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Monday morning once again here in Possum Valley and the time has arrived for science talk.  New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today's information world.  Over the fold are selections from the past week from a few of the many excellent science news sites around the world.  Today's tidbits include phobia's effect allows fear to persist, injectable gel could repair damage from heart attack, European Neanderthals were on the verge of extinction even before the arrival of modern humans, neither birth nor death stops a flock, evolution of the earliest horses was driven by climate change, and replacing electricity with light researchers build first physical 'metatronic' circuit.  Pull up that comfy chair and grab a spot near the window.  There is always plenty of room for everyone.  Another session of Dr. Possum's science education, entertainment, and potluck discussion is set to begin.

Featured Stories>
The fear of spiders, snakes, and other beings is influenced by the perception of the feared objects.

An analysis of the results showed that higher average peak ratings of distress during the spider encounters were associated with estimates that the spiders were larger than they really were. Similar positive associations were seen between over-estimates of spider size and participants’ higher average peak levels of anxiety, higher average numbers of panic symptoms and overall spider fear. These findings have been supported in later studies with broader samples of people with varying levels of fear of spiders.

“It would appear from that result that fear is driving or altering the perception of the feared object, in this case a spider,” said Vasey, also the director of research for the psychology department’s Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic. “We already knew fear and anxiety alter thoughts about the feared thing. For example, the feared outcome is interpreted as being more likely than it really is. But this study shows that even perception is altered by fear. In this case, the feared spider is seen as being bigger. And that may serve as a maintaining factor for the fear.”

The approach tasks with the spiders are a classic example of exposure therapy, a common treatment for people with phobias. Though this therapy is known to be effective, scientists still do not fully understand why it works. And for some, the effects don’t last – but it is difficult to predict who will have a relapse of fear.

New and safe treatments for heart attack in the human continue to be the point of search in large amounts of medical research.  A new injectable gel is part of that ongoing process.

The hydrogel is made from cardiac connective tissue that is stripped of heart muscle cells through a cleansing process, freeze-dried and milled into powder form, and then liquefied into a fluid that can be easily injected into the heart. Once it hits body temperature, the liquid turns into a semi-solid, porous gel that encourages cells to repopulate areas of damaged cardiac tissue and to preserve heart function, according to Christman. The hydrogel forms a scaffold to repair the tissue and possibly provides biochemical signals that prevent further deterioration in the surrounding tissues.
The view of Neanderthal survival until the arrival of modern humans must be revisited in light of recent findings.
New findings from an international team of researchers show that most Neanderthals in Europe died off around 50,000 years ago. The previously held view of a Europe populated by a stable Neanderthal population for hundreds of thousands of years up until modern humans arrived must therefore be revised.

The results indicate that most Neanderthals in Europe died off as early as 50,000 years ago. After that, a small group of Neanderthals recolonised central and western Europe, where they survived for another 10,000 years before modern humans entered the picture.

The life of a flock of any organism is independent of the life of individuals within the greater whole.
"A flock can keep moving in the same direction for times much longer than the lifetime of any individual member," said (researcher) Toner, a member of the UO (University of Oregon) Institute of Theoretical Science and a professor in the physics department. "Individuals are being born and dying but their direction and motion can persist much longer than the lifetime of any individual creature."

Secondly, he added, the density changes of such a "mortal flock" -- where some members are leaving by death and joining by birth -- create persistent but predictable fluctuations. "Birth and death are very important in microbiological flocks, such as swarms of bacteria or in collections of self-propelled molecules that flock in most living cells."

This fundamental new knowledge already is applicable to understanding the movement of molecules within cells -- in particular, mitotic spindles that launch the machinery of cell development and division, Toner said.

The earliest known horse in North American forests weighed in at a towering 12 pounds or so.
Sifrhippus lived during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a 175,000-year interval of time some 56 million years ago in which average global temperatures rose by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, caused by the release of vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans.

            About a third of mammal species responded with significant reduction in size during the PETM, some by as much as one-half. Sifrhippus shrank by about 30 percent to the size of a small house cat (about 8.5 pounds) in the PETM's first 130,000 years and then rebounded to about 15 pounds in the final 45,000 years of the PETM.

Scientists have assumed that rising temperatures or high concentrations of carbon dioxide primarily caused the phenomenon in mammals during this period, and new research led by Ross Secord of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Jonathan Bloch of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville offers new evidence of the cause-and-effect relationship between temperature and body size. Their findings also offer clues to what might happen to animals in the near future from global warming.

In a paper to be published in the Feb. 24 issue of the international journal Science, Secord, Bloch and colleagues used measurements and geochemical composition of fossil mammal teeth to document a progressive decrease in Sifrhippus' body size that correlates very closely to temperature change over a 130,000-year span.

In an effort to overcome limitations of size and speed researchers have long sought ways to replace electricity with light in electronic circuits.
In electronics, the “lumped” designation refers to elements that can be treated as a black box, something that turns a given input to a perfectly predictable output without an engineer having to worry about what exactly is going on inside the element every time he or she is designing a circuit.

“Optics has always had its own analogs of elements, things like lenses, waveguides and gratings,” (researcher) Engheta said, “but they were never lumped. Those elements are all much larger than the wavelength of light because that’s all that could be easily built in the old days. For electronics, the lumped circuit elements were always much smaller than the wavelength of operation, which is in the radio or microwave frequency range.”

Nanotechnology has now opened that possibility for lumped optical circuit elements, allowing construction of structures that have dimensions measured in nanometers. In this experiment’s case, the structure was comb-like arrays of rectangular nanorods made of silicon nitrite.

The “meta” in “metatronics” refers to metamaterials, the relatively new field of research where nanoscale patterns and structures embedded in materials allow them to manipulate waves in ways that were previously impossible. Here, the cross-sections of the nanorods and the gaps between them form a pattern that replicates the function of resistors, inductors and capacitors, three of the most basic circuit elements, but in optical wavelengths.

Other Worthy Stories of the Week
Earth's clouds are getting lower
NASA's Spitzer finds solild buckyballs in space
Predator/prey relationships make possible the rich biodiversity of complex ecosystems
Tiny, implantable medical device can propel itself through the bloodstream
New nanotechnology converts body heat into power
Ammonoids trapped parasites in pearls
Global permafrost zones in high resolution on Google Earth
Liquid water diffusion at the molecular level
Even in winter life persists in Arctic seas
Faster than light neutrinos or just faulty wiring?
Ice Age plant revived from frozen burrow
Classic Maya civilization collapse related to modes rainfall reductions

For even more science news:
General Science Collectors:
Alpha-Galileo
BBC News Science and Environment
Eureka Science News
LiveScience
New Scientist
PhysOrg.com
SciDev.net
Science/AAAS
Science Alert
Science Centric
Science Daily
Scientific American
Space Daily

Blogs:
A Few Things Ill Considered Techie and Science News
Cantauri Dreams space exploration
Coctail Party Physics Physics with a twist.
Deep Sea News marine biology
Laelaps more vertebrate paleontology
List of Geoscience Blogs
ScienceBlogs
Space Review
Techonology Review
Tetrapod Zoologyvertebrate paleontology
Science Insider
Scientific Blogging.
Space.com
Wired News
Science RSS Feed: Medworm
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe--a combination of hard science and debunking crap

At Daily Kos:
This Week in Science by DarkSyde
Overnight News Digest:Science Saturday by Neon Vincent. OND tech Thursday by rfall.
Pique the Geek by Translator Sunday evenings about 9 Eastern time
All diaries with the DK GreenRoots Tag.
All diaries with the eKos Tag
A More Ancient World by matching mole
Astro Kos
SciTech at Dkos.
Sunday Science Videos by palantir

NASA picture of the day. For more see the NASA image gallery or the Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive

Oldest Recorded Supernova, NASA, Public Domain

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to possum on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 03:30 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech.

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