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Science Briefs

Neanderthals’ home use? Like modern humans’

Scientists have found that Neanderthals organized their living spaces in ways that would be familiar to modern humans, a discovery that once again shows similarities between these two close cousins.

The findings, published in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, indicate that Neanderthals butchered animals, made tools and gathered round the fire in different parts of their shelters.

“There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans,” said Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and lead author of the study. “But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space.”

The findings are based on excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy where both Neanderthals and, later, early humans lived for thousands of years. This study’s goal is to compare how the two groups organized their space.

Loofahs could help save energy, lessen waste

Loofahs, best known for their use in exfoliating skin to soft, radiant perfection, have emerged as a new potential tool to advance sustainability efforts on two fronts at the same time: energy and waste. The study that describes the pairing of loofahs with bacteria to create a power-generating microbial fuel cell (MFC) appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Some bacteria have the ability to convert waste into electric power, but current MFC devices can be expensive and complicated to make: The pores in the cells’ electrodes are often too small for bacteria to spread out in. Researchers have turned to plant materials as a low-cost alternative, but pore size has still been an issue. Loofahs, which come from the fully ripened fruit of loofah plants, have very large pores, yet are still inexpensive.

When the scientists put nitrogen-enriched carbon nanoparticles on loofahs and loaded them with bacteria, the resulting MFC performed better than traditional MFCs. The research team was led by Shungui Zhou of China’s Guangdong Institute of Eco-environmental and Soil Sciences. American Chemical Society

TV documentary sparks physics-engineering paper

When Virginia Tech engineering professor James Hanna and Jemal Guven, of nuclear sciences institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, were visiting a colleague in France, they spent one rainy day watching TV – and stumbled across a documentary about whirling dervishes, members of the mystic Sufi order of Islam who spin at a fixed speed in their floor-length skirts. Intrigued, Hanna thought about rotating flexible structures; the two physicists thought about conical symmetry: shapes that can be defined as a series of straight lines emanating from a single point.

The trio pooled their ideas and co-wrote “Whirling Skirts and Rotating Cones,” a paper published last month in New Journal of Physics that widens the understanding of the dynamics of flexible objects and of pattern formation in rotating systems. The work may also “shed some light on the previously known instabilities of turbine disks and hard disks,” Hanna said.

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