[TWILT #6] The Silver Bridge, Video-recorded Dreams, and Cheap Playgrounds

Silver Bridge Collapse Signage


This Week I Learned That…

  1. One of the worst bridge disasters in American history, the collapse of the Silver Bridge in West Virginia, was due to a 1/8 inch crack in one of the latches securing the bridge. In Modern Marvels Engineering Disasters, The History Channel recounts the infamous incident in which 46 people died. Apparently, the structure was held together by a series of “links.” Like the links of a chain, if one were to break, the entire support would collapse. One latch, for unknown reasons, sustained a crack 1/8 inch in diameter. The pressure was enough to break the link and send the entire bridge into the Ohio River below. And, yes, this is the very same bridge upon which The Mothman Prophecies is based.
  2. Through the explosion in neuroscience research, it will soon be possible to video-record our dreams. In The Future of the Mind, Physicist Michio Kaku discusses the most current research in dream studies. Although peer-reviewed, published results are still several years away, scientists can currently “record” dreams of their subjects in laboratories. Through technologies such as fMRI, neuroscientists are able to map the firing of neurons to objects in the real world with remarkable accuracy. Kaku describes seeing the dream of a subject play out on a screen and, while facial recognition is virtually non-existent, clear patterns emerge that indicate a narrative taking place.
  3. Children enjoy playing with everyday items more than they enjoy playing with playground equipment. According to a study conducted this year in Australia, children are more likely to play with everyday items than they are with playground equipment designed specifically for them. The researchers monitored the behavior of children on a playground with traditional playground equipment–slides, monkey bars, etc.–as a control group. Then, they compared the behavior of those children with children on another playground who were given items such as pipes, buckets, hay bales, and exercise mats. The children playing with the everyday items had a sedentary rate of half those who were on the traditional playground. Researchers suggest that the everyday items may enable children to use their imagination more so than the conventional playground equipment.
  4. The single biggest factor in determining how well a student will perform on the SAT is the number of students in the room when the test is taken. In Before Happiness, his book on why some people are happy and others aren’t, Psychologist Shawn Achor recounts a large scale study on high school students in America taking the SAT. It turns out that a larger number of students present in the room during the test substantially decreases the average SAT scores for the students taking test. The correlation of the group size with the SAT score was stronger than many other intuitive variables such as GPA. If you want to read the original study, check out the PDF here.
  5. 65-85% of jobs are discovered through networking. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business School, anywhere from 2/3 to 9/10 of the jobs people currently hold were found through people they knew. In many ways, these results are not surprising. We all know the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” But, nevertheless, it still seems that job seekers tend to look first to the job boards. It makes sense, though, for employers to hire people they know rather than to gamble on a job seeker who may or may not be telling the whole truth about qualifications.
  6. High amounts of fat in the body can limit cognitive abilities. A recent study conducted by researchers at Georgia Regents university discovered that, in mice, there is a substance in fat cells that tends to seep into the hippocampus portion of the brain–impairing memory and cognition. Mice which had these fat cells removed scored much more highly on standard thinking and memory tests than those which did not have the fat removed. Of course, this study was only conducted on mice. But, you can’t help but wonder just how analogous it may be to humans.
  7. On average, married couples are happiest in their third year of marriage. A large scale study conducted by a law firm in the U.K. discovered the peak point of happiness in married life. After year 3 was discovered to be the happiest, the respondents were polled to discover how their relationships evolved throughout marriage. Essentially, many people said that the first few years are spent getting used to one another and then, after the third year, people started to get bored or unfulfilled with one another–leaving 3 as the magical number. Third year’s a charm, it seems.
  8. Since 2008, thirteen tons of garbage have been collected by conservation groups on Mount Everest. In a podcast discussing the history of mountaineers climbing Everest, hosts Tracy Wilson and Holly Frey explain the difficulties in scaling the world’s highest peak. Only around 3,000 people have been able to climb the mountain throughout all of history. The closer they get to the top, the slower people move–stopping to breathe with every step. Naturally, getting rid of excess weight helps. And, when it’s a matter of life or death, people tend to worry less about pollution.
  9. At 13 years old, Jamie Edwards of England recently become the youngest person ever to achieve nuclear fusion. In an episode of The Naked Scientist podcast, Jamie and his sponsoring teacher are interviewed. Once Jamie had gotten the idea that he wanted to become the youngest person to ever achieve nuclear fusion, he knew he would have to do it before his 14th birthday. He began to seek funding at local universities, but was promptly dismissed. Eventually, he delivered a persuasive PowerPoint presentation to a high school teacher who agreed to fund him the 2,000 pounds necessary for his project. And, not too long after that conversation, Jamie pulled it off.

Thanks for reading.

Stay Curious,

– Doug

featured image courtesy of Richie Diesterheft licensed via Creative Commons.

The Curiosity Manifesto: Investigate


About Douglas E Rice

Douglas E Rice is just a guy who likes to learn stuff.
This entry was posted in blog, Books and Reading, Health, History, Science, T.W.I.L.T.. Bookmark the permalink.

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