Our weekly roundup of interesting science from around the web:
Where the Higgs At? A Particle Accelerator Rap Battle
CERN’s gigantic new Large Hadron Collider had a somewhat tough week, with New York Times reporter James Glantz comparing the $4 billion particle accelerator to an unfinished Mayan pyramid, “another grandiose structure with cosmic aspirations and earthbound problems that could thwart its ambitions.” Then, stateside particle accelerator owners Fermilab went and commissioned a rap response to the famously viral “Large Hadron Rap” performed by CERN employee Katherine McAlpine. Penned by science “rapbassador” Funky49, the Fermilab rap is not available for listening yet (Funky49 was in Batavia, IL recording the video this week, the Fermilab website reported), but you can use your imagination with the help of the lyrics. CERN and Fermilab hold fast to their status as friendly rivals (much to the annoyance of conflict-seeking science writers around the world), so Funky49’s rebuttal is hardly the particle physics version of Jay-Z laying the verbal smackdown on Nas.
A Gene for Morning People
Many people who wish there were more hours in the day to get things done forget that almost a third of one’s time (if you’re lucky) is spent sleeping. But a select few lucky souls with a rare genetic mutation don’t need a full 8 hours to feel rested, a study published in Science this week revealed. When Univeristy of California-San Francisco researchers looked through their menagerie of people with odd sleeping habits, they stumbled upon a mother and daughter who require only 6 hours of sleep a night to wake up refreshed and shared a mutation in a gene called DEC2. When that mutation was replicated in mice and fruit-flies, those animals stayed awake for longer relative to compatriots with unchanged genes. Those extra couple of hours of wakefulness could be the slim difference between normalcy and greatness, according to one British article, which speculates that luminaries like Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill may have sported such a genetic advantage. Never has being called a “mutant” been such a compliment.
Psychoanalyzing the World with the Web
With the vast amount of data being thrown around the globe through the Internet every second of every day, it was only a matter of time before tech-savvy scientists began finding ways to harness that information for their own research. Last year, Google Flu Trends launched as a unique way of monitoring public health, pinpointing potential outbreaks based on surges in people searching for flu-like symptoms (never mind that it didn’t work so well during the spring H1N1 outbreak). Now, a team from the University of Vermont is looking to take the temperature of the nation’s mood by monitoring song lyrics, blogs and Twitter messages. The good news is that blogger happiness has increased since 2005, according to one graphic from the researchers’ upcoming paper in, yes, The Journal of Happiness Studies. That measuring method, which they’re calling a hedonimeter, will be publicly available soon at their website.
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Math vs. Zombies, how oxytocin might improve your social life, and why Les Paul was probably the greatest musician-scientist of the 20th century.