SandraLoh_t

A Loh Down is a capsule of intriguing scientific research presented clearly, in a witty way, because we believe humor makes knowledge sticky. There is no limit to the science we can present—whether it be in astronomy, biology, computers, evolution, global warming, psychology, politics, sports or beyond—as long as we can make the gist of it graspable in 90 seconds. Our audiences are experts and novices, old and young. Explore the site to customize your journey in your area(s) of interest!

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No More Wheezing


; Credit: Erin Vey/Moment/Getty Images

Hey, tired new parents! Got an infant who wheezes her way through the night?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying: Get a dog!

Saying, at least that's according to a study by the University of Cincinnati's Paloma Campo. Campo tested air quality in the rooms of 532 infants deemed at high risk of wheezing. This was because at least one parent was hypersensitive to allergens.

She found that infants in homes with high concentrations of airborne bacteria—and two or more dogs—were twice as likely not to wheeze as those with no dogs, or with dogs in cleaner air.

In other words, canine plus bacteria somehow equals protection for baby against wheezing! Why? One clue: These bacteria contain natural compounds called endotoxins. Such endotoxins activate human immune systems in a variety of ways.

But the surprising interactive effect remains unexplained. Never mind. In a nutshell: vacuum less, get some hounds, and you're good to go. As for that auto-repeating Baby Beluga tape? More scientific research is needed.

    

Password Fails

; Credit: SplashData


How secure are your passwords?



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science



Each year, cybersecurity firm SplashData sifts through a couple million leaked passwords. Then they compile a list of the 25 weakest ones.



Well, the 2015 results are in.



And the winner for worst password goes to? 123456!



Congratulations. If this is your password, drop everything you're doing. And change it now.



Number two on the list of password fails is an old favorite: The word "Password." All lowercase.



Sports fans scored two in the top ten: "baseball" and "football." And three Star Wars–themed passwords debuted on this year's list. They were: "solo," "princess," and "starwars"—one word. Come on! Of all people, we nerds should know better!



The report also includes tips for picking strong passwords.



Such as? Make them at least twelve characters long. Combine different types of characters, like letters and numbers. And try not to use the same password twice.



Now the only hard part? Remembering them. Don't worry, Luke. Use the force.

    

Questioning Behavior

Is he asking, or telling? American director Thomas H. Ince using a giant megaphone, on page 138 of Peter Milne, Motion Picture Directing; The Facts and Theories of the Newest Art (1922). ; Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Want to help your friends keep their New Year's resolutions?



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:



Do like they do on Jeopardy! Ask questions!



When you ask someone about behavior, you help bring that behavior about. So say researchers at Washington State University, the University of California Irvine, and elsewhere. Thus, when you pose the question, “Are you going to recycle?” you're planting the germ of an idea, making it more likely they will.



It's called the question-behavior effect. Scientists have studied it for decades. The researchers reviewed more than 100 studies of the phenomenon to figure out how it works. Don't you want to know more?



It works best for behaviors that society applauds, say the scientists. Like eating vegetables. Or volunteering. It's also persuasive in retail settings. Uh oh. Beware of questions at the Apple store!



They also found that yes-or-no questions work best, as does avoiding a specific time frame. So “Will you exercise?” is more effective than “See you at Jazzercise tomorrow!”



Who knew it was so easy to sway others? Now, aren't you going to send in your public-radio pledge?

    

Laws in Space

; Credit: University of Mississippi


Captain Kirk had it all. Awesome ship, go-go boots, di-lithium crystals . . . and a lawyer?



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.



No, no lawyer, but that was then. These days, attorneys are the new space pioneers, boldly going where no litigation has gone before. Because space law is one of the hottest growth areas in the legal profession. Recently there have been unmanned moon landings, and there are more projected, by the likes of China, India, Japan, and Russia. To divide up that lunar real estate? Lawyers. There's even a Journal of Space Law.



But problems of almost galactic proportions face these cosmic attorneys. There's space junk falling on private property. There's the increasing use of satellites for everything from telecommunications to military ops. Some predict celestial traffic jams. These will require space traffic laws!



I for one am relieved there weren't any lawyers back in the day. Bones would have been sued for malpractice! Instead of Klingons, you'd have to call them angrily-abled hirsute individuals! So “Thank God, Captain Kirk, thank God.”

    

Feel-Good Fingertips

; Credit: Park et al., Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology


I'd like the French manicure and some … fake fingertips?



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and a new material with feeling. Literally.



Meet Jonghwa Park, from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology. He and fellow engineers fabricated a special film out of plastic and graphene. It's an electronic skin, or e-skin. The plastic gives it flex. The graphene? It conducts electrical signals. Like nerves do. But it also generates such signals when exposed to a change in temperature.



To top the faux skin off? They added fingerprint-like ridges to the surface. See, fingerprints do more than fight crime. They amplify and shuttle the slightest vibrations to receptors. This is why we can feel minute differences in texture. Like between glass and plastic.



Their e-skins sense heat, cold, touch. In tests, the e-skins detected water droplets of different temperatures, and the weight of a single human hair!



The films could lead to new hearing aids … pulse monitors … Even sensitive robot nannies that feel the warmth of your baby … cradled in their bloodless, graphene hands? Fantastic!

    

Tone Deaf

; Credit: Photo by Carolyn Williams via Flickr Creative Commons


Want to change your mood? Try changing your voice.



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and an experiment by the French National Centre for Scientific Research.



In it, volunteers read a short story out loud while listening to themselves through a headset. But, secretly, their voices were being digitally manipulated to sound happier, sadder, or more fearful.



And guess what? Most of the participants failed to notice that their voices had been altered. Not only that, their moods changed to match the emotional tone of the voice in the headphones. Crazy, right?



There's a feedback loop between our voices and our emotions, say the researchers. It modulates how we feel. Which means changing your voice to sound more upbeat might just cheer you up. Kind of like how forcing a smile has been shown to provide a subtle mood boost.



The finding could lead to novel therapies for people with mood disorders.



As for the bossy British lady GPS voice that makes me crabby? Still no help for that. Recalculating. Recalculating. Recalculating.

    

Sleep Testing

; Credit: cdc.gov


Sleep. You want it, you need it, but are you getting enough?



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.



Compared to half a century ago, we get about two hours less of sleep every night! And the cost of progress is measurable: lack-of-sleep-related driving accidents, medical errors, even pilots falling asleep at the wheel—or stick. Worse? Even if you don't feel drowsy, you may act like you are.



Paul Shaw, from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, did a scientific study of true restedness. He kept nine human volunteers awake for twenty-eight hours straight. Then, he tested the production of a molecule called amylase. He'd found that it tended to accumulate in the saliva of the sleep-deprived.



In every single wide-eyed volunteer, amylase production increased. But to varying degrees. Different individuals require different amounts of sleep to be truly rested, and amylase appears to reflect that variation.



You may be one of the lucky ones, or not. Either way, let's keep binge-watching The Walking Dead all weekend. Just one more episode—I'm not that tired!

    

State of Conversation

; Credit: Konstantin Sutyagin / Flickr


"This call may be recorded for quality assurance."



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying: Okay, but who's assuring the quality?



Maybe a company like Marchex. It analyzes customer-service calls for businesses. Say you call your cable company about your bill. Marchex can tell them things like how long the call was or if you hung up in disgust.



Recently, the company analyzed four-million calls from customers to companies nationwide. In the process, Marchex discovered something about Americans' phone chatter. It varies by region!



Who talks the fastest? Callers from the Pacific Northwest, New England, and: surprise: the upper Midwest. Oh yah! You betcha!



Who's the slowest? Callers from the South—and, would you believe it? New York.



But even slowly, New Yorkers still get in the most words per conversation. Similarly wordy? Southwesterners and East Coasters, from the Carolinas on up.



But they're not the most impatient. Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina hate to wait! Louisiana, Colorado, and Florida are the most chill.



Pennsylvania stayed under the radar. Probably because Philly is the city of Brotherly Love, not Big Brother.

    

Mind Over Manatee

In this photo taken Aug. 6, 2014, a manatee comes up for a breath of air at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla.

In this photo taken Aug. 6, 2014, a manatee comes up for a breath of air at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla.; Credit: Alan Diaz/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Manatees: Just slow-witted, underwater bean bag chairs who swim into boat propellers, right? But wait!



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.



Manatees got their bad rap a century ago. That's when an anatomist cracked open the skull of a dead manatee and declared its smooth brain looked like that of, well, in his words, a human idiot.



That's long been conventional wisdom: Smarter animals have more brain folds. Think predators: Sharks. Hawks.



But, as University of Florida veterinary medicine professor Roger Reep has argued, manatees have much to teach us about brain development. Since manatees eat sea grass, which isn't hard to find and doesn't run away, they had no evolutionary need to develop complex moves. And manatees process a rich stream of tactile input that's quite different from sight and sound-focused human intelligence. Their snouts are sensitive like elephant trunks. Their whiskers can literally grab. Their body hairs are dense with nerves that detect movement.



Still, it's no fun when they smack into that boat propeller. Not their fault, though, more of a case of manatee versus humanity. Sorry!