Science news

photo by Matt Valentine

Tuesday’s Views and Brews discussion on "The Elegance of Physics with Dr. Steven Weinberg" was a standing room only event. Some patient fans of the Nobel Prize winning physicist were turned away because the event was at capacity despite of the chilly and wet night.

Professor Steven Weinberg is a Nobel laureate in physics, a theoretical physicist and  an outspoken thinker on topics ranging from nuclear weapons to atheism. But this night was about Weinberg’s life, career and development – not just as a thinker, but as an artist in his field.

When it comes to the Myers-Briggs personality type test, are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you focus on sensing, or do you use your intuition to interpret information that you absorb? 

Does it matter?  Why is it so entertaining and satisfying for some people to answer these questions about themselves and others in their lives? 

Listen to the show and let the Two Guys, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, demystify the wiry world of  personality tests for you.

The United States is one step closer to a future where cars will communicate with each other to avoid accidents.

The Department of Transportation announced on Monday it was moving forward with the steps necessary to one day mandate vehicle-to-vehicle — V2V — communication technology on light automobiles.

The big deal here is that research — including a 3,000-vehicle test of the system in Ann Arbor, Mich. — finds that V2V technology has the potential to "help drivers avoid or mitigate 70 to 80 percent of vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers."

There’s endless questions we could ask about how the brain works. A particularly interesting one: what's unique about the brain during adolescence?

During adolescence our brains are wired differently than adult brains will be – and for good reason. In adolescence our brains are in a process of development – so we’re less inhibited, allowing us to take the risks we need to learn about the world. In addition, the difference in brain physiology has other ramifications on behavior and needs. Ignoring them can make life more difficult for kids and parents.

Are you an auditory learner or a visual learner?  If you answered "yes" you would be right. That's because we use all our senses to learn and process information.

In this edition of Two Guys On Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke dispel the myths behind learning styles preferences: they don’t really exist. 

Our reliance on the theories of learning styles to explain our success or failure of understanding certain information is actually serving our human need to put things into categories – combined with our need to explain things when they don’t work. 

If you've ever shopped at Whole Foods, you've probably noticed that some of the foods it sells claim all kinds of health and environmental virtues. From its lengthy list of unacceptable ingredients for food to its strict rules for how seafood is caught and meat is raised, the company sets a pretty high bar for what is permitted on its coveted shelves.

I Think I'm Thinking, Therefore I Am?

Jan 16, 2014

As human beings, we are, in fact, creatures.  Like any other living organism, energy conservation is of highest priority to our vibrant being, whether we are consciously aware of that fact and its influence over our behavior or not.  So, how does that affect our decisions in life? 

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke discuss two great minds in psychology, and the founders of Behavioral Economics, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Laura Rice, KUT News

For many people, most days would not be complete without music. Whether it's exercising to your favorite playlist or jamming along to the radio on your way home for work. 

But how much do infants get out of music? And are there types of music that babies prefer?

A professor at the Children’s Research Laboratory on the University of Texas at Austin campus is trying to find out.

Why We Crave Sugar

Jan 3, 2014

Why is it hard to have just one of those delicious slices of pound cake over the holidays? Well, it turns out it has less to do with the creamy butter and more to do with the way our brains react to those sweet white grains of sugar.

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke discuss the ways our brains respond to sugar by releasing dopamine.

While we may think this dopamine is supposed to make us feel good, what the chemicals in our brains are trying to do is to teach us that this sugar is a good thing and that we want more of it for our survival.

This might have been beneficial to us 150,000 years ago, but with sweets in every candy dish, gas station and coffee shop, craving sugar has its consequences.

How To Make Effective Changes in The New Year

Dec 27, 2013

It’s that time of the year when we resolve to drink less, exercise more, save money, etc.

It may feel really good to intend to do “better” in the new year, but as Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke explain in this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, real change takes planning and hard work.

Why is that? It turns out we have no idea why we do most of the things we do on a daily basis. And as long as our behaviors are driven by factors that operate below our conscious awareness, we may not know how to change.

As the Two Guys point out, effective change can happen when we start from the outside in. When we look at our environments first we can make space and cultivate relationships that help us become best selves.

Spacewalking astronauts have successfully replaced a failed coolant pump on the International Space Station.

NPR's Joe Palca reports that American spacewalkers Michael Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio had to bolt the massive pump in place (on the ground, it weighs 780 pounds), connect four ammonia lines and plug in five electrical cables. The ammonia is a refrigerant used in the station's two-part cooling system, which is necessary to dissipate heat from the onboard electrical equipment.

When it comes to what humans find attractive, many factors play a role.

Evolutionarily speaking, we tend to be attracted to symmetry and markers that indicate health and wellness. In social terms it has more to do with what’s in fashion at a given moment. But it's when we begin to react to attractiveness that things get tricky.

The part of our brains that is responsible for generating creativity evolved throughout human existence to serve a problem-solving function. 

If you lived in the great, wild, open world as a primitive human, and your problems were things like predators, or food security sources, or a need for shelter, what would your brain do? 

Your brain would concoct creative strategies to solve those problems, and that’s what our minds have built a capacity to do as we’ve evolved – create solutions. Drs. Art Markman and Bob Duke give you more of the details.

Whether we like it or not, time marches on. And as it does, we age. 

One of the most challenging realities for everyone to face in life is that we are all, inevitably, destined to grow old (if we’re lucky, that is).

Aging correlates to a steady decline of functional abilities, both physical and mental. Memory and cognition peak in our early twenties, and we begin a very slow, steady decline of those functions as we near our senior years.  

After age 80, many bodily functions – including brain function – seem to have reached the average limit of their operation. So what can we do to preserve our brains for as long as possible?

Jason Shear/UT

Editor's note: This story was originally published Nov. 19, prior to being rebroadcast on WBUR's Here and Now.

When you think of bacteria, you might think about a bunch of mindless, single-celled bugs blindly roaming the world in complete ignorance. But over the past few decades, scientists have found bacteria are much more complicated than that.

Now, a group of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin has come up with a new way of studying how bacteria interact with the world – and each other.

You see, scientists have a couple of problems when it comes to studying bacteria.

Merriam-Webster defines delusion as “a belief that is not true; a false idea.” But who’s to decide what is true? 

Being tagged as delusional carries a negative, unpleasant connotation – calling to mind straight jackets, or maybe some scenes from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But thanks to our powers of perception – and Drs. Bob Duke and Art Markman – you can choose to change your definition of delusion. 

When you get down to it, much of human existence is delusional. We use our imaginations to fill in meaning, value, expectations and definitions around a small sliver of what we can actually observe in our surroundings. Our mental state – essentially our level of happiness or unhappiness – is based on how we choose to define and perceive our circumstances. 

Three engineering undergrads at Rice University gave a teenager with a rare genetic disease something he'd always wished for: the ability to turn off the light in his room.

It may not seem like much, but for 17-year-old Dee Faught, it represents a new kind of independence.

For many of us, Thanksgiving means spending time with our families, carrying out traditions that we’ve practiced for years.

While it can be very stressful, messy, and challenging to spend time with family members you don’t see very often, it can also be a beautiful time of recentering. 

Traditions serve a psychological function. By repeating the same traditional activity with the same group of people over the years, we construct a chronological record of who we’ve been before – and who we are now. It’s a hidden way of staying in touch with the consistent elements of our identities, and it allows us to track ourselves as we develop and change.

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’

Popular as they are, those words really aren’t as accurate as we would like them to be.

Words are a part of almost every aspect of our lives, and the words we use impact not only those we are speaking to, but the very way we see the world – and even the chemicals released in our brain.

Even though competing sports teams who consider themselves rivals like to highlight their supposedly apparent differences – in actuality, rivals are more alike than they are different. They share a common goal, for which they are competing.

Rivalries allow us as humans to have a friendly competition. They can be energizing, and allow us to bond with our communities over success or failure.