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Counting bubbles, pecking faces and naming cows — researchers have all the fun

Burt's Eye View

Dairy cows with names produce more milk than anonymous cattle.

I learned that while poking around to see what mischief scientific researchers have been up to lately.

For one, they’ve been counting beer bubbles. Seriously.

According to Gerard Liger-Belair, a professor of chemical physics at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France, up to 2 million bubbles appear in a pint of beer before it goes flat — twice the 1 million bubbles in a flute of champagne that he counted in a previous study.

Why get a job in accounting when you can get paid to count bubbles in beverages instead?

Another set of researchers shook bags of nuts to find out why the Brazil nuts always “floated” to the top. Parmesh Gajjar, a research associate at the University of Manchester in England, summed it up: “The Brazil nuts initially start horizontal but do not start to rise until they have first rotated sufficiently toward the vertical axis.”

See. Simple. Brazil nuts point up, peanuts fall down.

Here’s another recent discovery: Mosquitoes hate that funky music.

Hamady Dieng and lead researchers at the University of Malaysia in Sarawak hosted a dance party for mosquitoes, playing the Skrillex track “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” The annoying little insects were annoyed by the pulsing vibrations of electronic dubstep post-hardcore music.

Then there’s the Ig Nobel Prize-winning research that shows chickens, like humans, prefer beautiful faces.

Stefano Ghirlanda and friends at Stockholm University in Sweden trained chickens to react to an average face. They then placed pictures of faces ranging from hot to help me in front of the fowl and found that the birds picked pretty.

Actually, they PECKED pretty with their sharp beaks. The Stockholm poultry pecked what they loved, so being a beautiful bestie to a biddy isn’t all that that egg’s cracked up to be.

Don’t you wish that you were a scientific researcher? You, too, could get paid to count beer bubbles, shake boxes of nuts, DJ for bugs, peck pretty people … and determine that cows need names.

Cattle behaviorist Catherine Douglas of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom proved that a cow with a name gives up 5 percent more milk a year than a bovine that feels like she is just another number in the herd.

Which made me wonder: Does “cattle behaviorist” pay better than “beer bubble counter”?

Douglas said farmers who named cows tended to pet and talk to them as well, which comforts the ladies. Like Elsie, the Contented Cow, mooed decades ago, happy Holsteins and jolly Jerseys produce better milk.

We named all the cows on the little farm where I grew up. Twice a day, Dad or one of us kids sat on a wooden stool at the business end of Daisy or Lulu or Helen or Judy and squirted milk into a silver pail held between our knees.

But sometimes, Daisy or Lulu or Helen or Judy would lift a hind leg — with which she had walked through something else that cows produce prolifically — and step into the milk bucket.

Then we called our cows by different names that Daisy or Lulu or Helen or Judy may not have found as soothing. Perhaps. Maybe a cattle behaviorist could research that. Watch out for the chickens.

• Peck at Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or at www.burtonwcole.com

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