TIME Research

This Machine Vomits On Command For Science

vomiting machine
Courtesy of Grace Tung-Thompson

A novel way to study how norovirus spreads from person to person through the air

In the experiment straight out of the dreams of an 8-year-old boy, but published in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists have invented a machine that vomits on command.

They’re using it learn more about norovirus, a highly contagious virus that often leads to vomiting. There are about 21 million cases of norovirus a year in the U.S.—a quarter of them linked to food—and it’s primarily spread through person-to-person transmission.

How, exactly, was what researchers wanted to figure out. “We know the virus is shed in massive amounts in the fecal material of infected individuals—I mean like millions to billions of particles per gram,” says study author Lee-Ann Jaykus, professor of food science at North Carolina State University and scientific director of the USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative (NoroCORE). Much less is known about how it can spread through virus particles in the air after a person vomits. “We have suspected aerosolization of virus in vomiting for probably 20 years, but we never provided any kind of laboratory based proof of it,” says Jaykus.

MORE: It Only Takes A Few Hours For Viruses To Spread Everywhere

Recruiting students to vomit virus particles in a laboratory would likely have been a challenge. So Jaykus asked her environmental engineering colleague, Francis L. de los Reyes III, to design a machine that simulates human vomiting. What resulted was a scaled-down stomach system—plus a cute little face for fun—that spewed out vomit at a velocity, volume and viscosity that matched the real thing. (The chunky kind was represented by vanilla JELL-O pudding; the watery kind by artificial saliva. Both were doused with green food coloring.)

Norovirus, too, had a stand-in. Researchers used another virus called the MS2 bacteriophage, which doesn’t hurt humans.

After the machine threw up in an enclosed box, a biosampler attached to the box collected the particles so that the scientists could measure how much virus was present. “That’s what we counted as the fraction that was aerosolized,” says Jaykus.

MORE: Outbreak Of Norovirus Linked To A Popular Oregon Lake

About 0.02% of the virus in the vomit, at most, was aerosolized. That sounds like a safe number, until you consider that it equals roughly 13,000 particles—and people can get sick by being exposed to as few as 20 virus particles.

“This paper allows us to be relatively certain that norovirus is aerosolized at least to some extent in vomiting,” Jaykus says. “Proving that is very important in understanding the transmission of the virus.”

If you’re near the splash zone of a public vomiting incident, what do you do? Based on the results of this experiment, “the safest thing for you to do would be to walk away,” Jaykus says. “The further you get from the aerosol, probably the better off you are.”

TIME Research

Ice Bucket Challenge Money Has Boosted ALS Research, Scientists Say

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $100 million for ALS research

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $100 million for research and treatment of ALS. Now, scientists say that the money has already begun paying dividends for research into the devastating disease.

A study published last week in the journal Science explains the problems in a dysfunctional protein in ALS patients, a mystery that researchers have been studying for decades. Johns Hopkins researchers received funding for the study from the ALS Association, a key recipient of Ice Bucket Challenge money. The research, which was conducted in mice, needs to be expanded upon before it can be applied.

“With any luck this could lead to possibly a cure or really just slowing down this terrible disease,” said study author Jonathan Ling, a Johns Hopkins researcher, in a YouTube video explaining the research.

The Johns Hopkins research is one of many ALS projects funded with the help of the Ice Bucket Challenge money. The ALS Association has announced new breakthroughs, as well as $11 million in new grants, at a rapid clip in recent months.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disorder that diminishes a person’s normal operation of muscles, speaking and other functions. Most people die within a few years of being diagnosed with the disease. It affects around 30,000 people in the U.S.

TIME Innovation

How America Is Falling Behind on Scientific Research

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

This week we’re presenting some of the most interesting ideas from the past year.

1. How did America fall so far behind on basic scientific research? (From April 29, 2015)

By Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times

2. The next leader of the U.N. should be a woman. (From March 30, 2015)

By Gillian Sorensen and Jean Krasno in the Washington Post

3. Cuba has a treatment for lung cancer, and now we can get our hands on it. (From May 12, 2015)

By Neel V. Patel in Wired

4. Technology’s greatest gift to social justice is the mobile phone camera. (From April 29, 2015)

By Robinson Meyer in the Atlantic

5. Want to change how you see the world? Rewire your brain by learning a second language. (From March 23, 2015)

By Nicholas Weiler in Science Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

64 Scientific Studies Retracted By One Publishing Company

The studies were associated with fake emails and fabricated peer reviews.

A company that publishes scientific research has retracted 64 articles from 10 journals after discovering that the peer-review reports—summaries of how the papers were vetted by experts in the field prior to publication—were fabricated.

Springer, which publishes more than 2,200 English-language research journals, issued a statement on the retraction on Tuesday, noting that the problems included fake email addresses.

“After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer-review process on these 64 articles was compromised,” a Springer spokesperson said in a statement.

Peer review is an integral part of respected research; journals rely on that process to assess the viability of the results, to weed out unscientific claims, to flag poor study design or to reject unreliable findings. The process for getting a paper published is highly competitive, and retractions appear to be on the rise—about 1,500 papers in multiple journals have been retracted for various reasons since 2012, as the editors of Retraction Watch note.

Last November, BioMed Central, a Springer company, retracted 43 studies for similar reasons, and in the past three years alone. While that’s only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of studies published each year, scientists are worried that the incidence rate of fabrication may be higher.

Springer said as much in its statement, noting, “The peer-review process is one of the cornerstones of quality, integrity and reproducibility in research, and we take our responsibilities as its guardians seriously. We are now reviewing our editorial processes across Springer to guard against this kind of manipulation of the peer review process in future.”

TIME Research

The History of Shampoo

shampoo
Getty Images

Lather, rinse, repeat

MIMI is a Time Inc. property.

Shampoo is good for many things. It makes you smell good, it can give you an extra little bounce, and it’s a delightful substitute for bubble bath in a pinch. But where did this miracle stuff come from?

We owe a ton of gratitude to the people of ancient Egypt, who invented many of our favorite beauty products way, way back in the day — but shampoo got its start somewhere else: India.

As early as the 1500s, people in India used the pulp of a fruit called soapberries combined with some herbs and even hibiscus flowers to keep their hair on point. When British colonial traders were going back and forth between India and England, they knew a good thing when they saw it and brought the notion of shampooing your hair to Europe. Yes, it’s true, prior to that, strands in the Western world were left to their own — probably quite dirty — devices.

Even once shampoo arrived on European shores, it still wasn’t available in the mass market. Pretty much, it was only used by professional hair stylists — and it came in a solid form, similar to a bar of soap. Much to the delight of Jane Austen and her contemporaries, I’m sure, the ability to lather up at home became a thing in the 1800s, but people were still using the stuff very sparingly. We’re talking washing your hair only once a month sparingly. These were grim times.

The New York Times announced in a 1908 article that it was fine to wash your hair every couple weeks (one would hope). Then, in the late 1920s, liquid shampoo was finally invented, making it far simpler to wash that man right out of your hair.

Dermatologists and beauty experts alike advise against daily shampooing, saying it’s best to only lather up a couple times a week at most — and the NoPoo anti-shampoo movement has caught on with certain people — but I still say few things feel better and make me feel more confident than shiny clean hair.

This article originally appeared on MIMI.

More from MIMI:

TIME Social Media

Facebook Says This Is How We Laugh on the Internet

Haha

Do you do a lot of laughing online? How do you express your chortles–with a hearty haha or are your more of a LOLer, yourself?

Well now you can tell exactly how your e-laughing compares with the average joe’s, after Facebook published an analysis on it’s research blog. Inspired by a New Yorker blog post about the various ways we indicate laughter online, researchers, “analyzed de-identified posts and comments posted on Facebook in the last week of May with at least one string of characters matching laughter,” the post reads. “We did the matching with regular expressions which automatically identified laughter in the text, including variants of haha, hehe, emoji, and lol.”

Here’s what they found:

As denizens of the Internet will know, laughter is quite common: 15% of people included laughter in a post or comment that week. The most common laugh is haha, followed by various emoji and hehe. Age, gender and geographic location play a role in laughter type and length: young people and women prefer emoji, whereas men prefer longer hehes. People in Chicago and New York prefer emoji, while Seattle and San Francisco prefer hahas.

Here’s the distribution of different kinds of laughs:

Facebook

And this map will show you where these different types of laughs are most common:

Facebook

To dig even deeper into the data, check out Facebook’s research blog.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME Education

Happier Students Get Higher Grades in School, Research Says

students-raising-hands-classroom
Getty Images

“I only do good work when I think happy thoughts.”

What leads to success in school?

Recent research suggests success is partly driven by character skills. “Grit,” for example, or perseverance and passion for long-term goals, seems to be a better predictor of success than IQ in school and beyond.

Researchers have also demonstrated that having a “growth mindset,” meaning that a person recognizes that abilities are not fixed, but developed through practice, is associated with academic success.

Researchers at Research Schools International are exploring other character skills that might contribute to success. In a recent study, we explored the relationship between happiness and student achievement.

Are happy students more successful in school? What makes students happy?

Happiness and academic success

First, what exactly is happiness?

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert defines happiness as frequent positive feelings accompanied by an overall sense that one’s life has meaning.

Psychology research has shown a strong link between happiness and success in the workplace. For example, Gilbert and colleagues have shown that happier employees tend to perform better, earn more money and be more helpful to their coworkers.

Education researchers are only beginning to explore the relationship between happiness and school achievement.

Researchers at Research Schools International partnered with administrators, teachers, and students at St Andrew’s Episcopal School and The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning to study happiness and academic achievement.

Results revealed a significant correlation between happiness and academic success. Moreover, we found that relationships are fundamental to students’ happiness.

The impact of happy thoughts

We collected data on happiness and grades from 94% of the student body (435 students) at St Andrew’s, including elementary, middle and upper school students. We developed developmentally appropriate surveys to measure students’ happiness with feedback from teachers and students at the school.

We also worked with administrators and teachers at the school to collect data on students’ GPAs.

Our results revealed that, on average, students who reported being happier had higher grades. Specifically, we found a statistically significant correlation between happiness and students’ GPA from elementary school through high school.

Students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, supported their schoolwork. One student shared, “In school I feel happy and accepted, which allows for a fun and free learning experience.” Yet another explained, “I always feel pushed to do my best when I have a project that I find to be really interesting and fun.”

One student summed it up, “I only do good work when I think happy thoughts.”

Relationships are fundamental to happiness

Our next question was, what supports students to be happy?

We found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness. Results showed that the quality of students’ relationships with teachers and peers predicted their happiness. Across all ages, students with positive relationships were more likely to be happy.

Although voiced in different ways, time and again students of all ages emphasized that their relationships are fundamental to their happiness. As one student shared, “In school I feel happy. I think I feel this way because I’m surrounded by my friends, and around teachers that are very nice and caring.”

Another student echoed this sentiment, “I feel happy because I feel like I am surrounded by a great group of friends and teachers.” Yet another expressed, “I feel happy while I am in school. I feel this way because I have my friends.” Another explained, “I am only happy in school when I feel that I have a group of good friends. Friends are what makes me very happy, energetic, and enjoy school.”

These results suggest that there is an important relationship between happiness and academic achievement.

While more research is needed to explore the relationships among happiness, social networks, and achievement in a school setting, the findings of this study are consistent with earlier ones in positive psychology.

As positive psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth explain:

“If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network – about your friends and family and the strength of the bonds with them.”

We couldn’t agree more.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Schools Start Too Early, Federal Officials Say

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Officials say kids need more sleep for better health, safety and academic performance

The majority of U.S. middle and high schools start their school days too early, not letting young people get enough sleep for development and academic success, a new federal report says.

A new report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday shows that fewer than one in five middle and high schools in the U.S. start at the recommended 8:30 a.m. start time or later. That start time was recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, based on research showing that in the morning, young people need more time to sleep in for their health. The new data come from a review of surveys of about 40,000 middle, high, and combined public schools in the U.S. during the 2011–12 school year.

MORE: When Sleep and School Don’t Mix

The new report shows that in 42 states, 75% to 100% of public schools started before 8:30 a.m. The average school start time is 8:03 a.m. Louisiana had the earliest start time at 7:40 a.m., and Alaska had the latest start time at 8:33 a.m.

Starting school times later allows students to get the optimal amount of sleep, which is around 8.5 to 9.5 hours. Data suggest that two out of three high school students sleep less than 8 hours a night. Lack of sleep can lead to a cascade of health issues like higher body weight, lower academic performance and a greater likelihood for substance abuse, medical experts say.

MORE: School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Urge Doctors

As TIME has previously reported, both medical experts and the current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan support changing school start times.“It’s completely a local decision, but I’d like to see more school districts at least consider delaying start times,” Duncan recently told TIME. “A later start to the school day could help boost students’ academic performance and reduce tardiness and absenteeism. Our common sense tells us that sleepy students don’t do well in school, but the research also exists to back it up. Studies show that when students are rested, they are more alert and ready to learn.”

CDC

Delaying school start times can be a difficult task for many schools, and the move often receives significant pushback from people worried about how it will affect after-school activities. However, some schools that have made the switch have seen positive results. For instance, a 2014 University of Minnesota study showed that in high schools that started at 8:30 a.m. or later, 60% of their students got at least eight hours of sleep every night. Teenagers who slept less than that reported more emotional and behavioral issues.

Though it’s not simple to change a school start time, researchers say it can be worth it. “Educating parents and school system decision-makers about the impact of sleep deprivation on adolescent health and academic performance might lead to adoption of later start times,” the study authors conclude.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Parental Happiness Predicts If You’ll Have Another Kid

Shadow of mother lifting baby
Chev Wilkinson / Getty Images The happier a parent is after their firstborn, the more likely the child will have a sibling.

A study notes that baby number one affects parental satisfaction and, in turn, affects whether baby number two is in the horizon

It’s often said that happiness often dips for parents after the birth of a first child. The diaper changes, the middle-of-the-night wailing, the exhaustion—all this and more make for a not-so-blissful experience. Couple a crying infant with job stress and hormones, and you’ve got one crabby new parent.

And that crabbiness might mean baby won’t get a brother or a sister: New research from the Journal of Demography shows that how happy a brand-new parent acts as a pretty solid predictor of whether a couple decides to get pregnant again.

Mikko Myrskyla at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and his colleague, Rachel Marolis at the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Sociology, collected data from Germany’s Socio-Economic Panel Study, which included the former East and West Germanys (East Germany was added in 1991), foreigners, and immigrants between 1984 and 2010. From the survey, 2,016 people who had had first births were interviewed about their levels of life satisfaction—beyond the happiness of being a parent, Myrskala told TIME.

“We don’t ask parents about happiness with relationship to parenthood, because there is a strong implicit pressure to be happy,” Myrskala says. “If I go and ask a new parent these kinds of questions, they feel a pressure to put a positive picture of what a new parent is ‘supposed’ to feel.”

Having the first kid, the authors write, is a crash course in childrearing; having a second one, then, becomes a more informed decision. This can play out in a number of ways. Consider, for instance, the parents of a fuss-free newborn. The circumstance is likely to be seen as positive experience, making the new mom and dad more likely to have more kids. About 58% of parents who reported at least a three-point loss in happiness had a second child within 10 years of the first. But that shot up to 66% of parents who did not experience a dip in happiness.

There are some commanalities among parents who decide to go for baby number two and beyond. These individuals seem to have more life satisfaction around the time of the first child’s birth, and reported a smaller drop in happiness than parents who stuck with one kid. And there’s something about being older and wiser as a first-time parent: people who are over 30 and have a college education are more likely to be able to cope with the shock of an infant than younger, less educated couples, the study found.

While the study is focused on Germany—a country that has experienced economic and political upheaval along with a 2007 parental leave amendment that made paid leave “more Nordic”—Myrskala thinks the results are in keeping with other countries.

“What this suggests is that policymakers who are concerned about lower rates should pay attention to the wellbeing of new parents,” Myrskyla says, citing not only parental leave but also affordable kindergarten and childcare.

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