Got A Ghost Problem? It Might Just Be Infrasound (Science / Paranormal)

Let’s say you’ve just moved into a gorgeous old house. It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of: elaborate Gothic architecture, towering turrets, and an extra-long dining room table for you to sit at, ominously alone. The only thing is that there are … stories about this place. Dark stories. And one day, when you’re down in the cellar, you feel a presence surrounding you. You look up, and for just a second, you see someone standing there — and then they disappear. But this isn’t a ghost story. It’s the terrifying tale of how you have an expensive problem with your plumbing.

Here’s what we’re talking about. The story starts in the 1980s when IT lecturer Vic Tandy was working at a company that made medical equipment. There was one laboratory at the office that had a certain reputation. People just felt like they were being watched in there, and every once in awhile, somebody would say they actually saw something in the room with them. Vic never really gave the stories any credence — until they happened to him.

One night (let’s just go ahead and say it was dark and stormy), he was working in the lab when he began to feel it. He broke out in a cold sweat. And then, just on the periphery of his vision, a dark shape that nearly coalesced into a human figure, but disappeared when he looked directly at it. We certainly don’t blame him for bringing a sword to work the very next day.

Okay, so the sword wasn’t for fighting ghosts. Vic was an avid fencer, and he intended to fix his foil using one of the clamps in the laboratory. But as soon as he secured the blade, it began to vibrate, and suddenly everything fell into place. Vic calculated that the sword was responding to a vibration in the air of about 19 Hz — just outside of the range of human hearing. He then pinpointed the source of the sound to an industrial fan, and as soon as the fan was flipped off, the ominous presence disappeared. Nobody ever saw that shape again, either, probably because the low vibrations were causing the eyeballs to buzz in their sockets.

So what does it all mean? Basically, if you’re experiencing haunting symptoms like an unshakeable feeling of unease, a mysterious presence that disappears when you look at it, and swords vibrating of their own accord, you might have a mechanical problem somewhere in the house. It might be an old piece of machinery (like Vic Tandy’s industrial fan) or something screwy in the plumbing or ventilation system filling your home with an inaudible sound. Once plates start hovering around or the walls start bleeding, then we’d say you might have a real ghost issue.

So what is it about sounds around the area of 19 Hz that disturb us so badly? It might just be our subconscious mind trying to get our attention. The human ear starts picking up sounds at around the 20 Hz mark, but there are other ways that we can detect sound — stand next to a subwoofer at a concert, and you’ll feel the sound in your chest more than your ears. So when there’s a sound that we sense but can’t hear, the body might be thrown into a panic. And that panic might have kept us safe when we were living on the savannah.

See, there are a lot of animals that make noise in the infrasound range. Alligators, rhinoceroses, tigers, and elephants are all known to bellow infrasound frequencies loud enough to be heard for miles — and if you can’t hear them, you might still feel them. If you didn’t notice, all of those animals are ones that you don’t necessarily want to get too close to. So that specter you’ve seen wandering your hallways? It might just be your brain thinking there’s a tiger nearby.

Seeing Ghosts May Just Be A Result Of Breathing A Toxic Mold (Science / Paranormal)

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you want to believe? Go find a spooky, creaky, worn-down, abandoned house, and definitely make sure it’s old. According to researchers, toxic mold that builds up in old buildings may cause ghostly results. Is it creepy in here, or just dirty?

According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, 18 percent of American adults say they have seen a ghost. Not just felt one or heard one, but visibly stared down an apparition. Shane Rogers, a professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Clarkson University, has a hunch about what’s actually going on. According to Rogers, when mold reproduces, it creates spores in the air that you can then breathe in. The side effects of breathing in spore-y air align with that of the spooks. A 2009 study hinted at a potential link between certain toxic molds and symptoms like “movement disorders, delirium, dementia, and disorders of balance and coordination.” You know, that “creepy” feeling in old, spooky places that make you feel like things just aren’t … quite … right.

“I’ve had an interest in ghost stories and paranormal exploration and shows and other things for a long time,” Rogers told Mental Floss. “Back in grad school watching these shows I thought, ‘Jeez, some of these places they’re going into are pretty dingy and moldy. I wonder if there’s some kind of a connection.'” Ghosts? Maybe just fungal spores festering in old buildings with inadequate ventilation and poor air quality. Both scary in their own right, to be fair. Being in a spooky place at night could set the scene for you to be on the lookout for ghosts, and mold might be what pushes you over the edge to make you believe Casper just passed by, Rogers says in this episode of Science Vs.

So far, this connection between the fungal and the paranormal is still speculative. “Hauntings are very widely reported phenomena that are not well-researched,” Rogers says. “They are often reported in older-built structures that may also suffer poor air quality. Similarly, some people have reported depression, anxiety and other effects from exposure to biological pollutants in indoor air. We are trying to determine whether some reported hauntings may be linked to specific pollutants found in indoor air.”

Although there isn’t yet the strong evidence to bust ghosts with mildew (yet), this concept of mold-tripping is not totally new. Dr. R.J. Hay, one of England’s leading mycologists (fungus experts) and dean of dermatology at Guy’s Hospital in London, wrote about “sick library syndrome” in The Lancet in 1995. Hay writes that hallucinogenic spores in old books could lead to “enhancement of enlightenment.” Spooky, isn’t it?

What Happens To Your Body In A Year? (Biology)

A year is just a quick spin around the sun. A 365-day solar system lap. But in that stretch of time, a lot happens — in space, on Earth, and even inside your body. Your body is constantly at work to keep you alive and kickin’, and looking at all the ways your body changes in a single year is both surprising and cool as hell.

In a single year, you’ll lose about 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of skin cells and 27,000 hairs. But your body will also make a lot in one year: you’ll produce 3.5 centimeters (1.4 inches) of fingernails, 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) of hair, 73 trillion red blood cells, 1,400 liters (370 gallons) of sweat, 360 liters (95 gallons) of saliva and 80 liters (21 gallons) of tears. That’s one busy body.

The World Science Festival has information on more amazing (or gross, depending on your outlook) things your body does in a year: You’ll expel about 511 liters (135 gallons) of urine, your heart will beat 40 million times, and your blood will travel 7,048,928 km (4.38 million miles). So even on your most sluggish days on the couch, take comfort in the fact that your bod is still very hard at work. Thanks, body!

Scientists Have Pinpointed The Energy Limit Of The Body (Physiology)

If you’ve ever shopped for a new car, you’ve probably compared stats between models: How much fuel does it use? How fast can it go? How quickly can it accelerate? For decades, scientists have been asking the same things about the human body. Last month, scientists announced that they’d determined the human body’s maximal energy expenditure — basically, the maximum mileage we can get out of the tank. The takeaway? Pregnancy isn’t that different from an ultramarathon.

Bodies aren’t sports cars, so our land speed and fuel consumption stats are a little harder to come by. Scientists can get some of these answers by studying world-class athletes like Usain Bolt, who holds the human footspeed record of nearly 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour). But so far, the human equivalent of miles-per-gallon has been tricky, since we use different amounts of energy depending on the task at hand.

For example, most people know that you burn more calories running than you do sitting at a desk. The rate at which your body uses energy at rest is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and it varies from person to person depending on their sex, weight, and other characteristics. The rate at which you use energy increases as your activity level increases. The ratio between your active metabolic rate at any given time and your BRM is known as your metabolic scope. The closer to 1 that number is, the closer you are to your resting rate; the higher that number, the more energy you’re using. Humans generally max out at a metabolic scope of 5, but some species can get as high as 7.

For this study, which was published in the journal Science, the researchers wanted to find the human body’s maximum sustained metabolic scope — in other words, the point where the body’s rate of energy use over time outweighed its ability to absorb food and turn it into energy. To do that, they needed to find a group of humans who made superhuman demands of their metabolic systems. They found it in a 2015 endurance event called Race Across the USA: a 20-week, 3,080-mile (4,957-kilometer) race from Los Angeles, California to Washington D.C. Six runners agreed to be their human sports cars — er, guinea pigs.

The team started by measuring the BMRs of all six runners, then had them drink doubly labeled water. That’s H2O that’s been replaced by harmless but rare isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen — specifically, deuterium and oxygen-18. As the isotopes came out in the runners’ sweat, urine, and breath, the researchers could measure how much carbon dioxide they produced and, therefore, how many calories they were burning. The team made these measurements before the race began, during the first week, then during the final week.

What they found was that the runners’ metabolic scope went from 1.8 before the race to 3.8 after a week of running. But by week 20, it had leveled off to 2.8. From the data, scientists could tell that the plateau was due to the runners’ bodies simply using less energy. Some of that was due to them just losing weight and running fewer miles per day as the race wore on, but the remainder — about 600 calories a day — couldn’t be explained by such obvious factors. Their bodies, it seemed, were adjusting to ensure they could cover the long road ahead. If they’d kept at their original energy usage, the researchers write, they would have petered out around 10 weeks. But they didn’t.

The team analyzed the runners’ data alongside data that had been collected from similarly long endurance events, including the Tour de France, triathlons, shorter ultramarathons, and Arctic expeditions. In all cases, the participants’ metabolic scope started high, then plateaued after about 20 days to settle around 2.5. After that plateau, the human body has to turn to other sources of energy besides food — namely, its own fat stores.

But the big surprise happened when they compared these challenging athletic events to a more everyday challenge: pregnancy. While pregnant humans don’t experience that initial spike in metabolic scope, it turns out that their bodies burn energy at about the same rate as an ultra-endurance athlete late in their event.

As Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and corresponding author on the study, told Science, “To think about pregnancy in the same terms that we think about Tour de France cyclists and triathletes makes you realize how incredibly demanding pregnancy is on the body.” For your next baby shower, you might want to bring some Gatorade.

This Is The Real Reason Your Fingers Get Pruney In The Bath (Biology)

You’re having a relaxing bubble bath when you notice your fingers aging at a rapid pace. Of course they’re not actually aging — they’re pruning. Why do they always do this? In a 2013 study, scientists announced that they had found the answer. Wrinkly fingers and toes offer us an advantage in wet conditions.

First off, let’s get one thing straight: Your fingers don’t prune as a result of water seeping into your skin. According to Nature News, scientists have known since the 1930s that the underwater wrinkling is controlled by the autonomic nervous system — that is, it’s involuntary, caused by blood vessels beneath the skin constricting. In fact, it doesn’t even happen to people who have nerve damage in their fingers. Still, we’ve never known exactly why it happens.

In a 2013 study published in the journal Biology Letters, researchers sought to uncover that mystery. Their work would piggyback on the 2011 publication of evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi and his colleagues, who suspected that the wrinkles were “optimized for providing a drainage network that improved grip.” They couldn’t actually prove it at that point, but the 2013 study finally could. The researchers had half of their participants soak their fingers in water, then had all of them attempt to pick up both wet and dry marbles. They found that pruney fingers were better at picking up wet objects, but not at picking up dry ones.

Changizi explains to Nature News that “pruney fingers are rain treads.” Our ancestors likely needed help catching food in wet conditions, and their wrinkly toes helped with footing. As far as they know, other animals who would also benefit from this type of underwater grip likely share this advantage, including macaques.

Why Aren’t We Always Pruney?

Here’s one thing still puzzling researchers: If wrinkling improves our grip in both dry and wet conditions, then why don’t we have perma-pruney fingers? The current hypothesis is that wrinkling could also diminish our fingertips’ sensitivity, thus increasing our risk of damage. We’ll stick to spidey grip in the bathtub, thank you very much.

How The Brain Creates The Experience Of Time?? (Neuroscience)

A new study published in Journal of Neuroscience reveals why: time-sensitive neurons get worn out and skew our perceptions of time.

SMG that exhibited decrease in the activity following duration adaptation (left). Correlation between the magnitude of time distortion and the change in SMG activity (right). Credit: Hayashi and Ivry, JNeurosci 2020.

Neurons in the supramarginal gyrus (SMG) fire in response to a specific length of time. If repeatedly exposed to a stimulus of a fixed duration, the neurons fatigue. Since other neurons continue firing normally, our subjective perception of time becomes skewed.

Hayashi and Ivry measured brain activity with fMRI as human participants engaged in a time comparison task. Healthy adult participants viewed a visual adaptor (a grey circle) for a set length of time, 30 times in a row.

After this adaptation period, they were shown a test stimulus and indicated its duration. If the adaptor duration was long, the participants underestimated time; if the adaptor duration was short, they overestimated time.

Activity in the SMG decreased when the adaptor and test stimulus were similar in length, indicating neuron fatigue.

The extent of skewed time perception correlated with how much the activity in the SMG decreased—greater fatigue led to greater time distortion.

References: Masamichi J. Hayashi and Richard B. Ivry, “Duration-selectivity in right parietal cortex reflects the subjective experience of time”,
Journal of Neuroscience 14 September 2020, JN-RM-0078-20; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0078-20.2020 link: https://www.jneurosci.org/content/early/2020/09/11/JNEUROSCI.0078-20.2020

We Now Know, How Cannabinoids May Be Useful To Prevent Colon Cancer (Medicine / Oncology)

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are caused by unrestrained inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Patients with IBD are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. In a recent study, researchers showed that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can prevent the development of colitis-associated colon cancer in mice. It was shown that THC suppressed inflammation in the colon, preventing the onset of cancers caused by a carcinogen.

THC preventing the development of colitis-associated colon cancer in mice

Working through cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), THC increases CD103 expression on DCs (dendritic cells) and macrophages and upregulates TGF-β1 to increase T regulatory cells (Tregs). THC-induced Tregs are necessary to remedy systemic IFNγ and TNFα caused by anti-CD40, but CB2-mediated suppression of APCs by THC quenches pathogenic release of IL-22 and IL-17A in the colon. By examining tissues from multiple sites, they confirmed that THC affects DCs, especially in mucosal barrier sites in the colon and lungs, to reduce DC CD86. Using models of colitis and systemic inflammation they showed that THC, through CB2, is a potent suppressor of aberrant immune responses by provoking coordination between APCs and Tregs.

Their results showed that THC was acting through CB2 receptors, which is exciting and suggested that compounds that activate CB2 and cause no psychoactive effects may be beneficial to prevent IBD and colon cancer.

References: William Becker et al, Activation of Cannabinoid Receptor 2 Prevents Colitis-Associated Colon Cancer through Myeloid Cell De-activation Upstream of IL-22 Production, iScience (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101504 link: https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(20)30696-9?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2589004220306969%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

This New Model Can Predict The Properties Of Any Molecule (Physics)

A group of physicists proposed a new method for calculating internal conversion rate constants (kIC), including the anharmonic effects, and using the lagrangian multiplier technique. They created a model for calculating the photophysical characteristics of molecules—one that is applicable for molecules of any nature, including rare-earth lanthanides. Due to the introduction of the anharmonicity effect, the model can predict the properties of molecules even before their synthesis, without carrying out experiments.

Knowledge of the photophysical and photochemical properties of molecules is necessary for many areas of physics, chemistry, and biology. In particular, it is used in developing OLED structures for stable and bright displays of gadgets and photosensitizers in the tasks of photodynamic therapy, where it is necessary to create a scheme for the efficient generation of oxidizing agents that kill cancer cells. The calculation of the lifetime of molecules in an excited electronic state is necessary for astrophysics and astrochemistry, when predicting the efficiency of dye lasers and the efficiency of charge transfer and charge separation to increase the efficiency of solar cells.

The physicists achieved the creation of a universal model applicable to molecules of any nature due to the introduction of the anharmonicity effect. This effect was introduced earlier in diatomic and triatomic molecules, but photophysicists and photochemistry consider large molecules with tens of atoms, and for this problem, there was no correct mathematical model.

The effect of anharmonicity occurs when the vibrations of atoms in a molecule are strong, and the energies are large. In this case, the vibrations of atoms will no longer be correctly described in the harmonic approximation and it is necessary to introduce a deviation from it. The inclusion of the anharmonicity effect is especially required when calculating the characteristics of molecules that emit light in the blue and ultraviolet ranges, because their vibrations occur with high energy.

References: Rashid R. Valiev et al. First-principles calculations of anharmonic and deuteration effects on photophysical properties of polyacenes and porphyrinoids, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (2020). DOI: 10.1039/D0CP03231J link: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2020/CP/D0CP03231J#!divAbstract

5 Body Parts You May Not Know You Have (Biology)

You know the lyrics to “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” You also know you’ve got a heart, a liver, a stomach, and a brain. You might even know the names of most of your bones and muscles. But for most of us, the human body is just so complex that a few of the minor characters get forgotten. Here are five important body parts you probably didn’t know you have.

1) THYMUS

Thymus

Your thymus is a small organ located beneath your breastbone, and while you may not have heard of it, it plays a pivotal role in keeping you healthy. It’s part of both the lymphatic system, which transports immune cells throughout your body, and the endocrine system, which deals with the chemical messengers known as hormones. The thymus is the source of T-cells (the T stands for thymus), which are a type of white blood cell that regulates your immunity and hunts down any illness-causing invaders.

2) LACRIMAL PUNCTA

Lacrimal puncta

Ever wonder where your tears go? The lacrimal puncta (singular: punctum) are four tiny holes on the inside of your eyelids, one at the inner corner of each upper and lower eyelid, that help drain the tears that keep your eyes moist. You can even see these tiny holes if you want to — just gently push up on the lower corner of your eye to see the inner edge of the eyelid, and it’ll be there.

3) MESENTERY

Mesentery

Your skin, bones, and muscles hold your organs in — but what holds them up? Meet the mesentery, an organ we once thought was just a disparate collection of membranes but now know is one continuous structure. It’s responsible for attaching your intestines to the wall of your abdomen and keeping your guts from sloshing around when you ride a roller coaster or take the stairs.

4) ARRECTOR PILLI

Arrector pilli

You don’t need one tiny muscle attached to every single hair on your body to help it stand up straight when you’re cold or Adele starts singing, but evolution thought you might like to have ’em anyway. Your skin’s arrector pilli muscles and the involuntary reflex that makes them contract are leftovers from when your ancestors had long fur. Our fuzzier brethren benefitted from the ability to puff their fur out in chilly temperatures (to help them stay warm) and when facing an adversary (to make them look bigger).

5) INTERSTITIUM

Interstitium

It wasn’t until this year that scientists realized that not only were there fluid-filled cavities surrounding everything inside your body — around your lungs, your blood vessels, your muscles, your bladder, you name it — but these cavities were all part of one huge organ. They called it the interstitium, after the interstitial fluid that fills it. That fluid drains into the lymphatic system and, like the thymus, plays a role in immunity. It may be new to us, but it’s been keeping you healthy all your life.