London's first timber skyscraper could be a step closer to reality after researchers presented Mayor of London Boris Johnson with conceptual plans for an 80-storey wooden building within the Barbican. Researchers from Cambridge University are working with PLP Architecture and engineers Smith and Wallwork to look at the potential benefits of using timber in tall buildings; the most obvious being that it is a renewable resource, unlike concrete and steel. Other benefits include reduced costs, improved construction timeframes, increased fire resistance, and, as Canterbury University's Professor Andy Buchanan has pointed out, stability in earthquakes.

Why Eskimos have all those words for snow

That old story about Eskimos having at least 50 words for snow has taken a new twist.

But instead of counting the words for snow used by Inuit, Yupik and other natives of the Arctic regions, US researchers looked at how people in warmer climates speak of snow and ice compared to their cold-weather counterparts.


"We found that languages from warm parts of the world are more likely to use the same word for snow and ice," said Alexandra Carstensen, a doctoral student in psychology and co-author of the study published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

The finding that people in warmer regions are less likely to distinguish between ice and snow indirectly supports a claim by anthropologist Franz Boas in 1911 that the words used to describe different types of snow in Arctic languages reflect the "chief interests of a people".

By the same principle, people in warmer climates, where snow is less of a concern, are less likely to care

as much about the difference between snow and ice, and so use one word to describe both, just as Hawaiians use the word hau for snow and ice.

The binturong, of the civet family, emits a not too unpleasant smell. Photo / Carolina Tiger Rescue
The binturong, of the civet family, emits a not too unpleasant smell. Photo / Carolina Tiger Rescue

Something smells like popcorn

It's been called the bearcat and the binturong, but there's always one thing people notice about the shy, shaggy-haired creature from Southeast Asia: it smells like hot-buttered popcorn.

Scientists now say there's a good reason for that - the chemical compound that gives freshly made popcorn its mouthwatering smell is also the main aroma of binturong pee.

Using a technique called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the researchers identified 29 chemical compounds in the animals' urine.

The one compound that emanated from every sample was 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, or 2-AP - the same compound that gives popcorn its tantalising scent.

When the small drone hit the pork roast

Science is about analysing microbacteria and advancing long-winded mathematical theories - but sometimes it's just about crashing stuff.

A new experimental setup with a motorised catapult and a high-speed camera documents in detail what happens when a small hobby drone hits objects or people. The first film showed a drone being sent on a collision course with a pork roast.

"The first attempts ... clearly show what could happen when a regular hobby drone hits a human being - but it's too early to conclude anything," explained Anders la Cour-Harbo, of Aalborg University's Drone Research Lab in Copenhagen.

The university is now working with a local hospital to conduct experiments to better understand how dangerous drones are.

STIs key to happy marriage

It seems we may have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to thank for our monogamous relationships, according to Canadian and German scientists.

Their study, published in Nature Communications, found that when the size of a society was "large", with a maximum of 300 individuals, the prevalence of STIs became endemic in the population, reducing fertility rates and favouring the emergence of monogamists.

"In contrast, STIs in smaller groups (with a maximum of 30 individuals) are characterised by only short-lived disease outbreaks that do not become endemic in the population," the researchers wrote.

"Thus, the greater fertility rates of polygynists allow polygyny to become the dominant social norm over time."