Today we discuss recent updates to powering the world through nuclear fusion, why ankle sprains are so common, and how we perceive musicians to be more attractive than those who don’t play an instrument.
Today we discuss recent updates to powering the world through nuclear fusion, why ankle sprains are so common, and how we perceive musicians to be more attractive than those who don’t play an instrument.
Net Energy Gain
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Find episode transcripts here: https://curiosity-daily-4e53644e.simplecast.com/episodes/net-energy-gain-weak-ankles-hot-musicians
[SFX: INTRO MUSIC/WHOOSH]
NATE: Hi! You’re about to get smarter in just a few minutes with Curiosity Daily from Discovery. Time flies when you’re learnin’ super cool stuff. I’m Nate.
CALLI: And I’m Calli. If you’re dropping in for the first time, welcome to Curiosity, where we aim to blow your mind by helping you to grow your mind. If you’re a loyal listener, welcome back!
NATE: Today you’ll learn about recent updates to powering the world through nuclear fusion, why ankle sprains are so common, and how we perceive musicians to be more attractive than those who don’t play an instrument!
CALLI: Without further ado, let’s satisfy some curiosity!
NATE: All right. So for several years, the energy industry has been trying to move away from fossil fuels. At least the people who don't own the fossil fuels have tried to get us to move away from fossil fuels. And that's a good thing. I'm very happy for it. There have been lots of new kinds of tech right now. There have been some amazing advancements in a new kind of tech that is so powerfuL, It kind of replicates the sun.
CALLI: Replicates the sun. Okay, So cool, like awesome that we could maybe harness the power of the sun. But don't we already have solar energy?
NATE: Yes! And solar energy absolutely is very literally using the power of the sun. But this is more about kind of making our own sun. Okay. So if you could harness all of that energy, you know, 24 seven in a green and effective way, I mean, you could put an end to fossil fuels once and for all. So this is an experiment done by scientists at the National Ignition Facility in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. What they are working on is nuclear fusion. And nuclear fusion is what happens when two or more atoms are fused into a larger atom. And this is a process that generates a lot of energy as heat. To be clear, nuclear fission is something that has been around for a while. It's not particularly new. This is not the same thing that already is used in power plants all over the world. It does create a lot of energy, but it also creates radioactive waste, which is, you know, it's not great. We don't like that stuff. But the fusion is something that scientists all over have been working on for decades, and they've been trying a number of different methods at the National Ignition Facility. The project creates energy from nuclear fusion by thermonuclear inertial fusion. So somebody fires little pellets containing hydrogen fuel into a focal point of 200 lasers. And these lasers create really fast repeated explosions at a rate of 50 times per second.
CALLI: That kind of sounds like the new pellet guns that my nephews have.
NATE: Yes, but also very much no.
CALLI: Okay. So why why why are they doing this? What what does this accomplish?
NATE: All right. So the hydrogen that they're using, this is a special kind of hydrogen. It's called deuterium. And it's basically just hydrogen that is more likely to bond with other hydrogen. So they've got hydrogen that they can use for fusion better. So they take these hydrogen deuterium pellets and they shoot them in the lasers with their explosions that they're making 50 times a second. That basically squishes the hydrogen so much that it's just like, all right, we're just going to squeeze together and become one new atom and the hydrogen turns into helium. And because of the nature of the universe, when hydrogen get together and turn into helium, they put off a ton of heat. So energy that gets collected from this reaction is extracted as heat. And that heat is how we can actually produce energy. This process creates shockwaves that can be used to emulate energy created by fossil fuel. So most nuclear fusion experiments’ problem is that putting energy into the reaction, it takes more energy than is extracted from the reaction. So those lasers shooting at the hydrogen, that takes a lot of energy. And then when the hydrogen turns into helium, it puts out energy. And in the past, every time we've done that, the amount that came out was less than went in. That's called net energy loss. But this is the first ever instance of net energy gain. So some amount of energy went in from the lasers and the amount that came out from the hydrogen turning into helium was more than went in. So this is huge. Like there is a real chance that the world is going to completely run out of fossil fuels this century. And so this could be a replacement that lets everyone have as much energy as they need.
CALLI: Okay, I'm going to sidetrack you here for just a second. Is this what the ARC reactor that Iron Man uses is based off of?
NATE: It's a little vague, but many of the nuclear reactors that people are trying to make are somewhat that donut shape that - his ARC reactor. You know, he's got the big one in the lab and then he's got the little one in his chest. So sort of more more likely the ARC reactor design is based on what people have actually been trying in real life.
CALLI: Gotcha. Okay. So we're hoping that this is going to replace fossil fuels, but how close are we?
NATE: All right. So a net energy gain is a huge deal, but the scientists say it's happening so far at a much smaller scale than what you would need to, you know, power, electric grids or heat buildings. It's nowhere near that yet. Or yes, an advanced prosthetic power suit.
CALLI: Okay. So can it heat up like a room? Just a just a room. Like a bedroom?
NATE: No, no. This the amount that came out of this could barely boil ten kettles of water.
CALLI: So it could heat my bath.
NATE: A small bath. Like a bath for your cat, maybe. All right, so to power the electrical grid, we need a much larger gain in energy, obviously. This is something that other researchers based out of the U.K. are hoping to create with their machine, which is called a tokamak.
NATE: We've talked about tokamaks before.
CALLI: Yes, we have. But you can't tell me that this isn't going to be a new superhero.
NATE: You know, that's not the worst superhero name.
CALLI: Just saying. Okay.
NATE: You know, maybe that's what Iron Man should have gone with the Tokamak man. But no. So a tokamak is a huge donut shaped machine that scientists outfit with giant electromagnets. And they put this same fuel. There's hydrogen, these pellets, the fuel of hydrogen into the Tokamak. And when the magnets are activated, they create plasma. And if the plasma reaches 150 million degrees Celsius, these fuel particles can fuse into one. And with nuclear fusion, this particle has less mass than the original atoms, and it creates a huge amount of energy. So back in 2021, Oxford did this to create a record breaking amount of energy, and it was really cool, but unfortunately it only lasted for about 5 seconds. And the biggest problem with nuclear fusion right now is that time we need to find a way to get a net energy gain to last long enough to power something, you know, bigger than a few kettles for a small amount of time. And again, don't get me wrong, it's a huge deal. This is one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our generation. And it honestly proves that anything that seems impossible can one day be possible. But we're not quite to the point where this can take over the world and replace fossil fuels entirely.
CALLI: Well, for one, I mean, I'm really excited about the fact that we have an option, you know, other than fossil fuel. And two, I'm really excited for the birth of superheroes. This is going to be great.
NATE: Please, please do not try to gain super powers from the nuclear fusion reaction.
CALLI: Gonna do it.
NATE: Oh, dear.
CALLI: So, Nate, have you ever noticed that once you sprain your ankle the first time, it's actually really easy to sprain it again.
NATE: Yes, I have. It's like when you bite your tongue and then you just keep biting that same spot over and over. But it’s your ankles and you're trying to walk on them. Super annoying.
CALLI: Okay, wait, I I'm actually curious now because I didn't know you had sprained your ankle. I was. I was I was totally spitballing there. When did you spring your ankle?
NATE: I mean, I've had several times in my life where I sprained my ankle just a little bit. But the worst injury I've ever had was actually a sprained ankle. I was at a trampoline park and I was trying to do, of course, double gainer into the foam pit. And just like as I tried to launch off the trampoline, just my whole foot folded sideways. It took about two years to fully recover from that injury.
CALLI: Okay. I hate to break it to you, but it's really important that they mention that most sprains occur when people's bodies aren't used to physical activity. Sorry.
NATE: Well, I'm definitely not used to trying to do a double gainer off trampolines. That was a first time thing.
CALLI: That is fair. But you did it. That's the important point. Did anybody film it?
NATE: Oh, I definitely did not get through the air at all. Like I tried to jump. I collapsed, limp, falling into the foam pit on my side.
CALLI: Okay. Okay. That's impressive. I'm very sorry. Well, the thing is, is people who, like I said, are less physically active, are more likely to sprain their ankles. People who stay active don't sprain their ankles as often. It's usually something like one sprain per 1000 hours of training time. And when a sprain does occur, it can cause something called chronic ankle instability.
NATE: Does that mean the recurring sprain you're talking about? Why does that happen?
CALLI: Okay. So the most frequent ankle sprain is known as a lateral ankle sprain. This happens when the ligaments on the outer ankle get torn or stretched after the joint moves past normal movement range and all the sounds a lot like what you were describing. Once you've experienced a lateral ankle sprain, it knocks the ligaments completely out of whack and it makes it harder for the body to avoid injury in the future.
NATE: Okay. You know, my outlier, notwithstanding that most sprains aren't that big of a deal and they don't actually create mobility issues. Are those still sprains that can lead to chronic ankle instability?
CALLI: So I kind of hate to break it to you. It doesn't matter how severe the sprain is. Once you've sprained your ankle, statistically, you're more likely to sprain it again more than anybody else is to sprain their’s for the first time. So chronic ankle instability is linked with some nasty health consequences like early onset osteoarthritis and the lack of motivation that could lead to becoming less physically active. Plus additional pressure on the other ankle that comes from shifting pressure off of a pain limb can have nasty side effect of causing a sprain to the other ankle.
NATE: Oh, good. Well, I'm so glad that a sprain leads to more sprains.
CALLI: Yeah. So here's the thing. Like I said earlier, there is a way out of this. So physiotherapists are a great way to reduce risk in everyday life. And if you don't have a local physiotherapist, there are a few things you can actually do right now if you've got a sprain and want to continue being active. One is just to buy an ankle brace and use it whenever you're active. It could be one of those elastic sleeves you see at the gym, but ideally it should be a professionally fitted external support brace. But that's just the beginning, because the most effective way to avoid injury is through proprioceptive training, also known as balancing exercises, which are neither expensive nor complicated. It could be something as simple as balancing on each leg one at a time while throwing in, catching a ball against a wall, which is something you might see in a lot of movies. Or it could be balancing on a wobble board for 3 to 5 minutes per day. And this can strengthen the muscles and ligaments. It's cost effective and time effective.
NATE: I mean, that doesn't sound very good and worth looking into. I do want to ask if these exercises are specifically targeting balance in ankles, can that actually help reduce that increased risk of sprain?
CALLI: Yeah, it's actually that easy. And even if you're more likely to sprain an ankle again, these proprioceptive exercises can help reduce that risk immensely. So get out there, balance on one leg and go play ball with yourself.
NATE: Well, I'm definitely interested in not experiencing a sprain like I've had again, so I'm going to have to add some of those exercises into my daily routine.
CALLI: There you go. I'll be your gym buddy.
NATE: I think everyone has heard some jokes about the guitar guy at the party.
CALLI: No wonderwall.
NATE: While the general, while the general opinion of that guitar guy might be low. Science has shown that people are actually more likely to be sexually attracted to musicians.
CALLI: Okay, first off, I am dying with curiosity about this story. I used to work at Guitar Center, and I understand, I do. But a lot of people know that sometimes musicians can be kind of like walking red flags. Where where are we going with this?
NATE: Well, for where it's going, let's start with how it started, which is a simple question. What even is the social function of music? On one hand, it's a universal thing found across the world that often transcends language. But on the other hand, being inherently musical has no obvious survival value. Like you can't eat by playing music. So it's not entirely clear how it evolved into what it is today. But there is one theory that goes a long way toward explaining why humans play music. Charles Darwin's sexual selection hypothesis.
CALLI: Okay, we've got musicians, sex and Darwin. I am. Yep. Let's go. Just lay it on me.
NATE: All right, So bear with me here on where we're going. So Darwin theorized that certain traits of humanity might evolve and become established if they contribute to higher success rates when it comes to meeting a mate. Think about it. If you do something that attracts a partner, you go and have a baby, and those babies inherit that same trait. So if somebody attracts me with their musical ability, it stands to reason that their offspring might learn how to do the same thing.
CALLI: How? Okay. How do you study something like this?
NATE: Through an experiment that sampled 35 female and 23 male heterosexual participants of German and Austrian descent. Each one self-reported as single, and each woman agreed not to take contraception, be pregnant or breastfeeding during the course of the study. The study began with men and women being paired off according to age, mood, the role of music in their life, and how many years of music training each one had. There were two focuses in the study. The first was the silent condition, where participants were asked to rate the facial attractiveness and dating desirability of 37 different faces presented in a random order. But 20 of these faces were with the researchers called targets, faces whose ratings the researchers were really interested in. And the remaining 17 faces were same sex faces used as distractions and not included in the analysis.
CALLI: This just kind of sounds like a really complicated and annoying dating app. Like, I'm not really sure that this would be one that I would click on.
NATE: Well, it gets more complicated with the musical priming condition where participants listened to different musical excerpts for 25 seconds and were then randomly paired off with the same 20 opposite sex faces used in the control condition. Before meeting, though, they told the participants that each musical excerpt was played by the person that they had to rate.
CALLI: So it was like a dating app. It was just like a catfish dating app. Did it work?
NATE: It actually did work a little bit. The results showed that women rated target faces as substantially more attractive after being told that the music was played by that person, especially if they liked the music being played and if they were shown a face that didn't play music, it got lower marks across the board. The answer was pretty clear Women love guys that can play music they like.
CALLI: Huh? Okay, that is fascinating. I get it, though, because I wouldn't normally date another redhead. But Ed Sheeran. My goodness. Okay, so what about the men?
NATE: I just learned something about you. All right. Ed Sheeran. Very talented guy. Not what I would consider conventionally attractive.
CALLI: I just proved the study.
NATE: Well, supporting data point. Yes, we'll give it that. Yeah. Yeah. All right. With the men, the results were a little different. Men rated target faces in the musical condition more desirable for dating in general. But being told that the music played belonged to that face didn't actually make any difference. Men only cared that the women were self-described musicians. Not that the music they played was any good.
CALLI: Okay, so the men just liked the idea of women playing music and not actually the music they played. Got it.
NATE: And I cannot stress enough how huge the disparity is between men and women in the study. Women overwhelmingly reported that they would be more likely to, and this is a direct quote, “Have a one night stand with the most attractive person shown in the experiment.”
CALLI: Why is that even a question in a study?
NATE: It's a very thorough study, Calli. You have to know the answers to these things. And this study had surprising results for all involved, too. Back in 2017, a similar study examined whether listening to music influenced ratings of facial attractiveness and dating desirability. The key difference being that the faces were only shown after participants were played music. And in that study, there was no link between sexual attraction in music for men at all, and only a slight increase in desirability for women.
CALLI: I mean, I get it. I do. But come on, girls, we got to talk. Okay. What what are what are the takeaways here?
NATE: First of all, it's important to note that the experiment was carried out on a very small group of participants. All of them were university students. They were Europeans, and they were single. The results on people of different ages, cultural backgrounds and as well as studies focused on long term relationships, would probably yield very different results. That being said, this study shows how important it could be to pick up music as a career path or even just as a hobby.
CALLI: But if you pick up a guitar, don't play Smoke on the Water.
NATE: Stairway to Heaven, it is.
NATE: Let’s recap what we learned today to wrap up. There’s a good chance that we may be living in the last century of fossil fuel usage, but if scientists have anything to help us cope with that, it’s a simple idea that’s proven quite complicated to pull off: nuclear fusion. For the first time ever, we’ve seen a “net energy gain” through nuclear fusion in a way that seems promising for replacing fossil fuel usage. Right now, the energy output is small, but this is just another instance of the seemingly impossible - being proven COMPLETELY possible.
CALLI: Have you ever noticed that when you’ve sprained your ankle once, you’re more likely to sprain it again - and again - and again? It’s not just in your head - it’s something called chronic ankle instability, and it can be treated, and potentially reversed, through something called proprioceptive training, which consists of simple and affordable balancing exercises you can do at home for little to no cost!
NATE: Some think the path of the rockstar is a sexy one, and new research says it is… in more ways than one! Turns out people are scientifically drawn more to self-described musicians on a sexual level than previously believed. So the next time somebody tells you you’re wasting your life playing guitar, you can say ‘NO MOM, I’M TRAINING TO MEET MY MATE.’