Why do onions make you cry? – Ask Japan

Let’s face it: The Nobel Prizes aren’t for everyone. That’s why we celebrate the Ig Nobel Prizes, which were handed out Thursday night at Harvard’s Sanders Theater.

The Chemistry Prize investigated the age-old mystery of why onions make people cry. The winning team, from Japan, showed that the plant biochemistry at work involved a previously undiscovered enzyme called lachrymatory-factor synthase. If onions could be engineered without that enzyme, it may be possible for them to retain their flavor and nutritional value without causing eyes to water, they wrote in the journal Nature.

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Toshiba researchers develop vacuum cleaner robot to help with Fukushima nuclear cleanup

Researchers from Japanese technology firm Toshiba unveiled a new robot on Friday that will assist with the cleanup efforts in Fukushima by vacuuming up radiation with dry ice. The large device runs on two caterpillar treads and is remotely controlled, in addition to having four cameras that allow it to “see” its surroundings.

An engineer explained that dry ice, or frozen CO2, is blasted onto floors and walls of areas that are contaminated. The substance begins evaporating immediately, carrying radioactive particles in the resulting gases, which are then sucked up by a vacuum-like nozzle. Toshiba’s Tadasu Yotsuyanagi says that both the impact of the dry ice and its evaporation help detach the radioactive substances from the surface, and since the dry ice immediately turns into gas, there is no waste produced. The robot is said to be able to clean a 2 square meter (22 square feet) area in one hour, however it is not yet ready to hold more than a half an hour’s worth of dry ice at a time.

Toshiba will begin testing the new robot later this month, with a goal of sending it to the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant by the summer. In November of last year, the company unveiled a different kind of remote-controlled robot, one with four legs that is meant to navigate and climb over hazardous debris, in order to reach areas that are not safe for humans to venture. Unfortunately, at its display to the press the robot gave an error and malfunction-filled performance, freezing in place and requiring a reboot. When it was finally sent to Fukushima to help in December, it managed to photograph an important part of the reactor in an area with high levels of radiation, yet on a second trip it toppled over while attempting to climb stairs.

Japan Scientists Sound Alarm on ‘Creeping Fault’ Doctrine

Seismologists said Wednesday they have found clues as to why Japan’s 2011 mega-earthquake occurred on a fault previously deemed to be of little threat.

The findings have repercussions for the country’s earthquake strategy and for other locations, including California’s notorious San Andreas fault, with a similar seismic profile, they said.

Hiroyuki Noda of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and Nadia Lapusta of the California Institute of Technology based their findings on a computer model of the March 11, 2011 quake, which triggered a tsunami that killed about 19,000 people and wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, sparking the world’s worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off northeastern Japan in part of the so-called Japan Trench, where the Pacific plate ducks beneath the Okhotsk plate, on which the Japanese archipelago lies.

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Prozac May Spur Formation of New Brain Cells

Popular drug Prozac (fluoxetine), prescribed in depression and panic attacks, may also spur production of new brain cells in the grey matter, say researchers.

The researchers based at the Institute for Comprehensive Medical Science, Fujita Health University, Aichi, Japan, named these brain cells as “Layer 1 Inhibitory Neuron Progenitor cells” (L1-INP).

These cells could potentially pave the way for the treatement of neuro-degenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders, the journal Neuropsychopharmacology reports.

Until now it was not known whether L1-INP-related neurogenesis (production of such brain cells) could be induced in the normal adult cortex (grey matter).

Tsuyoshi Miyakawa, Koji Ohira, and their colleagues employed fluoxetine, one of the most widely used anti-depressants, to stimulate the production of new neurons from L1-INP cells, according to Fujita statement.

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Japanese Submersible to Search for the Origin of Life

The Japanese submersible Shinkai 6500 will be undertaking a yearlong journey around the world, exploring waters that can reach 500 degrees Celsius in temperature. Its mission: to search for clues that may give a deeper understanding into the origins of life on Earth.

The vehicle will leave it’s support ship at the Yokosuka port in Kanagawa Prefecture on Jan. 5. It will be studying deep-sea armored snails in the Indian Ocean until March before making a stopover at Cape Town in South Africa. It will then conduct the first manned submersible survey off the coast of Brazil until May as Japanese researchers look for unique marine biotic communities thriving on the methane gas geysers in that region. It will then head off to the Caribbean Sea to search for life along the world’s deepest undersea volcanic vents before returning to Japan via the Panama Canal in August to replace its batteries. It will then explore Tonga Trench at 10,850 meters deep and will finally return home in late November.

The Shinkai 6500, so named because of its ability to dive to depths of 6,500 meters, was built in 1989 and is owned and operated by the government-run Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). This voyage, called Quelle2013, will be its second longest, with the first being a trip through the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in 1998 which lasted about seven months. JAMSTEC says the trip will cost around 1.9 billion yen ($21.7 million U.S.) and will try to understand the origin of life by observing creatures that live in extreme environments.

Blinking Causes Brain To Go Off-Line According to Japanese Researchers

New research from Japan suggests that blinking does more than stop our eyes drying out: it is an active process that causes the brain to go off-line, into a more reflective mode, before giving renewed attention.

Tamami Nakano of Osaka University and colleagues write about their findings in the 24 December online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, PNAS.

In earlier work, where they had invited volunteers to watch Mr Bean videos, Nakano and colleagues discovered that people’s eyes blink when they need to pay less attention, for instance when the video cuts to a new scene.

And in another study, they found people blink when they pause while speaking, and this entrains their listeners to time their eye blinks to occur a split second later.

This seems to confirm the common-sense idea that we blink at times when we’ll miss the least important information.

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Fault Line Under Japan Nuke Plant May Be Active According to Scienctists

A team of Japanese geologists says a seismic fault running underneath a nuclear plant in western Japan is likely to be active, which could force the scrapping of one of its two reactors.

The five-member panel commissioned by the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Monday that the structure underneath the Tsuruga plant showed signs of seismic movement around 100,000 years ago, recent enough to still be active.

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Ununtrium, the Missing Element 113, Reportedly Synthesized In Japan

Scientists in Japan think they’ve finally created the elusive element 113, one of the missing items on the periodic table of elements.

Element 113 is an atom with 113 protons in its nucleus — a type of matter that must be created inside a laboratory because it is not found naturally on Earth. Heavier and heavier synthetic elements have been created over the years, with the most massive one being element 118, temporarily named ununoctium.

But element 113 has been stubbornly hard to create. After years of trying, researchers at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Japan said today (Sept. 26) they finally did so. On Aug. 12, the unstable element was formed and quickly decayed, leaving the team with data to cite as proof of the accomplishment.

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Japan’s Scientists Find Major Rare Earth Deposits

Japan has found a large deposit of rare earth minerals in its Pacific seabed, enough to supply its hi-tech industries for more than 200 years, a scientist said Friday.

Around 6.8 million tonnes of the valuable minerals, used in electric cars, iPods and lasers, are sitting under the seabed near a far eastern Japanese island, Tokyo University professor Yasuhiro Kato said.

He said mud samples taken from an area near Minamitorishima island, some 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) southeast of Tokyo, indicated deposits amounted to around 220 times the average annual amount used by industry in Japan.

The seabed contained a substantial amount of dysprosium — a rare earth mineral used in the engines for hybrid cars, he said.

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Emotional Stress Causes Brain Shrinkage After Japan Tsunami

Emotional stress caused by last years tsunami resulted in part of some survivors brains shrinking, according to scientists in Japan who grasped a unique chance to study the neurological effects of trauma.

On a quest to better understand post-traumatic stress disorder, the researchers compared brain scans they had taken of 42 healthy adolescents in other studies in the two years before the killer wave with new images taken three to four months thereafter.

Among those with PTSD symptoms, they found a shrinking in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in decision-making and the regulation of emotion, said a study published yesterday in Molecular Psychiatry.

Read the rest of the story: Brains melting down after Japan tsunami.