Dear Readers, New Scientist is always a source of interesting dinner party snippets (or indeed, snippets to interject whenever someone starts droning on about something tedious), so here are a few highlights from this week.
First up, scientists have discovered that having Botox to paralyse your forehead muscles may actually affect the way that you process other people’s emotions. Mitchell Brin, who works at both the University of California and at AbbVie, which makes Botox, scanned the brains of 10 women before and after they had the cosmetic injections. While they were undergoing the scan they were shown photographs of happy, smiley people and angry people, and specific regions in their brains lit up. After the injection, the brain activity was altered. Bear with me here. Normally, when we see the expression on someone’s face we unconsciously mimic it, and this sends signals to our amygdala (in the case of happy faces) and a region of the brain called the fusiform gyrus if the face that we’re mimicking is angry. It’s the action of the facial muscles that helps us to interpret the emotions of the other people. A fellow scientist, Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, explains that if we can no longer perform these micro-expressions, “you might not be able to experience someone else’s emotions as intensely or as vividly as you would like to”.
Well. This does accord with other studies that have suggested that Botox injections can make it harder to recognise and process emotions, and fortunately I am unBotoxed as my eyebrows are raised so high that they are practically on the top of my head. I do note that the sample size is extremely small, and also I wonder if the women were asked for their perceptions. Still, I found it extremely interesting, and it’s yet another indication of what complicated little creatures we are, with feedback loops from the physical to the emotional that I would never have thought of. You can read the whole article here.
Incidentally, the front page article in New Scientist this week suggests that wrinkles make you old, rather than getting old giving you wrinkles, but it’s made my head explode so I shall return to it when I can separate out the ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ aspects of the whole thing. If you want a pre-emptive look, the article is here.
And what, you may ask, is this thing in the photo, which looks a bit like a stack of edible shoe insoles? It is, in fact, a cheesecake made by a 3D printer. Well, it makes a change from people using 3D printers to create little lethal plastic guns. Graham crackers (yes, this is an American cheesecake), peanut butter and strawberry jam were blended into seven different pastes, and then extruded from the printer in seven layers, before the whole lot was given a light browning with a laser beam. It’s cheesecake, Jim, but not as we know it. I am left curious about what it tasted like, and also what on earth the pink stuff on the top is. These wacky scientists have surely done enough damage with their molecular gastronomy without venturing on the territory of the world’s most calorific dessert, but I can just imagine how much fun they had, so I’m letting them off. The whole article is here.
And finally, it appears that dormice are photoluminescent, but no one knows why. Many invertebrates, marine animals and some birds contain pigments which absorb ultraviolet light and then emit it at a different wavelength so that it’s visible to the naked eye. A small number of nocturnal mammals do it too, including flying squirrels and springhares (an extremely neat South African jumping rodent).
Grete Nummert, who works at Tallinn Zoo, heard about the springhares and the flying squirrels and decided to have a quick look at the dormice – she bet a colleague that they would ‘glow’ under ultraviolet light, the prize being a cake. Presumably not a 3D printed cheesecake. Anyhow, the photos prove her right – dormice do show photoluminescence, glowing blue under normal uv light, and red if a yellow filter is applied. In the springhare, the theory is that the luminescence helps to camouflage the animal as some of the plants that it lives amongst also glow, and some animals seem to use their ‘glow-up’ to make themselves more attractive, but in these little rodents we just don’t know.
Nummert says that the cake was ‘delicious’.
You can read the whole article here.