously difficult, say researchers. Credit: Dan Meyers / Unsplash

Studies of ancient beaches and fossilised coral reefs suggest sea levels have the potential to rise far more quickly than models currently predict, according to geologists who have been studying past periods of warming.

At one point in a comparable period they were rising at three metres per century, or 30mm a year, according to Dr. Fiona Hibbert, a geologist at York University in the UK. The current rate of rise is 3.2mm per year.

Dr. Hibbert is working on a project called ExTaSea, which predicts worst-case scenarios for around the globe. The goal is to help policymakers take long-term decisions, for example about the siting of enduring infrastructure such as nuclear power stations.

Devising models that can make such predictions is notoriously difficult, she says.

“We’re not entirely sure of all the processes involved. When you melt an sometimes it’s really long-time scales that they operate over, which is quite difficult to put into a model.”

And melting itself alters the system—for example, by lightening the load on the Earth’s crust which then undergoes a slow-motion rebound over thousands of years.

A further issue is that data on recent sea levels dates back only 150 years—for tide gauges—and just 20-25 years for satellite measurements.

Because of this, geologists such as Dr. Hibbert, and Professor Alessio Rovere, a geoscientist at the University of Bremen in Germany, are looking back to see what happened during the last interglacial period.

“The geological record is great because it includes all the processes,” said Dr. Hibbert.


We live in an interglacial period known as the Holocene. “For the last 6,000 years, humans have enjoyed rather stable climate and sea level conditions, and prospered thanks to this,” said Prof. Rovere.

The closest analogue to the Holocene in the geological past is the last interglacial, which occurred between 125,000 and 118,000 years ago. During this time, the global temperature was about one to two degrees higher than the baseline pre-industrial temperatures used to measure climate change today, due to slight differences in the Earth’s tilt and orbit.

Geologists can find clues to the sea level at this time from fossilised that were stranded as cliff layers when seas subsided, as well as the chemical composition of tiny, marine organisms known as foraminifera, which give an idea of the reach of the sea in the past, says Dr. Hibbert.

And Prof. Rovere, who runs a project called WARMCOASTS, also considers what ancient beaches—which also became layers in the cliffs—can tell us.

“A beach today has sands forming along the shoreline … imagine that all of this … can be frozen in time because it becomes rock. So we can go back, and look at rocks that were former beaches,” he said. From their characteristics and the shells preserved inside them, ‘we can make connections to the changing sea level,” he said.

Teasing out the right message from stranded reefs and beaches is tricky, however. A receding sea might leave remnants of its presence in one place, only for them to be uplifted—or dropped—by subsequent geological activity.

Prof. Rovere experienced these problems when trying to solve the enduring puzzle of mysterious, huge boulders which lie atop 15-metre cliffs on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas. While some in the field believe they were flung there by super-storms, others, including him, think a combination of higher sea levels plus lesser storms were responsible.

Ten times higher

Despite these challenges, Dr. Hibbert amalgamated ancient coral reef analyses done by scientists around the globe and concluded that sea levels rose at ‘really high’ rates—of up to three metres per century, ‘which is about ten times higher than current rates.”

Prof. Rovere is gathering data on geological features such as ancient corals and beaches to create a database that will help give a nuanced story of how sea levels changed in different places and the strength of the waves during the last interglacial.

It’s hard interpreting geological data, so Prof. Rovere is also drawing on models more commonly used by engineers to understand the impact of waves and currents on harbours—they can help him understand how sand was deposited along interglacial shores.

“By combining these two different disciplines … we can say much more about the past than we can do with just the geological interpretation of the rocks,” he said.

His work is producing slightly different figures.

“In some rock records—there are some characteristics that make us think that at some point during this warm period the sea level jumped, from three metres to six metres,” he said. This equates to about 10 mm a year. The jump occurred in a relatively short time, he says.

“This is really interesting because today we are in a warm period—naturally as well as because of climate change—and in the last interglacial, even without us giving warmth to the system, some data suggest that there was this jump.

“Now this is a very debated idea but what if it is true? It means there is this possibility of rapid melting of ice, on top of what we do as humans.”

Prof. Rovere says that a 10mm a year sea level rise would be ‘almost impossible’ to adapt to with sufficient speed. “It means we just have to abandon our cities,” he added.


The prospect of a sudden acceleration in ice melting is further supported by work done by Dr. Yucheng Lin, a student of Dr. Hibbert’s as part of the ExTaSea project.

This time the reference period is 24,000 to 11,000 years ago, Earth’s most recent deglaciation, which preceded the Holocene.

This period was substantially different from today which makes it ‘not so great for looking at the future,” said Dr. Hibbert. For example, there were huge ice sheets over North America and Europe.

But they found that, at the peak of the ice-melt, seas rose at 3.6 metres per century.

“Again, these are really high numbers, so ice sheets can lose mass really quite quickly,” said Dr. Hibbert.

She is now considering how such a rapid melting would play out this century on different coasts.

Just how are our seas changing and rising with climate change and the melting of Earth’s ice caps? In this three-part series, we look at the past, present and future of extreme rise. Coming next, in part two we will look at rise of atmospheric ‘meteotsunamis.”


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Hexbyte Glen Cove Researchers find how tiny plastics slip through the environment thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Researchers find how tiny plastics slip through the environment

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Washington State University researchers have shown the fundamental mechanisms that allow tiny pieces of plastic bags and foam packaging at the nanoscale to move through the environment.

The researchers found that a silica surface such as sand has little effect on slowing down the movement of the plastics, but that natural organic matter resulting from decomposition of plant and animal remains can either temporarily or permanently trap the nanoscale particles, depending on the type of plastics.

The work, published in the journal Water Research, could help researchers develop better ways to filter out and clean up pervasive plastics from the . The researchers include Indranil Chowdhury, assistant professor in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with Mehnaz Shams and Iftaykhairul Alam, recent graduates of the civil engineering program.

“We’re looking at developing a filter that can be more efficient at removing these plastics,” Chowdhury said. “People have seen these plastics escaping into our , and our current drinking water system is not adequate enough to remove these micro and nanoscale plastics. This work is the first fundamental way to look at those mechanisms.”

Around since the 1950s, plastics have properties that make them useful for modern society. They are water resistant, cheap, easy to manufacture and useful for a huge variety of purposes. However, plastics accumulation is becoming a growing concern around the world with giant patches of plastic garbage floating in the oceans and plastic waste showing up in the most remote areas of the world.

“Plastics are a great invention and so easy to use, but they are so persistent in the environment,” Chowdhury said.

After they’re used, plastics degrade through chemical, mechanical and biological processes to micro- and then nano-sized particles less than 100 nanometers in size. Despite their removal in some , large amounts of micro and nanoscale plastics still end up in the environment. More than 90% of tap water in the U.S. contains nanoscale plastics, Chowdhury said, and a 2019 study found that people eat about five grams of plastic a week or the amount of plastic in a credit card. The health effects of such environmental pollution is not well understood.

“We don’t know the health effects, and the toxicity is still unknown, but we continue to drink these plastics every day,” said Chowdhury.

As part of the new study, the researchers studied the interactions with the environment of the tiniest particles of the two most common types of plastics, polyethylene and polystyrene, to learn what might impede their movement. Polyethylene is used in plastic bags, milk cartons and food packaging, while polystyrene is a foamed plastic that is used in foam drinking cups and packaging materials.

In their work, the researchers found that the polyethylene particles from plastic bags move easily through the environment—whether through a silica surface like sand or natural organic matter. Sand and the plastic particles repel each other similarly to like-poles of a magnet, so that the plastic won’t stick to the sand particles. The do glom onto natural organic material that is ubiquitous in natural aquatic environment but only temporarily. They can be easily washed off with a change in chemistry in the water.

“That’s bad news for polyethylene in the environment,” said Chowdhury. “It doesn’t stick to the silica surface that much and if it sticks to the natural organic matter surface, it can be re-mobilized. Based on these findings, it indicates that nanoscale polyethylene plastics may escape from our drinking water treatment processes, particularly filtration.”

In the case of polystyrene particles, the researchers found better news. While a silica surface was not able to stop its movement, organic matter did. Once the polystyrene particles stuck to the organic matter, they stayed in place.

The researchers hope that the research will eventually help them develop filtration systems for treatment facilities to remove nanoscale particles of plastics.

More information:
Mehnaz Shams et al, Interactions of nanoscale plastics with natural organic matter and silica surfaces using a quartz crystal microbalance, Water Research (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2021.117066

Researchers find how tiny plastics slip through

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Probing deep space with Interstellar thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Probing deep space with Interstellar

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Scientists hope the proposed Interstellar Probe will teach us more about our home in the galaxy as well as how other stars in the galaxy interact with their interstellar neighbourhoods. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

When the four-decades-old Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft entered interstellar space in 2012 and 2018, respectively, scientists celebrated. These plucky spacecraft had already traveled 120 times the distance from the Earth to the sun to reach the boundary of the heliosphere, the bubble encompassing our solar system that’s affected by the solar wind. The Voyagers discovered the edge of the bubble but left scientists with many questions about how our Sun interacts with the local interstellar medium. The twin Voyagers’ instruments provide limited data, leaving critical gaps in our understanding of this region.

NASA and its partners are now planning for the next spacecraft, currently called the Interstellar Probe, to travel much deeper into interstellar space, 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, with the hope of learning more about how our home heliosphere formed and how it evolves.

“The Interstellar Probe will go to the unknown local interstellar space, where humanity has never reached before,” says Elena Provornikova, the Interstellar Probe heliophysics lead from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Maryland. “For the first time, we will take a picture of our vast heliosphere from the outside to see what our solar system home looks like.”

Provornikova and her colleagues will discuss the heliophysics science opportunities for the at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly 2021.

The APL-led team, which involves some 500 scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts—both formal and informal—from around the world, has been studying what types of investigations the mission should plan for. “There are truly outstanding science opportunities that span heliophysics, , and astrophysics,” Provornikova says.

Scientists plan for the Interstellar Probe to reach 1,000 AU — 1 AU is the distance from the sun to Earth — into the interstellar medium. That’s about 10 times as far as the Voyager spacecraft have gone. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

Some mysteries the team hopes to solve with the mission include: how the sun’s plasma interacts with interstellar gas to create our heliosphere; what lies beyond our heliosphere; and what our heliosphere even looks like. The mission plans to take “images” of our heliosphere using energetic neutral atoms, and perhaps even “observe extragalactic background light from the early times of our galaxy formation—something that can’t be seen from Earth,” Provornikova says. Scientists also hope to learn more about how our sun interacts with the local galaxy, which might then offer clues as to how other stars in the galaxy interact with their interstellar neighborhoods, she says.

The heliosphere is also important because it shields our solar system from high-energy galactic cosmic rays. The sun is traveling around in our galaxy, going through different regions in interstellar space, Provornikova says. The sun is currently in what is called the Local Interstellar Cloud, but recent research suggests the sun may be moving toward the edge of the cloud, after which it would enter the next region of —which we know nothing about. Such a change may make our heliosphere grow bigger or smaller or change the amount of galactic cosmic rays that get in and contribute to the background radiation level at Earth, she says.

This is the final year of a four-year “pragmatic concept study,” in which the team has been investigating what science could be accomplished with this mission. At the end of the year, the team will deliver a report to NASA that outlines potential science, example instrument payloads, and example spacecraft and trajectory designs for the mission. “Our approach is to lay out the menu of what can be done in such a mission,” Provornikova says.

The mission could launch in the early 2030s and would take about 15 years to reach the boundary—a pace that’s quick compared to the Voyagers, which took 35 years to get there. The current mission design is planned to last 50 years or more.

Provornikova will present the latest on the Interstellar Probe heliophysics plan on Monday, 26 April at 14:00 CEST.

More information:
Elena Provornikova et al, Unique heliophysics science opportunities along the Interstellar Probe journey up to 1000 AU from the Sun, (2021). DOI: 10.5194/egusphere-egu21-10504

Probing deep space with Interstellar (2021, April 26)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove More patrols, fewer boaters for SpaceX splashdown Wednesday thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove More patrols, fewer boaters for SpaceX splashdown Wednesday

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From left, NASA’s Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi hold a news conference aboard the International Space Station on Monday, April 26, 2021. They are winding up a six-month mission, after their replacements arrived Saturday on their own SpaceX capsule. (NASA via AP)

The astronauts flying SpaceX back to Earth this week urged boaters to stay safe by staying away from their capsule’s splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA and SpaceX are promising more Coast Guard patrols and fewer pleasure boaters for Wednesday afternoon’s planned splashdown off the Florida panhandle coast near Tallahassee—the company’s second return of a crew.

Last August, pleasure boaters swarmed the two-man Dragon capsule. NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, the Dragon’s commander, said everyone is putting “a lot of emphasis” on keeping the area clear this time.

“I don’t think any of us are too worried in terms of landing on a boat,” he said during a news conference Monday from the International Space Station.

Leaking fuel from the capsule’s thrusters could endanger people outside the capsule. A crowd could also hamper SpaceX’s recovery effort.

Hopkins is winding up a six-month mission, along with U.S. crewmates Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi. Their replacements arrived Saturday on their own SpaceX capsule.

When Hopkins and his crew launched last November, they hoped to return to a world where COVID-19 held less of a grip than it does. They will go into semi-quarantine for a while, Walker said, to give their space-weakened immune systems time to bounce back.

In this Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 file photo provided by NASA, support teams and curious recreational boaters arrive near the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. For the Wednesday, April 28, 2021 planned splashdown, NASA and SpaceX are promising more Coast Guard patrols and fewer pleasure boaters off the Florida panhandle coast for the company’s second return of a crew. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP, File)

They’ll roll up their sleeves for their first vaccine shot seven to 10 days after splashdown.

“We definitely have enjoyed not wearing masks up here,” Walker said. “And having to go back and wear masks—well, it’s what we will do because that is the right thing to do.”

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Researcher questions whether powered flight appeared on non-avialan dinosaurs thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Researcher questions whether powered flight appeared on non-avialan dinosaurs

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Credit: F.J. Serrano. University of Malaga

Powered flight in animals—that uses flapping wings to generate thrus—is a very energetically demanding mode of locomotion that requires many anatomical and physiological adaptations. In fact, the capability to develop it has only appeared four times in the evolutionary history of animals: On insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats.

A published in 2020 in the scientific journal Current Biology concluded that, apart from birds, the only living descendants of dinosaurs, powered flight would have originated independently in other three groups of dinosaurs. This is a conclusion that makes a great impact, as it increases the number of vertebrates that would have developed this costly mode of locomotion, which, among dinosaurs, would no longer be an exclusive capability of birds.

The scientist of the Department of Ecology and Geology of the University of Malaga Francisco Serrano Alarcón has recently published an article in the same journal, questioning the idea that powered flight appeared multiple times among dinosaurs.

The researcher of the UMA, member of the Dinosaur Institute (NHMLAC) of Los Angeles, refutes such conclusion in the absence of scientific evidence. As he remarks, the parameters used by the authors to determine flight capability do not allow differentiation between powered flight and passive flight, the latter being frequent in many more animal groups.

Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County).

This new study, which he conducted along with the paleontologist Luis M. Chiappe, Vice-President for Research and Collections of the NHMLAC, compares the parameters measured on present animals with powered flight capability, such as and bats, and gliding , for example, flying squirrels or flying reptiles, among others. Moreover, they added new data on the capability to generate energy from muscles in addition to the data considered in the original study.

“Birds are a group of dinosaurs of which we have discovered 150-million-year-old fossils with fully developed wings. Among their closest non-avialan relatives, we have also found fossils with sufficiently developed wings that could provide them with some aerodynamic benefit, whether to glide between trees or get thrust to climb and jump over obstacles. But this does not mean that they could take off by flapping their wings or maintain a powered flight,” explains Francisco Serrano.

In short, both authors conclude that although they cannot discount the possibility that powered appeared in other non-avialan , current evidence does not support the hypothesis suggested in the original paper by Pei et al (2020).

More information:
Francisco J. Serrano et al, Independent origins of powered flight in paravian dinosaurs?, Current Biology (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.058

Provided by
University of Malaga

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Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA's Mars helicopter's third flight goes farther, faster than before thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA’s Mars helicopter’s third flight goes farther, faster than before

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This NASA photo shows the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter(C) hovering during its third flight on April 25, 2021, as seen by the left Navigation Camera aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover

NASA’s mini helicopter Ingenuity on Sunday successfully completed its third flight on Mars, moving farther and faster than ever before, with a peak speed of 6.6 feet per second.

After two initial flights during which the craft hovered above the Red Planet’s surface, the helicopter on this third covered 64 feet (50 meters) of distance, reaching the speed of 6.6 feet per second (two meters per second), or four miles per hour in this latest flight.

“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” said Dave Lavery, the Ingenuity project’s program executive.

The Perseverance rover, which carried the four-pound (1.8 kilograms) rotorcraft to Mars, filmed the 80-second third flight. NASA said Sunday that would be sent to Earth in the coming days.

The lateral flight was a test for the helicopter’s autonomous navigation system, which completes the route according to information received beforehand.

“If Ingenuity flies too fast, the flight algorithm can’t track surface features,” NASA explained in a statement about the flight.

Ingenuity’s flights are challenging because of conditions vastly different from Earth’s—foremost among them a rarefied atmosphere that has less than one percent the density of our own.

This means that Ingenuity’s rotors, which span four feet, have to spin at 2,400 revolutions per minute to achieve lift—about five times more than a helicopter on Earth.

NASA announced it is now preparing for a fourth flight. Each flight is planned to be of increasing difficulty in order to push Ingenuity to its limits.

This black and white image was taken by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter during its third flight on April 25, 2021. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Ingenuity experiment will end in one month in order to let Perseverance return to its main task: searching for signs of past microbial life on Mars.

© 2021 AFP

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