Daily Orbit – Whisking for the Blind

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 10,437
    11-7-12: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, scientists study a rats’ whisker use to help the blind better navigate, star formation slows, and middle age heart health could predict a longer life.

    Emerald Robinson: How might whisking help the blind?

    Do you smell fear?

    And a star is born. Actually not so much!

    All that and more coming up on the Daily Orbit!

    Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I am Emerald Robinson.

    Whisk like a rat! Whisk, whisk like a rat! Sounds like a good start to a rap song these days, but it's not. It's a technique used by rats and researchers believe it could help blind people one day.

    Rats use a sense that humans don't, whisking. They move their facial whiskers back and forth to locate objects in their environment. A research team attached plastic whiskers with position and force sensors to the finger of blindfolded participants to see how humans could employ this rat-sensory.

    They hope to develop a way for blind people to see with their fingers. Researchers say their findings "reveal some new principles of active sensing, and show us that activating a new artificial sense in a natural way can be very efficient.

    "I smell fear! A research team recently found that chemosignals from secretions, such as sweat, activate processes in both the sender and receiver, establishing an emotional synchrony between them.

    These new findings are important because they contradict the common assumption that human communication is solely through language and visual cues. Instead, the findings suggest that people are communicating outside their conscious awareness. Scientists say this can help us further understand the kind of emotional contagion seen in situations involving crowds of people, such as mob riots. Interesting.

    Twinkle, twinkle little star.


    . on your way out, maybe you are. Astronomers are saying that new star production is dropping and is at about 3 percent of its peak. A team of astronomers carried out the most complete survey to date of star-forming galaxies. They looked at the light around gas clouds and dusts in galaxies where stars are forming and found that the production of stars in the universe as a whole has continuously been dropping over the past 11 billion years.

    They say that the universe has been in a long, serious crisis, and if the decline continues, no more than 5% more stars will form over the remainder of the cosmos. These findings raise a more perplexing question which is simply "why?

    " I suggest that if you want a star named after you, you better be getting that done.

    As star production gets smaller, so are lasers. Scientists at Northwestern University have manufactured a laser the size of a virus particle. This single laser device operates at room temperature and could be readily integrated into silicon-based photonic devices, all-optical circuits and nanoscale biosensors. Scientists say reducing the size of photonic and electronic elements is critical for ultra-fast data processing and ultra-dense information storage.

    A new study about longevity may not come as much of a surprise. Scientists say that optimal heart-health in middle age can give you an extra 14 years. The research says that these heart-healthy middle-agers live much longer than their peers who have two or more cardiovascular disease risk factors.

    Researchers say "we need to do everything we can to maintain optimal risk factors so that we can reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease and increase the chances that we'll live longer and healthier.

    "And that's a wrap for the Daily Orbit! We will see you right back here tomorrow.