Math for steaks, slug in the family tree, don’t touch that butterfly, and more

Published April 16, 2020

Just keep walking

OK, this isn’t exact­ly shock­ing, but now it’s got sci­ence behind it. The more you walk, it seems, the less you’re like­ly to die, espe­cial­ly if you’re over 40.

Down side: You have to walk a lot.

4,000 steps is the base­line, and that’s … like, more than a mile.

If you want to live longer, start with 8,000 steps, which means “a 51% low­er risk for all-cause mor­tal­i­ty” than just 4,000 steps.

If you’re look­ing for­ward to fly­ing cars, wooly mam­moths, and a cure for the com­mon cold, bet­ter hit 12,000 steps per day — that’ll mean a 65% low­er risk than 4,000 steps.

The yeast you can do*

Sourdough bread is get­ting hot these days (along with bak­ing in gen­er­al), but here’s a cool tid­bit: Bakers have been bak­ing for at least 10,000 years, but they still don’t know why yeast does what it does.

Enter NC State’s Wild Sourdough Project. It wants peo­ple to make sour­dough starter from their local wild yeasts — mix flour and water and then wait; the yeast is every­where. After 10 days, the researchers want to you to fill out a ques­tion­naire about your new yeasty friend.

Together we can use these data to learn how geog­ra­phy and dif­fer­ent flours affect micro­bial growth over time, and how those microbes affect the taste and tex­ture of bread.

* Yes, I admit the headline is awful.

I know your steak is grass-fed, but is it cooked based on Flory-Rehner theory?

What do you do if you’re a researcher stuck inside … but still need to pub­lish? If you’re a physi­cist, you can get cre­ative: “A math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el for meat cook­ing”.

Don’t for­get to make it extra science‑y with phras­es like “We present an accu­rate two-dimen­sion­al math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el for steak cook­ing based on Flory–Rehner theory.”

Whale sharks and nuke tests

Yesterday we told you how teeth have rings like a tree’s. You know what else does? Whale shark vertebrae.

What’s inter­est­ing about that? Because of nuclear tests done in the 1950s and ’60s, marine biol­o­gists can mea­sure the amount of car­bon-14 in each lay­er of a fish’s ver­te­brae to cal­cu­late how old it was and thus fig­ure out how long they live.

By match­ing the amount of car­bon-14 in dif­fer­ent ver­te­bral growth bands with the known car­bon-14 lev­els in sur­face sea­wa­ter in dif­fer­ent years, the researchers esti­mat­ed when each band formed — and found that sub­se­quent bands gen­er­al­ly grew a year apart.

The very stressed-out butterfly

UGA researchers have found that han­dling young monarch but­ter­flies makes them stressed. The adults, though, they’re cool with it.

Great great great grandma slug

So you know those “Tree of Life” pic­tures that show the evo­lu­tion of life on Earth from sin­gle-celled organ­isms to our AI overlords?

At one point, ani­mals branch off from the tree, and now geol­o­gists at the University of California, Riverside say they’ve found the crit­ter at the end of that branch: “A worm­like crea­ture that lived more than 555 mil­lion years ago.”

The tiny, worm­like crea­ture, named Ikaria war­i­ootia, is the ear­li­est bila­ter­ian, or organ­ism with a front and back, two sym­met­ri­cal sides, and open­ings at either end con­nect­ed by a gut

If you look close­ly, you can see the resem­blance to [insert name of politi­cian you hate]:

Eyes above the face

“Hitchhiking oxpeck­er” — it’s not just a great insult, it’s also a pret­ty cool bird. Why? It rides on the back of blind rhi­nos, and it warns them of dan­ger.

Even in close prox­im­i­ty, a rhi­no might strug­gle to notice lurk­ing dan­ger by sight. But the oxpeck­er eas­i­ly can, unleash­ing a sharp call to warn of intruders.

The real reason is to make the moon look like the Death Star

NASA funds pro­pos­al to build a tele­scope on the far side of the moon.”

(The real­i­ty is that this is a cool idea: Use a nat­ur­al fea­ture as your “dish” so you just need receivers and cabling. And being on the far side of the moon gives you a great view.)