Snippets from Science

 • Our short-term memory is like a computer’s RAM memory because it records information that is not for long term retention. If we need to file this information for long-term (future) use, the brain consolidates pieces of the experience and stores them in various brain circuits. Later, when we bring up the memory, the pieces are reassembled, and we can re-live the event. Consolidation of memories is enhanced by a good night’s sleep or frequent retrieval. Neuroscientists now believe that every time we retrieve a long-term memory, we edit its various parts before sending it back to our brain archives. Psychiatrists are helping victims of post-traumatic stress disorder to retrieve, edit in a more positive fashion, and reconsolidate combat memories. In this way, the emotional impact of stressful events can be diminished to a tolerable level. (Based on the work of neuroscientist Dr. Karim Nader, of McGill Univ., whom Forbes Magazine named one of “Ten People Who Could Change The World.”)


• Sloths are said to be the world’s laziest and slowest mammal. Living in the jungles of Central and South America, they are about the size of a large cat and have comical faces, since their markings give them a perpetual smile. Spending almost their entire lives hanging upside down far up trees, sloths are so sedentary that algae grows on their fur coats. Depending on the kind of sloth, they have two or three long, recurved claws they can hook over a tree limb and hang there for hours during the day. At night they arouse themselves to eat leaves, buds, and soft twigs, and about once a week they slowly descend to the ground to defecate. Sometimes after a sloth dies, it remains hanging in its tree.


• There is scientific evidence that perfumes used by women do more psychologically for the women wearing them than for the men smelling them. There is, however, one significant “feel good” odor. It’s vanilla.


• There is no such thing as “clean coal.” Because it is abundant and relatively cheap to mine and deliver to consumers, King Coal will be around for awhile. But let there be no mistake, coal is the dirtiest of all fuels. It is the major culprit in contributing CO2 to the atmosphere. More than all other fossil fuels combined. The most carbon-intensive fuels are, in order of the pounds of CO2 per million British Thermal Units (of heat):  COAL, 205…WOOD, 195…KEROSENE and #2 DIESEL, 159…GASOLINE and JET FUEL, 156…NATURAL GAS and METHANE, 117. Burning coal is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming, but burning wood is not “carbon neutral,” as some believe. Only if we plant trees as fast as we consume them for fuel does wood approach carbon neutrality, since trees soak up CO2 in order to grow. (Scott Martelle in Sierra Magazine, May/June 2009)


• If the DNA sequence in one human cell were compiled into books, it would take 200 volumes of the Manhattan phone book (at 1,000 pages each) to contain it all. This DNA codes for about 25,000 genes and is stored in a cell nucleus 2,500 times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. (