Beyoncé and beyond


She’s had a baby, but what else can we learn from the popstar, asks CLAIRE O’CONNELL

Put a ring on it

Once Beyoncé’s Single Ladiesgets into your head, you will probably be singing it all day – particularly the hook: “If you like it, then you should have put a ring on it.”

Gold is a material traditionally used in wedding rings and other jewellery. Metallic gold has an attractive yellow colour and it also has a low chemical reactivity, which means it doesn’t tarnish easily. Because pure metallic gold is relatively soft, it is usually alloyed with other metals in jewellery.

But gold is something of a double agent: it has a different set of properties at the nanoscale. Unlike the gold you see in a wedding ring, tiny nanoparticles of gold are highly reactive, and they can be used to catalyse chemical reactions.

People have been making use of tiny gold particles for a long time: at that small scale they aren’t yellow, they appear red, and this “colloidal gold” was used as far back as medieval times to dye stained glass windows.

Crazy in love

One of Beyoncé’s biggest hits was Crazy in Love. She sang on the track with rapper Jay-Z, and she later married him.

So what makes you feel crazy in love with someone? Hormones and brain chemicals play a big part. When partners find each other physically desirable, testosterone and oestrogen kick in.

As the relationship continues, the loving feeling is helped along by a cocktail of brain chemicals including dopamine, which makes you feel good, norepinephrine, which boosts energy, and serotonin, which affects mood.

In the longer term, another hormone called oxytocin gets involved too. Sometimes called “the love hormone”, oxytocin helps you to feel more attached to another person. It can be released in the body when we experience physical affection, such as hugging.

Good vibrations

There’s no doubt that Beyoncé can belt out a tune. But how do we hear that voice on a CD or download? When Beyoncé sings into a microphone, the sound she creates causes vibrations in a diaphragm structure, and this information gets encoded as an electrical signal in the recording.

Then when you play the track on a device, say a stereo, that information gets passed to the speaker, which changes it back into vibrations that cause fluctuations in air pressure.

As the changes reach our ears, our eardrums also vibrate, and the signal gets passed on and amplified via bones in the inner ear into a fluid-filled structure called the cochlea.

Then tiny hair structures pick up the vibrations and the information gets sent as an electrical impulse into the brain, which interprets it as sound. Message received.

Get up and moving

Last year, Beyoncé got involved in an initiative led by US first lady Michelle Obama to boost health and fitness among kids and combat childhood obesity.

Why is it important to encourage kids to eat healthily, keep physically active and help reduce obesity levels? We need some fat in our bodies to protect our internal organs, to keep us warm and to act as a reservoir of energy. But carrying too much excess fat can lead to obesity, which in turn can affect health.

Obesity can take its toll on joints by putting them under extra pressure and it could also increase the risk of having breathing problems during sleep. Being obese in the longer term has been linked with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

Beyoncé and an bump

Last August, at the VMA awards, Beyoncé announced that she was expecting a baby. Pregnancy lasts around 38 to 40 weeks in humans and is a time of huge change in a woman’s body.

Long before any bump becomes visible, a woman will have typically experienced signs that she is pregnant, such as missed periods and maybe even morning sickness.

Exactly what causes bouts of sickness is still a mystery, but changing hormone levels might play a role. Luckily for most pregnant women, the queasy feelings ease after the first 12 weeks.

As the foetus grows so does the bump, and the mother typically starts to feel kicks in the second trimester.

The developing foetus can be examined by using ultrasound, sending the high-frequency waves through the skin and measuring how they bounce back from structures inside the body. This builds up an image so doctors can check the foetus is growing at the expected rate and that the organs look healthy.