Multitasking & Tractor Beams | SciByte 79

Multitasking & Tractor Beams | SciByte 79

We take a look at multitasking abilities, red pens, tractor beams, bicycle airbags, tracking twitter, spacecraft updates, viewer feedback, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Multitasking Proficiency

  • The low down
  • Most people believe they can multitask effectively, but a new study indicates that people who multitask the most – including talking on a cell phone while driving – are least capable of doing so.
  • The Study
  • The study participants were 310 University of Utah psychology undergraduates – 176 female and 134 male with a median age of 21 – who volunteered for their department\’s subject pool in exchange for extra course credit.
  • The subjects were put through a battery of tests and questionnaires to measure actual multitasking ability, perceived multitasking ability, cell phone use while driving, use of a wide array of electronic media, and personality traits such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking.
  • Research suggests that people who engage in multitasking often do so not because they have the ability, but because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task
  • The more people multitask by talking on cell phones while driving or by using multiple media at once, the more they lack the actual ability to multitask, and their perceived multitasking ability \”was found to be significantly inflated
  • The Results
  • To measure actual multitasking ability, participants performed a test named Operation Span, or OSPAN.
  • The test involves two tasks: memorization and math computation where participants must remember two to seven letters, each separated by a math equation that they must identify as true or false
  • A simple example of a question: \”is 2+4=6?, g, is 3-2=2?, a, is 4×3=12.\” Answer: true, g, false, a, true.
  • Participants also ranked their perceptions of their own multitasking ability by giving themselves a score ranging from zero to 100, with 50 percent meaning average, 70 percent of participants thought they were above average at multitasking
  • Study subjects reported how often they used a cell phone while driving, and what percentage of the time they are on the phone while driving
  • Subjects also completed a survey of how often and for how many hours they use which media, including printed material, television and video, computer video, music, nonmusic audio, video games, phone, instant and text messaging, e-mail, the Web and other computer software such as word processing
  • Multitasking, including cell phone use while driving, correlated significantly with sensation-seeking, indicating some people multitask because it is more stimulating, interesting and challenging, and less boring – even if it may hurt their overall performance
  • Of Note
  • The data suggest the people talking on cell phones while driving are people who probably shouldn\’t.
  • In fact the people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse
  • People who score high on a test of actual multitasking ability tend not to multitask because they are better able to focus attention on the task at hand
  • Study participants also reported spending 13 percent of their driving time talking on a cell phone, which Strayer says roughly squares with federal estimates that one in 10 drivers are on the phone at any given time
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Automated Operation Span Tutorial | zupef
  • Image Driving simulator they use in some research | David Strayer, University of Utah
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Frequent multitaskers are bad at it: Motorists overrate ability to talk on cell phones when driving |


Attack of the red pens

  • The low down
  • Sociologists claim in a paper they\’ve had published that when teachers use a red pen to add comments to student papers, students perceive them more negatively than if they use another color pen
  • The Study
  • The two researchers enlisted the assistance of 199 undergraduate students – each was given four versions of an already graded essay by an unknown instructor
  • The graded remarks were deemed as high or low in quality with some written in red, others in blue
  • Students were asked to read the essay and the remarks given by the instructor and then to rate how they felt about what the instructor had written and to suggest what grade they would have given the essay
  • They were also asked how they felt about the instructor that had written the original remarks
  • The Results
  • After they\’d finished with their opinions, each was also given a questionnaire designed to provide the researchers with more concrete data.
  • The researchers found that the student volunteers didn\’t seem to be impacted one way or another by pen color when they agreed with the instructor\’s comments and grade
  • When they disagreed; however, there were definitely some differences – mainly negative
  • When the instructors\’ comments were written in red versus blue the volunteers judged them more harshly and as a result, rated them lower in \”bedside manner.\”
  • The volunteers didn\’t seem to judge the quality of the comments any differently – their negative feelings were aimed at the person that had written the remarks when they wrote in red ink
  • Of Note
  • The researchers theorize that red ink is akin to using all caps when writing e-mail or text messages – it\’s like shouting at a person
  • Those being graded naturally feel a little bit abused and respond by growing angry or sad, which, they note, doesn\’t really promote the learning process
  • The team suggest instructors stop using red pens and go with a shade of blue instead
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Study shows red pen use by instructors leads to more negative response |

Tractor Beams a reality?

  • Although light manipulation techniques have existed since the 1970s, this is the first time a light beam has been used to draw objects towards the light source, albeit at a microscopic level.
  • What is it?
  • Researchers have found a way to generate a special optical field that efficiently reverses radiation pressure of light.
  • The new technique could lead to more efficient medical testing, such as in the examination of blood samples
  • The team discovered a technique which will allow them to provide \’negative\’ force acting upon minuscule particles
  • The technique
  • Normally when matter and light interact the solid object is pushed by the light and carried away in the stream of photons
  • Such radiation force was first identified by Johanes Kepler when observing that tails of comets point away from the sun
    Over recent years researchers have realised that while this is the case for most of the optical fields, there is a space of parameters when this force reverses.
  • Scientists have now demonstrated the first experimental realisation of this concept together with a number of exciting applications for biomedical photonics and other disciplines
  • What does it mean to todays science?
  • The occurrence of negative force is very specific to the properties of the object, such as size and composition
  • This allows optical sorting of micro-objects in a simple and inexpensive device
  • Optical fractionation has been identified as one of the most promising biomedical applications of optical manipulation allowing
  • Scientists identified certain conditions, in which objects held by the \”tractor\” beam force-field, rearranged themselves to form a structure which made the beam even stronger
  • Multimedia
  • Image Example of comet with two tails |
  • First video reveals working tractor beam in action |
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Star Trek\’s \’tractor\’ beam created in miniature by researchers |


Bicycle Airbags

HIggs-Boson Twitter Rumors and Following

  • Last time on SciByte
  • SciByte 53 | Higgs Boson – To Higgs-Boson or not to Higgs-Boson | July 10, 2012
  • The low down
  • For the first time scientists have been able to analyse the dynamics of social media on a global scale before, during and after the announcement of a major scientific discovery.
  • The model is based on the spread of gossip on Twitter prior to the Higgs boson discovery announcement
  • The Data
  • According to the analysed data, the rumours that the Higgs boson had been discovered started around 1st July 2012
  • That means it was one day before the announcement at Tevatron, and three days before the official announcement from CERN on 4th July.
  • The research shows that rumours started to spread on Twitter firstly in the USA, UK, Spain, Canada, Australia, as well as Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany, all countries with strong scientific connections to the experiments at the LHC.
  • What it means
  • Other researchers on the project are also interested in how information spreads on social media
  • This is really useful for practical applications such as marketing, for example if you want to run a global marketing campaign you can identify key people on social media to help you to spread your message
  • Once you have identified these key advocates, you can change and steer the message in a different direction, potentially modifying opinions of millions of people or keep the interest in the topic going
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube The Anatomy of a Scientific Gossip – World View | networkedsystemslab
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Scientists analyse global Twitter gossip around Higgs boson discovery |


Opportunity rover still on the move

  • Last time on SciByte
  • SciByte 61 | ‘Tatooine’ Exoplanets & Eye’s – Opportunity, Driving Distance and life | September 4, 2012
  • Nine Years of Service
  • NASA\’s Opportunity rover landed on Mars the night of Jan. 24, 2004 PST (just after midnight EST on Jan. 25), three weeks after its twin, Spirit, touched down
  • Spirit and Opportunity were originally supposed to spend three months searching for evidence of past water activity on the Red Planet
  • Spirit finally stopped communicating with Earth in March 2010, after getting mired in soft sand and failing to maneuver into a position that would allow it to slant its solar panels toward the sun over the 2009-2010 Martian winter. NASA declared the rover dead in 2011 after 7 years of service
  • Opportunity, after 9 years of service, is currently inspecting clay deposits along the rim of Mars\’ huge Endeavour Crater. Clays form in relatively neutral (as opposed to acidic or basic) water, so
  • Rover road trips
  • So far, robotic rovers have been to the moon and Mars, with astronauts actually driving a lunar car on the moon during NASA\’s Apollo program
  • Soviet-era Lunakhod 2 : In the lead for total distance travelled the farthest is the the Soviet-era Lunakhod 2, which drove 23 miles (37 kilometers) during its 1973 mission
  • NASA\’s Apollo 17 moon rover : The next rover with the most driving distance is NASA\’s Apollo 17 moon rover, which was driven 22.3 miles (35.89 km) by astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972
  • Opportunity rover : Next, in a close third, is the Opportunity rover, which has been driving across the plains of Meridiani Planum on the Red Planet since 2004 and has driven more than 22.03 miles (35.46 km) and is still going today
  • This means that Opportunity is a mere one third of a mile (0.4 km) to being the second farthest driven, and a little under a mile (1.5 km) to being the farthest
  • I estimate, barring any delays for science or equipment and based on past mileage, that in the next 2 months it might overtake the distance travelled by Apollo 17 rover, and the distance by the Lunokhod in the next 6 months.
  • The latest to enter the race is Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, which is just getting started with only 0.4 mile (0.7 km) traveled so far.
    the area may once have been capable of supporting primitive microbial life
  • Multimedia
  • Distances Driven on Other Worlds Infographic |
  • Social Media
  • Spirit and Oppy @MarsRovers
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Distance Traveled, Extraterrestrial Vehicles | Wheeled Vehicles, Moon & Mars |
  • NASA\’s Opportunity Rover Begins Year 10 on Mars |



  • Last time on SciByte
  • SciByte 78 | Dyscalculia & the Flu – Dyscalculia | January 22, 2013
  • James Lewis
  • Suggests a concern that there is an overdiagnosis of \’labels\’
  • Could simply be that you could learn differently
  • Response
  • Almost certainly “the system” can over-diagnose students
  • Are you or were you “diagnosed”? If so learn what exemptions, etc, that you qualify for should you choose to utilize them
  • Try different ways of learning outside the classroom that can help in the classroom or supplement



  • NASA – Day of Remembrance
  • Apollo 1 | January 27, 1967 | Command Pilot Virgil \”Gus\” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee
  • Challenger | January 28, 1986 | Francis R. Scobee – Mission Commander, Michael J. Smith – Pilot, Ellison S. Onizuka – Mission Specialist 1, Judith A. Resnik – Mission Specialist 2, Ronald E. McNair – Mission Specialist 3, Christa McAuliffe – Payload Specialist 1, Gregory B. Jarvis – Payload Specialist 2
  • Columbia | February 1, 2003 | Rick Husband, Commander; William C. McCool, Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist 4; and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1


Looking back

  • Feb 01, 1972 : 40 years ago : Hand-held calculator : The first scientific handheld calculator was introduced for $395 by Hewlett- Packard, named the HP-35 for having 35 keys. It was the first handheld calculator able to perform logarithmic and trigonometric functions with one keystroke. The red LED display could give scientific notation up to 10 digits mantissa and 2 digits exponent. The price was reduced several times, eventually to $195. By Feb 1975 (when production of the model was discontinued), 300,000 had been sold. The numbers and functions for calculations were entered in “Reverse Polish Notation”(RPN), which used an “ENTER” key but needed no parentheses or “=” key. It ran on rechargeable batteries and had electronics with several integrated circuits in a 3.1\” x 5.8\” x 1.4\” (79 ×147×34 mm) case.
  • Image author : Seth Morabito | originally posted to Flickr as HP 35 Calculator

Looking up this week

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