Trending Science: Needle drop, Christmas cheer in all its forms and teeny-tiny Christmas cards – Have a very sciency Christmas!

An end to spikey tree needles sticking into your socks, and if that wasn’t enough to celebrate, new research shows babies conceived over Christmas have some advantages. All too much, then how about the smallest Christmas card ever?

No more Christmas tree needles sticking into your feet as you gather around the tree, ‘they’ have found an answer to the dreaded ‘needle-drop’. And if your Christmas ends up being very convivial indeed, a new study shows babies conceived at Christmas have certain advantages.

But perhaps you’d rather stick to exchanging Christmas cards? If so, you''ll need to make sure the accompanying gift is a powerful microscope! Reuters is reporting cards just created by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the U.K.''s national measurement standards laboratory, are the tiniest every made. They measure 15 x 20 micrometers (a micrometer being one millionth of a meter).

Say ''NO'' to pine needles

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has dug up what it is referring to as ''some genuinely worthwhile research'', (anyone who has been stabbed in the foot by an errant pine needle may well agree), that came out in February 2016 but didn’t get much coverage at the time. The Australian Journal of Botany published the research into how best to keep a cut pine tree healthy, so preventing needle drop.

They tried: covering them in hairspray (prevents too much water loss through evaporation); feeding them sugar (it is Christmas after all!); beer (see last comment, and since beer is both alcoholic and full of sugar it gives the tree energy and has a mild antiseptic effect) and submerging the stump in boiling water (life can’t be all sugar and beer!).

The treatment that maintained the highest level of photosynthetic health was the hairspray, with an average of 90 % of original needle health after 27 days. Branches in freshly boiled water and control treatments both retained ~68 % of their original photosynthetic health. Branches in both beer and energy-drink treatments declined to about a third of their original needle health. In conclusion, the team recommends spraying cut Pinus radiata Christmas trees with hairspray. Which can be flammable, so no real candles! Can someone now save us from lego under foot?

Incendiary behavior with no fire hazard

If a houseful of lego holds no fears for you, you may care to think of the old English carol which says, ‘Tis the season to be jolly…’ How jolly is, of course, up to you. But did you know that, according to a University of Toronto, University of Florida, and Northwestern University study, babies conceived around Christmas tend to be more academically successful once they start school?

Researchers studied data arising from about 1 million public school students born in Florida from 1994 to 2000. Florida – along with many other places – has a cut-off birthdate for starting kindergarten on September 1. So when children enter their kindergarten classrooms, September babies are the oldest in their class. These extra months often help with development and adjustment to school. Benefits seem to extend into later life. The team found September babies are more likely to go to college and less likely to go to jail for juvenile crimes.

‘Christmas cards are friendly enough thanks!’

If cards are more appropriate, then spare a thought for anyone trying to decipher the message on the cards just produced by the National Physical Laboratory. Over 200 million of the cards could fit onto one stamp, the scientists say. The NPL''s Dr David Cox who, along with his colleague Dr Ken Mingard, developed the card said the technology used in its making had more practical uses.

‘We are using the tools that created the card to accurately measure the thickness of extremely small features in materials, helping to unlock new battery and semiconductor technologies. It''s a genuinely exciting development.’

It is made from platinum-coated silicon nitride, and was illustrated using a focused ion beam. The card’s cover features an etching of a snowman, above the words ‘Seasons greetings,’ as well as a seasonal message inside. Not enough space for the possessive apostrophe, but you can''t have everything!

We hope that you do have an excellent Christmas.

last modification: 2017-12-22 17:15:01

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