Is Mt. Fuji going to erupt soon?

2005-1027 Mt Fuji by jenniferphoon

Mount Fuji might erupt soon, according to new research conducted by The Volcano Research Center at the University of Tokyo. Some don’t agree, but here’s one theory:

Based on the pressures required to form both materials, Kaneko believes the two mineral composites are housed in separate chambers under Fuji: one deep chamber 20 kilometres below the volcano, rich in basaltic magma, and a shallower chamber housing the silica 9 kilometres underground.

He says the deep rumble of low-frequency earthquakes beneath Fuji in 2000 and 2001 suggests movement inside the basaltic magma chamber, and adds he would not be surprised if Fuji erupts in the very near future.

via New Scientist

Cosmetics made from volcanic ash

PhpuxTSFKThere’s an award-winning cosmetics company called Tengen that uses volcanic ash from the Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima — called shirasu — to make skincare products. The sediment that Tengen uses is 400,000 years old and found in a secret location. They then combine it with oil and sodium hydroxide to make facial cleansers, gels, and face creams.

via Channel News Asia

Fascinating archive of old PopSci Japan stories


Pink Tentacle has found several fascinating Japan-related articles from Popular Science’s 137-year archives, now on Google Books. They include folk medicine from the 1890s, a law that forbade people from owning maroon-colored cars (1930s), and one theory from a famous geologist at the time suggesting that the US could bomb Japan’s volcanoes to win the war (1944).

I have written a few stories about Japan for Popular Science in the last few years, and it’s fascinating to think of the history this magazine has.

Dog ownership is just as therapeutic as child rearing


Who said dogs aren’t as special as kids? Researchers at Tokyo’s Azabu University found out that humans generate high oxytocin levels after playing with dogs. Oxytocin is a “bonding” hormone associated with romantic love, friendship, and childcare; it does wonderful things like lower stress levels, fight depression, and breed trust. People always tell me that loving a dog is nothing like loving your own child; I have yet to find out if this is true to me, but I know for a fact that my oxytocin levels are healthily high because of Ruby and Malcolm (above).

Link (Thanks, Ann!)

Delicious Japanese beef cloned for delicious future steak

HidagyuGreat news for meat lovers—researchers in Osaka successfully cloned the progenitor ox of the delicious Hidagyu beef. The cloned ox, Yasufuku-go, died in 1993, but he was considered “the father of Hidagyu”—think of it as taking the cream of the crop of a fine specimen of human, say, Jake Gyllenhaal, and replicating him using technology. As a result, there are currently three Yasufuku clones alive and ready to be slaughtered for someone’s delicious dinner.

And yes, Yasufuku’s descendants were all seriously delicious. He is known to have been the source of more than 30% of all Japanese black cattle. This is like Kobe beef, but softer.


Fourth grader discovers fossils, gets new species named after her

20081213p2a00m0na002000p_size5A fourth grader in Osaka recently discovered a 130 million year old shrimp fossil while digging around as part of a fossil hunt hosted by a museum. The kids were allowed to take the fossils home, but when the girl took it back to the curators to be examined more closely, they realized that it was a new kind of shrimp in the genus Hoploparia that was previous unknown.

The species was named after the girl, whose name is Natsumi Kumagai—it’s called Hoploparia natsumiae.


Sharp Announces New Technology That Fights Bird Flu

220pxcolorized_transmission_electro Sharp Electronics teamed up with London University biologist John Oxford to create a new revolutionary defense against bird flu, also known as virus H5N1. By releasing positive and negative ions simultaneously, the technology causes virus cells to instantly combine on the surface and become free radicals, essentially replicating the properties of fresh air. It disables microorganisms that yield pollution or airborne disesase.

Plastmacluster itself was developed in 2000 as an air purification method, and is used in Sharp air conditioners and air purifiers. This summer was the first time it was proven to fight the spread of bird flu. It successfully removed 99% of the bird flu virus in lab tests.

Link (Japanese)

Researchers Find Possible Cure for PTSD

Researchers in Gunma think they’ve found a protein that cures PTSD. When tested on mice, the protein ICER was able to block past experiences from inducing fear memory.

To test their theory, the scientists took three mice—one with no ICER, one with lots of ICER, and one normal mouse—and gave them electric shocks after an ominous buzzer sound. The next day, when they sounded the buzzer again, the mouse without ICER reacted much more slowly than the other two. The one who had lots of ICER freaked out much earlier than the rest. We’ll see if this leads to anything useful to humans. The research will be published in the US soon.


I Got My Brain Scrambled for a Wired Story

My latest story on is about my experience as a neuroscience guinea pig at a lab in San Francisco:

I feel like the hoodlum Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange:
My head is held steady by a chin strap, while two technicians grease my
scalp with conductive gel and slip on a cap bristling with electrodes.

I’m about to have my brain scrambled — electrically — in the
name of medical science. Scientists are going to knock out regions of
my brain while I perform a memory test.

Read the story

New Automated Forensic Method Speeds Up Victim Identification

071127105531Radiologists in Japan have just discovered a new automated dental radiograph matching system that improves and speeds up forensic identification. Up until now, forensic identification has been a slow and often inaccurate process that relied on the human eye. By using a technique called Phase-Only Correlation that corrects distortions caused by damage and compares images closer than ever before, the researchers were able to correctly identify dental patients within seconds—that’s literally just 95% of the time it would have taken the old school way.

The researchers think they’ll start using this method by next year.


Woman Wins Prize for Creating Vanilla Flavored Poo

This is Mayu Yamamoto. She is a Japanese woman who recently won an international award for extracting a flavor eerily similar to vanilla from cow poo.

The Japanese are no strangers to the Ig Nobel Prize. Dr. NakaMats, our favorite inventor, won it in 2005 for documenting 35 years worth of meals, and 10 others have also won the silly science award, which is handed out by categories every year by the Harvard-based Annals of Improbable Research.

What an exciting week for Japan! Not only did we land a probe on the moon, but we figured out how to make poo taste good! Very, very important stuff.


Japanese Robots Arrive On The Moon

Exciting day for JAXA! Japanese robots arrived on the moon for the first time today. Like most vehicles that make great voyages, the lunar probe has a woman’s name—Selene—short for Selenological Engineering Explorer. It was launched on September 14, four years behind schedule, but safely arrived at its destination, where it will hang out for a year investigating the evolution of the moon. It’s the largest lunar mission since Apollo.


Miniscule Toilet Taken With Electron Microscope


Do you really need more proof that Japanese people love toilet jokes? This photograph, taken by nanotechnologist Kaito Takahashi, won the Most Bizzare Award at a conference on electrons, ions, and photo beam technology a couple years ago. He took it using an electron microscope at 15,000x magnification while working at a lab in Shizuoka. And even though it’s actually a photo of an integrated circuit, he decided to call it "Small Toilet."