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Whether it’s Whitney Houston or Phantom of the Opera, when the high note hits, it creates a response within us so strong it feels physical. A recent study in the ‘Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience’ has delved into looking at brain activity when this ‘nigh-on-religious’ reaction whirls up within us.

Researchers in the new study looked at brain activity in two groups of participants; a group that report regularly getting the chills and a group that claim they never do. Both groups’ brains were analysed using a ‘diffusion tensor imaging’ method which observes how different parts of the brain connect with each other.

When analysing brain activity, the shivery group’s brains were reported to have a higher amount of nerve fibres connecting the auditory cortex (responsible for processing sound) and the anterior insular cortex (relates to emotional processing). It really does seem that some folks are wired to be more sensitive to music.

These chilling moments are being referred to as ‘frissons’ being lifted out of the French with the original meaning ‘shivers’ and it doesn’t have to be just music, but art and film may also produce the same effect.

A psychological theory behind why this happens posits that the brain follows along with the musical progression, predicting the next melodic steps and chords. The ‘frissons’ kick in when something unpredictable in the music occurs that the brain was not expecting but reacts to in a positive way.

So there you have it! Next time you get the goose bumps listening to Celine Dion, you will be able to report on the science behind why!

Musicians, Psychologists, Biologists and Medics would all be wise to explore this study further as it would make a great interview answer in the right context!

In the dusty and hot depths of northern Israel, something remarkable was recently discovered in the Zhevulun Valley by the precious stone mining company Shefa Yamim.

Geologists struck on a mineral embedded in sapphire with the extraordinary and extraterrestrial property of being harder than Diamonds – something only alien gems in outer space are known to possess. Subsequent density testings do indeed reveal that this trumps its established Diamond competitor.

The mineral was found close to Mt.Carmel which serves as the inspiration for its name ‘Carmeltazite’.  It has also been trademarked by Shefa Yamim with the name of ‘Carmel Sapphire’. Its legitimacy has been further supported by the International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, giving it official status as a new mineral.

This incredibly rare mineral has its origins in the era of the dinosaur when Israel was a highly volcanic area, with over a dozen volcanic vents constantly spewing out molten lava.

Carmeltazite is similar in its molecular structure to ruby and sapphire (aside from its being rarer with a higher density) and varies in colour from black, blue, green and an orange-y brown.

Unfortunately, saving up to give your loved one a Carmel Sapphire engagement ring may be out of most of our budgets, as the stone’s special properties make it more valuable than even diamonds.

Humor aside, the discovery of Carmeltazite is incredible and delving more into its structure as well as researching other new minerals could be a great way for geologists and natural scientists to have the edge at interview.

Inspired by nature, (and one has to assume, the shame of constantly being upstaged by Morgan Freeman’s character in The Dark Knight) scientists Alireza Ramezani, Soon-Jo Hung and Seth Hutchinson have teamed together to build a flying robot that looks and flies like a bat.  

Bats have one of the most complicated and intricate flying mechanisms in the animal kingdom, which allows them to swoop and dodge through extremely crowded caves where they are afforded very little room. Scientists wanted to replicate both their speed and extreme maneuverability, and so they started by studying the biomechanics of the animal itself.

They found that bats had 40 different joints in their wings, along with bones that would deform with individual wing flaps. Their first task when building their robot was to simplify the structure massively; no robot with that many actuated joints would be able to fly well. They decided to have four movable joints in the flight, and then developed an elastic silicon-based membrane skin to spread over the joints. Check out the video of it moving here. It’s incredibly interesting. 

While the bat is able to glide for long distances, and execute things like bank rolls and dives, it is unable to fly upwards or perch. These are things that the scientists working on this project will want to do going forward, potentially   

Engineers and physicists should look up the principles of flight, and how lift is generated in aeroplanes and how this is different to the lift generated by birds and insects. Biologists should look at how different animals fly, and how wingspan affects different birds and animals. Materials Science students can look at modern trends in creating alloys and composites that mimic animal structures and properties.

Following the recent announcement of Nobel Prize winners, its mocking counterpart the Ig Nobel Prize has announced its winners.

A recent article in the Financial Times supports the validity of the Ig Nobel Prize, and the benefit of many of its discoveries. For example, the Dunning-Kruger effect is now a widely cited psychological phenomenon, first discovered by David Dunning and Justin Kruger for which they received an Ig Nobel Prize. The effect states that incompetent people rarely realise that they are incompetent.

One of the most interesting discoveries, particularly for Materials Science and Chemistry applicants, is Andre Geim’s Ig Nobel for Physics, where he levitated a live frog and was shortly given a real Nobel Prize for the discovery of graphene.

The winner of the Biology prize, Thomas Thwaits, lived life as a goat, but the Financial Times argues that he would be better placed for the Economics prize. Thwaits tried to make a cheap Argos toaster by smelting iron in a microwave, producing plastic with food waste, and generally avoiding external labour or intensive machination – the result was a £1,187.54 toaster, which gives us brilliant insight into the global means of production and economy that allows a toaster to be produced for £3.99.

Solar Impulse 2 has made history after becoming the first solar-powered aeroplane to complete a round-the-world flight. The flight lasted more than 23 days and although the plane itself could fly almost perpetually, the flight was split into 16 legs, to allow it to be shared by two pilots. Even despite this, the pilots spent up to 5 days in the un-pressurised cabin, with the single seat doubling up as a toilet, taking only short naps.

The plane has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 and has more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings, meaning that it needs to use no fossil fuel to fly. The solar panels charge the planes battery during daylight, and the pilots climbed to 29,000 feet during the day, while dropping down to 5,000 feet at night to conserve energy. The plane flies on average around 30mph, but can go faster when the sun is bright.

Pilot and designer Bertrand Piccard said the aim of the flight was not to develop solar planes for widespread use, but to demonstrate the capabilities of renewable energy and he now plans to use the demonstration as leverage to create a world council for clean technologies.

Engineering students should investigate the mechanics of the solar plane, especially in comparison to a normal aeroplane such as a Boeing 747. Applicants for Physics and Material Sciences should think more about the functions and use of different types of renewable energy and how it may be developed for future use.

A gas cloud heading towards the Milky Way at a speed of 700,000 miles per hour has the potential to create two million new stars, says NASA.

While the stars won’t be created for a long time in human terms (30 million years term), when the cloud does hit the galaxy, its size will mean new stars will be generated at an incredibly rapid rate. The Smith Cloud, as it was named in 1969 when it was first discovered, has a length of 9,800 light years (or 58 quadrillion miles).

Physics applicants should investigate the composition of the Smith Cloud further, notably how it is tainted with so much sulfur. As Chemists or Material Scientists may be aware, the presence of so much sulfur indicates that the Smith Cloud originated in our galaxy and has since left, as its sulfur level matches the outer disk of the Milky Way.

New research has discovered that the more accomplished a scientist is, the more likely they are to have an artistic hobby.

While the average scientist is not more likely than the general public to have a craft or hobby, exceptional scientists (defined by membership of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society) are 1.7 – 1.9 times more likely to have an artistic hobby than the average scientist. This rises to 2.85 times more likely when it comes to Nobel Prize winning scientists and their hobbies.

The data about the general population of scientists comes from a survey of members of the Sigma Xi society. Experimental Psychology and Psychological and Behavioural Sciences applicants should investigate how reliable using the Sigma Xi society as a marker of the ‘average scientist’ is, given that it is skewed by membership fees, and more generally how useful the methodological parameters of the experiment were. For example, hobbies and crafts were defined by describing themselves or being described in biographies as being a “painter, photographer, actor, performer, composer, poet, dancers, craftsman, glassblower, and so on.” How accurate is self-assessment or assessment by a biographer?

One scientist argues that the reason for this overlap is because of existing functional connections between scientific talent and arts in the brain. A forefather of neuroscientific development, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, argues that “To him who observes [scientists with artistic hobbies] from afar, it appears as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies, while in reality, they are channeling and strengthening them.” Along a similar vein, Materials Science and Engineering applicants may be interested to know that British metallurgist Cyril Stanley Smith stated that “I have slowly come to realize that the analytic, quantitative approach I had been taught to regard as the only respectable one for a scientist is insufficient . . . the richest aspects of any large and complicated system arise from factors that cannot be measured easily . . . the artist’s approach, uncertain though it inevitable is, seems to convey more meaning.”

A Canadian company has obtained a patent for a 12.4 mile-high “space elevator” that could revolutionise space travel and tourism as we know it.

Engineering students will be interested to note that the free-standing tower would essentially be inflated and supported by a series of gas-pressurized cells.  This differs from previous incarnations of the idea which relied on buttress designs or support cables.  Material Science applicants should consider why this new free standing design is seen as more practical and effective than the former support design and Architecture candidates might want to discuss the challenges of building such an innovative structure.

The elevator aims to allow passengers to reach the top of the tower in about 60 minutes. Passengers could then board a space plane that could reach lower orbit without the need for costly a rocket launch which can traditionally cost upwards of $250m per launch.  Economics aspirants will be interested in the cost/benefit model for the project with the tower due to cost $5billion to build and set to reduce conventional space travel by up to 30%.

Law and Politics students ought to consider the legal and political implications of increased exploratory and commercial space travel while Geography hopefuls will be fascinated to see whether this mode of transport will spur on a new era of interplanetary migration

Forget donning your finery to spectate at Ascot or the Epsom Derby – thousands travelled to California for the DARPA Robotics Challenge last week, where international robots partook in the world’s most important robotics race.

Four distinct types of robot took part in this competiton, which sees these machines scrambling across a circuit of activities, designed to test their competence in the skills needed to tacle a real-life disaster. While crowds cheer outdoors, each team runs its robot from a control centre via a wireless link, a largely unprecedented achievement before this competition.

The robots must climb stairs, drive vehicles, clamber over waste materials and slice through plasterboard walls. Each robot has two attempts at the circuit, which an ordinary human could zip across in minutes. HSPS and Philosophy applicants may wish to consider the ethical perspectives of an ever-increasing dependence on robotics to complete and replace human tasks and activities.

Of the four classes of robot to compete- the simple humanoid, wierd humanoid, roller and spider- it was the the weird humanoid who took home the prize. Hailing from KAIST in South Korea, this robot was rewarded $2 million for completeing the circuit in a record time of 44 minutes.

Economics applicants should consider the long-term financial benefits of investment in robotics, whilst Materials Science applicants, Physicists and Engineers could examine the intricacies of the robot as a machine on a structural level. What is the interplay between design and function? What will be the next stage in its development?

Biological Sciences applicants may question the ways in which robots have evolved over time and parallels between natural selection within the human species and artificial selection within the ‘robot species.’

Biologists and material scientists will be glad to hear that the natural world has emerged as a major inspiration for new materials and technology. American engineers have developed a flexible material that changes colour to match its surroundings.

Professor John Rogers and his team from the University of Illinois based their design on the camouflage abilities of cephalopods: octopuses, squid and cuttlefish. The three-layer design seen in the skin of these animals was adapted for the engineered system – where the top layer contains the colours, the middle layer drives colour changes, and the lower senses the background patterns to be copied. In the new material, the bottom layer contains a grid of photosensors which detect changes in light and transmit the pattern to ‘actuators’ in the layer above. Although the material so far only responds in black and white, researchers hope that the principles of the design can be developed further and be applied to a variety of military and commercial uses.

The potential military uses of camouflage are such that the project was initially funded by the US Navy. Artists and designers have also been drawn towards the material’s potential – with the possibility of colour-changing fabrics for high-end fashion which could respond to ambient lighting, or even dynamic colour-changing walls and other interior surfaces. While Rogers remained jovial about the myriad of commercial uses for his engineering feat, he stressed that, ‘’”Our goal as researchers is not to develop a colour-changing wallpaper.

That’s a vision that somebody had, for an application – and indeed, it’s kind of cool. But our emphasis is more on the basics, around biologically inspired engineering.” For those looking to be well-armed with case studies before their material science interviews, here’s a link to Professor Rogers’ work in the journal PNAS.

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