Why This Blurry Optical Illusion Disappears If You Stare at It

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iStock

Optical illusions do weird things to our senses, like making us see or hear things that aren't really there. This illusion recently shared by Reddit user NightBreeze13 does something unique: Stare at it long enough and the image seems to disappear completely.

This is called Troxler fading or the Troxler effect, a phenomenon first identified by Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler in 1804. According to The Verge, it's what happens when we fix our eyes on an unchanging scene for a long-enough period of time. When sensory information is new our brain places a lot of importance on it. But if certain stimuli have been consistently hitting our senses for a while, like a dull toothache or the hum of a refrigerator, our brains have a way of tuning them out.

This is the case with the picture above. Choose a fixed spot in the image to stare at and allow at least a minute or so to pass. The colors should gradually fade from your vision, leaving a white square in its place.

So why does the effect work here, and not when you're staring out a window or at a painting? The blurriness helps: The smallest movements, whether they're from your eyes or the object of your gaze, feed you new sensory information, thus resetting the process. If your eyeballs wiggle slightly while staring at this image, your brain will have a harder time noticing it because it's already so blurry.

But having a steady gaze is still important. If you don't see anything happening after looking at the illusion for a minute, trying moving your cursor over the image and staring at that. Closing one eye can also help you keep the other eye as still as possible.

[h/t The Verge]

Scientists Built a LEGO 'Electrospinner' to Improve the Texture of Lab-Grown Meat

iStock.com/Ekaterina79
iStock.com/Ekaterina79

A group of food scientists who are working to create lab-grown meat have found inspiration in an unlikely source: LEGOs. According to Food & Wine, researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Alabama used LEGO components to create a device capable of improving the texture of the meat they were cultivating. Their findings were recently published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids.

Any protein that comes from “stem or stem-like animal cells” that are cultured in a lab can be considered lab-grown meat, according to Penn State. While lab-grown meat can be labeled a meat substitute because it requires far fewer animals for its production, it remains to be seen whether vegans and vegetarians will be willing to eat it.

Lab-grown meat is still very much in the development stages, and scientists are working on ways to improve the texture. Because cultured muscle cells don’t have any particular structure when they grow, the meat generally comes out resembling ground beef. That’s fine if you’re hoping to make more humane tacos, but it presents a challenge when trying to create, say, a lab-grown steak.

This is where the toy bricks came in. Researchers used LEGO Power Functions to create an electrospinning device that was capable of turning starch fibers into a structured meat “scaffold.” The plastic pieces were ideal because they weren’t conductive, which was crucial because the researchers were working with water and ethanol.

Unlike scaffolds that produce plastic fibers for biomedical purposes, the LEGO device was capable of spinning corn-derived fibers. In other words, what's going into the meat is entirely edible. “The idea is we could make a nice, edible, clean scaffold for our clean meat,” Gregory Ziegler, a Penn State professor and director of graduate studies at the university's Department of Food Science, told Food & Wine.

Scientists are now looking for ways to improve their equipment in order to churn out larger amounts of starch scaffolds.

[h/t Food & Wine]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

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