What’s in a face? The amazing variety of human faces — far greater than that of most other animals — is the result of evolutionary pressure to make each of us unique and easily recognizable, according to a new study out of UC Berkeley.
Behavioral ecologist Michael J. Sheehan explains that our highly visual social interactions are almost certainly the driver of this evolutionary trend. Many animals use smell or vocalization to identify individuals, making distinctive facial features unimportant, especially for animals that roam after dark, he said. But humans are different.
In the study, Sheehan and coauthor Michael Nachman asked, “Are traits such as distance between the eyes or width of the nose variable just by chance, or has there been evolutionary selection to be more variable than they would be otherwise; more distinctive and more unique?”
As predicted, the researchers found that facial traits are much more variable than other bodily traits, such as the length of the hand, and that facial traits are independent of other facial traits, unlike most body measures. People with longer arms, for example, typically have longer legs, while people with wider noses or widely spaced eyes don’t have longer noses. Both findings suggest that facial variation has been enhanced through evolution.
“Genetic variation tends to be weeded out by natural selection in the case of traits that are essential to survival,” Nachman said. “Here it is the opposite; selection is maintaining variation. All of this is consistent with the idea that there has been selection for variation to facilitate recognition of individuals.”
Remember that one time SNL went on strike, so Amy Poehler was like ‘screw that, we’re doing an SNL episode at MY (upright citizens brigade) place’? Then the cast donated all the proceeds to the writers who had just been laid off?
This exoskeleton, developed by UC Berkeley professor Homayoon Kazerooni and his team, helps people suffering from spinal cord injuries to walk again.
“Many paraplegics are not in a situation to afford a $100,000 device, and insurance companies don’t pay for these devices,” Kazerooni said. “Our job as engineers is to make something people can use.”
To make his exoskeleton affordable, he used the simplest possible technology: a computer and batteries in a backpack, actuators at the hips, and a pair of crutches with buttons that activate an exoskeleton that fits around the legs. The crutches provide stability, an important consideration for paraplegics navigating streets and sidewalks.
“The key is independence for these people,” he said. “I want them to get up in the morning and go to work, go to the bathroom, stand at a bar and have a beer.”
“When I was in high school I was a really huge ‘SNL’ fan. I remember the cast around the time I started watching it - Will Ferrell, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, Cheri O'Teri, Tracy Morgan. I did research to find out how people got on the show. Their bios always said they came from an improv team, so I started taking classes.” - Aubrey Plaza
Ian and Walsh and Matt were the funniest people I knew and Ian had once punched a drunk guy wearing a sombrero who yelled gross stuff to me from across the street. I felt protected.
It’s easier to be brave when you’re not alone.
We were young and foolish and didn’t know what we were up against. Thank god. We said good-bye to our friends and our cheap and beautiful apartment in the scary neighborhood. We packed all of our things and my yellow Lab, Suki, and pulled away in a U-Haul truck. We had no apartment or job or place to perform in New York City. I didn’t really know who I was, but improv had taught me that I could be anyone. I didn’t have to wait to be cast—I could give myself the part. I could be an old man or a teenage babysitter or a rodeo clown. In three short years Chicago had taught me that I could decide who I was. My only job was to surround myself with people who respected and supported that choice. Being foolish was the smartest thing to do.
- Amy Poehler remembering her decision to move to New York City with the Upright Citizens Brigade in the ‘90s, from 'Yes Please’.
Landing an unmanned robot on another planet can be quite a feat and can end up being quite a complex process. Scientists want to make this process easier but also allow us to explore worlds that are currently too difficult to land on.
UC Berkeley professor Alice Agogino is working with doctoral students to build what are known as tensegrity robots. Essentially, these are robots built with a series of rods and tension wires that protect the delicate scientific instruments in the middle.
The structure allows for both flexibility and strength while navigating a rugged environment — for example, landing on a planet’s rocky surface. These robots can explore places that are currently inaccessible to wheeled rovers such as rocky cliffs, which are rich in geological data due to the exposed rock.
Currently, NASA researchers are working on a prototype to one day land on places such as Titan - one of Saturn’s moons. Scientists are interested in this moon because it has a thick atmosphere with flowing liquids on the surface and is often referred to being the most earthlike world in our solar system.
In 1996, Chicago comics Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh established the best-known incarnation of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy group, whose loose, eclectic style has informed the last decade of “smart” sitcoms
Most of the comedians in the chart should register somewhere between “Amy Poehler” and “that guy from that thing” on the recognizability scale, but if you see an unfamiliar face, he or she is likely a writer or producer on your favorite show.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I spent most of my time having fun at this playground near where I lived. One day I was outside shooting some hoops with my friends, you know, just having some fun. Out of nowhere a couple of guys started making trouble, and I got in a fight with them. It wasn’t really anything. I was barely injured. Fearing for my safety, my mother called 911 and the cops shot those two guys. I still live in Philly. #blessed
[Corey Brown is a teacher and performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, where you can see him perform with his Harold Team, Greg.]