* Physics Nobel is a Little Flat * Silencing the Tennis Racket * Groundwater Not Doing Well * Women Shine in Bright Groups * Census of Marine Life * Fact or Fiction - Redheads *

Graphene - A Nobel Prize for flat carbon
The richness and diversity of life in Earth's oceans is hard to appreciate.  Oh, I suppose the global appetite for seafood might suggest that we appreciate it in one way; but at the rate we're gobbling it up, we may just be appreciating it to extinction.  But thanks to a report released this week, at least we might know what we've got when it's gone.  The Census of Marine Life, a decade-long, multinational effort to survey the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the oceans, was finally published.  We'll talk to a Canadian researcher who was one of the leaders of the project. 

We'll also hear about the problems tennis players are having with their racket -- and it's not the one in their hands.  We'll learn how a group can be greater than the sum of its parts - as long as you've got the right parts.  We'll discover that our aquifers are no longer in deep water - and why that's a problem.  And in Fact or Fiction, we'll feel redheaded peoples' pain.

But first - a Nobel Prize that's a little flat.

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Physics Nobel is a Little Flat

The 2010 Nobel prizes were announced this week, and the Physics prize was awarded to Professor Andre Geim and his colleague Konstantin Novoselov, both from the University of Manchester.  They earned the prize for their experimental work on the material graphene, which is a very special form of carbon.  Carbon atoms in graphene form a single plane - a two-dimensional lattice only a single atom thick.  Graphene is amazing stuff: it's strong, stiff, flexible, impermeable and has remarkable electronic properties as well.

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Silencing the Tennis Racket
Maria Sharapova can grunt at 110 decibels
(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Assoicated Press)

The loud, sometimes ear-piercing grunts that many tennis players have taken to producing in the last few years have irritated fans, and non-grunting tennis players.  Dr. Alan Kingstone, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia and colleague Scott Sinnett, were interested in whether it went beyond irritation.  They've found that tennis grunts actually disrupt the perception of those attempting to guess the path of the ball, effectively delaying the reaction time of the grunters' opponents.

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Women Shine in Bright Groups
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Conventional wisdom is that a group is smarter than the sum of its parts, but what makes a group smarter than another group? According to Dr Anita Williams Woolley a professor of Organizational Behaviour and Theory at the Tepper School at Carnegie Mellon University and her colleagues, it's not the intelligence of the group members. Dr. Woolley has found that intelligent groups don't necessarily have the smartest members, they have the most socially sensitive members, and very often those members are women.

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Groundwater not doing Well
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Scientists are raising a red flag over our increasing rate of use and demand for underground stores of water.  Between 1960 and 2000 the rate at which groundwater is being depleted around the world has more than doubled.  Dr. Marc Bierkens, the Chair of the Department of Physical Geography at Utrecht University in The Netherlands points to specific areas of the world, including parts of China, India, Pakistan and the United States as being huge consumers of groundwater, chiefly to support agriculture and irrigation.  In the most populated areas, groundwater stores could be gone in a matter of decades, and the results of this could be disastrous.  There are some practical, though expensive, ways to slow down groundwater depletion, including developing more drought resistant crops, re-directing surface water for irrigation, and large scale desalination. 
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Counting the Seven Seas
This week the Census of Marine Life, a ten year, multi-million dollar, global attempt to catalogue the diversity, abundance and distribution of life in the world's oceans was declared complete. The Census was released this week, as well as three new books about the project, including one by Dr. Paul Snelgrove, a Marine Biologist at the Ocean Sciences Centre of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Dr. Snelgrove was also Chair of the Synthesis Group of the Census of Marine Life. The census discovered many new species, and revealed much more about the complex ocean ecosystem.

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Science Fact or Fiction - Pain and Red Hair

From time to time, we'll present a commonly held idea or popular saying - and ask a Canadian scientist to set us straight on whether we should believe it or not.  Today's issue is whether people with red hair are more sensitive to pain than the rest of us.  According to Dr. Norman Buckley, the Chair of The Department of Anesthesia at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, this is a science fact.

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