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July 05, 2008

On the extinction of Gallium

Reflections

But now comes word that it isn’t just wildlife that can go extinct. The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany’s University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet’s stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century.

Running out of oil, yes. We’ve all been concerned about that for many years and everyone anticipates a time when the world’s underground petroleum reserves will have been pumped dry. But oil is just an organic substance that was created by natural biological processes; we know that we have a lot of it, but we’re using it up very rapidly, no more is being created, and someday it’ll be gone. The disappearance of elements, though—that’s a different matter. I was taught long ago that the ninety-two elements found in nature are the essential building blocks of the universe. Take one away—or three, or six—and won’t the essential structure of things suffer a potent blow? Somehow I feel that there’s a powerful difference between running out of oil, or killing off all the dodos, and having elements go extinct.

I’ve understood the idea of extinction since I was a small boy, staring goggle-eyed at the dinosaur skeletons in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Bad things happen—a climate change, perhaps, or the appearance on the scene of very efficient new predators—and whole species of animals and plants vanish, never to return. But elements? The extinction of entire elements, the disappearance of actual chunks of the periodic table, is not something I’ve ever given a moment’s thought to. Except now, thanks to Armin Reller of the University of Augsburg.

(via Chris Bird

June 27, 2008

Government looking at new links between vaccines and autism

Experts to Discuss One Puzzling Autism Case, as a Second Case Has Arisen - NYTimes.com

On Jan. 11, a 6-year-old girl from Colorado received FluMist, a flu vaccine, and about a week later “became weak with multiple episodes of falling to ground” and “difficulty walking,” according to a case report filed with federal health officials and obtained by The New York Times.

The girl grew increasingly weak and feverish and “became more limp, appears sleepy, acts as if drunk,” the report said. She was hospitalized and underwent surgery and was finally withdrawn from life support. She died on April 5, according to the report.

Both the 9- and 6-year-olds had mitochondrial disorders, a spectrum of genetic diseases that have received almost no attention from federal health officials. The 9-year-old, Hannah Poling, was 19 months old and developing normally in 2000 when she received five shots against nine infectious diseases. Two days later, she developed a fever, cried inconsolably and refused to walk. In the next seven months, she spiraled downward, and in 2001 doctors diagnosed autism.

Hungry spiders spin deadlier webs

Hungry spiders spin deadlier webs - life - 27 June 2008 - New Scientist

BLACK widow spiders vary their webs to suit their purpose. A hungry spider spins a deadlier web, while a full one builds a fortress.

Spiders that were fed daily with crickets spun tangled masses of non-sticky silk, Jacquelyn Zevenbergen and Todd Blackledge at the University of Akron, Ohio, found. But similar-size spiders that had been starved for a week tended to spin sheets of silk connected to the ground by taut, sticky strands. When an insect blunders into these strands, they detach from the ground and spring upwards, suspending the prey in mid-air.

The sheet-like webs are better at transmitting the vibrations of passing prey and also make it easier for the spider to manoeuvre. The researchers found that all spiders, regardless of their condition, caught more prey more quickly and efficiently when they placed them on the webs spun by hungry individuals . . .

June 25, 2008

Changing languages can change your perception

How switching language can change your personality - being-human - 25 June 2008 - New Scientist

Bicultural people may unconsciously change their personality when they switch languages, according to a US study on bilingual Hispanic women.

It found that women who were actively involved in both English and Spanish speaking cultures interpreted the same events differently, depending on which language they were using at the time.

It is known that people in general can switch between different ways of interpreting events and feelings – a phenomenon known as frame shifting. But the researchers say their work shows that bilingual people that are active in two different cultures do it more readily, and that language is the trigger.

. . .

"In the Spanish-language sessions, informants perceived females as more self-sufficient and extroverted," they say.

For example, one person saw the main character in the Spanish version of a commercial as a risk-taking, independent woman, but as hopeless, lonely, and confused in the English version.