Discovered: The quantum study that upset the Higgs; computing by waving a gloveless hand; crash dummies that better represent women; how music tastes are formed.
Dark horse quantum experiment earns Nobel. The team that discovered the Higgs Boson was everyone's odds-on favorite to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. But then, from out of nowhere, they lost to David Wineland and Serge Haroche, who made one of the year's other major discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics. Wineland (working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S.) and Haroche (based at the College de France) were awarded for similar work they conducted independently, demonstrating the ability of an atom to occupy two places at the exact same time. The scientists blasted atoms with lasers and then measuring the atoms' positions, demonstrating that a "superimposition" of the atoms. "Superimposition" basically means that there's a 50 percent chance an atom is in the place you observe, and a 50 percent chance it's elsewhere. The findings confirm long-held theories posited by quantum pioneers like Niels Bohr and Erwin Schroedinger. Though the Higgs discovery was arguably a larger feat, taking decades to finalize, Wineland and Haroche's experiments may have more real-world applications. For instance, this harnessing of superimposition could help scientists develop insanely fast quantum computers. [Reuters]
Touchless commands. The Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect have already shown that touchless interfaces are no longer just a futuristic dream. Some are saying that touchless is the new touchscreen. Now, Microsoft Research has unveiled Digits, a touchless interface that straps to users' wrists, allowing them to control computer games and other software with through a sensor that detects muscle movement throughout the hand and arm. Newcastle University collaborated with Microsoft on the device, which is the first in its class that doesn't require a glove. Laying out the long-term plan for Digits, David Kim says, "Ultimately, we would like to reduce Digits to the size of a watch that can be worn all the time. We want users to be able to interact spontaneously with their electronic devices using simple gestures and not even have to reach for their devices." Check out what Digits is capable of below: [PC Mag]
Gender-flipping crash dummies. Did you ever notice that the crash dummies from those seatbelt safety PSAs were always guys? Turns out that crash simulations have always used men as the standard models in their high-impact studies. A recent study showed that women are two times more likely to suffer from whiplash in car crashes than men, which got Gothenburg's Chalmers University of Technology researcher Anna Carlsson interested in creating dummies based on the average female. "We've seen, for example, that the back of a seat doesn't flex as much for the woman, which means that she'll start moving forward quicker and have a more rapid acceleration in that direction," Carlsson says. Based on computer modeling and information about average female body, researchers modified crash test dummies to better reflect women. She found that women have greater spinal motion than men, and hopes that car-makers will incorporate this information in future safety designs. See the new dummies crashing in slow-motion below: [Scientific American]
Bossa nova-loving mice provide insight into music taste formation. Mice typically prefer quiet, instinctively scampering away from loud noises in search of noiseless places to rest. But by exposing adolescent mice to music ranging from Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Agua de Beber" and Beethoven symphonies, scientists led by Eun-Jin Yang were able to condition mice into gravitating toward music. The findings suggest that music tastes are most strongly formed and cemented during adolescence, which would explain why, even if you won't cop to it in hip company, you still secretly love Bright Eyes and The Postal Service. However, older mice became more open to new music when their brain "plasticity" was stimulated with doses of valproic acid. [Wired UK]