The science of "Bet you can't eat just one!"

The science of "Bet you can't eat just one!"

A few years ago, Lay's Potato Chips threw down the gauntlet in a new advertising campaign:  "Bet you can't eat just one!"


It was a clever slogan--and had a clever commercial to match.  But I think the line resonated so much because it's true.  It's quite difficult to eat just one chip.  You open the bag and, before you know it, you've somehow eaten the whole bag.  Even when you didn't think you were all that hungry.

(Full disclaimer:  My personal downfall lies in a bag of Doritos, not potato chips, but the rule still applies).

The act of eating for pleasure, without hunger and often to excess, is called "hedonic hyperphagia."  And researchers at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg decided to take a closer look at why snacks like potato chips often prove to be so irresistible. 

Tobias Hoch and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging to compare groups of rats:  some who received a feast of potato chips and others who had plain old rat chow.  They found that the chips' high ratio of fats and carbohydrates led to the reward centers of the brain lighting up more than when the animals had access to just the chow.

But Hoch thought there must be something more to it than just fat and carbs--the leading hypothesis of why we love our chips so much.  So he and his colleagues then compared animal chow, a mixture of fat and carbs, and potato chips.  The rats still went crazy for the chips.  And when they looked at the imaging results, they found that there was more than just the reward centers being activated in those potato chip loving brains--food intake, sleep activity and motion centers also received extra blood flow.

Why this is happening is still up in the air.  But if scientists can get a better handle on what is in these snacks that triggers overeating, they can perhaps develop compounds that can block them. 

Photo credit:  Aerostato/Shutterstock.com

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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