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Chris Hadfield
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Is Love at First Sight Real? Bill Nye Supports His Answer with Evolution.

What is the value of infatuation?

Diamond Jackson: Hi Bill. My name is Diamond Jackson. I attend Texas A&M Corpus Christi and you’ll be coming to visit us in October here. I’m so excited for that. My question for you is what is the evolutionary benefit of infatuation and is it more physical or is it more emotional? So if you can give me that information, I would be so excited.

Bill Nye: Diamond, yes. Diamond, that’s a fabulous question. What’s the value of infatuation? Well what’s the difference between infatuation and love at first sight? And there’s just fabulous studies that have been done. We humans agonize over the small decisions. What pencil sharpener should I get? Should I buy this pair of shoes at this price or that pair of shoes at that price? But when it comes to selecting a mate — these big decisions — apparently you make them like that. These big decisions you make very quickly. You pick up so much information very fast that you can use that to direct the rest of your life. So the thing about infatuation, as I understand it, is it can be replaced by another one. Like you’re infatuated with this guy or gal and then somebody else comes along and you get infatuated with her or him. But you probably would have had genetic success with the first one. There was something about him or her that was really appealing.

By genetic success, Diamond, we're talking about having kids and raising a family. Now you will meet a lot of people who are a result of infatuational — if I can coin that adjective — relationships, people that have love at first sight and they got married. You meet that all the time. Las Vegas has a whole industry based on people that meet each other and get married. And get divorced. But whatever happens, it’s also reasonable that infatuation is an artifact, it's left over. There’s no evolutionary reason to get rid of it, so it’s still there. Like you see somebody — you were in desperate times. On the savannah, we have lions and tigers and bears coming to kill us. There’s a drought. In order to pass your genes on you’ve got to get it done right now. And so you’re infatuated; you have love at first sight; you have kids right away. Then the lions and tigers and bears take you and your spouse out. You disappear, but the kid lives on because you got busy right away. This is very reasonable to me. And then as society became successful, developed ways to farm, agriculture, have successful cities, the infatuation thing wasn’t as useful. But there’s no reason to get rid of it. Enjoy the infatuation. Best wishes to you and congratulations to the guy or the gal.

Diamond Jackson from Corpus Christi, Texas, asks Bill all about the evolutionary backstory behind infatuation. Why do we fall in "love" at first sight? The Science Guy presents the idea that we're still physically conditioned to want to pass on our genetic material as quickly as possible. Thus, infatuation is a leftover facet of old caveman living when predators roamed everywhere, threatening your genetic line. So infatuation was (and continues to be) a tool for encouraging folks to get busy.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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