What Makes Bill Gates Feel Stupid

Bill Gates at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York on Sept. 24, 2013.

Bill Gates built the world's largest software company, and with his billions, he's also become one of the world's most prolific philanthropists. But there's still one thing that he says makes him feel dumb: not being able to speak a foreign language.

Gates took questions from the public today (Jan. 28) in his third Reddit "Ask Me Anything" forum online. One participant asked the Microsoft co-founder: "Is there anything in life that you regret doing or not doing?"

Gates replied: "I feel pretty stupid that I don't know any foreign languages. I took Latin and Greek in high school and got A's and I guess it helps my vocabulary, but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese. I keep hoping to get time to study one of these — probably French because it is the easiest."

Gates added that he tried to use Duolingo, a crowdsourced language-learning platform, but didn't keep up with his lessons. He praised Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for learning enough Mandarin to answer questions from Chinese students.

Perhaps it's not surprising that there's some wisdom in Gates' answer. Knowing multiple languages isn't just useful for globe-trotting businessmen and philanthropists. Studies have shown that learning a new language is good for the brain, and some evidence even suggests it might help stave off Alzheimer's disease.

A 2011 study of hundreds of people with Alzheimer's found that bilingual people were diagnosed with the disease an average of four years later than those who spoke just one language. Another study, in 2013, found that adults in their 60s who had spoken two languages since childhood were able to switch from one task to another faster than their monolingual peers. 

Bilingual people also seem to have an advantage when it comes to filtering important information from background noise. Last year, researchers reported in the journal Brain and Language that people who spoke only one language had to work harder to focus on a single word than bilingual people. The same researchers previously found that bilingual children were better-equipped to ignore noise in their classrooms than their one-language peers.

Alas, adults have a harder time than young kids picking up a new language. One study last year found that this might be because adults try too hard. But that shouldn't discourage those who didn't grow up in a bilingual household, the researchers said. In another study published last year in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found that young adults who could speak two languages performed better on attention tests than their peers who spoke only one language, regardless of when they had learned that second language. 

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Original article on Live Science.

No Yolk! Scientists Unboil an Egg Without Defying Physics

Scientists have figured out a way to do something that seems impossible: unboil an egg. But strange as it may sound, the feat doesn't defy basic laws of science.

When you boil an egg, the proteins unfold and refold into a more tangled, disordered form. But in a new study, a group of researchers found a way to pull apart the proteins in cooked egg whites, and allow them to refold into their original shape.
Think you can't unboil an egg? Think again, scientists say.

The finding could dramatically reduce the cost of cancer treatments and food production, the scientists reported yesterday (Jan. 27) in the journal ChemBioChem.

"Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg," study co-author Gregory Weiss, a biochemist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement.

In their experiment, Weiss and his colleagues started with an egg white that had been boiled for 20 minutes at 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius), until its proteins became tangled clumps. Then they added a substance that ate away at the egg white, effectively liquefying it. Next, they used a machine called a vortex fluid device, designed by Weiss' colleagues at Flinders University in Australia, which used the shearing forces in thin, microfluidic films to shape the egg white proteins back into their untangled form.

Physicists often use cooking eggs as a metaphor to explain the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the degree of disorder, orentropy, in a system of the universe will always increase. For example, once you scramble an egg, it's basically impossible to separate the yolk from the egg white again, because it would be going from a less ordered state to a more ordered one.

At first glance, Weiss' experiment may appear to defy this law, because an unboiled egg is more ordered than a boiled one, so the entropy should be decreasing. But in fact, the process of unboiling the egg produces entropy in the form of heat, offsetting the decrease in entropy, Weiss told Live Science. So the entropy of the universe still increases, he said.

Physics aside, the unboiling technique could be useful in a lot of pharmaceutical and biomedical applications, the researchers said. Proteins often "misfold"into useless shapes when they are formed, but if scientists could refold them again, it could save money for drug development.

Traditional methods of recovering the misfolded proteins are expensive and time-consuming, Weiss said. By contrast, his unboiling technique takes only a few minutes — thousands of times faster than what was possible before.

For example, drug companies often make cancer antibodies in expensive hamster ovary cells, because they don't often create misfolded proteins. If, instead, these companies could use proteins from cheaper yeast or E. coli cells, it could make cancer treatments more affordable, the researchers said.

But the medical industry isn't the only one that stands to gain from the findings. Cheese-making and other industries could also benefit from the unboiling technique, the researchers said. UC Irvine has filed for a patent, and is working with potential commercial partners, they added.