This is Your Brain, 54 Million Years Ago
We know what modern human brains look like, and we know we came
from primates, but what did ancient primate brains look like? That's
not an idle question; filling in the answers can give us some clues
as to how we evolved. Now, thanks to paleontologists with the Florida
Museum of Natural History, the picture is becoming clearer.
The research team used a 54-million-year-old primate skull to create
a virtual model of its brain. The model comprises some 1,200 high
resolution X-rays of the 1.5 inch skull, stacked up and put together
to form the 3D model. This technique has been used on more recent
primate fossils, but not on “stem primates,” mammals that existed
65 to 55 million years ago and evolved into modern primates.
So what did the scientists learn? Ancient primate brains were not
unusually small, as some have believed; in fact, they were average-sized
for an animal of that time (though small for a modern primate).
The brain was well-adapted for using smell as the dominant sense,
which isn't out of place for a tree-dwelling species that eats fruits
and leaves. This seems to point to the possibility that a larger
brain developed after a change in lifestyle forced primates to rely
more on their eyes than their noses. So a descent from the trees
may have led to the ascent of man - and the ability to create technology
to see into the past in this way.
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Email Patterns Reveal a Company's Future
In these difficult economic times, many employees want to know
whether their companies will survive. Researchers at the Florida
Institute of Technology may have an answer of sorts. They studied
the email logs of US energy giant Enron, which collapsed in December
2001. The emails sent by its 150 senior staff members in the company's
final year and a half total 517,000 messages sent to 15,000 employees.
But researchers Ben Collingsworth and Ronaldo Menezes have the advantage
of knowing what happened, so they can observe communication patterns
surrounding the company's most stressful periods.
They identified key events in Enron's history, such as the resignation
in August 2001 of CEO Jeffrey Skilling. Without looking at the content
of messages sent, the two researchers then looked at the number
of emails sent around the time of these stressful events, and the
groups that exchanged emails. They made an interesting discovery:
communication patterns change abruptly about one month before moments
For example, about a month before the company's collapse in December
of 2001, the number of active email cliques – defined as groups
whose members all have had direct email contact with each other
– increased dramatically, from 100 to nearly 800. What's more, the
cliques became more exclusive, exchanging emails within their own
groups and not with other employees. The researchers think this
is symptomatic of basic human psychology when stress builds within
a company: employees talk directly to those they feel comfortable
with, and stop sharing information with a wider group. One other
researcher who has worked with the Enron emails thinks that, if
this observation is backed up by further research, such changes
in communication patterns could be seen as an early warning sign
that employees are growing discontent.
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Now Man Can Make a Tree, Too
Trees fix carbon, making them a potent weapon in the fight against
global warming. But up until now we've only been able to plant natural
trees in this battle. Leave it to the scientists to figure out that,
if technology got us into this mess, it can get us out of it, too,
Specifically, in this case, scientists at Columbia University are
working on a prototype for a “synthetic tree” that can collect carbon
out of the atmosphere 1,000 times faster than the real thing.
The tree works by collecting carbon on the wind in its plastic
“leaves,” trapping it in a chamber, and then compressing it and
storing it as liquid carbon dioxide. The technology isn't entirely
new, as it has also been used to capture carbon from flue stacks
at coal-fired power plants. But this “tree” captures carbon from
the ambient air, and is capable of removing one ton of it every
day. That's about the same amount of carbon emitted by 20 cars in
An early model has already been built, and Professor Klaus Lackner
is writing a proposal for consideration by the US Department of
Energy. Lackner has also done the math and taken account of the
energy the synthetic tree burns to do its thing. For every mole
of carbon dioxide removed from the air, the machine spends about
50 kilojoules of electricity. The average US power plant produces
one mole of carbon dioxide along with every 230 kilojoules of electricity.
“In other words, if we simply plugged our device in to the power
grid to satisfy its energy needs, for every roughly 1000 kilograms
[of carbon dioxide] we collected we would re-emit 200, so 800 we
can chalk up as having been successful," Lackner explained.
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