Kirsten: And you are listening to This Week in Science on KDVS 90.3 Fm in Davis. Joining me in the studio today is not Justin. No, no, no. We have a guest host today, Andy Fell from here at UC, Davis. He work at the..
MH:: Good morning.
Kirsten: Good morning. You work at the news service and you’re jumping free of the print media.
Andy Fell: [Laugh]
Andy Fell: You know well — print broadcast, this is my first radio show. So here we go.
Kirsten: Yeheey! Exciting. I’m very excited to have you on today. Oh, and you get the bell. [Laugh] Making great use of the props in the studio already. This is good.
Andy Fell: I’ve got the rubber chicken too.
Kirsten: [Laugh] But Nobody gets to see that. If you’ve love to call us and say hello this morning, call in it 530-752-2777. You can say hello to Andy.
Justin is off for the day. Unfortunately he’s got things — things to take care of. He is worried about his job though. So don’t take to the job.
Andy Fell: He (won’t be in) by the end of the hour.
Kirsten: [Laugh] Well I hope you’ve brought a lot of fun science news. I’ve got a bunch, we’ll see if my computer actually makes it through the hour. I’m a..
Andy Fell: We have lots of fun stuff to talk about.
Kirsten: We have lots of great stuff to talk about. Additionally, next week is the KDVS fundraiser. So, we will have This Week in Science 2008 compilation CD’s, available as our premium gift during the show next week.
Yes, it’s a very exciting whole bunch of music – 10 original songs that were inspired in one way or another by science on a cd, all packaged up nice and pretty. So that YOU can have a little gift as thanks for supporting free form radio.
Andy Fell: And how much do you have to give to get one of the CD’s?
Kirsten: To get one of the CD’s. You only have to give $25.
Andy Fell: If you give $50, do you get two?
Kirsten: Sure, if you want to! That’s exactly! Yes. We’re not – you know – $25, it’s a little much for a normal CD. But you know this isn’t just any CD.
Andy Fell: This is special.
Kirsten: It’s very special. And they are limited supply. I only make 200 CD’s every year. And when they’re gone, they are gone.
So, they’re collector items. I mean This Week in Science collector items. Let’s get to the rest to the science. I guess we have..
Andy Fell: Oh Goody!
Andy Fell: Oh, goody!
Kirsten: Oh goody. What?
Andy Fell: Fogody, bogody.
Kirsten: [Laugh] First though I’ve love to hear a little bit about you. Let’s start with the interview.
Andy Fell: [Laugh]
Kirsten: I’ve told you that you are going to be put on the spot.
Andy Fell: Okay. Ask away.
Kirsten: Ask away. You aren’t just a pretty face and a nice pretty voice here or I could beat you – it’s radio. I can say whatever I feel like.
Andy Fell: Oh stop flirting Kirsten.
Kirsten: You actually do – You have a background in science.
Andy Fell: I do have a background in science.
Kirsten: And tell me a little what you used to.
Andy Fell: Well, I did a degree and a PhD in Edwards in Scotland. And I worked in immunology and on parasites. And then I did post doctoral research in Australia on malaria immunology for several years.
And then, I decided I wasn’t making much of a career in science. So, I went into communications. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a bit.
And then, I ended up here doing basically science news writing for the University. I go around. I talked to professors about what they do and I try and translate it for a lay audience.
So, it’s a lot of fun. I gets talk to really smart people about really interesting things and then get to write it up.
Kirsten: That sound like a lot of fun. So, it allows you to keep your head into a whole bunch of different …
Andy Fell: Yes. I get to do all kinds of stuff. I’ve just wrote a big feature article about cosmology and particle physics. And I get to do things about squirrels rubbing themselves with rattle snakes skin.
And I get to do a bit of engineering, a little bit of biology and DNA and Higgs Boson and all kinds of stuff. So it’s a lot of variety and I don’t have to do any of it in great depth which suits me.
Kirsten: Exactly. It’s not that work in focus.
Andy Fell: Yes, when you’re a working scientist you do things in great depth. It’s very niche focused and It didn’t really suit me very well.
Kirsten: And so now you get to have a little sampling of everything. And that’s great
Andy Fell: Yes. Hop around.
Kirsten: That’s what I love about doing this show also. I always can keep track of new things and I’m constantly able to learn new things that I’ve never heard of before. Its just amazing.
Andy Fell: There’s always new things going on. There’s always interesting things going on. And, as soon as we have this kind of view, you see kind of connections to things or kind of wider view of science that you wouldn’t see if you’re more close up to it I think.
Kirsten: Yes! So do you think that the job of the University Science writer . I guess the public information officer, the person who translates what the scientists are doing for the public- now that we’re getting into this age of more — I guess internet – like what people are calling the community reporters. You know people – anybody can write about anything out there.
Do you think that what you’re doing is going to remain as valuable as it becomes more and more, just people posting anything?
Andy Fell: I think possibly more valuable. I mean I think what you do see now is that you see professors starting their own blogs. Example to talk about the work, Pamela Ronald from Plant Pathology. She has a blog up about her new book: Tomorrow’s Table, which I saw the other day.
So people are talking about their own research directly. And that’s easier for them to do than it’s ever been. On the other hand, I think this also kind of falling away of the print and broadcast traditional media’s ability to cover a lot of science in-depth.
And that makes it more important for people like me, to grab things and digest them and put them out to the general audience.
Andy Fell: And I think people be relying more on people like University news department to sort of collect what’s going on and tell people about it.
Because they may not hear about it. True, straightforward traditional old fashioned reporting as much as they have might done before.
Andy Fell: But they become other roots for things to get out there. And you know we’re exploring not just – traditionally we would put out press releases to the media and you would printed them and followed them up and write the stories.
And now we do, alright we have our own blog which I write, and we have – we do multimedia pieces, we do the University website. We sort of put videos together. So we’re doing more variety of different things that we’re using to push things out to the public.
Andy Fell: And makes things available. And I think there’s certainly a need for people to get hold of the science, understand the science and try and then put it into terms that people can understand.
This is important you know the tax payers pay for this place. And they pay for most for the research with their federal tax dollars. So they should be able to find out what’s done with that money and what comes out of it.
Kirsten: Absolutely. Alright, so tell me what’s your favourite UC Davis news story that you’ve worked on? If…
Andy Fell: [Laugh] Oh, I’ve got big favourites. It’s only great ones .
Kirsten: What’s just the most like just something that just blew your mind and you went “Wow! I can’t believe this is happening like right next door to me”.
Andy Fell: I’ve been very impressed – and people think about this as being an arts school and a vets school. But we have an incredibly strong cosmology particle physics group now. We’ve been recruiting a lot of people.
We have people who are working on the large Hadron collider in Switzerland – working at Fermilab. We’ve got – I was just – we can go into this later on – but It’s just the other weekend I was in Tucson where they’re casting the mirror for this big telescope, that one of our professors is the lead guy building this huge telescope it’s going to be going to Chile.
So that’s fascinating. And in it’s just some fabulous plant biology work that goes on here. This probably is one of the best places in the country for plant biology. People understanding how plants make a leaf or make a — decide to make a leaf instead of making a flower or make a stem or something like that.
Andy Fell: And the fascinating animal behavior stuff. And the stuffed that crosses over from one to the other. I did a story a couple of years back with a psychologist and a mechanical engineer where they were using robots to model bot, maybe rats too.
Kirsten: This been fits perfectly. [Laugh]
Andy Fell: So the psychologists have been studying this infant rats. And, how they’ve don’t have any sense of touch. They can blunder around their little box and find their way into cornes and find their way back to mom. And, that’s all their behavior is. But understanding that behavior is really complicated.
: Because even a baby rats is simply complicated thing. So, Sanjay Joshi in engineering makes robots and (hepas). So, they made this little sort of, clothes line shape robots.
That would sort of also trundle around a little bit and bump into things and decide what to do. So, these rat bots could imitate what the rats were doing.
So, by studying the robots they could get a clue about what the rats are doing. And then by studying the rats, they can get some ideas about what the robots could do.
Kirsten: Right. So, they get back and see it in form how they re-program the robots to act to work complexity.
Andy Fell: Yes. Exactly. So what their interest on the robots side. But they’re interested in is making all swarm of autonomous robots. They can go off and explore Mars or something like that.
Andy Fell: Yes. And though..
Kirsten: Little autonomous rat bots.
Andy Fell: Yes. Little autonomous rat bots. You do things in interactive environment – interact with each other. You wouldn’t need a lot of supervision. So, you have very nice example of two pieces of research in completely different areas kind of informing each other.
Andy Fell: And crossing over. And that’s one of the things that somehow we do real work at Davis.
Kirsten: Yes. There is a lot of integrative research going on. I love that the whole idea of mimicking little baby rats. I mean, if humans didn’t have enough to be concerned about with robots, now the rats have to worry about their lives being…
Andy Fell: I told you we have issues on robots on this show and that was it.
Kirsten: [Laugh] Yes. We’re little concerned about the whole robot domination issue.
Andy Fell: I for one welcome our robot overlords.
Kirsten: Okay. There is a second vote for… [Laugh]
Andy Fell: As long as I dubbed the program the DVR anymore.
Kirsten: Did they take care a bit for you? [Laugh] Yes, there was a story that was sent to me by a listener and relating to – let see if I can pull it up here. Getting this so far “Oh, my computers totally going to die”.
We will see if I get the recording in today. Go computer, go. Magic energy from somewhere will come to my computer because I forgot the charger. Robots with machine guns have been deployed into Iraq. However…
Andy Fell: As if there’s not enough trouble with machine guns there already?
Kirsten: I know. However, these robot that is known as Swords. It’s a robot with this giant machine gun on it.
But it decided at some point when they turned it on that it was going to turn around and just kind of start shooting everybody. So, it wasn’t really doing…
Andy Fell: Have they thought everybody he knew that was going to be happen?
Kirsten: There’s two hands up going up to serve. [Laugh] Yes, we know it. Yes, the robots — their programming didn’t exactly work the way it was planned and it’s back to the drawing table. They have removed Swords from the battle field in Iraq.
And they’re saying that this is a very negative thing for the progress of these robots and incorporating manned, not man – weapon robots into combat arm.
Robots into combat situations. Because it just decreases the amount of trust that people have for allowing robots into these situations in the first place.
Andy Fell: Well I guess they’re already using those Predator Drones.
Kirsten: They are using the Predator Drones. Those articles says that the V22 Osprey has killed 30 people during test flights, but nobody has really said anything about that so far. I don’t know whether those were…
Andy Fell: I think that was a crashes.
Kirsten: Yes. That would the it was friendly fire or crashing. Yes, it was a crashing into things.
Andy Fell: Crashed it right. It crushingly is been in booting it for 20 years that keeps crushing. Dick Cheney trying to kill that project when he interceptor the defense that Bush..
Andy Fell: Previous Bush administration. He couldn’t do it. Too much support.
Kirsten: Yes. They keep trying to get them out there. Well I mean if you cannot have – you are going to have injuries and fatalities during these test flights and during test runs of these things because you have to try them out before you know whether they’re going to work perfectly.
But hopefully in the end these robots will end up minimizing the amount of human death that occurs. And…
Andy Fell: On our side anyway.
Kirsten: On our side. Right. But it’s going at least – the Swords project is probably been pushed back maybe 10 or 20 years as a results of the mis-fire. Yes.
Andy Fell: I’m going to be surprised that they would have deployed something like that for battle fields so early. I though it needs a lot more of testing on it.
Andy Fell: Now haven’t you seen the stories are?
Kirsten: Yes. It was mailed to me by a couple of people and it ended up – it was put on to the combat into the combat grounds. They may have just been – I’m not exactly sure. They may have been using it for testing it out in Iraq?
You know for final testing, to make sure it will work before really putting it out on it. Does kind of – didn’t, I don’t know. But if that’s not enough scientist at the University of London, Queen Mary are building interactive emotionally intelligent companion technology that is going to be…[Laugh]
Andy Fell: I think the human race might die out.
Kirsten: Yes. They’re trying to create robots that can be companions for humans as they aged. So long term companions…
Andy Fell: I’m thinking that is not the big market actually in their mind.
Kirsten: Yes. There have a stories previously where elderly adults when this kind of companion robot technologies have been tested on them they haven’t responded very positively. The technology just is not something that they’re interested in. They’d rather..
Andy Fell: They’d rather see their grand children. “God, I’ve met rather than have some robot.”.
Kirsten: I know. Exactly. Yes. I don’t know. Replaced human affection with a robot.
Andy Fell: It’s kind of sad.
Kirsten: It is kind of sad. Okay, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got for robot news this week. I’m done with world robot domination. It’s just that ending on the sad note here. Death and depression and rat bots.
Andy Fell: Rat bots is cute.
Kirsten: What else has been happening in UC Davis news recently.
Andy Fell: Well, one story I wanted to talk about I’ve came out last week was — as it’s spring in baseball season have started in Olympics are coming up and we start thinking actually about performance enhancing drugs.
So, I can see Kirsten does it anyway. So…
Kirsten: Every spring. [Laugh]
Andy Fell: So, but what if you could juice your brain? If you’d take pills to make yourself smarter and faster and more focused. And it turns out what will people are. Make taking pills to make themselves smarter, faster and more focus.
Kirsten: That’s why I drink a cup of coffee every morning.
Andy Fell: Well it’s a cup of coffee this is espresso. But nature magazine came out for survey last week. And they surveyed about 1400 people in 60 countries in online survey and asked them about the used of drugs to improve concentration, focus at work.
And they found that one in five of their respondents said they’d taken something to make themselves more focused, concentrate better. Most kind drug taken is Ritalin. And those are taken by others it’s been called Adderall and..
Kirsten: Adderall. Pulling it out.
Andy Fell: Centrophenoxine. I don’t know what that is. Prolactin propranolol, which is a beta blocker and makes you more calm and steady. So, this seems acts should be free widespread atleast because of online survey. It is the random sampling so they may be some over representation but certainly there seems to be out there quite a bit of used of brain performance enhancing drugs.
And so the reasons given for taking this things were to improve focus for a specific task and improve concentration, counter acting jet lag. Which is kind of cronic problem in some scientist because they fly around a lot.
Kirsten: Yes, and in business people as well.
Andy Fell: Also some of the reasons given a list common were like “party house cleaning” to actually see if there is any validity to the article.
Kirsten: What? [Laugh] This is a really great question? I’m going to see if this things work.
Andy Fell: I can see. That’s a very scientific attitude could take.
Kirsten: That’s hilarious. I haven’t tried it before, but people obviously are. So, why don’t I give it a shot.
Andy Fell: So the funny thing it is, a week before nature came out with the story. Appreciately circulated, reportedly for the NIH saying that the National Institutes of Health had joined the World Anti-brain Dopping Authority.
It was going to crack down on the used of cognition enhances by scientist. Might for example require scientist to take – submit drug test before they receive federal grants, before they go into scientific conferences.
So you can see little curtain booth and people handing their cup before they go to the conference.
Andy Fell: This was of course was an April fools spoof perpetrated by Professor Jonathan Eisen, that the genomes sent to here.
Kirsten: That’s great.
Andy Fell: They got quite a bit of pick up. And then a week later of course they check and comes up with the survey. Oh well, you know the truth its happening.
So if push news. Used of the performance enhancing drugs in sport is pretty widely condemned even in baseball.
Kirsten: Even in baseball. [Laugh]
Andy Fell: So, and the sports authorities specially in Olympic sports in upland. Athelete’s – a great deal of trouble to eradicate this. So the question is, should we be thinking about doing the same kind of thing in science, is it fair?
If two people applying for federal grant and one of them is taking pills, make himself smarter and is that fair or as you say you know a lot of science grands on coffee. An offer pack the Physics department here there is an espresso machine and they launch the hot – the particle physicist juice. It’s just quite a work out.
So, and you know coffee makes you more focus and more awake when you’re studying.
Andy Fell: So, where is the line between things that wake you up a bit and cheating in brain enhancement. And I think right now we have things like Ritalin which is a drugs that you gave an active – Yes, an active ADD.
Kirsten: People of ADD. Yes.
Andy Fell: But coming down the track probably a few years will be drugs for Alzheimer’s that we, hopefully, that can really help people with advance cognitive decline improved.
So, what are we going to do about things like that? They’re really do have an effect on people’s brains when it comes. I’m going to be saying people going to be think it about, I think.
Kirsten: Right. The question is, if you take Ritalin or Adderall now it allows you to sit down and maybe focus and ignore destructions a little bit better than you would be able to otherwise.
And is that – that doesn’t necessarily to make you smarter, but if you are able to pump through that grant application or that term paper or studying for a task. Does that gave you advantage that is unfair?
Andy Fell: And you are popping something to do it at that time. I guess there is a difference between working at your best and improving what your best could be.
Kirsten: What your best could be. Right. And, it will be completely unknown whether these drugs that will eventually come out to help people with cognitive decline in the future -whether that will have a benefit…
Andy Fell: Would you add on still…
Kirsten: ..to people with no – will it add on to those people who don’t have cognitive decline or if you start taking one of these drugs, you get a prescription and you’re taking that kind of off label used for by whatever doctor.
Or black market prescription drugs that you’ve ordered from England on the internet or from Canada or Mexico.
Andy Fell: Or Canada, wherever. Seem to know suspicious amount about this kind of things.
Kirsten: Friends, friends. You know whether that is going to actually allow you to maintain where you are performing for a longer period of time and not be subject to the average cognitive decline of age.
So, will it allow people to – will it keep their best better for a longer period of time allowing them to continue in the work place longer than they normally would?
And this is maybe an issue that’s going to come up. As you know, people are aging in the workplace and they’re afraid of losing their jobs to younger more competitive candidates. You can start following this down the train of thoughts.
Andy Fell: You could see the logic guy. You can also say the older employee having a hint drop that – you know you should really be taking something to sharpen up a bit or getting some pressure to do so.
Andy Fell: But at the other end to the scale, one of the questions Nature asked was – they asked a questions about whether people who have mental disorders should be taking those drugs.
Everybody says so. At the other end of the scale should these kind of drugs be being given to kids does help them do better in school. Who aren’t suffering ADHT and people said pretty much overwhelmingly, “No”.
Andy Fell: But on the other hand, we have a caveat that quite a lot of people said I think two-thirds respondents said “if they thought that other kids will taking these drugs in the school they would feel pressured to give their kids drugs; to make them do better”.
Kirsten: Oh, my goodness. All that peer pressure.
Andy Fell: Yes. Peer pressure over parenting.
Kirsten: Yes. You see it happening normally in just what parents push their kids to do in extra curricular activities and there so much competition these days. I’m looking at kids like pushing, pushing, pushing just to get a spot in a college. It’s mind boggling, all of the activities that kids have to do.
Andy Fell: All the resumés they come in with, and they go political. When I applied to college I didn’t have a resumé. You know?
Kirsten: I know. [Laugh]
Andy Fell: And that was some exam results. In a live suit.
Kirsten: I was a high school kid. I was a cheer leader for a year. I didn’t like it.
Andy Fell: Well, look what happened.
Kirsten: And look what happened, exactly. One more story before we go to our break. There’s a question of whether or not – along the line of school kids.
Question of whether or not kids should be segregated in classrooms? And there’s the study out of Tel Aviv, that suggest that they should not. So many, many studies — until this study have suggested that when girls and boys are separated, the girls are able to perform better than they do in a mixed classroom.
Andy Fell: Yes.
Kirsten: And that in a mix classroom that the social dynamics keep girls from living up to the potential that they may have. And this is a concern specially in science technology, engineering, mathematics subjects that girls may be aren’t acting or being as bright as they can be, because of social pressures to fit in to get boys to like them.
And if you’re worried about, oh, I might you know. When you are young, “Oh, I must be too smart you know, Joe Bob doesn’t like me”. You know you’re going to make some girls do dumb themselves down in the classroom.
And this is really a negative for their eventual progression in academics and into their futures. It really going to put a hindrance into what they are doing.
So, this study has come out suggesting that, if you have more 55% percent at least. If you have more girls than boys in a classroom, the girls actually benefit the entire classroom as a whole.
So that boys don’t act out as much. They are less outbursts – fewer outburst. And boys perform better academically.
And it seems as though – it was a secondary — not I kind of have the look through the article as a secondary note that girls – if there are more girls than boys in the classroom, girls tend to perform better as well. So, there’s something about the proportion.
Andy Fell: It is kind of difficult because it is already plays into pre-existing stereotype for how boys and girls should behave.
Andy Fell: And part of problem is boys and girls from this living up to history top to think. A long long time since I’ve been in a classroom of any kind.
Kirsten: You kind of forget what is like after a while.
Andy Fell: I’m going to forget what is like. I’ve been trying to forget what is like actually for a long time. I think girls now seem to do much better in school in general overall.
When they have, as the sort of sexist barrier, have been removed. Women have kind of move ahead and appearing in greater number across the board in college and university – which is a good thing.
Kirsten: Right. And more of them in science field.
Andy Fell: Yes. More on them in science field which is great. Brings much more diversity into the field. And each can’t have half of the population not going into certain field. Silly, your sort of cutting yourself off with this potentially brilliant people.
Andy Fell: Just because they are encouraged to go into something else. i.e.not science. But, I did a lot of article a while ago about chemistry and material science and Greisen. It’s been a lot of the progress on this campus in recruiting women faculty into the chemist.
Especially in the Chemistry department and material science chemical engineering. They have invited like four out 10 faculty in both departments women now which is – no it’s not 50% which should be an ideal but it’s doing much better than comparable department across the country.
Kirsten: Right. There’s been a pretty big push throughout the UC campuses to increase the number of women recruited to professorial positions.
Andy Fell: And it’s not where it should be, but I think things are improving. And some people will say they are not improving fast enough considering the proportion of young women coming in is undergraduates.
And what they see in profess in the faculty body. But, hopefully some progress is being made.
Kirsten: Yes. That’s the big point. The big hope is that progress is being made. And you know I just – every once in a while you lose perspective on where women have been historically.
And it was really only, what 50 years ago? That I mean — it was common until like the 50’s and 60’s for women to go to college to get a husband. You know to get a job as a teacher, a nurse…
Andy Fell: That was it.
Kirsten: A secretary exactly. And that was all women had to look forward to. And now we have so many choices.
Andy Fell: I think the first win the Whole Larry Summers thing was going on. I think the First Medical degree granted to a woman was only a 100 years ago?
Andy Fell: So, obviously at that time, women couldn’t be possibly be doctors.
Andy Fell: Physiology is not suited to the profession. And that’s all you can say? So, was that?
Kirsten: And women have the right to under pseudonyms that were male and you know..
Andy Fell: (Emily Bronte) wrote under pseudonyms.
Kirsten: Yes. So there was a lot of sexism across the board with for women reaching outside of what the social norms were. And now it’s just, you know – if you look at the time scale of where women have been and what we have achieved in just the last 50 years. It is outstanding.
And I’m not saying that progress needs to, you know, to slow down. I’m just saying that we need to keep that in perspective. We’ve come along way, baby.
Andy Fell: Yeheey.
Kirsten: Yeheey! And with that, it’s time to go to the break “tot, tot, too..”. My song it decided to go to sleep. Time to go to the break. We will be back in just a few minutes with more This Week in Science, joined by Andy Fell.
Kirsten: And we’re back. This is This Week in Science will be here on the air until 9:30. I’m Kirsten and I’m joineed by guest host Andy Fell. Thanks again. Hello! Justin will be back next week. We have some tons and tons and tons of science news here waiting for you.
I just want to remind everybody about the fundraiser next week. And if you like to call us in the time we have left..
Andy Fell: Don’t forget the CD’s.
Kirsten: Oh, yes. Premium 2008 science CD available for YOU. If you donate $25. Call in 530-752-2777 if you would like to join us on the air and our website is www.thisweekinscience.com or you can find show notes relating to the stories that we cover – links to the original stories and import links to the bands that are played on the show today.
Alright Andy there was this great story, playing to memory and the brain.
Andy Fell: Memory. Yes.
Kirsten: And this is something I wanted to talk about a couple of weeks ago when it came out but..
Andy Fell: You saved it for me.
Kirsten: I saved it for you. Because I know you were coming.
Andy Fell: Okay so this is a study that came out from a couple of people atleast Center of Mind and Brain here, Steven Luck and Weiwei Zhang. And this is about a kind of memory that you didn’t even realized you have. So this is a very – called policy working memory is a very very short term memory and only lasts a few seconds.
So when your eyes move around, they seem to move smoothly, but in fact your eyes sights moves smoothly at all. They jump around one thing to another. They jump. So, if your brain was just getting that, it was just see a series of jumps that would be very difficult to deal with.
So the brain smooths it out. And how it does that? It has its working memory that stores a few key memories from each thing you look at for a few seconds. And it uses those to blend the scenes together. So it’s storing…
Kirsten: So you have very nice smooth transitions.
Andy Fell: Yes. Nice smooth transitions. Like a sort of buffer file. It’s just graphing a few things from each thing your looking at. And using it as anchor point sort of match everything together.
Kirsten: I like that a buffer file.
Andy Fell: Yes, kind of a like a buffer or I think like compare it to computer chip. You have these like memory registers on the chip that allow it to handle a few digits and just work on a problem right their on the chip and go off to the main memory when you want something important.
Since a very, very short term working memory. So, the question they were asking was: How does this thing actually work? And is it a few – a limited number of slots at a fixed resolution? Or is it a sort of expandable system where you could take more memories at a kind of fuzzy resolution or a few memories or high risk resolution kind of varied depending on what you want to do.
So what they did was, they device a test after a lot of work apparently and thought. They came out this test whether volunteers will look at the screen and this colored squares pop up on the screen for a tenth of a second. And they disappear and they have to click on the color wheel to recall what colors squares were and where they were.
And they could use this to assess how well peoples’ working memory work. What they came out with was it’s a fixed number of slots at a fixed resolution.
So any individual has maybe three or four slots in these working memory. And they’re always about — they store about the same amount of information every time.
So it’s a fixed slots system. So, this is interesting because this kind of memory seems to be — although it’s primarily involved in vision that’s how I look it in here.
But it also seems to agrees strongly related to what Steven Luck calls “fluid intelligence”. So problem solving ability. Your ability to hold intermediate information and when work things out as you go along.
Andy Fell: So, might be tie to how some people do some things a bit faster, a bit more efficiently than others. Also must be a pro-
Kirsten: Like working out the tip at a restaurant.
Andy Fell: Like were having a tip at a restaurant. I think that’s more of a calculating thing. When you try add things together work out of the percentage. You have to hold intermediate values in your head while you do it. So doing mental arithmetic would be an example.
That would kind of funny example. If you drive up to a four ways stop sign and four views drive up at the same time. Ever notice when you get there and somebody moves right away and it works okay.
Andy Fell: But If you get there and somebody hesitates and you four are standing there and you tell to got “Well who’s turn will it did go next, I can’t remember who got here first.”
Andy Fell: So, and probably in fact you are praying for be couldn’t — if there were five stop signs your brain probably couldn’t handle at all.
Kirsten: [Laugh] You’ve be that stereotypical robot where they — in the cartoon with its heads spinning around in fire and smoke.
Andy Fell: Yes. That’s not computer spinning something out. So it does seem to be tied to that. And it also allows you to compare things to make comparisons and sort things into categories. Because you can put code on your head. Well, this thing – this type is this thing with that type.
And that’s interesting because another kind of branch of what they do is essentially divine brain is looking at infant development. This professor called (Lees Oaks) who works on that. And babies seem to developed this kind of memory about seven months or so of old age.
And they’re crawling around and it kind of start to understand the environment. And kind of big question in neuro scientist, how babies learn stuff because they’re learning without knowing anything.
They just have to learn from their environment without – from scratch.Among the way it seems to do that is by sorting things into categories. Soft things, hard things, things that have legs. Things that don’t know. So that’s the start of things.
Kirsten: Right. Peoples chairs.
Andy Fell: People chairs. Your dogs, cats.
Andy Fell: So sorting things into categories then smaller categories. And smaller categories always way you kind to learn things. And that is how your main memory sorts things and stores things.
But their working memory probably helps you in the sort of initial stage of figuring that out. Of — when you’re comparing to two things in right in front to you — in front on your eyes and you compare them. Your working memories would help you to do that.
So, I think its a new stage published in Nature a couple of weeks ago. A scenario that seems be a lot of research. And just kind of a hot topic in Europe science right now.
Andy Fell: And it’s also – because it’s also intersection between your cognitive system where the nerves in the systems that allow your eyes to get. We get data from your eyes to your brain. And the mind where your brain as it deals with what is coming in.
Kirsten: When your more cognitive, conscious, subconscious.
Andy Fell: It’s some kind of first layer on top of that. Yes.
Andy Fell: That’s new story.
Kirsten: It’s really interesting to think about. When there so many different layers to working memory and you know first is just our ability to function and move from one environment to another or even within the same environment remembering where you’ve been, what you’ve done.
And like allowing that to flow continuously and very smoothly. And the idea that there is a set number of slots. So, this is working memories studies forever have a looked at not vision necessarily but the numbers that you can remember.
So, in working memory the majority of people can remember about seven numbers. And this is why telephone numbers are the length that they are. And…
Andy Fell: I think that such short term memory there is-
Kirsten: Oh, the short term memory, right.
Andy Fell: And then there is long term memories we should put away things used of you put your memory from your childhood but can’t remember most of the time.
Andy Fell: And since that phone numbers as you remember as you trained yourself.
Kirsten: Right. If you trained yourself to do it. If you repeated it over and over and over again you can get it. And then, there’s the idea that if you have a certain number of slots. Is their a genetic difference between you and other humans or other people where some people have more slots than others? Is that would allows them?
Andy Fell: It seems that some people have a bit few more – it isnt a big variation maybe like three to four or something. Some people seem to have more slots than others is consistent for one person in number of slots and resolution.
But it does vary between people and that’s all the thing that’s tied to fluid intelligence. So, probably people who have more slots or better resolution in those slots probably have a more – maybe that gets them an advantage in problem solving ability, compared to somebody who doesn’t.
Andy Fell: But then again, maybe people who may not have that. Couldn’t it be a memory in that way but maybe they have a better memory now a ways. So they have a superior cognitive skills in other fields.
Kirsten: Right. And then it gets back to the idea of that performance enhancing drugs.
Andy Fell: Yes.
Kirsten: Can you artificially enhance the number of slots in your working memory?
Andy Fell: Well I guess it depends on what – maybe there is study.
Kirsten: How would it exactly work?
Andy Fell: Is it kind of black box right now but they say just a like much of the mind studies. It’s not tied to know, I don’t think they know exactly how physically it works.
Andy Fell: When the other people who works on those kind of brain structural things. But maybe it’s just genetic. And presumably this goes evolutionary must go way back to any animal that could be vertebrate, that has two eyes and moves its head around probably something like this but account would the input.
Andy Fell: So, must go back along ways for be very primitive.
Kirsten: And, probably it would be just end up being any animal with a better working memory as it probably increased and increased in its complexity. Probably would have a better, better chances of survival in the environment.
Being able to evade predators, being able to catch prey.
Andy Fell: Well good vision is a uselful thing for an animal.
Andy Fell: Being able to find prey or avoid predators.
Kirsten: Yes, it is useful. [Laugh] Yes it is.
Andy Fell: But unless you live in a cave or I don’t know.
Kirsten: Do I live in a cave? No, but we do live..
Andy Fell: We do live in a basement.
Kirsten: I do once a week. I live in the basement of Freeborn hall. I love it down here. There’s so many good memories in this place. I also have a lot of good memories in the milky way galaxy because that’s — But we are a part of our galaxy, the milky way has a black hole in its center.
At least that’s the idea. Nobody has actually seen it but we think its there. And the idea is that a black hole has — it is the accumulation of just galaxies upon galaxies and stars all becoming in to one another based on gravitional forces and colliding. And eventually just making so much mass that it just sinks in and implodes on it..
Andy Fell: Collapses on it’s own.
Kirsten: Collapses – thank you for the right word. Collapses in on itself. And after that point the collapse in, some black holes or maybe all of them, we don’t know that if for sure either.
Create quasars where there is energy that’s spewd forth from – and there’s matter that comes out thats spewd forth from the center of blackhole.
Well, it’s thought that if there is a certain amount of matter at the center of the blackhole than there’s only a certain amount that can spew out. So over time, the strenght of that quasar should fade away and you should have a very quiescent black hole.
Andy Fell: Right. I should go quiet. I thought as the stuff fill into it. It sorts of annihilates you get a certain amount of radiation given off as that happens. I mean stuff has always falling into it.
Kirsten: Right. But then eventually there’s no more stuff and it’ll go quiet. There’s only a certain amount on stuff but eventually there’s less and less stuff then quiet quasar.
Anyway, so this quasars are supposed to run out fuel as the idea. And as they run out of fuel they go quiet. And however, there are some researchers, astrophysicist from Liverpool.
Andy Fell: I like the way you’re getting lots of British scientist into the show this morning. London, Liverpool…
Kirsten: I know. Dommage to England. Yes, to the UK I should say. They’ve used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to look at spectral lines from 360,000 relatively nearby galaxies. Space it’s all relative.
And they reported that about 20% of those definitely had active nuclei, the blackholes..
Andy Fell: Active galactic nuclei items.
Kirsten: AGNs. Active galactic nuclei. Good with the terminology. And then they were about 65,000 more nearly another 20% that were probable Active Galactic Nuclei.
And so they’re not doing much. And what they’re trying to understand is basically that they think that there should be more activity in younger…
Andy Fell: Younger stars. Smaller stuff for instant.
Kirsten: Younger star systems. Exactly. And there should be less activity in older ones. However, they’re finding that is some of those very old systems, there are very Active Galactic Nuclei.
So, the hypothesis that they’re developing is that the galactic center of a galaxy can for some reason – they don’t know what it would be, be active, go quiet and be active once again.
Andy Fell: Oh.. Well..
Kirsten: Oh.. So in some point in the future the milky way could start spewing forth again and the sky would never be black. Where’s that moon?
Andy Fell: Did they say that?
Kirsten: [Laugh] Yes.
Andy Fell: For you to think that the radio sky way.
Kirsten: Radiation. Radiation, yes.
Andy Fell: Well, I get – It’s always interesting in – some of these most interesting thing in scientist not – the big result is like a hmm.. that’s funny kind of thing some. It’s always interesting when you get a counter intuitive result.
Kirsten: Right. Where you think things where in particular way and then find..
Andy Fell: Different. In a particular way and oops.. they don’t.
Kirsten: Right. So, the sky there is more information that needs to collected on these Active Galactic Nuclei to really understand. And it’s just goes to show that there’s so much we don’t understand about the way the universe works –yets.
Andy Fell: Indeed.
Andy Fell: Well, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey has been a fantastic tool but that telescope collected – But it’s a being a big toss cover looks for deep and look up things in detailed survey.
The big chunk of the sky and collected data in all this galaxies and quasars in distant space. And I saw a projection of the data from that. And it just – and it’s only tiny fraction of the universe. It’s awe inspiring that – kind of size and structures and scale of the universe.
Even that tiny piece of the universe, it’s incredible. It’s just — in a fantastic tool for working out ideas about how the universe works and how it came to be and where it’s going.
Kirsten: Right. Because it goes – the survey does goes so far back, as well. So it’s allowing a lot of comparisons between older systems and newer ones.
Andy Fell: Yes. So I think come to how far they pushed it back. But back to the — before there were galaxy pretty much, I think.
Andy Fell: I think about to the point first quasars and stars started to light up.
Kirsten: I just got goose bumps. So, we’re almost out time yet. I just wanted to talk about..
Andy Fell: Oh really?
Kirsten: Well, we got about seven minutes but I wanted to make sure that we talked about the LSST, The Large Synoptic Survey, exactly telescope.
Andy Fell: This would be an excellent segway into the LSST.
Kirsten: Exactly! Telescope. And now this telescope is not a telescope in a traditional sense of a single tube with the lens system that you can imagine a scientist and astronomer putting their eye up to the eye glasses and staring out on the space.
Andy Fell: It is a single – well, it’s a triple mirror systems. So, this is an actual physical telescope. It looks rather sort of short and squat compared to – oh, that’s huge. It’s like a big long slender thing, it some sort of short-ish in proportion reflected telescope 8.4 meter diameter mirror – primary mirror.
Which should pretty big and assess in the mountain top in Chile and it will – it’s kind of the successor to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey because it will survey the entire visible sky, visible to it.
Every three nights will go through the entire visible night sky and it will do it again and again for 10 years. And it will dump all that data straight down the mountain onto computers.
And basically it will be available to anybody to comb through the data and analyze. So to be, petabytes of data. I can’t really figure it. But it’s a collosal amounts of data pulling out to the thing.
Andy Fell: It will look — the professor here at Davis, Tony Tyson, in the Physics department. He is the Director to the whole consortium that’s pulling this thing together.
Kirsten: They’ve been working a long time on getting it built and getting the money to get it together.
Andy Fell: Yes. Exactly it – they can build. So, it will look at easy, it will look wide, fast and deep. So, instead looking like the KET telescope in Hawaii do now. It look very deep but look very narrow. It looks wide and it also looks deep and it will then move around.
It will literally taking a picture moving, taking picture moving and doing that again and again. So it covers the entire sky very fast. So scheduled for –assuming all the funding and come together. Be scheduled for first light in 2014.
Kirsten: It seems so far off.
Andy Fell: Seems so far off but..
Kirsten: It’s really not.
Andy Fell: It’s not really.
Kirsten: Six years. Less than six.
Andy Fell: And the — just two weeks ago I was in Tucson Arizona, where they’re casting the mirror for the telescope now.
Kirsten: Oh neat.
Andy Fell: So, and this is just a fascinating process to watch because this is the University of Arizona’s Steward Mirror Lab which is tucked away under University of Arizona Wild Cats Football stadium.
But it is the only place in the world that can make this huge honey comb mirrors, they’re very light, very frigid and the stiff free high quality mirrors. You can use this big telescope.
And the way they do this is they – a big circular mold and they – literally hand build the mold after this ceramic hexagons that form at the back of the thing. And then they – get this glass – High End glass imported from Japan and they stack it in the mold by hand.
These guys literally line up on the board on and putting this chips of glass in one at a time. Incredibly time consuming work.
Kirsten: Put them in.
Andy Fell: And then they put a lid on the thing. And have this huge rotating furnace looks like a sort of – looks like a Optimus prime trying to be a giant red mushroom.
Andy Fell: And they put it in, and this things spins around that’s doing about one revolution a second. When I saw it and it’s about 10 meters across 30 feet across to something. And that heated up to 2,000 fahrenheit.
So the weekend we were there, the Saturday night, it was due to reach particle high fire – peak temperature 2100 degrees fahrenheit. And that point of glass melts softens. Starts to flow in the mold. And, because it’s spinning, it’s spreads out across the mold into a bowl shape – a parabola.
Andy Fell: Okay. So it takes make thick concave mirror. And it keeps spinning. And now start to cool down and it will be cooling it down for the next four months.
And in about July they take the lid off, they take it out and they start polishing it. And they will spend literally months grinding it to the right shape. They have to grind away tons of glass.
Andy Fell: A grinding robot polish it. And then, I think about couples of years time it will be ready for delivery down to Chile to go into the telescope.
Kirsten: Wow. That’s an amazing process.
Andy Fell: That was amazing technology and precision. And they already there — the LSST was being form in the furnish.
They were at the same time they’re working on the mirror, polishing a mirror for the – I think it’s a giant Magellan telescope. Which I don’t know much about but it’s enough on this new generation big telescopes – on this big turn table were is being is a little polishing machine, a bit like — I feel that one of those (puller) robots.
Sort of trumbling around that’s so grinding away that being hossed off and polished.
Kirsten: It’s really interesting. It’s not so much ground by hand anymore but the..
Andy Fell: No. no, no.
Kirsten: No, but the traditional process of you know making of glass, grinding it to the appropriate… the optic density. And…
Andy Fell: But it is craftsmanship, its real craftsmanship, real hand craftsmanship to put this thing, to design the process, to put it together in the right way to make it work.
Kirsten: And then you know that also these new telescopes that are… there are a lot of new technologies that are allowing us to have ground based telescopes that are… you know before it was like “Oh, the night sky we have to go through our atmosphere”.
It’s hard to get out but now we are able to counter like that with different techniques.
Andy Fell: Well, I think that the breakthrough technology is adaptive optics where they can flex a mirror a little bit and correct for the wobble in the atmosphere.
Andy Fell: That’s really put the ground based telescopes back in as major instruments.
Kirsten: Yes. For a while it was like “Oh, we just have to put them up in outer space.” And now were back…
Andy Fell: And there is another space telescope on the books. The James Webspace telescope, I’m not sure when it’s due to launch but that’s the next thing that will take over in Hubble.
Kirsten: And that one’s… and there’s another one as well that’s going to be… thinking… gosh an infrared telescope that’s going out beyond the moon. And it’s going to go I think, it’s going way out to the cold space.
I think it’s going on the other side of the moon. So that it’s blocked from the heat from the sun.
Andy Fell: Its blocked from the heat on. Yeah.
Kirsten: And so it can really get a clear image of what radiation is actually coming from else where in space. So, there’s a neat telescope center kind of..
Andy Fell: Neat instruments. Neat technology.
Kirsten: And we are out of time. This has been This Week in Science. Thank you so much for joining.
Andy Fell: Thank you. Its been fun.
Kirsten: Yeah. I hope that you enjoyed it enough and maybe we’ll have you back – have you come back again some time. It would be great.
Andy Fell: Next time Justin’s got a cold.
Kirsten: Yeah, exactly. Or if I’ve got something going on, you can, you can try and reign in Justin.
Andy Fell: Wow!
Kirsten: Thank you so much for listening everyone.
Andy Fell: Thank you.
Kirsten: This has been This Week in Science. We’ll be back next Tuesday. Stay tuned for more great stuff coming to you on KDVS, Davis.