Science in 140 characters: Language of sound

What scientists are tweeting about

Written by Jamie Mullick | Updated: November 14, 2016 12:22 am

orion

Orion, post poll
@badastronomer
Phil Plait, astronomer

In the wake of Donald Trump being elected US President, NASA has started a process that brings into the open its doubts about funding for its Orion programme. Orion spacecraft are intended to carry a payload of humans into deep space — Mars, asteroids, or future deep space stations. NASA has filed a Request For Information (RFI) to modify its future contracts for the programme. The contract for production is with Lockheed Martin, but the RFI makes it possible for NASA to look at other options should funding become an issue. “This is NASA taking a breath and looking at alternatives,” said an article tweeted by astronomer Phil Plait. NASA has sought continued support from the White House administration, which will cost the government over $3 billion a year, but is unsure if it will get the funds.

Language of sound
@sapinker
Steven Pinker,
Cognitive Scientist

If you listen closely, you may be able to understand the creation of new words, how they are “whooshing” into existence. An article tweeted by cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker explained the concept of onomatopoeia, the formation of words based on the sound associated with the object or actions they refer to. Mostly, onomatopoetic words are associated with animal noises such as purr, meow, moo, chirp, hiss, or with motions — swift, whoosh, crash. Lately, the concept is being used for technological actions as well. Your phone buzzes, someone dings you a message, you blip through a turnstile at Metro station or you turn on the flash on your phone.

Nose for plastic
@eisenation
Jonathan Eisen, Biologist

Ever smelt something delicious and immediately felt hungry? According to scientists, that feeling is why so many sea birds have started eating plastic. According to an article tweeted by biologist Jonathan Eisen, there is an “unmistakably marine” smell that is the smell of dimethyl sulphide, or DMS, a gas created when microscopic organisms eat algae. Birds like seagulls find food across the coast by chasing this smell as it is usually found near large areas of plankton. However, humans are dumping 8 million tonnes of plastic every year into the oceans, which provides a hard surface for the algae and plankton to grow on. This results in the plastic smelling like DMS, which attracts birds and sea creatures that end up mistaking it for food, the article says.