The coming years may be rooftop solar's time to shine

Sep 12, 2015

Rooftop solar power is booming. And as more and more consumers discover that prices for solar power are falling, they're slapping panels on their roofs and buying less energy from the power companies.

Are we really seeing a revolution in rooftop solar? “Yes,” says David Roberts, a staff writer at

“I think by any measure, the word revolution applies at this point,” Roberts says. “Just for perspective, the residential solar industry grew 76 percent in the last year in the US. ... It's exciting because I think we're right at the very, very beginning of it.”

What the birds in your backyard can tell you about the environment

Sep 11, 2015

The Baltimore orioles and yellow warblers are missing from the trees and bushes near the office of Emma Greig, a project leader for Project Feeder Watch at Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithica, New York.

“What I've noticed most in the past couple of weeks as I've walked into the office is actually a lack of [bird] songs,” Greig says. “It means that fall is here, or fall is on its way and winter is coming.”

Could urine be the perfect fertilizer for your garden?

Sep 6, 2015

Krista Wigginton has been working with the Rich Earth Institute in Vermont to figure out a way to not put human waste to waste. They have many reasons, but one big one is to save water. 

A new play explores science, faith and medical ethics

Sep 6, 2015

Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer wants to know the answers to the ethical and religious questions raised by new scientific and medical discoveries. 

Gamifying the workplace: is it ethical?

Sep 5, 2015
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

A recent investigation by The New York Times revealed the ways Amazon measures and monitors employees at its headquarters, crunching data to sort out who is most efficient and deserving of promotion — and who isn't. But this gamification of the workplace is far from new.

UPS drivers, truckers, authors and retail clerks are also subjected to the tracking power of technology — and the outcomes aren't always effective or ethical. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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).

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.  

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.