Science/Technology

Murad Sezer/Reuters

“The vagina is cleaner than your mouth,” declared Sharon Hillier, addressing a group of journalists at the HIV Research for Prevention conference in Cape Town last fall. The audience squirmed, gasped and giggled.

The professor of obstetrics-gynecology and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh is known for her unabashed statements: She introduces herself as a vaginal ecologist and calls the vagina a “beautiful ecosystem.”

Museum of Science president to resign

Sep 1, 2015
WBFO file photo

After eight impactful years, the president of the Buffalo Museum of Science is stepping down.

A Vaginal Ecologist's Crusade Against HIV in Women

Sep 1, 2015

“The vagina is cleaner than your mouth,” declared Sharon Hillier, addressing a group of journalists at the HIV Research for Prevention conference in Cape Town last fall. The audience squirmed, gasped, and giggled.

The professor of obstetrics-gynecology and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh is known for her unabashed statements: She introduces herself as a vaginal ecologist and calls the vagina a “beautiful ecosystem.”

Using forest fires to prevent forest fires

Aug 31, 2015
Max Whittaker/Reuters

The United States has a basic and intuitive policy when it comes to forest fires: put them out, and put them out as quickly as possible.

This policy of fire suppression is one the US has followed for over a century. Some scientists, however, are beginning to question this strategy. There is a growing consensus of researchers who believe suppressing forest fires might actually be causing more severe fires, and worsening climate change long-term. 

This octopus preys — and mates — a little differently

Aug 28, 2015

“I like other marine animals, but octopuses — they’re aliens on our planet. They're the closest thing we're going to get to that.”

So says Richard Ross, a senior biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences. “They have eight arms, they have suckers all over the place, they have great eyesight, they can make ink, they can swim, they have jet propulsion…The more we learn, the more interesting they become,” Ross says.

Now, Ross has discovered, in the larger Pacific striped octopus, some new and unexpected practices.

Picture of the Week: DNA Bunny

Aug 27, 2015

The candy-colored bunny above looks good enough to eat, but it’s no Easter leftover. This is a 3-D-printed model of a microscopic, rabbit-shaped structure made entirely out of DNA. An enlarged picture of that tiny structure (which is 50 nanometers long) appears at left. Can you make out its cottontail shape? 

EPA contractors caused gold-mine blowout that turned a river orange

Aug 27, 2015

Orange. That was the new color of the Animas River in Colorado.

Contractors working for the EPA caused the blowout at the Gold King Mine in Silverton, Colorado. That released a plume of toxic orange-yellow sludge that eventually reached as far as Utah and New Mexico.

Here's why they call this the corpse flower

Aug 26, 2015

A rotten stench has been wafting through a greenhouse at the Denver Botanic Gardens — and visitors are all too eager to breathe it in. Who knows if they’ll ever get a second chance? 

Pregnant panda? It's almost impossible to tell

Aug 24, 2015
Smithsonian's National Zoo

Pregnancy is not something that’s easy to hide. From expanding pregnant bellies, to morning sickness and ultrasounds, whether someone is pregnant, eventually, is usually not that hard to figure out.

When it comes to giant pandas, however, scientists are still often unable to detect pregnancy — sometimes up until the actual moment a panda cub is delivered. 

“Everything is complicated with giant pandas,” says Pierre Comizzoli, a research biologist with the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Grizzlies, polar bears evolve with climate change. Behold, the Pizzly bear!

Aug 23, 2015

Scientists say the Arctic has undergone unusual, and increasingly rapid change over the past few decades as a result of climate change, including the appearance of the Pizzly bear — a grizzly-polar bear hybrid.

“There’s a lot of weird stuff going on in Alaska, and there’s a lot of weird stuff going on in Siberia, Scandinavia, Canada as well,” says environment and energy editor for Scientific American David Biello.

These non-air conditioned ways of keeping cool could make a huge difference with climate change

Aug 22, 2015

The modern phenomenon of air conditioning is something people in much of the developed world have become accustomed to. Now in China, India, Brazil and other developing countries people who have never had A/C are beginning to jump on the cool-air bandwagon.

The 19th and 20th century emergence of mechanized air has had a far-reaching impact on how modern architecture has developed. With global temperatures rising, scientists, architects and researchers are looking for new and more energy-efficient ways to keep people cool. 

Picture of the Week: Corpse Flower

Aug 20, 2015

A rotten stench has been wafting through a greenhouse at the Denver Botanic Gardens—and visitors are all too eager to breathe it in. Who knows if they’ll ever get a second chance? 

Write Your Name in Binary Code

Aug 20, 2015

01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 00100001

Those ones and zeros might not look like anything to you, but in binary code the numbers are actually saying “Hello!”

The next time you eat out in a restaurant, consider the sounds around you. Is there music playing? Just the gentle hum of other people’s conversations? Maybe it’s relatively quiet.

Whatever the acoustic atmosphere, it could be affecting how you experience the flavor of the food and drink you’re consuming, according to a growing body of research.

Does Sound Affect the Way We Taste?

Aug 18, 2015

The next time you eat out in a restaurant, consider the sounds around you. Is there music playing? Just the gentle hum of other people’s conversations? Maybe it’s loud and booming, maybe it’s relatively quiet.

Whatever the acoustic atmosphere, it could be affecting how you experience the flavor of the food and drink you’re consuming, according to a growing body of research.

The rat could become man's newest best friend

Aug 17, 2015

In many places in the world, rats are regarded as a vile nuisance and a menace to society. But the truth is that scientists, researchers and even police and health care workers are discovering how useful our ancient foe, the common brown rat, can actually be.

Aaron Blaisdell, a professor of comparative psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles, has found that rats are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

How the thermometer got its name

Aug 17, 2015

In 1626, the French Jesuit Jean Leurechon (1591-1670) first coined the word “thermometer.” It appeared in his best-selling book, Récréation Mathématique, which he wrote under the nom de plume of Hendrik van Etten. (A subsequent English translation was entitled Mathematical Recreations, or a Collection of Sundry Excellent Problems Out of Ancient and Modern Philosophers Both Useful and Recreative).  

That electric green you see, juxtaposed with the water’s deep blue, makes for an eye-catching image. But in reality, it’s the “visual manifestation of an unhealthy ecosystem,” according to Timothy Davis, a molecular ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

cerebralassessmentsystems.com

According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and that number is expected to keep growing as the population ages. But now, primary care doctors may soon be able to diagnose dementia earlier.  
 


SciFri Book Club Meet-Up

Aug 13, 2015

The Science Friday Book Club is back! This time around, we’re traveling back to the late 1970s, to the early days of the computer revolution, with Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Soul of a New Machine. Join Ira and Tracy at Google’s New York City headquarters for light refreshments and an engaging conversation about one team’s high stakes drive to build and debug a 32-bit minicomputer. Space is limited, so complete the form below to add your name to the list.

This is no ordinary butterfly collection. It’s a showcase of blue morphos (Morpho didius), a species native to the forests of South America whose wings — especially the males’ — are famed for their brilliant aquamarine sheen. While the first two specimens are a typical male and female, the others are “gynandromorphs” — that is, specimens that contain both male and female cells.

In these butterflies, the trait manifests on the wings as a patchwork of colors and patterns, borrowed from both sexes.

Quiz: Is This Panda Pregnant?

Aug 12, 2015

Figuring out whether or not a giant panda is pregnant is no easy task. Take Mei Xiang, a giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., for example. Researchers have thought she was pregnant five times before—between 2007 and 2012—but she never ended up giving birth. She was artificially inseminated on April 26 and 27 of this year, but zookeepers still aren't sure she's carrying.

Are you WUI? (Walking under the influence)

Aug 12, 2015

If you're walking down the street reading this on your cell phone, we have bad news.

Science has now proven what you've long expected (if you haven't experienced it yourself): Walking while texting makes you slow down and weave like a drunk.

Conrad Earnest is a research scientist at Texas A&M University. He was inspired to study the health implications of walking while texting on a Saturday morning in Bath, England.

Science Diction: Thermometer

Aug 11, 2015

In 1626, the French Jesuit Jean Leurechon (1591-1670) first coined the word “thermometer.” It appeared in his best-selling book, Récréation Mathématique, which he wrote under the nom de plume of Hendrik van Etten. (A subsequent English translation was entitled Mathematical Recreations, or a Collection of Sundry Excellent Problems Out of Ancient and Modern Philosophers Both Useful and Recreative).  

Picture of the Week: Blue-Green Algae Bloom

Aug 11, 2015

That electric green you see, juxtaposed with the water’s deep blue, makes for an eye-catching image. But in reality, it’s the “visual manifestation of an unhealthy ecosystem,” according to Timothy Davis, a molecular ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The green signifies blue-green algae (which are technically photosynthetic bacteria), and in great abundance, they can wreak havoc on lake ecosystems.

What makes fireflies glow?

Aug 11, 2015

Parents of inquisitive kids: Listen up.

For years, scientists have known the basic ingredients behind a firefly's light. But a new study from the Journal of the American Chemical Society finally answers the question ‘Why do fireflies glow?’

Sarah Sander is a postdoctoral associate of molecular biology and genetics at Cornell University, and she spends many of her summer evenings out in the woods, hunting fireflies. 

Infectious bacteria have a way of outsmarting us. So maybe it's time, scientists say, that we stopped trying to kill them and instead pit them against each other in a sort of bacterial Hunger Games. 

“Bacteria, even though they are technically unicellular organisms, congregate and live in very tightly-packed communities, which we call biofilms,” explains Gürol Süel, an author on the study and an associate professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego.

Scientists estimate that due to climate change, the village of Kivalina, in northwestern Alaska, will be underwater by the year 2025.

In 2008, the Inupiat village sued 24 of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies for damages. In 2013, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and the village has declared it will not file a new claim in state court.

Scientists, historians and archaeologists have long sought to figure out how, when, and from where the first humans arrived in the Americas. One group of geneticists believe they are another step closer to finding that answer. 

The first archaeological record of people in the Americas dates back to about 15,000 years ago. According to a new study published in Science, however, humans first stepped foot in the Americas much earlier — about 23,000 years ago. 

March of the Computers

Aug 7, 2015

The following is an excerpt from The Soul of a New Machineby Tracy Kidder, and the latest SciFri Book Club selection. Listen to Science Friday on August 7, 2015, to hear more about the book club and how to get a free copy of the book.

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