Scientific discoveries this week: 9/3/12

Bristol, England – The shape of a beer glass may have an impact on how fast one empties it, according to a study of “social beer-drinkers” in the United Kingdom. Angela Attwood, a University of Bristol experimental psychologist, organized a study in which self-identified social drinkers were given equal amounts of a lager beer and asked to drink it while watching a nature documentary. One group was given the lager in a curved beer flute, while the other group was given the beer in a straight glass. Attwood observed that the group with the straight glasses finished the 354 mL of beer they were given in an average of 13 minutes, while the drinkers who were given the beer in the curved flutes finished the 354 mL in less than 8 minutes. While the study is not entirely conclusive, Attwood points out, it does show that people have difficulty gauging how fast they are drinking when the glass is curved.

St. Louis, Missouri – Some of the most robust of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in hospitals today may have come from soil, according to a genome study on soil samples taken from across the United States. Gautam Dantas, biologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that soil is filled with genes identical to those found in bacteria that are known to be disease causing, such as E. Coli and Staphylococcus. These bacteria then can pass resistant genes to other types of bacteria, causing antibiotic resistance in a wide variety of bacteria.

Mainz, Germany – The Amazon rainforest appears to seed its own rainfall by releasing potassium-rich aerosols into the atmosphere. A recent study by Christopher Pohlker, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, has shown that the core of most raindrops in the study area was composed of potassium salt. This suggests that the plants in the forest are pushing tiny, microscopic particles of the salt into the atmosphere. The humid air over the rainforest condenses onto the salt particles, producing rain.

Grenoble, France – Scientists have nearly perfected a way to measure the mass of individual molecules by placing them on a microscopic vibrating beam known as a nanobridge and measuring the change in the frequency of vibration. Initially devised by a group of researchers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, the technique has been refined by a group of scientists at the French Atomic Energy Commision in Grenoble. This new work involves vibrating each end of the nanobridge at different frequencies, allowing observers to measure both the mass of the molecule and its position on the beam. The former method of simply vibrating the beam and measuring the frequency change would yield different mass readings for the same molecule based on its position on the beam.

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