What's the buzz

How huddling penguins keep cozy

Self-centeredness is good for penguins that huddle together to avoid Antarctica's icy weather. 

When individual birds act selfishly, it results in an equitable sharing of heat as they huddle in ways that keep them toastiest.

Even if penguins are only selfish, only trying to find the best spot for themselves and not thinking about their community, there is still equality in the amount of time that each penguin spends exposed to the wind," study researcher Francois Blanchette, a mathematician at the University of California, Merced, who normally studies fluid dynamics, said in a statement.

Blanchette became interested in penguin huddles after watching the hit documentary "The March of the Penguins." He and his colleagues made mathematical models of penguin huddles, varying wind strength and turbulence to see what sort of shapes arose.

 The model calculated which penguin along the edge of the huddle would be coldest and had that penguin move toward the center of the huddle in a sort of constant rotation.
These models produced long, thin huddles that gradually crept away from the wind direction. In real life, penguin huddles are more rotund, so researchers went about making their models more realistic.

 They added an element of uncertainty, such as wind eddies and differences in size of the huddled penguins. The result was huddles that look much like those seen on real Antarctic ice. 

"A penguin huddle is a self-sufficient system in which the animals rely on each other for shelter, and I think that is what makes it fair," Blanchette said.

Scared of dentists? Blame your parents

Fear of visiting the dentist is passed on to kids by their parents, a new study has revealed. The study conducted by scientists at the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid also highlighted the important role that parents play in the transmission of dentist fear in their family.

America Lara Sacido, one of the authors of the study explained that “along with the presence of emotional transmission of dentist fear amongst family members, we have identified the relevant role that fathers play in transmission of this phobia in comparison to the mother.”

The study analysed 183 children between 7 and 12 years and their parents in the Autonomous Community of Madrid. The results were in line with previous studies, which found that fear levels amongst fathers, mothers and children are interlinked.

The authors confirmed that the higher the level of dentist fear or anxiety in one family member, the higher the level in the rest of the family. The study also revealed that fathers play a key role in the transmission of dentist fear from mothers to their children as they act as a mediating variable.

“Although the results should be interpreted with due caution, children seem to mainly pay attention to the emotional reactions of the fathers when deciding if situations at the dentist are potentially stressful,” stated Lara Sacido.

Consequently, transmission of fear from the mother to the child, whether it be an increase or reduction of anxiety, could be influenced by the reactions that the father displays in the dentist.

Venus flytrap’s mechanism could inspire better adhesives

In takes only a tenth of a second for the meat-eating Venus fly trap to hydrodynamically snaps its leaves and shut to trap an insect meal.

They believe that understanding the mechanism of the Venus fly trap’s leaf snapping mechanism may one day help improve products such as release-on-command coatings and adhesives, electronic circuits, optical lenses, and drug delivery. The work extends findings by Dr. Yoel Forterre and researchers from Harvard University who discovered several years ago that the curvature of the Venus fly-trap’s leaf changes while closing due to a snap-buckling instability in the leaf structure related to the shell-like geometry of the leaves.

Mathieu Colombani, student in Forterre’s laboratory is now conducting experiments to elucidate the physical mechanisms behind this movement. “The extremely high pressure inside the Venus fly trap cells prompted us to suspect that changes with a cell’s pressure regime could be a key component driving this rapid leaf movement,” he noted.

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