Fanning the Flames of Post-Game Riots

15 Apr

There are loyal fans, rabid fans, and then there are the hooligans.

A small number of hooligans react violently after their favorite sports team loses -- or wins -- important games. It sometimes entails setting fires, such as was the case recently with some University of Kentucky men's basketball fans after losing to Wisconsin at the FInal Four.

A small number of hooligans react violently after their favorite sports team loses — or wins — important games. It sometimes entails setting fires, such as was the case recently with some University of Kentucky men’s basketball fans after losing to Wisconsin at the FInal Four.

Those University of Kentucky fans who lit fires on the street following their team’s loss to Wisconsin in the recent NCAA men’s basketball semifinal fall into that third category. And so do those individuals who may have encouraged those lighting the fire.

Oh, Kentucky is hardly unique. Most of their fans are good people who are loyal to the school. In fact, we have seen rioting behavior in all parts of the country after many sporting events. In some cases, it’s not even fans of the losing team who engage in this kind of activity, but fans of the victorious team.

And it’s not just an American thing. If you’re a fan of world soccer, you know that it happens around the globe.

Why do people resort to this kind of behavior? Find out in a blog post from Last April.

In Search of Our Earliest Ancestors

1 Apr

Now this jaw bone is a little long in the tooth. Make that a lot long.

An Arizona State University student recently discovered what appears to be the oldest jawbone from man’s ancestors ever found. The fossil was unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia and is believed to be 2.8 million years old.

A jawbone (not pictured above), recently discovered in Ethiopia and estimated at 2.8 million years old, is believed to be a link between the ape man and the earliest humans.

A jawbone (not pictured above), recently discovered in Ethiopia and estimated at 2.8 million years old, is believed to be a link between the ape man and the earliest humans.

The jawbone – the left side of the lower jaw with five teeth, to be exact – contains elements of both the Australopithecus afarensis, sometimes referred to as the “ape man,” and the genus homo, which is responsible for the human lineage. It most likely involves the species “homo habilis,” an early and primitive human.

The discovery appears to fill in some scientific gaps between the two with fossils dated at 3 million years old and 2.3 million years old having previously been found. The fossils from the latter are more similar to man. The implications for this discovery, published in the journal “Science,” are major.

Michael Rogers, professor of anthropology at Southern, says the anatomical characteristics are consistent with an intermediate between Australopithecus and homo. “The surprise here is that it fits almost too perfectly as a transitional form, exactly what some have predicted would be found,” Rogers says.

Rogers – who has led many Southern student anthropological expeditions to the Afar section of Ethiopia, including a trip two months ago in Gona – says discoveries rarely fit this neatly into scientific hypotheses. But he said the discovery is exciting and potentially enlightening.

“It was found in a drier, more open grassland type of environment than that of any earlier human ancestor, which could mark a significant adaptive shift that began with the origin of our genus,” Rogers says.

“This adaptive shift also eventually included the use of stone tools, the earliest of which are found at the Gona site and are dated to 2.6 million years ago. This new find gives more weight to the suggestion that my colleagues and I have made that evidence of stone tool use will eventually be found earlier than 2.6 million years ago.”

Rogers was part of an international research team credited more than a decade ago with the discovery of those stone tools. The findings were reported in the September 2003 issue of the “Journal of Human Evolution.”

Meanwhile, the search into man’s past continues.

Happy Belated Pi Day!

18 Mar

In honor of National Pi Day (March 14), we wanted to recall a 2013 post that talks about a few practical uses for America’s favorite irrational number that approximates 3.14159.

The celebration of Pi Day is becoming more and more widespread, especially among schools.

The celebration of Pi Day is becoming more and more widespread, especially among schools.

There is an even a website about Pi Day.

Happy Belated Pi Day!

Young Women Using New Speech Inflection — It’s Called ‘Vocal Fry’

4 Mar

You’ve almost certainly heard the “vocal fry” inflection in conversation. You might even use it yourself. But you probably aren’t familiar with the term, nor that it has become a cultural phenomenon.

You know that creaky, gravelly voice that is most commonly used by – but not exclusive to — high school girls and young women, especially at the end of sentences. That’s vocal fry.

Many young women are regularly using a gravelly, croaky speech intonation called 'vocal fry.'

Many young women are regularly using a gravelly, croaky speech intonation called ‘vocal fry.’

It may be the 21st century successor to other forms of youthful speech patterns that became commonplace during the late 20th century. Remember that totally gnarly “Valley Girl/Surfer Dude-speak” of the 1980s? But the fry might have more widespread use than that California-centric speech pattern.

It is in many ways the opposite of the “up turn” mode of speaking that makes declarative sentences sound like questions. The upturn has been frequently used in the United States – certainly during the last half century. With fry, the tone actually goes in the opposite direction, toward a lower-than-normal pitch.

Lesley Wolk, associate professor of communication disorders at Southern, was the lead investigator of a research project conducted in 2011 while she served as a faculty member at Long Island University. She, along with two of her colleagues, had found that about two-thirds of the 34 female students between the ages of 18 and 25 who participated in the study habitually used fry when speaking. The results were published in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Voice.

“It was interesting that most of them said they had no idea they were talking that way,” she says.

Wolk says she was involved in a follow-up study of 34 male students at Long Island University in 2013, but that the results were strikingly different. Very few of the young men used vocal fry.

“Although it’s not exclusively used by young women, they seem to use verbal fry more frequently than young men or older individuals,” she says.

Wolk says she first became aware of vocal fry when working with people who had vocal cord problems. The actual term was first used to describe a vocal pathology, she says.

“But I noticed that as they became teenagers, my daughters and their friends were speaking with the fry,” she says. “At the same time, as a faculty member, I would hear this speech pattern in my interactions with students, as well. So, I became interested in studying this phenomenon.”

Wolk says there are different theories as to why this is happening. “Some people believe that it originated as a way to emulate pop stars, such as Brittany Spears and Kim Kardashian, who are known to use fry when performing,” she says. “Another hypothesis is that the deeper pitch is a way for young women to be taken more seriously, or to be heard. And others say it’s used by teen girls and young women to be accepted as part of a peer group, in much the same way that slang is used by young people.”

She notes that her study shows that fry is generally used at the end of sentences, occasionally in the middle of sentences, but rarely at the beginning.

Wolk would like to pursue additional research on this subject. “My research was conducted in New York,” she says. “And I know there has been a study done in California that also showed use of vocal fry. But I would like to see if this pattern is also something we would hear frequently in the South or the Midwest.”

She also would like to examine the potential physical effects on the vocal cords from habitually using fry, as well as various socio-cultural questions. “Many people – especially older adults — find this tone unappealing,” she says. “I wonder how much it affects the perception of individuals who speak this way.”

Fictional ‘Star Wars’ Planet With Two Suns Not So Far-Fetched Anymore

18 Feb

It turns out that George Lucas might have inadvertently crossed the line between science fiction and science when he created the planet Tatooine in the iconic “Star Wars” saga.

While the concept of a planet orbiting two suns was intended to be fictional, modern astronomy has found that such planets actually do exist in the cosmos.

Nearly half of planets discovered in the Milky Way Galaxy are believed to be part of 'binary solar systems,' meaning there are two suns in the solar system. In some cases, these planets orbit both suns. In this photo, two white dwarf stars located about 1,600 light years from Earth orbit each other. Image credit: NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

Nearly half of planets discovered in the Milky Way Galaxy are believed to be part of ‘binary solar systems,’ meaning there are two suns in the solar system. In some cases, these planets orbit both suns. In this photo, two white dwarf stars located about 1,600 light years from Earth orbit each other.
Image credit: NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

The Kepler mission – whose aim is to find Earth-like planets in parts of the Milky Way Galaxy – recently discovered that 40 to 50 percent of these bodies are actually part of binary solar systems. In other words, those planets are part of solar systems with two suns, rather than one.

The team of scientists that made this finding was led by Elliott Horch, professor of physics at Southern.

“Most of these planets are probably not like Tatooine, where the planet orbits twin suns that are close together. They generally orbit only one of the two stars, with the second star slowly orbiting the system at a much greater distance,” Horch says.

But Horch concedes that at least a small percentage of the Earth-like planets in these binary solar systems do orbit two suns. In some cases, that could result in planets having constant or near constant daylight.

Nevertheless, even for the large majority of planets that only orbit one of the two suns, their nighttime skies could be brighter than ours.

“This would mean that during the day on the exoplanet, the closer sun would dominate, but at night there would be an especially bright star — a night sun — that hangs in the sky,” Horch says.

If nothing else, it might eliminate the need on these planets for daylight savings time to give children some light while waiting for the school buses in the morning.

Horch developed the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI) several years ago for the National Science Foundation. The telescopic device provides astronomers with stunningly crisp images of outer space, and is being used by the Kepler mission.

He is currently developing a portable multi-channel intensity interferometer, which essentially is a double-barrel telescope that would generate ultra-high resolutions with even more detailed information about celestial bodies.

“With my previous instrument, the DSSI, it was like putting eyeglasses on a telescope,” he says. “This new project will be like remaking the whole eye.”

Construction of this new device, like DSSI, is being funded by the NSF.

New Planet Runs Rings Around Saturn

4 Feb

Move over, Saturn. It turns out you have a distant cousin – one that is much larger, much younger and carries a lot more “bling.”

Astronomers recently discovered what appears to be a young giant planet with breathtaking rings in a distant solar system more than 400 light years away from Earth. Their findings have just been accepted for publication in the prestigious Astrophysical Journal.

Saturn (pictured above) is known for its rings, but another planet more than 400 light years away is believed to have rings that are 200 times are large. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Saturn (pictured above) is known for its rings, but another planet more than 400 light years away is believed to have rings that are 200 times as large. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

The astronomers – the University of Rochester’s Eric Mamejek and the Leiden Observatory’s (The Netherlands) Matthew Kenworthy – say the three dozen or so rings span nearly 120 kilometers – roughly 200 times the size of Saturn’s.

The planet – referred to as J1407b – has a mass estimated at between 10 and 40 times that of Jupiter, which is the heaviest planet in our solar system.

The discovery has caught the attention of Elliott Horch, a noted astronomer and professor of physics at Southern.

“This is another signpost along the journey that is going on in astronomy right now in the area of exoplanets – planets that orbit other stars besides the Sun,” he says. “How diverse the menagerie of planets that we know about is becoming!

“Imagine being close to this planet and having its rings take up a big chunk of the sky,” he adds. “What a sight that would be!”

Indeed, astronomers say that if Saturn had rings of the magnitude of planet J1407b, they would be visible with the naked eye in our nighttime sky. In fact, the rings would appear larger than the moon, despite being much further away from Earth.

The findings indicate there are gaps between some of planet J1407b’s rings, leading to a theory that moons have been formed from the rings, just as it is believed that many of Saturn’s 60 or so moons were created this way. Astronomers believe Saturn’s rings were also much larger early in its own life, before some of the material from the rings left to form moons.

Astronomers say that while Saturn’s rings are composed of ice, J1407b has rings probably made of dust since the planet’s temperature is believed to be far too hot to have ice rings.

Saturn, which has been around for about 4.5 billion years, is an old timer compared with the relatively youthful J1407b – a planet for a mere 16 million years or so.

Hey Saturn, maybe you can take the newbie under your wing…er, ring.

Eeeew! It’s Not Just People Who Love Money — Bacteria Do, Too

21 Jan

It shouldn’t cause you to worry about catching the flu. But at the very least, it may make you want to wash your hands every time you go for your wallet.

Dollar bills are loaded with bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

Dollar bills are loaded with bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

A study conducted by a class taught by Elizabeth Lewis Roberts, assistant professor of biology at Southern, showed that dollar bills are chock full of germs – including the presence of fecal coliforms, such as E.coli, the microbe known for causing digestive distress. It also showed an abundance of Penicillium fungi, which is a type of mold that you might see on old bread or other foods.

“We also tested for Salmonella, but the good news is that we didn’t find that type of bacteria on the bills,” Roberts says. “Nevertheless, money is contaminated with microbes. While it shouldn’t come as a surprise, the study reinforced the need for people to wash their hands after touching it. When you think about how many people have touched the money, it only makes sense.”

The research was conducted nearly two years ago and was overseen by Roberts. She says the students studied $1 bills from a bank, a store and one other place. The bills were printed in 2003, 2006 and 2009, and the hypothesis was that the oldest bills would be covered with the most bacteria since they have been in circulation for a longer period of time.

“That turned out to be true, but the majority of fecal coliforms were actually found on the newest bills,” Roberts says. “So, don’t think fresher dollar bills are free from these microbes.”

Nevertheless, Roberts says the results are no reason for panic.

Various studies similarly have shown many bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms live on dollar bills. Yet, their presence on our currency has not created an epidemic, even though it theoretically could do so.

“The truth is we live in a microbial world,” she says. “They are all around us, on us and in us. Touching money covered in microbes is no more harmful than touching anything else. But it should send us a message that we probably need to wash our hands more often than we do, especially after handling money and before eating.”

And, of course, if a wash room is not available, using a hand sanitizer may be the next best thing.

The Wright Patterson Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, produced a study last year that might be of interest. It also shows that microbes are present on dollar bills in abundant numbers.

A study by New York University shows similar findings.

Still love money?

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