Mosaic / May 8, 2009

Health Beat: Intent, self-healing plastics, basking sharks

What you intend to do = what you do in brain speak

The human brain does not see a distinction between intending to do something and actually doing it, according to a study done at the University of Lyon. In the study, researchers stimulated a portion of the brain so that participants claimed they felt a “wanting” feeling to move their limbs, but did not actually move. However, with a stronger stimulus, the participants thought they moved the body part without actually having done so. Though the study does not necessarily seem groundbreaking, it is one of the first studies on the origin of intent and is an excellent starting point for many psychologists and neuroscientists alike.


Color changing & self-healing plastics

We have all seen metals show nasty cracks and signs of wear and tear, but how can we prepare with plastics? Plastics are much harder to gauge and often give way without giving much notice. Research at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana is attempting to make polymers able to react to mechanical stress (for example: change color). The hope is to create some sort of warning system so plastics can be repaired with more notice. The ultimate goal is to find a self-healing chemical reaction for plastics. Right now, there are self-healing plastics, but they are far from perfect and usually require a solvent. The current research, if successful, could be useful for bridges and airplane wings among other things. Many scientists are wringing their wrists with anticipation regarding this research’s potential.


Unveiling the mystery of basking sharks

How and where do you hide a five-ton shark? Where exactly do basking sharks go to mate and give birth? Why do some basking sharks go south for the winter? There are many unanswered questions regarding basking sharks. Marine biologist Gregory Skomal hired airplane pilots to tag 25 Massachusetts basking sharks’ dorsal fins. The tags tracked the sharks’ temperature, depth, and light information. They found that the sharks traveled further than ever imagined: to Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The sharks also dove as deep as a thousand meters below sea level, which would explain why they have been unspotted for so long. There are still lots of mysteries about the massive sharks, but understanding their winter locations may reveal more about their way of life.


Sara Koehnke

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