Chimp beats students at computer game
Young chimpanzees have beaten university students at a game of memory. A 7-year-old chimp named Ayumu and two others recalled the placement of numbers flashed onto a computer screen faster and more accurately than humans. Primatologists at Kyoto University say their study doesn't mean that chimps are 'smarter' than humans, but they may be better at memorising a snapshot of their surroundings -- whether that includes numbers on a screen or fruit dangling from a tree. Humans may have lost this capacity in exchange for the brainpower to understand language and complex symbols, they say.
Jade and language travelled together
Skilled jade craftsmen may have helped spread Austronesian languages. From about 3000 BC people of Southeast Asia used jade for tools and ornaments. Using an electron probe microscope, researchers at the Australian National University found that 116 of 144 jade ornaments found in archaeological digs throughout the region came from the Fengtian jade deposit in Taiwan. This suggests trading, which may have carried language with it. The distribution of Fengtian jade closely mirrors the distribution of the Austronesian languages, spoken by about 350 million people in Southeast Asia and Oceania today.
Elephants use mental maps to track family members
Elephants, who can sniff out human friends from foe, really do have good memories -- at least when it comes to keeping tabs on where their own relatives are, suggests a new study. African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Kenya's Amboseli National Park are able to recognise up to 17 female family members based on cues they pick up from sniffing their urine. Individuals then use the information to keep track of the location of others relative to themselves as they travel over large distances, say researchers at the University of St Andrews, UK.
Europe looks to draw power from Africa
The Sahara Desert could become home to solar-power plants. The power needs of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa could be met by an ambitious idea to network renewable energies across the region. The cornerstone of the plan, developed by a group of scientists, economists and businessmen, involves peppering the Sahara Desert with solar thermal power plants, then transmitting the electricity through massive grids. The green-energy plan -- dubbed DESERTEC -- is ambitious, requiring roughly a thousand 100 MW power plants, using mirrors to concentrate energy from the Sun's rays.
Dolphins wave weed to attract a mate
While men might give flowers to impress the opposite sex, male Amazon river dolphins carry weed. Object-carrying has been reported throughout the dolphin's range in Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia, but what had been thought to be play behaviour now appears -- exceptionally among mammals -- to have a sexual function. The British Antarctic Survey and Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research have studied the dolphins for 3 years in the Brazilian Amazon and are now convinced it is a sexual display. Only humans and chimps do anything remotely similar, they say.
Now in Arabic...
Hundreds of science books, including classics by Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking, will be translated into Arabic for the first time. The ambitious plan by a non-profit group in Abu Dhabi has the backing of the crown prince and funding from the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. The project, called Kalima (“word” in Arabic), is an attempt to address the fact that, although there are more than a quarter of a billion Arabic speakers worldwide, only a few hundred books are translated into Arabic each year. The group is working with more than 20 publishers throughout the Arab world.
Does it rain less on the weekend?
Is there a wettest day of the week? If so, which day is the wettest? Scientists have argued about the answers for decades. Two studies now suggest that there hasn't been a weekly cycle in rainfall in the past. But one study shows that a pattern of wetter midweeks and drier weekends may have emerged just recently, at least in summer in the southeastern United States. The theory that the artificial rhythm of the working week has an effect on weather might seem strange, but higher industrial activity on weekdays generates more airborne pollution particles, which can seed raindrop formation in the atmosphere.
How to trap a rainbow
Physicists may have solved the immortal question of how to hold a rainbow in your hand. Scientists at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK, have combined two fairly whacky physics research areas to come up with a material that, theoretically, should be able to slow light to a standstill.
The gene that makes us once bitten, twice shy
A single gene mutation helps to determine whether we repeat our mistakes. Most people tend to learn from their mistakes and avoid making the same blunder twice. Now research reveals a genetic mutation that helps to determine the extent to which certain people are doomed to repeat history.
The most accurate measurement ever made
A quantum measurement has been made with the greatest precision theoretically possible at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Physicists have managed to measure the interference between two light waves beating slightly out of step, with a precision limited only by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that describes the most fundamental level of 'reality' of the quantum world.
Sleeping brain plays back events in fast-forward
Research on slumbering rats has shed light on how the brain processes its recent experiences into long-term memories. The experiment suggests that the brain creates such memories by 'playing back' the day's events several times faster than they actually happened.
Mechanical pied pipers for cockroaches
Scientists have designed tiny robots that can mingle with a social group of cockroaches and influence their behaviour. They say that similar robots will help them to unpick the decision-making processes in other gregarious species that carry out 'collective behaviours' such as deciding where to rest or selecting food sources.
Science Forum is compiled and edited by Rashida Ahmad.
Sources : Nature, New Scientist.