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A Hidden Talent January 14, 2013

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Think About It.
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2 comments

I’ll bet you have something you’re really good at. Maybe you’re a whiz in school, a fabulous actor or you’re great at shooting hoops on the basketball court. We all have talents. But some of us are hiding these talents from others.

Research shows that kids are avoiding fun stuff like sports because they fear being teased.

Yet, it seems strange to hide something that we’re good at and probably like a lot. Doesn’t it make sense to enjoy the compliments and appreciation from those who get to experience our talents?

Sadly, that’s not always the case. Instead of kind words, some children bully others for their talents.

Held Back By Fear

A new survey by the Anti-Bullying Alliance in the United Kingdom (UK) shows that kids sometimes hide their talents to avoid being bullied. More than 90 percent of kids in the UK have been bullied or seen someone being bullied for their talents or intelligence. Clearly, bullies can pick on all sorts of things about a person – their talents being one of them.

In fact, a whopping nearly half of the kids who answered the survey said they had played down their talent because they were scared of being bullied. Worse still, more than a quarter actually stopped doing something they liked because they were scared of being teased about it.

Missing Out

One in five girls purposefully downplayed their ability at maths to avoid being made fun of, while one in 10 boys did the same. Other kids stopped singing, playing sports and participating in dancing or drama.

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Kids who hide their talents can ultimately end up missing out on school classes, failing courses, dropping out of sports and more. Basically, they will narrow down all their choices of potentially fun and rewarding activities.

If you’re good at a subject in school, don’t let your fears of what others think stop you. Embrace your talent!

Bring Talents Out Of Hiding

It’s bad enough that bullying leaves kids feeling rotten and can lead to depression and other problems. When you’re left feeling like you can’t enjoy and make the most of your talent, life loses some of its spark.

If you feel scared to follow your talents because you’re worried of what people will say, try talking to a trusted adult for support.

Also, find out how you can cope with bullying by visiting the Anti-Bullying Alliance website. Here, you will find loads of tips to help you deal with bullying at school and elsewhere.

Tips for ages 5-11

Tips for ages 11-16

Tips for ages 16+

Take A Stand Against Sitting January 10, 2013

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Obesity.
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3 comments

Exercise is good – you probably already know that, don’t you? So it makes sense that people who have jobs involving lots of sitting might not be getting enough. What’s the solution? According to exercise expert John Buckley from the University of Chester, we should all stand up more. Dr Buckley explains:

It’s little changes in behaviour…that can add up to make quite a big difference to your health.

Dr Buckley likes to practice what he preaches. Check him out standing straight as he works on his laptop!

Jump Up!

A mere three hours a day of standing can burn off 8lbs (3.6kg) of fat each year. Dr Buckley points out that between working at a desk, sitting in a car and perching in front of the television, people are far too sedentary – meaning they’re way too inactive.

Fortunately, there are some neat desks designed to allow you to stand while you’re working. So for adults, there are no more excuses if you’re stuck at a desk all day.

What About Kids In School?

If you’re in school, it’s a bit trickier because of the standard desks. Plus, your teacher will probably think you’re standing to answer questions. Instead, you can fight inactivity by making sure you get plenty of movement during lunch and breaks. Try kicking around a ball on the field. If walking to school is an option, it’s good exercise and also a great way to shake off the sleep cobwebs for the day.

I bet there are many more ways to stay fit if you’re often at a desk. Tell me – how do you stay active?

A Trip Down Your Toilet December 10, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Environment, Human Body, Tough Stuff.
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3 comments

Nope, I’m not giving a lesson on plumbing. But I am going to give you the scoop on a secret that starts inside your toilet, all thanks to the crew at Thames Water who are helping people stay warm this winter. What’s this secret? Well, when a toilet takes your daily (or whatever frequency..let’s not go there) offering, all that human gunk can get converted into renewable gas to heat your home.

In fact, my dog Tiko got so excited about this concept, he decided to contribute. Before we see what he got up to though, let’s first find out what’s happening in the bowels of your toilet and then follow it through the twists and turns of the pipes below.

A Good Kind Of Gas

Each time you perch on the toilet, you may soon take heart that you’re not the only one who’s a bit lighter – you’re taking a burden off the environment as well. Approximately 200 homeowners in an English town called Didcot are among the first in the UK to benefit from gas made from their own waste and supplied through the national grid to heat their houses. The future plan is to make this process available throughout the UK.

So why all the fuss to find new sources of energy? Well, the UK has a goal for 2020 to have 15 percent of the energy it produces come from renewable sources. Producing gas in this way is a strong step toward that goal. Oh, and if you’re worried your house will be smelly, fear not! The gas is odorless and your house will remain toasty.

From Flush To Finish

From the time you flush your toilet to the time your house gets heat, it’s around 23 days. Let’s take it step-by-step, based on the procedure and image below that Thames Water has generously shared.

Waste has a bit of a path to travel before making your home warm. But it’s worth the trip because it brings the UK closer to its energy goals.

  1. All the muck from toilets and stuff like sinks and dishwashers gets channeled to the Didcot works. Let me tell you, with 13.8 million customers, it’s a lot of waste!
  2. Waste gets separated into sludge and water inside settlement tanks
  3. Water is put through cleaning processes and then back to the environment it goes via a local watercourse
  4. Sludge goes a different route. It gets heated in massive containers called digesters. All the heat gets anaerobic digestion going, which is where bacteria breaks down biodegradable material. Now, we’re left with biomethane – also called biogas
  5. The gas gets collected and goes into a gas cleaning machine
  6. After the biomethane gets cleaned and smells more like normal gas, it goes to the national gas grid
  7. From here, it’s just like any other gas in the grid. Off it goes to heat up your home and fuel other things like your stove

Tiko Turds

Once Tiko heard about the capabilities of poo, he did what all good and respectable dogs do – he went to relieve himself. But instead of trotting to the door for me to let him outside, he wanted to do his part to help heat up the house. The cheeky mutt raced into the bathroom and plonked himself down on the toilet.

When Tiko found out that human waste from toilets was being used as a renewable source of energy to heat homes, he decided to help out. Now, where’s the air freshener?

I appreciate that he’s determined to help the environment but I tried to explain that nobody wants to sit on a toilet seat covered in his fur. He responded by barking at me to close the door because he wanted some privacy.

On second thought, I should be grateful I have such an environmentally conscious dog, even if he is a modest one.

Get Smarter The Dirty Way October 5, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Tough Stuff.
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2 comments

Sometimes, intelligence can happen in the dirtiest of places. A new study suggests that exposure to certain kinds of bacteria outside could help improve learning.

Researchers at The Sage Colleges in New York studied Mycobacterium vaccae, which earlier studies showed might have antidepressant properties. In this new study, it seems that M. vaccae could help increase learning behavior. Their work was presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

To learn how the research began, let’s ask some mice.

What Do Mice Say About It?

Why mice? It’s one way to initially test out an idea. If all goes well, then we might see how it affects humans. But to find out what happens when mice get up close and personal to bacteria, we have to take a step back and check out an experiment some other researchers did years ago.

Let’s Start With Dead Bacteria

In an earlier experiment, mice were injected with heat-killed bacteria. It got neurons in their brains growing, which then led to more serotonin – a brain messenger – being released. Serotonin is a member of a chemical crew called neurotransmitters that have all sorts of neat roles.

Can bacteria help learning? Some curious researchers decided to find out.

Time To Try Living Stuff

Since one of serotonin’s roles is to contribute to learning, a different group of researchers wondered if live bacteria could improve learning in mice. They fed the mice some live bacteria and then got the mice to navigate a maze. Another bunch of mice didn’t get the bacteria and still had to do the maze. This way, researchers could compare the two results. So who won?

Fast, Wee Critters

The mice who got live bacteria navigated the maze twice as fast as those who got none. Another cool thing was that those bacteria-guzzling mice showed less anxiety. Imagine if you had to do a maze? You might be nervous too! Researchers think the bacteria helped the mice get less worked up about finding their way out, plus helped them figure it out quicker too.

But do these benefits last? Unfortunately, nope. Three weeks later, researchers tested the mice again, but didn’t give them bacteria. This time, the mice couldn’t do it any faster. We can’t say for sure that this will help humans. But the results tell us that M. vaccae might play a role in learning and anxiety in mammals.

Getting More Out Of Playtime

It could be that when kids spend time outdoors – like during lunchtime – exposure to the bacteria may have some pretty smart benefits. If not, at least you can have fun kicking up some dirt. At my age, I’d probably be considered daft if I do that but maybe the bacteria will balance it all out? Somehow though, I think if my dog Tiko was perched nearby, he’d loudly bark “no.”

Too Young And Too Much June 19, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Brain Power, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.
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5 comments

One drink.  Two drinks.  Three drinks….seven drinks.  Does this sound like you each weekend?  It isn’t news that teens can be binge drinkers.  Even the wicked hangover the next day isn’t necessarily enough to stop teens – or adults – from going wild on booze.  But a new study suggests that binge drinking has some effects on teens that we won’t necessarily see in adults.  To understand what researchers discovered, we have to delve into the brain.  The monkey brain, that is.

Binge drinkers consume lots of alcohol in a short period of time with the aim of getting drunk. Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Lasting Brain Damage

To find out what binge drinking does to the brain, a group of researchers led by Chitra Mandyam of the Scripps Research Institute in California looked at how the drinking affected normal nerve cell development in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for long-term memory.  They used monkeys, an animal with brain development that is very similar to humans.  Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers gave four adolescent monkeys alcoholic drinks for an hour each day over nearly a year.  A couple of months later, the animals were put down so that researchers could compare their brains to monkeys that had not been given alcohol.  So, what did they learn?

The binge drinking monkeys had 50 to 90 percent fewer stem cells in their hippocampus compared to the other monkeys.  This could leave monkeys struggling with memory and spatial skills, plus loads of other important functions in the brain.

You’re Not Alone

Just how common is binge drinking?  In a European study last year, Britain came in as one of the worst offenders.  More than half of teens had been binge drinking in the last month.  For the United States, around 11 million teens drink and approximately 7 million are binge drinkers.  According to MADD, Canadian statistics are very similar.

Getting Support

Binge drinking is harmful at any age and can hurt adults too.  But this study suggests that its effects in teens can be especially dangerous because of teens’ brains being quite vulnerable during these years.  Fortunately, there are ways to get confidential help, whether it’s through a doctor, substance abuse centre or even a counsellor at school.  If you feel like your drinking is a problem or you’re worried about someone you know, talk to a trusted adult.

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