You Don’t Need to Burp Babies

1 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/did-you-know-you-dont-need-burp-babies

It’s a commonplace occurrence: When a baby is done eating, their mom or dad places them over their shoulder and pats their back to get them to burp.

It turns out that this familiar routine is probably useless.

The theory behind the practice is that while nursing, babies inhale air that needs to be expelled after feeding. Patting their backs causes them to bring up that air, and well, burp.

We’ve all seen babies fuss after eating. That has to be due to gas in their stomachs, right? Wrong. As pediatrician Clay Jones argues, we have no proof that “gas in the stomach is the cause of fussiness or reflux” and even if it was “there is no physiologic reason why babies would need help burping.” If they were bloated, they could burp just like you and I, without help.

“If anything,” Jones wrote, “infants are protected from gas build up by normal immaturity of the lower esophageal sphincter, which relaxes and opens frequently.” Basically, they naturally vent their own stomachs.

Maybe you’re worried that not burping babies will cause them to spit up more. That’s actually been studied! A study of 71 mother-baby duos found that burping babies did not reduce the rates of colic but did increase the rates of regurgitation or spit-up compared to not burping babies. It makes sense to me, and to Jones, that “hitting a baby with a full stomach on the back will cause vomiting.”

So, should you burp babies? Well, there’s probably no harm, so long as you make sure to put a cloth underneath them to catch any vomit. But there’s probably no benefit either.

Science Can Help Us Make Better Pizza and Better Roasted Potatoes

2 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/did-you-know-science-can-help-us-make-better-pizza-and-better-roasted-potatoes

Students from the Edge Hotel School have brought us some starchy math that can improve the quality of roasted potatoes the world over.

The theory is that maximizing the internal surface area of the tuber will maximize the crispiness and therefore the desirability of roasted potatoes. Most of us cut our potatoes at 90˚ angles, in half, and then into quarters. These students realized that just by cutting at 30˚ angles, an increase of up to 65% internal surface area can be achieved!

You can view their method in the images below. Their calculations are based on a 5 cm by 11.5 cm potato, so the specific numbers will differ depending on the spud, but since most potatoes are spheroids the principle will hold true.

Photos sourced from https://theuijunkie.com/edge-school-method-roasted-potatoes/

Science can also help us out with how to improve the pizzas we bake at home.

A traditional Italian pizza oven features curved stone walls, a stone floor and a wood fire burning in one corner. These ensure that heat radiates uniformly throughout the oven. When the heat of a pizza oven is 615 – 625 ˚F a traditional thin crust margarita pizza will be completely cooked in 120 seconds. The heat can be increased to 730 ˚F, in which case the pizza will be cooked in only 50 seconds, but the quality will be poorer. Pizza restaurants will often do this during rush hours in order to keep up with demand, leading pizza aficionados to recommend only getting pies before 8 or after 10 pm.

These temperatures and times only hold true for a wood-fired oven. When cooking pizzas at home, most of us will place them on a metal tray or oven rack. Metal, however, has a different heat conductivity than stone, so that tray or rack will heat up much faster than the stone floor, and your pizza winds up overcooked.

This can be remedied by decreasing the temperature. Knowing by how much was the hard part, but luckily the researchers have solved the complex thermodynamic equation for us. In the end, the authors recommend cooking your thin crust pizza in a convection oven for 170 seconds at 450 ˚F (although any toppings added will increase the time needed to cook the pie).

Trying these methods, you may just wind up with a better dinner, all thanks to science.

Did You Know That the Real Name for Eye Sleepies Is Rheum, and It Doesn’t Only Come from Your Eyes?

1 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/did-you-know-real-name-eye-sleepies-rheum-and-it-doesnt-only-come-your-eyes

Sleepies, eye gunk, eyeboogers… Whatever you call them, the proper name for that gunk that collects in the corners of your eyes is rheum. It’s exuded from your eyes while you sleep (as you know) but also your nose and mouth. When it comes from your eyes it’s primarily made of mucus discharged from your cornea or your conjunctiva. It doesn’t only happen when you’re asleep though! During the day our blinking flushes the mucus away into the nasolacrimal duct along with your tears over the Habs losing again.

If you have more rheum than most, you may be suffering from one of a few different conditions. Conjunctivitis (pink eye), chlamydia, infection of the eyelid (blepharitis) and more can all cause an excess of rheum, especially in your eyes.

If you’ve ever woken up unable to open your eye for the amount of eye goop present, you’re not alone. Not only because it’s happened to me several times, but also because it is a very common side effect of pink eye.

Do Fish Drink?

2 minute read
Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/you-asked/do-fish-drink

Our bodies and fishes’ (yes, fishes is a grammatically correct plural form of fish) bodies as well need water. Without it, the chemical reactions that take place constantly in our bodies would have no solvent and we would die.

Nonetheless, it seems silly that an underwater creature should have to drink. Can’t they just, I don’t know, absorb it or something?

Kind of.

Fish do absorb water through their skin and gills in a process called osmosis. Osmosis is the flow of water across membranes from areas of low concentration of dissolved things (solutes) to areas of high concentration. It serves to equalize the concentrations in the two areas.

In the case of freshwater fish, their blood and bodily fluids are much saltier than the water they swim in, so water will flow in through their gills. The opposite is true for saltwater fish.

As well as getting water through osmosis, saltwater fish need to purposefully drink water in order to get enough into their systems. Where their freshwater counterparts direct all of the water that comes into their mouths out through their gills, saltwater fish direct some into their digestive tract.

But fishes’ bodies, just like ours, need a certain concentration of salt to function best. They can’t just allow the water to diffuse freely through their gills; the saltwater fish would shrivel up and the freshwater fish would explode!

To stop the exploding fish phenomenon, their gills have special cells that selectively pump salt in, or out of their blood. In freshwater fish, the cells constantly pump salt in, and in saltwater fish, they constantly pump salt out. Saltwater fishes’ kidneys also help to filter out some of their salt.

Want to see osmosis for yourself? Submerge some potato slices in salt or fresh water overnight. The saltwater-soaked ones will still be crunchy, but the freshwater ones, having absorbed water, will be softer.

In short: some, but not all, fish drink. Kind of like how some, but not all, fish… fart.

So, keep in mind that next time you’re preparing your fishes’ tank you’re not only creating his environment but his beverages too.

Trees Avoid Touching Each Other Due to “Crown Shyness.” the Results Are Beautiful Webs of Leaves.

1 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/trees-avoid-touching-each-other-due-crown-shyness-results-are-beautiful-webs-leaves

Trees might be tall and strong, but they are still a bit sheepish.

Crown shyness describes the phenomenon of a tree’s leaves withdrawing from the leaves of other trees. It results in beautiful webs of almost touching canopies, but why do trees do it?

There are a few theories for trees’ bashful growth patterns. Some believe that blowing wind causes branches to hit their near neighbours, causing damage to their leaves and buds, and as a result, trees then limit growth at these locations to avoid further damage. This theory makes sense, given that crown shyness is exhibited between trees of different and same species, and sometimes even between branches of the same tree. When researchers were able to prevent wind-induced collisions between trees, they filled in the canopy.

Another theory for timid tree branches hinges on their ability to sense nearby plants. Tree leaves have been shown to detect far-red light bouncing onto them after hitting trees close to them. Branches would naturally try to avoid other plants that could shade them or prevent their growth, creating a gap in the canopy.

This theory could also explain why some trees do not exhibit crown shyness when interacting with trees of their own species. Studies have shown that some plants that sense nearby relatives will position their leaves to avoid casting shade on their kin, even at the cost of shading themselves. Who knew that plants could act cooperatively?

Some species have even adapted to take advantage of crown shyness, choosing to grow into shapes that compliment nearby trees, so that they don’t have to compete for canopy room.

Mood Ring Technology Powers Your LCD TV

1 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-technology/mood-ring-technology-powers-your-lcd-tv

A substance is said to exhibit thermochromism if it changes colour according to temperature. The most popular example of this is mood rings, the hot fashion item of the 70s. These pieces of jewelry contain liquid crystals (the same liquid crystals responsible for your LCD TVs) sealed underneath a (usually fake) gemstone.

As the temperature increases the liquid crystals go through several phases, in which the crystals align themselves in different ways. These different alignments cause light to interact differently with the crystals, making them appear different colours to the ring-wearer.

Mood rings may have gone out of style, but thermochromic liquid crystals are still used in a few ways. Liquid crystal thermometers are essentially strips you place against your forehead. After about 15 seconds one of the boxes on the thermometer will have changed colour, indicating your current body temperature.

Since they don’t need to be inserted into a bum or placed under a tongue, liquid crystal thermometers are often used for babies, as well as for monitoring the temperatures of fish tanks or reptile habitats and home beer brewing systems.

Are Goats the Secret Tool We’ve Been Looking for to Prevent Wildfires?

2 minute read
Image made by Ada McVean
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-environment/goats-might-be-secret-tool-weve-been-looking-prevent-wildfires

Goats are really useful creatures. We use their milk, fur, meat and… firefighting skills?

In several places goats and sheep are being herded into fire-prone areas. The hungry herbivores move through the land, munching on shrubs, trees and grass, and creating firebreaks. Since goats only stand about 1 metre tall, they will graze heavily on low-lying plants, creating a gap between the ground and higher trees. This gap can prevent fires from spreading or slow them down. Some places in Spain have even blamed recent wildfire severity on the declining number of herds grazing on the land.

Goats are perfect for the job for a few reasons. Unlike some grazers, goats do not limit themselves to leaves or grass, eating the wood and bark of smaller plants as well. Goats are able to traverse a wide variety of terrains, and they are naturally resistant to several toxic plants. They can also be herded in tandem with sheep or cows, creating an even more effective grazing party. Using goats comes with the added advantage of reducing the carbon footprint, compared to clearing brush with machines, and improving air quality. The waste left by goats is simply absorbed into the ecosystem of the area.

Studies have shown that a herd of 250 sheep can reduce the available plant mass by 75% in 30 days. When a wildfire in Utah with 15-foot-high flames reached an area that had been cleared by goats, the flames dropped to only 3 feet tall in lightly-grazed areas and stopped entirely in more heavily-grazed ones.

The biggest barrier to using goats in this way is a lack of trained and skilled herders and herding dogs to manage the goats. So, if you’re looking for a career change, a position in goat herding is probably available. Given goats’ relative quietness and lack of air-polluting outputs, they could be especially useful for grooming areas near residences and towns, so you may not even have to commute very far.

Little Dogs Raise Their Legs High to Pee, Thinking It Makes Them Look Tough

1 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/little-dogs-are-trying-look-tough-when-they-raise-their-leg-really-high-pee

Female dogs opt for less yoga-like squatting postures than their male companions, who can sometimes be seen with their leg so far in the air they seem about ready to topple over. It turns out that the height to which male dogs raise their leg has a lot to do with their body size, where they are, and who’s around.

All canines use urine to mark their territory, but some do it more than others. All male dogs, big and small, raise their leg to pee or scent-mark much more frequently in the fall than in the summer, likely because it is mating season. Accordingly, the frequency of their urination increases whenever there is a female dog or a male competitor present. Males will sometimes even raise their leg when their bladders are empty, performing what is called a raised-leg display. Females mark their scent much more often when near their nest or den, and males mark theirs more frequently on unfamiliar objects and places.

The height to which they raise their leg also seems to have to do with getting a mate, defending territory, or intimidating other males. Male dogs raised their legs higher when near the edges of their territories, or when they were with their mates. But proportionally, littler dogs raised their leg much higher than their big friends. Perhaps this is their way of making themselves seem larger, like a bettawith its fins or a cat with its fur.

All we know for sure is that they look pretty silly to us.

Dragonflies Experience as Much G-Force as Fighter Pilots

1 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/dragonflies-experience-much-g-force-fighter-pilots

Gravity and the human body have a finicky relationship. Too little gravity and humanslose bone density, experience extreme nausea and become anemic. Too much gravity and humans lose consciousness and die. So how do people who experience hypergravity on a regular basis deal?

Astronauts experience microgravity while on the moon, but also hypergravity (up to 3.2 g) during take off. It’s their Earth-based friends though, fighter pilots, that experience the highest gravitational forces, up to 9 g.

Most people would pass out with 5 g (that’s why most roller coasters don’t exceed 3 g), but fighter pilots wear compression suits to counteract the forces and practice contracting their lower abdominal muscles. These serve to force the blood out of their legs and into their brain, preventing the loss of consciousness.

If a pilot descends too quickly they can experience negative g-forces. The human body is even less tolerant of these, with what’s called a redout, too much blood in the head, occurring with only -2 g.

Some animals are really good at dealing with hypergravity though. When flying in a straight line, dragonflies can accelerate with up to g of force. When they turn corners, this increases to 9 g. And they don’t even need to wear a flight suit.