Daily Orbit – Studying Magnesium Oxide

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 11,525
    11-26-12: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, scientists study magnesium oxide and its effects on planetary formation, dogs and humans use different techniques when learning to associate words with objects, and a new neuro-prosthetic device incorporates braille.

    Emerald Robinson: Asking the age old question, does size really matter? Giving sight to the blind, well sort of -- and what's eating at marine snails? All that and more coming up on the Daily Orbit!

    Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I'm Emerald Robinson.

    From Earth to Super-Earths, scientists are peeling back the surface to shed some light on the forces at work below the surface of these terrestrial giants, specifically magnesium oxide. Theoretical predictions claim that magnesium oxide has just three unique states, solid under ambient conditions like Earth's surface, liquid under extreme heat, and another form of solid at high pressure that had never been seen, until now.

    Researchers observed magnesium oxide under a variety of extreme pressure and temperature conditions and found substantial changes in molecular bonding, transforming from an insulating material to a conductive metal that allows for the creation of a magnetic field.

    Researchers say this demonstrates that super-Earths can generate magnetic fields to protect the planet from deadly solar radiation, giving any life there a chance to perpetuate.

    And here's the big question, does size really matter? Well, it does to your dog! A new study says that dogs and humans associate words to objects differently. Human babies tend to associate objects with shape. For instance, once they learn the word ball, they will associate it with anything that's round. Dogs, however, associate the name of an object with its size and texture, but never its shape. Scientists say these differences are probably due to how evolutionary history has shaped each species senses. They say, where shape matters for us, size or texture matters for your dog. So there you have it, size does matter after all.

    Remember the story of the woman who received the bionic eye? Well, here's another promising advance for the blind. Researchers have streamed Braille patterns directly to a blind person's retina for the first time. The Argus II neuroprosthetic device consists of a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses, a portable processor to translate the signal from the camera into electrical stimulation, and a microchip with electrodes implanted directly on the retina. Instead of feeling the Braille on the tips of their fingers, patients see the patterns and can read individual letters in less than a second with up to 89% accuracy. Researchers say this study is proof of the importance of clinical experiments involving new neuroprosthetic devices to improve the technology and innovate adaptable solutions.

    And here's actual evidence of the effects of rising carbon dioxide levels on marine life. Scientists have observed the deterioration of the shells of pteropods, or marine snails, as a result of the decreasing PH balance of the waters. Scientists looked at an area of upwelling in the ocean where cold water is pushed to the surface. This area is more corrosive to the type of calcium carbonate marine snails used to construct their shells, and the effect of ocean acidification enhanced the dissolving effect of the shells. According to current climate models, the problem will only grow throughout the 21st century if atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase. Poor little marine snails will be left naked if we don't do something about the CO2.

    I'm so sleepy! We all know yawns are contagious, and scientists are saying unborn babies yawn too! Researchers discovered that ultrasound images can show when a fetus is yawning, possibly signaling a developmental marker in the womb. By looking at 4D images, the researchers were able to determine a clear difference between "yawning" and just opening the mouth. The study also showed that yawning declined with increasing fetal age. Scientists are still unsure of the role of yawning but believe it may be related to fetal development. Or maybe they're just sleepy?

    And that's all for today's Daily Orbit! Jeez! You fetus you made me yawn.