Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Weird Science: The rules of attraction

Researchers who have suggested Right-leaning politicians are generally more physically attractive than those on the Left say the opposite's true when it comes to scholars. Photo / 123RF
Researchers who have suggested Right-leaning politicians are generally more physically attractive than those on the Left say the opposite's true when it comes to scholars. Photo / 123RF

Researchers who have suggested right-leaning politicians are generally more physically attractive than those on the left say the opposite's true when it comes to scholars.

A previous study by a group of Finnish researchers, who analysed elections in the US, European Union, Finland and Australia showed how politicians on the right were perceived to be better looking.

The same team later examined right-leaning scholars to see if they, too, were more attractive than their left-leaning counterparts.

Politicians and academics were comparable in many aspects such as age, level of education, social status and a place in the public eye.

"When it comes to a career in academia, however, looks do not appear to be of any great importance," said study leader Professor Jan-Erik Lonnqvist, of the University of Helsinki.

The results of the study showed that left-leaning scholars were perceived as more attractive than their right-leaning colleagues, however, right-leaning scholars were often better groomed.

The results indicated that looks mattered a great deal in politics, and that especially politicians on the right benefit from being physically attractive.

"The fact that left-leaning scholars are perceived as better-looking is no cause for alarm," Lonnqvist said.

"What is worrying, however, is the high degree of importance attached to looks in political elections."

The primary reason that politicians on the right look better than politicians on the left could be that good looks have, within right-leaning parties, more of an influence on the processes through which electoral candidates are selected and on the electoral success of the candidates.

"The results of my study are in concordance with other studies that show that the effect of attractive looks is twice as large for politicians on the right compared to their counterparts on the left."

For roosters, family matters

When it comes to competing for mates, roosters appear to be nicer to their relatives than rivals outside the family. Photo / 123RF
When it comes to competing for mates, roosters appear to be nicer to their relatives than rivals outside the family. Photo / 123RF

When it comes to competing for mates, roosters appear to be nicer to their relatives than rivals outside the family.

The new findings, published in the scientific journal Behavioral Ecology, suggest that domestic fowl can recognise their kin among individuals in a group, and that their behaviour is different towards kin and non-kin.

Domestic fowl in groups form a strict hierarchy, with one rooster being dominant over the others.

The roosters compete for access to hens to mate with, and in this way produce offspring and transmit their genes to the next generation.

If a rooster that is lower in the ranking attempts to mate with a hen, the dominant male will often interrupt and abort the mating attempt.

Researchers from Sweden's Linkoping University who conducted the study investigated if roosters not only attempt to produce offspring themselves but also to help relatives to do so.

From an evolutionary perspective, this would be a way of ensuring that at least some of the male's genes are transmitted to the next generation.

Particularly older males, with reduced reproductive capacity, may be more accepting towards younger relatives mating attempts.

Thus, the researchers wanted to determine whether dominant roosters are more permissive towards the attempted matings of subordinate relatives than to those of unrelated lower-ranked males.

"We saw that related males interrupt each other's mating attempts less frequently, and are in this way more tolerant towards kin," study co-author Associate Professor Hanne Lovlie said.

"The dominant rooster interrupted unrelated males' mating attempts more frequently."

A self-repairing smartphone?

Could scientists create self-healing smartphones? Photo / 123RF
Could scientists create self-healing smartphones? Photo / 123RF

Taking a cue from the Marvel Universe, researchers report that they have developed a self-healing polymeric material with an eye toward electronics and soft robotics that can repair themselves.

The material is stretchable and transparent, conducts ions to generate current and could one day help your broken smartphone go back together again.

"When I was young, my idol was Wolverine from the X-Men," said University of California researcher Dr Chao Wang, who has been leading the work.

"He could save the world, but only because he could heal himself.

"A self-healing material, when carved into two parts, can go back together like nothing has happened, just like our human skin.

"I've been researching making a self-healing lithium ion battery, so when you drop your cell phone, it could fix itself and last much longer."

The key was to self-repair is in the chemical bonding, Wang explained.

Two types of bonds exist in materials - "covalent" bonds, which were strong and didn't readily reform once broken; and "non-covalent bonds", which were weaker and more dynamic.

Hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules to one another, for instance, were non-covalent, breaking and reforming constantly to give rise to the fluid properties of water.

"Most self-healing polymers form hydrogen bonds or metal-ligand coordination, but these aren't suitable for ionic conductors."

Wang's team turned instead to a different type of non-covalent bond called an ion-dipole interaction, a force between charged ions and polar molecules.

The resulting material could stretch up to 50 times its usual size.

After being torn in two, the material automatically stitched itself back together completely within one day.

For the next step, the researchers are working on altering the polymer to improve the material's properties.

- NZ Herald

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