Back in 1938, Lewis F. Richardson worked out a mathematical system for predicting war. He presented his findings at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. His conclusion: no chance of war in Europe!
The New York Times reported his findings on Aug 23, 1938:
No Sign of War Seen
Before the section on psychology, Lewis F. Richardson of Paisley arrived at the encouraging conclusion that there is no sign of war — at least no mathematical sign. For the professor reduced to beautiful differential equations general tendencies common to all nations — resentment of defiance, the suspicion that defense is concealed aggression, response to imports by exports, restraint on armaments by the difficulty of paying for them, and, last, grievances and their irrationality. The psychologists were bewildered and amused.
Mathematically, Professor Richardson treated love and hate as if they were forces that could be designated by the usual X and Y. The forces make possible two opposite kinds of drifting, one leading to suspicion, the other leading from cooperation to united organization.
The balance of power, Professor Richardson holds, is best maintained by countries of different sizes rather than by a few countries of the same size. When he concluded from his mathematical analysis that there was no chance of war at present he remarked:
"I never would have accepted this unless I proved it to myself by mathematics."
His hearers left with the feeling that Europe's feverish preparation for war is only a declaration of peace to the knife.
It's worth noting that Richardson wasn't just some random crackpot. As wikipedia notes, he's the guy who came up with the idea of weather forecasting by solution of differential equations, which is the method used today.
Shown is Robert E. Lewis, a physicist at the Armour Research Foundation, circa 1950, who's experimenting with his "sitz" meter, a device designed to measure chair comfort. Weight sensors on the pads of the chair would turn on corresponding lights on the panels on the wall, showing how the person in the chair (Judy Blumenthal, who looks thrilled to be participating in the experiment) was distributing their weight. Lewis was trying to scientifically design a more comfortable chair.
Stanford researchers are using virtual reality gear to allow volunteers to experience what it feels like to be a cow. They're curious about whether the experience of temporarily "becoming" a cow will reduce people's desire to eat cows. If the video below doesn't work, the article is here.
"The action of certain foods in influencing the formation of the features has been watched, with highly interesting results. The growth of the chin has been discovered to bear a very striking relation to the amount of starch consumed, and particularly when the starch takes certain forms or is combined with other properties....
It has been shown, and seemingly conclusively, that a flesh or greatly mixed diet promotes angularity in the face generally, while the nourishment obtained from a single article, commonly of a starchy nature, coarsens the features. Thus we have the potato lip, the oatmeal lip, the maize lip."
As you eat your sandwich, you probably never realized all the science that went into it. Because, of course, some researcher had to study exactly how the mayonnaise flows off your knife onto the bread. [wiley.com]
Scientists at the University of Aberdeen are hoping to use selective breeding to breed burpless cows. Or, at least, cows that burp less often than average. This is possible because apparently there's natural variation in the frequency with which cows burp. Some burp all the time, and others not so much. So if you keep selecting the less burpy ones, eventually you'll produce a herd of burp-free bovines.
This is desirable — so much so that the EU is willing to put up €7.7 million in funding for the research — because it's the cow's belches that contain the atmosphere-warming methane. So the plan is that burpless cows will help save us from the spectre of global warming.
I've posted before about the centuries-old scientific dream of using sawdust to feed the world. So the latest effort in this vein caught my eye. A Virginia Tech researcher has figured out a way to enzymatically transform indigestible cellulose into edible starch. The science seems sound. The only problem is that the process is too expensive for commercial production. But it's a start!
The article points out that most of us are eating wood (or cellulose) already. It's a common additive in the fast-food industry. But it's indigestible, so people couldn't survive on it. Its purpose is to add texture, or "mouth feel."
Let Them Eat Wood! (If It's Turned Into Starch)
In a study published this spring with colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zhang explains a process he developed to transform solid cellulose — which could come from wood, grass or crop residue (like corn husks) — into a carbohydrate called amylose. The process is a form of synthetic biology and relies on enzymes to break down the cellulose into smaller units and then restitch the molecules into starch. That means the final, edible food product — a powder that Zhang says tastes sweet — is completely synthetic but resembles other complex carbohydrates like corn starch.