Discovered: Smoking bans get heart health results; boys lean more than girls; music illiterates don't get emotion either; Curiosity verifies volcanic soil on Mars.

Smoking bans lead to healthier hearts. Opponents of bans on public smoking grumble about the inconvenience, saying that the laws won't get anyone to stop smoking and will only further inconvenience smokers. But from a public health standpoint, banning smoking in public zones is a boon to heart health, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota have found. After ordinances against smoking in bars, restaurants, and workplaces went into effect, heart attacks in Olmsted County went down by a third. The researchers attribute the drop to less second-hand smoke. The county's heart attack rate in 2000 was 151 for every 100,000 residents. By 2009, only 101 per 100,000 people were having heart attacks. "There have been lingering doubts among some people about whether or not this was a real finding," says lead researcher Dr. Richard Hurt. "We think we have produced the most definitive results that anyone can produce related to smoke-free laws and heart attacks." Other variables that might have explained the drop—such as cholesterol and obesity rates—stayed constant, leaving public smoking the remaining probable culprit. [Reuters]

Over-the-counter drug abuse has a gender component. If rappers have been popularizing the recreational use of cough syrup with the kids, it seems that boys are listening more than girls. University of Cincinnati researchers found that while over-the-counter drug abuse among adolescents is on the rise in general, it's a bigger problem with teenage boys than with girls. Professor Rebecca Vidourek and her colleagues gathered data from 7th through 12th grade students attending 133 schools across Greater Cincinnati, finding that boys were more susceptible to abusing cough syrup, decongestants, and other over-the-counter medicine than girls. "Findings from this study highlight and underscore OTC drugs as an increasing and significant health issue affecting young people," says Vidourek.  [University of Cincinnati]

Curiosity confirms: Martian soil is volcanic in origin. NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't dropped any bombshells on planetary scientists with its lastest findings, but it has chalked up a big point in the column of those who believed Martian soil was volcanic in origin. Conducting the first ever detailed X-ray examination of the red planet's soil, Curiosity scientists were able to determine that the planet's geological history shares much in common with like Earth's volcanic regions, including Hawaii's Mauna Kea. "This is truly an exciting time for planetary scientists," says Indiana University mineralogist David Bish, one of the researchers behind Curiosity's CheMin X-ray analysis instrument.  "X-ray diffraction patterns are the best method for telling us what minerals are present." Crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes, and olivine were detected in the soil, revealing a volcanic origin for the soil. Below, you can see two images of the Rocknest soil sample extraction site. The left image shows Mars as it appears to Curiosity, while the right has been white-balanced to show what the surface of Mars might look like under Earth's atmospheric conditions: [WIRED]


                                                                                                                    NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

For those confused by music, emotion also perplexes. For those of us whose daily lives need a soundtrack, it can be hard to imagine that anyone could suffer from a condition like amusia. But some people truly are unable to mentally process music. And according to a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, those who can't make sense of music typically can't process emotion in speech either. They had a group of experimental subjects—half with amusia, half with normal musical perception—listen to snippets of speech uttered with different pitches. Pitch is one of the elements of spoken communication that changes most depending on the emotion meant to be conveyed. The control group picked up on these emotional variations, but the amusic subjects did not. Acoustic cues relating to emotion are picked up in the same part of the brain, researchers believe, meaning that emotional and musical illiterates may have atypical neurological features. The researchers conclude that their findins, "lend support to early speculations by Darwin ... that emotional communication is a fundamental link between these domains and reflects their common evolutionary origin." [Los Angeles Times]