SciTech Briefs

Charge your cell phone with a touch

Thanks to researchers at Wake Forest University, powering your cell phone could be as easy as touching it. This new technology, called Power Felt, uses tiny carbon nanotubes to sense temperature differences, such as the temperature of your hand versus room temperature, to create an electrical charge. The carbon nanotubes are wrapped in plastic fibers to make the material feel like fabric.

The scientists claim that potential uses for the material include lining car seats to increase battery power or wrapping wounds to easily track medical needs. Although similar thermoelectric technology exists, the researchers claim that Power Felt’s affordability may make it possible to wrap a cell phone with the material for as little as $1.

Source: Science Daily

Faster-than-light particles doubted

The faster-than-light particles that were reported in Gran Sasso, Italy, last September may have actually been a result of faulty wiring. Two possible errors are currently being discussed among the scientists involved. A malfunction in the timing equipment, if confirmed, would mean that the particles traveled even faster than they were originally recorded. The second possible error involves an optical fiber connection, which would mean that the particles’ speed was less than the speed of light.

Many believed that the original findings, which showed subatomic particles called neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light, would undermine Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Source: BBC News

Girls better than boys at arithmetic

A recent study has shown that girls outperform boys in arithmetic exercises. Psychologists from Beijing Normal University performed a series of tests with children aged eight to 11, and found girls to perform better than the boys in arithmetic tasks, such as simple addition and subtraction or quickly estimating an array that contains more dots than another. Boys outperformed girls in mentally rotating three-dimensional images.

Girls were also better able to recognize whether two words rhymed, which led the researchers to believe that the girls’ verbal skills made them better at arithmetic. The researchers argue that tasks like counting and memorizing multiplication tables are verbal tasks, so the skills go hand in hand.

Source: Science Daily

Male-determining gene stabilizing

Men may breathe a sigh of relief as researchers have found that the Y-chromosome may not be withering away like scientists have speculated. Some 320 million years ago, the X- and Y-chromosomes contained nearly 1,000 genes each. Since then, however, the X-chromosome has retained an estimated 790 genes while the Y has withered down to a mere 19, one of which is the male-determining gene.

Scientists at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., examined the Y-chromosome of rhesus monkeys, which once shared a common ancestor with humans. They found that most of the chromosome’s self-sacrifice occurred more than 25 million years ago, indicating that the analogous chromosome in humans has likely stabilized in size.

Source: The New York Times

Epidemiologists turn to the internet

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently started looking at health-related Google search history to see if they could predict epidemics. They compared Google searches originating in Baltimore to the number of people that showed up at a local emergency room with flu-like symptoms.

The team found a high correlation between flu-related Google searches and the number of flu patients admitted to local hospitals. One weakness of this online surveillance was that public hysteria may skew the results, such as when there was a spike in flu searches after the 2009 bird flu outbreak was announced. However, hospitals still saw 6 percent more people showing up to hospitals during the week of heightened anxiety.

Source: NPR

Social networking sites more private

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, users of social networking sites such as Facebook have been editing their content to protect their privacy more than before. The poll, which surveyed 2,277 users by phone, said that nearly two-thirds of social networking site users have deleted people from their “friends” lists, an increase from 56 percent in 2009. Seven percent more users have been removing their names from photos, and 8 percent more have been deleting comments that others made on their profiles since the 2009 survey.

The report indicated that the results reflect an increase in online privacy concerns among consumers.

Source: Reuters