About Chris Riley

I'm a middle school science teacher in New Jersey.

Scientists view atomic bonds breaking and forming

Scientists in the UK and Germany have viewed individual metal atoms making and breaking bonds. They used carbon nanotubes as a scaffold to hold the atoms in place. This is with individual rhenium atoms. You can see the distance between the atoms grow and shrink depending on the environment. It looks like this type of microscopy will become important in chemistry.

More white rhinos please

Angalifu, male Northern White Rhinoceros at San Diego Wild Animal Park. Angalifu died from old age on December 14, 2014.

The Northern White Rhinos are almost extinct. There are two still alive, and both are females. This does not bode well for future cute baby rhinos. But scientists have saved the sperm of some currently dead male white rhinos, and they’ve managed to create viable embryos using eggs from one of the living rhinos and some of this sperm. They plan to implant it in a surrogate mother (a southern white rhino) soon.

Dead Zones in oceans are increasing

Dead Zones are areas in the oceans that have very little oxygen. They don’t have enough oxygen to support most marine life. We’ve known about them for a long time, but now the number of them are increasing rapidly. This threatens populations of large fish, including tuna.

This is tied in with climate change, because warmer water can’t hold as much oxygen as colder water. Over time, this will have profound effects on many marine populations.

Are your conversations going nowhere?

Sometimes it can seem that no matter what you say, you can’t get through. Many times this happens because of a framing problem. No, not carpentry framing, but conversational framing. Have you had a conversation with someone where you’ve had a bad day and you just want to complain about it, but the person you’re talking with keeps giving advice? You just need to get these things off your chest so you can move on, but it’s like the other person keeps putting up these speedbumps in the conversation that slow things down and makes the conversation kind of awkward. You’re having a framing problem. You want to complain and then be done, and your friend thinks you’re having some problems and just need some advice.

These two articles are about this. This one at lifehacker points out how it happens. It references this other blog post at lesswrong. You should really read the lifehacker one, as it is a good introduction. The lesswrong one is more in-depth.

I’ve noticed this happening at home, where my wife wants to unload and complain about something, and I want to be useful and give advice. It turns out that giving advice is something that males really like to do. But it gets in the way when the other person isn’t looking for advice. I’ve found that if I can recognize when I have that urge to give advice and then think “does the other person want the advice, or do they want to unload” helps to keep me from being the speedbump person and inadvertently making the conversation difficult for both of us.

This kind of self-reflection on something I’m about to do (give advice) and then backing off when it isn’t appropriate can really be useful in lowering the friction in a relationship.

Driving rats?!

Yes, rats have been trained to drive.

Not actual cars, but small vehicles in a lab. They can control left, right, and forward. The rats learned to drive to get food. And scientists found that learning to drive seemed to reduce stress.

The ability of rats to drive these cars demonstrates the “neuroplasticity” of their brains, says Lambert. This refers to their ability to respond flexibly to novel challenges. “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think,” she says.

And there are neat videos of rats driving their “cars”.

Here’s another article that includes information on the two groups of rats involved, including that they seemed to enjoy just driving their cars even if there were no treats involved, but only if they lived with many other rats in an enriching environment.

Why is the news always so bad? Because that’s what we pay attention to.

If you’ve noticed that the news system likes to report on things going wrong instead of the nice things that happen, you now have evidence for the reason behind it. Humans pay more attention to bad things than good things. This study is about a world-wide 17 country study on how people react to negative news.

For example, while statistically, we are safer now than in the past, people are more and more afraid of it because the news concentrates on the bad things, not the good things that happen. That just isn’t “news”.