Stories tagged Life Science

Folks, this is exciting news! Reproductive biologists think they've found the secret that makes sperm move - specifically, how this male reproductive cell knows when to begin swimming toward the female egg. For those of you who slept through biology class or had teachers that couldn't divulge the gritty details, let's just say that sexual reproduction is a lot more complicated than most of us realize (hint: it doesn't involve a stork, unless you happen to be a stork). Thankfully, some researchers at the University of California have found a way to study the inner workings of human sperm cells, discovering how differences in pH between male and female bodies triggers a chain reaction that gets sperm going. Why does this matter? By understanding how male reproductive cells work, scientists might be able to better address problems of infertility, or design new forms of contraception. While the researchers involved in this study admit that a male birth control pill probably isn't going to appear anytime soon, this discovery does point to new possibilities.


Last fall I attended a talk by one of the other students at my university (Harvard). He was discussing recent results from a perception experiment he had posted online. He said he had over a thousand subjects. "How long have you had this experiment online," I asked him. "Just over a week," he responded.

"Holy crap!" I thought. There are many experiments I would love to do except they require hundreds or thousands of subjects -- something that just isn't feasible in a traditional laboratory setting. So I started the Visual Cognition Online Laboratory. I am getting respectable traffic after one week, but it's going to take a while before I am getting 1,000 participants per week, which is what I need.

Most experiments, I should say, are surveys. What this grad student and I are doing is putting up actual perception experiments, which are always done in the lab. Most researchers believe you need strong controls in timing, display, etc., in order to do perception experiments. For some, this is true, but there are many you can do online given how much bandwidth there is now. Also, if you have enough subjects, that extra noise will wash out.

If you are interested in trying out one of my experiments, they typically take 5 minutes or less.