Archive

Posts Tagged ‘university’

Building a Human Powered Helicopter

May 9, 2011 2 comments

Da Vinci would be proud.

Students at the University of Maryland will be testing their design for a human-powered helicopter this Wednesday, May 11. 

The team is attempting to win the Sirkosky Challenge. This is a challenge proposed by the American Helicopter Society in 1980 with a prize of $250,000. In order to win, the team’s flight machine must

  • use only human power
  • be off the ground for at least 60 seconds
  • reach a minimum 3 meter altitude during the flight
  • stay within a 10 meter box

While many man-powered aircraft have been produced, making a man-powered helicopter is quite difficult, as explained in the really cool video about the project shown below.

Best of luck to the team! I’m very curious to see how this turns out.

Why Am I Only Finding Out About This Now?

February 10, 2011 1 comment

I’m not sure how many people knew about this, but MIT started a revolution in 1999 when they started posting class notes and lectures online. Free. For anyone!

MIT OpenCourseWare

Now, MIT has course materials from over 2000 courses available on their website for you to download. Some have lecture videos and some even have the class quizzes and exams for you to take.

Apparently many other Universities are starting to get in on this trend too. MIT gained a lot of funding and publicity through their OpenCourseWare initiative, and other schools wish to do the same.

Of course, you can’t get a degree or interact with Professors. But still, free University lectures/notes? How can you go wrong?

I’m currently taking a refresher in Electricity and Magnetism with renowned professor Walter Lewin. Professors like this remind you why science can be so fun.

So maybe if you aren’t a huge nerd like me who misses school, this may not be so exciting.

But if you are so inclined, check it out. Some courses are also available on iTunes U (which I also just found out about) so you can download them to your iPod or iPhone and watch them on the way to work.

Happy learning!

Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? See What a Real Expert Says

November 24, 2010 6 comments

I’ve written about the issue of cell phones and Wi-Fi and the supposed health risks associated with their use. The resounding scientific evidence shows they are perfectly safe, but the media continues to stoke fear in the public with unbalanced coverage.

When reading a news story about this sort of thing, I always wonder why they don’t ask an actual expert. The answer is that an expert would say how implausible the story is, and that they are silly for reporting it.

That doesn’t sell newspapers.

Instead, they find the one person on the fringe who maintains that there is a magical mechanism by which non-ionizing radiation can harm us. But thankfully, Phil Plait posted on his blog today something I have been looking for a long time.

I’m not a researcher (anymore). I don’t have a Ph.D, so I can tell you what I think, and I can tell you I know what I’m talking about, but I will never have as much credibility as a real university professor in physics or electrical engineering.

Enter this talk by Professor Christopher Davis from the University of Maryland’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. It was given at a National Capitol Area Skeptics meeting, and posted on YouTube. It’s in 5 parts and each part is about 13 minutes long.

It is a fascinating talk and not too technical, so you don’t need a science background to understand the main points. He even touches on backscatter x-ray scanners which have been in the news quite a bit lately. Enjoy!

Looking to Hook Up? Don’t Tell Them You’ve Been Dumped…

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Yup, science is your wing-man.

A study published online today in the journal Evolutionary Psychology tests how people react when they hear a potential mate has been dumped.

The study used 198 subjects (102 women and 96 men) with ages around 18-19. They brought them in groups into a computer lab and they did not interact with one another.

Instead, they were told to read the online profile of 3 potential mates. The profiles were set up to look like online dating ads, but did not have photos.

The subjects were then asked to grade, on a scale of 1 to 9, how much they would want to:

  1. Have a dating relationship
  2. Have a long-term relationship
  3. Have a sexual relationship

with the person in the profile. They rated the profile twice; once after reading the first half of the profile (i.e. I am easy-going, fun-loving etc). They rated the profile a second time after reading the second half of the profile, which contained information on how the person’s last relationship ended.

The two ratings were then compared to one another to see how perception changes after learning how the potential mate’s last relationship ended. And the results are…

As you might expect, when the subjects heard that their potential date had been dumped, their scores dropped significantly more than if they were the dumper, or if the information was not available. This was seen for all 3 types of relationships tested (dating, long-term, and sexual).

Additionally, the researchers found that

female participants reported an increased desire to have a sexual relationship with a potential partner after learning he had rejected his last partner. However, while men’s desire to have a sexual relationship with a target was not influenced by her having rejected her last partner, their desire to have a romantic relationship with her decreased significantly. On the other hand, both men and women were put off by a target failing to disclose the circumstances of his or her last break-up.
So if you’re a male, your chances with a new girl increase if you tell her that you dumped your last girlfriend. If you are a female and you want a romantic relationship, you should tell the guy that you were the one who was dumped.
 
Some interesting differences between the sexes there. One limitation of the study is that it only uses subjects around 18 or 19 years old. I would suspect that if you did the same experiment with an older crowd, the results would change. Specifically, I don’t think middle-aged persons would care as much how the potential mate’s last relationship ended.
 
Psychology is pretty interesting, and I regret not taking a couple of psych courses in university as electives.

The Science of ‘Beer Goggles’

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Oh yes, we’ve all been there.

You knock back a few pints, maybe a few jager bombs and the party really gets started. You think maybe it’s the dimly lit dance floor, or maybe its because you have no idea what time it is, but that girl (or guy) your are dancing with suddenly seems a lot more attractive.

Colloquially, it is known as the Beer Goggle effect. Alcohol is making everyone in the room seem more attractive than if you were sober. It is a well documented effect, and psychologists are trying to nail down what exactly is happening to our brains when this happens.

A study recently published in the journal Alcohol (they have a journal for everything these days, even *guh* homeopathy) may shed some light on whats going on here.

Many studies have shown that when humans rate a person’s face as “attractive”, this is largely due to high levels of symmetry in the person’s face. For example, their nose isn’t crooked (like mine) or their eyes aren’t at different heights, things like that. Any asymmetries will cause attractiveness scores to fall.

So the way this study worked was the experimenters went to a bar after everyone had a chance to down a few drinks. They showed 64 students a series of pictures, some of whom were sober (the control group), and some were intoxicated. The students then rated a series of photos of faces, symmetric and some asymmetric, as attractive or not attractive.

The conclusion was that alcohol worsens our ability to detect symmetry in a peoples faces, consequently making them appear more attractive (not surprising).

What WAS surprising about this study though, was that alcohol affected women’s abililty to detect symmetry more than men. So women actually have a stronger “Beer goggle” affect than men. Crazy.

Of course, guys tend to get much more rambunxios when they are drinking than women, so that’s why this result may be surprising.

But cool stuff. Next time at the bar if you are worried about bringing home an ugo just make sure you look at them in bright light, before turning out the light.

Cheers everyone!