Scientists show the evolution of the Amphitheatre

Scientists show the evolution of the Amphitheatre

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

Back before the internet, twitter and megaphones it was a great deal more difficult to get your voice heard. However, those clever Greeks and Romans had a way of using the science of acoustics to get their message out.

They constructed great amphitheatres which seated thousands. An example of which is the image below I took when exploring an ancient Roman site in rural Turkey.

Click for High Def version

Scientists have continued to do research the way the acoustics worked to propel the voice of those ‘on stage’. A study by K. Chourmouziadou & J. Kang, published in the Journal of Applied Acoustics showed that amphitheatres evolved and changes in materials as well as design resulted in acoustic improvements. They simulated 6 different theatre types: Minoan, Pre-Aeschylean, Early Classic, Classic, Hellenistic and Roman.  Each of these had different characteristics (figure 1)

Figure 1: A breakdown of the different theatre types

Figure 2: Over time the amount of reverberation in an occupied theatre is seen to increase

The researchers then used acoustic simulation software to examine the theaters. They monitored the absorption and scattering conditions in each incarnation of the theatre. Their results indicated that there was increased reverberation time as the theatres evolved (figure 2) and the speech transmission increased in occupied theatres. They concluded that overall the evolution of the theatres brought about an improved listening experience.
CHOURMOUZIADOU, K., & KANG, J. (2008). Acoustic evolution of ancient Greek and Roman theatres Applied Acoustics, 69 (6), 514-529 DOI: 10.1016/j.apacoust.2006.12.009

Viral Science: New Caledonian Crow – Not So Bird Brained

Viral Science: New Caledonian Crow – Not So Bird Brained

Behavioural Ecology Research Group © Simon Walker

The New Caledonian Crow is a remarkably smart species of bird. They are the “only non-human species with a record of inventing new tools by modifying existing ones, then passing these innovations to other individuals in the cultural group”

This weeks viral science video part of research carried out by the Behavioural Ecology Research group in Oxford . This video below is the first time these birds were presented with this challenge:

p.s. apologies for the lack of posts recently, I shall return to regular blogging shortly.

Scientists show you can’t get drunk by placing your feet in Vodka

Scientists show you can’t get drunk by placing your feet in Vodka

Time to give up on that Jameson Jacuzzi...

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

Scientists have tested the old Danish myth that it is possible to get drunk by submerging your feet in alcohol. Their results, indicate that unfortunately a Fosters footbath is unlikely to become the new way to consume your drinks.

Figure 1: The data on the participants

The selfless scientists from the Department of Cardiology at Hillerød Hospital became the test subjects (Figure 1), declaring themselves ‘free of chronic skin and liver disease and non-dependent on alcohol and psychoactive drugs’. The really interesting thing about this study, besides the just plain weirdness of the question being asked, is the methodology. The researchers abstained from alcohol for 24 Hrs prior to the study and also each cleaned their feet with a loofah the night before testing began.

In the study itself the researchers submerged their feet in washing bowls containing three 700mL bottles of vodka (37.5% by volume). They then recorded the level of drunkenness using the concentration of plasma ethanol and a more interesting secondary outcome for 3 hours ‘a timeframe corresponding to a medium length visit to the local pub’.  This method contains my Research Quote of The Week:

The secondary outcome was self assessment of intoxication related symptoms (self-confidence, urge to speak, and number of spontaneous hugs)”

Figure 2: Self assessed intoxication related symptoms

The results of the blood plasma ethanol levels were all below the detection limit of 2.2 mmol/L and the secondary outcome results (Figure 2) were deemed not significant. Although they did observe that after the experiment the skin on the researchers feet was ‘clean and smooth’.

This study obviously does have its weaknesses. There was no control group, only 3 participants and clearly isn’t the most revolutionary discovery science has ever made. But, I do think this research is important, if only because it shows that scientists aren’t stuffy and boring and that they do have a sense of humour. A point highlighted by the conclusion to their paper:

‘New pastimes, such as “eyeball drinking,” have emerged. The significance of this activity is unknown. Rumour has it that it makes you drunk fast . . . and may damage your eyes’

Hansen CS, Faerch LH, & Kristensen PL (2010). Testing the validity of the Danish urban myth that alcohol can be absorbed through feet: open labelled self experimental study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 341 PMID: 21156749

Research Quote of the Week: Alcohol, Nudity & Himalayan Bears

Research Quote of the Week: Alcohol, Nudity & Himalayan Bears

As a bit of a new theme I am going to each week post up an odd or fascinating quote from a peer reviewed research article. I hope that this will show how awesome science can be and publicise research is not in mainstream consciousness.

This week the quote is:

“We had no logical explanation for the fact that he was found naked in the cage”

This sentence came from an unusual piece of research  detailing what happened when a Serbian man got drunk and decided to climb inside an enclosure with some Black Himalayan Bears. He was found, naked and half eaten the next day.

The research mainly concerned itself with the unusual way in which the bears attacked the individual. In the wild their normal focus of attack is the face but, in this instance it was the individuals torso and legs that appeared to have taken the brunt of the attack.  As well as this, it was found that the bears had consumed a proportion of the individual which is not typical bear attack behaviour. They theorised that the differences in behaviour may be due to living in captivity in a major city (Belgrade).

Would you like to see what happened to the man? Well due to the rather gruesome nature of the photos, I felt I should have them a little hidden. If you want to see, click on the image of the bear below:

Click on the image to see the effects of the attack

Mihailovic Z, Savic S, Damjanjuk I, Stanojevic A, & Milosevic M (2011). A Case of a Fatal Himalayan Black Bear Attack in the Zoo. Journal of forensic sciences PMID: 21361947

Neuroscience Cases: The Man Who Put His Head in a Particle Accelerator

Neuroscience Cases: The Man Who Put His Head in a Particle Accelerator

Images of his injury

“Have you been injured at work in an accident that wasn’t your fault?” The terrible adverts, for companies like ‘lawyers4u’,  characterise work injuries as falling off laders or slipping on a wet floor. Well for one man, his work related accident was a great deal more spectacular. Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski accidentally put his head in a particle accelerator.

He remains to this day the only person to have done so and, perhaps most shockingly, survived and is still around today. But, how does one go about accidentally putting your head in a particle accelerator? Well, on July 13, 1978, Bugorski was working on the U-70 synchrotron at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino. A small piece of equipment was malfunctioning and in the process of fixing it he leaned in too far and came into contact with the proton beam. When later asked to describe what it was like, he said he saw a flash of light that was “brighter than a thousand suns”. But, amazingly felt no pain.

Very quickly after the incident occurred the left side of his face swelled beyond all recognition. The beam entered his skull at the back of his head, with the exit wound close to his nose. After a few days the skin at the entry and exit points peeled away showing the path the beam took through the skin, skull and brain. His prognosis was extremely poor and was taken to a clinic in Moscow where they expected to observe him die over a period of two to three weeks.

The proton beam was about 200,000 rads. Previous data indicated that 1000 rads would be enough to kill a human (even the famously radioactively robust cockroach will die after 20,000). However, the specific effects of a proton beam travelling at the speed of light were not known.

After the initial incident the path of the beam began to burn through his brain. This continued for 2 years until the left-hand side of his face was completely paralysed. Apparently, this has had an almost botox like effect on his face. The left side of his face has been described as not having aged and being “frozen in time”, whilst the right side of his face has aged normally. Other than this, Anatoli has had surprisingly few neurological symptoms. Over the initial 12 years after the incident he had occasional petit mal seizures. More recently he has had an increased number grand mal seizures.

Anatoli continued his life after it became apparent he was not at risk of immediate death. He completed his PhD and worked as a researcher for many years  (Google Scholar lists some of his research). Not long ago he decided to make himself available to Western researchers, but he did not have the money to relocate from Protvino. He thinks he would make a brilliant research subject: “This is, in effect, an unintended test of proton warfare,” he claims. More to the point, he believes, “I am being tested. The human capacity for survival is being tested.”

Previous posts in this series:

The Man Who Could Not Forget

Musical Brain Surgery

Leborgne & Lelong

The Science Network

The Science Network

What would happen is the Social Network was about pubmed?

As promised here is The Science Network, a parody of the social network trailer all about science research and pubmed. It was made by Polly Bennett, Katya-yani Vyas and myself, with help from lots of friends and course-mates.

This was made for our MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. We hope that you enjoy it!


Scientific Collaboration Mapped Out

Scientific Collaboration Mapped Out

If you didn’t believe that science was a international collaborative sport then this should persuade you otherwise. These amazing images show the links between science publications, in the same way that Facebook mapped their friend data a couple of months ago. These were produced by Olivier Beauchesne and Science-Metrix. Click on the images below to see in high res:

Global science collaboration

For a fully zoomable high-res map click here