May. 14, 2013

Alien Invaders, Baby Seal Brains, and More

by Leslie Taylor

Click to enlarge images
Each week we’ll round up links to science stories or studies that blow our mind, tickle our funny bone, or generally strike our fancy.
 
Baby Weddell Seals Aren’t Just Cute–They Also Have Big Brains!
At birth, Weddell seals have the most adult-like brain of any mammal, according to new research published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. While human newborns have brains that are only 25 percent of the mass of an adult brain, Weddell seals are born with brains already developed to 70 percent of their future size.
 
How to Hit a Fastball
What enables a professional baseball player to predict where a 95 mph fastball will cross the plate? According to researchers at UC Berkley, there's a region in the brain’s middle temporal cortex that enables a person to anticipate where, spatially, a moving object will be in advance of its arrival. While not all of us have the fine motor skills to use this predictive power to hit line drives, we use it in tasks as simple as judging a car's trajectory to safely cross the street or stopping a coffee pour when the cup is nearly full.
 
Can You Hear Me Now?
Some of our australopith ancestors might have been hard of hearing. Recent discovery of middle ear bones from two species of early hominids suggest that some of our distant ancestors lacked sensitivity to the midrange frequencies that characterize modern human speech.
 
RoboTongue Passes the Pepsi Challenge
Can you distinguish the taste of Coke from the taste of Pepsi? A certain robotic tongue can. Created by researchers in Finland, this “lab-on-a-chip” contains an array of detergents, polymers, metal salts, and proteins that interact to varying degrees with components in a fluid. Through a process called “liquid fingerprinting,” the tongue can quickly distinguish between two rival colas, as well as between selections of vodkas, red wines, and mineral waters.
 
Ballast Water Brings Alien Invaders
Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Panama and Suez canals are hotspots for invasive marine species infestations, according to a mathematical model published in Journal Ecology Letters. Researchers analyzed global shipping routes, ship sizes, temperatures, and biogeography to determine the relative likelihood that exotic species would be introduced to various ports via ballast water dumped by cargo ships.
 
About Leslie Taylor

Leslie is the online editor at Workboat.com and NationalFisherman.com. She has a background in oceanography and is passionate about getting non-scientists and young people to realize how cool science can be. She is also Science Friday's former web editor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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