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Feature

Can we clone a dinosaur? Will we really slip on a banana peel?

Find the answers to questions here
by Derek Rodriguez

Can you really slip on a banana peel?

Bananas are delicious. And they are hilariously dangerous, according to Mario Kart, Batman and Tintin. But are they truly hazardous or harmless in real life?

Don’t underestimate the skiddy nature of a banana peel, says Prof William Chen, who heads NTU’s Food Science & Technology Programme.

“Banana peels produce a slippery gel when they are pressed,” he says, adding that this is unique to banana peels. So the next time you see one lying around, don’t let it slide. Pick it up and save yourself or the person behind you from a painful situation.

Why do you have to complete a course of antibiotics?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This applies not just to humans but to microbes as well.

“When a course of antibiotics is not completed, antibiotic levels in the bloodstream are not sufficiently high to eliminate bacteria. And bacteria that survive at these sub-lethal concentrations of antibiotics can mutate to become drug resistant,” says Assoc Prof Eric Yap, a medical geneticist from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

So the principle is this: if you are not required to take antibiotics, don’t. But if you are prescribed a course, complete it.

Can we clone a dinosaur like they did in Jurassic Park?

Since dinosaur DNA has yet to be recovered, Isla Nublar remains a pipe dream for now. A smaller scale production might still be possible, though it will be a high-budget feature, reckons Assoc Prof Konstantin Pervushin from the School of Biological Sciences.

“It’s possible to reverse-evolve a chicken to its ancestral form, which is the avian dinosaur. Real experiments have been carried out with results published. You’ll pretty much get a dinosaur-looking creature – a small T-Rex basically.”.

Why do people get hangry?

Does your bestie turn into the incredible sulk when he’s hungry? You’re not alone. There are a number of reasons for these, say experts from the School of Social Sciences.

Asst Prof Gianluca Esposito, a neuroscientist, explains: “When your glucose level is low, your body perceives that it is under threat and you might feel grumpy or bad-tempered. You may even lose your ability to refrain from socially unacceptable behaviour such as unwarranted anger.”

“People feel frustration when their goals are blocked,” adds psychology don Asst Prof Bobby Cheon. “When a fundamental drive like feeding is blocked, then people may experience even more intense frustration and anger.”

Why can’t computers complete a CAPTCHA?

“Character recognition algorithms rely on the presence of well-separated characters that are uniform in font, size and slant, and without distractors like crisscrossing lines,” says Assoc Prof Goh Wooi Boon from the School of Computer Science & Engineering, who specialises in human-computer interaction.

Humans, on the other hand, can handle large variations in familiar symbols. However, according to Assoc Prof Goh, the rapid progress of machine learning has led to CAPTCHAs increasingly resembling mangled messes. The challenge now is making sure we aren’t fooled as well.

What would happen if all insects on earth disappear?

“We would be in deep trouble!” says Asst Prof Eleanor Slade from the Asian School of the Environment.

“Insects provide numerous functions and services to humans and the planet, such as pollination, nutrient cycling, protein sources for animals and pest control. Without them, our food security would be threatened. Other forms of life, like plants that are pollinated by bees and flies, and bats and birds that feed on insects, would become extinct as well. And of course, without the trusty dung beetles, we’d be knee deep in poo.”

Does your phone get heavier as you download more apps and take more photos?

The storage of additional data in your phone's memory chip does not change the weight of the phone. It only changes the binary states of the numerous physical memory elements to represent either a logic 0 or 1.

“If your iPhone X was 174 grams when you first bought it, it will still weigh 174 grams after it is chockablock with unabashed selfies and re-posted group chat viral videos. That said, it does slow down if there are lots of apps running in the background, consuming precious computing resources and memory,” says Assoc Prof Goh.

Is it safe to leave your phone charging overnight?

Despite your mother’s nagging fear, you can rest assured that your plan to wake up to a fully charged phone won’t backfire.

Nonetheless, says Assoc Prof So Ping Lam from the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, switching off the charger helps to keep your battery healthy.

“Once the battery is fully charged, it gets trickle charges to keep it at 100%. These may cause overcharging and overheating, damaging the battery permanently.”

Why have humans evolved a sense of humour?

Many people value a sense of humour in their friends and partners and it might not only be because it makes them fun to be around.

Says Asst Prof Esposito: “Wittiness is a mark of intelligence. Over the course of human evolution, humour has become a sign of sharp mental faculty.”

Adds Asst Prof Cheon: “Laughter is an effective way for people to strengthen social bonds, especially within groups. It can relieve tension and stress, and funny people may be perceived to be warmer.”