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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Curse You, Thief!

Martin Shore, senior site supervisor at the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, who found the curse tablet.

; Credit: University of Leicester

Archaeologists dig deep and find jawbones, soup spoons, a curse???

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

Yes, that is exactly what archaeologist Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester in England found, after excavating an important Roman settlement from about three hundred AD. In addition to locating the lost medieval churches of St. Peter and St. Michael, complete with more than sixteen hundred gravesites, Buckley unearthed an ancient curse.

Written on a thin lead tablet, it said: 'To the god Maglus I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Destroy him before the ninth day.” What's interesting to archaelogists is that Roman curse tablets are thought to be written by and about ordinary people. This particular tablet lists eighteen suspects. Names reflect origin, so this allows scientists to piece together the cultural makeup of the population. It can also shed light on the spread of Latin and the religious practices of commoners.

As to who stole the darn cloak, on that, science is mysteriously mum. Curse you, archaeologist! May the handle fall off your tiny shovel thingy before the ninth day! Very gently.


High-Rise Hazard

; Credit: Karl Sandin / Flickr Creative Commons

Those pricey penthouses aren't all they're cracked up to be.

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

In most apartments, you pay more to be on a higher floor. But that might not be the only cost.

So say researchers at Saint Michael's Hospital in Toronto. They studied heart-attack survival rates at private residences. Five years of data on over 18,000 patients. All of whom were treated at home by first responders.

Result? The lower the floor, the higher the survival rate.

Just how much lower? Second-story residents survived five times more often than those on floor seventeen. And above the twenty-fifth floor, no one survived. Yikes!

Immediate treatment is key during a heart attack. With each minute of delay, the odds of survival plummet. But it takes longer for paramedics to reach higher floors.

Possible fixes? Giving paramedics restricted elevator access during emergencies. Improving access to defibrillators in high rises. Alerting building staff before the EMTs arrive.

And while you wait? Enjoy those chilled buckets of Dom Perignon. Ah, penthouse life!


Political Direction

Remember, from math class, the number line? Smaller numbers on the left, bigger ones on the right?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying don't worry, I won't ask you about absolute value.

But Dutch psychologist Anita Eerland might. She suspects people internalize the number line both mentally and physically.

So she and colleagues had subjects stand on a Wii balance board while answering questions projected on a screen. The questions? All estimating quantities: Height of the Eiffel Tower. Average lifespan of a parrot. Everyday stuff.

While subjects were answering, the team tilted the Wii board subtly left or right.

So no one suspected the tilt, they were told to maintain good posture as indicated by the screen--only it was rigged so people always seemed upright.

Turns out when leaning left, people's estimates were always smaller than when upright or leaning right.

Oddly, there was no difference between upright and right-leaning estimates. Eerland thinks that may be because everyone was right-handed. So the next study? With lefties.

That's what I call left-leaning research!


Another Virgin Birth

OMG—is Game of Thrones secretly a National Geographic show?

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

That is a stretch. But remember when Queen Khaleesi climbed on top of that fire and magically hatched three dragons? From those three glowing eggs? No male partner involved?

It turns out, even in the real world, dragons are famous for virgin births. And by that we mean Komodo dragons, the biggest reptiles in the world. In December 2006, a Komodo dragon named Flora fertilized, laid, and hatched eight eggs at the Chester Zoo in England. All without any proximity to a Mr. Komodo. DNA tests proved that Flora was both Mama and Papa to her babies, through a self-fertilization process called parthenogenesis.

Parthenogenesis is known to occur in about seventy vertebrate species such as snakes, fish, and lizards. But that was the first year it was seen in Komodo dragons.

Pressing question remains, though: Will Jon Snow come back from the dead?!? More scientific research—and popcorn—is needed.


Critter Cleanup

Shall we talk dirty . . . about animal hair?

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

Meet Guillermo Amador and David Hu, of Georgia Tech. They studied t27 different mammals and insects to see how each maintains a suave appearance. First, the duo calculated the number of hairs for each creature.

That's because the hairier the creature, the greater the total surface area to keep clean. Hair increases an animals' surface area about one-hundred times!

Like, a honeybee has t3,000,000 hairs. So the true surface area it has to groom? The size of a piece of toast!

That's a lot to keep clean. How do critters do it?

Amador and Hu identified two different techniques that animals use to groom themselves.

Some exert energy to keep clean. For example, dogs shake themselves. Bees use their bristled legs to brush pollen away.

Other animals get help from the environment. For example, wind is redirected by eyelashes so it blows things away from the eyes.

The only creature in nature who doesn't self-clean? Human teenagers. Or at least that's a theory of mine.


Robo-Roach Rescue

; Credit: Eric Whitmire /

Could the latest search and rescue recruits be ... cockroaches?

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

Imagine you're an earthquake survivor trapped inside a collapsed building. A searcher hears your cries for help and comes crawling through the wreckage. Only when it arrives you see it's not on two-legs, or even four, but six hairy legs!

What is it? A Madagascar hissing cockroach! That's right! Engineers at North Carolina State University are working on using the bugs to locate disaster victims in hard-to-reach places.

How? The team hooks the critters up to tiny electronic backpacks no bigger than a quarter.

Electrodes attach to their antennae. The backpacks are fitted with microphones tuned to detect human voices. The idea? For rescue teams to listen in, hear the calls, and locate survivors.

Also being developed? An invisible fence, to stop the robo-roaches from escaping and running wild through the streets. It's early days, but cockroach cyborgs may someday be our first responders!

Unless people squash them first! Which could happen.


Staff Infection


Jeffrey Moustache dons a freestyle beard at the Silverlake Beard and Mustache competition on December 20th, 2011.; Credit: Mae Ryan/KPCC

Mountain men, rejoice!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and some surprising news about beards.

British scientists wanted to know if beards were spreading bacteria in hospitals.

Why? Because hospital-acquired infections cause thousands of preventable deaths each year.

So they swabbed the faces of around four-hundred male healthcare workers. Both with and without facial hair.

Surprising twist? The clean-shaven mugs were more likely to harbor germs. Including a nasty drug-resistant form of Staphylococcus bacteria. It's common in hospitals.

The researchers think shaving might produce tiny abrasions in the skin. These little nicks and scrapes could provide a breeding ground for germs.

But there might be an even weirder reason:

Some British medical journalists did an informal follow-up study. They swabbed a bunch of beards, then sent the samples to a microbiologist at University College London.

Result? One species of bacteria grown from the samples killed other bacteria. Like a dangerous drug-resistant form of E. coli.

Beards for the win again!

Or at least beard bacteria. Which sounds so romantic. Ew.


String Theory for Incas

; Credit: Khipu Database Project / Harvard Univ.

Think filing your taxes is a pain? Imagine doing it in macramé!

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

It may sound far-fetched but that's exactly how the ancient Incas kept records. With colored, knotted strings called khipu. Colonial documents verify that khipu were used in Inca accounting. They look like the icicle lights people put on their houses: one main string, with smaller strings of varying lengths hanging off. Instead of lights, there are knots. The sequence of colors and spacing have specific meanings, as do the knots. For example, figure-eight knots mean the number 1.

Harvard researchers Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine analyzed seven khipu found bundled together. They discovered a hierarchy: The values of lower-level khipu are summed up in higher-level khipu. The top khipu in the bundle tells you the value of the whole thing. The strings were used to send orders and reports all over the vast Inca empire.

It's what they used, instead of writing.

So now you know how the Incas kept count. It's not just some yarn! Or is it?


Prime Time

; Credit:

Hey, people, here's your exciting math news for today!

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

Hold onto your hats! Mathematicians have discovered a new prime number. That's a number divisible only by itself and one.

Primes don't just matter to math geeks. They protect your credit card information when you shop online. That's because internet encryption uses primes to secure data.

The new prime is—are you ready? 22,338,618 digits long.

That beats the current record holder by five million digits.

So how do you find prime numbers?

Enter "GIMPS." Short for the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. It's a program that pools computers to hunt for primes.

Anyone can download GIMPS. It tests numbers during your system's downtime to see if they're prime. Each number takes about a month to test. So you need lots of computers working together.

Fortunately, GIMPS has been downloaded millions of times. Making it one of the world's most powerful computer systems.

Not so GIMPY after all!

But—can it do my taxes?


Noisy Hockey

; Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Now that hockey season's ending, let's check the damage. To participants' groins, teeth, ears?

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

Consider this study on hockey noise done by University of Alberta audiologists Richard Liu and William Hodgetts. To measure the overall noise during three play-off games in Edmonton, Hodgett's team conducted audiometric tests from a sound booth. Liu and his wife sat in the stands and wore dosimeters to determine their personal noise exposure.

And? Each three-hour game generated thirty-one times the safe noise limit for an entire day! That's like sitting three feet away from a roaring chainsaw. And that was just during regular play! When a team scored, the place exploded, with the racket hitting one hundred and twenty decibels. That's like standing next to a running jet engine! Liu and his wife both experienced hearing loss and ringing tinnitus afterwards.

We could warn live hockey fans, but research suggests all they hear is: 'Bla bla bla hockey! Bla bla bla deafness!' Well, that's why we have six months to recover. See you—if not hear you—then. SCORE!