Typing & Dying Silk | SciByte 112

Typing & Dying Silk | SciByte 112

We take a look at typing on autopilot, more data on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, dying silk, bone grafting, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

Direct Download:

MP3 Audio | OGG Audio | Video | Torrent | YouTube

RSS Feeds:

MP3 Feed | OGG Feed | Video Feed | Torrent Feed | iTunes

Typing on Autopilot

  • A conclusion of a recent study conducted by a team of cognitive psychologists shows that when you are typing away at your computer, you don\’t know what your fingers are really doing
  • It found that skilled typists can\’t identify the positions of many of the keys on the QWERTY keyboard and that novice typists don\’t appear to learn key locations in the first place
  • The Study
  • The researchers recruited 100 university students and members from the surrounding community to participate in an experiment
  • The participants completed a short typing test, then they were shown a blank QWERTY keyboard and given 80 seconds to write the letters in the correct location
  • On average, they typed 72 words per minute, moving their fingers to the correct keys six times per second with 94 percent accuracy
  • By contrast, they could accurately place an average of only 15 letters on a blank keyboard.
  • What the Results Mean
  • The fact that the typists did so poorly at identifying the position of specific keys didn\’t come as a surprise
  • For more than a century, scientists have recognized the existence of automatism: the ability to perform actions without conscious thought or intention
  • Automatic behaviors of this type are surprisingly common, ranging from tying shoelaces to making coffee to factory assembly-line work to riding a bicycle and driving a car
  • What did come as a surprise, however, was evidence that conflicts with the basic theory of automatic learning which holds that it starts out as a conscious process and gradually becomes unconscious with repetition
  • Automating Actions
  • According to the widely held theory, when you perform a new task or the first time, you are conscious of each action and store the details in working memory, then as you repeat the task, it becomes increasingly automatic
  • This allows you to think about other things while you performing the task but your conscious recollection of the details gradually fades away
  • Researchers were surprised when they found evidence that the typists never appear to memorize the key positions, not even when they are first learning to type.
  • Evidence for this conclusion came from another experiment included in the study
  • The \”Sub-Set Study\”
  • The researchers recruited 24 typists who were skilled on the QWERTY keyboard and had them learn to type on a Dvorak keyboard, which places keys in different locations.
  • After the participants developed a reasonable proficiency with the alternative keyboard, they were asked to identify the placement of the keys on a blank Dvorak keyboard
  • On average, they could locate only 17 letters correctly, comparable to participants\’ performance with the QWERTY keyboard.
  • \’Memorizing\’ without Memorizing, One Theory
  • According to the researchers, the lack of explicit knowledge of the keyboard may be due to the fact that computers and keyboards have become so ubiquitous that students learn how to use them in an informal, trial-and-error fashion when they are very young
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Automatic Typing | VanderbiltUniversity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Study gives new meaning to \’let your fingers do the walking\’ | MedicalXPress.com


2011 Tohoku Earthquake

  • In March 2011, a devastating tsunami struck Japan\’s Tohoku region
  • Now, researchers have uncovered the cause of this tsunami, shedding light on what displaced the seafloor off the northeastern coast of Japan
  • The Study
  • Scientists underwent a 50-day expedition on the Japanese drilling vessel Chikyu
  • They then drilled three holes in the Japan Trench area in order to study the rupture zone of the 2011 earthquake
  • A fault in the ocean floor where two of Earth\’s major tectonic plates meet deep beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Conventional View
  • Deep beneath the seafloor, where rocks are strong, movements of the plates can generate a lot of elastic rebound
  • Closer to the surface of the seafloor, where rocks are softer and less compressed, rebound effect was thought to taper off
  • The Tohoku Earthquake
  • The largest displacement of plates before the 2011 tsunami occurred in 1960 off the coast of Chile when a powerful earthquake displaced sea floor plates by an average of 20 meters
  • The Tohoku earthquake, in contrast, displaced its own plates by 30 to 50 meters.
  • The fault itself is very thin–less than five meters thick in the area sampled, making it the thinnest plate boundary on Earth.
  • In addition, clay deposits that fill the narrow fault are made of extremely fine sediment, which makes it extremely slippery
  • Looking to the Future
  • These findings don\’t just show researchers a bit more about the past; they also have implications for the future
  • Learning more about the 2011 tsunami and its causes is an important step for monitoring future events and could help researchers provide earlier warnings
  • Other subduction zones in the northwest Pacific where this type of clay is present–from Russia\’s Kamchatka peninsula to the Aleutian Islands–may also be capable of generating similar, huge earthquakes
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Scientists Identify Cause of Japan\’s Devastating 2011 Tsunami | ScienceWorldReport.com


Coloring Silk Worm Silk

  • How It’s Done Now
  • Coloring fabric normally uses enormous amounts of fresh water
  • The water gets contaminated with dangerous chemicals in the process, requiring costly treatment before factories can dump it back into waterways—or wreaking havoc when factory owners dodge cleanup rules
  • A New Idea
  • A team fed ordinary silkworms mulberry leaves that had been sprayed with fabric dyes.
  • Out of seven tested dyes, only one worked, producing a thread that reminded me of pink-dyed hair.
  • The worms themselves take on some color before they weave their silk cocoons. Their colorful diets did not affect their growth
  • Scientists are just starting to study this idea, however, it remains to be seen if it\’s commercially viable
  • In this experiment, the Indian team tested seven azo dyes, which are cheap and popular in the industry
  • The scientists found different dyes moved through silkworms\’ bodies differently. Some never made it into the worms\’ silk at all
  • Others colored the worms and their cocoons, but the color molecules settled mostly in the sticky protein the worms add to their cocoons
  • That sticky stuff gets washed away before the silk is turned into fabric
  • Only one dye, named \”direct acid fast red,\” showed up in the final, washed silk threads. By the time it made it there, it was a pleasant, light pink.
  • Media
  • YouTube | Silkworms Timelapse | mtwlg
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Scientists Color Silk By Feeding Silkworms Fabric Dyes | Popular Science

Bone Grafting

  • Scientists have now discovered a way to refine sea coral properties so that it is more compatible with natural bone.
  • One Biomaterial Problem
  • When biomaterials do not biodegrade, they can continuously cause problems
  • In extreme conditions, it is possible that the different mechanical properties of the artificial bone graft may cause a re-fracture or become a source for bacterial growth in infection
  • Finding Solutions
  • In order to get around this issue researchers decided to study the calcium carbonate found in the exoskeleton of sea coral and convert it into coralline hydroxyapatite (CHA)
  • They then refined the material to produce coralline hydroxyapatite/calcium carbonate (CHACC)
  • This CHACC composition contained 15 percent of CHA in a thin layer around the calcium carbonate
  • The strong, porous structure has made CHA commercially successful, but contained significantly improved bio-degrading properties to support natural bone healing.
  • Not Ready for Wide Use Quite Yet
  • There is a ways to go before the material can match the benefits of an autograft and can be used by the several million people worldwide that undergo bone grafting procedures each year
    +The development of the CHACC material could provide an important step toward creating a biodegradable material that could help patients in the future
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Sea Coral in Bone Grafting? How the Material is Made Compatible with Natural Bone | ScienceWorldRepoert.com


China’s ‘Yutu’ Lunar Lander

  • China’s moon landing probe successfully entered lunar orbit on Friday, Dec. 6
  • China’s ‘Yutu’ lunar lander is riding piggyback atop the four legged landing probe
  • Chang’e 3 is due to make a powered descent to the Moon’s surface on Dec. 14, firing the landing thrusters at an altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing in a preselected area called the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum region.
  • The Bay of Rainbows is a lava filled crater located in the upper left portion of the moon as seen from Earth. The Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 landed is the mid-upper right. Moon Map | Wikipedia
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • China’s Maiden Moon Rover Mission Chang’e 3 Achieves Lunar Orbit | UniverseToday.com


  • 100,000 ChemCam Laser Shots
  • Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) uses the infrared laser to excite material and analyzes the spectrum of light to identify elements in the target
  • As of the start of December, ChemCam has fired its laser on Mars more than 102,000 times, at more than 420 rock or soil targets, and has also returned more than 1,600 images taken by its remote micro-imager camera
  • Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second
  • The 100,000th shot was one of a series of 300 to investigate 10 locations on a rock called \”Ithaca\” in late October
  • The shots were at a distance of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.04 meters) from the laser and telescope on rover\’s mast
  • More Habitable Lake Information
  • Curiosity rover has discovered evidence that an ancient Martian lake had the right chemical ingredients that could have sustained microbial life
  • The shallow ancient lake may have been about 30 miles long by 3 miles wide (50 by 5 kilometers)
  • The research team estimates that the lake existed for at least tens of thousands of years, as recent as 3.7 Billion years ago, perhaps even longer on an off-and-on basis, even when the lake might have been dry, the groundwater\’s still there
  • It could have potentially supported a class of microbes called chemolithoautotrophs, which obtain energy by breaking down rocks and minerals
  • Here on Earth, chemolithoautotrophs are commonly found in habitats beyond the reach of sunlight, such as caves and hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor
  • Cold Lake
  • The lack of weathering on Gale Crater\’s rim suggests that the area was cold when the lake existed
  • It\’s possible that a layer of ice covered the lake on a permanent or occasional basis
  • Even with that it still is a entirely viable habitable environments for chemolithoautotrophs
  • Mission Shift
  • Researchers announced that they are shifting the missions focus from searching for habitable environments to searching for organic molecules – the building blocks of all life as we know it.
  • The team believes they have found a way to increase the chance of finding organics preserved in the sedimentary rock layers
  • This means that the mission is now dedicated to the search for that subset of habitable environments which also preserves organic carbon
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Curiosity Rover Report (Dec. 9, 2013): Dating Younger Rocks | NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Laser Instrument on NASA Mars Rover Tops 100,000 Zaps | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • Ancient Mars Lake Could Have Supported Life, Curiosity Rover Shows | Space.com
  • Curiosity Discovers Ancient Mars Lake Could Support Life | UniverseToday.com


Looking back

  • Dec 14, 1962 : 51 years ago : Mariner 2 Venus Mission : The U.S. space probe Mariner 2 approached within about 34,000 kilometers (21,600 miles) of Venus, transmitting first time information about this planet. Launched 27 Aug 1962 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on an Atlas- Agenda rocket, the Mariner 2 was the world\’s first successful interplanetary spacecraft. It sent back new information about interplanetary space and the very hot, heavy, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere. The temperature was found to be about 500 ºC (900 ºF). Also for the first time, the spacecraft\’s solar wind experiment measured the density, velocity, composition and variation over time of the solar wind. It discovered that Venus lacks a strong magnetic field and radiation belts. Contact was lost 3 Jan 1963.

Looking up this week

Question? Comments? Contact us here!