Latest Research posts

Web of woe

22 May 2012

Missouri University of Science and Technology has depressed students. However, Dr Sriram Chellappan, a professor of computer science at Missouri S&T, thinks he can spot the symptoms from their internet use patterns.

Research shows him that students who show signs of depression, for example, use file-sharing services more often than others, and tend to switch between applications more often too. He’s looking to build systems to warn colleges when their students are miserable.

We can’t rule out reverse causation here: if Dr Sriram had ever spent frustrating hours trying to get a decent copy of series four of Dexter from file sharing services, he’d be pretty unhappy too. And maybe the internet is making them depressed, because most of it is rubbish. In this case, switching apps is making their life better. Not much, mind: they’re still in Missouri.

Studying piles

09 May 2012

We’re not anti-intellectual here, but sometimes we wonder why the world’s cleverest people don’t just ask the rest
of us before they start their research projects: we could save them a lot of time.

“When stacking apples on a market stall, fruit sellers naturally adopt a particular arrangement: a regular pyramid with a triangular base. The Laboratoire de Physique des Solides has demonstrated that this arrangement is favoured for reasons of mechanical stability,” Science Daily tells us.

Next month: zoologists finally discover why that bear is going into the woods.

One Q that some will love to get on the end of

29 Nov 2011

We’re always delighted to bring you the things that sources say. It’s one more way we avoid writing proper stories. Ben Whishaw will be head techie Q, the man who says, “Try not to break it, 007,” when he hands Bond the coffee flask with the invisible laser wombat gun, in the next James Bond film!

The “source” said: “Female fans will have more than Daniel to gush over now Ben’s been cast as Q. He’ll be a big draw… His role will be very different from previous Qs. He’ll be far more serious.”

Anyone who thinks that James Bond films are stuck in the past might note that “serious” is, as usual, “making females gush”.

Are friends electric?

04 Nov 2011

And so to University College London (UCL), where researchers in the department of the Bleedin’ Obvious have discovered that the more Facebook friends you have, the more friends you have, which also correlates to the size of certain regions of the brain: presumably including the one that controls typing OMG!!!, or the one that helps you to post movies of cats falling over.

They stress that this is a correlation and not a cause: so if you recruit thousands of Facebook friends, this does not mean you’re going to get a single extra friend in real life. Or, we guess, that bits of your brain will not suddenly start to swell to gigantic proportions, so it's not all bad news.

Nano volunteering

18 Oct 2011

In useful research this week, Northwestern University has developed a nanomaterial that can “steer” electric currents.

“The development could lead to a computer that can simply reconfigure its internal wiring,” it reports. The paper in Nature Nanotechnology concentrates on things like a nano­computer, which can adapt its own circuitry to reconfigure itself.

It doesn’t go into more important problems facing technologists: who’s going to take care of the patching this Tuesday? Can I pull this cable out to see if it does anything? Jobs that computers could sort for themselves, if only one of them would put its little nanohand up and volunteer. But no.