Saturday, October 22, 2011

Science Saturday 1.5: Quantum Levitation, Facebook and the Brain, & more

*Disclaimer: I am in NO WAY a science writer/journalist.  I will most likely get some facts wrong (hopefully not).  I simply want to share news that I find interesting.  Knowing that my blog readers are most likely not science people, I will try to explain what I can in the simplest way possible so that anyone can learn something about science today.*

A video demonstrating "quantum levitation" (really quantum locking) made its way all over the interwebs at the beginning of the week.  Physics was never my thing, so explaining how this works is like translating Greek...but from what I understand, this is a demonstration of the Meissner effect - the disc is a superconductor, cooled by liquid nitrogen, which "locks" the magnetic field, keeping the disc suspended in whatever dimensions it is positioned.

A malaria vaccine has been developed and is currently in final stages of clinical trials.  In large trial done in Africa, the risk of getting malaria was reduced by 50%.  There are approximately 1,000,000 deaths caused by malaria each year,  89% occurring in Africa (via CDC).  If all goes well, the vaccine could be on the market by 2015.

Does social networking make you smarter?  Or rather, do smart people use social networking? New research suggests that there is a link between the number of Facebook friends and the density of certain areas of the brain.  It was found that "a larger number of friends can be statistically linked to greater grey matter density in the right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus and entorhinal cortex...areas of the brain associated with social perception and associative memory."  I doubt they polled YouTube commenters for this study.

With Apple's release of the iPhone 4S, a lot of talk was about Siri, an AI personal assistant of sorts.  This program has been compared to IBM's Watson, and the fictional HAL 9000 and GLaDOS.  Well check out this old school Sesame Street clip from 1984 where a teacher asks her students "what is a computer?" and "how are we different from a computer?"  I wonder if any of those young students are helping develop the artificial intelligence of today and the future...


  1. What I think is fascinating about Siri is the fact it's a female voice in the US but a male voice in the UK.

  2. Siri sounds like too much fun. I am certain I would use it for silliness. I was thinking of Marvin the Paranoid Android while watching this clip. But he's not what most of us think about when we think computer. (Even though a robot is an animated computer).

    The quantum levitation is fascinating. I wanna play with it!!

    Praying that the malaria vaccine really works and makes its way to the poorest of the poor as they are the biggest victims of this horrible disease. So many children die from it. Getting the nets to them would be a huge help and yet unless an organization can take the nets in person they seldom make it down the "pipe" to the people who need them most.

    Again, great post and I love your Science Saturdays!

  3. @Renee - Wow, that is really interesting! I was actually wondering if one could customized/choose the gender of the voice.

    @Lillian - Yeah, I've seen lots of posts about people asking Siri silly questions. And agreed about the vaccine. If the vaccine was used in conjunction with nets and other preventatives, so many young lives would be saved!