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Science News

When good people do bad things: Being in a group makes some people lose touch with their personal moral beliefs

When people get together in groups, unusual things can happen -- both good and bad. Belonging to a group makes people more likely to harm others outside the group.Massachusetts Institute of Technology

When people get together in groups, unusual things can happen -- both good and bad. Groups create important social institutions that an individual could not achieve alone, but there can be a darker side to such alliances: Belonging to a group makes people more likely to harm others outside the group.

"Although humans exhibit strong preferences for equity and moral prohibitions against harm in many contexts, people's priorities change when there is an 'us' and a 'them,'" says Rebecca Saxe, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT. "A group of people will often engage in actions that are contrary to the private moral standards of each individual in that group, sweeping otherwise decent individuals into 'mobs' that commit looting, vandalism, even physical brutality."

Several factors play into this transformation. When people are in a group, they feel more anonymous, and less likely to be caught doing something wrong. They may also feel a diminished sense of personal responsibility for collective actions.

Long-range tunneling of quantum particles

Quantum particles transmit through a whole series of barriers under conditions where a single particle could not do the move.University of Innsbruck

One of the most remarkable consequences of the rules in quantum mechanics is the capability of a quantum particle to penetrate through a potential barrier even though its energy would not allow for the corresponding classical trajectory. This is known as the quantum tunnel effect and manifests itself in a multitude of well-known phenomena. For example, it explains nuclear radioactive decay, fusion reactions in the interior of stars, and electron transport through quantum dots. Tunneling also is at the heart of many technical applications, for instance it allows for imaging of surfaces on the atomic length scale in scanning tunneling microscopes.

All the above systems have in common that they essentially represent the very fundamental paradigm of the tunnel effect: a single particle that penetrates through a single barrier. Now, the team of Hanns-Christoph Nägerl, Institute for Experimental Physics of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, has directly observed tunneling dynamics in a much more intriguing system: They see quantum particles transmitting through a whole series of up to five potential barriers under conditions where a single particle could not do the move. Instead the particles need to help each other via their strong mutual interactions and via an effect known as Bose enhancement.

Technology News

ACLU Sues After Illinois Mayor Has Cops Raid Guy Parodying Him on Twitter

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. Image: Ron Johnson/APBy Kim Zetter

Countless parody Twitter accounts have been created over the years — British Petroleum, Mark Zuckerberg, the NSA, the Queen of England and even God.

In each case, the target of the account either did nothing in response or simply requested that the owner of the account clearly label it a fake.

Not the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, however.

Mayor Jim Ardis directed his city manager to use the police to hunt down the author of a parody account about him and threatened Twitter with litigation unless it suspended the account, which it did. Now a man who was raided and arrested for creating the account is suing the mayor, a former police chief, and others for violating his constitutional rights.

Jonathan Daniel, 29, created the Twitter account @peoriamayor in March and used it primarily to amuse his friends by retweeting their comments as the mayor. Daniel sent out satiric tweets that contradicted the mayor’s clean-cut image by conveying the mayor as having a preoccupation with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Though he also sent out tweets from the account, he labeled it a parody account three days after he created it, and the account was only active 10 days before it closed.

The Physics of Keeping Cool

Yes, there is snow and ice in the winter but where is it during the summer when we need it? Image: Rhett AllainBy Rhett Allain

Refrigeration: the process of decreasing the temperature of some thing (my definition). Air conditioning (AC) can be a form of refrigeration.

There are several ways to reduce the temperature of things – like a person or a beer. The history and physics of cooling things can be quite interesting. I’m not a historian, so I am only going to speculate on the timeline of events in the life of refrigeration. However, I feel comfortable explaining the physics in each method.

Humans Discover Sweat

Humans just can’t help it. Sometimes they get hot. But alas! Humans have a built in cooling systems. It’s called sweat. In order to understand how it works, maybe we should first look at temperature. You can measure the temperature in Celsius (°C) or Fahrenheit (°F), but what are you actually measuring?

If I were to give a simple definition of temperature, I would say that it is a measure of the average motion energy of the particles that make up that object. That’s not a perfect definition, but I think it will be fine for now. This means that when you cool something, you decrease the average motion energy (kinetic energy) of its particles.

Environmental News

Very Serious Superbugs in Imported Seafood

Image: Matsuyuki/ FlickrBy Maryn McKenna

Breaking news today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of its open-access journal Emerging Infectious Diseases: Researchers in Canada have identified a very highly resistant bacterium in squid imported from South Korea and being sold in a Chinese grocery store.

The letter reporting the finding was supposed to go live at noon ET, but hasn’t yet. When it does, it will be linked from this page, under the subheading Letters. It is titled: “Carbapenamase-Producing Organism in Food, 2014.”

The letter, signed by Joseph E. Rubin, Samantha Ekanayake and Champika Fernando of the University of Saskatchewan, reports that, in the squid, they found a variety of a common bacterium, Pseudomonas, carrying a gene that directs production of an enzyme called VIM-2 carbapenemase. It’s the “carbapenemase” that is the troubling factor here. Carbapenems are the truly last of the few remaining last-resort antibiotics in the world. The global advance of carbapenem resistance — via superbugs such as NDM from Asia, and OXA and VIM primarily from southern Europe — is what the CDC’s director was talking about last year when he referred to the worldwide threat from “nightmare bacteria.”

Climate Change Hits America in Its Sweet Tooth

Corn syrup is at risk due to weather and water threats
Corn, the biggest U.S. agricultural crop by far, is at risk because its thirst for water is growing at a time when the threat of drought is increasing.By Marianne Lavelle and The Daily Climate

Climate change is creating significant new risks for the $65-billion-a-year U.S. corn industry, foundation for the nation's favorite soft drink sweetener – corn syrup – says a report released today by Ceres, a coalition of investor and environmental groups.

But while climate change may prove more durable than America's fickle diet trends, a consumer shift away from the sweetener may ultimately have bigger influence in the amount of corn syrup in our lives.

Corn, the biggest U.S. agricultural crop by far, is at risk because its thirst for water is growing at a time when the threat of drought is increasing, the report says. Ceres said corn production especially is imperiled by its reliance stressed aquifers—in particular, the High Plains aquifer that spans eight Great Plains states and California's over-extended Central Valley aquifer.

Medical News

If timing’s right, cats and roaches may be good for kids’ allergies

Exposure to mice, roaches and cats before a child’s first birthday may confer protection against asthma and allergies, a new study suggests.by Laura Sanders

As I can attest, parents of newborns can get a little hyper about germs. Looking back, I’m slightly embarrassed by the amount of hand sanitizer that lived in our house when we first brought Baby V home. (But only slightly embarrassed. Newborns really don’t need your well-wishing neighbor’s phlegmy rattle.)

Sometimes, though, germs and other unsavory allergens can actually keep your baby healthier.

Urban babies exposed to cockroaches, mice and cats before their first birthday were less likely at age 3 to suffer from recurrent wheezing, a warning sign for asthma, than children who weren’t exposed to the allergens, researchers report June 6 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. (Bad news for dog-lovers: Pooch exposure didn’t seem to help.)

Synchronized brain waves enable rapid learning

MIT neuroscientists found that brain waves originating from the striatum (red) and from the prefrontal cortex (blue) become synchronized when an animal learns to categorize different patterns of dots.Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The human mind can rapidly absorb and analyze new information as it flits from thought to thought. These quickly changing brain states may be encoded by synchronization of brain waves across different brain regions, according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists.

The researchers found that as monkeys learn to categorize different patterns of dots, two brain areas involved in learning -- the prefrontal cortex and the striatum -- synchronize their brain waves to form new communication circuits.

"We're seeing direct evidence for the interactions between these two systems during learning, which hasn't been seen before. Category-learning results in new functional circuits between these two areas, and these functional circuits are rhythm-based, which is key because that's a relatively new concept in systems neuroscience," says Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and senior author of the study, which appears in the June 12 issue of Neuron.

Space News

Gigantic explosions buried in dust: Probing environment around dark gamma-ray bursts

Arachnid outruns cheetah in terms of body lengths per second
Close-in view of the artist’s conception of the environment around the gamma ray burst GRB 020819B based on ALMA observations.By Ashley Yeager

Observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have for the first time directly mapped out the molecular gas and dust in the host galaxies of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) -- the biggest explosions in the Universe. In a complete surprise, less gas was observed than expected, and correspondingly much more dust, making some GRBs appear as "dark GRBs." This work will appear in the journal Nature on 12 June 2014 and is the first ALMA science result on GRBs to appear. It shows ALMA's potential to help us to better understand these objects.

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are intense bursts of extremely high energy observed in distant galaxies -- the brightest explosive phenomenon in the Universe. Bursts that last more than a couple of seconds are known as long-duration gamma-ray bursts (LGRBs) [1] and are associated with supernova explosions -- powerful detonations at the ends of the lives of massive stars.

In just a matter of seconds, a typical burst releases as much energy as the Sun will in its entire ten-billion-year lifetime. The explosion itself is often followed by a slowly fading emission, known as an afterglow, which is thought to be created by collisions between the ejected material and the surrounding gas.

Nearby Dwarf Galaxies Don’t Fit Standard Model of Cosmology, Study Says

This image shows the Tadpole galaxy (Arp 188), a disrupted barred spiral galaxy located 420 million light-years from our planet. Material stripped from the galaxy during its collision with a smaller galaxy (seen in the upper left corner of the larger interaction partner) forms a long tidal tail. Young blue stars, star clusters and tidal dwarf galaxies are born in the tidal debris. These objects move in a common direction within a plane defined by the orientation and motion of their tidal tail. A similar galaxy interaction might have occurred in the Local Group in the past, which could explain the distribution of dwarf galaxies in co-rotating planes. Image credit: H. Ford, JHU / M. Clampin, STScI / G. Hartig, STScI / G. Illingworth, UCO, Lick / ACS Science Team / ESA / NASA.by Sci-News.com

According to the standard model, also called the ‘Lambda cold dark matter model,’ 23 percent of the mass of the Universe is shaped by invisible particles known as dark matter.

The theory says that satellite dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way and Andromeda are expected to behave a certain way – the galaxies would form in halos of dark matter, be widely distributed and would have to move in random directions.

“The model predicts that dwarf galaxies should form inside of small clumps of dark matter and that these clumps should be distributed randomly about their parent galaxy,” Prof David Merritt of Rochester Institute of Technology, a co-author of the study accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (arXiv pre-print).

“But what is observed is very different. The dwarf galaxies belonging to the Milky Way and Andromeda are seen to be orbiting in huge, thin disk-like structures.”

Odd News

California mite becomes fastest land animal

SPEEDY LEGS The California mite Paratarsotomus macropalpis can outpace Usain Bolt and even a cheetah in terms of body lengths per second.

A sesame seed–sized mite from California can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, and it is definitely not more powerful than a locomotive. But it is quick. New videos have captured the Paratarsotomus macropalpis mite skittering  along at almost 30 centimeters per second. P. macropalpis moves 322 body lengths per second and is now by far the fastest land animal in terms of speed for its size. A human running that many body lengths per second could cover about 2,317 kilometers, or 1,440 miles, per hour. For comparison, Usain Bolt, among the fastest humans in the world, runs 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour) at full speed, and only for short sprints. The cheetah retains its title for fastest animal land speed overall, but for relative speed the animal that comes closest to the mite is the Australian tiger beetle, the previous record holder. Studying the biomechanics of the mite might help engineers develop ultrafast robots and other devices, scientists say. The team announced the mite’s new record in April at the 2014 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.
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