Science 2003

Breakthroughs, and such-like research

 
Published: Thursday 15 January 2004

Earth is 20 per cent darker
Levels of sunlight reaching earth's surface have declined by nearly 20 per cent in recent year because of air pollution. Data from 100 stations around the world show that the amount of black carbon in the atmosphere is twice than normally assumed. This estimate was made by the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute of Space Science
breakthrough of the year: In 2003, new evidence cemented the bizarre idea that the universe, made mostly of mysterious 'dark matter', is being stretched apart by an unknown force called 'dark energy'. The stars, including the Sun, and the solar system make up less than 1 per cent of the universe's visible matter; all the gas clouds and other objects, less than 5 per cent. Dark energy consists of about 75 per cent of the universe

cracking mental illness: Researchers identified particular genes that reliably increase one's risk of inherited disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. Scientists are now working to understand how these genes can distort the brain's information processing and prod someone into mental illness

Monkey business

Monkeys know when they have been unjustly treated. Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal taught brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) to swap tokens for food. Normally, monkeys were happy to swap their tokens for cucumber. But if they saw another monkey getting a piece of grape -- a more coveted food item -- they took offence. Some refused to pay; others took the cucumber, but disdained to eat it. The animal's umbrage was even greater if the other monkey was rewarded for doing nothing
TO WATCH IN 2004: 3 Mars landings; microbiology and genomics for biodefense; more insights into the human genome, open access scientific journals; soils' impact on climate change and sustainable agriculture; and studies of the heavy 'bottom' quark
laughter's like cocaine: Scientists at the Stanford University, US, found that laughter activates the same neural circuits in the brain as cocaine, money and a pretty face. One brain region in particular is the nucleus accumbens, which is awash with the feel-good chemical dopamine

fast food is addictive: Sarah Leibowitz, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York City, us, found that exposure to fatty foods may reconfigure the body's hormonal system to want yet more fat. A single high-fat meal can stimulate the expression of galanin (a brain peptide that stimulates eating) in the hypothalamus

spiderman, step aside: Scientists at the University of Manchester, uk, created a novel adhesive, consisting of an array of microfabricated polyimide hairs attached to a flexible base. Its exhibits an adhesive force per hair comparable to the hairs on the sole of a gecko lizard, that give this reptile its amazing climbing abilities. The adhesive can be attached and detached repeatedly.

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