Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Did you know? - Plants can actually feel pain

Ouch…It hurts! Very common exclamation for most of us. But what if you could hear a plant saying this? Well, you won’t believe that but plants suffer everyday.  Simply we are not able to hear them. Yesterday I was minding my own business when, all of a sudden, I started hearing a noise out of the window. There were two gardeners cutting the grass. In my opinion there’s nothing better than catching a whiff of freshly cut grass. For us it could be quite pleasant. But for the grass that smell is pure horror.

The smell we associate with freshly cut grass is actually a chemical distress call used by plants to beg nearby critters to save them from attack. If you could be able to hear these call, it would be a horrifying scream.  After all, when there’s a threat, whether it's a lawnmower or a hungry caterpillar, plants can't run away. They must fight where they stand. And that is exactly what they do.

In  order to protect themselves, plants employ a gust of molecular responses. These chemical communications can be used to poison an enemy, alert plants all around of potential dangers or attract helpful insects. Sometimes, a plant's molecular defense has multiple purposes. For instance, plants that produce caffeine use the chemical as self-defense, but it’s also useful for bees’ pollination. The scent of caffeine constricts bees to carve for more. The result is a swarm of bees surrounding the plant,  letting the plant leave the pollen and ensuring the continuity of species.

But this can be just seen as a way of communicate . But does that mean they can feel pain? I’m sorry for vegetarians and vegans, but the answer won't be very pleasant.

According to researchers at the Institute for Applied Physics at the University of Bonn in Germany, after cutting or injuring a plant, some gases are released. These molecules are the equivalent of tears in human beings, so releasing these gases would mean crying out in pain for the plant. And using a laser-powered microphone, just to make things even worse, researchers have picked up specific sound waves produced by plants while releasing that gases. Although not perceptible by humans, the secret voices of plants have revealed that cucumbers scream when they are sick, and flowers whine when their leaves are cut. Speaking of crying plants, the Mandragora's cry (on the left you have some examples of this strange animal-plant hybrid) was believed to be extremely lethal for humans, but this sure is another story...

Today is the remorse fair. There's also evidence that plants can hear themselves being eaten. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found out that plants understand and respond to chewing sounds made by caterpillars or humans that are dining on them. As soon as the plants hear the noises, they respond with plenty of defense mechanisms.

To sum up, the combination of distress calls, releasing gases and emitting sounds….is actually pain!! Some researchers and botanists argue that pain is strictly connected with the brain. Without one, pain cannot be registered. But plants can actually demonstrate to be extremely intelligent without having a brain or conscious awareness. The actual feeling of pain would not be so far from truth.

After all, plants are able to communicate, and there’s no denying. Trees in a forest can warn their relatives of insect attacks. And, if they’re near enough to one another, there can be also a nutrients exchange. This biological network helps plants propagate, grow and survive. All these processes can be verified using injections of radioactive carbon isotopes. Within a few days, carbon is sent from tree to tree to all the nearby plants in the area. This complex network of roots, leaves and stems is also used by older trees to help the younger ones to collect the light until they’re strong enough to be completely independent.

Plants have a great sense of community…even more than humans. What do you think? Do you think plants sense pain? Have these scientific researches convinced you? After reading this, you might have changed your mind. When you’ll read “Please keep off the grass”, maybe you should follow the advice. Have a great life and Never Stop Snooping Around. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bad Luck Files - Breaking a Mirror

Mirror mirror on the wall…a disaster if you fall. I’ll never believe you if you say you’ve never thought about the years of misfortune after breaking a shining mirror. 7 years of misfortune to be precise. But have you ever wondered how this superstition has spread in our modern world?

Answering this question is not a big deal. At the beginning of time, even if mirrors didn’t exist, the superstition probably evolved from the fact that first humans saw their reflections in the water, believed that the image they were seeing was a stranger ,and probably an enemy. When people acquired a little bit of consciousness, the representation changed. They started believing the reflection was their actual soul and ruffling the surface would mean injuries and danger to both body and soul. Also a lot of ancient myths told mirrors had magical powers, including the power to foreseen the future and were thought to be devices of the Gods. Breaking the mirror meant ending the powers of the object. Mirrors were worshiped as divine object. This power was given to mirrors from ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians. But then breaking a mirror was very improbable because these populations produced  mirrors made out of silver, gold, brass or bronze. The results were (almost) unbreakable mirrors.

But the actual origin of the superstition has to be blame to the Ancient Romans. They believed that a mirror had the power to steal parts of the soul of the reflected person. Any distortion of the reflection meant a corruption of the soul.

And things get worse and worse. A break was an evil sentence. In fact the soul was trapped in the world inside the mirror. Essentially, a broken mirror created a broken soul, which led to an unhealthy and unfortunate future. The length of the prescribed misfortune came from the ancient Roman belief that seven years were needed for life to renew itself. If the person looking into the mirror was not of good health, the image would have broken the mirror. After seven years of misfortune, the life would have been renewed, the body physically rejuvenated, and the curse would have been over.

But Romans were very greedy. In old times, mirrors were very expensive, despite low quality and defections. In order to save some money it was told that breaking a mirror would have brought seven years of bad luck. So maybe was simple greed tactics…

Romans created the curse…and then they created lots of remedies. Accidentally breaking a mirror was very common and if the poor soul didn’t wish seven years of disasters, there were many possibilities. Here for you the best ones:

-Taking all pieces of the mirror and burying them in the moonlight.
      -Taking all pieces and throw them into running water.
            - Pounding the broken mirror into tiny pieces so that no one could reflect anything ever again.
- Leaving the broken mirror for seven hours and then picking it up immediately after the hours were up.
- Burning the mirror, or at least blackening the pieces in the flames of a fire. The fragments should have been buried after a year.
A demon showing his....butt in a mirror

Some other modern measures include lighting seven white candles on the first night after breaking the mirror and blowing them out at midnight in one breath, while another is touching a tombstone with a piece of the mirror. Another counter-remedy, maybe the easiest, is to take a five-dollar bill and make the sign of the cross, even if it’s not clear about what to do with the five-dollar bill.

Nowadays superstitions around mirrors are connected with evil powers and death. Someone even say that the Devil invented it to keep people away from Heaven. Maybe a symbol of vanity….or maybe just an useful object to always look impeccable.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

ChEmIcAmAzInG - Glowing in the dark

It's so magical...
A night at the disco. Flashing colors all around. A little glowing bracelet around your wrist. The music is so loud you don’t care about everything. But maybe a little question makes its way into your mind…How does this stuff glow? Well, here I am to tell you why.

All the glowing in the dark products contain a chemical structures called phosphors. This name is given to any substance that emits light after being energized in some way. Thousands of chemicals can be classified as phosphors. The great variety of chemicals with this property permits lots of degrees of brightness, color, and length of time they glow after being energized.

A phosphorescent eagle
There are three main types of ways these phosphors can absorb energy and then releasing it: Phosphorescence, Chemiluminescence and Radioluminescence.

Phosphorescent structures, most common for glow in the dark items, are things like the glow in the dark stars many people put on their ceilings, giving a room a magical atmosphere.  These items absorb light radiation and then re-emit the stored light energy over some period of time, at some level of brightness. So the best phosphorescent glow in the dark items are able to store a bit of this light, not all of it, and emit it back out relatively slowly, so it glows longer, because glowing for two microseconds is not so impressing.

To be a little be more specific, this process mostly happens extremely quickly (10 nanoseconds to absorb and emit).  In this special case of phosphorescence, the absorbed light energy transitions to a higher energy state, where it’s trapped. Returning to a lower energy state takes time, and in certain phosphorescent compounds the higher energy state can last minutes or even hours, allowing these compounds to effectively store light energy for a long time. The longer the higher state lifetime, the longer it glows.

Another class of glow in the dark objects is the chemiluminescent variety.  These items glow because of an actual chemical reaction. In this reaction, the interaction between the reagents produces and releases energy. Sometimes this reactions have a fluorescent dye that will convert this energy, usually releasing the light in the UV spectrum, into another form of light that is visible to humans (the visible spectrum). The result is items glowing in different colors.

Have you ever heard of the glow stick? Of course you have. Well, this is the perfect example of a chemiluminescent glowing object. Inside a glow stick there is a sealed glass vial containing some chemical.  This is enclosed inside the plastic glow stick container that contains a different chemical and a fluorescent dye. In order to get it to glow, you have to crack the vial, which releases the chemical it contains. The mixture of the chemicals then reaches the plastic container.   When the chemical reaction starts, it produces energy, then converted by the dye to visible light that is re-emitted….and there you have it! A glow stick in all the colors you want…of course you have to choose the right dye.

So light is not caused by heat in chemiluminescence. But heat does effect it. You can try an experiment to verify this. If you put the glow stick in the freezer, the chemical reaction goes slower and slower and the low temperature produces a dimmer glow that lasts longer.  On the other hand, you can put a glow stick in boiling water and you will see it gets brighter and brighter as the chemical reactions happen faster, but won’t glow for a long time. This phenomenon is common in living creatures and is called Bioluminescence (if you want to learn something about it, go check out this process in Fireflies.)

A tritium energized stick
The radioluminescent objects are the least used of the group. This because the reaction is not very common. In fact, these glowing items work with a mixture of phosphors and a radioactive element. Some radioactive emissions come out of the element and energize the phosphor continuously during the entire life of the element.  Some watches glow using this method. The three most common radioactive materials used here are Radium, which has a half-life of 1600 years. Tritium, which has a half-life of 12 years. Promethium, an artificial element which has a half-life of about 3 years. So the glowing lasts for a long time…a very long time.

Very interesting reactions, don’t you think? I hope you liked it and remember….Never Stop Snooping Around <3
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