Scientific discoveries this week: 2-13-12

Lund, Switzerland – A group of researchers from Lund University in Switzerland studied the effects of the zebra’s black-and-white “jailhouse” striping pattern, in an effort to understand the reason behind it. The study shows that the unique striping pattern repels certain types of disease-carrying flies, due to the way the alternating white-and-black stripes reflect light. The researchers noticed that the striping repelled horseflies and tsetse flies because the reflection from the stripes confused and disoriented the flies.

Los Angeles, California – In a recent study, a set of minor electrical shocks targeted at the entorhinal cortex helped epilepsy patients remember things with more clarity. The study began when some epilepsy patients, who were awaiting surgery to help with their seizures, were asked if they would consent to try a new form of care. The surgeons implanted a set of platinum electrodes in the patients’ brains and decided to administer a set of very minor shocks through those electrodes. The shocks stimulated the brain and caused patients to remember actions better than before the therapy. The therapy is now being considered for Alzheimer’s patients.

New Haven, Connecticut – Geologists know that at least 3 times in the past, some or all of the continents have collided and merged into a so-called supercontinent. There are several competing theories regarding where a supercontinent would form based on the location of the last supercontinent. The two most common theories predicted that a supercontinent would form either 0 or 180 degrees away from the location of the past supercontinent. A new study out of Yale University proposes that supercontinents may actually form 90 degrees away, being drawn to the subduction zones that naturally form around supercontinents. The current subduction zone is known as the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean.

Harvard, Massachusetts – Artificial shark-skin could propel robots to greater speeds underwater, according to a new study by a Harvard University bioroboticist. The study involved taking skin from a Mako shark and testing it in controlled conditions, and seeing how it responded to various treatments, including sanding the toothy parts off, and letting it flex with the flow of the water. The researchers found that letting the skin flex in the flow of the water made it considerably faster, which suggests that the skin itself actually propels the shark in the way it moves.

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