The Ozone Hole Is Finally Healing

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False-color image showing ozone concentrations above Antarctica on Oct. 2, 2015. Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Nearly thirty years after an international treaty banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons, the Antarctic ozone hole is finally starting to heal. By mid to late century, it should be fully recovered.

“This is a reminder that when the world gets together, we really can solve environmental problems,” Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at MIT, told Gizmodo. “I think we should all congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”

Solomon is lead author on a study published today in Science, which presents the clearest evidence yet that the Antarctic ozone hole is showing signs of long-term recovery. The researchers attribute this to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which banned the use of chlorinated compounds in refrigerator coolants and aerosols, after scientists learned that these chemicals were making their way into the stratosphere and wreaking havoc on Earth’s ozone layer.

Cartoon depiction of ozone (O3) being broken apart by chlorine. Image: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

Scientists have been monitoring the Antarctic ozone hole, which opens every year in late August or early September and reaches its full size by October, since the 1980s. The size of the ozone hole varies widely from year to year, because the chemical reactions that destroy ozone are highly sensitive to changes in sunlight, temperature, and stratospheric cloud cover. For researchers interested in tracking ozone recovery, the challenge lies in pulling a faint signal out of a noisy background.

This problem piqued the interest of Solomon and her co-authors last October, when the ozone hole reached a record size of 23 million square kilometers (9 million square miles); some 20 percent larger than the previous year. “This was very unexpected, and we thought that the reason might have to do with volcanoes,” Solomon said, explaining that the aerosols released during volcanic eruptions contribute to polar stratospheric clouds, creating additional surface area for ozone-destroying reactions to occur.

Animation depicting predicted changes to Earth’s ozone layer with and without the Montreal protocol, via NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

Sure enough, the team was able to show that a string of eruptions at the Calbuco volcano in the southern hemisphere widened the spring ozone hole. But they discovered something else, too. “We learned that the September is not nearly as variable in weather as October, and that it’s less sensitive to volcanic activity,” Solomon said.

This got the researchers thinking that September may be the best month for teasing out subtle signs of ozone recovery. So they assembled September records from 2000 to 2015, including data on the rate at which the ozone hole opens, its average size and depth, meteorological conditions and volcanic activity.

“We found that because there is less chlorine in the atmosphere, the ozone hole is opening about ten days later than it used to,” Solomon said. “That has a huge effect on the September average.” Overall, Solomon’s analysis showed that the September ozone hole has shrunk by an average of 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) since 2000.

Susan Strahan, an atmospheric chemist at NASA who was not involved with the study, agrees that the evidence is very encouraging. “This is the emergence of a trend,” she told Gizmodo, while cautioning that it’s a bit early to say exactly how the recovery will play out. That’s because the different chlorofluorocarbons present in the atmosphere degrade at different rates, and while some have already vanished, others will stick around for decades to come. Most researchers, however, expect the ozone hole to be fully patched by around 2060.

“It’s important,” Strahan continued, “because I think a lot of people feel that environmental stories always have bad endings. In this case, the recovery will happen, but it’ll take time.”

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Marijuana Shown to Protect Brain Cells From Alzheimer’s

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Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

A new study suggests that compounds found in marijuana can stave off the brain damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a promising discovery, but claims that pot can prevent this age-related brain disorder are premature. Put the pipe away, man.

Researchers from the Salk Institute have shown that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can contribute to the removal of toxic proteins, known as amyloid beta, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. This research offers new insight into the role that inflammation plays in this neurological disorder, which could point the way to new drugs.

But this research should be taken with a grain of salt. The protective effects of marijuana were observed in neurons grown in the lab, so it’s not immediately clear if the same process is applicable to living human beings. What’s more, this study doesn’t speak to the potential negative effects of marijuana on the aging brain. It’s far too early to be making claims about pot being some kind of miracle cure for Alzheimer’s, or even as something that can be used as a protective measure. Only time—and further research—will truly tell.

Previous research has shown that compounds in marijuana, called cannabinoids, protect the brain from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This new study is unique in that it’s “the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” as the study’s lead author David Schubert put it in a statement.

Scientists are fairly certain that these toxins contribute to the growth of damaging plaque deposits in the brain, but they’re not entirely sure about the precise role that’s played by amyloid beta in the process. To learn more, Schubert’s team studied nerve cells that were modified to produce high levels of amyloid beta. Left untreated, these cells were subject to inflammation and higher rates of death. But when the researchers exposed these cells to cannabinoids, the levels of the amyloid beta proteins were reduced. The inflammation disappeared, and the neurons were able to survive. The compounds found within marijuana appeared to be protecting the cells from dying.

As noted, this research was conducted on neurons in a petri dish, so it’s not clear if an actual brain would respond to cannabinoids in the same way. Scientists will need to perform clinical trials to find out.

They’re also going to have to consider the potential tradeoffs of using marijuana as a drug to stave of neurodegeneration. Previous studies have shown that pot can screw around with our memories—which is clearly a bad thing in a disease that already ravages memories. Recent research also shows that marijuana alters the brain reward system, and that that long-term use makes it more difficult to recall memories during middle age.

Pot may very well help with Alzheimer’s, but we’re clearly going to have to be mindful of its negative effects as well.

[Aging and Mechanisms of Disease]

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Live By the Five Hour Rule to Always Keep Learning New Skills

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Learning or practicing new skills is so important, it’s hard to ignore how vital it is to a successful career. To keep your educational momentum going throughout your life, give yourself five hours a week to learn something new or practice a skill.

As business site Inc. explains, the five hour rule is simple: invest at least five hours every week—that’s one hour per weekday—into deliberately learning. What form that takes can be up to you, but the point is to spend a meaningful amount of time bettering yourself. Like everyone who wants to learn to be better, Inc. uses Benjamin Franklin as an example:

Franklin’s learning time consisted of:

  • Waking up early to read and write
  • Setting personal-growth goals (i.e., virtues list) and tracking the results
  • Creating a club for “like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community”
  • Turning his ideas into experiments
  • Having morning and evening reflection questions

Every time that Franklin took time out of his busy day to follow his five-hour rule and spend at least an hour learning, he accomplished less on that day. However, in the long run, it was arguably the best investment of his time he could have made.

What you do with that time isn’t necessarily as important as blocking it out in the first place. As most of us instinctively know, if you don’t budget your time, someone else will. Before your time gets overrun by other people’s to-do lists, set aside an hour every weekday (or however five hours fits best into your schedule) to learn something new or practice something that will help you in the long run.

Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5-Hour Rule | Inc.

Photo by Gustavo Devito.

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10 Signals From Your Body Telling You Should Sleep More

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Sleep deprivation is so much a part of American culture that many people don’t even see it as a problem — and some people will actually brag about how little they can “get by” on. But the truth is that there are serious consequences to not getting enough zzzz’s at night: the Sleep Foundation notes that, each year, there are 100,000 car accidents, 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths that occur due to not getting enough rest.

Here are ten important things that can happen when you don’t get enough sleep:

1. Weight Gain

Multiple studies have shown a link between weight gain and lack of sleep. In one study, people who were sleep deprived ate 300 more calories a day than when they were able to get a full night’s sleep — and those 300 calories can add up over time.  Also, lack of sleep causes the body to become stressed, which increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that signals that body that it needs to put on fat.

2. Impaired Thought Processes

Most people realize that they tend to feel foggier or less able to concentrate if they have had a late night. This is because going without even one night’s sleep can decrease alertness and other mental processes by 32%; with one study even finding that over a lifetime, the brains of those who are chronically sleep-deprived become smaller and less dense, affecting many important mental processes.

3. Emotional Problems

Again, most people can tell that they feel crankier if they have been up late the night before.  And multiple studies have backed this up, showing a link between sleep deprivation and less emotional control and the ability to cope with stress.  If it goes on long enough, sleep deprivation can even cause problems like depression.

4. Poor Memory

Sleep deprivation can also affect your ability to remember even very simple things — like where you left your keys or checkbook!  Studies have shown that the REM waves which people experience when they get a good night’s sleep help to boost memory and other mental functions; without a normal amount of sleep, however, these REM cycles  don’t occur.

5. Decreased Immune System

When you do not get enough sleep, none of your body’s systems function well — and this includes your immune system. Because of this, if you are sleep-deprived, it will make you more vulnerable to everyday infections like the flu or the common cold. This can greatly decrease your quality of life and lead to missed work and other similar problems.

6. Decreased Sex Drive

Several studies have also linked a long-term lack of sleep with a decreased libido. This is because of several factors, including hormonal changes that occur in the body when it does not catch enough zzzz’s and because of the lack of energy that most people feel when they have simply not gotten enough rest.

7. Decreased Longevity

A long, healthy life is probably at the top of most people’s wish list — but chronic sleep deprivation can stop this from happening.  In one study, it was shown that women who got less than five hours of sleep per night over a lifetime were less likely to live as long as women who got adequate rest.  This is probably due to the chronic stress that sleep deprivation puts on the body.

8. Heart Disease

Because of the link between sleep deprivation and weight gain and because not getting enough rest can also raise blood pressure levels, lack of sleep can also be a contributing factor to heart disease, which is still the number one killer for both men and women in the United States (and in many countries around the world).

9. Injuries and Accidents

The statistics quoted from the Sleep Foundation in regards to accidents and injuries are due to the fact that when people are less likely to focus, concentrate or pay attention, they are more likely to make mistakes that lead to things like accidents while driving or performing job-related activities.

10. Chronic Disease

Because of the chronic stress and associated compromising effects on the immune system of sleep deprivation, it can lead to a number of chronic diseases, and studies have linked it not only to heart disease but to strokes, obesity and mental health problems among other chronic conditions.

Avoiding Sleep Deprivation

The consequences of sleep deprivation are severe — but the good news is, there are simple ways that you can make sure that you avoid it and give your body the rest it needs to stay healthy.  These include:

  • Planning on getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights.
  • Trying to get to sleep and get up around the same time each day.
  • Keeping your sleep environment cool, dark and quiet.
  • Taking a warm bath or shower before bed to relax the muscles.
  • Keeping TV/electronic devices out of the bedroom.
  • Scheduling an hour or so of a quiet activity to relax before going to sleep.
  • Avoiding caffeine, sugar and heavy meals before sleep.

So don’t try to skip out on your sleep tonight!  Although it may seem difficult on a daily basis to get enough shut-eye, in the long run, it is worth it for both your happiness and your health.

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Why Multilinguals Are More Creative And Have Sharper Minds

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Good news multilinguals, if you haven’t had the chance to step into the creative world or try your hand in business, maybe it’s time that you consider doing so just because you have the sheer advantage to excel in it. Being conversant in multiple languages not only makes you sound cool like Jason Bourne, it also makes you more creative and have a sharper mind. Here’s why:

1.Enhanced Memory

There are definitely times when we suffer mental blocks and can’t remember an English word we want to use and for most of us, it’s probably the only main language we speak. But for a multilingual, that struggle is multiplied especially when they need to use the right word, grammar rules and structure when shifting in culture and context. So it is no surprise that multilinguals are blessed with better working memory than monolinguals.

2.Better Creative Process

According to a team of experts in Europe, they had concluded that being multilingual helps your brain develop more neuronal connections. By learning a new language, your brain is being worked like a muscle, stimulating and developing more neuronal webs which can lead to a higher capacity for generating more creative processes.

Medical Daily reported on a research done to observe 120 9-year-old students. Half were monolinguals and the other were bilinguals. The children were then tested on problem solving and creative thinking. The results? The children who could speak more than one language scored better at the tests. In terms of creative thinking, the bilingual children demonstrated a difference in the level of detail and richness in description.

3.Better Problem-Solving Skills

Research conducted at the American University of Sharjah had shown that multilinguals approach the same problems with different perspectives compared to monolinguals. This is due to the practice of being exposed to different cultures when learning a new language, therefore they are more open-minded when faced with a situation.

Studies have shown that multilinguals are better at filtering out unwanted information because they use more of the executive function of the brain. By doing so, they are efficient in focusing on the problem and yet bring about new perspectives to tackle the problem at different angles.

4.Masters at Multi-tasking

To be able to handle twice or thrice as many words efficiently, the brain has no other choice but to use more focus and resources to be able to switch between languages quickly. Research has shown that because of this, multilinguals are able to switch between multiple tasks and shift their attention quicker than monolinguals.

Not only that, but because the brain of a multilingual has to look out for mistakes and errors during the task of switching languages, this would also be applied efficiently to reduce errors when switching between tasks.

5.Sharp Decision Making Skills

A study in Chicago University had revealed that multilinguals are more likely to make the right decisions as compared to monolinguals. Being able to speak multiple languages allow multilinguals to see the bigger picture and to understand more complex situations better.

The study also showed that when we speak a different language with a less familiar language, we tend to be less biased when making a decision. What this means is that we become more rational when we speak in a second or third language which in turn, helps us to make a better decision.

Multilingualism makes you smarter

Concrete evidence have shown us that being a multilingual can bring about many benefits and as proven in the workforce, it can also be an advantage when searching for a job. Job applications require us to fill in the types of languages we speak as being multilingual is seen to be an asset by employers.

Being a multilingual truly has its perks, so why not get started on a new language right away?

Featured photo credit: Tom Hiddleston via flic.kr

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Your Migraine May Come From Vitamin Deficiency, Study Finds

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Only people who have had a migraine know how excruciating they can be. Having had migraines for many years, I can relate to fellow migraine sufferers! You try to monitor the weather, or what you eat, drink and smell to ward off any potential pain. You have tried every painkiller out there, and probably have only found that a couple of them work, some of the time. You know what it is like to have the slightest bit of light to cause you agony.

Migraines can appear in many forms; some people experience less pain and more light sensitivity, some get very dizzy and cannot see well, while others have intense pain and nausea, and usually throw up after they attempt to eat or drink anything, including migraine medication. Either way, migraines are not a pleasant experience, and people who get them are always on the lookout for new findings of potential causes and cures. Scientists have recently discovered that vitamin deficiency is one of the causes for migraines, which may alleviate chronic migraines for some people when catered to. Here is what you need to know:

Vitamin Deficiencies that Cause Migraines

In the most recent study, scientists found that children, teenagers and young adults who suffered from migraines were all lacking in either vitamin D, riboflavin or coenzyme Q10. Vitamin deficiencies can cause a number of ailments, including nerve damage from a lack of vitamin B12, so it is no surprise that migraines could be caused by a lack of these vitamins. Many people don’t get enough vitamin D, and in this study, they reported that mostly boys and young men with migraines did not have enough of this vitamin. Girls and young women were mostly found lacking coenzyme Q10, a substance that produces energy and promotes cell growth. Since scientists and doctors do not have all the answers for the cause of migraines, there are still many questions about this, and other studies too, but it is always worth their while for migraine sufferers to find a potential “cure.”

What To Do:

Before taking any supplements, it is important to talk to your doctor. Even though vitamins are natural, they can still cause reactions to other medication you may be taking, so make an appointment to talk about this study with your doctor. You can also request a blood test to look for these and other vitamin deficiencies. Once you get your test results, you can decide on how to proceed. Make sure you ask your doctor what the actual numbers are on the blood test because sometimes doctors will tell you that your numbers are normal, but normal can be a matter of opinion. If you are in the normal range, but on the low side, you can ask your doctor if taking these vitamin supplements for a while will hurt. If your doctor gives you the green light, try taking more of what you are deficient in and see if it results in lesser migraines.

What To Do If It Doesn’t Work:

Since migraines can be caused by many different factors, it is wise to keep an eye on other potential causes of migraines. While the vitamin supplements can help, they may not completely take away your pain because your migraines can come from more than one source. They can be caused by:

  • Weather changes
  • Growth hormones in beef
  • Dairy products
  • Caffeine
  • MSG
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Alcohol
  • Nitrates
  • Scents and many more

When trying the vitamin supplements, keep a journal and track everything you eat and drink, weather changes, sleep patterns, stress levels, and anything else you think may be contributing to your migraines. Keep this for at least a month, and you can bring it to your doctor to discuss treatment options.

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Terrifying Laser Bazooka Is Like a Handheld Death Star

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In the right hands, broken electronics can be turned into something useful again. But useful isn’t the best way to describe Drake Anthony’s 200-watt laser bazooka made from a bunch of old DLP projectors he bought off eBay. Words like incredibly dangerous, do-not-try-this-at-home, or “are you crazy?” seem more appropriate.

For comparison, the handheld laser pointers used during PowerPoint presentations measure in at a measly 0.05-watts, while the FDA limits non-medical lasers to a maximum power rating of 0.5-watts. That means that Drake’s creation, which focuses four 50-watt lasers through a massive lens—is 400 times more powerful than what the FDA will let you play with. And those rules are there for a good reason. Lasers can be deadly!

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In mere seconds this 200-watt laser bazooka can burn through the metal housing on a tower PC and would cause severe eye damage if used without wearing a welder’s helmet.

[YouTube via Laughing Squid]

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Why Female Praying Mantises Devour Their Partners During Sex

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A female praying mantis with what’s left of her partner. (Image: Oliver Koemmerling)

Female praying mantises have a habit of killing and eating their partners during sex, which sucks for the male. Or does it? A fascinating new study shows this sacrifice is actually giving the males a distinct reproductive advantage.

Sexual cannibalism among praying mantises is well documented, but scientists have debated the reasons for it. A new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that females who eat their male partners after sex produce more eggs than those who don’t. What’s more, by eating the male, the widowed female ensures that her man is still providing for their offspring, even though he’s dead.

William Brown, a scientist at State University of New York at Fredonia and co-author of the new study, put it well: “Sexual cannibalism thus increases male investment in offspring.”

In praying mantises, around 25 percent of all sexual encounters result in the death of the male. The female typically begins by biting off her partner’s head, and she works down from there. Incredibly, this comprises about 63 percent of the female’s diet during the mating season. Scientists have speculated that it’s a way for the female to record a quick meal at a critical point in her reproductive life cycle, but this claim has largely remained unproven.

To see if this is actually the case, the researchers embedded traceable radioactive amino acids into crickets, which were subsequently fed to a population of male mantises. Each of these males was then paired with a female. Half of them were rescued from their two-faced lovers before cannibalism could take place, while the other half… well you know what happened to the other half. The researchers then set about the task of studying the reproductive success of each female involved.

By tracking the flow of radioactive proteins through the bodies of the females, the scientists could track the contribution of the recently-devoured male. Males who were devoured passed on nearly 90 percent of their tagged amino acids, while those who survived passed on about 25 percent—all of which were delivered via their ejaculate.

A significant portion of the amino acids were passed down to the baby mantises, which means they weren’t fully metabolized by the female. This means that, in addition to the male’s ejaculate, his body tissue is being used to produce eggs. The male—by virtue of his death—is providing nourishment to his offspring.

Those females who ate their partners produced more eggs than those who did not. On average, cannibalistic females produced about 88 eggs, whereas those who didn’t eat their partners produced about 37. That’s a big difference, one that gives cannibalized males a distinct reproductive advantage.

Well, at least in one-off situations. Males who survive mating encounters can potentially reproduce multiple times, which can also be seen as a reproductive advantage. Clearly, there’s an evolutionary tension here, one the scientists will have to look into a bit further.

Sexual cannibalism has also been observed in some spiders. But unlike these arachnids, whose reproductive organs become permanently damaged after sex, male mantises are able to copulate multiple times.

[Proceedings of the Royal Society B]

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Magical Wheels Let This Car Roll in Any Direction

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We’ve seen omnidirectional wheels installed on forklifts that have to deftly maneuver around crowded warehouses, but William Liddiard has invented a set that allow his Toyota Echo to move in any direction, spin 360-degrees, and slide into a parking spot making parallel parking easier than actual driving.

William calls his creation Liddiard Wheels—appropriately enough—and they’re powered by 24,000 pounds of torque applied directly to the wheels which gives them incredible precision. They can also be bolted onto any vehicle making it easy to upgrade your existing ride, and they’re designed can be used on roads in any weather condition.

If you rolled up to your drivers license road test with a set of these on your vehicle, do you think they’d accuse you of cheating?

[YouTube via The Awesomer]

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What Is Music and Why Is It So Special?

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What Is Music and Why Is It So Special?

Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad sits down to talk about music—its purpose, its function, its meaning—with filmmaker Mac Premo in this wildly frenetic video and somehow manages to explain why music is so special. Abumrad says that unlike words, which are basically just a code or an agreement between people, music just is what it is, and the response we have is innate. Music can magically get around a person’s rational defenses and is something that makes us who we are.

It’s a really fun video to watch, especially if you like music like Abumrad does.

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