Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Curiosity Detects Methane

News flash! NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a 10X spike in methane, an organic chemical in the atmosphere and detected other organic molecules in a rock sample gathered by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

So since it is probably not coming from belching cows like here on Earth, where is the methane coming from?

"This temporary increase in methane -- sharply up and then back down -- tells us there must be some relatively localized source," said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. "There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock."

Organic molecules, often loaded with carbon and hydrogen, are thought of as chemical building blocks of life (but they can exist without the presence of life). Curiosity's findings from atmospheric and rock samples don't tell us whether Mars has living microorganisms (or has ever had them), but the data shows that Mars is chemically active and may have favorable conditions for life.
Go science!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Complex Chemistry in Ocean Spray


Have you ever wondered why the ocean is so refreshing? Researchers in San Diego, California at the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment have some of the answers and are working on finding more. It turns out that ocean spray is quite complex and filled with all kinds of interesting things.

Chemists and co-directors of the UCSD Center, Kimberly Prather, Ph.D. (UCSD) and Vicki Grassian, Ph.D. at the Univ. of Iowa are recreating the ocean-atmosphere environment in the laboratory to study how chemical changes in seawater affect the composition and cloud forming ability of sea spray aerosols. The intent of the researchers' experiments is to obtain a more accurate example of aerosol chemistry in computer climate models. 

Ocean research in San Diego? My kind of science!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

CIBER Spots Outcast Stars

Data from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, provided support that background infrared light in the universe (seen by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope), comes from distant stars ejected from parent galaxies. 

"We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions," said Michael Zemcov, Ph.D., experimental astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Using smaller suborbital NASA rockets, CIBER spotted two cosmic infrared (IR) wavelengths shorter than those measured by Spitzer. The light appears to come from a previously undetected population of stars between galaxies and CIBER measurements suggest the IR glow between distant galaxies is caused by orphan stars.

To test whether stray stars have been spun off from parent galaxies, future CIBER experiments will check to see if the stars are still located in roughly the same neighborhood. Go science!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Neuroprosthetics or Making Stuff Work with Your Mind

Recently I came across an article in New Scientist online about progress being made in the advancing area of neuroprosthetics

Put simply, a neuroprosthetic is a device that boosts the input/output of the nervous system (electrical brain signals). These initiated and/or amplified signals help replace signals that have been short-circuited by disease or trauma. Researchers are also designing bidirectional brain-computer interfaces that link a device (e.g., robotic arm) to sensory nerves and muscles.

Surgical implants are being tested that restore functionality in patients with severe sensory or motor disabilities. External non-invasive brain simulators are even being sold that improve attention span while gaming. I might buy one to boost my attention when I have to gather all the information to do my taxes every year. A major snooze fest activity.

Some devices collect external stimuli/input and convert it to a signal the nervous system recognizes (e.g., cochlear implant or retinal prosthesis). This would give many folks with loss of sensory function or disabilities much more independence. Go science!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stain Free Materials with Nanotechnology

Always looking for ways to become a laundry ninja, I happened across nanoparticle research being done by Dr. Anish Tuteja, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Arun Kota, PhD, at the University of Michigan on coatings that not only resist stains and liquids (e.g., honey, syrup, sulfuric acid, etc.) but actually bounce off it. 

The new coatings could be applied to waterproof paints that reduce drag on ships, phones to eliminate any and all fingerprints, as well as windshields and ski goggles that would never spot. Moreover, the coating could lead to breathable garments that would protect soldiers and scientists from chemicals and microorganisms. Go science!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Checking Out A Mars Comet Flyby

We tend to forget how much space hardware we have in our cosmic quiver. Now these space science assets are gearing up for a once-in-a-lifetime comet (C/2013 A1) flyby of Mars on October 19, 2014. The comet, also called Siding Spring, will pass within 87,000 miles (139,500 km) of our neighboring planet. This may not seem like a near miss, but to put it into perspective, it is less than half the distance to our moon from Earth. 

NASA expects Siding Spring (coming from the Oort Cloud 5,000 - 100,000 astronomical units away and thought to be left from the formation of the solar system) to pass by Mars with little problem, but the debris trail that accompanies comets may be a different story. [NASA rovers Curiosity and Opportunity should be fine and checking out the visitor.] Time will tell.

In any event, we Earthlings and our NASA instrumentation/satellites will have front row seats to the action. Go science!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Arkansas Science Festival

Since I love science and technology, some of you have probably heard me say, "All science, all the time" when asked about my interests and this blog. Well, here is another chance to share science research and discoveries. On October 6th, 2014, I will be hosting a Science Cafe at Godfrey's in Jonesboro, AR, starting at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Arkansas Science Festival.

The topic is: Rocket Science - Motors, Models, and Microorganisms in Space Exploration. My panelists will be David Thomas, Ph.D., Prof. of Biology, Lyon College, Ed Wilson, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, Harding University, and Tillman Kennon, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Science Education, Arkansas State University. Each of these folks do research in various aspects of space exploration. It will be a fun and relaxed evening with each panelist speaking for a few minutes about his work and then the event opened up for Q&A.

I may also be persuaded to provide a few stories from my 13 years at NASA- Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX and will have a some of my science books available for purchase afterwards. I look forward to seeing you there! Go science!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Crickets in Hawaii Go Silent

Flatwing cricket )Teleogryllus oceanicus)
Some people might not like the chirping sound that crickets make. I love it (except in the middle of the night from under the bed). 

In Hawaii, happy chirping crickets (trying to attract mates) attracted parasitic, burrowing flies (Ormia ochracea) that preyed on them by listening for their sounds. 

University of Minnesota biologist, Marlene Zuk, Ph.D. has studied crickets in Kauai since 1991. Every year that she traveled to the islands offered fewer and fewer cricket calls until there was silence in 2003. 

It turns out the crickets hadn't disappeared, but simply evolved into stealth mode to survive the predatory flies. Original males that rubbed their wings together like a file on comb teeth to attract females were targeted by the flies, but new and improved males with newly mutated wings (without the file/teeth structures) were safe. The silent crickets flourished "under the radar" of the burrowing flies and grew in numbers.

The same thing happened on the island of Oahu roughly 3 years later in a case of independent evolutionary convergence. (Mother Nature catches on when she has a good thing!)

It looks like the strong, silent type of male is attractive in the cricket world, too.
Go science!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer Weather Extremes Explained

As the official end of summer draws near and we are experiencing rain in Little Rock, I thought this video on extreme weather was simple, informative and to the point. 

I know the Gulf Coast folks (friends/family in Houston and New Orleans) won't relax until November 1st (the end of the hurricane season), but that's another story. 

Happy Labor Day weekend, y'all. Go Science!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interstellar Stardust and Its Absence

An international team of 23 scientists, has created maps (using data from 500,000 stars over a ten year period) of space materials located between the stars of the Milky Way. This material includes atoms and molecules left behind when a star dies, as well as building blocks for new stars and planets. The results published in the Aug. 15, 2014 issue of the journal Science may help astronomers solve a stardust puzzle that was first seen in 1922 in a graduate student's photographs of distant stars.

The research team focused on a strange feature in the light from stars; diffuse interstellar bands or "DIBs" (i.e., dark lines in the grad student's photographs). These visual and near-infrared spectra absorption lines seemed to show missing starlight as if something in the interstellar medium between Earth and the star was sucking up (not a technical term) the light. In fact, scientists have spotted more than 400 interstellar bands, but why the bands appear and their exact location are a mystery. 

Rosemary Wyse, a Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy who played a major role in the research reports, "But we still don't know why stars form where they do. This study is giving us new clues about the interstellar medium out of which the stars form."

Finding the cause will allow researchers to better understand the physical conditions and chemistry of the space between stars and more on how stars and galaxies form. Go science!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Brain Cell Tally

Have you ever heard or said, "Well, I lost a few brain cells with that one." But how many neurons do most people start with? Until one neuroscientist did the calculations, no one knew. Watch this talk (above) to find out why the human brain is so big compared to the size of our bodies compared to other species (a mouse has 86 billion neurons). 

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro tackled the question of: Exactly how many cells are in our brains? Lots more than we should have given our size, but I won't spill the beans early. Check out the video. The answer to how humans can maintain such large brains is simple, yet elegant. Go science!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

3D Printing Now

I'm interested in 3D Printing and like to keep up with the latest developments. See for yourself. 3D printing technology can be used for everything from art and fashion to prosthetics or food

Eager to find out more? I save the latest and most interesting 3D applications and updates on my 3D printing Pinterest board, here

I'm just back from 2 weeks vacation on the Oregon coast. More next time. Go science!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Even Crawfish Need a Break

Crayfish (aka crawfish, crawdads or mud-bugs) are freshwater crustaceans, closely related to lobsters. And if you live in the South, you have had your share of crayfish boils, since most people don't relate to crayfish except as dinner. 

So it was interesting to read how Daniel Cattaert, of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Talence, France discovered that nocturnal crayfish have high levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. 

Cattaert found crayfish responded the same way as humans when given an anti-anxiety drug (which affects serotonin levels) during a dark and light maze test after experiencing stress. 

In essence, the crayfish were all adventurous and curious before the stress but kept to the dark areas after. Following treatment with the anti-anxiety drug, they ventured out into the far parts of the maze again without hesitation. Hmm... I guess the take home message for humans is Keep Calm and Stay the Course.  Go Science! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Birds - Best of Both Worlds

I love birds. Mostly the smaller ones. Oh, I know the snowy egret is a wonder, but cardinals and bluebirds just make me smile as I start my day. 

Recently, I came across a research article on the brilliantly colorful Tanagers, who make up fully 10% of all songbird species. Anyway, a graduate student, Nick Mason, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology wanted to see if Darwin's theory that brightly colored birds don't have

complex songs and dull colored birds are singing divas was accurate. He decided to look at the hugely diverse Tanagers by measuring  the plumage of 303 species using a spectro-photometer and analyzing 2,700 recordings of bird songs. 

The research  team studied nine feather color variables and 20 song variables to develop a “complexity” score for both plumage and sound. Mason used the Macaulay Library of bird songs (world's largest/oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings) for his research.

When the feathers had settled, the team found that there weren't widespread limits on the evolution of showiness vs. singing. 

So contrary to what Charles Darwin speculated, birds, or tanagers at least, can be "beautiful and mellifluous, or drab and hoarse, or anything in between."
Go science!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Science in the Wild West

Summertime offers time to visit family, friends and places you might have only read about. Recently I ran across a PBS series hosted by Alan Alda on science of the western United States. 

In "The Wild West," Alda rounds up science stories with a distinctly western flair, including scorpions and rattlesnakes, tales told by bones, a search for diamonds, a cowgirl's use of physics to throw a better lasso and a visit to Biosphere 2 (Arizona) to learn about the seven biomes.

The best thing about the series is that they include classroom curriculum tie-ins and resources. It offers a treasure trove of history, science, and social studies activities. 

Not only is the series fun and entertaining, but you get to learn a lot about my part of the country. Go science! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Citizen Science

Nearly everyone finds time to get outdoors in the summer. Families, friends, bicyclists, hikers, divers, photographers and more are doing activities set in nature. So what better time for scientists to recruit extra eyes, ears, and hands for reporting on mother nature's residents and mysteries. 

Discover magazine and SciStarter's new online Citizen Science Salon allows everyone to become amateur scientists and collaborate on important research projects.

Interested in marine research? MyOSD-Ocean Sampling Day is scheduled for June 21st. Seahorse lovers can help improve understanding of those ocean friends at iSeahorse. Want to help gather information about horseshoe crab hitchhikers and phytoplankton? Get started here (horseshoe crabs) and here (phytoplankton). You can also help analyze deep-sea videos (15 seconds at a time) with Digital Fishers

How about sorting out whale sounds? Each family of Killer Whales has its own dialect. Closely-related families share calls. Get the details at WhaleFM.

More interested in outer than inner space? The Moon Zoo project helps identify and map the moon using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. 

Want to look further? The Kepler spacecraft stares at stars in the Cygnus constellation and records their brightness every thirty minutes to search for transiting planets. Help out at Planet Hunters.

Didn't see your favorite science project? The Citizen Science Alliance keeps a list of current projects. An internet search for citizen science will also turn up more projects at different universities and agencies. Go science!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Physics - Up Close & Personal at Discovery Museum

If you're like me, it's a lot more fun to hear about science directly from folks actually doing science than just reading about it. So, I wanted to give you a heads up about an free public event tomorrow night, June 7, 2014, 6:00 p.m. at the Museum of Discovery

James L. Merz, PhD, Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame will share what sparked his passion for engineering and physics. The talk will be followed by a reception and a tour of the museum's latest travelling exhibit, Mystery of the Mayan Medallion. It sounds like a lot of fun. Go Science!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Radiation: Yesterday & Today

This month, we've taken a closer look at radiation and radioactivity. From its earliest discovery, radiation has been a bit of a mystery. 

I ran across the definition, history, uses, and medical impacts of radiation online at the Britannica website. It is very thorough and informative. Check it out.

Did you know that in 1896, Henri Becquerel announced the discovery of radioactivity to the Academy of Sciences in Paris? Thomas Edison's assistant died from a radiation-induced tumor as a result of too much x-ray exposure? And that during World War I, radium paint (a radium/phosphor mixture) was used on military aircraft instruments so they would glow in the dark and make night flying easier for pilots?

It wasn't until 1959 that the Federal Radiation Council was established and responsible for: 
  1. "Advising the President of the United States on radiological issues that affected public health;
  2. Providing guidance to all federal agencies in setting radiation protection standards; and
  3. Working with the States on radiation issues."
In 1970, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radiation protection fell under the EPA's Radiation Protection Division, which is responsible for protecting the public and environment from too much exposure to radiation. Good to know. Go science!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Radiation and Dental Health

The May Science cafe topic is about radiation exposure. It got me thinking about how we sometimes make amazing discoveries without knowing the big picture. That's why scientists do basic science research. All life is intimately connected to everything else. So when we do things like split atoms or give a medication for one thing, we need to keep digging to see how other parts of the big blue ball (Earth) are affected.

This applies to radiation as well. X-rays are important to see what is happening inside our bodies from injury or disease. However, too much radiation exposure causes more harm than its worth. For example, dental x-rays are important when you have a big problem, but I have "great teeth" according to my dentist. So I resist the yearly dental x-rays and opt for every 2-2 1/2 years. I don't want the extra radiation no matter how small the dose. (I grew up in Nevada, I probably have my share and more.)

In fact, the American Dental Association guidelines state "adults, who have regular check-ups and are free of signs/symptoms of oral disease, are at a low risk for dental caries. Nevertheless, consideration should be given to the fact that caries risk can vary over time as risk factors change. Advancing age and changes in diet, medical history and periodontal status may increase the risk for dental caries. 
A radiographic examination consisting of posterior bite wings is recommended at 
intervals of 24 to 36 months."

So, if you want to glow a little less brightly and your dental health is great, just tell the hygienist you'll pass on the yearly x-rays. (I NEVER miss those cutting plastic bite wings!) She may or may not frown and look at you like you're a health nut, but it's worth it. Go science! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Science Friday

As most of you know, I'm all science, all the time! However, it is fun to check out science all around such as Science Friday

This week the headlines include Particle Fever and the Large Hadron Collider, science goes to the movies and Transcendence, Why we Find Things Funny, and Foraging Do's and Don'ts

I'll be curling up with my iPad to see these and more this evening. Join me! TGISF!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Early Radiation Knowledge

Most of us never think about radiation effects except when we need to have a dental or chest x-ray to rule out disease. Also, the sun's radiation affects us daily but we don't pay it much attention until we are faced with a nasty burn. (Not a smart course of action.)

But what about the early days of science and medicine when x-rays were newly discovered? I came across this General Electric 1940s film on German physicist, Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery of x-rays. This educational "infomercial" is interesting AND scary when you think of how little they knew. 

Compare that to today's use of medical physics in CT, MRI, and other imaging methods. Progress has been made and medical science has come a long way. Something to think about. Go science!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tornadoes: When Mother Nature Gets Nasty

After living in Houston for many years, I thought moving to Arkansas would mean an end to worrying about hurricanes and violent weather. Wrong. Arkansas experiences tornadoes along with other tornado alley states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. See map.

Last night in Little Rock, the tornado sirens went off and on for over an hour. I ate dinner on a tray in the guest bathroom (no windows). Ugh! I did carry cushions from the sofa in there to make it a bit more cozy. Thankfully, the steep hill behind our street is a natural barrier to a lot of crazy bad weather.

Folks just 8 miles to the north in Mayflower and Maumelle, AR got the brunt of the tornado's fury. (The strength of a tornado is based on the Fujita Scale.) 

Watch this news video on the devastation. To add insult to injury, the same area got hit in April 2011 nearly to the day. Some people are looking at rebuilding homes that were just rebuilt. Awful!

So there are lots of folks "in harm's way" that need to pay attention when tornado sirens blare. An article in The Atlantic explains how tornadoes are predicted, rated (by wind strength), and tracked. It also explains that a person has roughly 13 minutes average lead time upon notification to find shelter.

All I can say is pay attention, take shelter when the sirens sound and treat violent weather with respect. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hard Drive or The Cloud or Quantum Computing?

Tonight the Science cafe topic is Hard Drive vs. The Cloud. Our panelists will be discussing how computers save personal, public and encrypted data. Since I have limited knowledge in this area, I'm looking forward to learning more. 

And what about beyond The Cloud? Are we now or will we ever be able to save or manipulate data in even more amazing ways? It's possible. What about Quantum Computing?

Huh? What is a quantum computer anyway? Well, instead of using silicon-based transistors, a quantum computer takes advantage of quantum-mechanical actions, such as superposition and entanglement, to manipulate data. Digital computers need data to be encoded into binary digits (bits), which are in one of two states (0 or 1). Quantum computation, however, uses qubits (quantum bits), which can be in superpositions of states or the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously. Wow!

It's the computing equivalent of "having your cake and eating it too." You don't have to choose since both instances occur at the same time. Mind blowing possibilities? Yes. Do I want to learn more about the way computers are advancing? Yes! Check out a recent Harvard team's work on testing a quantum logic gate. Go Science!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

3D Printing - Creativity Meets Practicality

Unless you have been at the South Pole for the past couple of years, you have probably heard of 3D printing. Known as additive printing for many years, it has finally come into its own with the development of materials that can be extruded (squeezed out like tooth paste), sintered (heated), or spun (like cotton candy) from a heated nozzle. I'll stick to non-technical terms here. 
(You can click on the links for the science and engineering details.) There are nearly as many ideas for 3D printable objects as there are stars in the night sky. 

Well, okay, maybe not the stars over Montana, but definitely the number of stars over Los Angeles, Houston, or New York. 

Clever folks have 3D printed a happy couple for their wedding cake topper, printed a cast that is more dense where the break is (while allowing the rest of the casted area to breathe), printed high couture clothing for the big city catwalks, and even 3D printed food and furniture

If this is not the start of something big, I don't know what is! 

How does an advanced technology that can print so many different designs and meet such different needs work? I'll admit, until I attended the 3D Printer World Expo in Los Angeles in January of 2014, I was mystified as well. Is it like the Star Trek replicators? No, but sort of.  The products of 3D printing are dependent on the starting materials and are shaped by computer instructions.

Companies like Pixologic makers of an application called Z Brush offer CAD (computer assisted design) tutorials that allow the user to create an object. The computer object is converted into a STL file format. From this an object can be printed in plastic, metal, sugar, dough, etc. The specific material is based on the application and/or use. Cool! So unless you want a pizza made of wood for the coffee table, you would choose dough to print. (Of course food printers are not the same as industrial printers. You wouldn't want metal flecks as a topping.)

I can hardly wait to learn 3D printing software and try my hand at creating spare parts for my 20 year old Krups coffeemaker. Go science!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Exoplanets: The Next Frontier?

Last night I watched the new science program Cosmos (a reboot of the popular show with Carl Sagan from 20 years ago). Now hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Ph.D., this Cosmos episode centered around planetary paths and how early scientists figured out the effects of gravity on planetary motion including Haley's Comet.

The mathematics and conclusions involved were amazing given the medieval times in scientific history and the squabbling astronomers involved.

Fast forward to today and we have a fantastic resource available for studying exoplanets and their details. The Exoplanet Data Explorer is an interactive table and plotter for exploring and displaying data from the Exoplanet Orbit Database. The Exoplanet Orbit Database is a compilation of quality, spectroscopic orbital parameters of exoplanets orbiting normal stars from the peer-reviewed literature, and updates the Catalog of nearby exoplanets. Right now there are 5,195 planets recorded in the data base. Check it out and let me know your favorite planets! Go science!

Friday, March 14, 2014

3D Printing for Cancer Treatment

Some people think 3D printing is just for gadgets like cute pencil toppers or paper weights. 

I see 3D printing in a much brighter light. In fact, medicine is one of the most important 3D printing application areas. Not just for printing artificial skin or high tech casts for accident victims, but 3D printing has been used in cancer therapy to deliver radiation treatment where it is needed.

Doctors at the Berkeley Lab for Automation Science and Engineering led by Professor Ken Goldberg and Professor Pieter Abbeel have a new method that improves and personalizes brachytherapy.

Each year, over 500,000 cancer patients globally undergo brachytherapy, (i.e., needles/implants are temporarily put into the body to guide small radioactive sources directly to a tumor. Brachytherapy is commonly used for treatment of the prostate, pelvis, breast, liver, brain, nasal cavity, throat and tongue cancers.

The 3D medical concept uses the benefits of 3D printing by using "steerable needle motion" that precisely threads radioactive sources through printed channels to disease areas. Get more details at 3D Printer World

3D printing is opening up a whole new world of medical applications. I can hardly wait to see what is coming next. 

For the latest 3D printing news and designs, check out my 3D Maker Designs & News Pinterest board. Go science!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Weather Predictions from Siberia

Most of us have heard that big weather patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the tropics play a seasonal role in local weather. Knowing about changes in tropical sea surface temperatures and snow cover at higher latitudes are important to many industries (e.g., agriculture and water management). It's even thought that $3 trillion in the U.S. economy is linked to weather conditions.

So when researchers at Atmospheric Environmental Research (AER) and MIT started looking past El Nino to the relationship between Siberian snow cover in October and Northern Hemisphere climate variability in the winter people took notice. 

AER scientist Judah Cohen, PhD developed a fairly accurate forecast model for major industrialized cities based upon October Siberian snow cover, sea level pressure anomalies, and predicted El Nino/Southern Oscillation anomalies. For the first time, sea ice changes in September/October and circulation in the North Pacific, were applied to the experimental winter forecast. 

Since it's currently snowing in my area, I can attest to the model working. Check it for yourself at this National Science Foundation page. Go science!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Flying Objects With Your Thoughts

Humans 2.0 won't necessarily have to undergo invasive procedures, receive implants and be subject to gene manipulation. A researcher at the Univ. of Minnesota has been working on software that interprets brain signals and permits a trained person to move a flying quadcopter with only his/her thoughts. Totally non-invasive.

This is beyond cool. It will open all kinds of possibilities to independence for people with disabilities. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), biomedical engineer Bin He and his team at the University of Minnesota have created a brain-computer software program interface with the goal of helping people with disabilities, such as paralysis, do everyday tasks. 

For the experiments, the team uses both an actual flying quadcopter and a virtual one. Go science!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Science of Sound

Sounds affect us in positive and negative ways. Depending on your upbringing or personal preferences the sound of a Harley Davidson motorcycle either makes you crazy annoyed or crazy happy. No idea why this is, but rarely are humans or most living creatures completely unaffected by sound. 

The vibration and frequency of sound has a lot to do with our responses. For me, low frequency sounds are much more appealing than high pitched frequencies. A french horn sounds a lot more pleasing than an ambulance siren. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get out of the way as quickly for an emergency french horn. It just doesn't say, "red alert" like a shrill siren does.

Anyway, the above video describes the science of sound in a simple and much better way than I have. Go science!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Caffeine Enhances Memory

According to the USDA, 80% of Americans consume caffeine everyday. That number goes up to 90% worldwide. So we know coffee is the drink of choice for a lot of people trying to jump start their brains in the morning. Now, however, there is evidence it also increases your memory. Wahoo!

Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, along with a team of researcher discovered that caffeine (~200mg, about 1 strong cup of coffee per day) has a positive effect on long-term memory. This research, published in Nature Neuroscience describes how caffeine was found to enhance tested memories for up to 24 hours after the caffeine was consumed.

“We’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans,” said Yassa, the senior author on the paper. 

This research, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and National Science Foundation may just have given us a pass to continue our national caffeine devotion in the hope of keeping memory sharp. Check out the video for a brief summary on Yassa's memory research. Enjoy your coffee and tea today. Go science!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Scientists at Stony Brook University in New York have found that the bonds that salt forms with chlorine (making table salt) are not set in stone (er salt). Instead of atoms lining up in cubic form, with each sodium forming a single chemical bond with a chlorine as they do under normal conditions, they form much more exotic structures under extreme heat and pressure. 

When salt was squeezed under high pressure between two diamonds and then heated with lasers, the sodium and chlorine atoms bonded in new ways. For example, a single sodium atom might attach to three chlorine atoms or five or seven. Or two sodium atoms might link up with three chlorines. This unusual bonding changes salt’s normal structure. Its atoms form amazing shapes never before seen in table salt. 

Artem Organov, Ph.D., one of the Stony Brook chemists explained that the high temperature and pressure used by his team may replicate extreme conditions deep inside stars and planets. In fact, it's possible that the experiment's unusual metallic and conducting structures occur throughout the universe.

Scientists have long speculated that the exchange of electrons during ionic bonding would be altered under high pressure and temperature. Instead of just attached to one atom, electrons would move from atom to atom and form shared bonds like what took place in the Stony Brook University salt experiments. New metallic bonds made it possible for sodium and chlorine atoms to share electrons in weird ways. Go science!