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.

Join the SciFri Book Club This Summer

Aug 7, 2015

The SciFri Book Club is back in session! Last winter, we ventured deep into the gnat-infested Amazon jungle with David Grann’s tale of Victorian-era exploration, The Lost City of Z. This time, the only bugs are in the hardware. Join us as we read Tracy Kidder’s true story of computer engineering heroism, The Soul of a New Machine.

Minecraft is not just fun — it's changing education

Aug 7, 2015
Matthew Tostevin/Reuters

Many people believe video games are intellectually lazy and have a poor effect on students. There are, however, a growing number of teachers, students, and parents who are using one video game in particular as an educational tool.

Minecraft is a video game that has gained an enormous following. According to, more than 20 million people have purchased a version of the game.

Zack Klein, CEO of and co-founder of Vimeo described Minecraft in terms of another popular childhood toy — Lego.

Picture of the Week: Blue Morpho Butterflies

Aug 6, 2015

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, animals 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.

Why screams are scary

Aug 5, 2015

Leave it to a group of new parents to be inspired to study the effects of screaming on the human brain.

David Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at New York University and director of the Max Planck Institute's Department of Neuroscience in Frankfurt, Germany, normally studies speech and communication. Recently, however, he found himself sharing a laboratory with a group of new parents in New York.

REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Doctors and health experts have long warned that a diet high in saturated fats can lead to multiple health issues including heart problems and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. A new study examining the eating habits of dolphins, however, seems to indicate that certain saturated fats may in fact reduce the risk of diabetes. 

Are you ready for the ultimate geek road trip? 12 suggestions.

Aug 4, 2015

For most people, a road trip means sun, the sky, the sea, a mountain range. But if you've got a bit of geek in you, your sightseeing becomes even more enjoyable when you can learn something about the science history of your destination.

A five-year mission to bring wireless broadband internet service to Allegany County is moving forward. Portions of a new system should be operational by early fall, Legislator Dave Pullen told WBFO News.

The kilogram was defined back in 1795 in the context of water — “one liter of pure water at a temperature of four degrees Celsius and at standard atmospheric pressure.” A physical standard — a hunk of metal — was adopted a few years later.

Today, the kilogram standard is the only remaining measurement standard that is based on a physical artifact.

That means all the scales in the world are ultimately calibrated against a 125-year-old piece of metal kept in a vault on the outskirts of Paris. Its mass is the world’s definition of a kilogram.

Summer in the Sahara is scorching — sand temperatures can range between 149-158 degrees Fahrenheit. While skittering across the African desert at high noon might sound like a death wish, it’s only natural for the Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina).

The insect emerges from its nest to forage midday and is capable of withstanding body temperatures up to about 127 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Picture of the Week: Kelvin-Helmholtz Clouds

Jul 29, 2015

Maybe you’ve seen tsunami-shaped clouds like these, rolling through Earth’s atmosphere. These repeating curls result from a flow of air hitting a layer of stagnant or slower-moving air below it. The turbulence is known as Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, named after its discoverers, William Thomson—better known as Lord Kelvin—and Hermann von Helmholtz.

July is National Ice Cream Month. Last July, a Cincinnati woman made national headlines when she made a discovery that shocked her.

After sitting out for hours in the summer heat, an ice cream sandwich still appeared intact and just slightly melted. What gives? What natural (or unnatural) ingredient could make this frozen treat withstand 80 degree temperature?

Climate change is imperiling bumblebees in the US and Europe

Jul 27, 2015

A recent report in the journal Science says climate change has caused bumblebee habitat to shrink by as much as 180 miles in the last 40 years — a pace researchers say is quite alarming.

Jeremy Kerr, the lead author on the study and a professor of biology at the University of Ottawa, says the bumblebee is caught in a kind of vice: its habitat is not extending northward to adjust to changing temperatures and the habitat in its southern range is diminishing.

Target grades: 4th +

Content Areas: General Science, Mathematics

Topics: Experimental design, variation, variables

Time required: 60 minutes, including lollipop-licking time


NGSS: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Picture of the Week: Saharan Silver Ant

Jul 24, 2015

Summer in the Sahara is scorching—sand temperatures can range between 149-158 degrees Fahrenheit. While skittering across the African desert at high noon might sound like a death wish, it’s only natural for the Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina). The insect emerges from its nest in the ground to forage midday, capable of withstanding body temperatures up to about 127°F. 

Looks Fishy, Tastes Fishy. But Where's the Fish?

Jul 23, 2015

Eleven years ago, chef James Corwell had a revelation in Japan. He was teaching cooking to the U.S. Navy stationed there, and one morning, he woke up before dawn to make a pilgrimage to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, the largest in the world. Under the roof of an open-air warehouse, he walked the aisles and perused row after row of hulking frozen tuna, steam rising from their carcasses. Corwell, one of the only certified master chefs in the United States, was astounded.

What Do You Know About Science?

Jul 22, 2015

This week on Science Friday, we’re going to talk about a recent study on expertise—and we need your help. We want you to unleash the geek, and let us know how familiar you are with a variety of scientific concepts.

Take a moment and fill out the form below. Then, tune in this Friday for a live discussion of the results with the study’s researchers.

Courtesy of Douglas Levere/

Students at the University at Buffalo will be helping NASA and the U.S. Air Force track debris in space.

Track a Plant's Movement

Jul 21, 2015

Though you may not realize it, every day the plants around you are moving…all by themselves. Even though most plants have roots that bind them to the surface they grow on, plants are able to stretch, grow, and bend to adjust to changes in their environment.

Right after Pearl Harbor, the US government began construction of a weapons factory on a site just outside of Denver, Colorado. Years later, the plant was converted into a pesticide factory. Now, the site is one of the nation's largest wildlife refuges — and, in part, it's thanks to that majestic American symbol, the bald eagle.

Is marijuana really an effective drug? Surprisingly, scientists have no solid answer

Jul 19, 2015

One would think that with medical marijuana now legal in 23 states, the science to support its efficacy would be fairly definitive. Surprisingly, that's not the case.

Despite the fierce political tussles and competing medical claims the truth is this: Very little solid scientific evidence exists to either confirm or dispute marijuana’s effectiveness as a drug or its potential for harm.

What Role Does the Sun Play in Vitamin D Synthesis?

Jul 18, 2015

This article is part of the SciFri Science Club's Explain the Sun activity. Participate using the hashtag #ExplainTheSun.

Picture of the Week: Cock-Eyed Squid

Jul 18, 2015

This activity is part of a Science Friday spotlight about cephalopods. Get involved using the hashtag #CephalopodWeek.

In the midst of “the twilight zone”—the ocean realm ranging from 200-1,000 meters below the surface—roams this small cephalopod.

Science Diction: Sun

Jul 18, 2015

This article is part of the SciFri Science Club's Explain the Sun activity. Participate using the hashtag #ExplainTheSun.

Throughout human history, the sun’s powerful energy has long assured its role as the undisputed “star” of our solar system.

Solar Convection

Jul 18, 2015

In this activity from Lawrence Hall of Science, you'll use hot and cold water to see how fluids at different temperatures move around in convection currents. 

Be sure to share what you've learned about the sun and convection during Science Friday's Science Club, using the hashtag #ExplainTheSun.

Age Level: 10 and up 


Preparation: 5 minutes 

Activity: 10 minutes

Cleanup: 5 minutes