For some poor devils suffering from tinnitus can feel like this
For some poor devils suffering from tinnitus can feel like thisCourtesy merrick brown via Flickr
About fourteen years ago, I began noticing pops and crackles in my left ear. When I went to the doctor, I was given an audiology exam and was told those odd noises were typical of what is heard as auditory nerves die. Later, I began hearing them in my right ear. Those initial noises eventually did go away, but it was obvious that my hearing wasn't as sharp as it used to be. I learned to accept the loss as just one of the inevitable effects of getting older. My dad, too, suffered from age-related hearing loss, so it wasn't totally unexpected. But what I wasn't expecting was tinnitus. It's bad enough when your hearing begins to fade, but for some unfortunate people - like myself - tinnitus means it's not going to go away quietly.

Tinnitus is sometimes referred to as "ringing in the ear". But ringing isn't it's only manifestation. You can have popping, crackling, zinging, or any of the 50 different sounds that have been noted. or as in my case, hissing. And you'd think it originates in the ears because that's where the annoying sound is, but you'd be wrong.

"Tinnitus is a sound that is actually being generated in the brain,’ said Ross McKeown, president of the Tinnitus Association of Victoria in Australia. ‘We thought for a long time it was being generated in the ear, we now know that's not the case."

The brain, it seems, is over-compensating, trying hard to detect sound with fewer auditory nerves, which means with less amplification. So it's the old gray matter cranking the level up to 11 in hopes of compensating for that loss that causes all the extraneous noise.

This is the price I now pay for not taking care of myself in my younger years. I can pinpoint three events in my life that probably affected my hearing: working at a steel mill for a year, listening to a friend's band play in a tight, closed space at an ear-piercing volume, and shooting photos of a Harrier jet getting ready to take-off at a local air show. In each case I wasn't wearing ear protections. I was too cool for that.

Back then, like many people, I thought myself invincible. I was strong and alert and felt like my body could do no wrong. I put little thought into the future nor could I imagine my body or senses ever changing. But unfortunately, as we age, our bodies - like any other machine - starts to wear out and just doesn't respond or operate the same way it used to. As if almost on schedule, I noticed some distinct changes right around my 40th birthday, when suddenly my eyesight seemed poorer, my hearing duller, and for a two week stretch the skin on my face felt tingly and strangely wet but wasn't.

Eventually, you learn to accept these unwanted alterations - mostly because your generational peers are experiencing the same things you are - and you adapt to them as best you can. You begin buying drugstore eyeglasses so you can read the newspaper, you use sunscreen to keep skin cancer at bay, you consider buying hearing aids (or downloading smartphone apps) so you can understand what your friends are babbling about when you're all dining together in a crowded restaurant. It sucks.

The trick to living with tinnitus is to ignore it. Easy for me to say since my tinnitus is fairly moderate and unnerving compared to the level from which others suffer. The hissing at this point in my life is intermittent. Sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes it fades in during the day (or night), and sometimes I don't have it at all. Any of these can last days at a time. I haven't been able to figure out exactly what (if anything) triggers it. I know I'm more susceptible to it from lack of sleep, or if I'm feeling down. Sometimes I think too much coffee or taking pain relievers (ibuprofen in my case) may exacerbate it, but whatever the catalyst, it's just not fair. But I shouldn't complain - for some poor devils, the annoying noise can be constant and excruciating, and even induce suicidal thoughts.

Tinnitus affects about 6 percent of the general public. Not surprisingly, with professional musicians it's more like 50 percent. In that faction, I share the affliction with Beethoven, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Phil Collins and Chris Martin of Coldplay. Other notable sufferers include Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Steve Martin, Howard Hughes, and the pointy-eared Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Although I've never personally tried any, there are plenty of "treatments" for tinnitus on the market but not much scientific evidence backing up their claims. None are cure-alls for the ailment, and it's hard to tell if any of them really do anything other than create a 'placebo' effect for sufferers. According to my doctor it's just something you have to learn to live with (same with the floaters in my eyes, and my lousy skin). In my case I've learned to simply ignore it and not obsess over it. If I get lost in thought about something else, it just disappears into the background. I also try to get enough sleep, keep my spirits up, and avoid subjecting my ears to loud noises.

McKeown suggests four key steps to help deal with the nuisance of tinnitus: First thing, don't worry about it. Secondly, change your perception of the noise from something dangerous to simply background noise. Third, don't think about it. And fourth, live your normal life. Sitting home fretting about may only make it worse.

American Tinnitus Association
Celebrities and Musicians with Tinnitus/Hearing Damage
A sound of hope for tinnitus victims


Nobel Prize
Nobel PrizeCourtesy Photograph: Jonathunder Medal: Erik Lindberg (1873-1966)
This past week a Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for finding ways to use fluorescent molecules that glow on demand to allow scientists to peer into living cells. Using beams of laser light, an area is scanned multiple times making the molecules glow; images are then super-imposed to yield an image at the nanoscale.

The ground-breaking work by these three scientists brought optical microscopy into the nano dimension. Previously, the limit of optical microscopes was presumed to be roughly half the wavelength of light (0.2 micrometers).

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences when announcing the award, stated,

"In what has become known as nanoscopy, scientists visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells. They can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.

Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Stefan Hell in 2000. Two laser beams are utilized; one stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow, another cancels out all fluorescence except for that in a nanometre-sized volume. Scanning over the sample, nanometre for nanometre, yields an image with a resolution better than Abbe’s stipulated limit.

Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.

Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis."

The three winners are:
1) Eric Betzig, U.S. citizen. Born 1960 in Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Ph.D. 1988 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Group Leader at Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA.

2) Stefan W. Hell, German citizen. Born 1962 in Arad, Romania.
Ph.D. 1990 from the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and Division head at the German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany.

3) William E. Moerner, U.S. citizen. Born 1953 in Pleasanton, CA, USA.
Ph.D. 1982 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Harry S. Mosher Professor in Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.

To learn more about this research visit:

2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry - Periodic Table of Videos

See video

The Nobel Prize announcement:

Background about the limit of optical microscopes known as Abbes' Diffraction Limit (0.2 μm)

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:

Want to give your brain a really good workout? Learn to play a musical instrument. Educator Anita Collins explains why in this short but instructive TedEd video.

I had never heard the term polyphonic overtone singing before seeing this video showcasing German muscician/singer/teacher Anna-Maria Hefele's vocal skill. It's very strange and fascinating to watch. Polyphonic overtone singing is the ability to sing more than one note at a time and is practiced by several cultures, such as the Tuvans in Russia and nomads in Mongolia.

Also known as throat or harmonic singing, the technique involves manipulating the resonances created as air from the lungs travels past the vocal folds, producing a melody as it flows out of the lips.

When it's put that way, it sounds pretty easy but I don't think that's the case.

Story on io9.com
Amazing Mongolian singer Bukhchuluun Ganburged


Yes, that’s a whale skull! Whale skulls and solar panels – things you don’t normally see together.
Yes, that’s a whale skull! Whale skulls and solar panels – things you don’t normally see together.Courtesy OMSI
Researcher Nick Day checking on the solar panels.
Researcher Nick Day checking on the solar panels.Courtesy OMSI
You don’t really smell the whale bones drying in the sun, unless you’re close to them. I’m on the roof of Science Building 2 at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. I’m not here to check out the whale bones (which are pretty cool!) but to see the PSU Photovoltaic Test Facility.

Plants and solar cells both need sunlight. Roofs can be great places for capturing sunlight if they aren’t shaded by tall trees or buildings. PSU professors Carl Wamser, David Sailor, and Todd Rosentiel wondered if putting green roofs and solar panels together could increase the effectiveness of both. Researchers from the Wamser, Sailor, Rosentiel, and Erik Johansson labs have been experimenting with different plants in the green roofs, irrigating the plants, and different roofing materials to see how they affect the power produced by the solar panels and how much energy the building uses.

As it gets hotter, photovoltaic solar panels become a little less effective. About 80% - 90% of the solar panels in use today in the US are crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels. Over temperatures of 25°C (77°F), these solar panels drop 0.4-0.5% in power for every 1°C that the temperature rises. How can green roofs help solar panels? Plants and soil give off water in a process called evapotranspiration. As the water evaporates, it cools the air. The PSU researchers wondered if that temperature drop is enough to cool solar panels. They are still analyzing the results, but the plants do cool the solar panels a little, with sedum plants doing a better job than a mix of sedums and grasses.

While analyzing the data, researchers Matt Smith and Hanny Selbak noticed that there was an unexplained power spike in the solar panels one day. After trying to figure out what caused that increase in power, they traced it to biologists in the Rosentiel lab irrigating the plants. The water ran over the solar panels on the way to the plants. The solar panels cooled, and their power went up. Serendipity!

From that observation, researchers from the labs devised an experiment where they pumped water continuously over a solar panel using a 7 watt aquarium pump. This cooled the panel from about 55°C (131°F) to 40°C (104°F). After subtracting the power used by the pump, the average net gain in power was around 5%. The cooling system cost about $15 in materials per panel. If a home owner with an average 3 kilowatt solar panel system used a similar cooling system, she could generate an additional 150 watts of power. That’s enough to run most televisions or computers.

Find out more about the green roof and solar panel project here: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/topics/green-roofs-solar-panels-better-together

Meet some of the researchers and find out why they do what they do here: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/topics/meet-scientist

Sources and Links:
To read this article click here:

Smith, Matthew K., H. Selbak, C.C. Wamser, N.U. Day, M. Krieske, D.J. Sailor, T.N. Rosentiel. Water Cooling Method to Improve the Performance of Field-Mounted, Insulated, and Concentrating Photovoltaic Modules. Journal of Solar Energy Engineering 2014; 136(3).

New seafloor map: the red dots represents earthquake occurrences
New seafloor map: the red dots represents earthquake occurrencesCourtesy David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have used archived satellite data to develop new, detailed maps of the ocean floor, giving scientists new insights into earthquakes, spreading seafloors, and plate tectonics. The maps are the latest to be compiled in over two decades and provide a higher resolution picture of the ocean bottom revealing features not seen in previous versions. The study appears in the journal Science.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography report

Mt. Ontake, a volcano in central Japan erupted unexpectedly yesterday surprising scientists and some 200 hikers on its slopes. So far, more than two dozen bodies of victims have been recovered by rescuers. Volcanoes in Japan are monitored closely and checked for signs of imminent eruption such as increased earthquake activity. But Mt. Ontake came alive yesterday without any warning whatsoever, blanketing its slopes - and everything on them - under a thick layer of ash.

The Guardian report
The science behind Mt. Ontake's eruption
BBC report (with add'l video)


Edwards' Dodo: painted by Roelant Savery in 1626
Edwards' Dodo: painted by Roelant Savery in 1626Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
Death of individuals is a fact of life, and in the same way so is extinction of species. An animal species lasts, on average, about 4 million years. It's claimed that 99 percent (or more!) of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct. (If you are wondering how that number was calculated, you can read a couple explanations here).

The statistic becomes more credible when you consider this interesting image compilation of every animal that's gone extinct in just the last 100 years. The death list includes not only all sorts of birds and fish, but rhinos, hippos, deer, bi-valves, bison, horses, geckos, frogs, bats, lions, tigers, and bears - oh, my! (Because of its vastness the insect world is not included in the list).

Most of the life-forms pictured have been confirmed as extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) along with a few others from reliable sources. That's not to say some straggling thought-to-be-gone individuals won't be sighted in some obscure location in the future but until then they'll be considered extinct.

The compilation not only gives a good picture of the diversity of life on our planet but also a good idea of the fragility of the biosphere.

Every animal that have gone extinct in the last century on Pixable.com.
Endangered Species International
Center for Biological Diversity

Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), researchers on the Nautilus Live expedition came across something they hadn't seen before - a rare, purple siphonophore. Personally, I wasn't aware such a bizarre organism existed until I saw this video. But there it is, scooting across the ocean floor, probably looking for something to eat. It may look like a single organism but it's actually a whole colony of single organisms called zooids. Siphonophores are members of Cnidaria, an animal phylum that includes true jellyfish, corals and hydroids.

Gesundheit!: Viral illness is spreading through the Midwest
Gesundheit!: Viral illness is spreading through the MidwestCourtesy SCA Svenska Cellulosa Ak...
An unusually high number of cases of Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) have been showing up recently in clinics and hospitals in the Midwest. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says EV-D68 (related to the common cold) is a mild to severe upper respiratory illness that can cause wheezing and coughing and in some cases even more severe symptoms can develop. Some patients can be treated with a nebulizer but others - such as those afflicted with asthma - can develop even more dangerous conditions. In one reported case, an infected child's lungs were disturbed to such a degree, he had to be placed on a blood oxygenator.

The outbreak is affecting mostly school-aged children because they haven't yet built up their immune systems like adults have. And even previously healthy children are getting sick. Between 2009 and 2013 the CDC reported only 79 cases of EV-D68, but already this year there have been more cases confirmed than in any previous year.

The illness can be spread through aerosol transmission via coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with a person or surface containing the virus. The best prevention against the virus is for adults and children to wash their hands regularly.

Scientific American report
Enterovirus D68 info on CDC site