Science Scoops

Fun Facts

Quiet Noise

In everyday experience, if we put more noise in, we get more noise out. For instance, one person yelling is not as noisy as 100 people yelling. But noise on the microscopic level might behave in just the opposite way.

Those are the bizarre and paradoxical findings of molecular biologist Jose M. G. Vilar (Princeton University) and Spanish physicist Miguel Rubí (University of Barcelona). They found that in some microscopic systems, like living cells, adding noise can make the system less noisy. This microscopic “noise” mostly involves random fluctuations in the flow of particles in systems like cell membranes. Physicists call these fluctuations “noise” because, like static in a stereo system, they interfere with an otherwise steady signal.

In a cell, noisy static is created by fluctuations in the flow of particles through so-called ion channels in its membrane. Imagine that the particles in that flow consist of “whole people” and “half people,” and that the ion channel operates like a door. It turns out that this door will only open to let whole people through. The rate of particle flow, then, depends on how frequently the door is opened to let whole people through. The system becomes noisy when the door opens and closes, again and again, with slight variations.

But the researchers found that if they jostle some molecules around (adding some further noise to the system), the flow rate becomes smoother and more regular. Why?

Apparently, when a cell is given the molecular jitters, the doors of ion channels become, in a sense, pinned against doorjambs. So the noise levels lessen while the flow of whole people through the doors continues unimpeded.

Although the findings are mostly theoretical, Doering says that the “bottom line is that noise can be extremely beneficial. It can act as a lubricant to make things work better and smoother.”

Get in Step. . .With TV!

Yes, soon our shoes might tell us when it’s time to watch TV.

It’s true! Gillian Swan, a British senior majoring in design at Brunel University in London, has developed sports shoes that calculate whether their owner has done enough exercise to warrant time in front of the television.

Swan created the shoes, which she dubbed Square Eyes, as a final-year design project. As reported in New Scientist, the shoes contain an electronic pressure sensor and a tiny computer chip to record how many steps the wearer has taken in a day. A wireless transmitter passes the information to a receiver connected to a television, and this decides how much evening viewing time the wearer deserves and will be allowed to watch.

The design was inspired by a desire to combat growing obesity among British teenagers. Once a user has used up his or her daily allowance of television gained through exercise, the TV automatically switches off. The only way to watch more TV is to, well, get in step! How many steps? Swan says that every 100 steps recorded by the Square Eyes shoes equate to precisely one minute of TV time. So you do the math!

Death at a Snail’s Pace

Okay, we can all go to bed now and get some sleep, thanks to Jeff Garner, a mollusk biologist at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and his colleague Stephanie Clark.

You see, you’ve probably been staying awake at night wondering what ever happened to the cobble elimia and nodulose Coosa River water snails and their pal, the Cahaba pebble snail — all of which have long been thought to be extinct. But they’re not! Garner and Clark rediscovered the three snail species in their respective rivers.

Now, for a bit of trivia: Alabama is known to be the nation’s top spot for extinct and imperiled snails and mussels in riverbeds. That’s because from 1917 to 1967, many species were killed off as dams were built along the Coosa River, creating a series of reservoirs. But some of those little devils were hiding in the streams between reservoirs, where the Coosa River retains some of its original habitat. Before Clark found it in one of her dives, the Cahaba pebble snail — round, yellow, only about a quarter of an inch long — had not been spotted since 1965. Actually, Clark didn’t know what she found immediately. “Behold, there was this oddball snail under a rock,” she says. As for Garner, he knew immediately. In fact, one of the snails was his favorite, because it “sort of has teardrops around the periphery” of the shell.

The Perfect Mummy!

Is anything really perfect? Just ask Japanese archaeologist Sakuji Yoshimura (Waseda University, Tokyo). He and his team have just found “a perfect mummy” sealed in a wooden coffin that they dug up in northern Egypt.

Before they stuck their shovels into the sand, the mummy’s tomb had been “undisturbed” for more than 3,500 years. The coffin, they discovered, was painted yellow and inscribed with hieroglyphics in light blue. When they lifted the coffin’s lid, they found their mummy wearing a mask painted blue and red. Most mummies discovered have faded or muted colors on their coffins or masks, but this one still retained its vivid hues. Therefore, Yoshimura says, the find is of high academic value. It is “a perfect mummy,” he says, one that has escaped robbery and other damage.

Yoshimura also says that the hieroglyphics reveal what’s behind the mask. . .the mummified remains of a man who was an administrative officer some 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. This makes him older than the era of Tutankhamen, the pharaoh of ancient Egypt who ruled from 1336 to1327 B.C. All we need now is a name for this perfect mummy man. Send your suggestions to “Mummy Dearest,” c/o ODYSSEY, 30 Grove St., Suite C, Peterborough, NH 03458.

Red’s a Winner!

Play sports? Want to win your game? Wear red.

If you believe the results of a study by Russell A. Hill and Robert A. Barton (University of Durham, England), athletes wearing red uniforms experience a slight advantage over those wearing other colors.

As reported in Scientific American, Hill and Barton analyzed the outcomes of four sporting events in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games: boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling, and freestyle wrestling. (The participants were randomly assigned either red or blue outfits.) The results? The athletes in red won 60 percent of the time.

The sporting events mentioned above are all one-on-one competitions. Does “wearing red” also affect large team sports? Apparently so!

The scientists also analyzed results from the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament. The teams that had red shirts as one uniform of choice performed better, and scored more goals, when playing in red versus when sporting white or blue uniforms.

What’s so hot about the color red? Hill and Barton believe that the link between red and success is itself linked to the evolutionary psychology of color. For a variety of animals, the authors note, red coloration correlates to male dominance and heightened drive. An athlete wearing red, then, may psychologically feel superior (and therefore behave more confidently) than an opponent wearing a more submissive color. The reverse is true for the opponent, who might subconsciously feel inferior.

Of course, more research needs to be done, but one thing is for sure: If their survey is conclusive, all teams might in the future select to wear red uniforms. That would be pretty confusing, even though the playing field would be more even.

Get in Step. . .With TV!

Yes, soon our shoes might tell us when it’s time to watch TV.

It’s true! Gillian Swan, a British senior majoring in design at Brunel University in London, has developed sports shoes that calculate whether their owner has done enough exercise to warrant time in front of the television.

Swan created the shoes, which she dubbed Square Eyes, as a final-year design project. As reported in New Scientist, the shoes contain an electronic pressure sensor and a tiny computer chip to record how many steps the wearer has taken in a day. A wireless transmitter passes the information to a receiver connected to a television, and this decides how much evening viewing time the wearer deserves and will be allowed to watch.

The design was inspired by a desire to combat growing obesity among British teenagers. Once a user has used up his or her daily allowance of television gained through exercise, the TV automatically switches off. The only way to watch more TV is to, well, get in step! How many steps? Swan says that every 100 steps recorded by the Square Eyes shoes equate to precisely one minute of TV time. So you do the math!

Let’s Talk Turkey?

How do you solve the United States’ dependency on foreign oil?

Turkey droppings!

Yes, a company in Benson, MN, is close to finishing the construction of a new power plant that will burn 90 percent turkey dung and create clean power for 55,000 homes. It will be the first large-scale plant of its type in the country and the largest in the world.

The 55-megawatt plant will burn 700,000 tons of dung a year and produce fertilizer as a byproduct. What’s more, the production of power will not create any more carbon dioxide than would otherwise be emitted if the dung decomposed naturally.

In case you’re wondering, Charles Grecco, of HH Media, LLC, an investment bank that helped arrange $202 million in financing for the plant, says that turkey dung is prized over pig excrement and cow chips. Why? Well, isn’t it obvious? Turkey dung is drier, so it burns better. And, Grecco says, “there’s a lot of it.”

Pyramid of Gloom

Some 2,000 years ago, 10 people lost their heads at Mexico’s Pyramid of the Moon. No, they didn’t turn luny They literally lost their heads — as in decapitation. So say archaeologists who found the gruesome tomb at Teotihuacan, the first major city built in the Americas.

Saburo Sugiyama, a lead scientist at the dig, says that the discovery represents the remains of a ceremony that “created a horrible scene of bloodshed, with sacrificed people and animals.” The researchers found not only 10 headless bodies, thrown haphazardly and carelessly in the tomb, but also the bound carcasses of eagles, dogs, and other animals. It looks as though Mexico’s famous Pyramid of the Moon — one of the leading tourist attractions in the area — may have been the site of horrifically gory sacrifices.

“It is hard to believe that the ritual consisted of clean, symbolic performances,” Sugiyama said. “This foundation ritual must have been one of the most terrifying acts recorded archeologically in Mesoamerica.”

Why here? Sugiyama says that the Pyramid of the Moon was a significant site for celebrating state power. The sacrifices, he believes, were carried out during a time of expansion, suggesting the government wanted to symbolize growing sacred political power.

Interestingly, the site, which lies about 35 miles northeast of Mexico City, recently experienced some modern growing pains: Wal-Mart built a new store a half-mile away from the recently discovered tomb. Talk about a close shave.

More Secret Chambers?

After studying pyramid structures for some 20 years, French Egyptologists Gilles Dormion and Jean Yves Verd’hurt believe that there’s a previously unknown chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid at Giza. Now the researchers want to bore new holes in the 4,600-year-old structure — in the hope that they are right. But Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (who stands guard over the pyramid) doesn’t want any more drill-happy theoreticians near the famous monument.

Dormion and Verd’hurt describe the hidden chamber in their book, The Room of Cheops. Apparently, in 1988, the team used radar to discover what appears to be a passage and a system of closures, which may lead to a secret chamber. Now they want to verify their findings.

But Hawass has yet to budge. “There are 300 theories concerning hidden rooms and other things inside the pyramid,” he says, “but if I let them all test their theories, they will do untold damage to the pyramid, which was built with the blood of Egyptians.”

Dormion and Verd’hurt haven’t given up hope, though, and dream of the chance to investigate their theory. What would you do? Let them dig or not? Send your thoughts to “Dig It?,” ODYSSEY, 30 Grove St., Suite C, Peterborough, NH 03458.

Lost Island of Atlantis. . .Found?

Let’s begin at the beginning. In 360 B.C., a Greek philosopher named Plato wrote about Atlantis — an island in the Atlantic Ocean where an advanced civilization developed some 11,500 years ago. He also tells us that Atlantis sank beneath the surface of the sea, apparently, the result of some cataclysmic natural disaster. For thousands of years now, researchers of all types have debated the existence of Atlantis. Was it a legend? Was it real? If so, where is (or was) it? @dept2:Atlantis exists anywhere and everywhere (especially in the minds of believers). It has been “located” at thousands of different sites, including under the Sahara Desert, 900 miles west of the Portuguese coast, at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, and in southern Spain.

Now a Swedish geographer, Ulf Erlingsson (University College, Galway, Ireland), says that Atlantis is Ireland!

That’s right, Erlingsson is just about certain that the Emerald Isle is the lost world. He bases his theory on geographical data, claiming that the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis (as described by Plato) match those of Ireland almost exactly. Atlantis was 300 miles long; Ireland is 300 miles long. Atlantis was 200 miles wide; Ireland is 200 miles wide. Atlantis had a central plain surrounded by mountains; Ireland has a central plain surrounded by mountains.

How, then, did the myth that Atlantis sank come about? Erlingsson has the answer — or so he believes. Around 6,100 B.C., he says, a monstrous wave flooded Dogger Bank, an isolated shoal in the North Sea that connected Britain and Denmark. What does that have to do with Ireland? Well, nothing really, except that Erlingsson believes that the Irish, over time, confused the sinking of the shoal with the sinking of Atlantis.

Still don’t get it? Don’t feel bad. Mark Hennessy, an Irish geographer from Trinity College in Dublin, says that Erlingsson’s theory is “extremely far-fetched.” And Colin Breen, a lecturer in maritime archaeology at the University of Ulster, says, “We know what the seabed around Ireland looks like. If there were a lost city there, we would know about it.”

But if you believe that Erlingsson is right, send your reasons to “Aer-lantis!,” ODYSSEY, 30 Grove St., Suite C, Peterborough, NH 03458.

Speaking of Impacts!

Be sure to look up every now and then when you’re doing your homework, because you just never know what’s headed your way. Take, for example, this story from Brenda Archer of Auckland, New Zealand.

Last June, while Archer was in the kitchen preparing breakfast, a grapefruit-size meteorite smashed through the tiled roof of her home. The space rock smashed into a couch, bounced off the ceiling, and then came to rest under a computer table.

The meteorite weighed 2.9 pounds! When it hit, Archer said, it sounded like "a bomb had gone off." She saw nothing at first but flying dust. Most fortunate was Archer’s one-year-old grandson, who had been playing nearby minutes before the space rock hit. It is the first time a meteorite is known to have hit a home on this small island nation and the ninth time a meteorite has been found in New Zealand. After drying the meteorite out in an oven (that’s what you’re supposed to do), the Archers planned to sell it or give it to a museum.

You Gotta Laugh!

Everyone’s heard that laughter is the best medicine. Now scientists are finding out why.

Allan L. Reiss and fellow researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in California report that laughter seems to activate the brain in a way that produces physical rewards — it makes us feel good!

To find out why, Reiss and his colleagues performed a controlled study. While 16 young adult volunteers read a series of 84 cartoons (some with the punch lines removed), the researchers used an imaging machine to simultaneously monitor blood flow in several regions of their brains. After the imaging session, the subjects rated the "funny factor" of the cartoons they had read. What Reiss and his colleagues found was that when a cartoon made a person laugh, a brain network in an area called the nucleus accumbens, was activated. The nucleus accumbens is known to be involved in the rewarding feelings you get after receiving a lot of money or seeing an attractive face. Reading funny clips resulted in more blood flow to this area than reading less-humorous material.

Learning more about how humor affects the brain, Reiss says, may help scientists who study depression, since the loss of the ability to appreciate humor is one of its common symptoms. Humor", Reiss adds, "often dictates if, how, and with whom we establish friendships and even long-lasting romantic relationships." And that’s no joke.

Michigan State Student on "Prime" Time!

It’s taken years. It’s involved tens of thousands of people and 211,000 computers. But the search for the largest known prime number has finally ended. And a 26-year-old Michigan State University graduate student, Michael Shafer, is the hero. He found it using an off-the-shelf Dell PC.

Shafer was a volunteer on an 8-year-old project called the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. Not that it was mentally taxing. In fact, all the participants had to do was to run a mathematical program on their computers (one that did the analysis on its own) and let it run, and run, and run. Shafer ran the program for 19 days before he glanced at his computer screen and saw "New Mersenne prime found."

A prime number is a positive number divisible only by itself and one. Mersenne primes are a special category, expressed as 2 to the "p" power minus 1, where "p" also is a prime number. The number Shafer discovered is 2 to the 20,996,011th power minus 1. The number would require some 1,500 pages to write out because it is 6,320,430 digits long — more than 2 million digits larger than the previous largest known prime number.

While the discovery is a "neat accomplishment," Shafer says that it really doesn’t have any applicability. "I don’t think I’m going to be recognized as I go down the street," he says.

Bored Chimps

Yawning is contagious. Just ask any chimp. You see, a new study by James Anderson (University of Stirling in the United Kingdom) and his colleagues has found that chimpanzees yawn in response to seeing other chimps yawn.

As reported in New Scientist magazine, Anderson and his team members played videos of chimps either yawning or exhibiting other open-mouth behaviors such as grinning to six adult chimps and three infants at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan. Two of the adults considerably increased the frequency of their yawning while watching the yawning video, while there was no difference with the others. "These data are highly reminiscent of the contagious yawning effects reported for human," the Anderson team said.

Indeed, scientific tests have demonstrated that when adult humans are shown videos of yawns, around 42 to 55 percent also begin yawning. Why humans do it is still controversial, although one suggestion is that it may have evolved as a social cue to synchronize sleep amongst a group. The discovery bolsters the idea that chimps are able to understand their own and others’ state of mind.

Joe Cool

Feeling under pressure. Too much homework? Got a lead role in your school play? Got a big game coming up in your sport? Think you can keep your cool under such stress?

First of all, lighten up! You’re too young to be sooooo stressed. The fact is, researchers say, is that young adults who keep a cool head under pressure may be less likely to develop high blood pressure as they age.

Here’s the low down. In a study of 4,000 young adults it was discovered that those who stressed out while playing a difficult video game and taking other tests were more likely to develop high blood pressure in their 40s. That’s the official word from Karen Matthews, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh who led the study. "In general," she said, "the individuals who had larger blood-pressure responses to stress had a greater risk for developing high blood pressure."

High blood pressure eventually affects up to 90 percent of Americans as they become elderly and is a leading cause of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. So the advice of the researchers is simple: "Chill!"

Homework Hype

Uh-oh. You’re not going to like this one.

Here goes: Two new studies say that our nation’s homework load is light. You heard it right. As much as you think you’re being burdened by homework, you’re not! Now, don’t toss the magazine away just yet. First, let’s look at the "facts."

According to an analysis of a wide range of homework research — by the Education Department, international surveys, the University of Michigan, and the University of California–Los Angeles, among others — most students have less than an hour of homework a night.

"The popular belief out there," says Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, "the conventional wisdom is that homework is rising and becoming onerous. That’s simply just not true."

Do you believe it?

Yet, according to a long-term federal survey in 1999, when asked how much homework they were assigned the day before, most students age 9, 13, and 17 reported less than an hour. And according to a separate study by another research group, only about one in 10 high school students does more than two hours of homework a night.

"It’s important to acknowledge that this is not true for everybody," says Brian Gill of the RAND Corp., who coauthored the second study. "All those stories about overloaded kids. . . .We’re not suggesting that kids and parents are lying. It’s just that it’s pretty clear that those stories are the exception rather than the norm."

Again, do you believe it? Let us know what you think about these studies. Send your opinion to "Think Again," ODYSSEY, 30 Grove St., Suite C, Peterborough, NH 03458.

Power to Teens!

It’s a teen’s world after all. About half the world’s population is under 25. That’s the latest news from the United Nations’ Population Fund, which just released a report announcing that today’s teenage generation is now the biggest the world has ever seen.

Right now, about 1.2 billion of the world’s 6.3 billion people are between 10 and 19, says the report. So, one in five people on Earth are adolescents. If teens stay healthy (avoid drugs, violence, and disease) and get education, they might just develop into the largest, most vibrant workforces ever seen when they reach adulthood.

The Boston Strangler: An Unsolved Mystery?

Between 1962 and 1964, a notorious strangler prowled the streets of Boston, MA, and its surrounding communities, claiming 11 definite victims. Not since Jack the Ripper had anything comparable happened. The Boston murders gave way to one of the greatest criminal searches in the history of modern crime. The Strangler was never found, but 29-year-old Albert DeSalvo, an inmate at a Massachusetts mental hospital who was serving a life sentence on unrelated crimes, confessed to the serial murders in 1965.

Although DeSalvo was never charged with the killings, many were satisfied with his admission of guilt — especially since the stranglings had stopped. In 1973, DeSalvo was murdered in prison before he could be formally charged. The question is. . . was DeSalvo really the Boston Strangler?

Well, the families of the Strangler and that of his alleged last victim (19-year-old Mary Sullivan) had their doubts, so they had the bodies of DeSalvo and Sullivan exhumed and their DNA tested.

James Starrs, professor of forensic science at George Washington University, was called in to perform the tests. His results are virtually indisputable: The DNA found on the remains of Mary Sullivan, he said, "cannot be associated" with DNA taken from DeSalvo’s remains.

Does that mean that the Boston Strangler is still at large?

Not necessarily. "This is not evidence that exonerates Albert DeSalvo," Starrs says. But it is evidence that Albert DeSalvo is most likely not the murderer of Mary Sullivan. This new development may force the police to reopen a chapter in one of America’s grizzliest crime stories.

Jack the Ripper. . .was a Painter?

Between August and November, 1888, a shadowy figure stalked London’s East End and committed a series of horrific murders. The crimes to this day remain unresolved, and the identity of the killer, popularly known as Jack the Ripper, has intrigued generations of crime buffs.

Dozens of writers over the past dozen decades have offered dozens of opinions about who they believe is the killer. For the longest time, the list of primary suspects has included a mentally ill immigrant with a reported hatred of women, the most influential doctor in Britain, a wealthy cotton merchant, and a quack doctor with no obvious medical qualifications. Now a best-selling crime novelist, Patricia Cornwell, has turned the tables. She thinks that she may have uncovered Jack the Ripper’s DNA!

Here’s the scoop.

While reinvestigating the murders, Cornwell noticed that a letter Jack the Ripper claims to have written on November 22, 1888, was on the same stationery (and had the same watermark) as that a man named Walter Sickert had used three years earlier. Sickert, a famous British impressionist artist, was on the Ripper "suspect list" about a quarter century ago, but art historians and biographers had quickly discounted him.

Cornwell didn’t. Instead, she obtained some of the letters and envelopes whose stamps Sickert was believed to have licked, and had DNA extracted. (Sickert died in 1942 and his body was cremated, so no DNA could be extracted from it.) DNA testing of material over a century old has never before been done. Nuclear DNA tests — the usual form of DNA testing — came back negative. The forensics team then attempted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing, which provided some results. Similar "sequences" of mtDNA were found on both the "Ripper" correspondence and the Sickert correspondence.

The problem is that mtDNA sequences are not unique. Just like blood typing — where people with, say, type "O+" blood are widespread across the globe, mtDNA sequences can be found in totally unrelated people. Mitrochondria are tiny structures in each cell that supply energy for metabolism (the chemical and physical processes going on in living cells). MtDNA is distinct from the DNA in the cell’s nucleus, which contains an organism’s genetic blueprint. There are only 39 genes in mtDNA – all maternal – and it is more stable than regular DNA.

In her Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper — Case Closed, Cornwell admits that the Ripper’s DNA could be a match with the DNA of Sickert. The probability that the Sickert and Ripper DNA sequences come from the same person, she says, is 1 in 100. Well, in 1901 there were nearly 40 million people in the United Kingdom. This means that Sickert was one of approximately 400,000 people whose mtDNA shared those same sequences.

Although Cornwell has succeeded in finding a connection between Sickert and the Ripper using current DNA techniques, the little bit of DNA evidence that was recovered is only suggestive, not conclusive.

Dare to Fly After 9/11?

If the tragic events of 9/11 made you afraid to fly, consider this: It’s riskier to drive 20 kilometers than it is to fly across the United States.

That’s the assessment from a new study by psychologist Michael Sivak (University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor) and his colleague Michael J. Flannagan. Even if you account for the airline fatalities resulting from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the risk of death from driving a distance of 1,150 kilometers (the average distance of a nonstop flight in the United States) is about 65 times greater than that from flying the same distance.

Sivak and Flannagan arrived at this conclusion after analyzing data collected from 1992 through 2001. During that period, the researchers calculated that the risk of death for any particular passenger for each nonstop domestic flight was less than one in 10 million. That’s about one fatality per 15 billion kilometers traveled.

Unlike air travel — where the greatest risk is associated with takeoffs and landings — highway driving has its risk almost evenly distributed throughout the trip. For just the year 2000, the risk of death while driving long distances via interstate highways (the safest driving environment) was a little more than four per billion for each kilometer traveled (or 60 fatalities for every 15 billion kilometers traveled).

Therefore, the researchers conclude, driving on even the safest roads is riskier than flying any distance where commercial air travel is an option. In other words, flying remains a much safer way to travel than driving.

It’s Curtains for Curses!

Ever hear of the "curse of the mummy’s tomb"? If not, you can guess what it entrails. . .I mean, entails. If you’re a B–horror movie buff, there’s even a film by that name.

The mummy is sworn to protect its tomb and kill everyone who desecrates it. Well, believe it or not, some three or four tombs in Egypt have curses written in hieroglyphics on their exteriors. But the words were placed there simply to deter looters from robbing the graves in days of old. In fact, the actual translations of the curses are somewhat hilarious. The writings say things like, "Anyone who disturbs these tombs, I will ring his neck like a bird."

Now, the latest scientific study on curses, by Dr. Mark Nelson in the British Medical Journal, says that when it comes to carrying out their threats, mummies haven’t a leg to stand on.

Belief in the "curse of the mummy’s tomb" became fashionable in the 1920s, when the tomb of King Tutankhamen, a legendary Egyptian pharaoh, was discovered. You see, British archaeologist Howard Carter found the sealed crypt in November 1922. He immediately contacted his benefactor, Lord Carnarvon, who dashed off to Egypt so that the two of them could open the sealed tomb together. Well, six weeks after the tomb was opened, Lord Carnarvon died –- and rumors soon spread that so too had Carnarvon’s dog, at the exact same moment as his master. The local headlines screamed "LORD CARNARVON SUCCUMBS TO MUMMY’S CURSE."

But Nelson says that the curse has no scientific credence. Using statistical analysis, he investigated the survival patterns of all those exposed to the mummy’s curse between February 1923 and November 1926 and for 11 of those not exposed. The people who might have been exposed to the curse lived to a mean age of 70 years, versus 75 years for those who were not exposed. Survival after the date of exposure was 20.8 years for those who might have been exposed, compared with 28.9 years for those who were not.

But the differences are not significant, Nelson says, because "the exposed group was older and more likely to be male. Both of these factors are predictors of an earlier death." And when you take these facts into consideration. . . well, they just about wrap up this mystery.

Forget Your Homework? Blame Mom!

Or Dad. Take your pick.

Yes, a new study shows that forgetfulness may run in the family. That’s right. Dr. Daniel Weinberger (National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD has discovered that a gene long known to be involved in memory actually comes in two types — and which type you have may decide whether you’ll remember what I’ve just said.

The "good" memory gene — the one that plays a role in building and retaining memory — is known as BDNF (if you really must know, BDNF stands for "Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor". . .happy?). The genetic variation of BDNF, known as metBDNF (don’t ask) apparently does the opposite. Weinberger says that 15 to 20 percent of the population carries the metBDNF gene.

To test his hypothesis, Weinberger created a series of memory tests. In one, more than 600 adults were simply asked to recall story events. As expected, people with the metBDNF gene performed worse than those with the BDNF.

If you have the metBDNF gene, don’t despair; the study did not find that metBDNF was related to all types of memory — just so-called "episodic memory" that involves recalling past events. Besides, Weinberger says, metBDNF may have some beneficial effects — although what those might be haven’t been discovered yet.

Forever Young

If you can’t remember the previous scoop, don’t fret; this doesn’t mean that you’re getting old fast. In fact, scientists have just found proof that you really are only as old as you feel.

Sherry J. Holladay (Eastern Illinois University in Charleston) and colleagues were curious to see if the thought of growing old impacts the way young people live their lives. . .as they get older.

To find out, the researchers asked 104 people 18 to 77 to recall one memorable message they’ve heard about aging and to describe how that message has influenced them, if it did. (Of course, if you have the metBDNF gene, remembering a message might be a challenge in itself.)

Nevertheless, the researchers easily divided the recalled messages into two types: (1) those dealing with enjoying life, such as, "You’re only young once, enjoy it while you can," and (2) those having to do with age being a state of mind, like, "Getting old and being old are two different things." Most messages put a positive spin on the aging process.

After the task, one volunteer wrote of aging: "I now see it as an award for leading a decent life." Another said: "It has shown me that aging is not a bad thing. It will be a time where I can relax and watch my family grow."

So, feel good that feeling good about yourself as you age can have a positive effect on your mental and physical well-being.

Gentlemen Don’t Prefer Blonds!

Okay guys. What type of hair do you like to see on your female friends? Well, if you’re like most American males, you show an "overwhelming" preference for long, full-bodied hair over short haircuts. Not only that — and it may come as a surprise to some, but most males seem to prefer brunettes over blondes — by a wide margin.

Believe it or not, these are the findings by psychology researcher Dr. Kelley Kline, of Florida State University in Panama City, Florida. Kline and her co-workers had 76 women and 50 men averaging 27 years of age rate the attractiveness of women depicted in 6 different photos. But there was a twist — three of the photos were actually of the same young Caucasian woman, her hair altered by computer. In one image her hair was above the ears and cropped close to the head. In another shot, her hair was just a little bit below the ears. And the third photo showed her with long-hair — at least 8 inches or more past the shoulders. Otherwise, the woman’s face and expression were exactly the same in each of the three pictures.

Kline says that both men and women "overwhelmingly find the long hair length significantly more attractive than the short and the medium hair length."


One popular psychological theory holds that while women are driven to find "resource-rich" men, men are primarily looking for reproductive fitness in their mates. "Hair is going to be a signal of that, because a younger woman will usually have longer, thicker hair," Kline explained.

There’s more. "At least in our study," Kline says, "gentlemen do not prefer blondes. They prefer brunettes. Its kind of an interesting finding, considering that in our society we concentrate on the blonde — it’s so pervasive."

Now, what about women? Do they prefer men with short or long hair? When Kline’s group asked women about hair-length preferences for men, the vast majority chose short or very short cuts.

I guess all we need to know now is whether blondes have more fun.

Chemical Cocktail

Okay, this scoop just smelled right, so I had to report it to you. But beware, it’s pretty macabre – unless you’re interested in pathology, want to be a homicide detective, or are just plain morbid. The question this scoop will answer is just how do you know how long a corpse has been dead?

"The answer, Watson," Sherlock Holmes would have said, "is elementary." You see, a bunch of chemists, anthropologists, and other scientists in Tennessee are in the process of developing an electronic nose that can "sniff out" (detect) chemical smells coming from a decomposing body. All they’ll have to do is wave the device over a body and collect data. (Who knows? Maybe it’ll make little trilling noises like the devices we see the medics using on the TV show Star Trek.) A decaying body releases certain chemical odors that change in a measurable manner over time. So by comparing the chemicals present in the body with a laboratory table that shows how body odor changes over time, a researcher can determine how long it’s been since that body’s had a decent shower.

Of course, this is a work in progress. The all important laboratory table of chemical odors has yet to be created. But researchers are working on it. Just ask Jennifer Love, a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee. According to a recent report in New Scientist, she’s been working the graveyard shift in a morgue, taking vapor samples near corpses and samples of tissue from several organs, while noting temperature and humidity conditions. I bet she’s the life of the party.

Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb!

You know, this scoop isn’t really news to horror-film buffs, because we know that if you enter a mummy’s tomb you’ll be cursed with death. But, it is news to scientists who are now raising their eyebrows in astonishment over the discovery that some of Egypt’s tombs once contained high levels of radon – a radioactive gas that can be deadly! The radon is produced by the decay of uranium in the desert ground and in rocks used to build the monuments. Being exposed to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer . . . and death!

Today, the amount of radon in the tombs isn’t enough to kill visitors, but Canadian researcher Jaime Bigu (Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario) and researchers in Cairo did find potentially hazardous radon concentrations in three of the seven monuments they visited. Visitors would have to be exposed eight hours a day for a year to be subjected to harmful effects. More at risk are local tourist guides, who currently work inside the monuments for around four hours a day. If their working hours doubled, they would be at risk.

Bigu says that the solution is as simple as improving ventilation at the monuments. Interestingly, concentrations of radon would have been much higher when the tombs were first opened. "The high radon levels may not have caused the Curse of Tutankhamen" says Murdoch Baxter, editor of the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, "but it probably didn’t do those early Egyptologists much good." Tutankhamen was the King of Egypt during the XVIII Dynasty (1358 B.C.). His tomb was found almost intact in 1922.

How to Spot a Liar

Get this. According to psychologists, human beings are lied to about 200 times a day. What’s more, to lie is natural. Just look around. No, not at your friends, but at nature!

Gerald Jellison of the University of Southern California says that "deception" (that’s what lying is) comes naturally to all living things. Birds do it by pretending to be hurt to lead hungry predators away from their nesting young. Spider crabs do it by disguising themselves with strips of kelp and other debris to escape their enemies. As for us humans, Jellison says, we lie for exactly the same reasons: to save our own skins or to get something we can’t get by other means.

But let’s turn the situation around. (The sign of a good scientist is looking at things from different perspectives!) Knowing how to catch someone in a lie can be just as important to "survival." Paul Ekman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, says that practically anyone can recognize the telltale signs of lying by closely observing facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Those clues, he says, are written all over the face. "We don’t think before we feel," Ekman says. "Expressions tend to show up on the face before we’re even conscious of experiencing an emotion."

For instance, when someone is truly sad, the forehead wrinkles with grief and the inner corners of the eyebrows are pulled up. Fewer than 15 percent of the people Ekman tested were able to produce this eyebrow movement voluntarily. "If someone claims they are sad and the inner corners of their eyebrows don’t go up," Ekman says, "the sadness is probably false." On the other hand, a smile is easy to fake, but consider this: A smile is fake if the lip corners go up, the eyes crinkle (crow’s feet), but the inner corners of the eyebrows are not lowered (a movement that is difficult to fake). The absence of lowered eyebrows is one reason why false smiles look so strained and stiff.

Researchers are now programming computers to get at the truth by analyzing the same physical cues available to the naked eye and ear. "Good lie detectors don’t rely on a single sign," Ekman says, "but interpret clusters of verbal and nonverbal clues that suggest someone might be lying."

Keystroke Performance

You’re up late working on your homework. You rub your eyes, stare at the computer screen, then yawn. But you keep typing; you keep pounding the keyboard, hoping your cramped fingers aren’t hitting the wrong keys. Your parents peek into your room and say, "Why don’t you take a break?" But you can’t. You say you’ve got to finish this paper.

Sound familiar? Have you ever wondered how pushing yourself might affect that homework? Well, Alan Hedge of Cornell University did. After four million keystrokes and 6,200 hours of computer use by 21 test subjects, he made a wonderful discovery: Workers made 13 percent fewer mistakes if on-screen alerts periodically appeared to tell them to sit up straight, take breaks, or stretch. That’s a one percent increase in productivity.

Let’s Face Facts!

Ready for the million-dollar question? Quick, who’s better at recognizing faces, men or women?

Ding! Time’s up. (Is that your final answer?)

Let’s face it, men, women have us beat. Yup, we have to hand it to them: Women can recognize faces better than we can. At least that’s what an Internet-based experiment conducted in Sweden says. As reported in New Scientist, Josef Bigun and his colleagues at Halmstad University approached 10,000 people via e-mail, asking them to take part in an on-line face-recognition test.

More than 1,800 people participated in the experiment, which had eight face-matching tasks to complete. The participants were shown a picture of a face and then shown 10 similar faces – ones with similar-looking profiles, silhouettes, or facial expressions. Women were not only much better than men at picking out the original face they had been shown, but they were also less prone to being distracted by a person’s hairstyle or change in facial expression. What does all this mean?

Who knows? But Bigun says that if he were to employ someone in a job where facial recognition is important – say, as a security guard or a customs officer – he would always choose a woman. The findings could mean that employers may have to rethink their hiring strategies for security positions.

A Little Eye Music

It’s music to the eyes. You know, that heart-pumping moment when your eyes sweep across a crowded room and meet the eyes of a stranger you are suddenly attracted to. C’mon. Admit it. You’ve done it. And probably for a good reason.

According to British neurologist Knut Kampe and his colleagues at University College, London, those "secretive" glances stimulate activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is linked to rewards. The same part of the brain, in an animal, shows activity at the sight of food and water. The scientists established the link by scanning the brains of men and women while they were shown new photographs of people every 3.5 seconds. Afterward, the volunteers were asked to rate the attractiveness of the people they saw in the photographs. Only people the volunteers said were attractive had stimulated activity in the ventral striatum — but only if the person in the photo was looking at the viewer. When we make eye contact with an attractive person, the brain area associated with rewards starts firing.

"If we see an attractive person but cannot make eye contact with that person, the activity in the [rewards] region goes down, signaling disappointment," says Kamp.

He believes his findings could help to explain how people sometimes form lasting first impressions of others in just four or five seconds. But beware! The ventral striatum is also the part of the brain that starts the sparks flying in gamblers and drug addicts when they are winning at cards or taking drugs. Perhaps that explains how we can become addicted to love.

A Little Laser Magic

What does it take to make the world’s smallest and cheapest laser? According to Hui Cao of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, you take a pinch of zinc oxide powder, add a dash of energy, and you’ve got one heck of a tiny microlaser.

Most microlasers rely on expensive materials and equipment, and more. But Cao was successful in creating a simpler, cheaper version. Over the past two years she has shown that clumps of disordered powder can scatter light waves to build up laser emission. Now, she has managed to make a laser with clumps of powder just a micrometer wide.

The Magic School Bus

You know the scene: You’re running late, hair’s a mess, shirt’s untucked, a slab of toast is stuck between your teeth as you dash to the corner . . . and . . . yup, you missed the school bus, again! Well, if you live in Marshall, Minnesota, or Bangor, Maine, your school bus blues may be over. NotiCom Company in Florida has developed a new high-tech bus system that is now being tested in these two cities. Called BusCall, the system tracks the movements of your school bus with an onboard global-positioning receiver. When the bus is a few minutes away from your stop, BusCall will phone your home to let you know the bus is near.

The heart of BusCall is a cellular telephone data channel that continually reports the bus’s location to a control station. The control station is programmed to automatically phone your home when the bus reaches a predetermined spot. There is a catch, but it’s a minor one: Your parents will have to subscribe to BusCall. The fee will be about $10 per month. But, hey, once you’re a member of BusCall, you can at least have enough time to swallow that piece of toast before you dash out the door, while combing your hair and tucking in your shirt.

Molar Rollers

Do you talk in your sleep? Snore? How about clench or grind your teeth?

If you’re somebody who does the last, then you suffer from a condition known as "sleep bruxism." Sink your teeth into this: A study, recently reported in medical journals, ranks sleep bruxism as the third most common sleep disorder. The study showed that more than eight percent of the population clench and grind their teeth together during sleep at least once a week. In fact, of the more than 13,000 participants studied in Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom, half ground their teeth so intensely that others could hear it! Whoa! No surprise, then, that these molar rollers reported having abnormal tooth wear or muscular discomfort.

What about snoring and all that other weird sleep stuff? Maurice M. Ohayon (Stanford University) and his colleagues found that molar rollers are more likely to snore and suffer from hallucinations (among other things) than are nongrinders. The good news is that the condition decreases significantly with age. So chew on that for a while! Of course, I know I don’t snore or grind my teeth, because I stayed awake all last night to see! Hmmm . . .

Mow Scoops

Okay, the next time your mom or dad asks you to mow the lawn and you’re not feeling up to it, here’s what you say: "Look, Mom, Dad, I love you, but first of all, gas-powered mowers create air pollution. Not only that, but scientists have recently learned that freshly mowed grass itself releases a burst of pollutants as it dries. In fact, cut grass releases a long list of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. You smell these VOCs every time you walk past a newly mowed lawn. Now, imagine that drying grass gives off 10 times more VOCs than does freshly mowed grass! The VOCs given off by drying grass react speedily with other chemicals in the air to form ozone gas, a component of smog. You don’t want me to contribute to the smog problem, do you?"

Now here’s the part you don’t offer to tell them. Mowing lawns may not give off enough VOCs to create a noticeable increase in air pollution. But that’s because most city environments are polluted to begin with, so it’s hard to separate the pollutants due to the grass from the pollutants already in the air. Now, if your yard happens to be the size of Connecticut, that would make a noticeable difference. But then you’d have a better excuse for why you shouldn’t mow such a lawn: You’d be too tuckered to do your homework!

No More Reading at the Airport

Having trouble focusing on your reading assignments? Can’t remember that poem for English class? Well, you now have an excuse. . .if you live near an airport!

It’s true. Noise from airports can impair a kid’s reading ability and long-term memory. At least that’s what Gary Evans (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY) and his colleagues believe, especially if the noise is constant because your school or home is near an airport. But don’t freak; the effects are reversible. Yes, these environmental psychologists say that there’s hope yet for noise-damaged brains.

Evans sounded the alarm after he and his colleagues monitored reading, memory, attention, and speech perception in 326 schoolchildren — both before and after a new international airport opened in Munich, Germany, near their homes and school. They also monitored what happened to schoolchildren living near the site of the old airport before and after it was closed.

The researchers discovered that schoolchildren who were exposed to noise from the new airport for only six months had trouble with their long-term memory, reading, and speech perception. Furthermore, these problems had increased 12 months later, suggesting that the problem gets worse with continued noise exposure.

Quite the opposite situation occurred in the schoolchildren who lived or went to school near the old airport. Their reading and long-term memory improved once the airport closed.

John Stewart, of the United Kingdom Noise Association, praised Evans’s research, saying, "It is the most convincing evidence yet that aircraft noise can be detrimental to children."

The Penny Engine

It’s the size of a penny, but it’s a work horse. Meet the mini-engine, a rotary internal-combustion engine designed by Carlos Fernandez-Pello and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley. The mini-engine, which runs on a potent liquid fuel (such as butane or propane) is the smallest engine ever to deliver continuous power. At last look, in April, it could produce four watts of electricity (standard bulbs in a table lamp are 25 to 75 watt). Four watts may not seem like much, but that’s almost a full watt more power than it had last February. And the researchers are continuing to boost its energy output.

So what’s the fuss? Is this just a cute gag? No. In fact, you may soon find a more powerful version of this penny-sized engine replacing the batteries in your laptop computer or other portable devices. Looking way ahead, the researchers hope to fashion a version of the engine out of silicon. If so, they may be able to shrink the engine down to the size of a pinhead. I’d hate to have to change that battery.

Phantom Bodies

Some people claim they see ghosts. Others say they can see "themselves" as a mirror-image phantom, a sort of body double. Still others have had an out-of-body experience, when they "left" their bodies (say, during sleep) and saw themselves lying there. These spooky experiences may in fact be real – real in the mind, anyway. Peter Brugger, a neuroscientist at University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, says that these phantom images are mere mental sensations.

For instance, it’s a well-documented fact that people who have had, say, an arm amputated still sense the presence of that lost arm, even though their brain no longer receives nerve signals from the lost limb. Ghosts and body doubles, Brugger says, are a similar sensation, but spread to the whole body. It’s a result, he argues, of brain damage to the areas that help us to sense our body in its surrounding space. As proof, he notes that some people sense but do not see their body double.

What about out-of-body experiences? Brugger says that these may be caused by temporary overactivity of certain brain regions, which can affect what we see – especially when under high emotional stress.

Record-Breaking Pi

The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is affectionately known as "pi." In class, students usually round pi to about three decimal places, or 3.142. But the beauty of pi is that its digits go on indefinitely. And that’s a challenge to mathematicians who like to push the envelope of their mathematical methods and computer technology and calculate pi to . . . well, as far a decimal place as they can achieve.

In 1997, Yasumaka Kanada and his coworkers at the University of Tokyo Information Technology Center became world-famous for computing pi to 51,539,6000,000 decimal digits (that means you don’t count the initial "3"). Now, two years later, Kanada and his colleagues have done it again, beating their own record and pushing pi out to 206,158,430,000 decimal digits. To top their earlier record, they used two independent mathematical methods. One computation required about 37 hours of computer time, while the other method required 46 hours.

Oh, in case you’re wondering: The last decimal digit in the calculation is "4."

Shaky Ladder to Success

You can start now. Walk up to a friend, and shake his or her hand. How does it feel? Firm or limp? Well, if psychologist William Chaplin (University of Alabama) and his colleagues are correct, those who offer a firm handshake have a better chance of success, or at least of making a good first impression, than those who offer a hand like a wilting flower. Chaplin arrived at this conclusion after shaking hands with 112 college students (exciting research, eh?).

Chaplin wasn’t surprised by his findings, namely that the confident, more outgoing students had firmer handshakes than their shy or intimidated peers. He also found, again no surprise, that men had firmer handshakes than women. But some free-spirited and intelligent women had a stronger hand grip than other women and made a stronger impression. The conclusion is: If you want to get ahead in today’s aggressive world you’d better "get a grip."

And Speaking of Gas . . .

Did you know that schoolgirls who drink cola are five times as likely to suffer bone fractures as girls who don’t? Yup. Harvard researcher Grace Wyshak would like to remind all you pop poppers that you shouldn’t be playing football. She says soda sipping is a serious "skeletal health problem." Wyshak says that she doesn’t know why cola beverages or other soft drinks increase the likelihood of bone fractures. One possibility is that cola drinks contain phosphoric acid that might weaken bones.

Youngsters (boys too, although girls are at greater risk for calcium deficiency since they start out with lighter bones) should be drinking milk, which fortifies the calcium in your bones. Our "pop"-ulation generation, she says, is consuming more cola than that of any previous generation. It’s an ominous situation, I tell you. Dire, in fact. Can’t you just see it, 20 years from now, when you’re a scientist working in space, slurping on a cola and . . . Hey, wait a minute.You’re weightless in space, right? So wouldn’t that mean . . . Ahhh, never mind. I’m going out for a pop.


Oh, did you like that? The surprise, I mean.

Well, if you’re telling me "No!", I hate to break it to you, but whether you like surprises or not, your brain does! That’s the latest surprise in research by scientists at Emory University (Atlanta) and Baylor College of Medicine (Dallas).

Get this. To find out why some people like surprises and others don’t, here’s what they did. The researchers used a machine to squirt either fruit juice or water into the mouths of test subjects – sometimes predictably, sometimes unpredictably – and recorded the participants’ reactions. Talk about getting juiced!

Seriously, though, while the subjects were being squirted, the researchers took magnetic images of their brains and recorded any changes in brain activity. What the researchers found was that the high-speed Internet-like connections to the pleasure centers of the brain responded much more strongly to the unexpectedness of the squirts instead of the expected squirts. In other words, the subjects’ brains were more active when the squirts were unexpected.

According to Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns: "This means that the brain finds unexpected pleasures more rewarding than expected ones, and it may have little to do with what people say they like." (We think that all this really may prove is that science can be fun.)

Testy IQ News

It seems like humans love to find blame for their failings. Take, for instance, the ubiquitous IQ. For the last 30 years, psychologists have said that children from large families have the greatest potential for scoring low on IQ tests. (Bet you never heard that one.) But if you’re now thinking of confronting your teacher with these results, you’d better wait — because recent data now refute that claim. Joseph Lee Rodgers (University of Oklahoma) and his colleagues gave IQ tests over a six-year period to 5,107 children from a random sample of families started in 1972. When the researchers compared IQ scores within families, they failed to find any correlation between family size, birth order, and IQ. Instead, they found that women with lower IQ scores tend to have larger families, and they discovered a link between the mother’s IQ and those of her children, no matter how many. Well, can you beat that? I mean, huh, can you believe that?

Top 20 Engineering Feats of the 20th Century

We hear a lot of Top Ten Lists, but this Top 20 List is especially for us science buffs. Before reading any further, think about the technological advances we’ve seen in the 20th century. To celebrate a remarkable era of technological achievement, the National Academy of Engineering revealed lists of marvels of engineering that have had the greatest influence on quality of life in the 20th century. The list was compiled by leading engineers from 30 professional engineering societies.

And here are the winners:

  1. Electrification
  2. Automobile
  3. Airplane
  4. Water Supply and Distribution
  5. Electronics
  6. Radio and Television
  7. Agricultural Mechanization
  8. Computers
  9. Telephone
  10. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
  11. Highways
  12. Spacecraft
  13. Internet
  14. Imaging
  15. Household Appliances
  16. Health Technologies
  17. Petroleum / Chemical Technologies
  18. Laser and Fiber Optics
  19. Nuclear Technologies
  20. High-Performance Materials

As noted in the May Scientific American, today’s sophisticated information superhighway, the Internet, ranked behind the weather-beaten, well-worn roads of the nation. And astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was the one to announce the list at a luncheon, was probably a bit shocked to find that spacecraft did not make it into the top ten.

Tut: Behind the Mask!

The tomb of King Tutankhamun, a teenager who ruled Egypt in the 14th century B.C., was discovered in 1922. Among the most prized artifacts was the king’s golden death mask, which showed a slight, heavy-lipped youth, framed in a pharaoh’s headdress. Is this really the face of King Tut? That mystery remained unsolved until scientists and special-effects artists in Britain and New Zealand recently applied digital techniques used in crime investigations to reconstruct the pharaoh’s face.

Getting an impression of the 18-year-old’s looks, however, wasn’t easy, because the mummified head of Tutankhamun was too dried and sunken to give life-like dimensions. Instead, the reconstruction team had to rely on X-rays taken in 1968, which were transformed into a three-dimensional digital skull. Facial rebuilding expert Robin Richards (University College London) then scanned features of people of the same age, sex, build, and ethnic group as King Tut to create the digital skin, muscles, and cartilage that was to be wrapped onto the skull. New Zealand special effects artists fleshed out the skull with eye color and skin pigment.

The final facial reconstruction model was molded into a fiberglass cast of the king’s head, which, the researchers say, provides the closest possible likeness of the pharaoh, which . . .drum roll, please . . .bears little resemblance to his golden death mask. Unlike the famous face on the death mask, the facial reconstruction model shows a youth with a wide face, high cheekbones, small eyes, and a heavy brow. Hmmm. Makes you wonder not only about how we perceive ourselves but how others perceive us.