Posts about experiment

Rats Show Empathy-driven Behavior

Rats free trapped companions, even when given choice of chocolate instead

The experiments, designed by psychology graduate student and first author Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal with co-authors Decety and Peggy Mason, placed two rats that normally share a cage into a special test arena. One rat was held in a restrainer device — a closed tube with a door that can be nudged open from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cagemate but not required to take action.

The researchers observed that the free rat acted more agitated when its cagemate was restrained, compared to its activity when the rat was placed in a cage with an empty restrainer. This response offered evidence of an “emotional contagion,” a frequently observed phenomenon in humans and animals in which a subject shares in the fear, distress or even pain suffered by another subject.

While emotional contagion is the simplest form of empathy, the rats’ subsequent actions clearly comprised active helping behavior, a far more complex expression of empathy. After several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena.

“We are not training these rats in any way,” Bartal said. “These rats are learning because they are motivated by something internal. We’re not showing them how to open the door, they don’t get any previous exposure on opening the door, and it’s hard to open the door. But they keep trying and trying, and it eventually works.”

To control for motivations other than empathy that would lead the rat to free its companion, the researchers conducted further experiments. When a stuffed toy rat was placed in the restrainer, the free rat did not open the door. When opening the restrainer door released his companion into a separate compartment, the free rat continued to nudge open the door, ruling out the reward of social interaction as motivation. The experiments left behavior motivated by empathy as the simplest explanation for the rats’ behavior.

“There was no other reason to take this action, except to terminate the distress of the trapped rats,” Bartal said. “In the rat model world, seeing the same behavior repeated over and over basically means that this action is rewarding to the rat.”

As a test of the power of this reward, another experiment was designed to give the free rats a choice: free their companion or feast on chocolate. Two restrainers were placed in the cage with the rat, one containing the cagemate, another containing a pile of chocolate chips. Though the free rat had the option of eating all the chocolate before freeing its companion, the rat was equally likely to open the restrainer containing the cagemate before opening the chocolate container.

“That was very compelling,” said Mason, Professor in Neurobiology. “It said to us that essentially helping their cagemate is on a par with chocolate. He can hog the entire chocolate stash if he wanted to, and he does not. We were shocked.”

Now that this model of empathic behavior has been established, the researchers are carrying out additional experiments. Because not every rat learned to open the door and free its companion, studies can compare these individuals to look for the biological source of these behavioral differences. Early results suggested that females were more likely to become door openers than males, perhaps reflecting the important role of empathy in motherhood and providing another avenue for study…

Interesting study. My guess is this is the kind of thing those that don’t like science would deride. I believe in the value of science. I believe in the value of learning. I believe that such experiments are what drives science forward. I believe if you want your economy to benefit from investing in science you should be encouraging hundreds and thousands of such experiments. Funding for this study was provided by The National Science Foundation (NSF), and others.

I am thankful that more and more countries are willing to invest in science, especially since the USA is showing an increasing anti-science attitude. I would rather the USA continue to believe in the value of science and other countries looked to increase investments. But, it is much better that other countries increase their interest in science, and willingness to invest in science, to more than make up for the USA’s decisions to reduce the appreciation for science than for the world to just lose do to a decrease in investments in science.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantPigeon Solves Box and Banana ProblemStand with ScienceEliminating NSF Program to Aid K-12 Science EducationThe Importance of Science Education

YouTube SpaceLab Experiment Competition

YouTube SpaceLab is an open competition inviting 14 – 18 year olds (anywhere in the world) to create an idea for a science experiment in space. You don’t have to actually do the experiment, you just have to record yourself explaining it.

Entries must have be submitted on YouTube by 07:59 GMT on December 8th.

The winning experiments will be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) and beamed live on YouTube for the whole planet to see.

Winners get the choice to either watch the rocket blast off with your idea on it in Japan or take a specially tailored astronaut training course in Russia when you turn 18. There are other amazing prizes for the runners-up too.

Here is an example entry from 3 students in UK on an experiment to learn about quorum sensing by bacteria in the micro gravity of space.

Related: Google Science Fair 2011 ProjectsBacteria Communicate Using a Chemical Language (quorum sensing)11 Year Old Using Design of ExperimentsResearch by group of 8 to 10 Year Olds Published in Royal Society Journal

Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half

I thought I wrote about this several years ago, but I guess I didn’t (I can’t find it, if I did). Experimental test of airplane boarding methods:

The Ste en method, on the other hand, orders the passengers in such a way that adjacent passengers in line are sitting in corresponding seats two rows apart from each other (e.g., 12A, 10A, 8A, 6A, etc.). This method trades a small number of aisle interferences at the front of the cabin, for the benefit of having multiple passengers stowing their luggage simultaneously. Other methods, such as Wilma and the Reverse Pyramid also realize parallel use of the aisle in a natural way as adjacent passengers are frequently sitting in widely separated rows.

We have seen experimentally that there is a marked difference in the time required to board an aircraft depending upon the boarding method used. The evidence strongly supports the heuristic argument from Ste en that methods that parallelize the boarding process by more efficiently utilizing the aisle (having more passengers stow their luggage simultaneously) will board more quickly than those that do not. The relative benefit of the application of this theory will grow with the length of the aircraft. Here, we used a 12-row mock airplane, but a more typical airplane with twice that number of rows will gain more by the implementation of parallelized boarding methods.

How this improvement scales with the cabin length is different for each method. For the Ste en method, the benefit will scale almost linearly. If the airplane is twice as long, the time savings will be nearly twice as much since the density of luggage-stowing passengers will remain the same and the boarding will still be maximally parallel. For Wilma and random boarding the benefit will not be as strong since the benefits of parallel boarding are randomly distributed along the length of the cabin instead of being regularly distributed.

I am not optimistic that airlines will even test out this method. People tend to think companies apply sensible, proven concepts and methods. But that is much less likely to be done than people think. The failure of many places to use simple queuing theory improvement (customers should form one line and be served the next available person not form many individual lines) is one example of failures by companies to apply decades old proven better methods. The poor adoption of multivariate designed experiments is another. Applying better ideas is a process that is not done very efficiently in business, health care, education or even science and engineering – in fact in any human endeavor. This is a waste that impacts each of us every day. It is also an opportunity for you to gain advantages just by applying all the good ideas lying around that others are ignoring. You need to test the ideas out in your setting (using the PDSA cycle in an organizational context a good method).

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesSuccessful Emergency Plane Landing in the Hudson RiverChecklists Save LivesImproving Engineering Education

Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant

Another example of very cool animal behavior. This Asian Elephant, seemed to consider the problem, devise a solution and then go get a stool to reach food that could not be reached without a tool.

Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant

The “aha” moment or the sudden arrival of the solution to a problem is a common human experience. Spontaneous problem solving without evident trial and error behavior in humans and other animals has been referred to as insight. Surprisingly, elephants, thought to be highly intelligent, have failed to exhibit insightful problem solving in previous cognitive studies. We tested whether three Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) would use sticks or other objects to obtain food items placed out-of-reach and overhead. Without prior trial and error behavior, a 7-year-old male Asian elephant showed spontaneous problem solving by moving a large plastic cube, on which he then stood, to acquire the food. In further testing he showed behavioral flexibility, using this technique to reach other items and retrieving the cube from various locations to use as a tool to acquire food. In the cube’s absence, he generalized this tool utilization technique to other objects and, when given smaller objects, stacked them in an attempt to reach the food. The elephant’s overall behavior was consistent with the definition of insightful problem solving. Previous failures to demonstrate this ability in elephants may have resulted not from a lack of cognitive ability but from the presentation of tasks requiring trunk-held sticks as potential tools, thereby interfering with the trunk’s use as a sensory organ to locate the targeted food.

Further inspired by Köhler’s chimpanzee studies, in experiment 4 we conducted 8 additional sessions to investigate whether Kandula would stack items to reach food. For these sessions, the baited branches were hung at a height that could be reached by stacking three butcher block cutting boards or by the use of other objects. In addition, the elephant was given sticks and other enrichment items. Kandula first touched several items and then moved two items, a plastic disk and a block under the suspended branches, placing one front foot on each in an unsuccessful attempt to reach for the branch. He solved the problem in an unexpected novel manner, moving and standing on the object closest in size to the absent cube, a large ball. Standing on unstable platforms such as this had not been previously observed. He repeated this behavior 9 times during this session. During the session’s last minutes, Kandula picked up a block ~2 m from the food and placed it directly on top of a block that he placed under the food in a previous attempt. He stood on the stacked blocks and attempted to reach the food but was unsuccessful. He stacked two blocks again in the second and sixth sessions but each time his trunk was several inches from the food.

This is very cool research. I do wonder why they didn’t provide more videos (and in a more user-friendly format than .mov files). I made them available via YouTube.

It seems like a very interesting area to have more experiments with more elephants (and continuing to work with Kandula: he seems to be very curious elephant, good for him).

Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearBird Using Bait to Catch FishCrows Transferring Their Understanding to Novel ProblemCapuchin Monkeys Using Stone ToolsFighting Elephant Poaching With SciencePhoto of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam
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Google Science Fair 2011 Projects

The Google Science Fair selected 60 semi-finalists in 3 groups (age 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18). The 60 global semi finalists will then be narrowed down by our judging panel to 15 global finalists who will be announced later in May.

The 15 global finalists will be flown to Google HQ in California, USA for our celebratory Science Fair event and finalist judging round will take place on 11 July 2011. These finalists will be expected to present their projects before a panel of acclaimed scientists including Nobel Laureates, tech visionaries and household names.

Sailboats using canting keels are among the world’s fastest ocean-going vessels; however, there are inherent problems. Canting sailboats require the addition of canards or dagger boards to replace the loss of the primary underwater lifting surface, adding significant complexity. The second and more important issue is that the cantilevered weight of the ballast bulb at the end of the keel generates tremendous loads on the vessel. The objective of this research was to test a concept to make sailboats even faster and safer than the current designs. To test the concept, this researcher built a remote control functional model fitted for both canting and hydrodynamic keels. The results showed that the hydrodynamic keel out performs the canting keel both upwind and downwind.

The Grand Prize winner plus one parent or guardian per winner will win an amazing 10 day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions. Traveling aboard the National Geographic Endeavour the winner will visit Darwin’s living laboratory and experience up-close encounters with unique species such as flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, and domed giant tortoises. They also win a $50,000 scholarship, split equally between team members should a team win this prize. This scholarship is intended to be used towards the finalists’ further education.

The 2 age group winners that are not selected as the grand prize winner will win $25,000 scholarships.

You can vote on your favorite projects and help select the people’s choice winner that will receive a $10,000 scholarship.

Related: 11 Year Old Using Design of ExperimentsPresident Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and EngineeringScience Fair Project on Bacterial Growth on Packaged Salads

Gravity and the Scientific Method

One of the topics I return to repeatedly is the scientific method – theories must to tested. As evidence mounts that new ideas do a good job of explaining theories they become more accepted. But they continue to be tested in new ways as the ideas are extended and ramification are explored. And science progress means that old conventions can be overturned as new evidence is gathered.

Science is not about current beliefs. Science is about seeking knowledge. If the search for knowledge leads to evidence that old ideas were wrong those ideas are overturned. Since people are involved that process isn’t as clean as it sounds above. People get comfortable with beliefs. They build careers on expanding those beliefs. Most are uncomfortable when they are challenged and don’t accept new ideas even when the evidence mounts. But some do accept the new ideas. Some challenge the new ideas by running experiments. And some of those prove the new ideas faulty. Some become convinced of the new ideas as the results of their experiments make the new ideas seem more sensible (instead of getting the results they expected).

Building the body of scientific knowledge is not nearly as clean and simple as most people think. It isn’t a simple process, what is the underlying truth can be debatable. But the beauty of the scientific process is how it helps us overcome our biases and provide evidence to support the theories we support. The scientific method (combined with our human involvement) doesn’t mean new ideas are accepted easily but it does mean new ideas compete on the basis of evidence not just the power of those that hold the beliefs.

Is gravity not actually a force? Forcing theory to meet experiments
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New Analysis of Primordial Soup Experiment Half a Century Later

Open access paper: Primordial synthesis of amines and amino acids in a 1958 Miller H2S-rich spark discharge experiment

Archived samples from a previously unreported 1958 Stanley Miller electric discharge experiment containing hydrogen sulfide (H2S) were recently discovered and analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography and time-of-flight mass spectrometry. We report here the detection and quantification of primary amine-containing compounds in the original sample residues, which were produced via spark discharge using a gaseous mixture of H2S, CH4, NH3, and CO2. A total of 23 amino acids and 4 amines, including 7 organosulfur compounds, were detected in these samples.

The major amino acids with chiral centers are racemic within the accuracy of the measurements, indicating that they are not contaminants introduced during sample storage. This experiment marks the first synthesis of sulfur amino acids from spark discharge experiments designed to imitate primordial environments. The relative yield of some amino acids, in particular the isomers of aminobutyric acid, are the highest ever found in a spark discharge experiment.

The simulated primordial conditions used by Miller may serve as a model for early volcanic plume chemistry and provide insight to the possible roles such plumes may have played in abiotic organic synthesis. Additionally, the overall abundances of the synthesized amino acids in the presence of H2S are very similar to the abundances found in some carbonaceous meteorites, suggesting that H2S may have played an important role in prebiotic reactions in early solar system environments.

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11 Year Old Using Design of Experiments

This reminds me of great times I had experimenting with my father when I was a kid. Though, to be honest, Sarah is much more impressive than I was.

Catapulting to Success with Design of Experiments

photo of Sarah and her trebuchet

Sarah Flexman with her trebuchet at the Storm the Castle science challenge in North Carolina.

At the end of 2010, Sarah had decided to take part in Storm the Castle, one of the events offered in the statewide science Olympiad competition. This particular challenge was to design, build and launch a model trebuchet, which is a medieval-style catapult for hurling heavy stones…

Here’s Sarah’s whole process: She built the trebuchet, tested it, used JMP for DOE during optimization, changed the hook angle and sling to improve performance, did more tests, entered this new data, reran the model, and made her final prediction graphs. The variables in her DOE were string length, counterweight and projectile weight, and she optimized for distance – that is, how far the projectile would go.

“Rather than doing 125 tests because we have three variables with five levels each, DOE found a way for us to perform only 26 tests and get approximately the same results. I typed in the results, ran the model and used the JMP Profiler. I understood how the variables predicted the outcome and found several patterns,” she explained.

“I hadn’t done any building like that. The whole day was fun. It was a very open learning environment. You were experimenting with things you had never done before. I would definitely do it again,” Sarah said. And she will – next year.

I have collected quite a few design of experiments resources, for those who are interested in learning more. Here is a nice webcast by brother: Combinatorial Testing – The Quadrant of Massive Efficiency Gains, discussing the incredibly efficiency designed combinatorial testing (very similar ideas to design of experiments) can provide.

Related: Learning Design of Experiments with Paper HelicoptersPlaying Dice and Children’s NumeracyStatistics Insights for Scientists and EngineersSarah (a different one), aged 3, Learns About SoapStatistics for ExperimentersMulti-factor designed experimentsCombinatorial Testing for SoftwareWhat Else Can Software Development and Testing Learn from Manufacturing? Don’t Forget Design of Experiments (DoE)Letting Children Learn

Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs

Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs

Kids with ADHD can be restless and difficult to handle. Many of them are treated with drugs, but a new study says food may be the key. Published in The Lancet journal, the study suggests that with a very restrictive diet, kids with ADHD could experience a significant reduction in symptoms.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Lidy Pelsser of the ADHD Research Centre in the Netherlands, writes in The Lancet that the disorder is triggered in many cases by external factors — and those can be treated through changes to one’s environment. “ADHD, it’s just a couple of symptoms — it’s not a disease,” the Dutch researcher tells All Things Considered weekend host Guy Raz.

The way we think about — and treat — these behaviors is wrong, Pelsser says. “There is a paradigm shift needed. If a child is diagnosed ADHD, we should say, ‘OK, we have got those symptoms, now let’s start looking for a cause.’ ”

According to Pelsser, 64 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD are actually experiencing a hypersensitivity to food. Researchers determined that by starting kids on a very elaborate diet, then restricting it over a few weeks’ time. “It’s only five weeks,” Pelsser says. “If it is the diet, then we start to find out which foods are causing the problems.”

Teachers and doctors who worked with children in the study reported marked changes in behavior. “In fact, they were flabbergasted,” Pelsser says.

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8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society Journal

Eight-year-old children publish bee study in Royal Society journal

Their paper, based on fieldwork carried out in a local churchyard, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage from with more flexibility than anyone had thought. It’s the culmination of a project [Blackawton Bees] called ‘i, scientist’, designed to get students to actually carry out scientific research themselves.

The class (including Lotto’s son, Misha) came up with their own questions, devised hypotheses, designed experiments, and analysed data. They wrote the paper themselves (except for the abstract), and they drew all the figures with colouring pencils.
It’s a refreshing approach to science education, in that it actually involves doing science.

The children designed a Plexiglas cube with two entrances and a four-panelled light box in the middle. Each panel had 16 coloured lights, illuminated in clear patterns of blue and yellow. Each light had a feeder that dispensed either delicious sugar water or repulsive salty water. Once the bees had learned to drink from the feeders, the kids turned the lights on.

Absolutely great stuff. This is how to engage kids in science. Engage their inquisitive minds. Let them get involved. Let them experiment.

Some of the children’s questions when looking at what to discover using experiments:

What if… we could find out how much effort the bees will go through in order to get a reward? For instance, they have to move something heavy out of the way to get a reward.

What if… we could discover if bees can learn to go to certain colours depending on how sweet they are?

What if… we could find out how many colours they could remember?

Related: Playing Dice and Children’s NumeracyKids on Scientists: Before and AfterTest it Out, Experiment by They Might Be GiantsWhat Kids can LearnTinker School: Engineering CampTeen diagnoses her own disease in science class

And some of their comments:
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NHL Experiments with the Rules of Hockey

The NHL’s ice-capades

The players—who were, in an attention-getting wrinkle, mostly top junior stars eligible for the 2011 draft—road-tested everything from two-on-two overtime to shallower nets to having the second referee view the play from an elevated off-ice platform. On day two, viewers were confronted with the bizarre spectacle of the traditional five faceoff circles being replaced by three, running up the middle of the rink.

Placed in charge of the R & D effort, and the sales job surrounding it, is retired hockey great Brendan Shanahan, now the league’s vice-president of hockey and business development. “There were some ideas that were adventurous and others that were subtle,” says Shanahan, about the recent camp. “I wanted to capture the full spectrum.” Shanahan, who had the final say on the testing schedule, takes the scientist’s view that a “negative” experimental result can be as useful and instructive as a “positive” one. “Sometimes you just have to see things play out to really satisfy your curiosity,” he says. “What I told people that got sort of frightened at some of our far-out ideas is that sometimes your goal is to breathe life into an idea—but other times, you try it out because it’s time to put it to bed.”

I applaud their willingness to try experiments. I am a sports fan who doesn’t find much interest in the NHL, but I do enjoy Olympic hockey.

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