App for Bird Songs Coming Soon, Why Teens Should Sleep and More

Let Your Teen Sleep!

New research recently reported in Nature Neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin suggests that making your teenager restrict their sleeping patterns could be hazardous to their brain.

While you sleep, your neural pathways constrict and reduce in preparation for the following day, when they expand, grow, form new connections and destroy old ones in response to new experiences and learning. Dr. Chiara Cirelli followed these patterns in adolescent mice and flies while allowed to sleep normally, woken at irregular intervals or forced to stay awake.

In the latter two scenarios, the neural connections were not allowed to rest and constrict. Cirelli isn’t sure if this will affect the brains development in the long run, but it certainly could considering that adolescence is one of the most important times in brain development.

Starburst Galaxies Clear the Way

In last Friday’s Fast Four, I talked about measuring the speed of the cosmic debris between galaxies and stars, noting that interstellar space is far from empty. But you might think its empty, because the stuff filling the space is rather transparent. But this wasn’t always the case. Early in the universe’s development, the space between galaxies was an opaque, dense fog.

A new study in the Astrophysical Journal Letters from the University of Michigan’s Jordan Zastrow explains how this happened for the first time. According to theory, ultra violet radiation from galaxies sporting a large number of birthing stars interacted with the fog to turn the neutral hydrogen intergalactic medium into the charged hydrogen plasma that remains today.

How did he figure this out? He observed it first hand. It’s happening right now in a relatively rare starburst galaxy that was likely much more common in the early universe.

Bird Songs; There’s an App for That

According to research from the University of Wisconsin, an iPhone app for recording and recognizing bird songs is just around the corner. And by that, I mean in the Spring of 2012.

It was created by Professor Mark Berres when he saw the neat trick of song identification based on a sound recording from one of his graduate students in his office. Of course the instant idea is to apply it to bird songs, but it’s much more tricky than recorded songs.

For example, the same bird can sing the same song a slightly different way each time, throwing in a note here or there or changing the tempo. Kind of like trying to identify the old recording of Piano Man by a live recording made in recent years.  Not only that, different birds can have slight dialect differences from place to place.

To get around this, Berres has turned to genetics. The program called WeBIRD dices bird calls into time-ordered chunks of frequency and energy, then uses a data organization technique usually reserved for jumbled bits of DNA that can align temporally misaligned data, working around a lot of the variation.

The result is an amazing app that not only can identify a bird’s song, it can identify individual birds. Berres expects the app to be a big boost to nature lovers everywhere, as well as to researchers who may be able to get data just by placing microphones places, instead of disturbing the natural environment with a person’s presence.

Or maybe they just want to be lazier.

It’s All About Your Date’s Friends

Counter to what one might believe, a new study from Penn State and Ohio State reveals who the real culprits are behind changing someone’s behavior—their date’s friends.

Think about it for a second. Birds of a feather flock together, right? So chances are that if you drink a bunch, your friends drink a bunch too. And chances are also similarly high that you’re likely going out on a date with someone who thinks roughly the same way.

But what about your date’s friends?

There you are, showing up to a party with your new girlfriend, and her group of friends is cracking a case of Natty Light. You want to fit in, right? Don’t want to be seen as a square by your potential girlfriend’s inner circle. So you get influenced. And the influence is more than your own friends or your date.

Case in point, the researchers kept track of 449 couples for a decade and looked at the statistics. If your friends have a history of drinking, it increases your own odds of binge drinking by 30 percent. If your date used to imbibe a lot, it increase your own odds by 32 percent. But if your date’s friends have a history tasting the Rockies, your chances of joining in jumps to 80 percent.

But the reverse works as well. The same influence goes to those who prefer to stay sober.

But what’s the fun in that?


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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