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Mars Rover Curiosity Reaches Laser-Zapping Milestone – On Science

December 9, 2013

Who’s calling the shots on Mars?

How can cell phones affect your GPA?

Could you step away from your smartphone?

And coffee or beer for a telomere? Coming up today… On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Turns out Curiosity is a good shot! NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has officially fired the laser it uses to check chemical elements in rock over 100,000 times. The laser is used by the ChemCam instrument to excite plasma from rock, which the ChemCam can then use to observe the spark that flies off the rock and the spectrum of light to identify the elements in the target. The rover fired its 100,000th shot back in November and by now has fired more than 102,000 shots while assessing more than 420 rock or soil targets. The information achieved is being used by scientists and students to identify what makes up the Mars surface inside Gale Crater. NASA said passing the 100,000 laser shot mark is “terribly exciting and is providing a remarkable set of chemical data for Mars.”

[ holding cell phone ] I can’t handle it. I have cell phone overload! That’s how a lot of college students are feeling. A study from Kent University found that frequent cell phone use in college students leads to lower GPAs and more stress and anxiety than less frequent users. Researchers surveyed participants, documented cell phone use, and accessed cumulative GPA for each participant from school records to arrive at their findings. Students reported that social networking and text messaging made them feel tied to their phones. I have no idea what that feels like.

Okay, so maybe I need a cell phone detox, but that’s just so hard! It’s like…well…a drug! According to the software firm FrontRange, smartphone addiction is on the rise. In a survey conducted by the firm of over 800 smartphone owners, half of all smartphone owners admitted to having separation anxiety from their smartphone. Just how bad is the anxiety? Well, they likened cell phone detox to “a trip to the dentist” or “their wedding day.” Researchers also had seven participants go through a week long phone detox. Subjects demonstrated a 39% increase in frustration levels in not getting to check email or social networking, but a 79% anxiety rise in not getting to call or text. However, overall frustration levels did drop from the first day of the detox on Monday to the following Sunday showing that there is hope after all of weaning oneself off of your smartphone.

It’s kind of like we’re all becoming technology zombies! Like when you type and you don’t even think, you’re just functioning brainlessly! Psychologists from Vanderbilt and Kobe universities say that we are able to perform complex activities without necessarily being mind of the mechanics involved, for instance when typing. In the study, researchers found that participants could type an average 72 words per minute with 94% accuracy but had a very difficult time assigning key locations to a black QWERTY keyboard. This demonstrates the theory of automatism in which the brain can perform actions without conscious thought or action. Then I guess we are a little bit zombie after all.

I am definitely a zombie until I have my morning shot of espresso. But when it comes to my genome, I might be better off to have beer. Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Columbia University found that coffee and beer have opposite effects on telomeres—the end points of chromosomal DNA implicated in aging and cancer. Telomeres keep replicating but get shorter each time until they finally become too short and die. Aging. There’s aging for you. Except cancer cells that can replicate forever. After exposing yeast cells to different environmental factors, scientists found that espresso shortened telomeres and ethanol lengthened them. They say they still need to do more research and see if the same is true for human cells. So… they suggested for now to “ try to relax and drink a little coffee and a little beer.”

And to close the show today we want to wish the International Space Station an official Happy 15th Anniversary. The first piece was launched on November 20, 1998, but it was on Dec. 10, 1998, that the first human residents arrived—Commander Bob Cabana and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev. So Happy Birthday ISS from all of us at On Science!

And that’s what’s up On Science. See you tomorrow!