Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fund Me, Maybe?

Here's a fun parody video that was filmed at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, CA. All cast and crew are actual astronomers.

Why does this never happen at the ecology meetings I've been to?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I'm a Leaf on the Wind, Watch How I...

If you haven't seen Joss Whedon's Firefly and its subsequent film, Serenity, then we need to have a serious talk about how committed you are to your geekdom. I'd like to take this moment to encourage you to go and watch it as soon as possible. All of it. Just call in sick to work tomorrow, it's worth it. Feed your inner fanboy (or -girl), it likes it. From this point on I'm going to assume those of you who are still reading have seen the show and movie. You've been warned.

Let's be honest, I've got a thing for Captain Tightpants. And Jayne...well, a "man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything." Kaylee and her love of shiny, frilly fripperies is cute as a button. Inara is gorgeous and has a wardrobe I might kill for. Zoe equals honor, dignity, and all that is badass. Book is a conscience with barely contained hair. Simon and River are pompous and crazy while at the same time being charming and funny. And, finally, Wash (who is probably my favorite) is Hawaiian shirts, plastic dinosaurs, and geese juggling stories.

And then it was over. Cancelled. We all sat in stunned silence. Then we raged. And we cried.

We all know how abruptly the show ends. We also know how amazing it was when we first heard there was going to be a movie (you can admit it, there was a happy-dance). Serenity gave us a few more hours to spend in the 'Verse. And then it happened...the ship crash-landed at Mr. Universe's base and Wash got impaled by a Reaver spear. I don't know about your jaw, but mine hit the floor. Now, if you watched enough of Whedon's work then you know he's known for killing off your favorite character, yet you are still surprised every time it happens.

But now we are offered hope. Scientifically accurate hope.

Kyle Hill is a graduate student, a writer at the Science-Based Life blog, and a contributor to Wired, Popular Science, Scientific American, and Nature Education. This fanboy has decided employ his skills at math and physics to try and rewrite Firefly history by proving that Wash's death was scientifically impossible. His original article appeared in Scientific American with a an updated version appearing in Wired. He makes a compelling argument, relying on information we already know about objects in space:

Space debris is a real and serious problem. Just around Earth-That-Was are tens of thousands of pieces of extraterrestrial trash litter (see NASA's Threat of Orbital Debris, 2009). Debris (even the really small stuff) is harmless here on land, but put it up in space, where it travels at 10,000 meters per second, and it becomes a lethal, hypervelocity bullet. Even the comparatively primitive shuttles of Earth-That-Was had shielding to prevent such harmful impacts. A paper in 2001 details a crater created by a fleck of paint to the window of STS-92, a flight to the International Space Station. In his calculations, Hill assumed the fleck of paint to be similarly sized to a metal sphere. This brought his numbers in line with the hypervelocity testing that NASA had already conducted. Taking into account size and speed of the object, he calculated that "the window weathered an impact with around 20 Joules of kinetic energy - equivalent to four milligrams of TNT or a decently thrown baseball." (see his equations in the article). Such damage is not uncommon. Pilots routinely dodge debris throughout their missions, and NASA replaced parts each time they got a shuttle back. Now, up the size of the object. Debris as small as 10 cm can cause damage equivalent to a large bomb (see Aerospace's Debris Risk Size Chart). Starting to see where Hill is going with this?

Armed with this information, Hill took a closer look at the Wash-killing-spear itself. By watching the scene in question he was able to get the general dimensions of the spear. He then used an earlier chase scene to estimate spear size and speed. He concluded that Reavers shoot spears at a speed that has an upper limit of around 100 miles per hour (45 m/s), about as fast as baseball's fast-ball pitch. Guesstimating that the spear was made from "average" metal and weighed around 100-200 lbs (45-90 kg), he was able to calculate its kinetic energy (equation can be found in the article). Hill found the Reaver spear to have 45,500 Joules at the low end, which is 3,700 times the energy of the largest recorded impact to a shuttle window. Hmmm...okay. This means that a spear could conceivably go through a window, and as flimsy as Serenity's windows look, they would not have deflected a Reaver spear. 见他的鬼 (jiàn tā de guǐ)

I still give Kyle Hill major geek points for attempting to save a beloved sci-fi character from his ultimate demise. But physics and math have spoken: There is no saving Wash. I'll give you a minute to find a tissue to wipe the tears away. Don't worry, we can still blame Fox and Rupert Murdoch.

I think it's time for a rewatching of the series.

I'll be in my bunk.

Here's Kyle Hill's original story in Scientific American:
"Saving Lives in Serenity: Can a Fanboy and Physics Change a Movie?"
and the updated article in  Wired:
"Firefly Fan Tries to Retroactively Save Dead Character With NASA Data"

And go over and take a look at Kyle's blog: Science-Based Life

All of the above in-text links are references from Kyle's original article.

(image via Objects in Space)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Getting a Date for Valentine's Day: A Scientific Approach (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of Getting a Date for Valentine’s Day: A Scientific Approach. This will make sense if you haven’t read Part 1, but to enjoy the full impact of this V-Day themed explosion of scientific knowledge, I suggest you read both. If that cramps your style then here’s a summary: (1) Just Ask, (2) Get Your Foot in the Door, and (3) Gaze Without Being Creepy. Now, let’s move on…

4. Make Them Laugh

How often do you hear that what people really want is someone with a sense of humor? Yeah, pretty often. There is some evidence that humor is related to sexual attraction, that people with a good sense of humor are preferred as friends and partners. This is especially true when men exhibit a sense of humor or use humor in their social interactions with women. A study published in 2010, again, by Nicholas Guéguen, looks at the sense of humor at the initial stages of a relationship. Does a man’s sense of humor make him more desirable to a woman he approaches to ask out? This study included young women sitting alone in the sidewalk area of different bars. Guéguen had male confederates sit near a woman and, so she could overhear them, start a benign discussion about their summer jobs. After three minutes of this some of the men would switch to a “Humor Condition” where one man in the group would tell three funny jokes while the other men at his table praised his humor. While this script was playing out, the confederates would take note if the woman was laughing or not. After his other confederates left, the joke-teller (or non-joke-teller in the No Humor condition) would then approach the female and say, ““Hello. My name’s Antoine. I noticed you when I arrived here. I just want to say that I think you’re really pretty. I have an appointment now, but I was wondering if you might give me your phone number. I could phone you later, and we could have a drink together someplace to get to know each other.” He would then wait 10 seconds while smiling and gazing at the woman to see if she gave him her number. Afterwards, the woman was asked to participate by answering a questionnaire. Guéguen found humor to “positively affect a woman’s interest in a man who expresses a sense of humor.” Additionally, higher sociability and intelligence was associated with the humorous male. Attractiveness was found to be insignificant between the Humor and No Humor groups. If we are connecting the dots then perhaps if humor = intelligence, intelligence = high status and success, high status and success = attractive to women, then attractiveness to women = humor. It’s simple logic really.

ResearchBlogging.orgGuéguen, N. (2010). Men's sense of humor and women's responses to courtship solicitations: an experimental field study Psychological Reports, 107 (1), 145-156 DOI: 10.2466/pr0.107.1.145-156

5. Red is Sexy, Wear Something Red

I tend to think of red as an overly commercialized Valentine’s Day ploy. And it is. But, as it turns out, there may also be some actual, scientific validity to the color of love. In nature, red is often a warning color (a prey-on-me-and-die adaptation) but with humans (and some other species, like primates), red may serve as an aphrodisiac, carrying a sex and romance connotation. I’ve come across two studies, one about men the other about women, that help shed some light on this “romantic red” hypothesis. Let’s start with the men. A study published by Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta in 2008 investigates this red-sex link for men’s evaluation of women. Their experiment was relatively long, but to boil it down, they asked men to rate photos of women, examining whether or not the presence of red affects attractiveness. The results showed strong support for the “red effect.” Even a brief glimpse of red was shown to enhance men’s attraction to women. Red was found to enhance sexual attraction but not general positivity and characteristics (likeability, kindness, intelligence).

Now for the ladies. A study published in 2010, also by Elliot’s group, investigated how red influences how women view men. For women, red has been linked to love and passion, carrying the meaning of sex and romance. Okay, got it, red equals attractive, right? Well…women are complicated creatures, and study upon study has shown that women don’t just take something as simple as attractiveness into account when choosing a partner. They also look for such things as authority, wealth, and status. But research has shown that red is linked to strength, power, high status, and competitive dominance, appearing historically as symbols of these traits. Put together, this means that the color red should enhance women’s attraction to men by increasing their perception of the man’s status and therefore her attraction to him. That is exactly what Elliot et al.’s study tested. Again, I’ll boil down their long experiment: They asked female participants to respond to a photo of a man. These photos were manipulated for color in either the background or on the clothing of the man. The results showed that women who viewed men with red (background or clothing) perceived him to be more attractive and were more sexually attracted to him. Women who viewed a man wearing red also perceived him to have higher status and higher status potential, and women who viewed a man described as high in status perceived him to be more attractive. What did we learn from these studies? That red is a sexy color for both men and women, so try a little red in your wardrobe.

ResearchBlogging.orgElliot, A., Niesta Kayser, D., Greitemeyer, T., Lichtenfeld, S., Gramzow, R., Maier, M., & Liu, H. (2010). Red, rank, and romance in women viewing men. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139 (3), 399-417 DOI: 10.1037/a0019689
ResearchBlogging.orgElliot, A., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men's attraction to women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (5), 1150-1164 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.5.1150

6. Say it With and Near Flowers

Show your love, give them dying flower genitalia. Setting aside the fact that a bouquet of flowers is just a bunch of reproductive organs, flowers are used to reflect our emotions and moods, usually in a positive way and especially with women. Given this, a study by (you guessed it!) Nicholas Guéguen in 2011 examines how women respond to men with flowers. He wanted to know if physical attractiveness, sexual attractiveness, and dating potential would be influenced by the presence of flowers. He found that the simple presence of flowers in a room was enough to have women show more interest towards a man, and women who were exposed to flowers were more likely to say yes when asked out. Guéguen published a follow-up study in 2012 where he had men approach and ask out women in a shopping mall. He found that women approached near a flower shop were more likely to accept a date than women approached near other types of stores. So, as it turns out, flower genitals really are your ticket to love, or at least a first date. Perhaps you shouldn’t mention the word “genitals” though.

ResearchBlogging.orgGuéguen, N. (2011). ‘‘Say it with flowers’’: The effect of flowers on mating attractiveness and behavior Social Influence, 6 (2), 105-112 : 10.1080/15534510.2011.561556
ResearchBlogging.orgGuéguen, N. (2012). “Say it … Near the Flower Shop”: Further Evidence of the Effect of Flowers on Mating The Journal of Social Psychology, 152 (5), 529-532 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2012.683463

We have come to the end of our sciency guide to solicitation (the legal kind) success. What have we learned? You should stake out some flowers (I never said you had to buy them) in your red shirt, skirt, tie, or whatever. Then you should tell a good joke before walking up to your potential date and opening with a unique request, segueing into an offer of a date. Simple, right?

Obviously this isn’t the be-all and end-all to this discussion (or Nicholas Guéguen would be out of a job), and so if you have any other studies you love on this topic please share them in the comments below.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

(image via staggered)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting a Date for Valentine’s Day: A Scientific Approach (Part 1)

Quite frankly, most years I feel like kicking Valentine’s Day in the truffles. Do I recognize this as a single woman’s reaction to a mushy, lovey, couples' holiday? Sure, but the urge to kick remains. This year, however, I’ve decided to take a more lighthearted, less violent approach. Part of this approach is to recognize, and even revel in, the more ridiculous aspects of commercialism and human relationships. As such, I found a selection of papers that, when put together, loosely instruct on how to get a date for Valentine’s Day (or any day really). As I started writing I realized that it would be just mean to make this a single post. I’d have people unsubscribing and falling asleep (not necessarily in that order) before they got through the second paper. So I’ve divided this “guide” into two parts.

1. Just Ask 

To get a date you must first find someone who is willing to date you. A paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2011 by Nicholas Guéguen takes a look at how gender plays a role in receptivity to sexual offers. Guéguen conducted his study in France, gathering male and female university students to act as confederates. These confederates were first rated on their attractiveness using a 9-point attractiveness scale. Then they were asked to approach potential partners of the opposite sex on the street and say “I find you very likeable and attractive.” After this, the confederate asked one of two randomly determined questions: “Will you come to my apartment to have a drink?” or “Would you go to bed with me?” This study found that “men were apparently more eager for sexual activity than women” and that they were more willing to go to an unfamiliar female’s apartment and bed than females were when asked the same questions. You are completely shocked, I can tell. Forty percent of females agreed to go to an unfamiliar male’s apartment, and only one agreed to the sexual offer. These were the same results found in a similar study in the United States, supporting the idea that these reactions aren’t just typical of Americans. The U.S. study, however, did not take attractiveness of the solicitor into account. Guéguen’s experiment found that the more attractive the solicitor the more likely they were to get a positive answer, and that solicitor attractiveness was more important for males than for females. Women were more likely to go for a drink with an attractive man, but that attractiveness had no impact on the sexual offer. The men were more likely to say yes in general and even more likely to say yes to an attractive woman. You’re shocked again I can see. The take home from part 1 of our Valentine’s Day Guide? Perhaps, it is that asking doesn’t hurt. They may say yes, especially if you’re hot.

ResearchBlogging.orgGuéguen, N. (2011). Effects of Solicitor Sex and Attractiveness on Receptivity to Sexual Offers: A Field Study Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40 (5), 915-919 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-011-9750-4
2. Get Your Foot in the Door 

We can’t argue that the first point/instruction was blunt. Very blunt. So then, let’s refine it a bit. Nicholas Guéguen’s group also published a paper in 2008 about the “foot-in-the-door technique.” In this study, once again conducted in France, male confederates first asked a woman one of two foot-in-the door questions: “Hello, I’m sorry to bother you but would you have a light for my cigarette?” (note: In France, the rate of female smokers is higher so this isn’t a weird question) or “Hello, I’m sorry to bother you but I am looking for the Place de Libération.” If she responded to his question he then said “Thank you very much. Are you busy now? If not, we could have a drink together, if you have some time.” Guéguen found the foot-in-the-door technique to be associated with a greater number of positive responses to the second, courtship-related question. I’ll also point out that the men did not ask the women to go back to a strange apartment and/or jump into bed with them. Probably also a plus. A new, similar study published in 2012 by Dariusz Dolinski, looked at that initial foot-in-the door request, asking if the type of foot to put in that door matters. Dolinski had male and female confederates assigned to three different conditions: no initial request, a typical initial request, or an unusual initial request. The results showed that the “uncommonness of the first, initial request may enhance the effectiveness of the foot-in-the-door technique.” The author suggests that an unusual request requires the respondent to think about why they are complying, looking at themselves and the solicitor more closely. If we put together the blunt, just-ask technique with this second technique then we can conclude that asking is better than not asking and that a unique (and I’ll add: not creepy) lead-in is beneficial in gaining a yes for a date.

ResearchBlogging.orgGueguen, N. (2008). Foot-in-the-door technique using a courtship request: a field experiment Psychological Reports, 103 (6) DOI: 10.2466/PR0.103.6.529-534
ResearchBlogging.orgDolinski, D. (2012). The Nature of the First Small Request as a Decisive Factor in the Effectiveness of the Foot-in-the-Door Technique Applied Psychology, 61 (3), 437-453 DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-0597.2011.00477.x
3. Gaze Without Being Creepy

Eyes are small but important features. You can tell a lot from someone’s eyes. They guide our attention to objects that are important, have aesthetic value, or both. Did you know that attention strongly varies as a function of how attractive a person is? It’s true. It has been shown that both men and women gaze longer at more attractive opposite-sex faces. Now, that seems relatively common sense, but if you look at gazing as a signal of mate quality then you have a whole new pick-up technique in your repertoire. But your gender and how long you gaze matters. You don’t want to be the creepy-starey-person or the weird-shifty-eyed-person. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior by Ischa van Straaten et al. in 2009 investigates to what extent the length of people’s gazes during social interactions is affected by the attractiveness of the partner. They recruited University students, put them in a naturalistic bar-like environment, introduced confederates and participants, seated them face-to-face, and filmed them with hidden cameras. After a conversation, the participants were led to a different room, where they rated the confederate’s attractiveness and their own dating desire. The results of this study showed that “the expression of attraction through gazing in real-life interactions varies between men and women” with men gazing longer at attractive women than less attractive women and the length of women’s gazes to be unaffected by attractiveness. The authors suggest this is because “men engage in overt, proactive, mating strategies while women engage in more covert, cautions strategies.” Granted, this study just looks at gazing rather than making suggestions for dating. But if we use this knowledge to make conscious decisions about how we (literally) look at someone then the conclusion for this technique would be to look at someone (especially male to female) a little bit longer to show that you find them attractive. Practice with gaze length may be required so as not to squick her out.

ResearchBlogging.orgvan Straaten, I., Holland, R., Finkenauer, C., Hollenstein, T., & Engels, R. (2009). Gazing Behavior During Mixed-Sex Interactions: Sex and Attractiveness Effects Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (5), 1055-1062 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-009-9482-x

That's all for now. Look for a Part 2 on Wednesday!

(image from Arkadin blog)

Friday, February 8, 2013

I've Taken a Lichen to You

This year I've found quite a few sciency Valentine's Day e-cards. I figured I would start off a series a V-Day posts with a few created by a friend of mine, Jen Santoro, a forestry masters student and all-around awesome chica. She did a great job with these!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Art of the Insides

Danny Quirk is an artist that specializes in photo realistic watercolors, painting what the camera can't capture. One of his current bodies of work has a anatomical theme that combines classic poses, in dramatic chiaroscuro lighting, with an illustration of the structures under the skin. He's been working on several media including liquid latex body art applied to some willing participants. You can see more,  purchase, and even commission artwork from Danny here:

Danny Quirk's Artwork Facebook page
Danny Quirk on Behance
dquirk1017 on Etsy
Danny Quirk's email

Lateral Neck Dissection (body painting print)

Neck, face and back dissection (body painting)

Abdominal Dissection

Superior Musculature of the Back/Musculature of the Shoulder

Neck Dissection

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