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Floating Mice

In what has to make one’s inner sci-fi nerd stir excitedly, NASA has announced research that involved making mice levitate. In the past researchers in several countries managed to levitate insects, small lumps of solid matter and globs of liquid in ultrasonic fields, but Yuanming Liu and his team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory used a strong magnetic field.

Under normal conditions we don’t notice any effects of magnets on living tissues.  Of course that doesn’t mean that there are no effects.

More . . .



Just Browsing?

When shopping, there are things that affect the likelihood of you actually buying something - price, need, peer pressure, etc. The efforts of the sales people are also an influencing factor and recent research suggests that what they look like can also make a difference. Dr Duncan Murray and Bianca Price from the School of Image by MannequinDisplayManagement at the University of South Australia have published a study in the Journal of International Business and Economics showing that the perceived attractiveness of sales assistants is a factor.

I can’t decide whether an attractive sales assistant would inspire me to purchase products or whether I would feel inadequate when confronted with gorgeous retail service. I suspect it might depend on my mood.

The study specifically looks at women in retail contexts and claims that if the customer thought the sales assistant was better looking than her, she was less likely to buy anything. Price explains that this is an example of  “upward social comparison”, where individuals compare themselves with people who they see as socially superior. This can result in feelings of inadequacy, lower confidence and anxiety. That in turn can lead to “avoidant behaviours”. In the setting of a retail environment, that means avoiding dealing with the sales person, which means fewer purchases.

I’d be interested to see what results they would find for men, and I wonder if reasons for shopping in the first place effect the results – I was bored, I came into an inheritance, I just got dumped, I’m having a mid-life crisis, I desperately need new undies, I’m only here to chat up the sexy sales assistant . . .



If you do what your dentist tells you, you’ll brush your teeth at least twice a day. I do, and – like most people - I use toothpaste. The other day I found myself reading the ingredients and it was quite a list. That got me thinking about the very nature of toothpaste, a substance that – to do its job – must exhibit a wide range of characteristics. So I’ve compiled a list of common toothpaste ingredients and what they do. I also stumbled upon an explanation for why the orange juice you drink after brushing your teeth tastes so foul.  More . . .

Is there an "i" in "robot"?

In 1942 Isaac Asimov introduced the world to his 3 laws of robotics. These laws are primarily designed to ensure that a robot remains subservient to humans and that it never hurts a human. The laws also demand that a robot protect itself and in this respect it seems that if robots are in conflict with each other, they do what people often do – they cheat, they deceive and they get very selfish. More . . .

The Good Ship Thingy

There's currently a very cool opportunity to put your mark on Australian research, nearly literally. CSIRO is replacing it's current research vessel, the Southern Surveyor with a new ship to be launched in 2012 and the call has gone out seeking ideas for a name for the new vessel. Entry is online and there is a host of prizes, including working with a CSIRO scientist to design an experiment to be conducted on the new vessel. I say get in there, get creative and make a splash. Sorry about that.