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Be Amazing: Glow in the Dark

Whether you're looking to become invisible, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, get out of jury duty, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

YOU WILL NEED

"¢ 1 hand (your own, preferably attached)
"¢ 1 set of fingernails
"¢ 1 powerful photon counter (check your local university research laboratory)
"¢ Photons (don't sweat it, you've already got those)

Do It Because: IT'S ALREADY THERE

Some kids want to be princesses or mermaids. But we always thought it'd be fun to be a firefly. (Not the "hey, your tush is blinking on and off" part, mind you, more just the general glowing.) Turns out, we've always been closer to our dream than we realized. In 2005, researchers at Japan's Hamamatsu Photonics Central Research Laboratory revealed that humans already do glow in the dark. Our hands, feet, and foreheads all shine, thanks to photons—tiny, energized packets of light emitted by our skin. According to a Discovery News article on the study, researchers say that fingernails release the most photons, possibly because the material they're made of can function like a prism, scattering light far and wide. So how's it work? The researchers aren't entirely sure. However, using some hand models and a photon counter, they figured out that warm temperatures, increased oxygen, and mineral oil all increase the photon output—making it likely that the glow is caused by chemiluminescence (a fancy word that simply means "light caused by chemical reactions"). Coincidentally, this is same process that makes those firefly fannies flicker.

Use It To: ATTRACT POTENTIAL MATES, ENTERTAIN YOUR FRIENDS. . . AND HELP OUT YOUR DOCTOR

Besides grade-school wish fulfillment and some serious potential for party tricks, there are actually some practical benefits to this knowledge. Both the Japanese researchers and a second team in Germany say that disease and illness may affect the glow. The Japanese say that sick people emit a dimmer light, while German studies on multiple sclerosis patients revealed that the disease seemed to change the rhythm at which the photon light pulsed. The teams hope that one day their discovery could be used to help doctors diagnose specific disorders in a less invasive way.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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