The Large Hadron Collider, The Rufous-and-White Wren, Aggresive Faces, The Old Grey Matter

 

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The Large Hadron Collider


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On September 10, the world's largest, most expensive and most powerful scientific experiment begins full operations. The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, which straddles the French and Swiss border near Geneva, will begin sending beams of protons around its 27km ring. Owned by CERN, the European particle physics research institute, the LHC is a global project with thousands of scientists around the world contributing to it. The LHC is an immensely powerful and complicated machine, but its goal is to observe some of the tiniest phenomena - the collision of individual protons traveling at immense speeds, and thus carrying huge energies. When the protons collide, the energy they liberate will, for just an instant, duplicate the high energy physical conditions that existed in the universe just after the Big Bang. What scientists hope is that this will lead to the creation of new particles that haven't existed since that time, and give us new insights into how the universe worked in its earliest epoch. With this new information, they may come just a little closer to understanding how, and perhaps even why, the universe came to be.

Our guests discussing the LHC include:

  • Dr. Richard Teuscher, a Research Scientist with the Canadian Institute of Particle Physics and a professor at the University of Toronto, has been working on the LHC in Geneva for the past several years, chiefly on the Atlas experiment, upon which many of the Canadian researchers involved in the LHC are working.
  • Dr. Isabel Trigger, a Research Scientist at TRIUMF, Canada's main lab for particle physics, located at the University of British Columbia, is the physics coordinator for the Atlas experiment.
  • Dr. Robert Orr, professor of Physics at the University of Toronto, is an LHC veteran who has been involved with the collider from its earliest days.
  • Dr Rob McPherson, the Principle Investigator of the Canadian scientists working on the LHC, and a professor of Physics at the University of Victoria.

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The Rufous-and-white Wren


rufous_wren.jpg Dr Mennil and feathered friend - courtesy Dale Morris

We all know male birds sing to attract a mate and fend off competitors. Well, the Rufous-and-white Wren, a small songbird that lives in the tropical forests of Costa Rica, has re-written the songbird rule book: both the male and female sing together in a highly coordinated duet. Dr. Dan Mennill, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Windsor, has been trying to figure out exactly why Rufous-and-white Wrens do this. But the problem with trying to study these highly elusive birds, he says, is that they hide in the dense underbrush, which makes observing them close to impossible. So, Dr. Mennill has been using a sophisticated network of microphones that allowed him to track the birds by song alone. Doing so, he discovered that the wrens' warblings allow them to keep track of one another in the dense undergrowth, and also act as a warning to couples competing for territory.


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Aggressive Faces


Icehockeyfight.jpg Hockey Fight - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

What's in a face? A whole lot, according to Dr. Cheryl McCormick, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Neuroscience at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Dr. McCormick found a relationship between men's facial proportions and their propensity towards being aggressive. Researchers have known that testosterone influences our facial proportions; women tend to have longer and more narrow faces, while those of men are generally broader. Dr. McCormick and her colleagues have demonstrated that men who had proportionately broader faces tended to be more aggressive when playing a special computer game that measured aggression. But the effect wasn't limited to the lab -- it turns out this relationship exists among NHL hockey players too. Dr. McCormick's study revealed a relationship between a player's facial proportions and the number of penalty minutes he earned during a season.


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The Old Grey Matter


senescence.jpg Elderly woman, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As we get older, we tend to slow down. What's true of the body is also true of the mind. Normal aging, much to our chagrin, often means minor lapses in memory and attention. Researchers have long wondered why exactly this happens. Dr. Adam Gazzaley, an Assistant Professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, has been studying the brains of older people, using techniques that allow him to record brain activity, in order to answer just this question. It turns out that brain activity in older adults does slow down, but in a very specific way. When Dr. Gazzaley had older adults focus on a set of pictures, while ignoring a different set of pictures (while recording their brain activity), he found that they were just as good at focusing on the relevant information as younger adults. However, he found that older adults were slower at initiating an "ignore" response when they saw irrelevant information. In short, older adults seem to suffer from information overload, making it difficult to pay attention to the task at hand and, as a result, forming a memory of it.


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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein. Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0