5 STEMy things that will blow your mind

Since it’s Tuesday, and the holiday break is so close, yet so far away, we thought we would give you a break from your daily grind to throw some amazing facts at you. Some of these will seriously blow your mind…

The Animal Kingdom IconLike, for instance, did you know that monkeys have an inherent propensity toward fair compensation? No it’s true. However complex of a concept you may think fairness to be—the video mentions that one philosopher claimed that fairness was invented during the French Revolution—it turns out us humans aren’t the only ones to internalize it. Frans de Waal explains this concept further in his TED talk.

Oh, also, cows have best friends.

Space IconOr, did you know that time travel is actually possible? A fast spaceship could theoretically take you to the future: Light speed travel causes time dilation, in which time passes more slowly for the traveler than for the universe outside. Therefore, a light speed voyage of several months could see many years pass at home, effectively sending the traveler into the future.

CSI iconMost people know that our fingerprints are unique to us as individuals, but did you know that we also have unique tongue prints? So be careful who you kiss… they may be trying to covertly identify you!

Medical Innovations IconOur brains contain hundreds of trillions of connections, which is more than all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And while we’re on the subject of brains, did you know that the human brain stops growing at age 18?

 

Do you know more awesome STEM-related facts? Tell us about it!

Using Science to Prove our Best Friends Love Us

If you have seen our previous series of posts about our Canine Championship, you know that we love dogs here on the STEM-Works team. Based on the fact that this championship placed our dogs in a series of head-to-head competitions to battle for the title of “Smartest Dog”, you can also guess that we take pride in working with our dogs to bring out their smarts. While we’re proud of our dogs and their ability to conquer tricks and impress at parties, we are all pretty confident when we say that there is about a zippy chance that any of our pooches would have the mental wherewithal and calmness to lie completely still in an MRI for an extended period of time (we’ll be honest – we’ve all had to have MRIs and didn’t particularly enjoy it ourselves).

This is more like our dogs’ smarts.

Although the Canine Championship was a fun and scientific method-based competition to determine which of our dogs was smartest, it was wrought with challenges and imperfections related to the ways each of the dogs had been trained and how each of us as owners facilitated the competition with our pooches. So how can we really learn about what’s going on inside our best friends’ head?

Is she thinking: "I love you so much" or "Food, food, food, food, food..."

Is she thinking: “I love you so much” or “Food, food, food, food, food…”

Well, the New York Times recently published an interesting article titled “Dogs Are People, Too”  which piqued our interest and gives a glimmer of hope for answering these types of questions.  A neuroscientist from Emory University has been investigating how dogs’ brains work in order to gain insight into animal emotions, sentience, and even thoughts (full scientific paper can be found here). As you might suspect, when animals are anesthetized, it isn’t possible to get a clear picture of brain functions or how the animal responds to particular stimuli. This methodological hurdle was overcome by Dr. Gregory Berns and an animal trainer colleague, by working with dogs to train them to enter an MRI and lie still for up to 30 seconds while a scan is completed. The dogs are even provided with a custom headrest and earmuffs.

Now for the obligatory “awwwww”

Although we were intrigued by the methodology of this study, the findings are even more exciting! What Dr. Berns discovered after doing a series of functional MRI scans (or fMRIs) on two dogs (and he is continuing his research with even more dogs now), is that dogs have a neurological response for enjoyment or positive association similar to humans. In particular, the part of a human and dog’s brain that shows activity related to enjoyment was activated when the dogs were presented with hand signals that indicated food, scents of familiar humans, and even other animals that live in the same house as the dog. Here’s a great video where Dr. Berns explains it himself:

Although this research is still in its early stages, we’re excited to see signs that our dogs love us for more than just the food we provide them. We won’t go so far as to say that dogs are people, but it’s pretty cool to get scientific evidence that demonstrates affection from our best friends.

So, as this research progresses, tell us, what would you be interested in learning about dog’s thoughts?

Also, just for fun, what do you think: