Science Briefs: Always checking your mobile device? It’s impulse

Impulsive behavior: frequently checking and re-checking a mobile phone
Impulsive behavior: frequently checking and re-checking a mobile phone Getty Images/iStockphoto

Bad mobile phone habits? It’s impulse

Some people frequently check and re-check their mobile phones. Once this impulse is triggered, it may be more a question of not being able to leave the device alone than actually hoping to gain some reward from it. These insights are drawn from a study by psychologists Henry Wilmer and Jason Chein of Philadelphia’s Temple University and are published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

The researchers wanted to determine if people who report heavier mobile technology use might also have different tendencies towards delaying gratification than others, or might exhibit individual differences in impulse control and in responding to rewards. Their subjects were 91 undergrads.

The results provide evidence that people who constantly check and use their mobile devices throughout the day are less apt to delay gratification.

“Mobile technology habits, such as frequent checking, seem to be driven most strongly by uncontrolled impulses and not by the desire to pursue rewards,” said Wilmer, who added that the findings provide correlational evidence that increased use of portable electronic devices is associated with poor impulse control and a tendency to devalue delayed rewards.

Fuel cell powered by urine

A new kind of fuel cell that can turn urine into electricity could revolutionize the way we produce bioenergy, particularly in developing countries. The research, published in Electrochimica Acta, describes a new design of microbial fuel cell that’s smaller, cheaper and more powerful than traditional ones.

In their study, British researchers from University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory describe a new design of microbial fuel cell that overcomes two limitations of standard microbial fuel cells: low power production and their cost. (The cathode often contains platinum to speed up the reactions that create electricity.)

The new miniature microbial fuel cell uses no expensive materials for the cathode – it’s made of carbon cloth and titanium wire. To speed the reaction and create more power, it uses a catalyst made of glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white. These are typical constituents of food waste.

Electricity from damaged tomatoes

A team of scientists is exploring an unusual source of electricity – damaged tomatoes unsuitable for sale at the grocery store. Their pilot project involves a biological-based fuel cell that uses tomato waste left over from harvests in Florida.

Their work was presented last week at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

“We have found that spoiled and damaged tomatoes left over from harvest can be a particularly powerful source of energy when used in a biological or microbial electrochemical cell,” said Namita Shrestha, of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, who is working on the project.

According to calculations by Shrestha, there is theoretically enough tomato waste generated in Florida each year to meet Walt Disney World’s electricity demand for 90 days, using an optimized biological fuel cell.