* Baby Schadenfreude * Robots Going Soft * Male Fig Wasps Free the Females * A Bat's Skull Determines Its Diet * Cosmic Ray Gun * CSI Paleolithic *



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Baby Schadenfreude

webbabies-puppets.jpg Passing judgement on a bad elephant.  Courtesy UBC
The moral world is a complex one, and depends on context.  So, we all deplore bad things happening to people.  But what about when bad things happen to bad people?  This is where the moral world gets subtle and difficult to navigate.  Except that Dr. Kiley Hamlin, from the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, has shown that any 8-month-old infant can do it.  Dr. Hamlin had previously demonstrated that even infants as young as two months old can make moral judgements about puppets who were being either mean or nice to other puppets.  In new work, she's shown that children just a little older seem to approve when puppets who had been misbehaving were treated badly - essentially punished.  This suggests that this socially important moral behaviour does not need to be learned. 
     

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Robots Going Soft

Our images of robots are generally hard, metal machines, perhaps with a soft outer coating that is disposed of just before the killing frenzy begins.  But Dr. George Whitesides, University Professor at Harvard, and his colleagues, have developed an innovative soft robot.  It's a simple structure made of flexible plastic with inflatable chambers.  When the chambers are pumped up, the robot's legs articulate and it can move in several different ways.  The robot is soft and flexible, and so it's suitable for delicate operations, and it can also change its shape, perhaps to squeeze into awkward places, which might make it useful for search and rescue, or exploring hazardous environments.
     

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Male Fig Wasps Free the Females

fig_wasps.JPGFig wasps at home.  Copyright Prashanthns
It is very rare for male insects to cooperate in any way.  Most often they compete fiercely over access to females.  In fact, they often fight to the death.  But male pollinator fig wasps are an exception.  They develop inside the fig of the fig tree, common in parts of Asia and Africa.  New research by Dr. Steve Compton, from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds in England, has found that once the males mate with the females inside the fig, they engage in unique cooperative behaviour.  The male fig wasps team-up in twos, threes or more, to help each other chew an escape tunnel out of the fig for the female, who is not strong enough alone.  The rate of escape for females was higher as the number of cooperating males grew.
      

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 A Bat's Skull Determines Its Diet

bat faces.jpgOne of nearly 200 species of leaf-nosed bat.  Copyright Sharlene E Santana
A common question for evolutionary biologists, studying a particular lineage, is why some groups develop so many different species, while others evolve only a few.  As a group, the leaf-nosed bat of South America includes nearly 200 species, many more than the number of bat species in North America, for example.  The leaf-nosed bat has also evolved a greater range of diet than simply insects; this includes fruit, nectar, lizards, frogs, and for the vampire species - blood.  New research by Dr. Elizabeth Dumont, a Professor of Biology and Director of the Graduate Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has found that the answer to the diversity question is related to a change in skull shape, 15 million years ago.  A low, broad skull allowed even the smallest bat to develop a bite forceful enough to eat hard fruits.  From that point, many other species evolved and diet range expanded, as niches within their geographic region became available. 


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Cosmic Ray Gun

star_factory.jpgCynus X Star factory is also a Cosmic Ray factory - courtesy NASA/IPAC/MSX
Astronomers using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have detected what could be a major source of mysterious Cosmic Rays.  Cosmic Rays have been known about for a century now, but their sources have largely escaped detection.  This is because Cosmic Rays are not, in fact, rays, but fast-moving particles that do not move in straight lines from their source.  However, Dr. Isabelle Grenier, an astronomer from Paris Diderot University, and her colleagues, have detected cosmic rays being emitted from a chaotic star-forming region that may be acting like a giant particle accelerator, trapping cosmic rays for tens of thousands of years before firing them out into the galaxy. 


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CSI Paleolithic

horses.jpgCave paintings of horses that apparently have spots
About twenty-five thousand years ago, humans of the Paleolithic Age made paintings on the walls of the Pech-Merle Caves in Southwestern France.  Using materials like sticks, charcoal and iron oxides, the paintings depicted images of many animals; among them brown, black and spotted horses.  Over the years, archaeologists have debated whether or not the white horses with black spots actually existed, or if they were the painters' artistic impressions.  Dr. Michael Hofreiter, a molecular biologist from the University of York in England, analyzed the DNA of ancient horse fossils, in order to identify the coat colour genes.  The research concluded that the spotted horses actually existed then, and that the artists painted what they saw, not what they imagined.  


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