Tag Archives: Martin Fone

Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For The Truth – Part Three

beerbottle

During my travels around our green and pleasant land I like to seek out pubs which sell unusual beers. Some of the establishments I visit can be a little on the insalubrious side but fortunately, to date, I have not experienced any physical violence.

Of course imbibing alcohol to excess can result in a greater propensity for arguments and occasionally these exchanges of opinion can result in violent confrontations. And with beer bottles and glasses in attendance there are ready weapons to hand. This begs the question as to whether a full or empty beer bottle is more likely to crack your skull.

Fortunately, according to a paper published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, some Swiss researchers have devoted a part of their lives to establishing the answer. The scientists, led by the inestimable Dr Bolliger, selected a half-litre bottle of Feldschosschen to conduct their experiments with.

They used 10 bottles – four full and six empty – which they laid on their side and dropped a 1 kg steel ball on to them from varying heights of between 2 and 4 metres. They discovered that full beer bottles tolerated energies of up to 25J but shattered at 30J or above whereas an empty bottle needed energies of up to 40J before they shattered.

So far so good. Experiments conducted to demonstrate the tolerance of human skulls to blows showed that they shattered, depending upon the area struck, by blows with energy values of between 14.1J and 68.J. In other words, if your napper is struck by a beer bottle which shatters it makes no difference whether it is full or empty at the time of impact. Either will have enough force to potentially fracture your skull. A beer glass though shatters at 1.7J and is, therefore, unlikely to break your skull. Worth knowing, I think.

For those of you considering taking up sword-swallowing here is some words of warning from the December 2006 edition of the British Medical Journal which details some penetrating research conducted by Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer into the side effects of the practice.

Drawing upon the experiences of 46 sword swallowers the researchers found that major complications generally occur in three circumstances – where the swallower is distracted or where they swallow multiple or unusually shaped swords or where there is a pre-existing injury. Sore throats are a common complaint for those who are learning the art or who are working too much. Other problems can include, would you credit it, major gastrointestinal bleeding and occasional chest pains. Still, on the bright side, recovery rates are faster than for ordinary Joes suffering from internal perforations.

The world would be a poorer place without scientists pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge, don’t you think?!

If you enjoyed this why not check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone. Available now. Just follow any of the links

http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001142053

http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001142053

http://bookreadermagazine.com/fifty-curious-questions/

Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For Truth – Part Two

pondsnail

It has been a long time a-coming but it has finally dawned on me that I am totally unsuited for the wacky world of academia. Take crystal meths, the drug of choice, it seems, of Non Executive Chairmen of British financial institutions and Canadian mayors. Proponents of the drug claim that it enhances self-esteem and sexual pleasure. On the other hand, it is highly addictive and is a habit that is difficult to break.

What seems to make it a particularly difficult drug to get off is that as an amphetamine based narcotic it enhances memory and the pleasurable sensations users experience become deeply ingrained in those recollections they associate with the drug. The impact of crystal meths on the memory is, naturally, an area for psychological research. O.K, I’m with this so far.

But the type of logical quantum leap needed to carry out this line of research is quite beyond my poor grey cells to contemplate, as this report of some research into the matter reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology in May 2010 and coming to my attention at a snail’s pace, amply illustrates.

Barbara Sorg of the Washington State University started pondering on this problem and decided, as only a true denizen of the groves of Academe would do, that the only way to further human understanding was to study the effect of crystal meth on the memory of Lymnaea stagnalis, the humble pond snail.

A stroke of genius, I would say. It would never have crossed my mind to make this connection. After all, ignoramus that I am, I had never associated snails with much of a memory nor, it has to be said, with the ability to communicate their thoughts and sensations.

It seems that this poor mollusc has a very simple neuron network compared with humans but holds memories about when to breathe through their breathing tubes. They breathe through their skins when oxygen levels are high but extend their breathing tubes above the water’s surface when oxygen supplies are low. Dropping the snails into de-oxygenated meth-laced water they found a dosage (1 and 3.3·μmol·l-1 meth, if you want to try it at home) which induced the molluscs to stop raising their breathing tubes.

Having altered their short-term behaviour, what about the impact on the snails’ long-term behaviour? The researchers trained the snails to remember to keep their breathing tubes closed when oxygen levels were low by poking them with a stick every time they tried to open them. They subjected the poor molluscs to this training twice an hour for a period of 24 hours, the period that snails can hold a memory for.

When, 24 hours later, the scientists dropped the molluscs in de-oxygenated water they found that they had forgotten their training and sought to open their breathing tubes. But when meths was introduced back into the water, their behaviour changed.

The researchers then decided to test whether exposure to crystal meths actually improved the snails’ memories. It did – exposure to meths allowed them to remember training that normally they would have forgotten. More intriguingly, memories associated with meths seemed more powerful than other memories.

A brief resume like this cannot do justice to the sheer brilliance of this research. The take away for ordinary Joes like me is that memories formed as a result of exposure to amphetamines such as crystal meths are strong, recur in environments which the user associates with taking the drug and can improve memory. The world is a better place for knowing this.

On a practical level, and for the peace of mind of our garden molluscs, I won’t hide my stash in the garden pond!

If you enjoyed this why not check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone. Available now. Just follow any of the links

http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001142053

http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001142053

http://bookreadermagazine.com/fifty-curious-questions/

Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For Truth

madscientist

Where would we be without those who push at the frontiers of human knowledge?

The world, as we have reported before, can be divided between pogonophiles and pogonophobes. Sporting a beard I am in the former camp but I keep it trimmed. For those tempted to ape the Moeen Ali look, a word of warning from the ever popular journal, Applied Microbiology (vol 15 p899). Manuel Barbeito of the Industrial Health and Safety Office at Fort Detrick, Maryland and three of his colleagues are clearly in the latter camp and were trying to dissuade a colleague from growing a beard. Being the sort of people you find in ‘Elf and Safety they decided that actions speak louder than words and grew beards, 73 days’ worth actually, and then, as you do, sprayed them with harmless bacteria. They were able to demonstrate to their disbelieving colleagues that it was harder to wash germs out of the beard then off clean-shaven chins. To make their point further, they took a mannequin, put a false beard on it and then sprayed it with pathogenic bacteria. Some chickens and guinea pigs were exposed to this menace and, lo and behold, some got sick. You have been warned!

When something unfortunate happens or you hurt yourself, a natural, almost involuntary reaction, on the part of many of us is to mouth a few oaths. This makes us feel better but does it actually? Well, naturally, there are academics who are willing to spend part of their lives and  our taxes to find out. A team from Keele University, led by Richard Stephens, conducted an experiment by asking volunteers to stick their hands in icy water and then either swear or say something neutral. They found (NeuroReport, vol 20 p 1056) that after a good cuss the volunteers experienced increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and a decrease in perceived pain compared with those who didn’t swear. So, the occasional curse does you good – glad we’ve got that sorted.

If you want to distract yourself from your problems, have some fun, at least according to some research conducted by Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University. Their research consisted of asking young women suffering from asthma what symptoms they were feeling whilst waiting for a rollercoaster ride and how they felt after it. I have heard some chat up lines but that takes the biscuit! The scientists’ conclusion, published in Behaviour Research and Therapy (vol 45, p 977) – it is not clear if they had time for reflection in a police cell or not – was that women felt more wheezy before the ride than after, even though their lung function was actually worse than before. Amazing!

Of course, as any fule kno, pain is modulated by cognitive factors such as attention and emotions. To demonstrate the point a group of Italian scientists, led by Marina de Tommaso, conducted a bizarre experiment. They measured the relative pain suffered by shooting them in the hand with a powerful laser beam while they were looking at pictures they had previously deemed to be beautiful, so-so or horrible. Those gazing on the beautiful pictures produced lower pain scores than the others. Explains my reaction to modern art!

If you enjoyed this why not check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone. Available now. Just follow any of the links

http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001142053

http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001142053

http://bookreadermagazine.com/fifty-curious-questions/