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. 

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.

Courtesy of Douglas Levere/

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

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.

This is Pluto — or, more specifically, a close-up of terrain bordering a heart-shaped feature dubbed “Tombaugh Regio,” for Pluto's discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh. The detail reveals a range of “young” mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet, which probably formed no more than 100 million years ago and might still be geologically active. 

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft captured the image about an hour and a half before making its closest approach to Pluto — a heralded arrival that occurred when many of us on the East Coast were eating breakfast this week.

Pluto probe makes closest approach this week

Jul 13, 2015
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

For nine years, scientists have waited for this week to arrive. New Horizons, the piano-sized space probe launched back in January 2006, makes its closest approach to the distant world Pluto on Tuesday.

Microbes may hold the key to future high-tech meds and materials

Jul 11, 2015

When most people think about advanced technology, they imagine robots or hypersonic vehicles or new additions to the Internet of Things. But there is another tool that may have more high-tech potential than anything else: biology.

“Biology can do things that no other man-made technology or chemistry can do,” says Alicia Jackson, deputy director of the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The adult salamander pictured here has short limbs and toes, and gills sprouting from its head — features typical of amphibian larvae. But this species, known as the axolotl (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl), is known for retaining these larva-like traits even after it reaches sexual maturity.

Everybody likes a good dinosaur story, but one of the best dinosaur stories of them all centers on the man who gave these remarkably extinct beasts their name.

Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) was a celebrated naturalist and founder of the British Museum of Natural History. Some time around 1839, Owen began studying the bony remains of extinct races of reptiles: the carnivorous Megalosaurus, the herbivorous Iguanodon and the armored Hylaeosaurus. 

The crystal ball on a hilltop outside Boston doesn’t look into the future, but provides an invaluable connection to the past. This antique technology, called a Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, helps researchers maintain North America’s longest-running weather record.

A group of researchers have discovered the existence of previously unknown lymphatic vessels in the brain — a stunning find that upends current medical science and could have far-reaching implications for the study and treatment of neurological diseases like Alzheimers and multiple sclerosis.

Having trouble choosing the right cooking oil? So is everyone else.

Jul 3, 2015

Ever stood in the grocery aisle staring at 15 kinds of cooking oil, wondering which is the best one to buy? Which is the healthiest? Which is the best for cooking? Well, here are a few basic tips that might help.

How do those 'Jurassic World' dinos compare to the real thing?

Jul 3, 2015

Jurassic World, the long-awaited sequel to the monster hit, Jurassic Park, is finally here. Critics agree it is “visually dazzling,” but how does it rate with scientists who really know this stuff?

Apparently, the needle on the scientific Groan-o-Meter is pretty high on this one, though scientists are often loathe to spoil movie-goers’ fun.

A giant Pacific octopus looked like it was trying to devour Chris Payne. The 15-pound mollusk, currently donning bright-red coloration, swam near the edge of an aquarium tank and was wrapping her four-foot-long, powerful arms around Payne’s forearms.

She latched onto his exposed skin with dozens of white suckers, tasting him. “She’d love to pull me in,” says Payne, bracing himself against the floor. “But there’s no chance of that.” As if in response, the octopus shoots a mighty spray of water directly at Payne’s waist.

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Two New York State lawmakers, from both houses and from both parties, joined in Buffalo Tuesday urging Governor Cuomo to sign legislation that provides a tax credit for property owners converting to a geothermal heating and cooling system.

The idea of large asteroids threatening the Earth and its habitants is not just the stuff of Hollywood, say scientists and advocates who are urging governments to do more to detect the deadly space rocks.

Repurposing drugs: How old vaccines are finding new uses

Jun 27, 2015

Repurposing works for shoes and even furniture, but what about drugs?

Researchers are looking at existing drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of one disease, to be used on another.

Dr. Denise Faustmann, the director of immunobiology at Mass General and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is doing just that. She’s investigating whether diabetes could be treated with the common tuberculosis vaccine BCG.

Silk, nature's miracle, new material for state-of-the-art medical devices

Jun 24, 2015

It's more that a tie, bedsheets or a comfy, sleek shirt or dress. Get ready for silk's role in state-of-the-art medical devices.

We're toast, genetically speaking. (Well, a little bit.)

Jun 17, 2015

If someone told you that you and a slice of bread have a common genetic heritage, you probably wouldn't believe it. Yet it's true.

As it turns out, yeast and human genes go way, way back: About a billion years ago, we had a common ancestor. Today, yeast and humans still share about 4,000 genes in common.

How a new fossil discovery changes the perceived evolutionary path for humans

Jun 12, 2015

Lucy, otherwise known as Australopithecus afarensis, long considered to be the lone ancestor of modern humans, may have had a sibling. Or perhaps we should say a cousin.

Astronaut twin brothers Scott and Mark Kelly have each been in space four times — but never for as long as a year and never as the subjects of their own human study.

Now, NASA has sent Scott Kelly up to the International Space Station and kept his brother Mark here on Earth to test what a full year of zero gravity will do to the human body. 

“Most of the comparative research involves samples of blood, urine and other things,” Scott Kelly explains. Scott regularly takes blood samples and sends them back to Earth on a SpaceX spacecraft. 

Why your beefsteak tomatoes are getting beefier

Jun 10, 2015

If you’ve noticed your beefsteak tomatoes have been a little beefier, it’s not a figment of your imagination.

Produce is getting plumper these days. Farmers have been cross-breeding plants for hundreds of years to make bigger, better crops. But one fruit in particular, the tomato, has genes to thank for its newfound girth.

Zach Lippman, an associate professor of plant genetics at The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and his team have been studying why some plants in the same species, under the same conditions, grow larger — or produce more fruit — than others.

Changes on the farm

Jun 10, 2015
Dave DeLuca/WBFO News

It's the season for dairy and agriculture festivals in Western New York. Springville staged its annual tribute to farming last weekend. Down in Allegany County, Cuba will kick off its five-day Dairy Week on Tuesday, June 16.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Vitamin D is essential to healthy bones, because it helps you absorb calcium, which strengthens your skeleton. Without the vitamin, you could develop brittle bones, increasing the chance of getting osteoporosis when you’re older.

Children with insufficient vitamin D can develop soft bones, putting them at risk for rickets, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Inadequate amounts of vitamin D can also lead to a weakened immune system.

File photo

A judge has reserved decision in a dispute over surveillance technology being used by the Erie County Sheriff's Department.

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

The windows on the fifth floor of the building on Michigan Avenue used to look out on the parking lot of Sheehan Hospital. Now, the windows are in a clean room of a tablet PC manufacturing firm, perhaps the only one in the U.S.

Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO

The winners of the AT&T Western New York Civic App Challenge were announced Thursday. The competition allowed smartphone app developers and entrepreneurs to tackle social and civic issues across the region through a competitive “virtual hackathon.”