Dolphins- The Second Most Intelligent Species After Humans?

New research has revealed that dolphins may possess similar brainpower to humans. The marine mammal has hinted at skills and awareness previously believed to be limited to humans alone.

MRI scans demonstrate that dolphin brains, like human ones, are four or five times larger than those of other, similarly-sized animals, explained Lori Marino, a leading dolphin expert and senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University.

“If we use relative brain size as a metric of ‘intelligence’ then one would have to conclude that dolphins are second in intelligence to modern humans,” she said.

Marino addresses two additional points to prove her case: first, the dolphin neocortex, which managed high-order thinking and emotional processes, is highly developed in dolphins, and second, dolphins exhibit many human-like skills, such as cultural learning, self-recognition, communication through symbols, and the ability to grasp abstract concepts.

Another study strengthens Marino’s claim, but from a different perspective altogether; dolphins may use complex, non-linear mathematics throughout their hunts.

Tim Leighton, study author, was first inspired to research the idea after watching the Discovery Channel’s ‘Blue Planet.’

“I immediately got hooked, because I knew that no man-made sonar would be able to operate in such bubble water,” he said, referring to the hundreds of bubbles that form around the dolphins’ prey during a hunt.

“These dolphins were either ‘blinding’ their most spectacular sensory apparatus when hunting- though they still have sight to rely on- or they have sonar that can do what human sonar cannot… Perhaps they have something amazing,” he continued.

“Bubbles cause false alarms because they scatter strongly,” Leighton explained, “and a dolphin cannot afford to waste its energy chasing false alarms while the real fish escape.”

Leighton believes the marine mammals rely on a complex mathematical process that is based on the fact that the emitted pulses vary in amplitude; one may have a value of 1, while the next is a half of that amplitude. If his theory is correct, there are two stages to the hunt.

“So, provided the dolphin remembers what the ratios of the two pulses were, and can multiply the second echo by that and add the echoes together, it can make fish visible to its sonar. This is detection enhancement,” Leighton said.

The second stage works to differentiate between bubbles and actual prey by subtracting the echoes from one another. The math is complicated, but basically renders the fish visible to sonar through addition, and then invisible by subtraction- confirming the target.

Further research is required to validate Leighton’s theory, but several different angles have implied that dolphins may indeed be the second most intelligent animals on Earth today.

Meet Emily, the New Lifeguard Assistant

California’s beaches now have another layer of protection from rip tides and undertow in the form of a robotic lifeguard assistant called ‘Emily.’

A vessel similar to a jet ski, the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard patrols the Malibu beach in search of distressed swimmers and offers support until human help can arrive.

Sharon Reich of Reuters explains that though the model has some flaws, it will greatly aid lifeguards during the busy summer months.

Word Lens Lets You Travel with Ease

It just got that much easier to go to a foreign country and get by. That’s because a new app understands your fears. The app for Android and iPhone called Word Lens will use your phone’s built-in camera to recognize text and then translate it into English. Voila!

The app works at this point for French, Spanish and Italian. After you take a picture of the text in the original language, the translation software in your phone turns it to English and pasts it over the original location.

The app has already been working overtime for Spanish on the iPhone for about 18 months. Now, it will be available on both smartphone platforms and will have the additional language choices.

The translation is then pasted over the original location, practically in real time.

While the app doesn’t take on every nuanced phrase – it does do a pretty impressive job of translating road signs, restaurant menus and typical language phrases.

As Otavio Good, one of the Word Lens developers told TechCrunch,

“It tries to find out what the letters are and then looks in the dictionary. Then it draws the words back on the screen in translation.”  He continued by explaining that, “The translation isn’t perfect, but it gets the point across.”


Green Technology and Solar Panel Solutions

Green, environmentally friendly technology is all the rage as global warming concerns heighten and people begin taking responsibility for the health of our home planet.

One of the most popular topics in the sector today is alternative energy; the possibilities, potentials, hardships and numerous advantages. Some progress has even been made, with experts exploring the options of wind power, water power, and of course, solar energy. One of the popular approaches to harnessing the sun’s energy is through the use of solar panels.

In an article discussing new science discoveries, presents the two main downsides of solar panels, as well as some new, innovative solutions:

  • Solar panels are typically inflexible and brittle, limiting the versatility of their application. But what if you could just spray solar cells onto any surface and collect energy from the sun? The technology is currently being produced at the University of Texas, where researchers are using nanoparticle “inks” full of tiny photovoltaics made from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). These particles are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair. Currently, the photovoltaic ink only converts 1% of the sunlight that reaches it into electricity, but the researchers expect to increase the production and have the technology on the market within three to five years.
  • For homeowners that can afford them, the biggest reason not to install rooftop solar panels is often aesthetics: they’re just plain ugly.  But, unobtrusive solar panels that blend in nearly effortlessly with the architecture of a home are now within reach. Dow Solar recently announced a new generation of building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) roof shingles, and SRS Energy has created powerful solar panels that look just like standard clay roof tiles.


Microbial Wildlife Managers and Antibiotics

Bacteria are generally associated with health problems, diseases and other negative situations. Of course, science reveals that there are positive, and even necessary bacteria that reside in every human body. Recent studies have investigated further into the microbiome that is the body, identifying more than 100 trillion resident microbes.

“I would like to lose the language of warfare,” National Human Genome Research Institute’s Julie Segre said of antibiotics. “It does a disservice to all the bacteria that have so-evolved with us and are maintaining the health of our bodies.”

The New York Times explains:

“This new approach to health is known as medical ecology. Rather than conducting indiscriminate slaughter, Dr. Segre and like-minded scientists want to be microbial wildlife managers.“No one wants to abandon antibiotics outright. But by nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies, doctors may be able to find other ways to fight infectious diseases and with less harmful side effects. Tending the microbiome may also help in the treatment of disorders that may not seem to have anything to do with bacteria, including obesity and diabetes.”  -Carl Zimmer, NY Times

Michael A. Fischbach added “I cannot wait for this to become a big area of science.”


How Global Warming Projects Avoid the Real Issue

Several scientists from Europe have warned that worldwide engineering operations, aimed at reducing global warming, have the potential to minimize rainfall in both Europe and North America, according to Reuters.

Though many of these projects are theoretical, they spark debate across the planet. Some involve reenacting the results of enormous volcanic eruptions by freeing clouds of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, while others are considering launching giant mirrors into space to deflect the sun’s rays.

The main issue with these plans is that they fail to address the actual problem; unbelievable amounts of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Other downsides include the potential consequences that the scientists have yet to research in depth, as well as a lack of an international governance structure.

A group of scientists from France, Norway, Germany and the UK created models to research the earth’s climate if it were subject to more carbon dioxide and less radiation from the sun. They discovered a 5% drop in rainfall in every scenario they explored.

“Climate engineering cannot be seen as a substitute for policy pathway of mitigating climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” the study argued in the Earth System Dynamics journal.

In other words, scientists should stop looking for far-fetched solutions to the problem. As a whole, Earth's people should be aiming to reduce harmful emissions before they trigger an irreversable disaster.