September 09, 2013:
One more week! The new season of Science Trek starts with our show on Mars. Watch it on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday, September 17th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or here on the website. Our new website will also launch soon so stay tuned!!
Hissing snakes and parents swearing are making science news this week. First, a study reported in Developmental Science says babies pay attention when they hear certain sounds that signal danger; “older” sounds not modern ones.
Psychologist Nicole Erlich of the University of Queensland, Australia and her colleagues played sounds for 61 male and female infants sitting in highchairs. A parent was nearby. When the scientists played sounds like snakes hissing, crackling fire or another infant’s cries, the babies showed a drop in heart rate and larger numbers of eye blinks, both signs that the infants were paying more attention. The same infants did not show a similar response to sounds of more modern dangers like glass breaking or a siren wailing or to pleasant sounds like music or a baby laughing.
The scientists think tens of thousands of years of evolution have changed babies’ brains to key into signs of danger. That may explain why more modern sounds don’t get the same reaction. You can read more about these studies in this Science News article.
While babies don’t like the hissing of snakes, it seems teens don’t like being yelled at. A new study suggests the more teens are yelled at, the worse they behave.
Researcher Ming-Te Want at the University of Pittsburg published his study in the journal Child Development. He and his colleges found that young teens interpret harsh verbal discipline as “indicative of rejection or scorn.” The psychologists think teens that have been yelled at may have lowered self-esteem and a negative view of themselves, which may lead to poor behavior. These same teens also had an increased risk of depression. So the more teens were yelled or sworn at, the greater their risk became for behavior problems.
So what should parents do? Psychologists suggest the best form of discipline for teens would be to communicate with them on an equal level and “explaining rationale and worries to them.” Read more about the study in this LiveScience article.
My advice for this week: Don't let babies near snakes and don't swear at teenagers. Do watch the upcoming Mars show next week and do check out the new Science Trek website.
September 05, 2013:
How close is too close? We all have a comfort zone, an area of separation we need from other people. Someone gets too close and we feel threatened. But scientists really weren’t sure how close was too close until now. According to researchers at the University of London, the average person gets nervous if something gets between 20 and 40 centimeters (7 7/8 inches to 15 ¾ inches) from his/her face.
To find out what a human’s comfort zone is, researchers Chiara Sambo and Giandomenico Iannetti zapped 15 people on the wrist. That made these test subjects blink. At the same time, the researchers moved that same hand closer and closer to the test subjects’ faces. They then measure the amount of blinking. On average, people could get their wrist about 20-40 centimeters away from their face before they started blinking quickly, a sign of a defense reaction. So a jolt 40 centimeters away wasn't a problem, but a jolt 20 centimeters away was a big issue.
The scientists say this is only an average. Some people can stand having something closer to them than others. If you are a more anxious person, your comfort zone is probably a bit wider. Sambo and Iannettis published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience. You can read more about it on the ScienceNews.org website.
My blog is late this week because I have been out shooting material for an upcoming show. Al, our director, is in the edit bay now working on our September 17th program on Mars. We hope to new Science Trek website will be coming soon too. Keep checking in and watch for new developments. By the way, I am looking for questions about salmon. If you have one, be sure to send it in. Click here for an email form.
Have a great week!
August 26, 2013:
Big news!! We are changing the name of our project. Our new name is Science Trek! We decided to change the name of our series from D4K, or Dialogue for Kids, to Science Trek to give our viewers a better understanding of our goal. In case you don't know what that goal is, it is to introduce science topics to elementary-age schoolchildren; to provide educational materials for teachers and parents; and to inspire students to investigate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career potentials.
You may have noticed the difference if you went to the D4K website today. Our new home page is under construction, but you can get to all the D4K material by clicking on the link provided. The new Science Trek site will be viewable on smartphones and tablets as well as your computer. We will have faster navigation to the things you want and the same great, award-winning and kid-approved content. Stay tuned as we finish up and launch the new front page.
As for science news this week, researchers came up with answers to two questions about wildlife: Why do wolves howl? And do mountain sheep with the biggest horns have more offspring or is bigger better?
Let’s talk sheep first. In this case, bigger is not better. According to a report on Science News Weekly’s web site, Researchers at the University of Sheffield in Scotland report in the journal Nature that sheep with a blend of small and big horn-genes have more offspring than the purely big-horned neighbors.
Mountain sheep with big horns do attract more ladies, kind of like male peacocks with the brightest feathers attract more peahens. But scientist Jon Slate found that sheep with a gene blend that can result in smaller horns actually had more offspring. He thinks it may because the big horn sheep spend a lot of time fighting to keep their place, as the head of the herd and may not live as long. So at least as far as these mountain sheep are concerned, it is okay to be smaller.
Why do wolves howl? Wolves howl when a friend or the head of the pack leaves. Friederike Range from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria co-authored a study published in Current Biology. He and his team followed a group of captive wolves and watch how they reacted when one wolf was taken out for a walk. Dr. Range said the wolves howled differently based on who was taken from the pack. Wolves’ howls are unique; so one wolf can recognize another wolf's howl. Dr. Range says, “Wolves seem to howl more when higher ranking individuals leave because these individuals play quite important roles in the social lives of wolves.” She also found that wolves didn’t howl just when a high-ranking wolf left. Wolves also howled when a close friend left. So why do wolves howl? Wolves howl to keep in touch. Read more about this study in this article from the BBC.
Many more of you are heading back to school this week. I hope you have a great year and come and visit our Science Trek website often.
Have a great week!
August 12, 2013:
Sometimes scientists "discover" things that have been around for a long time. A team from the Smithsonian Institute announced that they have discovered a new species of carnivore (meat eater). The olinguito is the smallest member of the raccoon family. It lives in the cloud forests of the northern Andes in Ecuador and Colombia. It eats fruit and insects and spends its time in tress. It is about 14 inches long, weighs about two pounds and has a 13-17 inch tail.
How did they find the olinguito? Zoologist Kristofer Heigen was looking at some bones and animal skins at a museum in Chicago. He didn't recognize the anatomy and thought it might be a new species. The National Museum of Natural History houses more than 600,000 specimens, many of which are packed in flat trays and had been collected years ago. Heigen did some DNA tests on the bones and found that indeed it was a new species. The next question was were there any of these animals still alive? They looked in the cloud forests and sure enough, there they were. The scientists think that some zoos in between 1967 and 1976 actually had an olinguito on display. The zookeepers thought it was an olinga, a close relative, and the people couldn't understand why it wouldn't breed.
Find out more about this new creature and the story of its "discovery" in this BBC article.
The other new-old discovery in this week's science news is the announcement of the oldest rock art in North America. Ancient peoples carved images of trees and leaves into the limestone rock on the west side of Winemucca Lake in Nevada. New analyses of the petroglyphs date them back to between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago. Previously, the oldest rock art was thought to be at Long Lake, Oregon in carvings from 6,700 years ago. Figuring out the date of the new, oldest rock art was a challenge because, over time, the rocks were often underwater. While they are pretty sure of the dates of the carving, the scientists say they have no idea what the images mean. Read more about this in this Discovery News article.
Some of you are heading back to school. If you are in class, hope your first few days of school go well. If you are still out, enjoy your last days of summer vacation. We are hard at work here and will have the new season of pages up soon with a BIG change. Stay tuned for more details.
Have a good week!
August 12, 2013:
The annual Perseid meteor shower is reaching its peak this week. You can see this late night show if you have clear weather and a dark sky far from city lights. The meteor shower was created by leftover bits from the comet, Swiff-Tuttle. That comet orbits the sun once every 133 years and leaves behind a trail of 1000-year-old ice and dust. Every August, the Earth passes through that trail and we get a burst of “shooting stars.”
If you want to watch, find an open sky. Lie on the ground and look straight up. It will take your eyes about half an hour to get used to the dark. You should be able to see up to 100 “shooting stars” an hour. Be sure to stay warm, as being on the ground can get cold.
Now if you are here in my part of the world, you might not be able to see much. We have smoky skies from all the nearby wildfires. So for those of us who don’t have clear skies, here is a link to a live Perseid meteor shower webcast. (Note: it is a commercial site)
If watching meteor showers is not your thing, how about looking out for ZomBees?
If you see a bee that is moving around strangely or is dead under a light, you can collect it for the ZomBee hunt. BE CAREFUL because a dying bee can still sting. Put the bee in a jar or clear plastic envelope and wait. If the bee is infected, in about a week, maggots will burst out the dead bee’s neck and eventually turn into pupae and then flies. Once that happens, take a picture. You can send in your ZomBee sighting to a special website: ZombeeWatch.org. Read more about the ZomBee hunt on the site.
One other bee note, the Great Bee Count is August 17th. Gretchen LeBuhn, a scientist from San Francisco State University, is building a map of where people see honeybees in the United States. All you have to do is count how many bees you see where ever you are on that day. So sign up for The Great Bee Count here: http://www.greatsunflower.org/
Have a great week!
August 05, 2013:
We already have meatless burgers made from grains, but how about a “cow-friendly” meat burger? Scientists have unveiled the first lab-grown burger. Researchers took cells from a cow and grew them into strips and then combined the strips into a patty.
Professor Mark Post of Maastrict University and his team said the “burger” was made up of tens of billions of lab-grown cells. Researchers are developing lab-grown meat as a way to someday help feed people who don’t have easy access to meat and as a way to produce meat in a way that is easier on the environment and on animals.
And how does a lab-grown burger taste? Food writers said it felt like meat but because there is no fat, it didn’t quite have the right taste. More salt and pepper maybe? Read more about it in this BBC article.
It won’t be long until school starts again. If you have been staying up late or sleeping in, you may need to reset your internal body clock. Most experts suggest starting about two weeks before school starts. You should start moving your bed time closer to your “school night” bed time by 15 minutes or so a night and start getting up on time. One other idea... go camping.
Scientists found out that going camping helped volunteers shift their internal clocks two hours earlier. As reported in Current Biology, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder took eight volunteers camping. They were only allowed to use campfires for light, no flashlights, cell phones or other artificial lights. While camping, the volunteers spent a lot of time in the sun. They found that the campers woke up on their own more than hour earlier than they did back home.
The scientists think you might be able to get your body clock reset with a morning walk and getting more exposure to daylight. Read more about the study in this article from Science News.
Finally, today is the one-year anniversary of the landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars. If you want to know more about this achievement, here is your chance. Scientists from the NASA's Mars project will be answering your questions about the Red Planet in the first show of our 15th season. If you have a question about Mars, send it right away! Click here to send a question.
Have a great week!
July 30, 2013:
Ever have trouble falling asleep? Blame the moon. Sleep researcher Christian Cajochen at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel in Switzerland and his fellow scientists report that lunar rhythms can influence your sleep patterns.
Lunar is the Latin name for the moon. For centuries, people thought that the moon had some impact on human behavior. But so far, there had been no true scientific studies that proved the moon had any effect on human health.
But Cajochen and his colleagues were researching how people sleep. Over the course of four years, the researchers had monitored the sleep of 33 volunteers. The scientists watch the volunteers’ the brain activity, eye movements and hormone secretions. They decided to see if there was any tie between poor sleep and the full moon, and they did!
The scientists found that brain activity related to deep sleep dropped by 30 percent during the full moon. The sleep volunteers also took five minutes longer on average to fall asleep and they slept for 20 minutes less overall on full-moon nights.
And there was more. The volunteers felt as though their sleep was worse when the moon was full. Also, during a full moon, tests showed the volunteers had lower levels of melatonin, a hormone known to regulate sleep and wake cycles.
We know that our sleep patterns are based on what’s called our circadian rhythms. Cojochen thinks that maybe the moon’s light or its gravitational tug may be affecting our bodies’ sleeping patterns.
But he says the moon’s impact is a lot less than the Sun’s. Scientists already know that when and how much daylight we get can impact our sleep cycles. And it isn’t just daylight and moonlight that can ruin our sleep. Cajochen said. "Exposure to artificial light at night — that is, a time when our body clock does not expect light — ruins our sleep-wake rhythm considerably."
So, for a good night’s sleep, you should turn off your television and other digital devices about an hour before bedtime. Try reading a book instead. Read more about the Moon and sleep loss in this LiveScience article.
And prepare, the next full moon is August 21st.
Last week, we showed you the pictures of Earth taken by NASA’s Cassini probe near Saturn. That same time, the Messenger spacecraft took a picture of Earth from near Mercury. Compare the two shots. Cassini was 898 million miles away from Earth. Messenger was only 61 million miles away. I was waving in both shots. :)
July 22, 2013:
Smile, you’ve had your picture taken! NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is over 900 million miles away studying Saturn. Last Friday, the probe turned its cameras back at Earth to take a picture. It was a good time to get a shot of Saturn because, from where the probe was, the sun would be behind the planet. Without the glare of the sun, scientists could study the faint rings around Saturn. It was also was a good time to take a picture because the Earth would also be in the shot.
NASA doesn’t usually let the public know when they are taking a picture, but this time, officials decided it would be fun to invite people all over the world to wave at Saturn at the exact moment the picture would be taken. So, thousands of people (including me) took a few minutes to wave at Saturn. And what did Cassini see? Here’s the picture. The Earth is just a tiny dot. But don’t we all look great? Read more about the Cassini project here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
Paleontologists and dinosaur-lovers were excited by news out of Utah. Scientists there found a newly discovered horned dinosaur. Nasutoceratops titusi, whose name means “big-nose horned face,” is the only known member of a group of dinosaurs that lived 76 million years ago. These creatures had horns that extended over their eyes and had really big noses. It may well have used those horns to attract a mate or fight off an enemy. It had teeth like a shark and ate tropical plants. It is probably related to Triceratops.
Paleontologists have found about 20 dinosaur types in this region and wonder if the southern part of ancient Western North American was home to its own type of dinosaurs. You can read more about in this Washington Post article.
Have a good week!
July 15, 2013:
Have you have ever heard the Earth called “a big blue marble?” Well, that’s because when astronauts first saw the Earth from space, it looked like a blue marble in the dark of space. None of the other planets in our solar system have Earth’s blue color. That’s why news this week of finding another blue planet was so exciting.
For the first time, scientists have seen the color of a distant planet. This exoplanet is called HD189733b and is 63 light-years from Earth. Scientists have studied the planet for a while, but it wasn’t until they took special pictures using the Hubble Space Telescope that they were able to determine that the exoplanet is a deep cobalt blue.
HD189733b isn’t a very nice place to live. It is more than 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius) and the planet rains glass! More than that, it rains glass in a wind at more than 4,350 miles per hour! Scientists think HD189733b is a gas giant planet that orbits close to its star. You can read more about this discovery in this article from the NASA and the European Space Agency and learn more about exoplanets here on the D4K site.
So why is our planet blue? That is because of water and the way light get scattered by Earth’s atmosphere. Why is HD189733b blue? Scientists don’t yet know.
Starting this week, you can watch D4K on Idaho Public Television. The last season is being rebroadcast each Tuesday at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac. You can always watch any show anytime here on the website, but if you happen to be watching Idahoptv on Tuesday afternoons, check us out.
Have a great week!
July 08, 2013:
Did you have a great 4th of July? How about a Happy Aphelion Day? The aphelion is the spot in the Earth’s orbit when the Earth is at its farthest point from the Sun. That happened last Friday.
(So if we are at the farthest point away from the Sun, why is it so hot? That’s because the Earth is also tilted, and in the summer, the northern hemisphere is titled toward the sun. So in the summer, our days are longer and more sunlight hits the ground more vertically. More vertical sunlight makes it warmer.)
Bees are the science news this week. Researchers have discovered that bees use their right antenna to tell who is a friend and who is an outsider. Scientists knew that bees used their left and right antennae to pick up different clues, but now they know that bees use their right antenna to sense who is a member of the hive and who is not.
Researcher Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trento in Italy snipped bees’ right or left antennae (don’t try this at home!) and then paired the clipped bees in clear small dishes known as Petri dishes. The first sets of bees were from the same hive and should have been able to recognize each other as being from the same family. When the bees with only right antennae came together, they quickly recognized one another and acted friendly. But when the bees with only left antennae came together, they were more aggressive, sometimes exposing their jaws or pointing stingers at each other.
Next, the scientists paired bees from different colonies. In this case, the bees should have been able to recognize a potential enemy. In these parings, the right-antennaed bees became aggressive. The bees with only left antennae took longer to respond to the strangers and didn’t really get upset. Without those right antennae, the bees couldn’t tell who was a friend and who was a foe.
Researcher Vallortigara says this work not only tells us something about the brains of bees but also tells us something about the brains of humans. We too have a right side and a left side of our brains and each side is “in charge” of different things. You can read more this study in this article from Science News Weekly and read more about bees on the “Bees” site.
Speaking of brains, there is something you can do this summer (well, all the time actually) to improve your brain. Read. A study published in the journal Neurology reports that people who read a lot as a child and who continued to read and write and do other activities that stimulate the brain throughout their lives keep more brain power when they were old.
Study author Robert Wilson and his colleagues from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago interviewed 294 people from the Chicago area who were 55 years old and older. Every year, the scientists measured their subjects’ thinking and memory skills. The scientists also asked them about their past reading, writing and other mentally stimulating activities. Later, when these people died, the scientist looked at their brains for signs of dementia, a condition that affects the brain and slows thinking and memory. The scientists found that those people who read a lot as a child and continued to be mentally active their whole lives showed fewer signs of mental decline.
So what does that mean? That means you should read, write, enjoy puzzles, and play a musical instrument, anything that challenges your brain. And it means you should start as a child and keep doing it your whole life. Being mentally active will keep you and your brain healthier. Read more about this research (and help exercise your brain) in this article from the LA Times.
If you can’t think of anything else to read, check out the reading lists on any of the topic pages here on the site and then head to your local library. Enjoy a good read and have a great week!
July 01, 2013:
Is it hot enough for you yet? The world’s record for hottest temperature on Earth is 134° F (57°C) at California’s Death Valley. Keep your eyes out to see if we break that record with this current heat wave. Be sure to drink water, stay cool and don’t complain too much. It turns out your bad mood may be contagious.
In a paper published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, psychologist Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames report that roommates (or classmates) can have a strong effect on one another’s mental health.
The scientists gave students starting at the University of Notre Dame a test to figure out how they handled things when something went wrong. For example, one student fails an exam and thinks to [herself], 'I'm dumb, I'm worthless. I can't believe I failed this exam,'" Haeffel says. Another students would say, “I guess I need to study more next time” and moves on. The first person has a gloomy outlook and the second person has a more positive outlook.
After testing the students, the researchers tracked pairs of roommates who had similar outlooks and those that had different outlooks. It turns out that the different thinks “infected” one another. If your roommate had a gloomy or negative thinking style, your thinking became more negative. If your roommate had a positive thinking style, your thinking became more positive.
Researchers had thought that your temperament or thinking style was pretty much set by the time you become a teenager so they were surprised that thinking styles could be so effected. It is important to notice the impact because it helps psychologist find students who could be at risk from depression.
Haeffel says the point of the study is not to always surround yourself with cheerful people, but that it is good to note that your mood could be affected by the mood of those around you. You can read more about it in the article from NPR.
Hope you have a wonderful 4th of July celebration. Happy Canada Day too!
June 24, 2013:
Guess what some archeologists study when they want to learn more about the diet and lifestyle of people who lived long ago? They study ancient poop. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have been studying the dried out waste under a latrine used by medieval crusaders 800 years ago. It turns out that these men lived a pretty tough life.
Scientists found evidence of poor sanitation in the ancient toilet in Paphos, a castle in western Cyprus. English King Richard the Lionheart sold the island to crusader Guy de Lusignan in May 1192. Lusignan built a castle to house his troops. The toilets in that castle were carved to fit the human behind. The holes were a half moon shape and designed so the waste would have dropped into sewers below. Scientists collected and analyzed samples from those now dried up cesspools. They found eggs from two of the most common and widespread parasites. These creatures live inside human intestines and take nutrients from their host. We don’t have big problems with the parasites today in places where we have clean water and good sanitation, but those poor crusaders weren’t as lucky. Infected men could have starve to death because they would have had to share whatever food they ate with the parasites inside their bodies. The scientists think the soldiers who lived there were just as likely to die from malnutrition and disease as they were to die in battle. Kind of makes you appreciate today’s sanitation systems. Just be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom! Read more about the medieval poop in this article from LiveScience.
Summer is underway and we are hard at work on the next season. I received a question about Mars from a student in Queens, New York today. Check out the new topics here and send in your questions too!
June 18, 2013:
Need a summer science project? How about becoming a bee counter? Scientists at the Great Sunflower Project are asking for volunteers to help count bees and other pollinators. Scientists need the information to check on the health of bees across America and to help them determine how well certain plants do at supporting pollination. The annual bee count is held on August 17th but you can start now. Read more about the project here. You can learn more about bees at our bee site.
Scientists made a rather unusual announcement last week. They found a new body part! Harminder Dua, professor of ophthalmology from the University of Nottingham found the new part of the human eye. Dua’s layer is a skinny structure that sits at the back of the cornea. The cornea is the transparent lens at the very front of the eye that helps to focus incoming light. The cornea is made up of very fine layers. The Dua’s layer is 15 microns thick. Just in case you didn’t remember, one micron is one-millionths of a meter or, put another way, it takes 25,000 microns to make one inch. Professor Dua says many diseases that affect the back of the cornea may be due to a tear in this layer so now he hopes this discovery will help doctors better treat patients. By the way, the new body part is called Dua’s layer because Professor Dua identified it. If you want to learn more, check out this article from LiveScience.
Look out for bees and protect your Dua’s layer! Have a great week.
June 10, 2013:
Was there life on Mars? Scientists report this week that the Mars rover Opportunity may have found some evidence that suggests the answer could be yes. Opportunity spotted clay minerals in some very special rock. After testing the rock, scientists say that about a billion years ago, the area probably had water flowing through it.
Opportunity has found areas where water has flown before. Why is this one so special? Well, scientist found that the PH level of this water was neutral. Drinking water’s PH is pretty neutral. Life can’t exist in areas where the water is too basic or too acidic. With the discovery of this type of water, Steve Squyres of Cornell University says "The fundamental conditions that we believe to be necessary for life were met here." So, Opportunity found evidence that ancient Mars may have been habitable.
By the way, Opportunity is on track to break the international record for distance traveled on another world. The current record holder is believed to be the Soviet Union’s remote controlled rover, Lunokhod 2. Back in 1973, it traveled an estimated 23 miles on the surface of the Moon. Opportunity has travel 22.75 miles on Mars. Opportunity’s teams of scientists are planning to move the rover another 1.4 miles so if it makes the journey, Opportunity will break the record. Go Opportunity!
If you have a question about Mars, send it in. We will be answering questions about the Red Planet on our first show of the new season. If you want to learn more about Opportunity’s latest discovery, check out this article on Space.com.
Have a great week!
June 04, 2013:
Turtles are really old creatures. Early types of turtles roamed the Earth before dinosaurs did. But one thing about turtles has been a bit of a mystery. How did turtles get their shells? Well now they think they know. In the latest issue of Current Biology, Tyler Lyson of Yale University explains that shells evolved over a very long period of time, starting about 260 million years ago. Lyson and his fellow scientists found the fossil of an early relative of modern turtles called the Eunotosaurus africanus. It shows a turtle with bone structures that look a lot like our backbone and ribs. Lyson believes this means turtle shells are made up of more than 50 bones, including what were once the turtle’s ribs and vertebrae. Over millions of years, the turtle’s ribs and vertebrae fused together to create its unique shell.
We have ribs and vertebrae. Why didn’t we evolve a shell? Lyson says that mammals and lizards use their ribs to help them breathe, something turtles don’t need. Turtles have special sling muscles to help them breathe. So, we kept our ribs and turtles got their shells. You can read more about turtle shells in this LiveScience article.
Be sure to send us an email with a question for next season’s shows. You can find the list of topics and how to submit your question here.
Have a great week!
May 28, 2013:
School is winding up or has wound up for most of you. Just in case you are looking for something to do this summer, I have a suggestion. Send me a question! I officially announce the show topics for next school year.
So this summer, pick a topic and send us some questions! You can email them or send us a video questions. All the directions are available at Contact Us.
We have lots of science games to play and videos to watch. Spend some time on the D4K site. Check out my blog each week. Spend time outdoors! Read a book or two. Enjoy your summer. And if you still have a few more days of school, hang in there!
Science news returns next Monday. Have a good week!
May 20, 2013:
We are all about bees this week!
Our newest broadcast show “Bees” airs Tuesday, May 21st at 2:00pm MT. Watch it on Idaho Public Television or here on the website or watch the archive streaming here later along with the Web Only Show. Check out the bees website here.
I ran across two bee-related science stories this week. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a story about how honey helps bees survive toxic chemicals. Bees encounter a lot of pesticides, a chemical applied to kill off other insects that eat or destroy crops. So the scientists wondered why the bees don’t die too?
It turns out that bees have a gene that helps them get rid of poison from their bodies or what’s called “detoxifying.” Insect specialist May Berenbaum and her team from the University of Urbana-Champaign found a substance in honey that apparently turns that special gene on in bees so the bees could then detoxify themselves of poisons.
The substance is called p-coumaric acid. It is found in honey and in the outer coat of pollen. Since pollen ends up in honey, along with the nectar from flowers, the bee’s get has this special substance when they eat their stored honey. And so why is this important to know? Well, beekeepers sell much of a hives’ honey in the fall and then feed sugar water to bees to help keep the hive going over the winter. But sugar water doesn’t have this p-coumaric acid and so bees aren’t getting something they need to stay healthy. Scientists are now testing to see if adding p-coumaric acid to bees’ supplemental food might help more bees survive the winter. You can read more about honey’s hidden helper in this article from sciencenewsforkids.org.
The other bit of honey news comes from an interesting article from Robert Krulwich. In his science blog for NPR, he writes about why bees build hexagons of wax. Krulwich recounts how more than 2000 years ago, a Roman soldier/scholar/writer Marcus Terentius Varro suggested an answer as to why bees build like they do. Marcus Terentius Varro called it “The Honeybee Conjecture.” He thought there was a deep reason why bees did this. He suggested it was all math, that a hexagonal honeycomb is more compact that a structure built from squares or triangles. (If you want to know why squares and triangle-read the article-it is very interesting). It turns out compactness matters. The more compact, the less wax you would need to build the honeycomb. So, 2035 years after Marcus Terentius Varro made his “Honeybee Conjecture”, Thomas Hales, a mathematician at the University of Michigan, proved the old Roman right. Hales was able to use math in what is called a proof, to prove that hexagonal shapes are the best, most efficient way to build a honeycomb. Now how long it took the bees to do the math, I can’t say.
Next week, I will announce the topics for our next season. You can start submitting your email and video questions right away! So stay tuned!
Have a good week!
May 14, 2013:
You use something every day that is probably at least 15,000 years old. Can you guess what it might be? How about a word? Researchers at the University of Reading in England say they have identified words they think date back 150 centuries.
Linguists, scientists who study language, used to think that words didn’t survive more then 8,000 years. They believe that other languages force ancient words into extinction. But Mark Pagle, an evolutionary theorist, reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he and his team of scientists have identified a list of about two-dozen words that they think hunter-gatherers in Asia spoke 15,000 years ago. They call them “ultraconserved” words.
How did they decide what was an ancient “ultraconserved” word? Researchers started with 200 words that were known to be “core vocabulary,” words found in all known languages. The researchers then studied “cognates,” words that sound similar and have the same meaning even though they come from different languages. By the way, the 700 or so languages spoken in the world are grouped into families based on from where they come and how they evolved. So after doing all that work, the researchers found 23 words that are “cognates” in four or more language families.
Here is their list of “ultaconserved” words:
Thou, I, not, that, we, to give, who, this, what, man/male, Ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire, to pull, black, to flow, bark (like the stuff on trees), ashes, to spit, worm.
The researchers think that if these words survived for all this time that there must have been a language that was the common ancestor to the all the languages we humans speak today. That’s going to be an interesting language to discover!
We have the last broadcast D4K of this school year airing next week. On May 21st, we will be answering your questions about bees. Watch it on Idaho Public Television at 2:00pm MT or here on the website. And be sure to check out my blog after the 21st. I will be posting the topics for next year’s season. You can then start sending in new questions.
May 7, 2013:
L.M Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables wrote “Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,… ‘What nice dreams they must have!”
Well, scientists have long suspected tree “talk,” but it may not be because of a nice dream. A team of French scientists thinks some trees make noise when they are running out of water. The trees “talk” because they are thirsty.
At Grenoble University, scientists covered dead pine wood with a hydrogel to make it duplicate the conditions of a living tree. Then they exposed the wood to drought-like conditions. The scientists were able to detect ultrasonic pops coming from the drying wood. These pops were made at a rate 100 times faster than the human ear can hear.
The scientists think these pops are coming from air bubbles. Air bubbles form when a tree is trying to get moisture out of dry ground during a drought. Scientists are now putting out very sensitive recording devices to see if they can find the same “conversation” among the trees in a drought area.
So the next time you think you hear the trees talking, give them a drink.
Have a good week!
April 29, 2013:
The end of the school year is in sight and that means tests are coming too. Research out of New Jersey may help you do better on that upcoming final. The scientists’ advice: Clench your fists. Right to memorize, left to remember.
Lead scientists Ruth Propper of Montclair State University in New Jersey found that clenching your right fist for 90 seconds helps you better form memories and then clenching your left fist for 90 seconds helps you better remember things.
Researchers broke 50 people into five groups. They asked one group to clench their right fist for 90 seconds before memorizing a list of words and then clench their right fist just before trying to recall the list. The second group did the same with their left fist. The third group clenched their right fist before memorizing and the left before recalling and the fourth group did the opposite. The fifth group didn’t clench either fist and just tried to memorize the list and then remember it.
They found that the third group did the best. The scientists think that the physical action of clenching your fist somehow activates the opposite side of the brain and helps with mental functions.
Now, other scientists are going to do more studies to see what is actually going on in the brain when someone clenches his/her fist. But why don’t you give it try for yourself and see if it makes a difference? Next time you are studying for a test, try clenching your right fist first and then just before you take a test, try clenching your left fist. Let me know if you think it made a difference. If you want to read more about the study, here is a link to the news report on the BBC.
So how did you do on my Earth day quiz in last week’s blog? Here are the answers:
What is the Earth’s true shape?
67,000mph represents the speed of what?
a)Earth’s orbit around the sun v
Since the early 19th century, which of these has moved northward more than 600 miles
If you want to take the full quiz, check it out here.
The Pew Research Center also has an online Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz.
The answers are something all 6th graders should know. Give it a try and challenge your parents and teachers to take the test!
Have a great week!
April 22, 2013:
Happy Earth Day! We started celebrating this day to recognize the importance of protecting the Earth back in 1970. Celebrate by finding out a bit more about the Earth. Here are three questions from Space.com’s Earth Quiz. See how you do. I’ll put the answers up next week. So how well do you know Earth?
What is the Earth’s true shape?
67,000mph represents the speed of what?
a)Earth’s orbit around the sun
Since the early 19th century, which of these has moved northward more than 600 miles
If you want to take the full quiz, check it out here.
One of our favorite paleontologists, David Varricchio, is in the news. He and other scientists at the University of Calgary are studying fossilized eggs of a small meat-eating dinosaur called Troodon. They were trying to decide if dinosaurs laid their eggs in completely buried nests like crocodiles or did they lay their eggs more like birds. Why would that be important? Well, if the eggs were completely buried, the eggs would need to have pores or holes in the eggshell to allow the growing dinosaur to breathe. If dinosaurs were more “bird-like,” then they would sit on their eggs until the eggs hatched. Varricchio and his fellow scientists report that Troodon eggs don’t have those pores, so it is likely that these meat-eating dinosaurs had bird-like nesting behaviors. It is another connection that suggests a close evolutionary tie between dinosaurs and birds. We visited one of David’s dinosaur digs in our last dinosaur show. Watch it to see what fossilized dinosaur eggs look like!
You can read more about Varricchio’s latest research in this report from Eurekalert.
Have a great week!
April 15, 2013:
We have a new broadcast show this week. We will be answering questions about Light and Color. Watch it Tuesday, April 16th at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or watch it either live here on the website or watch the archive streaming afterwards.
Have you ever noticed a lot more earthworms lying on sidewalks after a rainstorm? Why do worms crawl up when it rains? Researchers though it might be to prevent them from drowning in water-filled burrows, but it turns out that isn’t the reason. Dr. Chris Lowe from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, United Kingdom says earthworms can’t drown. She says worms can breathe through their skin. So why does she think worms surface in the rain? Dr. Lowe thinks it because the worms are migrating. The rain allows the worms to travel farther across the soil than they can when they are in the soil. There is another theory. The rain hitting the ground sends vibrations into the soil that may sound similar to the vibrations made by a mole digging into dirt. Worms are prey to moles, so when it rains, the worms may surface to escape what they think is a mole coming to eat them.
Researchers also think worms travel in herds. They swarm together and make a group decision to move. Earthworms use touch to communicate. So when it rains, the worms may decide as a group to surface, whether to avoid being eaten or to travel, and that is why you find so many worms on the ground after a storm.
If it is raining where you live, look for worms. Read more about the worm study in this article from Accuweather.
Have a good week!
April 08, 2013:
I missed posting an entry last week. I wasn’t feeling well. I am so sorry I missed my deadline.
Now, saying you are sorry is very important thing to do when you screw up; but scientist now think that NOT saying, “I’m sorry” sometimes makes you feel even better about yourself.
Researcher Tyler Okimoto at the University of Queensland in Australia and his colleagues decided to understand why some people refused to apologize. They surveyed 228 Americans. They found that saying, “I’m sorry” when you are at fault does make you feel good. They also found that, in some cases, refusing to apologize could make you feel even better. Okimoto suggests that refusing to apologize, even when you are in the wrong, can make you feel empowered. He says, “that power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth.”
Now, not saying, “I’m sorry” when you are in the wrong may make you feel better at the moment; but refusing to apologize may result in more problems with that other person and cause you more grief in the long run.
So Okimoto remind us of something philosophers have been saying for a long time, that apologizing is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. He says people who cannot apologize are people who lack self-confidence. But he doesn’t think parents and teachers should force kids to apologize. He says doing that could make the child feel a lack of control. Instead, he suggests love and support and perhaps suggesting some understanding as to why the apology is needed. So next time you are asked to apologize, you should do it and mean it. It is very empowering! You can read more about this study in the NPR story here.
We are working on our April show all about Color and Light. Check it out on April 16th!Have a good week!
March 25, 2013:
Happy Spring! Did it seem like spring where you live? At least the days are getting longer and that means the roosters crow earlier. Scientists don’t really know why roosters crow in the early morning but animal physiology researchers in Japan decided to try and find out.
Tsuyoshi Shimmura and Takashi Yoshimura of Nagoya University put groups of four roosters in different light and sound-proof rooms. They recorded the sound and took video of the birds’ “cock-a-doodle-doos.” Then the roosters were put on cycles of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dim light. When the roosters were put on these even cycles, they crowed 2 hours before the lights came on. The roosters were then put in constantly dim light. Those roosters crowed early in the morning. They “knew” when it was morning and made their famous sounds. Then the scientists decided to see if shining light or playing sounds at different times would cause the roosters to crow. It did, but again the birds were more likely to crow early in the day.
What does this mean? The scientists think the birds decide when to crow their morning “cock-a-doodle-dos” based on their bodies’ internal body clocks. We humans have these internal clocks too. They are called circadian rhythms. These internal clocks help us fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. These rhythms are also what get upset when we travel and get “jet lag.” Our body clocks are influenced by exposure to daylight and I guess roosters are too. When roosters think it is morning, they crow!
If you want to learn more about impact of light and color, be sure to check out the new Light and Color broadcast show, Web Only and video short. You’ll find them at http://idahoptv.org//dialogue4kids/season14/lightandcolor/. If you want to read more about the study about why roosters crow, you can read the article from the LA Times.
March 18, 2013:
We have a new D4K broadcast show this week. We will be answering your questions about Bears! Tune in Tuesday, March 19th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or you can watch it live here on the site. If you miss the live show, check out the archived version, the Bears Web Only show or the Bears video short here afterwards.
Do you drink milk? A new study suggests you should. A University of Illinois study says college kids who don’t drink milk are three times more likely to develop a condition called “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome happens when a person has fat around the belly, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and unhealthy cholesterol and lipid levels. People with metabolic syndrome are at higher risk of getting heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Margarita Teran-Garcia, a University of Illinois professor, says only one in four young people in the study are getting the recommended three servings a day of dairy. Scientists don’t yet know why dairy products guard against obesity, but apparently they do help maintain a healthy weight that, in turn, helps prevent serious disease. So, get in the habit of drinking milk and avoid soda! Having good eating habits as a kid sets you up for good health when you are grown up. If you want to read more about this study, check out this article on Eurekalert.
We are working on topics for our 2013-2014 season. If you have a suggestion, send me an email. I would love to hear your ideas!
Have a good week and be sure to check out our new Bears show!
March 11, 2013:
Check out the skies March 12th and 13th. The Pan-STARRS comet will be making its closest approach to Earth. Folks in the southern hemisphere have been able to see the comet for a while, but it becomes visible to us in North America this week. The Pan-STARRS comet has an orbital period of 110,000 years which means it flies by Earth every 110,000 years. It came from the Oort cloud and has a long, bright tail. Look for it around sunset, close to the horizon and close to the crescent moon.
Today, March 11th is national Nap Day. Why? It’s because many of us have a problem adjusting to moving our clocks ahead an hour for daylight saving time. Losing that hour of sleep is an issue so some doctors suggest taking a nap at some point to help folks get through the day. So, if you start feeling sluggish, head for a quiet place and close your eyes for 15 minutes. If you can sleep, great. If not, just a few minutes of quiet time will make a difference. And may I ask a favor? Be nice to those of us who are grumpy and groggy.
Are you left handed or right handed? If you were a sugar glider or a grey short-tailed opossum male, you would be right-handed. If you were a girl sugar glider or a grey short-tailed opossum, you would be left-handed. Scientists have found that handiness in these creatures depends upon their gender. Dr. Yegor Malashichev form Saint Petersburg State University thinks the gender difference has to do with the way these animals’ brains are formed. He says these animals do not have a corpus callosum-the part of the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain in most mammals. So these animals have developed a different way to connect the two parts of their brains. (You can learn more about the human brain here.)
Many animals have a preference from one hand/paw/hoof over another. In non-marsupial mammals, males tend to be left-handed and females tend to be right handed. In marsupials that walk on all hours, the males tend to be right-handed and females left-handed. Whether an animal has a preference for left or right-handiness also depends upon their posture, animals that are upright are far more likely to favor one side, if they have to perform complex tasks or if they are a bit older. Crawling babies, for example, are not generally left or right-handed. That comes later. If you want to read more about this study, check out this article from EurekAlert.
Our newest D4K show airs next Tuesday, March 19th. We will be answering questions about bears! Watch at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or check it out here on the website. You can watch the live streaming or the archived version.
Have a good week!
March 04, 2013:
Who is better in math, boys or girls? For a long time, folks thought boys were better in math. But a new study from Brigham Young University says that thinking is wrong. It turns out both boys and girls can do equally well in math if given time.
BYU economics professor Joe Price studied students at 24 elementary schools. The students were put into a contest where each was paired with a fellow classmate to see who got the most math questions right in a 5-minute quiz. Also, in case of a tie, the one to finish first got the prize. In the first match, boys seemed to do a little better than girls. But in quizzes where students were told that they had five minutes but were also told that it wasn’t a race, the girls did just as well as the boys. Taking that competitive edge off the quiz seemed to make it less stressful for the girls so they did just as well as the boys did. The results are something teachers should consider when structuring their math lessons. You can read more about the study in this EurkaAlert article.
Scientists have also come up with a new way to treat acne. Acne happens when bacteria get into skin pores, irritating the body’s immune system and causing the red bumps we call pimples. In the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researcher Huiying Li at the UCLA says they have found the bacteria that cause pimples and they found the good bacterium that appears to keep some folks’ skin clear. Li thinks that a cream with the good bacteria could be applied to the skin to treat or even prevent acne. That is good news for the one in five people who get a case of acne bad enough to need medical treatment. Read more about this study in this LiveScience article.
Is there a topic you would like to see on D4K? I am starting to set the schedule for the next school year and I would love your suggestions. Email your ideas to me here.
Have a great week!
February 25, 2013:
What attracts bees to certain flowers? Color? Scent? How about electricity? That’s what scientists from the University of Bristol in England think.
According to researchers, plants are a little bit like lightning rods. They tend to collect an electrostatic charge from the ground. You pick up electrostatic charges too. Sometimes when you walk around and touch something and get that little shock, that electricity. The amount of electricity in plants is very, very tiny, but it does create a sort of invisible field. And sensory biologist Daniel Robert thinks that electric fields attract bees as much as color and smell.
In an experiment, Robert and his fellow researchers put out purple metal disks. The disks were designed so they wouldn’t shock the bees. Half were wired with a small amount of electricity and had sugar water in them. The other half of the disks had no electricity and contained a bitter water that bees don’t like.
The bees were able to find the flowers with the sugar water 80 percent of the time when the electricity flowed. When the power was turned off, the bees only found the sugar by chance. Why?
Well everything that flies through the air, be it a bee or an airplane, picks up a positive electrical charge. That’s because of contact with molecules in the air. The scientists think that when the positively charged bee comes in contact with a negatively charged flower, the hairs on the bee bend.
The scientists think the bees can also tell that another bee has already been to a flower (and eaten all the good stuff) because the electrical jolt isn’t as strong the second time around. It would take awhile for the flower to build up a second charge so the second bee “feels” that someone has been there before him or her.
So why is this important? Well, if you were a bee and had only so much time to get all the food you needed, you would not want to waste your time on flowers that don’t have any pollen left. You would only want to visit flowers with food. Being able to tell which flowers have food and which one don’t would save you time and keep you in business. That’s a good thing for bees.
We have more information about bees on the D4K site and we are taking your questions until the end of the month for our May Bee show. Send in your questions here. If you want to read more about this bee study, click here on a link to sciencenews.org.
Have a great week!
February 19, 2013:
If you think parents never listen to kids, you would be wrong, at least according to a new study from researchers on the Mahé Island in the Republic of Seychelles, which is located in the Indian Ocean.
Scientists from Imperial College London did an interesting test of parent/child learning. Many school children in Seychelles are part of wildlife clubs that conduct environmental education programs. The scientists gave questionnaires to students and their parents about the use of water. They wanted to know if the parents knew about water shortages.
The researchers found that the parents of children who took part in wetland activities knew more about wetlands. The parents were often unaware that they were learning from their children, but they did.
So share your science news with your parents. For starters, check out our news D4K broadcast show and learn more about nutrition. You can find the broadcast show, the D4K Web Only program and the Nutrition video short on the “Nutrition” topic page. You never know what your parents are learning from you! If you want to learn more about the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, check out the article on Eurekakert.org.
Have a good week!
February 11, 2013:
Don’t be afraid, but an asteroid is heading toward Earth. I say don’t be afraid because the asteroid, named 2012 DA14, is expected to miss us. Whew! It will, however, come pretty close. There is a chance it could hit one the more than 100 telecommunication and weather satellites in fixed orbit above Earth. It will skim pass Earth on Friday and you might be able see it with a good pair of binoculars. So how close is a “near miss?” Scientists guess that it will be at least 17,200 miles away from our home planet. Experts are keeping a close eye on 2012 DA14 and I will post an additional blog this week if they report anything more.
Speaking of asteroids, researchers say they are have found a more exact date when an asteroid hit the Earth and when dinosaurs went extinct on our planet. Scientists from Glasgow University in Scotland, the Berkeley Geochronology Center at the University of California, Berkley and Vrije University in Amsterdam say they think dinosaurs went extinct about 66,038,000 years ago, give or take 11,000 years.
They used special scientific tests on rock and ash samples to figure out that date and they think that it happened at the same time an asteroid slammed into the Earth off the Yucatan coast of Mexico. Researcher still debate whether the asteroid and the dirt it threw into the atmosphere were the only cause of the death of dinosaurs or if living conditions for dinosaurs were getting worse and the asteroid hit was the “last straw.” Some scientists even suggest dinosaurs were gone before the asteroid hit. Now that they have a more precise date of when dinosaurs died out and when the asteroid hit, they can do more research to learn what was really happening so long ago. The one thing I know… we should be thankful that 2012 DA14 misses Earth this week! Read more about the research about the extinction date of dinosaurs in this BBC article or watch our most recent dinosaur show with Paleontologist David Varricchio. He talks about the extinction of dinosaurs./
Our newest broadcast show airs next Tuesday, February 19th. We will be answering questions about nutrition. Check it out at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or watch it here on the website or watch it later on the archive.
Have a great week!
February 05, 2013:
More and more students use Facebook and Twitter to work together on their schoolwork. That, according to scientists, is a good thing. A study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports says students who work together over social media do better than students who do not use social media.
But sometimes, it is hard to find that help. The same study shows that high-achieving students tend to work together on social media and keep lesser-achieving students out of their social loop. That suggests the teachers should be on the look out for students who are having a hard time in class and find out if they are getting any help from friends on social media. And it turns out that going it alone is not a good plan either. Students who don’t get help from others are more likely to fail or even drop out of school. So, if you are a good student, consider helping someone who may be struggling and if you are having trouble, reach out to someone who might be willing to help.
Scientists also report this week that they have found a new largest prime number. A prime number is a number that is only divisible by itself and 1. 2,3,5, 7 are all prime numbers. And what is the largest prime number? It is “2 raised to the 57,885,161 power minus 1.” The actual number is 17,425,170 digits long, so I am not going to even try to type it out. Credit for the discovery goes to Curtis Cooper, a University of Central Missouri mathematician. He is still looking for even bigger prime numbers so stay tuned.
Have a great week!
January 28, 2013:
Does the color of the cup or plate on which you serve food make the food taste different? Apparently it does.
Two scientists from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Oxford have shown that hot chocolate tastes better in an orange or cream-colored cup than it does in a white or red one.
The researchers had 57 volunteers taste samples of hot chocolate served in four types of plastic cups. The cups were all the same size but came in four different colors: white, cream, red and orange. The hot chocolate was exactly the same in all of the cups.
The volunteers said that the hot chocolate served in the orange and cream-colored cups had a better flavor than the hot chocolate served in the red or white colored cups. Some thought the hot chocolate was sweeter and smelled better in the cream-colored cup.
Why? Well, apparently the brain looks at not only the food but also what the food is served in or on and takes that into account when deciding how something tastes.
"The color of the container where food and drink are served can enhance some attributes like taste and aroma says researchers Betina Piqueras-Fiszman and Charles Spence. They are the scientists in charge of the hot chocolate experiment.
And scientists say it isn’t just the taste of hot chocolate that is changed by its container. Yellow helps lemon drinks taste lemonier. Blue drinks seem colder. The color pink makes things appear sweeter. Strawberry mousse seems to be sweeter and have a more intense flavor when it is served on a white plate than when it is served on a black plate.
So, next time you are making hot chocolate for someone, or any food for that matter, consider the color of your container. It may make you a better cook! You can read more about the color study at the Eurekalert website. Look under news for kids.
Have a great week!
January 22, 2013:
They say that after awhile, people begin to look like their pets. Now it seems, people’s cats are the ones starting to become more like their owners. In an article on LiveScience, Researcher Giuseppe Piccione and his colleagues at the University of Messina’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine found that cats take on the approach and rhythm of their human owners’ lives.
Researchers studied two groups of cats, one set that lived indoors with their people and one set that lived more out-of-doors, including being kept outside at night. Over time, the researchers found that the cats who lived more closely with their people had eating, activity and sleeping patterns similar to their owners, while the cats who lived outside tended to be more like wild cats and were less depended upon their owners.
These patterns may explain why cat and owner obesity rates so often match. Cats know when we eat and how often and join in. So if you aren’t getting enough exercise, maybe your cat isn’t either. If your cat is standoffish, perhaps you should spend a bit more time playing with him/her and others. Research show that cats and other pets are really good for people. Having a pet can improve your mood, your health and your outlook on life. Now it seems we also have to make sure we are good role models too. I love my pet bunny. Here’s a recent picture of Winslo.
Have a great week!
January 14, 2013:
Our newest broadcast show airs Tuesday! Find out more about electricity starting at 2:00/1:00 Mt/Pac. You can watch it live on Idaho Public Television or here on the website or watch the archived version, the Web-only show and the video short here afterwards. Check it out. It’s electric!
This bit of science news caught my eye this week and it answers one of life’s biggest mysteries: Why do your fingers and toes get pruney in water?
I always thought it was because the skin absorbed a lot of water and kind of puckered up, but apparently, that’s not the reason. In the journal Biology Letters, researcher Tom Smulders reports that pruney fingers and toes are the result of the body’s nervous system constricting blood vessels below the skin. Now why would our body do that? Well, scientists have learned that pruney fingers and toes grip wet surfaces better.
They had 20 volunteers pick up wet marble and small lead weights of different sizes. The volunteers either tried with dry hands or with hands that had been soaking in warm water for 30 minutes. The scientist found the folks with wet, wrinkly fingers picked up wet items 12 percent faster than those with dry hands. Smulders compares the effect to the treads on car tires. Good treads help your car’s tires better connect to the road just as wrinkles on your fingers help you better grip wet marbles.
That begs a third question…why would our bodies adapt like this? Smulders thinks it may have once been a way for our ancient ancestors to get a better footing in the rain. You can read more about it in this Livescience article.
Have a great week and be sure to check out the Electricity show!
January 07, 2013:
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday season and enjoyed time with your family and friends.
As promised, here are my top ten science stories of 2012...
10. Taking a fall — Felix Baumgartner took a sky dive from 24 miles up. He wore a specially designed suit and had to develop new parachute technology to make the jump.
9. Printing 3-D and those driverless cars — 2012 had some great technological advances. 3-D printing became more available. What does that mean? Design and create your own clothes, meals, and toys? Who knows? But keep your eye out for big changes because of 3-D printing. And keep your eye out for driverless cars. Google created this technology and the cars are allowed on the roads in three states. Laser and GPS guided cars may mean fewer accidents in the future.
8. Leaving our solar system — The first man-made object flew out of our solar system in 2012. Voyager 1 was launched 30 years ago and is still beaming information back to Earth.
7. Arctic sea at all time low — Unfortunately, the area of ice covering the Arctic was at its smallest level since scientists started keeping records in 1979. Scientists think the lack of ice in the north helps to create strange weather patterns in the U.S. and Europe.
6. It is in the stars — There were lots of advances in astronomy in 2012. Scientists found a planet that has four suns. The planet has been named PH1. In October, scientists found the closet planet to Earth that is outside our solar system. It orbits a star in the Alpha Centauri B. By the way, “close” means 4 light-years or 23.5 trillion million miles away.
5. A new human — Scientists found the remains of a new human species. They are called the “Red Deer Cave people.” The species differs from modern humans and could add a new branch to the human evolutionary tree.
4. The first man on the moon — Neil Armstrong died in 2012. He was the first man to step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. He was a great explorer, teacher and scientist. He inspired lots of people, including me, and he will be missed.
3. Challenger Deep — Movie director and explorer James Cameron took a one-man submersible to the deepest know point in the world’s oceans. He went into the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. The Mariana Trench is deeper than Mount Everest is high. He said there were no fish that deep, only “shrimp-like” animals.
2. The God Particle — Physicists have predicted the existence of the Higgs boson particle for a while but in 2012, they think they found it. The Higgs boson particle is part of an invisible field (called the Higgs field) that is responsible for the mass of all the matter in the universe. Scientists hope by finding the Higgs boson particle they will gain a better understanding of how the universe works. They found it in experiments at the Large Hadron Collider and scientists hope to confirm the particle’s existence in March 2013.
1. Exploring Mars — The Mars Curiosity rover landed safely and began its exploration of the Red planet in 2012. This scientific achievement was just so cool that it ranks number one in my book. Watch the video of the landing!
So, there you go… some highlights of 2012. Now, each week, check out my blog to find out some of the best science stories of 2013.
By the way, we are working on our next broadcast show. We will be answering your questions about Electricity on January 15th. Plan to tune in on Idaho Public Television or here on the D4K website.
Have a great week!
December 18, 2012:
Hey! Our newest D4K broadcast show airs this week. Check out the Nervous System show. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm MT on Tuesday, December 18th or live here on the website. Or you can watch the streaming version of the broadcast show, the Web Only program and the Nervous System video short here afterwards.
Here is your science news question for the week. Have you been naughty or nice? Well, scientists think the chemistry of your brain may have something to do with the answer. According to a report on LiveScience.com, scientists think the chemicals in your brain have something to do with how generous or selfish you are.
Neuroeconomist Paul Zak put some volunteers through the “ultimatum game.” In this game, person 1 is given a sum of money, say $10. She is told the she must decide how much money to share with person number 2. If person number 2 is unhappy with how person 1 split the money, he can reject the offer and then neither person gets anything.
So, when these volunteers played the game, some were given a squirt of a chemical called oxytocin. This chemical is a hormone released by the body. It seems to play an important role in promoting social behavior. The scientists found that those who were given the oxytocin increased the amount of money they gave by 80%.
Other experiments have found people who don’t produce a lot of natural oxytocin may be prone to more selfish behavior. Volunteers in the game who were given a chemical to block their body’s natural oxytocin gave 27 percent less than others playing the game.
Zak believes some people who have been abused as children may never develop the ability to produce enough oxytocin and therefore have problems making friends and being in other social situations when they grow up.
And our second science news item for the week is a bonus. NASA has issued a video explaining why the world won’t come to an end on December 21st. The ancient Mayans created calendars in the 5th century BCE. Some folks today say that one of those calendars predicted the world would end on that date. But NASA scientists say, “No way!” They are so sure the world won’t end on Friday that they released their video explaining why the world didn’t end more than a week early.
Take a look!
Since we all will be here after the 21st, I want to take this chance to wish you all a very happy holiday season. I will be taking some time off to celebrate Christmas with my family. The blog will be back on January 3rd with the top science stories of 2012.
So Happy New Year!!
P.S. The news coming out of Connecticut since Friday has been kind of scary. If you are your parents would like information about how to talk about this tragedy, here are a couple of links to resources from Mr. Roger’s and the folks at Sesame Street.
December 10, 2012:
Television viewers in New Zealand saw something amazing, a dog driving a car. No, it was not a trick or animation. A trainer in Auckland decided to show that dogs, specifically shelter dogs, could learn new tricks.
Trainer Mark Vette picked three dogs from a local shelter and started training them on a modified cart. Seven weeks and lots of doggie treats later, the dogs started training in actual cars. (They drove on a closed outdoor track.)
Research shows that the average dog is about as smart as a 2-year-old and has a strong ability to follow a “sequence of behaviors,” that is a dog can learn to do one thing followed by another and another.
So on December 10th, Porter, a 10-month-old Beardie Cross, demonstrated his driving skills on actual empty streets. Now why would you teach a dog to drive? The hope is to inspire people to adopt shelter dogs and cats. Read more about it here on LiveScience.
If watching dogs drive is not your thing, how about a meteor shower? The Geminids meteor show happens December 13th. There is a new moon that night so it should be a great chance to watch. Get away from light pollution. Grab a chair and warm blankets and gaze up into the stars. Give your eyes a few minutes to get adjusted to the darkness. The meteor showers could start as early as 9:00p.m., with the peak between 1:00am-3:00am. With luck, you could see as many as 100 shooting stars an hour. Check out Earthsky’s tips for watching the Geminid meteor shower here.
Have a good week!
December 2, 2012:
The scientists who oversee Curiosity, the Mars rover, had a big announcement today. They told reporters that the rover had found some interesting things in a sample of Mars’ soil. Curiosity had scooped up some soil and heated it up in the SAM, the Sample Analysis at Mars lab. When Curiosity heats up the soil, the chemicals in that soil are released and the SAM sensors can figure out what those chemicals are. Scientists have been analyzing the results of that experiment and told reporters the results of that experiment today.
What did they find? They found a compound called perchlorate. Perchlorate is considered a toxic substance and could be used as an ingredient in rocket fuel on Earth. But the scientists say this perchlorate could also be an energy source for microbes on Mars. Scientists found perchlorate on Mars in 2008 so it wasn’t unexpected. But scientists say they also found hints of carbon. Carbon is a chemical that is considered to be important for life. These types of chemicals are called organics. Scientists aren’t sure if the organics the Curiosity rover found are from Mars or if the rover itself brought the carbon with it from Earth. Scientists also have to figure out if the organics are part of Mars or it they are just part of the "background fall of cosmic material" onto the planet.
So, the scientists did not find new life on Mars and they have lots more work to do, but they did find some exciting new information, enough to keep them looking. You can read more about what is happening with Curiosity at its website: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html
Scientists have also come up with another good reason to be nice and not naughty this time of year. Researchers at Penn State University found that reducing sibling rivalry improves later health and well-being. What is sibling rivalry? Well, that is just a fancy term for fighting among brothers and sisters.
Researcher recruited 174 families living in bother rural and urban area. Each of the families had one child in fifth grade and a second child in second, third or fourth grade. Families were randomly assigned to either attend a series of 12 afterschool sessions or not. The families that went to the sessions used games, art, role-playing activities and discussion to learn ways for siblings to communicate and solve problems. The sessions included three “family fun nights” where the kids showed their parents what they had been learning in the afterschool lessons.
Afterwards, the researchers studied both groups and found that the students who went to the sessions showed more self-control and social confidence. They performed better in school and showed fewer depressive symptoms than did the students who did not get the training. The programs helped the moms too. The moms of the kids in the sessions reported that they were feeling better too, probably because they were less worried about their kids. The dads in both groups did not show any changes.
So what does this mean? Research professor Mark Feinberg thinks that learning how to better deal with your sibling teaches you how to deal with other people too. It also gives you self-confidence, reduces stress and improves your mental health in the future. So maybe being kind to your brother or sister to stay on Santa’s “Nice” list is a good thing to try year round, a present to yourself and your own mental well-being. The Penn State study appears in this month’s Journal of Adolescent Health. You can read more about it in this EurekAlert article: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-11/ps-rsr112712.php
Have a great week!
November 26, 2012:
Feeling blue? Well, maybe you should get up and dance? Researchers at the Örebro University Hospital and Örebro University in Sweden report that young girls can improve their mental health and more with dancing.
In this study, scientist Anna Duberg looked for 112 Swedish girls 13 to 19 years of age who complained of depression, headaches, stress and fatigue. She put them into two groups. One group took a dance class twice a week and the other group didn’t change anything.
The results? The group that danced increased their self-esteem and their general mental health. The positive results lasted even eight months after the girls stopped dancing. Duberg believes better self-esteem leads to better overall health and she was impressed with the study’s results. The girls who danced just felt better and had fewer aches and pains. So get out there, put on some music and dance! If you want to read more about this study, check it out in the American journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (JAMA). The article is available in its entirety at http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1390784
The month is almost up. That means we are heading toward the deadline to accept questions for our nutrition show. Send in your questions now! If you missed it, our most recent broadcast show on dinosaurs is up on the website. Check it out here.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving and hope you have a great week!
November 19, 2012:
Looking for something to do while you are waiting for the turkey? Why not check out this week’s new D4K broadcast show! This time, we are answering your questions about dinosaurs. We also have something new. We taped the show on location at a dinosaur dig in western Montana. In addition to your questions, we will take you on a tour of the dig and look at dinosaur eggs. Cool!
Watch on Idaho Public Television or here on the website at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac on Tuesday, November 20th or view the archived streaming of the broadcast show, a new Web-Only program and the dinosaur video shortly afterwards.
Speaking of dinosaurs, paleontologists think they may have found what they call the transitional fossil. The Archaeopteryx had a blend of bird and reptile features. It may be the creature that showed how dinosaurs transitioned into birds.
The Archaeopteryx is not a new dinosaur. It was first discovered in 1860, but scientists back then thought is was an ancient bird. The Archaeopteryx lived about 150.8-148.5 million years ago in what is now southern Germany. It had jaws with sharp teeth, three fingers with claws on each foot, a long bony tail and was about the size of a crow. It also had feathers! That’s why scientists first thought it was a bird. But in the past few years, paleontologists have been finding lots of other dinosaurs with feathers or scales that could have been the beginnings of feathers so they went back and gave the Archaeopteryx another look. They have now decided it may be that long-sought creature that was part bird and part reptile and all dinosaur. Read more about it here on LiveScience.
And for your Thanksgiving enjoyment, I present some of the more interesting number facts about this American holiday:
Have a great Thanksgiving and be sure to tune into the D4K dinosaur show and check out the dinosaur website!
November 14, 2012:
Lots of news in the skies this week. Folks in Australia experienced a total solar eclipse on Tuesday. This is the first since July of 2010 and we won’t have another until March 2015. You can watch a webcast of the solar eclipse here at SPACE.com.
Closer to home, the Leonid meteor shower peaks this week. This annual event happens because the comet Tempel-Tuttle. This comet is slowing falling apart and the tiny, sand-grain to pea-sized bits of rock have created a moving river of debris millions of mils wide and hundreds of miles long.
The Earth’s orbit moves through this stream in mid-November each year. When the tiny bits of rock hit Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up in white-hot streaks. Scientists say this year’s won’t be the best show. If you want to see, check out dark skies between midnight and dawn on Saturday morning (November 17th) and Tuesday morning (November 20th). Find a comfortable spot and just start gazing. You might see a meteor burn up at a rate of about 10 to 15 per hour. You can read more about the Leonid meteor shower at this Space.com article.
Astronomers also have exciting news. They think they have found an exoplanet that they are calling a “super-Earth.” This new “super-Earth” is about 42 light years away in a habitable zone near star HD 40307. The scientists think the planet may have liquid water and is located about the same distance from its sun as the Earth is from our sun. That means it is possible that there are conditions on the planet that could sustain life. If you want to learn more about exoplanets, check out the D4K Exoplanets site.
Back down on Earth, our new dinosaur show airs next week! Check it out on Idaho Public Television or here on the D4K website starting Tuesday, November 20th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or watch the archived version of the broadcast show, the Web Only show and the video short afterwards.
Have a good week!
November 05, 2012:
Last week, I told you about the whale that has learned to mimic human speech. Well, that news was quickly followed by a report that an elephant has learned to speak Korean.
According to Current Biology, a Cell Press Publication, the elephant Koshik can say “annyong” ("hello"), “anja” ("sit down"), “aniya” ("no"), “nuo” ("lie down"), and “choah” ("good"). Koshik does this by making sounds with his trunk in his mouth. That’s how elephants vocalize. Now an elephant, unlike whales, does have a larynx (what we humans use to speak) so Koshik does speak to other elephants. What is unusual is that he has learned to mimic his trainers and does a really good job of it. The scientists don’t know why Koshik has learned some human words, but they have an idea. When Koshik was young, he was the only elephant at the Everland Zoo is South Korea for about five years. Since humans were his only social contacts at the important time in his development, he probably tried to learn to communicate. There have been reports of other elephants mimicking human speech, but so far Koshik is the only one that has been scientifically studied. You can read more about Koshik in the Eurekalert article.
November is a big month for interesting solar and lunar activity. There will be a solar eclipse on November 13th. Unfortunately, we here in Idaho won’t be able to see it, but it you are in northern Australia, check it out. We will be able to see a penumbral lunar eclipse on November 28th. A penumbral eclipse happens when the moon passes through the edges of the shadow cast by the Earth. The early morning eclipse starts at 5:14am (MT) and ends at 9:51am (MT) but the darkening of the northern half of the moon will be most noticeable between 7:00am (Mt) and 8:00am (MT). So put that on your calendar and check it out as you head to school.
Also put on your calendar the next D4K broadcast show. On November 20th, we will be answering questions about Dinosaurs. We will also be showing you a real dinosaur dig. Tune in on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm (Mt/Pac) or watch it here on the website, either live or on our archive version.
Encourage people to vote tomorrow and have a good week!
October 29, 2012:
We are coming up on November and our next D4K. We will be answering questions about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were in the science news this week. Researchers have decided that dinosaurs first sprouted feathers not so they could fly, but so they could attract mates. Three new specimens of ostrich-like dinosaurs called ornithomimids were found in sandstone in the badlands of Alberta, Canada. Not only did these dinosaurs have feathers, but also their fossils were found in an unexpected type of rock. That means scientists may be able to find new dinosaur bones in places they had not thought of before.
What is important about these new discoveries is that only the adults had feathers. The young dinosaur did not. That suggests that feathers on these dinosaurs came when they were older and were probably used to either attract mates or to protect young. Feathers for flight probably came later. You can read more about this discovery in this article from the Los Angeles Times.
We are taking questions for our upcoming Electricity show until November 1st. Be sure to send in your video questions or email (link). We are also looking for a class to be our special guests in studio for the taping of the Electricity show. Send me an email if you are a teacher interested in participating.
I can’t do a blog this week without commenting on one aspect of Halloween myths. If you are scared about vampires, don’t be. In an article in LiveScience, University of Central Florida physicist Costas Efthimiou says, if the common myth of vampires sucking their victims' blood and turning them into vampires were true then the entire population of the world would have been converted into vampires in a mere 2.5 years. The vampire legend first emerged in the 1600’s. So, using the human population of that time of just over 5 million and assuming that vampires would convert, at minimum, one person per month, at that rate, the entire world would be vampires in less than three years. So, since you and I are not vampires, we can deduce that the vampire myth is not true…unless I really am a vampire…..
Happy Halloween! Have a good week!
October 22, 2012:
It's time for Kids Quest! Through October 31st, Idaho students have the opportunity to complete a quest and enter a drawing for an iPod Touch. All it takes is working through 6 challenges using online library resources. As they say, begin the Quest at http://lili.org/quest.
If you regularly read my blog, you know I write about the importance of sleep. Kids generally do not get enough sleep and there are all sorts of health and brain consequences to not getting enough shut-eye. So it makes me really wish we could do what dolphins can apparently do- sleep with one half of their brains at a time.
Scientists at the National Marine Mammal Foundation studied two dolphins (one male and one female) found they could stay alert with no sign of being fatigued, or too tired for five days. The female dolphin stayed on task for 15 continuous days. (Go girl power!) Brian Branstetter reports that they think dolphins can do this because only half of their brain “sleeps” at any one time. It is called “unihemispheric sleep.” Branstetter thinks dolphins evolved this way because they need to breathe at the surface of the water when half-asleep and still remain aware enough to avert predators or other dangers. Read more about this study, using both halves of your brain, in this EurekAlert article.
In other marine news, scientists have found a white Beluga whale that can mimic human speech. Scientists at that same National Marine Mammal Foundation first noticed odd sounds coming from the area where the whales and dolphins were hanging out. A diver even came out of the tank asking, “ Who told me to get out?” The scientists eventually figured out that Noc, a male white Beluga whale, was mimicking human speech.
Beluga whales have been called the “canaries of the seas” because they make so many different sounds and Noc had lots of opportunities to hear human speech. The scientists tested Noc, giving him treats when he made human sounds and even recorded Noc “talking.” This was quite surprising because Beluga whales don’t make sounds like human do, with their vocal cords. To make these humanlike sounds, Noc had to vary the air pressure in his nasal tract while adjusting liplike valves and over-inflating sacs under his blowhole. Noc died a few years ago, but scientists have been studying other Beluga whales. Neurobiologist Sam Ridgeway says we should not take this study to say that whales can communicate with us through human speech, but rather this is a reminder to us to keep studying these amazing creatures and to listen to what they are “saying.” Read more about it in this LiveScience article.
Have a good week!
October 15, 2012:
How many of you have lots of books around your house? If you grew up with books, you probably have a better brain. A study shows that children who grew up in what scientists call “an enriched environment” had thinner cortexes later in life. While that doesn’t sound good, it actually is. A thinner cortex is linked with higher intelligence test scores. So if you are thinking about what to give folks for the holidays this year, give them a book! Read more about the study in this article from Livescience.
Now, while you are reading your book, do it standing up. Another study from scientists in Leicester and Loughborough Universities reports that sitting for long periods is bad for your health. The scientists say those who sit the most have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease than those who sat the least. And going to gym after school or work helps but isn’t enough. Now scientists admit they don’t know why sitting is bad for you, but they do have a solution. Get up and get moving. Stand up while watching TV. Stand up while working on the computer. Stand up during a lesson. Read more about it in this article from the BBC.
Our newest broadcast show airs tomorrow, Tuesday, October 16th. You can watch it live on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or watch the live stream here on the website or watch the archive version later. Sounds surround us, but do you know what sound is? Check it out!
October 9, 2012:
Ever thought you would have like to have a pet dinosaur? Well aside from the sharp teeth and quills, scientists have found a new dinosaur that might be just the thing. Professor Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago introduced the Pegomastax africannus. This dinosaur was about the size of a cat and lived between 100 and 200 million years ago. It has been described as being a cross between a bird, a vampire and a porcupine. The Pegomastax africannus had a parrot-like beak with two stabbing teeth in the front of its mouth and tall teeth behind it. It was probably covered in quills like a porcupine. Despite its fearsome teeth, Sereno thinks it was probably a plant eater that “scampered around between the toes of other dinosaurs at the dawn of the dinosaur era” and would have lived along forested rivers in southern Africa. And would Pegomastax africannus have been a good pet? Sereno thought maybe, “If you could train it not to nip you.” I think I will stick with my bunny, Winslo. You can read more about Pegomastax africannus at the National Geographic Daily News.
Also, mark your calendar for late 2013-early 2014. Scientists have found a super bright comet by Saturn and say it may outshine the moon when it gets to Earth around November or December of 2013. Astronomer Raminder Singh Samra said comet 2012 S1 seems to be following the path of the Great Comet of 1680. That was considered one of the most spectacular ever seen from Earth.
2012 S1 is about two miles wide, large for a comet, and astronomers don’t know from where it came. They think it came from a place called the Oort cloud. Astronomers are excited to study this comet because they hope it appears to be one of the oldest objects in the solar system still in its original condition. That could give them clues to about our universe’s past. Read more about it here.
Our next broadcast D4K show airs next Tuesday, October 16th. Be sure to tune in to learn all about Sound. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or view a streaming version here on the D4K website. Now is also the time to get your questions about Electricity into us. Send me an email or a video question. Learn more on our Contact us site.
Have a great week!
October 1, 2012:
Good news for chocolate lovers, chocolate may make snails smarter. According to this report from EurekAlert, University of Calgary undergraduate Lee Fruson and his colleague Ken Lukowiak wanted to see if chemicals in chocolate would really help memory. They isolated one of the chemicals in chocolate; a flavonoid called epicatechin and decided to test it on snails. Snails can apparently be trained. In this case, the little creatures were trained to keep their breathing tubes closed in water that has had all the oxygen taken out. Snails usually breathe through their skin, but when oxygen levels fall, they use breathing tubes.
So the scientists trained the snails for half an hour. That amount of training allows the snail to remember this behavior for about three hours. Then they put the snails in water with the chocolate flavonoid and trained the creatures again. Amazingly, the snails remembered the skill for more than three days! So perhaps a bit of dark chocolate while you are studying may help you too!
If chocolate isn’t your thing, scientists have discovered another way to improve your work performance, by looking a cute images of baby animals. Researchers in Japan asked 48 college students to play a game similar to Milton Bradley’s “Operation.” After one round of the game, half of the students looked at seven pictures of baby animals. The other half of the students looked at pictures of adult animals. Then both groups came back together to play the game again. It turned out that the students who looked at the cute baby pictures did much better on their second round than did the students who looked at the adult animal pictures. The researchers did a second experiment and found the same results. Apparently looking at cute baby animal pictures does improve performance by boosting nurturing feelings, which in turn improves our focus on tasks. You can read more about it in this LiveScience article.
Here at D4K, we are working on our next broadcast show, “Sound.” We are also taking questions for the “Nervous System” show. The deadline is today, October 1st, but I will take any video questions until Wednesday. So record your “Nervous System” questions and send them in.
Have a good week!
September 24, 2012:
Sometimes science moves forward because someone does something silly. This past week, the Ig Nobel awards were presented. This award honors scientists whose research makes people laugh and then think. While many times the research may seem funny, the principles behind them can often advance real scientific knowledge.
Here are this year’s winners:
Psychology Prize: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan (Netherlands) and Tulio Guadalupe (Peru/Russia/Netherlands) for their study Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.
Peace Prize: The SKN Company (Russia) for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.
Acoustics Prize: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada (Japan) for creating the SpeechJammer - a machine that disrupts a person's speech by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.
Neuroscience Prize: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford (US) for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere - even in a dead salmon.
Chemistry Prize: Johan Pettersson (Sweden/Rwanada) for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.
Literature Prize: The US Government General Accountability Office for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
Physics Prize: Joseph Keller (US), Raymond Goldstein (US/UK), Patrick Warren and Robin Ball (UK) for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail. Prof Keller was additionally given an Ig for work he contributed to on non-drip teapots in 1999 but for which he had been wrongly overlooked at the time.
Fluid Dynamics Prize: Rouslan Krechetnikov (US/Russia/Canada) and Hans Mayer (US) for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.
Anatomy Prize: Frans de Waal (Netherlands/US) and Jennifer Pokorny (US) for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.
Medicine Prize: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti (France) for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.
You can read more about the ponytail study in this BBC report.
Here at D4K, we are about the tape the Sounds show. We will give your questions to the scientists on Thursday, so your questions need to be in by Tuesday, September 25th. The show will air October 16th. We are still doing our own experimenting with the show’s look this season, so let us know what you think. If you missed the Galaxies show (with the new format), watch it here on the website and then email your comments.
Enjoy your first full week of fall!
September 18, 2012:
Happy New Season! Yes, the new season of D4K’s broadcast show starts this week. Our newest program is all about galaxies. Our great guest is Dr. Amber Straughn, a research astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Deputy Project Scientist for James Webb Space Telescope Education and Public Outreach. She is awesome!
The show airs at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television’s main channel and you can find the show, the Web Only and the video short all here on the video player.
After watching Galaxies, be sure to submit your questions for the Sound show by September 25.
A new D4K show isn’t the only new thing this week. Scientists have found a new monkey and guess where they found it. It was someone’s pet!
Biologist John Hart found the lesula as a pet for the daughter of a school director in the town Opala in central Congo. The species was familiar to the locals but new to scientists. The pet lesula was young, so the scientists had to wait for it to grow up a bit more in order to figure out if it was a new species. After some time and lots of tests, they decided it was indeed a new type of monkey, only the second time in 28 years that a new African monkey has been identified.
Lesula are hard to find to study but scientists did find that they tend to live on the ground floor of the jungle, unusual for monkeys. Lesula females average about 9-10 pounds, while males can reach as much as 16 pounds. They have a very human-like face. You can read more about it on the NPR site here.
Enjoy the new Galaxies show and have a great week.
September 10, 2012:
We are a week away from the launch of D4K’s new season! In case you haven’t noticed, our new season website is up and running. We are still making some tweaks, but I think you will find lots of new things to learn and explore.
The big news this season is that the broadcast show is no longer live. We are experimenting with some new ideas and are trying them out this season. At its heart, D4K stays the same. On the broadcast show, scientists will still answer students’ questions. The website still has lots of cool information, videos and games. The biggest change really deals with how we collect questions. We hope students will email or send in video questions. You can use your webcam or smart phone to record your question and email it to us. If you are a teacher, we can even lend you a video camera to record your questions. Go to the Contact Us part of our site to learn more details.
Here are the topics and question deadlines for this season:
As for science news, my favorite story this week isn’t really news, it is a unique opportunity to name an asteroid.
NASA will be sending a mission to take samples from a near-Earth asteroid currently called (101955) 1999 RQ36. The asteroid could hold clues to the beginnings of the solar system and how life got started on Earth. Now (101955) 1999 RQ36 is not a very interesting name, so scientists have decided to let kids decide what to name it.
Students under 18 years old can submit one name, up to 16 characters long. The entry must also include a short explanation why your idea is the best name for this asteroid. First prize will be awarded to the student whose name is picked by the International Astronomical Union Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature (the committee that gets to pick names for things in space).
(101955) 1999 RQ36 was discovered in 1999 and has an average diameter of about one-third of a mile. The mission to explore this asteroid is called, ahem, Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-Rex. The robotic mission will launch in 2016 and scientists hope to send a crewed mission (one with people) by 2025.
To review contest rules and guidelines visit here: http://planetary.org/get-involved/contests/osirisrex/
Check out our new galaxies site for ideas and tune in on September 18th for our Galaxies show.
August 28, 2012:
Have you ever heard the phrase, "once in a blue moon"? It means something that happens rarely. But there are actual "blue moons."
A full moon happens about once every 28 days and every once in a while, we get two full moons in a single month. That second full moon is called a "blue moon." This Friday (August 31) is our last chance for a blue moon for nearly three years. The next blue moon will happen in July 2015.
Speaking of the moon, the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, died this past weekend.
Neil Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. It was one of humanities greatest scientific achievements. In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between 1969 and the last moon mission in 1972. Here is the video of Armstrong's historic step on the lunar surface.
We hope to have the D4K's new season website up and running shortly. We are making some changes in the show and I'll tell you more about that next week, but here is a little preview- the first show of the new season is all about galaxies. Our guest scientist will be Dr. Amber Straughn, a research astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. If you have a question for Dr. Straughn, send it no later than September 1st. (link) Use some light from that blue moon to come up with a question and tune in September 18th for the first show of the new season.
August 20, 2012:
Happy new school year! Some of you started classes this morning, some next week and some a few days after that. So for those of you who have started a new school year, I hope you have a great time.
Speaking of new things, scientists have found a new spider. Arachnologist Charles Griswold and his fellow spider scientists announced the discovery of the trogloraptor or "cave robber" spider. The trogloraptor is about the size of a 50-cent piece, has large raptorial claws, is poisonous and is probably a fierce predator. It was found in caves in southwest Oregon. They have named the new species trogloraptor- marchingtoni to honor Deschutes County sheriff's Deputy Neil Marchington, who first found the spider on the first Western Cave Conservancy expedition in 2010. He was there to inventory the critters in a cave on private land outside Grants Pass, Oregon.
Scientists don't know much about the trogloraptor. They don't know how they mate or even what they eat. They do know it come from a very ancient lineage and may well change our understanding of spider evolution. You can read more about it in an article from the L.A. Times.
There was also news about chocolate this week, a subject near and dear to my heart.
Scientists report that daily doses of dark chocolate may lower blood pressure. We already know that small amounts of daily chocolate helps you maintain a good weight, but this is more good news for chocolate eaters.
Preliminary research shows that flavanols, a chemical found in chocolate, may help to reduce blood pressure by about 2-3 mmHg. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. A good blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure can cause a lot of problems for the body but is treatable with medicine and lifestyle changes. Besides chocolate, exercise and meditation can also lower blood pressure. If someone you love has high blood pressure, make sure they see their doctor and get treatment. And now that treatment can include a little dark chocolate! (Doctors recommend 70 percent cocoa content!) Read more about it here from NPR.
Have a great last few days of summer of vacation or a great first week of school!
August 13, 2012:
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is getting a brain upgrade. By now you have heard lots of news about Curiosity's amazing landing on Mars. This 1-ton rover sent back some amazing pictures of the Red Planet before going quiet while engineers send some software updates. Here are a few of those shots.
The first picture shows the rover's landing site.
This picture shows the area blasted by the rover's landing.
The upgrade should be done by Tuesday and the rover will start exploring and looking for the "signatures of life." These are signs of things like water that may mean life once existed in Mars.
The Mars rover isn't the only thing taking photos. Here is a photo of our most recent D4K shoot. We were visiting with paleontologist David Varricchio. He will be our guest scientist on the November show. He was showing us around a dig in western Montana. They found dinosaur eggs there.
There was one other story I want to note…a shocking experiment.
Chemists at the University of Warwick have been able to cut the amount of fat in chocolate be replacing some of the cocoa butter with fruit juice. Lead researcher Stefan Bon says the "improved" chocolate still melts in your mouth the same way regular chocolate does and still has the same "snap" when you break a bar apart.
The fruit juice does leave the chocolate with a fruity taste, so the chemists are looking at inserting water and ascorbic acid to keep the chocolate taste and still cut the fat.
While I in favor of lowering the amount of fats in our diet, I think messing with a perfect food like chocolate may just cross the line. I guess I will have to spend some time comparing the "improved" chocolate with the real stuff.
Have a great week.
July 30, 2012:
The Olympics are underway and there is a lot of science involved in improving an athlete's performance, for example the Olympic swimming pool is especially designed to help swimmers swim faster.
As swimmer move, they create lots of waves. Those waves or turbulence can slow other swimmers down. Missy Franklin, a U.S. Swim Team member, told interviewers at the National Science Foundation that a turbulent pool makes it "almost impossible to really go fast."
So, engineers have specially designed the pool the athletes will use in London. According to a report on LiveScience, the pool's gutters, lane markers and proportions are made to limit the amount of water turbulence. The pool's depth's is adjustable and will be set at about 10 feet. That is deep enough so the energy in waves created by the swimmers downward kicks won't bounce off the bottom of the pool and come back to the surface to create turbulence.
So next time you watch an Olympic swimming notice how the pool helps swimmers set new world records and bring home the gold. You and the swimmers can thank science.
I will be out on a D4K shoot next Monday, so no blog entry on August 6th but there is something exciting for you all to investigate. The Mars rover Curiosity will land on the Red Planet the evening of August 6th. Here is a video about the amazing journey Curiosity will have to make in order to land on Mars.
You can read more about Curiosity's mission at the NASA site here.
I will update you when I get back. Have a good week!
July 24, 2012:
What is a good way to help you remember something you have just learned? Close your eyes.
Scientist Michaela Dewar, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, reports that people who close their eyes and rest for a few minutes after learning something will better remember what they've learned.
Dewar and her colleagues tested two groups. Everyone had to read a story and learn several details. Then one group went into a darkened room and closed their eyes for 10 minutes while the other group played a game on a computer. The folks who closed their eyes could think about whatever they wanted or about nothing at all. The scientists then tested both groups 15-30 minutes later and again in seven days. They found that the group that had some quiet time did much better, even a week later, than did the group that played on the computer.
The scientists think that your brain needs some time to process what you are learning. By taking some quiet time, you allow your brain to "consolidate" what you have learned, so you can retrieve the information later when you need it. If you jump right into another task after you have learned something new, you may not be giving your brain the time it needs to process the first task.
So, next time you are learning something new and you want to make sure you remember it, give yourself and your brain some quiet time. Read more about this study in this article from LiveScience.
What do an artificial jellyfish and your heart have in common? Well, the pumping action used by jellyfish to move about is similar to the way your heart pumps blood around your body. So researchers at Caltech and Harvard University have created an artificial jellyfish using silicone and heart muscle cells taken from rats and hope that making it will help them figure out how to make an artificial heart for people.
Kevin Kit Parker and his team worked for years studying how jellyfish move. They created a jellyfish shape in silicone and then printed a pattern of protein on the silicone, trying to copy the way a jellyfish's muscles look. Next, they grew rat heart cells on top of the silicone and protein pattern. Then they put the fake jellyfish, called a Medusoid, into a liquid that conducts electricity. They then sent a jolt of electricity into the Medusoid and it started swimming.
Now that they have made a Medusoid that can swim on its own, they want to find a way to be able to make it steer itself and maybe even attach a "brain." Read more about this advance in this BBC article.
Have a good week!
July 16, 2012:
Does your little brother or sister watch a lot of television? If they are two-years-old or younger and watch a lot of TV, they may not grow up to be good athletes.
Scientists in Canada report that toddlers who watched lots of TV early in life were not able to jump as well as others when they were in second grade and those same toddlers had bigger waistlines when they were in fourth grade.
Researchers followed more than a thousand children starting when the kids were babies. They tested their ability to jump when the kids were in second grade and measured their waists when the kids were in fourth grade.
They found that for every hour per week the kids spent watching TV when they were toddlers, the distance they were able to jump fell by 0.14 inches when they were in second grade. The ability to jump is important in a lot of sports so if you can't jump well, you probably won't be a good athlete.
The scientists also found for every hour kids watched TV when they were between two and four-years-old, the kids' ability to jump fell even more and their waistlines tended to be larger than their non-television watching peers. Larger waistlines are a sign of a potential weight problem.
The scientists think there is a link between how much TV you watched when you were little and how active you are now and how well developed your muscles are. So, turn off the TV and get your little brothers and sisters up and playing. The exercise is good for everybody. You can read more about the study here.
The Hubble Space Telescope found something new this week: a fifth moon circling Pluto. The new moon is called P5. Its shape is irregular and it is between 10km and 25km across. Scientists are curious how such a small dwarf planet could have so many moons. They hope studying P5 will help them learn more about how Pluto formed and changed over the years. NASA's unmanned spacecraft New Horizons is on its way to Pluto now and should give us a better look at P5 and the dwarf planet's other moons in 2015. Read more about P5 here.
Have a good week!
July 09, 2012:
NASA released a beautiful new picture of Mars today. This new panoramic view of the Red Planet is actually 817 different images combined like a giant puzzle to make one huge image. NASA's Mars rover Opportunity snapped the pictures. Opportunity has been exploring Mars for eight years. By the way, Mars doesn't exactly look this colorful. Scientists enhanced the color so they could tell the difference between different materials. Mars does have shades of red and blue though. The spot is called "Greeley Haven." You can see more images like this here.
Looking at that landscape makes me thirsty. Time for a good cool drink of water, water not diet soda. A new study from San Diego State University and the University of California reports that diet soft drinks confuse not only your taste buds but also your brain.
As reported in an article from Science News for Kids, psychologists Erin Green and Claire Murphy gave taste tests to 12 people who rarely drink diet soda and 12 people who drink diet soda regularly. Some of the drinks had sugar and some had a sugar substitute. While the volunteers drank, the scientists watched activity in the volunteers' brains.
The researchers found that in those people who regularly drank diet soda the part of the brain called the caudate head, near the brain center was less active. Also Previous studies have shown that this region is less active in obese people. So it appears that fake sweeteners may fool your brain about what kind and the amount of calories you are taking in and that could lead you to overeat and gain weight.
Researcher Susan Swithers of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. told Science News, "The brain normally uses a learned relationship between sweet taste and the delivery of calories to help it regulate food intake." But when that relationship gets thrown off, she explained, the brain "suddenly has no idea what to expect."
So next time you need something to drink, try a glass of water. Stay cool!
July 02, 2012:
Have you ever wanted to build a satellite? The folks at the Goddard Space Flight Center have developed a new online game to learn about what goes into the making of a satellite. Check it out here.
Wednesday is Independence Day. Our nation's forefathers were big fans of fireworks. In 1776, John Adams wrote America's independence "ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." Illuminations were another name for fireworks.
All those wonderful colors in fireworks come from different chemicals. Blue sparks come from copper. Barium makes a green glow and sodium burns yellow. Fireworks are fun, but you need to be careful. In 2010, fireworks hurt more than 6,300 people and handheld sparklers hurt another 1,200 people. Always have an adult around if you are going to set off fireworks. And you may want to consider celebrating with glow sticks if you live in the West because the wildfire danger is pretty high. If you want to learn more about fireworks, check out the D4K fireworks site.
Happy 4th of July!
June 27, 2012:
Have you ever seen your sibling eating a candy bar and thought, "Hey, I want that." Well, it turns out you may not have been able to help yourself. Your brain is apparently built to covet what others have.
According to a story on ScienceNewsforKids.org, a group of French scientists say the thought of wanting someone else's stuff happens in the mirror neurons of the brain. Mirror neurons are activated when you do something or when you see someone else do something. Neurons help transmit information in the brain and mirror neurons help you learn how to do new things. Mimicking other people or wanting what other people have can help us learn.
In their experiment, Mathias Pessiglione and his colleagues asked adult volunteers to watch videos. Some saw video of a piece of candy. Some saw video of a hand reaching for a piece of candy. Those that saw someone reach for the candy later reported they thought the candy was more valuable than those who just saw the candy by itself. The same results happened when volunteers saw toys, tools or clothes. It seems we just want to have what others have.
At the same time, the scientists watched the brains of the volunteers. They found that two brain systems were activated during the experiment. One was the mirror neuron system and one was the system that helps the brain decide how valuable something is. The scientist discovered that in the brains of those volunteers who wanted someone else's candy, the connections between those two systems was stronger.
What does this mean? Well, the study raises more questions about how brain connections influences how we act. So, I would also recommend that instead of taking your sibling's candy bar, you get your own chocolate. Your brain may want his/her candy bar, but it is still smarter to resist the temptation.
In other science news, meteorologists say we are in for a hot 4th of July. So, you may not be thinking about snow, but scientists are. And in this case, they are thinking about Martian snow. Teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered some interesting facts about Martian snow. It is nothing like snow on Earth. Instead of water, Martian snow is made up of carbon dioxide. It is like bits of 'dry ice.' The flakes are very small, about the size of a red blood cell and a Martian snowstorm would look like fog. That's because the flakes are so tiny.
Now this is not to say Mars does not get a build up of snow. Scientists found that the Martian snow build-up in the south arctic region is 50 percent larger than the snowfall over the north arctic region. They also found that a Mars winter is like Earth's winter in that snow clouds spread to low latitudes during the winter season. So someday, humans may be able to make a Martian snowball. Cool! Read more about this study here.
Have a good week!
June 18, 2012:
How smart are bears? Smarter than monkeys? Researchers at Oakland University are studying black bears and they report a first: black bears can count. Dr. Jennifer Vonk and her colleagues published a paper in the journal Animal Behaviour describing their findings. They gave three captive bears, I kid you not, touch screen computers. They first trained them how to use the computer and then showed them different pictures with dots. The pictures showed different numbers of dots, some moving, some not with different shades of gray and over different areas. The bears touched the screen and if they were right, they got food. One bear had to decide which picture had more dots and the other bears had to pick the picture with the fewest dots. The bears were pretty good at counting. Their results were similar to primates. I am not surprised bears are so smart. They have pretty big brains. So, next time you think of smart animals, add bears to your list. If you want to learn more about this research, here is the article from the BBC.
Speaking of bears, you can learn more about bears at our bear site.
If you have a question about bears, be sure to send it in. We will be producing a new Bears show this next school year. Email your question here.
This Wednesday marks the first day of summer. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The Earth's axis, an imaginary line drawn from top to bottom through the Earth, is tilted at about 23.5 degrees. As the Earth orbits the sun, the North Pole is pointing toward the sun in the summer and away from the sun in the winter. The solstice happens when the sun can be seen at the highest, northernmost point in the sky. After the solstice, the days will start getting shorter and the nights longer until we hit the winter solstice (about December 20th or 21st), which is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. So get out and enjoy the sun on Wednesday and have a great first day of summer!
June 11, 2012:
Yes, the weather was not very nice last week, so I did miss seeing the Venus Transit firsthand. But I did watch it on NASA's live webcam and it was awesome! In case you missed it, here is a video from NASA showing the Transit. It was filmed over time and using different filters, so you get different looks. Enjoy!
Now, onto science news...
Researchers at the University of London published a study in the journal Animal Cognition that asked the important question: Do dogs know when humans are sad?
The scientists wanted to know if dogs have empathy. Empathy is being able to understand someone else's feelings and having compassion for him or her. Empathy is a sign of a certain type of intelligence.
So, researchers Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer got 18 dogs and their owners and gave the dogs a simple test. Mayer and an owner would get together in the owner's living room. They would take turns talking, fake crying and humming. They used humming because it was an unusual action and something that might attract a dog's attention.
They found that the dog would approach its owner when the owner was crying far more often than when the owner was humming. Also, the dog always approached the crying person and never a quiet person. That suggests the dog was not just looking for attention. Also, the dogs also approached the crying person using very submissive body language, like tucked tails and bowed heads. That suggests the dogs are coming with a sense of seriousness instead of wanting to play.
So, it appears dogs do respond to sadness. But does it answer the question of whether or not dogs know when humans are sad? No. It does tell us dogs do understand sadness and react to it, but it isn't a sure test for empathy. Still, it is nice to know your dog is there for you when you are sad.
Have a great week!
June 04, 2012:
I am so bummed!! According to the National Weather Service, a cold system is heading to Idaho and we may have rain and overcast skies Tuesday. Why is that so bad? Well, tomorrow, June 5th is the transit of Venus across the Sun.
The transit is one of the most rare, predictable astrological events of our lifetime. Venus will pass across the sun and we can watch its progress. The transit happens in pairs eight years apart. This is the second of the pairs, so it will be another 105 years before someone will see Venus cross the Sun again. In the past, scientists used the transit of Venus to determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun. This allowed early astronomers to measure the distances found in the solar system.
In 1769, an astronomer known as Le Gentil was so determined to see the transit that he left his home in France more than a year before the predicted date. He was headed to Pondicherry, India. Before he got there, he survived a hurricane, a major illness and then he was captured and held prisoner by the British. (France and England were at war at that time). Since he missed the first of the pair of transits, he decided to move to the island of Mauritius and live there for eight years so he could see the next one. In the end, a "vexatious cloud" covered the Sun so he missed it again.
While I am not waiting eight years to see the transit, I was planning to go watch it with the kind folks at the observatory at the College of Southern Idaho. I'm afraid the weather may be so unkind that we won't be able to see anything either. Think good thoughts. If I get pictures or video, I will post them next week.
If you are in North American and are so lucky as to be in a place where the "vexatious" clouds are not in the way of the Sun, the transit will start in the hours before sunset on June 5 at about 4:03 p.m. MDT and 3:06 p.m. PDT. Viewers in Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe can catch the transit at sunrise on June 6. NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITH YOUR BARE EYES! You need to use special viewers. Regardless of the weather, you can also check out the live webcast. NASA will be broadcasting live from Hawaii. Here is more information. Here is the NASA website if you would like more information about Venus' transit.
Don't miss it. The next one won't happen until December 11, 2117.
May 29, 2012:
Can you smell fear? Well, if you were a zebra fish, you could. Scientist Suresh Jesuthasan, a neuroscientist at the Biomedical Sciences Institutes in Singapore, reports that he and his team have found a substance that a zebra fish releases when he or she is hurt. Scientists have long thought there was something going on because fish seem to know when one of their own is hurt. In the 1930s, Karl von Frisch called that then unknown thing, "schreckstoff" or "scary stuff."
The team of scientists in Singapore isolated a sugar molecule called chondroitin from the outer mucus of zebra fish. They discovered that, when zebra fish are hurt, these molecules are broken into pieces. Other nearby fish smell or sense these broken molecules and they become alarmed. The scientist say a low levels of broken molecules, the fish become "mildly perturbed." At high concentrations, the zebra fish stop darting and freeze in place for an hour or longer.
Now fish are not the only creatures that smell fear. Bees and ants are known to release a compound to signal danger. Sea urchins, marine snails, and tadpoles do too, but scientists haven't found that particular chemical signal yet.
How about people? Can we smell fear? Well, some scientists study a chemical called pheromones that humans produce, but most scientists are unsure. Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, doubt humans would react like zebra fish to just smell. According to Dr. Doraiswamy, we humans are more likely to react to something we see.
Still research is continuing. We have some brain structures similar to those zebra fish and scientists don't know everything about them yet. So someday, even we humans may learn to smell fear. If you want to read more about this research, check out this article from the New York Times.
Just a reminder, the big Venus transit is coming up on June 5th. It may be the only time in your lifetime to see it. Check my last blog entry for details and don't miss out!
If this is your last week of school, have a great summer. Remember, even though we don't have any more live broadcast shows until September, there are lots of thing to explore on the D4K site AND we will be putting up new blog postings all summer. So come back and check us out.
May 22, 2012:
Hopefully you all had a chance to check out the solar eclipse last Sunday. My family and I just happened to be traveling through Reno on Sunday, so we had a front seat view for the eclipse. Here is a picture of me at Pyramid Lake as we were watching the eclipse. (A special shout out to science teacher Rose Crews for her reminder of the event)
The eclipse was very interesting. We were waiting in a desert area and as the moon started covering the sun, the temperature started to noticeably drop and it started looking more like dusk than daytime. This was not a total eclipse but rather the more rare annular eclipse. That happens when the moon is in such a position that it doesn't entirely cover the sun. What we see instead is called a "Ring of Fire." Here are pictures of the May 20th eclipse from NASA.
While some kind of solar eclipse happens once a year somewhere on the earth, the next total solar eclipse to be seen in North America will happen on August 21, 2017.
There is another, even more important astronomical event coming up soon. On June 5th, we can watch Venus travel across the Sun. This is called a transit. From Earth, we can only see Mercury and Venus in transit. Mercury passing in front of the sun happens 13 times a century. Venus in transit happens in pairs with more than a century between events. This is a photo taken by the students in Vassar College on December 6, 1882. It shows the transit of Venus on that date.
Here in North America, we will only be able to see some of the transit. The sun will set here before Venus finishes its journey. The best view will be in Australia and New Zealand. So to watch the transit, you MUST have proper solar viewing glasses or viewers. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN. Here in Idaho, the transit begins about 4pm on June 5th. Look for a tiny dot crossing toward the top of the Sun. If you want another option, check out the live webcast. NASA will be broadcasting live from Hawaii. Here is more information.
This is really cool. Remember, if you miss it, your grandchildren will have to wait until December 11, 2117 to see the next Venus transit. Here is the NASA website if you would like more information about Venus' transit.
May 15, 2012:
Today (Tuesday, May 15th), our last D4K broadcast show of the 2011-2012 school year airs. We will be taking your questions about butterflies. If you've missed the live, televised program on Idaho Public Television (at 2:00/1:00pm), be sure to check out the streaming on the web site.
I read a lot of science news this week, but the article that caught my attention was one titled, "15 Current Technologies A Child Born Today Will Never Use." There are lots of things my parents and I used that my kids don't, things like typewriters, record players or 8-track players, but I was surprised by the things that the author of the article suggested would go the way of the horse and buggy. Here are a few from the list:
Have a great week and be sure to check out the butterflies program on the website.
May 07, 2012:
Our final broadcast show for this school year is next week. We will be taking your questions about butterflies. Tune in on May 15th on Idaho Public Television or here on the website for the live stream at 2:00pm/1:00pm Mt/Pac or watch the archived version afterwards. Send in your questions here.
Butterflies are in the science news this week. In 2009, Eighth grader Alexandra Souakov designed a science fair project to determine how butterflies located their food. She placed red, yellow and black cardboard landing pads covered with honey in the University of Florida's Museum's Butterfly Rainforest exhibit. She learned that flower-feeding butterflies like the red landing pad, but the fruit-feeding butterfly Blue Morpho show no preference for any color. It also turned out the fruit-feeding butterflies liked fermented bananas more than mango, honey or regular bananas. She learned some butterflies use sight to find food and others use their sense of smell.
After winning her science fair, she was invited to continue her research. She has her co-researcher Adrian Duehl then looked at what chemicals from fermented bananas caused reactions in Blue Morpho butterflies. It turns out that the part of the butterfly called the labial palpi, which are small projections coming out of the butterfly's head did not react to the gasses coming off the bananas. The other parts of the butterfly did. So what they think is that different parts of butterflies are used to help them find different kinds of food. Scientists hope to find better ways to attract pollinators like butterflies to help more crops grow.
Alexandra is a sophomore now and her work was published in the journal Psyche. You can read more about her study here on EurekAlert.
April 30, 2012:
How do bird know where to go when they migrate? Scientists have lots of different ideas about how birds know where to fly. One idea is that birds can detect the Earth's magnetic field and use that ability like using a compass to find their way. But exactly how do they detect that magnetic field? Some scientists thought there were very tiny magnetite or iron particles in a bird's beak that helped it feel that magnetic field. But a recent study found that wasn't true. So now what?
Well, scientists have found a set of cells in a pigeon's brain that help the bird detect and identify magnetic fields. Biologists David Dickman and Le-Qing Wu from Baylor College of Medicine put seven homing pigeons into a dark room in the center of a cube-shaped set of magnetic coils. As the cube rotated, the magnetic field changed. While the magnetic fields changed, the scientists watch the birds' brains. 53 cells showed big changes in activity. The cells would help pigeons pinpoint longitude and latitude, which hemisphere they were in and what direction they were facing. Scientists think the bird's inner ear might also play a role in helping them find its way, but there is more research to do. Scientists want to see if other animals, including humans, have these special direction brain cells. You can read more about this research in this article from Science Now and you can read more about migration on the D4K migration site.
April 23, 2012:
We had a record high temperature in Boise yesterday, a perfect day for ice cream. Ever had a brain freeze headache while eating ice cream? Well, scientists now know what causes that. Researcher gave 13 volunteers ice water to sip. They raised their hands when the cold brought on a brain freeze and then lowered their hands when it stopped. While the volunteers were sipping, the researchers were watching how blood was flowing through the volunteers' brains.
The scientists found that as the cold water hit the roof of the volunteers' mouth, more blood started to flow through the anterior cerebral artery, which is located in the middle of the brain behind the eyes. The expansion of the artery caused the pain associated with a brain freeze. Researchers found when the artery got smaller, when less blood flowed through it, the pain stopped. The brain apparently reacted to the cold by sending more blood to keep the brain warm and then reacted to the pain by reducing the pressure of the blood flow.
So what does this mean? Well, researchers think there might be similarities between the cause of a brain freeze and the cause for a migraine headache. Migraine headaches are really painful and finding new treatments would be a really good thing.
And what should you do if you get a brain freeze? Doctors told me to push your tongue against the roof of your mouth as hard as you can. The warmth of your tongue and the pressure might make a difference. It works for me. If you want to read more about this study, check out this story on LiveScience. Have a great week and enjoy the warmth!
April 16, 2012:
Our next D4K Broadcast show is this week! We will be answering your questions about Idaho's ecosystems. Tune in Tuesday, April 17th on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac, watch it live here on the website or check out the archived stream anytime afterwards. Watch the Web only and video short too!Find out more about Idaho's ecosystems here: http://idahoptv.org/dialogue4kids/season13/id_ecosystems/.
So here's my favorite science story of the week: Scientists at the University of California, Davis are using a tool to study how squirrels interact with rattlesnakes. The devise? A robotic squirrel.
The California ground squirrel is a rattlesnakes favorite prey animal. The rattlesnakes particularly like to attack baby squirrels. The researchers wanted to learn how squirrels signal when a snake is about and how they defend their babies. Squirrels signal to snakes with what is called tail flagging. Scientists also thought squirrels heat up their tails. Snakes can detect the heat, but researchers had no way to determine if it was the tail-waiving or the tail-heating that was giving the snakes a warning. Enter a squirrel robot.
The squirrel robot could both waive its tail and heat up, each function at the control of the scientist. What did they find? The rattlesnakes responded to the heat signal from the squirrel. Did the snake realize it was a robosquirrel? Apparently, the snake seems to think it was real. Once, the snake ever bit the head to the robot. That was probably a very surprised snake! Snakes apparently rarely strike at a flagging adult squirrel so heating up your tail and waiving it around is a good way to protect your pups. If you want to learn more about robosquirrels, here is a link to the EurekAlert release.
Be sure to send in your questions about Idaho ecosystems and watch the show!
April 9, 2012:
Have you ever seen the cartoon, The Jetson's? Everyone in this cartoon world drives flying cars. Well, someday soon, you and your family may be able to drive a flying car.
The company, Terrafugia, showed off a prototype-flying car at the New York International Auto Show.
The "car" is called the Transition. It has two seats, four wheels and retractable wings. It uses regular gas and takes 23 gallons to fill up its tank. It gets 35 miles to the gallon on the road and 28 miles to the gallon in the air, so that means it can fly about 644 miles on a full tank. It even fits in a normal garage. The downside, it needs a 1,700-foot runway to take off, so it is unlikely you could just use your local side street.
In the beginning, the company plans to try and sell the car/plane to pilots, but the hope is that, eventually, people without aviation training will be able to drive/fly. About 100 people have already placed their order so if you want one, expect a two to three year backlog. You can also expect to pay a lot for a flying car. The current sticker price is $270,000. You can read more about it here on the BBC.
Our next D4K Broadcast show is next week! We will be answering your questions about Idaho's ecosystems. Tune in Tuesday, April 17th on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00p.m. MT/PAC, watch it live here on the website or check out the archived stream anytime afterwards. Watch the Web only and video short too! Find out more about Idaho's ecosystems here: http://idahoptv.org/dialogue4kids/season13/id_ecosystems/.
Have a good week!
April 2, 2012:
When was the last time you played outside? How about your little brother or sister? A study shows almost half of preschoolers were taken outside to play by their parents on a daily basis. Why is this important? Well, scientists know that getting outside to play promotes motor development and good mental health. Sunlight boosts vitamin D levels, a vitamin necessary for bone development. Getting outside can even be good for your eyesight. A 2011 study suggests that playing outside is associated with a lower risk of nearsightedness.
This study from the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests boys are more likely to be taken outside to play than girls, children with more playmates go outside more than a single child and parents who are active are more likely to include their children in outside activities.
So, if you haven't been outside to play today, go. If you have a younger sibling, ask your parents to get them outside. Being outside is being healthy!
It is April, so we are starting to play for the next D4K season. If you have an idea for our 2012-2013 season, send me an email. If you would like us to repeat a topic, let me know that too.
March 26, 2012:
Are you a picky eater? We know it is important to eat a variety of foods to stay healthy. But not everyone is good at trying new things, especially young kids. Scientists have found a way to help kids eat better and their research shows a big difference between kids and their parents in what makes food appealing. Scientists at Cornell University say colorful food fare is more appealing to children than adults. Kids liked plates with seven different items and six different colors, while adults prefer three colors and three items.
Brian Wasink, professor at Cornell and his co-authors Kevin Kniffin, Mitsuru Shimizu and Francesca Zampollo of London Metropolitan University gave 23 preteen children and 46 adults full-sized photos of 48 different food combinations. Each photo differed in the number of items, colors and organization of food.
They found that kids not only better liked plates with more items and more colors but also they liked their entrée placed on the front of the plate and served on a plate with figurative designs.
So what does it mean? Usually, we think how food smells and tastes impacts how much we eat, but it turns out that how a plate looks can also influence our appetite. Research suggests that parents should serve their picky eater children with lots of little servings of colorful food, with the entrée placed on the front of the plate and on a plate that has a nice design. Test the research yourself. With your parents help, create different plates with different amounts and colors of food and then ask everyone which plate they liked better. Let me know what experiments reveal. To read more about ways to add color and variety to your plate, here is Cornell's website. To read the original release about the Cornell University, click on this EurekAlert article.
If you didn't have a chance to see it, we had our Animal Migration broadcast show last week. Check it out on our archive streaming. It is a great show! Watch the video short and Web only program too.
For those of you on Spring Break, enjoy!
March 20, 2012:
Our newest D4K broadcast show will be tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac. We will be taking your questions about animal migration. Tune in on Idaho Public Television or watch the streaming live here on the site or check out the archive versions of the show, the Web only show and the video short shortly afterwards. You can email your questions here:Email Us!
NASA has two great new tours of the moon. The NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been orbiting the moon for more than a thousand days and taking some pretty amazing pictures.
The first tour is "Evolution of the Moon." This video explains more about the forces that shaped our nearest neighbor. The moon likely started as a giant ball of magma formed when an object the size of Mars hit the Earth four and half billion years ago. The video is two-and-a-half minutes long.
The second video is called "Tour of the Moon." It takes viewers across the moon's surface. You will even be able to see some of the things humans left behind from the Apollo moon missions.
By the way, spring starts just before midnight here in the Mountain Time Zone. Spring or the vernal equinox happens when the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun. What that means for us is that the day and night are basically the same length, 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of dark. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, it also means the days are getting longer as we head toward the longest day of the year, the first day of summer. All I can say is, "Yippee!"
We are starting to collect ideas for show for next season. Please let me know what you would like see by sending me an email. Tune in to the new animal migration show tomorrow or check out the shows afterwards and send in your questions!
March 13, 2012:
Sleepy? You are not alone. Doctors say the shift to daylight savings time can really throw off your body clock and make you sleepier. How do you get over the change? Studies suggest getting more sunshine in the morning. So get outside in the morning and enjoy a walk in the sun. The sun will help reset your body clock as will the exercise. You should also make sure you go to bed and get up at your regular time. What should you avoid? Avoid caffeine after 1:30pm. Give you and your body a week or so and you should catch up to the clock.
By the way, do you know who gets credit for thinking up daylight savings time? Ben Franklin first suggested it, but William Willett, a member of the British parliament, really pushed the idea in the early 1900's. He liked getting up in the morning to ride his horse and he couldn't believe other people wanted to "waste" daylight. While the rest of the British government couldn't see the value of Willett's suggestion, the Germans did. Germany implemented it in 1916 as it was getting ready for war because its leaders saw the value of the longer working days daylight savings time allows.
Once World War I broke out, President Woodrow Wilson started daylight savings time in America in 1918. It stopped once war was over, but daylight savings time was implemented again during World War II. Some cities liked it so much that their leaders decided to keep it after the war was over. But many places did not, so telling time as you traveled across the country was really confusing. By 1966, Congress passed a law so daylight savings time was more uniform, though some states did still opted out. Congress has expanded the length of daylight savings time three times since 1966 until now we have it from March into November. Do you know which states still do not recognize daylight savings time? Arizona and Hawaii (and four US territories- American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) still do not "Spring Forward."
So now that you are all awake and back in sync with the clock, you can spring forward to next week. Our newest live broadcast show airs next Tuesday, March 20th and we will be taking your questions about animal migration. Check out the web site here and send in your questions here. The show airs at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television. You can also watch the live streaming here on the Web site or the archive streaming anytime afterwards. Watch the Web Only and video short too!
Have a good week and I'll look for your questions for next week's show.
March 05, 2012:
Celebrating Doctor Suess' birthday? The author of such great books as "Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham" was born on March 2nd. Kids love his books and it turns out that the rhymes with which Suess wrote were more than just for fun, they help children learn to read.
Research says rhyming is built into our brain. According to Michael Wagner, an experimental linguist at McGill University in Montreal, when you hear one word, words that rhyme with that word will get activated in your brain.
In a 2004 study, researchers read lists of words to young children and then asked them to repeat the words they'd heard. The words on the list were all related like "nap," "bed," "rest," "peace," "wake," "dream," "doze" and "snore." When adults take this test, they might add the word "sleep" even though "sleep" wasn't on the original list. Because all the other words deal with sleeping, the adults would just assume "sleep" should be on the list.
But young kids answered differently. 5-year-olds added new words that rhymed with the words on the original list. A kid who heard "nap," might add "gap." In their brains, the rhyme overrode the meaning. Rhymes are a good way to help young children learn how to break down the sounds of a word. "Cat" sounds like "hat" except for the first letter. Knowing the difference helps kids understand that letters have different sounds. So, rhymes are the framework that helps kids understand the pieces of a word. And that helps them learn to read.
By the way, older kids apparently grow out of picking rhyme over meaning. Eight-year-olds added rhyming words as often as they added words with a similar meaning. Eleven-year-olds did what adults did. It seems as you improve your reading skills, you and your brain look for the meanings. But learning to read starts with rhymes and rhymes are what Dr. Suess did best. Dr. Suess was ahead of his time by writing with rhymes.
If you want to learn more about why rhymes are important to learning, check out this article on live science.com.
We are starting to plan for the next season of D4K. If you have a topic you'd like to suggest, send me an email. I'd love to hear from you.
Have a great week and enjoy some green eggs and ham with me!
February 27, 2012:
Last entry, we talked about the importance of spatial skills. Scientists found young kids who worked on puzzles did better in math when they were in school. Well this week, EurekAlert has a report that talks about spatial skills again. This time, it turns out while boys may generally do better than girls in science and math, some girls do better in arithmetic. Now what is the difference between math and arithmetic? In this case, arithmetic mean tasks like subtraction and complex multiplication, the fundamentals of higher math like algebra and calculus. The researchers, Xinlin Zhou, Wei Wei, Hao Lu, Hui Zhao and Qi Dong of Beijing Normal University and Chuansheng Chen of the University of California-Irvine tested children 8 to 11 at twelve different primary schools around Beijing. They found girls outperformed boys at many math skills. Why? Well, the scientists think it is because girls have better language skills. Math at this stage is school deals with a lot of memorization and counting. Counting is verbal. Better language skills could lead to doing better at certain math skills. So, how do spatial skills come into this? Well, the researchers think that boys could improve their early math skills by getting them more help with verbal tasks and girls could improve their later math skills by getting more help with spatial skills early only on. You can read about the study here.
We here at D4K really like dinosaurs, but it is hard for scientists to study how dinosaurs moved and such because the bones they have found are so valuable and so delicate. So scientists at Drexel University have come up with a high tech solution. They are using 3-D printers to re-create exact copies of existing dinosaur bones. With these exact copies, the paleontologists can take the plastic bones and test them. Dr. James Tangorra says scientists don't know a lot about how dinosaurs stand and moved, so having an exact copy of the skeleton gives them a chance to test things out without damaging a valuable real dinosaur bone. While this is a great advancement for science, I think the really cool thing about it is that we now have 3-D printers. You can read about the dinosaur bone copying here: http://www.slashgear.com/paleontologists-use-3-d-printed-bones-to-create-robot-dinosaurs-23214891/
You can see how paleontologists find and prepare real dinosaur bones here. Check out the video short from season 3.
Enjoy your extra leap day this week. Why do we have a leap day? Well, our calendar year has 365 days, but the solar year has 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. So if we didn't do anything, our calendar year would be off by about a day every four years. Not too big a deal, but over time, it could make a huge difference. After 200 years or so, Christmas would start coming in autumn rather than winter and who wants a pumpkin Christmas? So in March 1582, Pope Gregory ordered a clean up of the calendar and added a leap day. Adding one day every four years doesn't quite get us back in sync, so we don't have a leap day once every 400 years. Here, according to the Straight Dope, are the rules:
Clear? Every now and then we still have to add in a leap second to get things back in sync. For now, enjoy your extra day, study your spatial and language skills and ponder the idea of building robot dinosaurs. Not a bad week.
February 21, 2012:
Our newest broadcast show airs on Tuesday this week. We will be taking questions about predators. Check it out live at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or live streaming here on the web site or watch the archive stream of the broadcast show, the Web Only program and the video short. You should also check out all the information on the Predator Web site.
I have two science stories for you this week, one has to do with puzzles and one has to do with goats. Puzzles first. Did you play with puzzles when you were 2-4 years old? If you did, you might be doing better in math. A University of Chicago study show that children who play with puzzles when they are 26-46 months old have better spatial skills when they are 54 months old. If you have good spatial skills, you have the ability to mentally rotate and translate shapes and people who have that ability do better in math and in STEM related careers. (STEM=Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).
The study also showed that parents of the boys in the study used more spatial language with they played their sons than the parents of girls. And it showed that boys performed better than girls when the tests were given at 54 months. Scientists don't know if boys do better because they are boys or if it because of parents using more spatial language or what. So they are going to study that. What they do know is that young children, both boys and girls, should do puzzles to improve their math skills when they are older. Read more about the study here from EurekAlert.
The other story has nothing to do with math. It does have to do with language, goat language. It turns out that goats have accents. You know that people who live in different parts of the world, even different parts of America, sound different, have different accents. Well, it turns out that goats do too.
A study published in the journal Animal Behaviour found that young pygmy goats adjust the sound of the cries to match the sounds made by others goats in their herd.
Dr. Elodie Briefer and Dr. Alan McElligott from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the University of London recorded goat calls at one week and then again at five weeks. These goats tend to start life hidden away in the grasses so predators can't find them. After awhile, the young kids (baby goats are called kids) meet up with the herd. The scientists found that the goats started adopting the sounds of the herd and continue to sound more like their peer goats the longer they are together. Goats that are related started out sounding alike but grow to sound like their peers as they live together. That means goats develop accents. Scientists think it may be a way for goat to know who is one of its herd and who is a stranger. So goats join humans, bats and whales who change their "voice" to match their social group. You can hear more about this story on this NPR report: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/18/147090051/you-say-nay-i-say-neigh-goats-have-accents
Hope you had a good President's Day and a Good Fat Tuesday!
February 13, 2012:
Why do zebras have black stripes? That is one of those questions about which scientists have argued for years. Now researchers from Hungary and Sweden say they have an answer. Zebras, which I believe are white horses with black stripes vs. black horses with white stripes, may have developed stripes to keep blood-sucking flies away. These flies are more than just annoying. They carry diseases and can really drive a zebra crazy. So figuring out a way to keep flies away would be a good way to stay alive and healthy.
Researcher Susanne Akesson from Lund University and her team found that the flies are attracted to surfaces that reflect light horizontally. Light reflects off a horse's (or zebra's) coat and travels in waves back to the fly's eye usually along a horizontal plane. The scientists found that dark coats reflect more horizontal light, while white coats reflect less. They also found that a zebra pattern reflected even less horizontal light and attracted even fewer flies than the white coat.
So to test their theory that zebra patterns would attract fewer flies, the scientists put out fake horses with sticky coats that were dark, white or zebra patterned and they counted the number of flies that got stuck. Sure enough, the zebra pattern attracted the fewest flies.
So does this mean not getting bitten by flies is the only reason why zebra's have evolved to have striped coats? Probably not. Stripes may also help them hide in the grasses and there may be other reasons. But if biting insects has ever bothered you, you can appreciate how important it is to find ways to get the annoying things to go bite something else! You can read more about the zebra study in this article on the BBC's website.
Our newest broadcast show is coming up next Tuesday, February 21st. We will be taking your questions about predators! Send in your email here. Tune in at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or here on the website or watch the archived program, Web Only show and video short afterwards.
P. S. Have a happy Valentine's Day!
February 06, 2012:
What would happen if all the cats in the world died? That horrible question was posed by Alan Beck, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. The answer? Well, it would be a disaster!
Cats are very effective predators, even house cats. Cats were almost eliminated from a small island in New Zealand in 1979 and they found the rat population quickly quadrupled. A study in Great Britain estimates that the 9 million cats killed close to 200 million wild specimens a year. Cats are believed to pay an important role in controlling rats and mice in barns and grain storage areas. Put simply, without cats, we humans would have a lot less food and a lot more pests.
Predators play an important role in maintaining the balance in the ecology of earth. Our next broadcast show is all about predators. Learn more by going the predator web site and send in your questions today! If you want to learn more about the cat study, check out the LiveScience story here.
As promised, I am reporting on what happened on Groundhogs Day. According to Punxsutawney Phil, we are in for six more weeks of winter. The most famous weather-forecasting groundhog saw his shadow. Punxsutawney Phil has been predicting winter's length for 126 years (not the same groundhog-the animal is replaced periodically). Now other upstart groundhogs did not see their shadow, so Phil's prediction is being challenged. The long range forecast for Idaho produced by the National Weather Service is a 20 percent above normal chance for precipitation for the next month or so after a week or so of nice weather. If you want to learn more about weather, check out the D4K weather page here./
January 30, 2012:
They say we learn everything we really need to know in life while we are in kindergarten, things like sharing, working with others, taking turns. Well, now scientists at the University of Montreal and CHU Sainte-Justine found that how attentive kids are in kindergarten is a good predictor of how good an employee they will be when they are adults.
According to researcher Linda Pagani, children who work well with their classmates, who have good self-control, who know how to follow directions while they are in kindergarten are more likely to have the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
So why is this important? Well, if teachers can identify those kids who don't show those skills early on, they can target more help to teach the students what they need to succeed later on. The sad question for researcher now is to find out if you don't learn those skills in kindergarten, are you in for problems as an adult?
It isn't a skill you learn in kindergarten, but scratching is certainly something we can enjoy. You know, when you have an itch and you get to scratch it, it can be bliss, or maybe not. How much bliss we get depends upon where the itch is.
Researchers at wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC reports the scratching an itch on your ankle feels better than do the same on your arm. Scientists are trying to understand how and why we itch in hopes of finding better ways to treat it.
Dr. Gil Yosipovitch and his team stroked the skin of 18 volunteers with the tiny hairs of a cowhage plant, a tropical plant. The scientists stoked the volunteers' ankles, forearms and backs. The volunteers then rated how itchy the sensation was and how good it felt to scratch it. It turned out the itching was the strongest on the back and ankle and the scratching relief was the least on the forearm. The scientists think the differences may have something to do with the way the sensory nerves are distributed throughout the body. You can read more about the itching study here and the kindergarten study here.
Next week, we will let you know if the groundhog saw his shadow on Thursday. Happy Groundhogs Day!
January 23, 2012:
The website, Kids Science News, reports that scientists are working on self-cleaning clothes. They have treated cotton fabric with a special chemical mixture that can dissolve stains and remove odors after just a few hours in the sun.
Just think how much water, energy and soap we would all save if we could just hang our dirty clothes up on a clothesline and let the sun do all the work.
The scientists have developed the fabric but they can't start selling it yet. They still need to test whether all the chemicals they put on the fabrics are safe for people's skin. So until they perfect their invention, you and I still need to do our laundry.
Another fun study popped up on the BBC this week. Researchers in England interviewed 2000 parents with children between five and sixteen and found that two-thirds of parents have trouble answer kids' science questions. One fourth of the parents thought their kids knew more than they did about science and math than they did. Only one third of the parents did any research to answer their child's questions and worse about 20% either made up an answer or pretended an answer didn't exist.
So, next time you have a science question, maybe you AND your parents should check out the D4K facts and links to find out the answer.
Here is a list of the top questions that stumped the parents…
You can find the answers to these questions here on the D4K website. And you will find our newest broadcast show where we answered questions about geology. Check it out here.
Oh, just in case you or your parents don't know…
You can read the entire article about the BBC study here. Have a great week!
January 09, 2012:
Happy New Year! I am back from vacation and, as promised, present to you my 10 favorite science stories of 2011. They aren't numbered in any particular order. Some are very serious. Some are funny. I just want to remind you that science plays a very important part in all aspects of our lives. I have collected ideas from a number of magazines and other web sites. If you want to read more, check out the links below my list.
Number 10: IBM's "Watson" computer wins in Jeopardy- This story was important because it showed a major advancement in computers' artificial intelligence. It opens up new possibilities in remote health care and lots of other applications.
Number 9: Alien DNA found on Earth- Michio Kaku's list on ABC News had this story. All of the DNA on Earth is basically the same, just rearranged differently for different living things. But scientists found DNA in Mono Lake in California that had never been seen before. Arsenic, something poisonous to us, was one of this DNA's building blocks. Some scientists say this was just a mistake, but if it this find proves to be true, scientists will have to redefine what "life" is.
Number 8: No longer the first bird- In 1861, scientists found what they thought was the world's first bird, the archaeopteryx. But scientists in China have now linked it to a line of dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx had feathered wings but had the teeth and tail of a dinosaur. It was quite the sensation in the 1860's. As Paul Barrett a dinosaur researcher said, "Maybe Archaeopteryx wasn't on the direct ancestral line to birds but was part of an early experimentation in how to build a bird."
Number 7: End of an era- The Space Shuttle program came to an end in 2011. I will miss the cool video of the shuttle taking off and landing and the excuse to call on one of my favorite space shuttle specialist-Barbara Morgan.
Number 6: Blue lobster and we are not talking sad?- The biggest story for the Natural History Museum in London was the discovery of a striking blue live lobster.
Number 5: Menu for a black hole- Scientists actually got a picture of a black hole devouring a star. It is one of the most amazing pictures seen in 2011. Usually it is over in a flash, but this episode lasted long enough to get a good photo. Scientists say we may never see another shot like this again in our lifetimes.
Number 4: Faster than the speed of light- I was taught nothing could go faster than the speed of light, but maybe something can. This year, physicists in Geneva, Switzerland clocks some neutrinos exceeding the speed of light by 60 billionths of a second. That doesn't sound like much, but if true, and a second experiment confirmed it, it could cause a major shakeup in the science of physics.
Number 3: Kepler 22-b, Earth's twin?- Scientists discovered a planet orbiting around a sun 600 light years away that is the closest thing to another Earth as they have ever found. Kepler 22-b is about twice as big as Earth but it lies in the "Goldilocks zone," so Kepler is neither too hot nor too cold. Astronomers even think there may be water there. So, is their life there? That is a question yet to be answered.
Number 2: Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis- This major natural disaster taught us a lot about earthquakes and tsunamis and what we need to do to protect lives and property. We all learned more about nuclear power plants and hopefully, what we've learned will improve future plants.
Number 1: Wacky weather- Goodness, 2011 had some pretty crazy weather! Things like huge tornadoes, record heat, massive fires, and no snow. Global warming is one of the biggest threats to the Earth and to all of us.
For some "Top 10" lists, check out these links: Scientific American
So that's my list for 2011, let's see what is up for 2012. And while you are at it, be sure to send in your questions for our next upcoming live broadcast show. We are talking about geology! Email here and tune in January 17th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac here on the Web site or on Idaho Public Television.
December 20, 2011:
While you may be thinking about all the great food you will eat this season, some scientists are thinking about maggots.
Maggots, the larva of a fly, the ones that you find on rotting, dead animals, play an important role in breaking down things like dead animals. It also turns out that they may be used in a quick way to clean wounds.
Some wounds are very difficult to heal. Doctors in France decided to try using maggots on these wounds. The men in the study were divided into two groups. One group had maggots used to remove dead and unhealthy tissue and one group underwent surgery.
After a week, the men who received maggot therapy had less dead tissue in their wounds than the men who underwent surgery. After two weeks, the maggots had lost their steam and there was no major difference between the two groups.
Still doctors thought there would be advantages to using maggots if you need a quick burst of healing. Scientists plan to do more tests to see if they could improve maggot therapy if they used more maggots and they want to know if increasing the number of critters would be more painful. Read more about the maggot study here.
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a very exciting New Year. I am off next week, so I will be back January 2nd. I hope to list the top science stories of the year then, so stay tuned!
December 12, 2011:
How do birds and planes fly? Find out tomorrow, Tuesday, December 13th. Our newest broadcast D4K show airs at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television, on the live streaming here on the Web site, or you can watch the archived video stream afterwards. Send in your questions here.
I have two science stories of note for the week. Researchers have discovered that if you are an NBA player, you probably shouldn't go for that second 3-point shot. Dr. Yonatoan Loewenstein and Tai Neiman at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem studied more than 200,000 attempted shots from 291 leading players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 2007-2008 and the 2008-2009 regular season.
They found that after a successful three-pointer, player were much more likely to take another three-point shot and were more likely to miss. Oddly, players who missed a three-point shot were more likely to score on their next attempt. So the success of one shot does not mean the odds improve for the next attempt. Learn more about it on the EurekAlert Web site.
That same Web site had another fun story. It turns out rats have honor. Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal of the University of Chicago wanted to see if rats had empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts or feelings of someone else. Some primates have empathy, but many other animals don't.
The scientists trained rats to open a trap. They then put another rat in the trap and waited to see what the trained rat would do. It turns out that rats will help release their fellow cagemates, even when the rescuing rat receives no reward or treat. The rats didn't bother to open traps that were empty or had other objects in them. The scientists say that the fact that the rats were able to understand that their cagemates were upset about being in a trap AND were able to stay calm enough to open the trap shows rats have empathy. Rats, it turns out, also share. When the free rats were given access to a handful of chocolate chips, they first saved their trapped cagemates and then shared the chocolate with them.
I hope you have a friend with whom you can share some chocolate today! Enjoy your week and be sure to send in your questions for our flight show!
December 05, 2011:
Do you know someone who really likes to sleep in? Are you someone who would sleep well past the school bell if given a choice? Well, next time you oversleep and get to school late, you can try this excuse… your genes made you do it. Experts who studied more than 10,000 people across Europe found that people with the gene ABCC9 need about 30 minutes more sleep per night than those who don't have the gene. This gene is involved in how the cells in the body sense energy levels. Those people who have this gene need more than eight hours of sleep. Scientists say one in five Europeans have the gene. People need different amounts of sleep. According the article on this study from the BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15999489, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher needed only about four hours of sleep a night while physicist Albert Einstein needed 11 hours of sleep a night. Scientists study how people sleep and how much sleep they need to learn how to help people who are having problems sleeping.
The BBC is also reporting that astronomers have confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet about 600 light years away. Kepler 22-b is about 2.4 times the size of the earth and has a temperature of about 22C.
Kepler 22-b is in what scientists call the "goldilocks zone," an area in space close enough to a star but not too close. Learn more about exoplanets like Kepler 22-b on our exoplanet site or read more about this particular discovery here.
Our next broadcast show is a week early this month, December 13th. We moved it from our regular slot because of the school holidays. We will be answering your questions about flight, so send in your email today!
November 28, 2011:
Lots of animals use sound to communicate. We talk. Birds sing. And now, paleontologist Caroline Rinaldi has discovered the ancient giant beavers made a very unusual sound.
These giant beavers vanished from North America about 10,000 years ago. They weighed more than 100 pounds and were the size of a black bear. Rinaldi was studying the giant beavers skull and found a long compartment that stretched from the front to the back. She believes that giant beavers would have sucked in air into the chamber and produced a loud sound. Rinaldi demonstrated the sound at a meeting of scientists. She held a model of a giant beaver's skill and blew into a tube. The sound was described as "bleating." Why did they make these sounds? Scientists don't know and they can't study current day beavers. Modern beavers don't have the same odd chamber in their skull.
If you want to learn more about giant beavers, check out this article on the Science News for Kids Web site: http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2011/11/the-secret-songs-of-giant-beavers/ One other fact of note from this article, the giant beaver would not have been the largest rodent running around 10,000 years ago. Larry Flynn, who studies ancient rodents at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, says the giant beaver looked "puny" when compared to other large rodents alive at the time. Makes you think, huh? Giant bleating beavers that were puny compared to other rodents.
Have a great week!
November 21, 2011:
This map of the Moon is the sharpest ever elevation map of the Moon. The map shows troughs and bumps over most of the Moon's surface. Dr. Mark Robinson from Arizona State University says scientists can now figure out the slopes on the Moon's surface, figure out how the Moon's crust was deformed and better understand the Moon's volcanic features. Scientist can use all this information to better plan any future human or robotic missions to the Moon.
Scientists created the pictures from data that came from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Learn more about the photo and the LRO spacecraft here.
And why do I bring up the Moon today? Well, last week was our latest broadcast show and we answered questions about, you guessed it…the Moon! Check out the show, Web-only, the video short and all the facts, links, etc about the Moon here.
And for your Thanksgiving pleasure, here are five interesting facts about turkeys…
If you want to learn more turkey facts, check out the list on Livescience and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!
November 07, 2011:
I know the weather where I live is getting colder and we had some snow this weekend, but I made it a point to get outside for a hike, even though it was chilly. Why? Well, spending time out-of-doors makes me feel better and it is better for you. You need to spend some time in nature to be healthy. And, as a new report suggests, spending time outdoors may help your eyesight.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that for each additional hour spent outdoors each week, the risk of myopia is reduced by 2%. Myopia is the medical term for being shortsighted. Shortsighted means you can see things close up, but things far away are blurry. Scientists aren't sure why, but they think exposure to natural light and spending time looking at far off objects helps your eyes.
According to the research by Dr. Justin Sherwin and his team, shortsighted children also spent about 3.7 hours less out-of-doors each week than children who aren't shortsighted. They aren't sure why and are doing more research.
Now, if you are shortsighted, you aren't alone. In some parts of Asia, 80% of the population are shortsighted and it is much more common in the United States than it was 30 to 40 years ago. Still, just because it is common, doesn't mean you shouldn't do something about it. There are lots of good reasons to walk away from the TV and computer screen and pick up a Frisbee, grab a friend and go outside and play. If you want to learn more about this eye research, check out this article from the BBC.
We are coming up on our next broadcast show next Tuesday, November 15th. We will be answering your questions about the Moon. Send in your questions here or plan to call in live. The show airs on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on November 15, 2011, or you can watch the live stream here or watch the archived version of the live show, the Web-only show or the video short afterwards.
So, get outside. Look up at the Moon and send me a question!
October 31, 2011:
Poor black cats! Ever since the Dark Ages, black cats have been accused of bringing bad luck. Witches were thought to have used black cats as their "familiars" or that Satan turned himself into a black cat. So black cats and witches are seen as a frequent Halloween decoration. But there is no evidence that black cats are bad luck and, in fact, in Ireland, Scotland and England, it is considered good luck for a black cat to cross your path. So, be nice to cats, black or white or whatever.
The Jack-O'-Lantern comes out of a Celtic tradition. The ancient Celts would care a lantern out of turnips and placed them on the street to help guide lost souls home when they wander on "All Hallows Eve." When large numbers of Irish families came to America in the 1800's, they brought this tradition with them. But since turnips were harder to find here, they used pumpkins as a substitute, hence today's Jack-O'-Lanterns were born.
People have long thought that ghosts roamed the earth at Halloween. So they would dress up as a ghoul or ghost so as to trick the evil spirits into thinking you were one of them and therefore, the evil spirits would leave you alone. So Irish immigrants brought this tradition of dressing up with them in the early 1900's. Kids dressing up like we do today started in the late 1950's.
The idea of giving candy comes out of another superstition. People thought that visiting ghosts would disguise themselves and knock on your door asking for money or food. If you turned them away empty-handed, then the evil spirit would curse or haunt you. So, when those ghosts and ghouls come to your door tonight, give them a treat and avoid the trick!
My thanks to the folks at LiveScience for their help today. Read more about Halloween superstitions and traditions here.
Have a great week and remember to brush your teeth. Dentists say eating candy on Halloween is okay, but remember to brush! And remember, chocolate is good for you!!! That's not scary at all.
October 24, 2011:
Do you get smarter as you get older? You certainly gain more experience but does your IQ go up? IQ stands for intelligence quotient and it is a test for your "relative intelligence" as determined by a standardized test. Most students have their IQ tested in grade school and until recently, scientists thought your IQ remained pretty much the same your whole life.
But in a finding published in the journal Nature, Professor Cathy Price of the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at University College, London and her team suggest that your IQ can change in your teen years.
She and her team studied 19 boys and 14 girls. In 2004, they ran the kids, who were about 14-years-old at the time, through a combination of brain scans and verbal and non-verbal IQ tests. They repeated the tests when the students turned about 18 in 2008. They found that 39% of the teens showed an increase in their verbal IQ and 21% had a change in their spatial reasoning. They found that that increase in their IQ went along with an increase in parts of their brains.
Why is this finding important? Well, kids get their IQ tested early in their lives and that score can kind of set their level of expectation. If a student gets a lower score, he/she might be put in remedial classes and not expected to do well. If he/she gets a higher score, he/she might get placed in a more challenging class. This study suggests that student can improve so educators need to be careful. As Professor Price said, "We have to be careful not to write off poorer performers at an early age when in fact their IQ may improve significantly given a few more years." You can read more about this study at the BBC's.
October 17, 2011:
It is almost Halloween and you are seeing skeletons everywhere. They may seem scary, but if you didn't have a skeleton you couldn't live. Our next broadcast show is all about skeletons and airs this week. So send in your questions now! The show airs at 2:00pm/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or you can watch it here on the live streaming. Going to miss it? You can watch the archive version here on the site anytime afterwards.
Taking care of your skeleton is one way to live a long life, so may be eating herring. But according to scientists studying the world's oldest human being, living a long time starts with having the right genes.
Dutch researchers at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam studied the body of Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper. She died in 2004 at 115. She left her body to science so researchers could figure out why she lived so long and with all her mental capacity. According to an article on LiveScience, researchers looked at the woman's genes and discovered a group known to help prevent circulatory diseases, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. They are still studying her genes and hope that someday they may be able to find some way to help the rest of us live so long and so well. Could you live that long? Do you have to eat small fish every day like Andel-Schipper? Scientists are still studying it but they say one person in a billion may have that unique gene combination needed to live such a long life. And while it won't guarantee you will live to be 100, eating fish is a good idea too.
Be sure to check out the skeleton web site and send in your questions.
October 11, 2011:
If you are lucky enough to be walking around today, you can thank your bones. Our next D4K live broadcast show is Tuesday, October 18th is all about bones and we will be taking your questions. Send in a question about your skeleton today.
The skeleton was in the science news recently. Actually, it is an exoskeleton that will allow paralyzed people to walk again. Some animals have their skeleton on the outside of their body. Humans have them on the inside. But scientists at Duke University are working a full body suit that a paralyzed person could wear and would help him/her to walk. They are working on a system that allows electrical messages from the brain to "tell" the suit to move. Those messages don't travel from the brain to the leg muscles in people with certain spinal cord injuries. If the scientists can find a way to send those brain signals, they can use technology to help those people walk again. Other suits have been developed to help paralyzed people move, but they use external computers to do the moving. One example is the eLEGS suit. The work at Duke University could make the suits more responsive. The scientists have set a goal for their work. They want to send a young quadriplegic striding out to midfield to open the 2014 World Cup. I wish them all the best luck! Read more about the work at Duke in this article form the Los Angeles Times and more about eLEGS in this blog from Discover magazine.
October 05, 2011:
Welcome October! This month's new broadcast show will be all about skeletons, that is the skeleton that is inside you. Send us a question about bones. The show airs Tuesday, October 18 at 2:00pm/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television and streamed live here on the web site.
This photo came to my attention awhile back. It is so cool I thought I would share it with you. It comes from NASA and shows the effect of gravity on the Earth. Apparently gravity is not the same everywhere. This map show exaggerated highs and lows where the Earth's gravitation field is strong or weak. There is a low spot of the coast of India and a high spot in South Pacific Ocean. Scientists aren't sure why gravity changes across the Earth. It isn't based on the surface features of the land. According to NASA, scientists guess it may be due to structures deep under the ground. If you want to learn more about gravity, check out the gravity web site here.
If you want to see NASA's Astronomy picture of the day, check out this link: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html
Have a good week!
September 27, 2011:
Glow-in-the-dark cats and a new D4K broadcast show…just some of the science news I missed while I was out of the office. Sorry my blog is a bit behind the times, but here goes an update.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found a way to pass along a protective gene that fights AIDS, but it means the cats involved in the study glow in the dark. Researcher were studying feline immunodeficiency virus, a disease in cats similar to AIDS in humans. They inserted a gene into cats from a rhesus macaque. That rhesus gene to is known to fight the feline disease. But would they how to know if the new gene is taking hold in the cat? So researchers came up with an idea, inserted a glowing gene from a jellyfish along with the rhesus gene. The idea was that if one gene showed up, it meant the other gene was there too. Also, they could see if the genes were handed down from cat to her kittens. The experiment was a success. See for yourself! The cat glows green in the dark. Scientists eventually hope to learn how to use this use gene therapy to cure AIDS. Learn more in this article from the Washington Post.
You can also learn more about sports physiology and see it in a new way. Check out the D4K Sport Physiology page! You can watch the 30-minute show on the new style front page. Just click and go. You can still watch the Web Only show and the video short on the Video page. We hope to eventually offer the ability to watch all of the video on a topic off of the front page. Let me know what you think of this new service.
September 13, 2011:
Next Tuesday, we begin our 13th season of D4K! We are taking your questions about sports physiology. Be sure to check out the news season's topics. Play a few new games. Pick up a new book to read and be sure to send in your question so you and your class will be eligible for prizes for your classroom.
My favorite science news of the week deals with something that lives in a pineapple under the sea and a kid with an unusual name. According to the Associated Press, just watching nine minutes of "SpongeBob SquarePants" can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds. Researchers from the University of Virginia divided 60 4-year-olds into three groups. One group watched "SpongeBob," one group watched the PBS show "Caillou" and the third group colored pictures. After watching nine minutes, the kids took mental function tests. It turns out that the kids who watched SpongeBob scored an average of 12 points lower than the kids who watched "Caillou" or who colored pictures. In another test, the kids who watched "SpongeBob" were less able to wait for a treat, scoring lower on measures for self-control and impulsiveness. So what does this mean? University of Virginia psychology Professor Angeline Lillard said it shows fast-paced television programming (not just "SpongeBob) can have an impact on young children's attention span and that the problem can happen after very little exposure. In other words, not only do what young kids what matter, but also how much they watch.
The folks from Nickelodeon say the study was too small and reminds folks that "SpongeBob" is aimed at kids 6-11 years of age. Now, I like "SpongeBob but I think this study shows it is a good idea for the parents of very young kids to limit their youngsters TV time and chose what they watch carefully. If you are the big brother or sister, you too may want to be careful about what you let your younger sibling watch.
Now I haven't done any studies to prove it, but I think D4K is good for all ages, so check it out!
August 30, 2011:
When you think of a planet, you probably don't think of it as being made of a diamond, but that is just what astronomers have found. According to Reuters news service, scientists have found a planet made of carbon. Scientists say the planet is so dense that it must be crystalline, which means a good part of it is made of diamond.
The planet is about 4,000 light years away and has slightly more mass than Jupiter. Scientists aren't sure what the surface of the planet actually looks like. I'd like to imagine something shiny like a diamond ring, but that seems unlikely.
What is likely is that I will be continuing to eat chocolate. A new study of more than 100,000 people showed that those who eat chocolate on a regular basis reduce their relative risk for heart disease by one-third. Dr. Oscar H. Franco from the department of public health and primary care at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and his colleagues found that people who at chocolate could cut their risk of heart disease by as much as 37% and their risk of stroke by 29%.
Franco is unsure why eating chocolate is good for you. Chocolate contains flavonoids which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting effects and may relax blood vessels. It might also improve insulin sensitivity that could reduce your risk of diabetes.
Now, chocolate has a lot of sugar and is high in calories, so you should eat it in moderation along with a diet full of fruits and vegetables. But if you like chocolate as much as I like chocolate, now you have another excuse to ask for another square. You can read more about this study here.
We hope to have D4K's 13th season's Web site up this week. Check back soon!
August 17, 2011:
We are counting down to the launch of a new season for D4K with a whole bunch of new shows coming and more topics to explore. We have a great crew here who has been working all summer and it is now crunch time to get ready before school starts. Keep checking back for the big 2011-2012 season launch!
The big science news this week is pretty big. Researchers report that a type of dinosaur may have given birth to a live baby rather than laying eggs. This is big because this is the only known fossil of this dinosaur mother and her unborn baby.
According to a report by Daniela Hernandez in the Los Angeles Times, a fossil of a Plesiosaurs shows evidence of an unborn baby. Plesiosaurs were giant marine reptiles that lived in the oceans 75 million years ago. Scientists think that the Plesiosaurs must have spent a lot of energy taking care of these young and didn't have a lot of offspring at once, unlike animals like turtles and mice today. They also guess that Plesiosaurs may have lived in social groups to help protect their young, like whales and dolphins do today.
When I was first in school, scientists thought dinosaurs laid eggs, didn't worry too much about their young and were related to reptiles. Then we discovered that some dinosaurs were really good parents and are more related to birds. With this discovery, we may someday find out the some dinosaurs were even more whale or mammal-like. Pretty amazing.
August 01, 2011:
We know that the signals that travel in the brain moves faster than we ourselves can move our bodies. Now scientists are trying to find a way to use those fast moving brain waves to make us safer drivers. Computer scientist Stefan Haufe of the Berlin Institute of Technology thinks someday you may use brain waves to run things like the brakes of your car.
In research reported in the Journal of Neural Engineering, Haufe and his colleagues measured brain wave changes as participants drove in a car simulator. As the volunteers drove around at 60-miles-per-hour, a car in front of them would occasionally slam on its brakes. The volunteer would have to do the same or crash. The scientists found that, for most drivers, the lag time between the lead car stopping and the driver slamming on the brakes was about 700 milliseconds. But the researchers also found early indicators in brain waves in-between the time that the drivers wanted to brake and before their feet hit the pedals. They call these early indicators "neural signatures."
So Haufe and his colleagues designed a system that could detect these neural signatures and send a message to the brake before the foot would move. Picking up brain waves speeded up braking response time by about 130 milliseconds. While that doesn't seem like much, when a car is traveling at 60 miles-per-hour, increasing the braking time shortened the car's stopping distance by about 3.7 meters or the length of a compact car. That could save lives.
The downside? The system would incorrectly read brain waves a couple of times an hour. These false stops were really annoying. Also, it is unlikely drivers would always want to wear the uncomfortable and obtrusive EEG cap that reads brain waves. So, it may be awhile before you let just your brain drive you to school. On the other hand, you shouldn't drive without it either. ;) Read more about it in this article by Laura Sanders in ScienceNews.
July 26, 2011:
Do some foods remind you of home? I love my Mom's handmade chicken and noodles. Yum! Most all of us love what's called comfort food. It is the food we eat at family gatherings, special treats we eat at happy times. And, quite often, it is food higher in fat. It turns out that fatty foods may do more than remind us of happy times — the food might actually make us happy.
Researcher Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove reports that fatty foods cause emotional changes. Scientists took 12 volunteers and fed them either a solution with fatty acids or a saline solution through a feed tube. The volunteers didn't know if which solution they were getting. Then the researchers put the volunteers in a MRI machine, a machine that can track the brain's activity. The researchers then showed the volunteers sad and neutral music and facial expressions. When showed the sad material, the volunteers' mood fell, but the mood of those volunteers who were getting the fatty acids fell less.
The scientists need to do more research to find out what it is about fatty foods that seems to comfort the brain so the person isn't quite so sad. They say it is important to find that link because a lot of people are "emotional eaters," that is they eat when they are unhappy. That can lead to obesity. If scientists can figure out that stomach-mind connection, they might help people lose weight. Read more about this study in an article by Randy Dotinga in HealthDay.
Enjoy your week!
July 18, 2011:
Does your mother tell you to sit up straight? Well maybe you should listen. It might make things hurt less. Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Toronto report that poor posture not only leaves a bad impression, but it can also make you physically weaker.
In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the scientists found that sitting up straight made people feel more powerful and were able to tolerate more pain. If you are in pain, they suggest you not roll up into a ball. Standing up straight and pushing out your chest gives you a sense of control and makes the pain seem like it hurts less. If your pain is more emotional than physical (somebody hurts your feelings), the scientists suggest sitting up straight or standing tall. Apparently it can make remembering that distressing memory less painful. Good posture, it seems, is not only good for your back, it is also good for your soul.
This week marks the end of a major event in space science: the end of the Space Shuttle program. The US shuttle Atlantis is expected to land on Thursday morning in Florida ending NASA's 30-year re-usable space plane program. You can track Atlantis' progress at the NASA site here.
This week, I will be talking with science teachers at the ISTEM conference at the College of Southern Idaho. Stop by and say hi!
July 11, 2011:
I've got lots of short science news this week to pass on to you this week.
First, this is Winslo. He is my pet bunny. He has popped up in a few D4K shows the past couple of years (Check out the CSI video short). Why do I mention him up today? Well, it is because Winslo make me better.
Scientists report that pet owners are happier and healthier. Past studies have shown that people who are sick benefit from having a pet, but now even healthy people can improve their quality of life by adopting an animal.
Researcher Allen McConnell of Miami University in Ohio surveyed 217 people to determine the difference in well being between pet owners and nonowners. They found that pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted. They even found that writing about your pet could lessen feelings of being excluded. Pets are good for you!
While bees are not really pets, they do make your life better too. Bees are key pollinators and pollination is vital in the food growing process. Without bees, our food supply is in jeopardy. So, scientists are asking for your help to learn more about the health of bees where you live.
San Francisco State University scientist Gretchen LeBuhn leads more than 100,000 citizen scientists in this project. Each individual participant planted a sunflower and makes two 15-minute observations each month. They count the number of times a bee lands on their sunflower and then they report that count on LeBuhn's website. She is asking everyone make a big effort to report the number of bees on July 16th, the "Great Bee Count Day." Scientists can learn a lot about the health of bees by tracking where they are and where they are not. If you are interesting in becoming a bee tracker, check out the Great Sunflower Project.
If tracking bees isn't your thing, how about tracking the Space Shuttle? Check out the Space Shuttle tracker on this BBC site. You can see the position of the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope as they orbit the Earth. Cool!
July 5, 2011:
This week marks the last flight for NASA's Space Shuttle. The countdown begins Tuesday at 1:00pm (EDT) and the Shuttle is supposed to lift off on Friday. Since 1998, more than 25 crews have flown into space on the Space Shuttle and have helped build the International Space Station. If you want to learn more about the Space Shuttle, take a tour with Idaho's own Barbara Morgan. Click here to join Barbara as she answers students' questions and shows us around the Shuttle.
Visit NASA's website to learn more about this last space shuttle launch. The end of the Space Shuttle isn't the end of NASA. The U.S. Space agency begins a new focus on deep space exploration.
As for other science news this week, you know, I am a big fan of getting enough sleep. I had to get up early this morning and am not happy about it. We already know that you need to get enough sleep to do well in school and to not gain weight, but now scientists tell us that athletes can improve their performance by getting enough sleep.
Research published in the journal "Sleep" says sleeping longer can improve physical performance. Scientist asked the Stanford men's basketball team to sleep for 10 hours a night for six weeks. The basketball players gave up caffeine and took naps during the day if their travel schedule prevented them from getting 10 hours at night. By the end of the study, the scientists and athletes were surprised. The extra sleep helped improve their shooting accuracy by 9%! The players were able to run faster and were playing better overall. This study suggests that if they want to be at their best, they need that shut-eye!
Oh, just so you know, you can't skip on sleep and then get 10 hours of sleep just before the big game to get the benefit. You have to do it for several nights, even weeks before to make it work. Scientists say athletes should rank sleep as important as training and exercise to improve their game. The first suggestion is just start good sleep habits like going to bed at about the same time and getting up at about the same time. And if you want to play in the big leagues, try for those 10 hours of sleep. Read more about this study in this BBC news article.
Have a great week!
June 28, 2011:
Are girls less interested in science and math than boys? Not true!! There are lots of myths about girls and science and math. Here are a few.
June 20, 2011:
Late on Tuesday, Europe's space freighter, ATV-Johannes Kepler, is due to be jettisoned from the International Space Station. The freighter took up more than seven tons of fuel and other supplies and now has been stuffed with trash for its final, explosive return to Earth.
The unmanned freighter and all its contents will fall toward Earth and will burn up as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. Scientists will film the freighter's re-entry and watch how things burn up. They are trying to understand the re-entry physics of spacecrafts. They hope this will help them learn how to build better heat shields and ways of protecting spacecrafts. They also want to learn what might survive the incredible heat of re-entry and how the objects will fall to earth. That will help scientists better predict fall patterns for other things that cross Earth's path.
And where will the freighter fall? Scientists expect it to come down over an uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean. Most of the freighter and the trash it carries will burn up in a huge fireball as it goes through the atmosphere, but there is a chance fragments will survive. So they have warned ships and planes to steer clear of the area just in case.
Here is a link to an article about the experiment from the BBC. There is a short video of a previous freighter re-entry. That would give you an idea what this fireball will look like.
And while you are thinking about the Earth and space, remember the Summer Solstice hits June 21st at 11:16 a.m. MDT. The Summer Solstice, for us in the Northern hemisphere, is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. This happens because the Earth is tilted on its axis as it moves around the Sun. As the Earth reaches this point in its orbit, the Northern hemisphere tilts toward the Sun. The Summer Solstice hits when the Earth's tilt is at its closest point to the Sun. After that, the Earth slowly starts to tilt away and the days will start getting shorter. Eventually, the Earth will get to the point in its orbit where the Northern hemisphere is tilted at the farther point away from the Sun. That point is known as the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It will happen on December 22, 2012.
The Summer Solstice marks a great holiday, especially in ancient times. The Celts celebrated the first day of summer with dancing and bonfires and the Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Today, folks gather at spots like Stonehenge in England and celebrate as the ancient Druids once did. So I suggest you celebrate the Summer Solstice by going outside and enjoying the sunshine!
June 13, 2011:
But pesticides can make people sick. Scientists are divided on how much pesticide exposure is okay. They don't know the long-term effects of small amounts of pesticide. It is something scientists are still studying, but regardless, it is important to be aware of what you are eating.
Scientists at the Environmental Working Group tested a wide variety of produce and came up with their list of the most pesticide-contaminated list. Apples came out on top. 92% of apples had two or more pesticides. Onions had the least amount of contamination.
Now, this is not an excuse not to eat your fruits and vegetables. The health benefits are too important to cross things like apples off your list, but there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure to pesticides. Buy organic fruits and vegetables. Organic fruits and vegetables are supposed to me grown without pesticides. You should also wash any fruits and vegetables you buy before you eat or cook them. After rinsing them with tap water, spray or soak them in a solution of one percent dish liquid and water. Finally rinse the produce under tap water to get rid of any traces of the dish liquid. If you want to learn more about this report, here is a link to the article in USA Today.
For your information, here is the list of the most and least pesticide contaminated produce:The Most Contaminated
June 06, 2011:
If you have moved from second grade to third grade, congratulations. You won't just be changing classrooms. Your brain will change too. Neuroscientists, researcher who study the brain, report that recent third grade graduates use their brains in different ways than do second graders.
Neuroscientist Vinod Menon of Stanford University and his colleagues asked 90 children, some who had just finished second grade and some who had just finished third grade, to do easy math problems (3+1=4) and hard math problems (8+5=13). While the students were doing the problems, the scientists were looking at the kids' brains with a functional MRI. This machine can see which parts of the brains are working as someone is doing a task.
The team found that a third-grader's brain operates differently than a second grader's brain. Different parts of their brains were engaged when they did their math problems. Scientists aren't sure if this is just normal brain development, but they do think it has something to do with the math training third graders get in school. School, they say, changes the brain.
So what does this mean? Well, they need to do more research, but scientists someday may be able to suggest the best ways of teaching math that match the brain development of each age group. If you want to learn more about this study, here is an article from the web site ScienceNews.
We have another bout of rain and wind coming this week, but we are getting off easy compared to western explorers Lewis and Clark. Scientists think Lewis and Clark ran into one of the worst wind and rainstorms in the last two centuries. In November 1805, they wrote about a storm that blew down all the trees around them. Scientists today studied the rings in the wood of the area's Sitka spruce trees, one that had survived the 1805 storm and were still alive today. They have concluded that the storm Lewis and Clark described was one of the worst storms in the region for 200 years. You can learn more about other aspect of the science of Lewis and Clark here.
Have a good week!
May 23, 2011:
Do you take music lessons? While you may not be thrilled about piano lessons or practicing your violin now, you may find those music lessons will be a big help with your brain when you are older.
A new study finds that older adults who studied music as kids did better on cognitive tests than did the adults who did not have a childhood musical education. The folks in the study were 60 to 83 years old. One group had no musical training. The other group had started playing pianos or other instruments when they were about 10-years-old. None were professional musicians.
According to researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy from the University of Kansas, all of the participants were tested for verbal functioning, memory and attention. The people who had studied music the longest did best on the tests. Those who had no musical training did the worst. Whether the person continued playing music into old age didn't matter. What apparently made the difference was studying music as a kid. Why? Researchers think that studying music makes your brain fitter and better able to withstand aging.
So next time your parents or teachers bug you to study music, it is not just because they want you to learn to play beautifully, they are actually doing you and your brain a favor.
By the way, since my last posting, D4K picked up an Idaho Press Club award. Congratulations to the D4K Web staff for winning first place as the best special purpose TV Web site in the state. I know they are great people, but it nice that our peers think they do great work!
April 25, 2011:
Did you brush your teeth this morning? Have you ever had a cavity? Only the luckiest among us escape getting a cavity at least once in their lifetimes and it turns out one reptile wasn't among the lucky few. Scientists have found evidence of the world's oldest toothache. The Labidosarus hamatus was one of the first land-living reptiles. It was alive about 275 million years ago. For millions of years, if these reptiles lost a tooth, it would grow in another one to replace it. But because the Labidosarus hamatus lived on land instead of sometimes in the water, it had evolved teeth that were sort of like the kind you and I have. We have teeth that fit together to improve our ability to grind our food and we get basically one durable set of teeth that are designed to withstand the pressures of our diet.
Labidosarus hamatus apparently also had something else in common with humans, bacteria that caused cavities. Robert Reisz and colleagues from the University of Toronto Mississauga did a special x-ray of the jaw of the Labidosarus hamatus and found evidence of a long-lasting bacterial infection, a lost tooth and an abscess. This toothache predates the previous earliest-known example of tooth decay. I've had an abscess and it is no fun! But unlike the Labidosarus hamatus, I have a great dentist. You can meet him and learn more about teeth in this video short or read more about the world's oldest abscess in this article from the BBC.
Be sure to check out our most recent broadcast show, earthquakes. You can watch the 30-minute show, the shorter Web only program or the video short. Check out the earthquakes Web site too. We have one more broadcast show this school year. We will be taking your questions about snakes! Tune in for that on May 17th. And until then, brush your teeth!!
April 18, 2011:
What does an Earthquake sound like? Well, here is a link to the NOAA Vents program that has microphones underwater. This recording captured the sounds of the March 11th earthquake in Japan.
If you want to learn more about earthquakes, email in a question or call in live Tuesday, April 19th. Our next live broadcast show airs at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or you can watch the live stream here on the Web site or watch the archive version of the show, the Web Only, and the video short afterwards.
In other science news, researchers out of the University of California, Davis say some dinosaurs loved the nightlife. The scientists looked at the shapes of some dinosaurs' eyes and decided that these particular ones could see in dim light and were most likely to have been active at night. Lars Schmitz and Ryosuke Motani looked at all kinds of animals to find out more about their eye structures and then compared those structures to dinosaurs. They looked at dinosaurs from the Mesozoic era and found that flying animals like birds and pterosaurs were probably daytime creatures, herbivores (those animals including dinosaurs that eat plants) hung out both day and night and carnivores (those that eat meat) were more likely to be night creatures. This challenges what scientists originally thought-that dinosaurs were only active during the day. So be glad that when the sun goes down tonight, you don't have to worry about some meat-eating dinosaur roaming your neighborhood!
Be sure to send in your questions for tomorrow's show on earthquakes and tune in for the show.
April 13, 2011:
Our newest broadcast show airs next week and we are taking your questions about earthquakes. Earthquakes happen all the time. Most are too small for us to feel. Here is a picture of all earthquakes from April 13th at about 1:00pm Mt. You can go to this link to find a more current list.
Scientists use a tool called a seismograph to record the strength and duration of earthquakes. Here is a link to the seismograph at Moose Lake, Idaho. That is near Yellowstone. You can see that there was a small quake this week.
Do you have a question about earthquakes? Well send in an email here or call in live on Tuesday, April 19th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac. You can watch the show on Idaho Public Television or live streamed here on the Web site or you can watch the archived version of the broadcast show, the Web Only and the earthquake video short here afterwards. But be sure to send in your questions so you can be entered in our prize contest.
April 05, 2011:
Welcome back from Spring Break! I had a great week touring Civil War battlefields with my family. This year is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. I hope you are enjoying the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War that airs on Idahoptv each night this week. It is a must see for everyone.
I really like learning about science and history. It makes me happy. What makes you happy? Is it money? Well scientists say money can buy happiness, but only if you spend your money in the right way. Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia and her colleagues have come with eight principles for spending money to be happy. Here are four of her recommendations:
Speaking of gifts, it turns out the gift givers like getting presents they have specifically hinted for more than a gift that is unexpected. I guess I always thought it was better to really find something special for a person rather than just pick something off their Amazon gift list, but psychologists say otherwise.
Harvard economist Francesca Gino and Stanford business professor Francis Flynn report that gift givers assume all gifts, either those we have hinted for or those we are surprised by, would be equally valued by the person who gets the gift. Not true. People like to get what they have hinted for and cash is always appreciated. Hum. I find that news kind of sad, but I guess I will get over it. My birthday is coming up next month and I need to start dropping hints! You can learn more about both of these stories at the Science News Web site.
Hope your week goes well. We are working on our next broadcast show this week. That program will be about earthquakes, so send in your questions now!
March 21, 2011:
Spring! Yes, winter is officially over and spring has sprung. Spring, of course, happens with the sun crossed the Earth's equator and the day and night are approximately the same length. This all happens because the Earth rotates on its axis and it rotates around the sun. Twice a year, the sun crossed over the equator, marking the beginning of spring or fall. Now we are heading for spring and summer and the southern hemisphere is heading for fall and winter.
The Earth is not the only planet that has seasons. Mars has extreme seasons shifts. Each of Jupiter's seasons last three years. Saturn's "seasons' last seven, Uranus' last twenty and Neptune's whopping 40 years. On the other hand, Venus has fairly constant weather so its "seasons" last about 55 days. And poor Mercury has such an elliptical orbit and the fact that it rotates on its axis three timed during two of its years, means it is hard to tell when one season begins and one season ends.
Mercury is in the science news this week. NASA's Messenger spacecraft made it into orbit around Mercury on Friday. Scientists were pretty excited because it took a lot to get the probe there. Messenger had to fly past earth once, Venus twice and Mercury itself three times, just to get to the right speed and on the right path to get into orbit. And the probe itself had to be specially designed to stand extremely high temperatures.
And what does Messenger hope to find there? According to an article from the BBC, despite temperatures that can reach more than 800° F, there may be water or ice in craters at the poles of Mercury. Those parts of the planet are in a permanent shadow. Mercury is also so dense for its size that two-thirds of the plant is made of an iron-metal composition and it is apparently shrinking. Scientists hope to learn why. In general, astronomers say, Mercury may be our best guide to what some of the new planets we are finding outside our solar system are really like and this probe should give us lots more information.
BTW, next week is Spring Break for me, so I will be on vacation. Look for a new science blog posting April 4th. In the meantime, check out the D4K planets site to learn more about Mercury and the rest of the solar system and enjoy the start of spring!
March 14, 2011:
Today is National Nap Day. Little kids sometime don't like taking naps, but scientists say there are lots of benefits to napping. Here are a few:
Boston University Professor William Anthony and his wife Camille came up with the idea for a National Nap Day in 1999 to follow our change to Daylight Savings Time. We all lost an hour of sleep when we moved our clocks ahead. Kids especially don't usually get enough sleep. So, remember a short afternoon nap can give you the energy to finish your day strong.
There is another national day today. Today is National Pi day, that is Pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter), not pie (apple, cherry, pumpkin). The value of Pi is shortened to 3.14, and since today's date is 3/14/11, we call it Pi day. Here is a great article from NOVA if you want to learn a bit more about Pi: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/archimedes/pi.html
One more reason to rejoice . . . We have new broadcast D4K show tomorrow! We will be taking your questions about Urban Wildlife. Tune in at 2:00/1:00p.m. MT/PT to watch here on the D4K website or on Idaho Public Television. You can watch the archived version of the 30-minute program, the Web-only show and our video short here afterwards.
But for now, get yourself a piece of real pie, email in a question, and then grab a nap. What a great way to celebrate the day!
February 28, 2011:
Do you speak a second language? Scientists believe it is easier to learn a second language before you turn 10-years-old. They now also think knowing a second language may give you a mental step up.
In an article in the Los Angeles Times, neuroscience researchers say being bilingual, or knowing more than one language, can have a positive effect on the brain. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ellen Biaystok, a psychology professor at York University, explained the being bilingual improves the brain's ability to juggle information. They found that bilingual children are better at multi-tasking and that adults who speak more than one language do a better job deciding what information is more important when they find themselves in a confusing situation. They also found that being bilingual helps ward off early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, an illness that effect the brain and a person's ability to think and remember.
Why? Well, say you know English and Spanish. When you walk into a room, you can name items in that room in either language depending upon whom you are talking to. Your brain has to be able to jump between the two languages. The scientists think that this back-and-forth between languages exercises your brain. It works your "executive control functions," that is the part of the brain that helps you focus and helps you hold multiple bits of information while you are solving a problem.
So this is another good reason to learn a foreign language. If a foreign language isn't offered at your school, talk with your parents. Maybe there is an alternative, like a community education class, or maybe a friend speaks another language and would be willing to teach you. I took several years of German and I am now learning American Sign Language. It is really cool to express yourself in totally different ways!
February 22, 2011:
Sheep are smarter than you'd think. That's what scientists at the University of Cambridge in England say about Welsh sheep. They were studying the creatures as part of their research into Huntington's disease, a genetically inherited condition that affects muscles and eventually the brain.
The scientist, including Professor Jenny Morton, put a group of Welsh sheep through a number of tests to measure their intelligence. In one test, she tried to see how long it would take the sheep to figure out that the food always came in the same colored bucket. She then put the food in a different colored bucket and saw how long it took the sheep to notice the change and always go to the new bucket. It turns out it took the sheep the same amount of time as it take monkey and rodents in similar tests.
She also put the sheep through tests to see if they were able to find their way around by forming memories of their environment. She believes sheep can keep a mental map of their surroundings in their head and may even be able to play ahead. The sheep scored as well as some humans did on similar tests. Also, scientists believe sheep can remember and indentify faces. Now all these skills may seem pretty simple, but actually being able to do all that takes a lot of brain power, more than many other mammals have.
So, if your siblings say you are as dumb as a sheep, you can say, "Why thank you." If you want to learn more about the study, check out this story on the BBC Web site.
February 7, 2011:
As tradition holds, Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow on Feb 2nd. If he sees his shadow, we all can expect six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, we can look for an early spring. This year, no shadow!
And how accurate is Phil? Well, he is right about 40% of the time. And Phil is not the only animal that humans think predicts the weather. Sharks will swim to deeper depths just before a storm. Birds and bees will return to their nests and hives before it rains. So, start watching the animals in your back yard and see if they are giving you a clue about tomorrow's weather. If you want to learn more about Punxsutawney Phil, check out this article from National Geographic Society.
Speaking of animals making predictions, Japanese researchers report they have trained a dog to detect bowel cancer.
The 8-year-old Labrador retriever sniffed 306 samples of people's breath and stool (poop). When the dog detected cancer, she sat down. She identified 91% of the cancerous breath samples and 97% of the cancerous stool samples. She also ignored 99% of the cancer-free breath and stool samples. That means the dog was probably more accurate than most medical diagnostic tests. And what was her reward for finding this life threatening disease? A game of "chase the tennis ball."
It is unlikely that dogs will replace standard medical tests to detect cancer. It takes a lot of money and time to train these dogs. But these results suggest that there is something the dogs can smell that current tests miss. So scientists can take a lesson from their four-footed friends and look for ways to improve their cancer diagnostic methods. Learn more about cancer detecting dogs here at LiveScience.
Our newest broadcast show is next Tuesday, February 15th. We will be taking your questions about force and motion. You can email them here or you can call in live during the show. Check it out on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00p.m Mt/Pac or here on the D4K web site. You can always watch the archive of the broadcast show or the Web Extra afterwards. Remember, when you send in a question, you and your class will be eligible for our prize contest. So send in questions today!
Have a good week!
January 31, 2011:
The link between increased hygiene and sanitation and higher rates of autoimmune disease is clear. And scientists know women get these diseases more than men, but no one knows why. But Oregon State philosopher Sharyn Clough has an idea. In a study being published in Social Science & Medicine, Clough suggests that maybe women get these disease more often men because girls are generally kept from getting dirty more than boys.
On the EurekAlert Web site, Clough said that girls tend to play indoors and in clothes that aren't suppose to get dirty. Parents more often supervise girls' playtime, which means they are staying cleaner. According to Clough, that means there is a significant difference in the types and amount of germs boy and girls are exposed to over their lifetimes and that might explain some of the difference we find between diseases in men and women.
Clough isn't suggesting girls, or boys for that matter, should eat dirt, but she does think that parents shouldn't be afraid to let girls get messy. In fact, studies show it is a good idea for everyone to get outside more often. So, even though it is a bit cold out there, don't let that stop you from spending some time outside (properly dressed of course). And when summer comes, enjoy the out-of-doors and don't worry if you get messy now and then. It may mean you will be a healthier adult! If you want to learn more about the importance of the out-of-doors and your health, check out the "Be Outside" Web site.
This week, have a good Ground Hogs Day, a Happy Chinese New Year and a good Year of the Rabbit. My bunny Winslo is pretty excited about it!
January 24, 2011:
There was lots of science news about friends this week. It turns out you may have more in common with your friends than what classes you take. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego report that you and your friends may have similar genes. A gene is a basic unit of heredity in a living organism. Genes contain the information to build and maintain an cell and to pass along traits to offspring. Researchers tested six types of genes and found that in one case people with a type of DRD2 gene tend to stick together. They also found that people with a type of CYP2A6 gene became friends with people with a different type of the CYP2A6 gene.
What does this all mean? Hard to say. Scientists have long debated how much me are influenced by the environment and how much we are programmed by our genes. But here's another friend study you might find interesting...
Researchers at the University of Oregon found that boys and girls in middle school whose friends pay attention to the rules and are pro-social do better in their schoolwork than students whose friends have problems with authority. The scientists probably could have guessed that was the case, but one of their other findings was a surprise. Girls who struggle academically in sixth grade had a harder time academically later if their best friends were already doing well in school. Scientists think girls who hang out with other girls who are doing better in school can get discouraged and not too well, which makes them more discouraged and not do well. Conversely, for girls who are already doing well, hanging out with other girls who are doing well makes their schoolwork better.
So, whether it is your genes or your academic achievement that influences your choice of friends, scientists are pretty sure that the friends you make when you are in middle school or junior high can be the most influential of your life.
BTW, a shout out to my best friend in junior high, Julia! She was a smart girl then and is an even more brilliant woman today.
Have a good week!
January 10, 2011:
To find a supernova, you need to look at old images of star fields and then compare them to new pictures. Kathryn's Dad had helped her out a bit by ruling out things like asteroids in the new photos. Kathryn was studying the new photos when she pointed to the screen and asked her dad if this spot was one. It turns out, it was.
Kathryn had discovered a supernova in the galaxy UGC 3378. It is about 240 million light years away in the constellation of Camelopardalis. A supernova happens when a star dies and explodes. Scientists study supernovas because these explosions make most of the chemical elements that went into the making of the Earth and other planets. Supernovas can also be used to help estimate the size and age of the universe.
Kathryn's discovery was verified by independent astronomers and then officially registered her find. It is called Supernova 2010it. You can see a comment from Kathryn on the BBC's Website here. Thanks to AP for the use of Kathryn's picture.
Our newest D4K broadcast show is next Tuesday, January 14th. We will be answering your questions about the Brain. Tune in via Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or watch here live or check out the archived show afterwards. Remember, when you send in a question, either via email or by calling in, you and your class are entered into a drawing for DVDs and other prizes. Check out the Brain web site and then send in a question here.
January 3, 2011:
I am not the only one who creates top stories lists. Here are a few other lists you might find interesting:
Scientific American has its top 10 science stories.
You can listen to NPR's Top Science Stories of 2010 here.
Or here are the top weird science stories of 2010 according to Popular Mechanics.
Each week, I hunt for the best science stories for kids and post them here on my blog. Enjoy looking back at 2010 and I invite you to continue checking out my blog in 2011. Happy New Year!
December 27, 2010:
Merry Christmas! Hope you had a happy celebration kicking off the Christmas season, if you are so inclined. One of the nicest ways to show you are thinking of your family and friends this time of year is to send a Christmas card. Scientists at the University of Glasgow have sent all of us a very special card…one so small it could fit on the surface of a postage stamp 8,276 times!
The smallest Christmas card was made by nanotechnologists. These are scientists who create things on the very smallest of scales. Their Christmas card shows a Christmas tree and is etched on a tiny piece of glass. It is 200 micro-meters wide by 290 micro-meters tall. Just to give you an idea of how small that is, a human hair is about 100 micro-meters wide that is not the length of your hair but the width. So, put two strands of your hair, side by side, and that is about how wide this Christmas card is. Pretty small!
So why would you want a Christmas card this small? Well, the scientists did it to show just how well they can make things on this small a scale. This type of technology can be used to make better computers, cameras and lots of other things. You can read more about this accomplishment here.
Next week, I will look at the top science stories of 2010. Be sure to pop back and check out my blog. Hope you all enjoy a Happy New Year celebration too!
December 21, 2010:
I delayed this week's blog entry so I could include photos of last night's lunar eclipse. It was cool! A lunar eclipse happens when the full Moon passes through Earth's shadow from the sun. Last night's eclipse was special because it also happened on the winter solstice. The winter solstice happens when the Earth is the farthest away from the sun in its annual orbit. It is also the shortest day in the year for us folks in the Northern Hemisphere. We haven't had both of these events happen since the 1600's.
Here are my photos of the eclipse when it about a fourth of the way through and of when the Moon was covered by Earth's shadow. That's called the "umbra."
If you missed it, you can watch this wonderful timelapse video from Talking Science.
And since we have two such significant cosmic events happening together, here is a bit of trivia about them both.
The Winter Solstice:
December 13, 2010:
It may be a case of murder! For a long time, scientists have wondered how Saturn got its rings. Saturn has those colorful distinctive rings that are made up of ice, dust and rocks, some pieces as large as a house. Now a new theory suggests the Saturn itself may be the culprit.
Astronomer Robin Canup from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado has a new theory about how Saturn's rings formed. She thinks that billions of years ago, when Saturn's moons were forming, there was a large disk of hydrogen gas circling the planet. That large disk pulled these moons toward Saturn. According to Canup, Saturn stripped the ice away from the huge moons while it was still fairly far away, so the ice got trapped in a ring around the planet. Now, over time, the ice in the outer rings formed some of Saturn's tiny inner moons. Call it cosmic recycling. You can learn more about Canup's theory here.
Also, remember there is a complete lunar eclipse on the 22nd! Check out last week's blog entry for more.
Our newest broadcast show airs Tuesday, December 14th. We will be taking your questions about owls. Call in live or email here. You can watch the show on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac or you can watch the live streaming here on the Web site. If you miss it, check out the archived version of the broadcast show, the Web Only, or the video short here on the Web site later. Enjoy!
November 29, 2010:
When a dog drinks, it can make a mess. But when a cat drinks, its face stays dry. Why? Well, scientists have studied how these animals drink and discovered that cats are better at using physics to drink than dogs are.
Dogs drink by curling their tongues and scooping up water. Cats curl their tongues too but they don't scoop. Pedro Reis, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues Roman Stocker and Micaeia Pilotto studied Stocker's cat, Cutta Cutta, while it drank. They filmed Cutta Cutta and then slowed the video down. What they found is Cutta Cutta curls the tip of its tongue under, into the shape of the letter "J". When the tip of its tongue just barely touched the surface of the milk, the cat pulled its tongue back into its mouth really fast, about 1.75 miles per hour. Now, here is when the physics comes into play. Because the cat's tongue is smooth and some of the milk attaches to its surface and because the tongue is moving so fast, the liquid follows the tongue back into the cat's mouth. Gravity pulls the milk back down in a fraction of a second but before it falls, the cat closes its mouth around the column of milk and drinks. Cutta Cutta's tongue flicks out at the rate of 3.5 times every second. That's fast! So cats don't get wet because the liquid gets trapped inside its mouth. Pretty neat! Learn more about this study at the Science News for Kids Web site here.
Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and are enjoying Advent. Our next broadcast D4K show is coming up a week earlier than usual. Too many students are out of school during our regular third-Thursday-of-the-month time slot, so we rescheduled the show for December 14th. Same time though. What us at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac. We will be talking about owls, so send in your questions here.
Stay warm and have fun in school!
November 23, 2010:
What do you think makes someone attractive? If you were an owl, it might be spots, but only if you are a girl owl. If you are a boy owl, it would be the lack of spots that girl owls would find appealing.
Researchers from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland followed barn owls over several molting periods. What they found is that adult female owls with larger spots on their feathers bred earlier in the season and laid larger eggs. But the scientists also found that male barn owls with larger spots on their feathers were less successful at finding mates. So, spots on girls, good. Spots on boys, not so good.
Why? Scientists think the spots scattered on the feathers are a sign of better genes in females owlsbut not in males. Better genes mean the chicks are likely to survive better. You can find out more about owls here on the Web site. Check out the owls facts and links here. You can read more about this study here.
So long as we are talking about birds, here are my top 10 favorite Turkey Facts:
Have a great Thanksgiving!
November 10, 2010:
Be careful what you eat. It may be a new species of lizards. A Vietnamese researcher was at dinner when he noticed others eating an oddly looking lizard. He sent pictures to a pair of U.S. herpetologists who thought they had found a new all-female lizard species.
Reptiles can clone themselves though a process called parthenogensis. Female boa constrictors and Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without any contributions from males. Still, it is uncommon and the researchers thought this lizard was a new hybrid. They were very excited to find out and flew to Vietnam.
But when they arrived at the restaurant, they found out that the owner had already served all of his lizards to other diners. Tragedy was averted when the researchers learned that this all-female, self-cloning lizard was commonly found in other restaurants and in the wild. Find out more about these lizards at National Geographic or at Live Science
Our next broadcast show is next week. We will be taking your questions about CSI: Forensic Science. Check out the CSI web site and then send in your questions. Tune in on Tuesday, November 16th at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac or watch the show, the Web Only and the video short afterwards right here on the D4K Web site. Remember, when you submit a question, you and your class will have a chance to win DVDs and other prizes. I'll hope to hear you call-in or see your emailed questions next week.
November 04, 2010:
Sorry this week's entry has been delayed. It is election week and that is always an overwhelming time. My job was to crunch numbers and believe me, it was a shock, which, as it turns out, may have been a good thing. It turns out mild electrical shocks to the brain stimulate math skills.
Now this falls under the DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME category of science news items. Scientists at the University of Oxford in England have discovered that stimulating the brain with a weak electrical current can improve a person's math skills for up to six months. They designed this treatment to help people who have moderate to severe "numerical disabilities" or who have lost their number skills because of a stroke or brain disease.
In this study, researcher applied a weak electrical current to the parietal lobe, the part of the brain important for understanding numbers, to the brain of five university students. These students were tested as average in numerical understanding, that is they were about average in math skills. The students were asked to memorize nine symbols they have never seen before while they received the brain stimulation. The students did this over six days. That's a long time to get your brain jolted.
Anyway, the scientists then tested the students and found that they did better and that they continued to better for six months. Now scientists have also found you can also cause people to lose their ability to do math with electrical stimulation, so you have to know what you are doing. But this is an interesting way to possibly help people who are having serious trouble even understanding the math behind a food label. You can read more about this study by clicking on this LiveScience.com article.
Our next D4K broadcast show is coming up on November 16th. We will be taking your questions about CSI: The Science of Forensics. Email your questions in now!
October 25, 2010:
What did you have for lunch today? School officials are trying to get kids to eat healthier foods. Some schools have banned things like cookies, but science has a better suggestion. A new Cornell University study suggests simple changes to how lunchrooms are set up and how they sell food is a smarter way to encourage students to eat better. Here are some of their ideas:
You don't have to wait for the adults to make these changes. You can suggest them yourselves. Eating healthy is every student's right.
Okay, here is a science story on not-so-serious a topic, do dogs recognize their owners?
The answer is yes. Dogs apparently can identify their owners' faces. Scientist Paolo Mongillo from the University of Padua in Italy studied dogs while they watched two people walk back and forth, one their owner and one a stranger. The dogs watched their owners more than the strangers. But, there is a catch. The researchers did find the when the owner covers his/her face with a paper bag, the dog paid less attention. Dogs apparently need to see your face to identify you.
Learn more about the dogs and face study from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9115000/9115668.stm
Have a good week!
October 18, 2010:
Our newest broadcast show airs this week and we are taking your questions about exoplanets. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars other than the Sun. We have a leading scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Center so it should be a really interesting program. Students can email me their questions here or they can call in live on Tuesday at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac by dialing 1-800-973-9800.
As for science news for the week, two stories caught my eye. They will both make your Mom happy.
It turns out chocolate milk is better for helping your body recover from a work out than drinks like Gatorade or PowerAde and much better than drinks like Red Bull. The scientists from the University of Connecticut had runner work out for at least 45 minutes a day for two weeks. Some drank milk. Others drank sports drinks. The scientist took blood and breath samples from all the runners and found that chocolate milk we better at rebuilding muscles. It should be noted that chocolate milk did better than plain, white milk, probably because of the little extra sugar. Now, the study was funded by the National Dairy Council so take the results with a grain of salt. ("Taking a grain of salt" with something is a saying that means you should have a little doubt about what is said until it is proven true.) Still, milk is good for you for lots of reasons so next time you exercise, grab some chocolate milk. It can't hurt and it may be just what your muscles need.
The other story comes from Kent State University and it explains why quizzes do more than just test what we have memorized. The process of taking a quiz helps us remember the material better.
Scientist Mary Pyc and Katherine Rawson thinks quizzes help us remember things better because we use mental hints when we study for tests more than when we are just reviewing the day's lessons.
The researchers asked 100 college students to study 48 pairs of words in Swahili and English. While they were studying these word-pairs, the students were asked to come up with clues to help them remember. Some of the students were given a quiz halfway through the process while everyone was given a final test. The students who had a quiz did better on the final test. And the students who came up with clues to help them remember the word-pairs did better than the students who didn't come up with many clues. You can find out more about this research in the October 15, 2010 issue of journal Science.
So here is what you need to do this week, figure out clues to help you study for that quiz so you will do better on your next test, drink chocolate milk after exercising, and send in questions for this week's Dialogue program about exoplanets. Not a bad to do list!
October 04, 2010:
Not too hot...
We all know that quote from the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It also describes the perfect place for a planet if you want to find life. The Earth is just the right distance from the Sun so that we can all live comfortably. Mars and Venus are either too close or too far from the Sun for Earth-like creatures to live.
Now scientists report they have found a "Goldilocks" planet orbiting a nearby star. Gliese 581g is the name of this planet. It is about 120 trillion miles away. Scientists say the planet is in a "habitable zone," that is it is not too far or not to close to its sun. That means water on that planet would be liquid rather than frozen (or vapor). You need water for Earth-like creatures to live. It as an atmosphere and the surface temperature ranges from -24 to 10 degrees. While we have a 24-hour day, that is the Earth rotates once every 24 hours, Gliese 581g rotates once every 37 days. That means one face of the planet always faces the sun and the other side is always in the dark. If we wanted to go visit Gliese 581g, we had better do a lot of packing. Scientists say it would take 200 years using a special rocket that can travel at 1/10th the speed of light.
Do you want to know more about Gliese and exoplanets? You are in luck. On our next D4K show, we will be talking with Leading Planetary Scientist Marc Kuchner. He will join us from the Goddard Space Center. Send in your questions now!
One other note of interest in this week's science news...
If you use your laptop computer on your laptop, you should change your ways. Doctors have found that the heat from laptop can lead to "toasted skin syndrome." Exposing your skin to that much heat for long periods of time can damage the skin on your lap. So use a pad designed for laptops or put your laptop on a desk. The only toast you need in your life is the kind you eat with jam.
Have a great week!
September 27, 2010:
Welcome to another season of D4K! We had our first broadcast show of the season last week. We answered questions about gravity. Check out the shows Web site, as well as the full show, video short, and web extra.
My favorite science news of the week indicates you might want to play a few more video games. Researchers report that people who play action video games are better at making quick and accurate decisions than those who don't play such games. A story in the September 14th issue of Current Biology says gamers make these decisions based on what they see and understand around them. The improvement is seen only in those playing action games not from strategy or role-playing games.
Researchers compared the skills of action gamers versus non-games by presenting both groups with some simple decision-making experiments. The people were shown are series of dots and then were asked to indentify the main direction the dots were moving. The researchers then changed the number and direction of the dots. They found gamers were able to decide more quickly and more accurately. They also found that when non-gamers play action games for more than 50 hours, their decision-making skills improved.
Now this is not a recommendation to go out and play "shoot 'em up games." Other studies have shown that playing violent games can contribute to violent behavior and playing games instead of getting exercise or making friends is not good either. But, this is an interesting study that means games do have some value and do have some positive effects. Now, I leave it up to you to figure out how to sell the idea of playing these games to your parents. Here is the link to the whole article from EurekAlert: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-09/cp-avg090710.php
By the way, if games are your interest, take some time to check out the D4K game area. They are fun computer games of which even your teachers would approve.
September 24, 2010:
One week! Our twelfth season of D4K begins with our next live broadcast show on Tuesday, September 21st. We will be taking your questions about gravity. We shot some video for the gravity show the other day. Here is a picture of what happens when you drop watermelon and cantaloupe off a two-story building. Why did we drop watermelon and cantaloupe off a two-story building? You will have to tune in to find out. You can find the show on Idaho Public Television on September 21st at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt or here on the D4K website live-streamed or archived afterwards. Have a question? Email it here. If you send in a question, you and your class will be eligible for a drawing to win prizes for your classroom.
According to the science news this week, someday when you go to the doctor for a routine visit, you might get something more than your height and weight checked. You might get a brain scan. Scientists have developed a way to track growth and development in children by looking at a special photograph of the brain called an MRI. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It takes a picture of the brain and shows how it is functioning. Scientists from Washington University in St. Louis did scans on hundreds of people 7 to 30 years of age. They developed a mathematical formula and can now look at the brains of healthy kids and see how those kids' brains are developing and if the kids' brains are where they should be at their age.
The study shows that young children have lots of short-range connections in the brain while adults have fewer long-range connections. By looking at the number of short-range connections, doctors can see how a child's brain is developing into an adult's brain. The scans can also tell doctors if the child is at risk for autism or mental illness. So next time you go to see the doctors, tell your brain to look at the camera and smile!
Be sure to send in your questions about gravity!
August 24, 2010:
Okay, we are counting down to the launch of the 12th season of D4K. As promised, here is a preview of the schedule of shows for the season:
What do you think? Let me know. Send me an email!
Start thinking about your questions and send them in.
August 16, 2010:
One of the things I love about summer vacation is sleeping-in. I am really a night owl, so I like to stay up and enjoy the stars and sleep in a bit in the mornings. But with school starting, my sleeping-in days are almost over. How about you? Are you ready for getting up the mornings? Are your parents?
The key to getting a good night’s sleep, according to a William Kohler, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute is to put away your cell phone, gaming system, TV and computer. Studies have found that teens that use technology late into the night have trouble staying awake and alert the next day.
Research given at SLEEP 2010, a meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, indicates that having a regular bedtime is also a good way to get enough sleep. That means keeping that normal bedtime and wake up time on the weekends too. Staying up late and sleeping-in on weekends can disrupt your sleep patterns the rest of the week.
So, scientists suggest about an hour before bedtime, you should shut off all electronics. Go through your regular bedtime routine, doing things like brushing your teeth and reading a book and then turn the lights out. Keep your bedroom dark (no TV) and below 75 degrees. Get up at about the same time every day and try to get the proper amount of sleep for your age group. Five-year-olds should get 11 hours of sleep. Nine-year-olds need 10 hours of sleep and 14-year-olds need about 9 hours of sleep.
Why do you need all that sleep? Studies show that kids who do not get enough sleep don’t learn as well, don’t have as good a reaction time which can impact how well they play sports and can become overweight, which leads to all sorts of health problems. Getting enough sleep is really important.
So, if you’ve been going to bed really late (like me), research suggests starting a couple of weeks before school and going to bed a little earlier each night and getting up at your new school year time schedule. It takes a few days to reset your body clock so you can fall asleep earlier and get up earlier. If you want to learn more about getting your sleep cycle ready for school, check out this article on EurkAlert.
We are almost ready for our 12th season of D4K. Next week, I will post the topics for the coming school year. If you aren’t already in school, enjoy these last few days of summer vacation!
August 09, 2010:
If you are in first grade this year, guess what? Your personality now is a strong predictor of what you will be like as an adult. Scientists studied 2400 first to sixth graders. They looked for four personality traits: Was the student talkative, impulsive, did he/she cope well with new situations, did he/she minimize her behavior? They tracked the kids over 40 years. What the scientist found was surprising. They say our personalities stay pretty much the same from childhood to adulthood.
Talkative students grew up to be smart adults who like to control situations. Children who were not very fluent speaking grew up to be adults who seek advice and may give up when faced with problems. Children who coped well turned into adults who are cheerful and show an interest in “intellectual matters.” Students who were impulsive as kids became talkative adults who tended to speak loudly. And children who tended to put down their accomplishments became insecure adults.
Does this mean you will always be the way you were as a first grader? Not necessarily. This is just one study, but it is an indication that it is tough to change. If you want to learn more, here is a link to the original article about this study on LiveScience.com.
I had a few requests for the link to site where you could watch live streaming video of Molly the Owl and her eggs. Here is the link: http://www.ustream.tv/theowlbox
August 02, 2010:
Family is very important. Here is a picture of my brother, my father, my grandfather and me. Do you have a brother or sister? Do you get along? I hope so, because having a good relationship with your sibling could help you be healthier.
Researchers at Brigham Young University studied 395 families from Seattle with two or more children. They found that siblings who have a good relationship have a positive influence on one another, no matter how old they are, what their genders are, or how far apart in they are in age. Having a good sibling relationship seems to promote traits like kindness and generosity.
On the other hand, siblings who have a difficult relationship are more likely to have trouble with relationships with other people.
The researchers believe that siblings have a unique influence over each other and that influence is stronger in a two-parent family. They also found one other thing. Having a sister prevents depression more than having a brother. They think this is because girls are better at talking about problems and are more likely to take on a caregiver role.
Scientist Laura Padila-Walker suggests parents should do what they can to help their children get along. You might think about that too next time you pick a fight with your brother or sister. Having a good relationship is one of the best things you can do for your own health.
July 26, 2010:
Have you read a good book lately? If not, you should. Researchers have found that students who read books over the summer significantly improve their reading abilities while student who don’t lose reading skills. Researchers Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville followed first and second graders for three years. Each summer, some of the kids picked their own books to read while others didn’t read much or anything at all. Allington and McGill-Franzen followed the students and tested their reading skills each year.
They found that the kids who read over the summer gained a month of reading skills and those kids who didn’t actually lost three to four months of reading development. Allington said, “This creates a three to four month gap every year. Every two or three years the kids who don't read in the summer fall a year behind the kids who do.”
Allington and McGill-Franzen also found that summer reading might be as effective as summer school in improving a student’s reading skill level and is cheaper. It didn’t matter so much what the kids read and the reading itself.
So click here if you want to learn more about the ScienceDaily article on the reading research. And be sure to read some books this summer. Your local public library is a great place to start.
July 19, 2010:
Yum! I smell something good coming out of the kitchen down the hall. Do you find yourself sniffing the air when cookies are in the oven? How about sniffing the air at the local pizza parlor? How about sniffing your brother’s breath? Don’t say yuck too fast.
If you were a mouse that is exactly what you would do. You would find out what’s good to eat by smelling the breath of your nearest mouse buddy.
Scientists Steven Munger of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and his colleagues report that rodents’ breath sends out an “eat this” message. The chemical released by a mouse’s breath sends a message to the brains of the other mice in its nest that lets the others know there is food nearby that is safe to eat.
Munger was quoted in the Sciencenews.org article saying, “one mouse is saying, ’My friend here just ate some food that smells like this – and he’s still breathing, he’s alive — so it must be safe.'”
We humans generally are attracted by food we see, but mice live in the dark so they have learned how to find safe food by smell. Scientist found that this chemical released by mice in their breath is how other mice learn what is safe and what isn’t safe to eat.
Now go enjoy a healthy snack and don’t forget to breathe on someone!
July 12, 2010:
Are you enjoying sleeping in over summer break? I did. I never liked getting up at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to be at school by 7:45 a.m. I think I do better if I can sleep a little later. And apparently, I was right. New research backs up other studies that say teenagers should start school a bit later. Sleeping a little longer is exactly what teenagers need to improve their performance.
A study out of Providence, Rhode Island says that starting school a half an hour later improved teenagers’ mood, health and alertness. During the winter term, officials delayed the start time at St. George’s school by 30 minutes to 8:30 a.m. As a result, they found that students slept an additional 45 minutes each night. The scientists also found students were less depressed and were more motivated. The teachers reported a 36% drop in the number of absences or tardiness and the school’s health office note a big drop in the number of student visits.
According to Dr. Judy Owens, a sleep expert and author of this study, teenagers need about nine hours of sleep each night. But Owens says most teens have a hard time falling asleep before 11 p.m. due to biological changes in their circadian rhythms, or their body’s natural clock. Scientists showed that moving the start time of the school day by just a half an hour gave kids a chance to sleep a little longer and that made a big difference in the lives and attitudes. You can learn more about this study at the EurekAlert Web site.
FYI, here is a chart* listing how much sleep each age group needs:
So enjoy sleeping in this summer and try to get the right amount of sleep, even when school starts up again.
June 28, 2010:
Hello. I am on vacation with my family, but I ran across this bit of news and thought I would pass it along.
First a little background… Different parts of the world are in different time zones. The continental United States has four time zones. That means when it is noon in Washington D.C., it is 11:00 a.m. in Chicago and 10:00 a.m. in Boise and 9:00 a.m. in Seattle. When you travel through time zones, your body’s internal clocks get thrown off of it normal schedule. For example, when I go to visit family in Washington D.C., at 11:00 p.m. they are ready to go to bed, but my body thinks it is only 9:00 p.m. and I’m not sleepy. Eventually, you and your internal clock catch up to the local time and that feeling of not being in sync with the time you are in is called jet lag.
Scientists have now discovered that the body’s reaction to jet lag isn’t as simple as they once thought. It turns out that you don’t just have one internal clock that gets off when you travel. A report from Gregor Eichele of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany says every organ in your body keeps time with its own separate clock. Your brain tries to synchronize, or get all of those separate clocks to run at the same time, but some organs are slower to switch over than others. What does this mean? Well here is the example from the livescience.com article on the study. Say you travel to Paris from Boise. Your brain adjusts to the 8 hour time difference in about a day, but your pancreas may be stuck on New York time (3 hours difference) and your kidneys are some where in between (say 5 hours off). So what does all this mean for you? Well, you may get an upset stomach or feel tired. Eventually all of your body’s clocks will come together, but doctors suggest it takes a day per hour time difference to get back on track. So if you are going to Paris from Boise, it will take more than a week to get your body entirely back in sync.
So why is this important? Well, people whose jobs involve a lot of travel could get their internal clocks out of whack and over time, that could cause health problems. Scientists in the study used a drug that blocked the adrenal glands. These glands work with the brain to regulate the body’s master clock. The drug helped the mice in the study deal with jet lag by allowing organs to begin the process of resetting their internal clocks. But, the scientists say they don’t know enough about the consequences of this drug on humans, so they say they will have to do more tests. So for now, when you cross time zones, give your kidneys some time to catch up with your brain. I’ll let you know how many time zones I cross on my vacation when I return!
June 14, 2010:
Meteorologists have determined that jet airplanes climbing up or coming down in the atmosphere can cause snow or rain to develop. They can also leave odd-shaped holes in clouds. Here is an example of a photograph of a hole-punched cloud from Alan Sealls, chief meteorologist at WKRG-TV.
Now, clouds are made up of water droplets. When the water gets cold enough, it falls to Earth as rain or snow. Otherwise, it just hangs out in the cloud. But scientists have learned that when a plane flies through a cloud and when the water droplets in that cloud are at about five degrees, the plane can make it rain or snow. The plane further cools the air behind the propellers or it cools the air that flows over the jet wings and with that extra bit of cold, the water droplets freeze and fall to Earth.
So how much rain or snow can a plane cause? Researchers point to a snowstorm in Denver in 2007. Using flight records and weather records, they were able to find a plane going through a cloud followed by a snowstorm that was 20 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. The storm went on for 20 minutes and dropped two inches of snow on the ground.
This type of plane-caused rain or snow is more common here in the Pacific Northwest and in Western Europe because the right kind of clouds seem to form in these spots more often.
So next time it rains or snows, look for those funny hole-punched clouds. You may be able to blame the weather on an airplane. If you want to learn more, check out this article at Livescience.com.
June 07, 2010:
I am happy to announce that D4K won an Emmy this past weekend! Yipee! It was pretty thrilling to accept the award on behalf of the amazing D4K team. The award was for our 10th anniversary show, so it recognized a decade worth of work. Here is a partial list of those who help make D4K possible: Joan Cartan-Hansen, Al Hagenlock, Sue Nass, Jay Krajic, Dave Thomason, Marc Morris, Kris Freeland, Rick Penticoff, Stephanie Dickey, Peggy Hurd, John Britschgi, Dan Ward, James Roethig, Mike Studor, Ken Segota, Dave Thomason, Kevin Rank, Lisa Sommer, Jeff Tucker and Bruce Reichert. I want to give a special thanks to the kids who star in our D4K videos, the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation and the kids and teachers who watch and send in questions. You guys rock!
Let’s hear the applause!
June 01, 2010:
Hope you all had a nice Memorial Day. I took the day off and spent some time in Stanley. What a pretty place! Now, onto the science news for the week…
What is fair? That is a tough question. Should everyone share equally? How about luck or effort? What role do those factors have in deciding what is fair? Well, apparently what you consider “fair” changes as you get older. Ingvid Almas and her colleagues played a money exchange game with students in fifth to 13th grade. The fifth graders were more likely to divide up the money equally, but the older students thought individual achievement more important in how they divided up the funds. Researchers think that older students have had more experience with achievement-based activities like sports and therefore are more likely to divide up money based on work or merit rather than sharing equally. So think about that research next time your younger brother or sister says it isn’t fair that you get more allowance or cake or whatever. If you want to learn more about this research, check out the May 28, 2010 issue of Science.
If you are looking for more information about the oil spill in the Gulf, here is news of a great new web site. The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science created this site to look at the spill and its impact on the ocean. Check it out here.
If this is your last week of school, congratulations! I’ll still be here each week with a new blog posting so keep coming back. There are lots of things to look at here on the D4K Web site, so spend some of your summer vacation with us! See you next week!
P.S. D4K has been nominated for an Emmy and we will find out Saturday if we have won. So keep your fingers crossed for us. I’ll report either way next week.
May 25, 2010:
Study researcher Mariah Evans, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, Reno collected data from 73,249 people in 27 countries. She found that having a 500-book library in a home increased a child’s education by 3.2 years on average.
So what does this mean? Well, the researchers looked at a bunch of factors like how much education do the parents have, what does the father do for a living, what is the country’s GNP (a factor in how good that country’s economy is) and other similar things. What they found is that a child from an average home living in a household with one book would probably make it though 8th or 9th grade. Children from an average home living in a household with 500 books would probably go beyond high school.
The “book benefit” was bigger for kids in China (6.6 years) than for kids in the United States (2.4 years), but having books made a difference regardless of how well educated your parents are or where you live.
If you have books in your home, it is a good sign that you and your parents probably understand the importance of reading. Reading lots of different kinds of books can open up whole new worlds. We have reading lists for most of our science topics, so look at the lists and pick out a book to read. Can’t afford to buy the book? Go to your local public library. Libraries are awesome! They are free and you are never too young to get a library card. If you want to learn more about the “book benefit” study, click here and read on!
May 17, 2010:
Our last new broadcast D4K show of this school year is Tuesday, May 18th. We will be taking your questions about Rivers. Be sure to tune in via Idaho Public Television or here on the Web site. The show is live at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac or you can watch the archive show, Web only program and the River’s video short shortly afterwards.
Send in your question so you and your class will have a chance to win stuff for your classroom.
My favorite science story of the week has to do with pee. Yes, pee. It turns out that mice are scared when they smell pee left behind by cats, but get mad and fight if they smell pee from other mice. Why? Well scientists from Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla California Lab have found a protein in urine that seems to freak mice out.
Researcher Lisa Stowers knew animals’ brains are hardwired to recognize predators. But even though several generation of lab mice have never even seen a cat, they still quake with fear when they smell cat pee. Stowers wanted to find out what it was in cat pee that scared the mice. She also wanted to know if pee from other creatures scared mice too. She and her colleagues found a protein molecule that apparently signals danger to mice. They also found that mice make a similar protein molecule in their own pee. When mice smell that mice pee protein, they get very aggressive. And what about other animals? Mice aren’t frightened by rabbit pee and the researchers aren’t sure if snakes make this type of protein in their pee.
The scientists involved are also looking at what part of the nose mice use to spell this special protein. One mouse without the ability to smell these proteins curled up next to an anesthetized ran, an animal that would have normally freaked out any sensible mice. So there is something in the pee and something in the nose that works together to help mice figure out who is a friend and who is an enemy. Learn more about this experiment here.
And be sure to send in your questions!
May 7, 2010:
We adults always tell you to wash your hands. We know that washing hands helps get rid of germs so you don’t get sick or so you don’t pass your germs onto others. But scientists now report that washing your hands may also help you live with a tough decision. Scientist know there is a psychological link between feeling like you are doing the right thing, or feeling morally clean, and actually being physically clean. They have also found that when people are in a clean environment, they are more likely to behave correctly and generously. So Spike Lee, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor decided to see how washing hands might make a difference in what someone thinks about making a decision.
Lee had 40 college students make a list of their top 10 CDs. The students were then allowed to choose between their fifth and sixth-rank choice and keep the one they picked. Right afterwards, the students either washed their hands with soap or looked at soap. The students then re-ranked their top CDs. What do you think happened?
Well, it turns out that the students who didn’t wash their hands ranked the CD they picked higher in the second round than they did in the first and ranked the selection they rejected even lower. It seems that physically washing their hands helped them feel better about their choice. Those who did wash their hands re-ranked their CD list the same.
What does this mean? Well, the scientists aren’t quite sure. Sometimes, when we make a decision, we go back and forth about it and, when we make a decision, feel more strongly about our choice just to make sure we don’t have any regrets. But Lee thinks that washing your hands is like wiping your brain’s slate clean from any second thoughts you may have about your decision. The scientists suggest that maybe a bit of physical cleaning may help humans be better prepared to learn new information and accept choices. After you wash your hands, you can read more about this study.
Our last new broadcast show of this school year airs next week, May 18th. Send in your questions about rivers and tune in! The show airs at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer or you can watch the archived version later here on the D4K Web site. Remember, when you send in a question, you and your class are entered into a drawing for stuff for your classroom.
May 3, 2010:
Feeling blue? Take a walk outside. Scientists from England report that exercising outdoors helps improve your mood. Researchers found that the biggest effect was seen after just five minutes and that the positive health effects of outdoor exercise were stronger in young people. We have talked about this idea before here on the blog. In fact, we did a whole program on the importance of getting into the out-of-doors. Check out our “Be Outside” site.
There was one new thing in this report. The researchers also found that the positive health effects of exercising outside were bigger if the area in which you exercised contained water, like a river or a lake. They also found that it didn’t seem to matter what kind of exercise you did. You just need to get outside. So, take five minutes today and walk outside! Here is the article from the BBC if you would like to learn more.
Speaking of rivers, our next live broadcast show will be all about rivers. That program airs on Idaho Public Television or on this web site on May 18th. Send in your questions now!
April 27, 2010:
Need to study for a test? Get some sleep and dream. It turns out that sleeping and dreaming can help us learn, even if you just take a nap. Researchers at Harvard Medical School studied 99 people. The people were first taught to make their way through a maze on a computer. Half were then allowed to nap for two hours. The other half stayed awake. Later, all 99 retook the maze test. It turns out those who said they dreamed about the maze did much better than those who just slept and they did much better than those who didn’t sleep. Sleeping and dreaming allows our brain to sort though information and help make sense out of it. Senior Researcher Robert Stickgold says for every two hours we are awake, the brain needs an hour of sleep to process the all that information, so we all really need 8 hours of sleep. So, if you have a test coming up, study and then get some sleep. And by the way, most doctors say kids need a bit more than 8 hours of sleep to help them grow. If you want to learn more about this research, check out this article from LiveScience.
Our next D4K broadcast show will be all about rivers. Be sure to send in your questions today!
April 19, 2010:
Send in your questions about salmon! We have our next broadcast show on Tuesday, April 20th. Check it out at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or here on the D4K Web site or watch the archive version after the live show.
I have a couple of interesting notes for this week’s entry. One is really gross and one is quite nice. Okay, gross first.
Researchers have found a new species of leech, one that like to live up noses. Oh man!
A leech is a blood-sucking creature that lives off a host. This one is called Tyrannobdella rex or tyrant leech king.
It was first found in the nose of girl bathing in a river in Peru in 2007. It took a few years to determine that it was a new species. The Tyrannobdella rex has one jaw with eight very large teeth. It lives in the Amazon so we are pretty safe here in Idaho. Still, gross!!! You can learn more about it from the BBC.
The good news to report today is that some Idaho science teachers were recognized as GIANTS. Lt. Governor Brad Little gave four outstanding teachers the Governor’s Industry Award for Notable Teaching in Science (GIANTS) awards. This year’s winners are Kuna High School teacher Angela Hemmingway; Edward Katz of Bonners Ferry High School; Jennifer Martin of Homedale Middle School; and Ponderosa Elementary School (Post Falls) teacher Karlicia Minto Berry. Each received a $2000 prize. Honorable Mention awards of $500 each were presented to two additional teachers: Dennis Kimberling of Lakeland Junior High School (Rathdrum) and Liberty Elementary School (Boise) teacher Chris Taylor.
Speaking of awards, D4K picked up an Emmy nomination this weekend. Congrats to all the D4K crew! We find out if we win the statuette on June 5th.
April 12, 2010:
Think a kid can’t make a big scientific discovery? Think again. Nine-year-old Matthew Berger was helping his father Professor Lee Berger of South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand on a fossil-hunting expedition. Matthew found what turned out to be a collarbone of what may be a new species of our human ancestors who lived nearly two million years ago.
Eventually, the researcher found 130 bones belonging to a nine-year-old boy and an adult female. The new species called Australopithecus sediba, which means southern ape, spring. These are the most complete bones of any early human ancestor ever found.
Why is this find so important? Well, some scientists think Sediba, as it is called, may be the “missing link,” the species between ape-men and the first ancient humans. The scientists say Sediba walked upright (on two feet) but had long arms more like an ape. It had a human–like pelvis and a brain about a third the size of modern humans. The discovers think the woman and boy fell together along with several animals into a deep cave and died there.
Not every scientist agrees that Sediba is the “missing link,” but they do feel this is a significant find. Not bad for a nine-year old! You can learn more about the find at the National Geographic web site and from this article from the Daily Mail.
Next week, we will have our next live broadcast show. We will be taking your questions about Salmon. Be sure to email in your questions or call in live during the show. Everyone who does will be entered into our drawing for stuff for your classroom.
April 6, 2010:
Hey, there is a new element on the periodic table. Well, it is sort of new. Scientists in America and Germany have been fighting over the rights to name the element 112 since 1996. The International group that decides who get the naming rights is the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. That group decided that the German scientists get to name the element and they decided to call it copernicium after the astronomer Nicholas Copernicus. Copernicus was the first scientist to decide that the planets revolve around the sun rather than the earth.
As reported in an article in the LA Times, Copernicium is a heavier relative of zinc cadmium and mercury. It is an element number of 112 and its symbol is Cn. If you want to learn more about elements and the periodic table, check out this video short from our chemistry show.
Scientists don’t discover new elements very often and getting to name a new find is a big deal. The IUPAC has not yet resolved competing claims over the discovery of elements 113 through 118, so there are more names and more battles ahead. I think it is nice they decided to honor Copernicus, a scientist that didn’t get much attention in his day, but one who made major contributions to science. You can learn about his efforts in this video short.
Hope you had a good spring break.
March 23, 2010:
Last week, I wrote about efforts to save endangered species. Zoo Boise is part of a greater effort to save endangered animals. You can learn more about that effort by checking out the interview we did with Zoo Boise director Steve Burns here.
My other favorite science story of the week deals with bacteria and thieves. Scientists have found that everyone’s hands carry a unique blend of bacteria or microscopic creatures. Researchers at the University of Colorado now report that they can test the bacteria left on a keyboard and can tell if a particular person had actually used it. It may be kind of a test for a new type of fingerprint! Researchers don’t yet know how unique each human’s microbiome, a special mixture of bacteria, is but maybe sometime in the future, CSI investigators will ask for a suspects fingerprint AND his bacteria profile. If you want to learn more, here is a link to the article on Science News.
Spring Break starts for me next week, so I will post again on April 5th. Enjoy your April Fools Day! No Joke! :-)
March 15, 2010:
There is some bad news this week for tigers. Scientist says we humans are doing a bad job at protecting these amazing creatures. 20 years ago, there were 100,000 tigers in Asia. Today there are only 3,200 left in the wild. Tigers are killed for their skin and parts of their body that are used in traditional medicine.
United Nations official are meeting this week to decide what to do to save tigers, elephants, polar bears and Atlantic bluefin. These animals are all in danger of extinction.
Is there something you can do to protect these animals? I will find out more and report next week. Between now and then, please check out the newest D4K show and send in your questions!
March 8, 2010:
When your internal clock and the clock on your school wall or on your cell phone don’t match, your system gets thrown off. If you have traveled to a different time zone, you may have experienced this feeling. It’s called jet lag.
Teens often have a bigger problem than adults getting their internal clock to match the actual time. Because of biological changes, teens have trouble falling asleep as early as they used to and sleep later in the morning. That can mean they are late to school or have trouble staying awake in class. So what can teens do?
Well, scientists have long known that how much light you get and when you get it plays a role in how your internal clock runs. Recently, they discovered that the human eye has two separate light sensing systems. One allows us to see. The other tells our body if it is day or night. It does this by detecting the type of light it sees. Blue light, like the light from a blue sky, is best for helping humans become less sleepy and more alert. On the other hand, watching TV or staring at a computer screen later at night can keep you awake longer and throw off your sleep cycle. It seems that getting sun in the morning and less light at night is a good way to help match your body’s rhythms with the Earth’s natural 24-hour cycle of light and dark.
If you are having trouble syncing your internal clock with the rest of the world, scientists have some ideas. They suggest going to bed at your regular time, but getting up a little bit earlier each morning. Eventually, you will start getting sleepy earlier too. Scientists also suggest limiting the amount of time you spend in front of the TV and the computer later in the evening. Spend some quite time reading instead. If you are having trouble waking up, spend 10-15 minutes outside in the sunshine. A mid-morning break is good time to get some daylight.
That brings me back to day light savings time. The time change means it will be darker in the morning for a while, making it tougher to get that early morning sunshine. Until the days get longer, you may need to make an extra effort to get a little daylight earlier in the day and limit evening TV and computer time. If you want to learn more about a blue light and circadian rhythm experiment, check out this article on Science News for Kids.
Our next live broadcast show is next week. Check it out on March 16th at 2:00/1:00p.m. Mt/Pac. Send in your questions about the food chain and you and your class may win our prize box.
March 1, 2010:
There was one other scientific report that caught my attention this week. It seems that reading to a child is essential in helping that child learn English. The same study also reported that reading at home to a child before he or she goes to school isn’t as important to children in Finland and China. Children in those countries seem to go on to learn to read regardless of how much reading was done with them at home.
English has a lot of inconsistencies. Letters can have more than one sound each. According to the University of Alberta (Canada) Professor George Georgiou, having someone read to a child, letting that child play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator, creating a rich word environment at home will make a big difference in how well that child learns to read. Watching programs like Sesame Street helps too.
Did your parents read to you? Do you read to your younger brothers and sisters? It doesn’t have to be an adult reading to a child. Make time to read to someone younger. You could be helping them on the path to being a good reader too! If you want something good to read, check out the links and facts on any of the subjects here on the D4K site. There are also reading lists for many of the topics, so that makes it easier to find a good book to share.
The next D4K broadcast show will be on March 16th. We will be taking your questions about the food chain. Send a question in today.
February 23, 2010:
February is National Heart Health Awareness Month. There are lots of things you can do to protect your heart. Exercise. Eat right. Be positive. Yes, a good attitude can help you live longer. A study from Canada shows that people who scored highest on a five-point scale measuring joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment were the least likely to have heart disease. Researchers aren’t sure why having a good attitude would protect your heart, but they suggest that everyone should do something that brings them joy everyday, even if it is just for a few minutes. Researchers also know that people who are generally happy and positive have stronger immune systems and less diabetes, so another good reason to find some joy.
It would make me happy if you would check out our most recent D4K broadcast show on Body Wastes. Yes, spread the joy and learn more about poop, pee and earwax. Check out the Web site here and watch the show, Web-only and video short .
I am starting to collect ideas for next season, so if you have a suggestion, send me an email. Have a happy and positive week!
February 16, 2010:
Tuesday, we will air our next broadcast show on, gasp, body waste: poop, pee, snot, vomit, mucus, all those things your body gets rid of. Send in a question. The show airs live at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or watch the show live here on your computer or check out the archive version afterwards . The Idaho Statesman and Holly Anderson did a nice article on the show. You can read it here.
I celebrate Fat Tuesday on the 16th this year too. So, check out the D4K show and then enjoy some jazz or pancakes, whichever way you choose to commemorate the day.
February 8, 2010:
NASA scientists looked at pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope and report that the dwarf planet is turning redder. They have also found that Pluto’s northern hemisphere is getting brighter. Scientists think this due to a warming of Pluto’s surface. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is warming up the methane gas on Pluto, leaving behind a red deposit. Also, scientists guess that ice is melting on Pluto’s sunlit pole and re-freezing on the other pole.
So why is Pluto warming up? Well, Pluto, like the Earth, moves a bit closer to the sun as it travels around the galaxy. When the Earth moves closer, we get spring and summer. When Pluto gets closer, it apparently turns redder. Spring doesn’t come very often to Pluto. While the Earth travels around the sun in approximately one year, Pluto takes 248 years to travel around the sun. And remember, warmer on Pluto is a relative term. The average temperature of Pluto is between -396°F to -378°F. Brrr.
The other science news-of-note this week comes from Cornell University. Scientists there think they have found a way to let people walk on walls. They hope to come up with a way of making shoes and gloves that would stick and unstick to walls. Paul Steen, a professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering, and his associate Michael Vogel, invented a palm-sized devise that uses water surface tension as an adhesive bond. Watch out Spiderman. Read more about it here.
If you or your teacher have an idea for a great science project, the Idaho National Laboratory may be able to help. Folks at the INL are accepting applications for two $10,000 2010 Extreme Classroom Makeover grants and for a few 2010 INL STEM Mini grants. For more information, check out the INL Web site.
Our newest D4K broadcast show is next week. We will be taking your questions about body waste. Send in your questions today or call in live. The show airs at 2:00/1:00 p.m Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or here on the D4K Web site. You can also watch the show after it airs here on the Web site. Not sure what question to ask? Check out the Body Waste site.
February 1, 2010:
There is a chemical called melanin that gives our hair color. Dinosaurs had melanin too, but it was really hard to find melanin in dinosaur fossil remains. But teams of scientists from China and the United Kingdom (England) have found some melanin in the remains of a dinosaur called a Sinosauropteryx. The Sinosauropteryx lived about 125 million years ago. The scientists were able to use a powerful microscope and found some melanin in the remains of the dinosaur’s feathers. This dinosaur was a meat eater and about the size of a turkey. The scientists think it had feathers running along its head and back and was ginger colored with a striped tail. This is the first time scientists have found evidence of the color of feathers in dinosaurs. It supports the theory that some dinosaurs evolved into birds. Learn more in this BBC article.
Remember Tuesday is Groundhog Day. According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil comes out his hole and sees his shadow, we are in for six more weeks of winter. How accurate is Phil? He apparently sees his shadow 80 percent of the time. The National Weather Service predicts cloudy skis and snow in the town of Punxsutawney tomorrow, so maybe this is the year Phil won’t see his shadow. On Tuesday, do your own experiment. Step outside and look for your shadow. See if your prediction matches Phil’s.
January 25, 2010:
If you want to share your bubble wrap experience or your favorite D4K video, you can tweet someone new to the Internet. The astronauts on the International Space Station received a special software upgrade last week and they can now get onto the Internet all by themselves. Before this, they had to send an email to the ground where someone else had to put it into their Twitter account. Now, they can surf net in privacy and send their tweets directly. It isn’t as easy an accomplishment as it sounds. According to a NASA press release, the crew in space can view the desktop of a computer on the ground using a specially designed onboard laptop. If you want to follow their twitter feed, here is the address: http://twitter.com/NASA_Astronauts Be thankful you don’t have to route your internet access through outer space!
January 18, 2010:
I’ve been doing a lot of work on next month’s show recently. In February, we will be taking your questions about body wastes. And I’m not the only one thinking about poop and pee these days. NASA is need of a plumber. Engineers find that astronauts’ urine is clogging the International Space Station’s water recycling system. That system turns urine into clean drinking water.
It turns out that astronauts’ urine has a lot of calcium in it. Calcium is a mineral found in your body in places like your bones and teeth. Scientists aren’t sure if astronauts are losing calcium from their bones because they are living in a zero gravity environment and they don’t know if that is why the calcium is building up in their urine.
Regardless, the engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama are trying to figure out how to fix the clog and prevent future problems. They need to do it soon. They want to send the replacement parts and repair instructions with the astronauts flying the shuttle Endeavour on or around February 7th.
I bet that house call is expensive! Still, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
You go send in questions about nutrition and check out that new show and start thinking of body waste questions for February.
January 12, 2010:
Most of us have trouble seeing into the future. Many of us have trouble seeing across the street. I am, like lots of you, nearsighted. That means I can see things close up but have trouble seeing things far away. I’m not alone. The number of people who are nearsighted has gone way up. In the early 1970’s, 25% of those between 12 and 54 years-of-age were nearsighted. Today, almost 42% of that same age group is myopic or nearsighted. Why the big increase? Well, it may have to do with how much time you spend outdoors as a kid.
Susan Vitale, an epidemiologist at the National Eye Institute studied the causes of nearsightedness. Genes play a role. If your parents are nearsighted, there is a chance you will be too. But it also turns out that if you don’t get outside much, the chances you will become myopic by the 8th grade are about 60%. As reported by NPR, scientist Susan Vitale said, “If children engage in over 14 hours per week of outdoor activity, their chances of becoming nearsighted were only about 20%.” That’s a big difference.
The study also found that one of those things we always thought caused nearsightedness probably doesn’t. Vitale reports that the amount of near-work didn’t seem to influence whether or not kids become nearsighted. Near-work would include reading a book, working on a computer, playing video games or watching TV.
And it apparently isn’t the exercise you get when you go outdoors that makes the difference. Kids who exercised inside didn’t benefit from the lower risk of nearsightedness like the kids who went outside.
But why would that be? Why does being outside improve or protect vision. Maybe it is the additional amount of light? The scientists don’t yet know, but they are still investigating. Meanwhile, there are lots of other benefits about being outside. Check out our “Be Outside” Web site.
Our newest broadcast show is coming up next Tuesday, January 19th. We will be taking your questions about nutrition. Send your questions in today (link). And check out the show on Idaho Public Television or on the D4K Web site at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac or watch the archived streaming here on the D4K Web site shortly afterwards.
January 05, 2010:
Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday. The world may have gotten a year older, but, according to science, the solar system got a little younger. Scientists from Arizona State University report that the solar system is a million years younger than previously thought. That puts the solar system’s age at 4.567 billion years old. While one million is a pretty big number, it really is pretty small compared to 4.567 billion. Still, a million is a million. Learn more about how scientists figure out the age of the solar system at the Science News Web site.
Did you stay up for New Year’s Eve or is midnight your regular bed time? If you or your siblings are teens, perhaps you should think about going to bed earlier. Scientists at Columbia University have found that teenagers who make a habit of staying up past midnight have an increased risk of depression. Teens who go to bed by 10:00 p.m. or earlier can improve their mental health. Scientists say it is equally important to get enough sleep. Teen who got five hours of sleep or less were 71% more likely to be depressed. Lack of sleep is also linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. So make a New Year’s resolution to get to bed earlier and to get enough sleep!
Have a great first week of 2010! Go Broncos!
December 29, 2009:Happy New Year! As promised, here is my list of the top science stories of 2009. Now, this isn’t a list of just the biggest stories, though some are pretty big. I have also included stories that made my blog just because they were fun and some stories that you might not have heard of before. Here goes, in no particular order:
December 22, 2009:
Happy Holidays! Most of you are out of school and enjoying a few days off of school. Science, however, doesn’t take the day off. And this week, there is news of a cool new dinosaur. Sinornithosaurus was discovered in what is now north-east China. What is really different about this dinosaur is that it had venomous fangs! This bird-like dinosaur had teeth that reminded scientists of rear-fanged snakes. The Sinornithosaurus’ bite was probably not deadly in and of itself, but the poison probably caused the dinosaur’s pray to go into shock, slowing the prey down so Sinornithosaurus could catch it. Here is a link to the BBC’s article if you’d like to learn more.
If you are looking for something to do on Christmas Eve, how about tracking Santa? The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) track Santa’s progress. NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa and you can follow along on their Web site. For example, I didn’t know Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature that NORAD’s satellites can track. Check it out here.
One more thing, we here at D4K got an early Christmas present. We won a CINE Golden Eagle. This is an international award recognizing outstanding non-theatrical programming. Our Anniversary show was recognized along side “Arthur” and three other national programs. Pretty cool! It wouldn’t happen without your support so thank you for watching the videos and checking out my blog. Have a happy holiday season and check back next week for my picks for the top science stories of 2009.
Ho Ho Ho!
December 14, 2009:
Check out this week’s new D4K broadcast show. On Tuesday, at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac, you can ask a leading NASA scientist all about the Hubble Telescope and astronomy. Send in your questions (link) or call in live. If you can’t watch the live show here on the Web site or on Idaho Public Television, be sure to come back and look at the archived show or the Web Extra.
In science news this week, astronomers will soon have a new telescope to see into the very darkest parts of space. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) blasted off into space today. This telescope is designed to look at infrared light. It can target things even Hubble can’t see. The cool thing about this telescope, and I do mean cool, is that the instruments are surrounded by a core of super-cold hydrogen. The mirror and other parts of the telescope need to be protected from the heat generated by the telescope’s electronics, so it can detect the faintest things like brown dwarfs. Scientists think the WISE will be able to double or triple the number of star-like object known within 25 light years of Earth.
The BBC also has a great clip of a very smart octopus that has figured out how to use a coconut shell as a home. Scientists thought only a few creatures knew how to make a tool and the octopus wasn’t on their list. But now, there is video evidence of a smart octopus making a tool. In this case, grabbing a coconut, sucking out the mud, and flipping it over to use it for shelter qualifies as making a tool. The video is a kick to watch so check it out here (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8408233.stm)
I’ll be looking for your questions about astronomy!
December 07, 2009:
If you are interested in chemistry, I invite you to attend the Holiday Chemistry Demo show Monday at BSU’s Jordan Ballroom. It is a free event featuring Dr. Pickelstein, a guest on our recent Chemistry show. If you can’t make it to Boise or read this after the 7th, check out our Chemistry show to see Dr. Pickelstein in action.
We are closing in on our next D4K broadcast program. Tune in on Tuesday, December 15th and learn more about the Hubble Telescope. Dr. Kenneth Carpenter, a lead scientist on the Hubble Telescope Project will be joining us to answer your questions. The Hubble telescope was recently upgraded and its new wide field camera is producing some amazing pictures.
Here’s some Hubble trivia, thanks to the folks at the BBC
Do you have questions about Hubble? Watch our show next week on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday, December 15th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac or watch it here on your computer live or later here via video streaming. Send in your questions about Hubble or astronomy in general here today! We’ll try to answer them next week.
November 30, 2009:
Did you know you hear with your skin as well as your ears? Scientists have known for a long time that you use your eyes to help understand what people are saying, but now they know that you use your skin too.
When we say the letters “p,” “t” and “k,” we let out a puff of air. Try it. Scientists wondered if others feel that air when you say words with those letters. We probably don’t notice the puff of air, but there are lots of sensors in the skin that could pick up the pressure and send a signal to our brains. So scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver wanted to find out if air blown on the back of a neck would help people hear sound better.
They had 66 participants blindfolded and then had them listen to recorded sounds of “pa” and “ba” or “ta” and “da.” The researchers also sent light bursts of air on the participants’ skin, either their hand, neck or in their ears. The puffs of air were lighter than you would expect from a normal conversation and most of the participants said they weren’t aware when the air puffs happened.
It turns out that people were better able to tell a “pa” from a “da” when there was a puff of air. Researcher Bryan Glick said that even a puff of air on someone’s ankle helped him or her “hear” better.
So, why is this important? Well, scientists hope they might be able to use this research to improve hearing aids for the hard-of-hearing. New hearing aids may have the ability to produce a puff of air on the wearer’s neck to help that person better understand sounds. That’s pretty cool! If you want to learn more about this study, check out the report in Scientific American.
Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and are enjoying this holiday season. If you have some spare time, be sure to send in a question for our next D4K broadcast show. We will be talking about astronomy. Send in a question now!
November 20, 2009:
Happy Thanksgiving week! In honor of this holiday, I present some turkey trivia.
Want to learn more turkey trivia? Check out this Turkey Facts Web site. Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy some turkey!
November 20, 2009:
We almost had an explosion on the D4K set this week. We had our new broadcast show on Tuesday, all about chemistry. One of our guests, Dr. Picklestein, was planning an experiment that would have shot liquid nitrogen up in the air. The problem is we have studio lights up in the rafters, so he did something else instead. Why do you think shooting liquid nitrogen into lights would be bad? Anyway, check out the experiment he did do. Click here to watch it.
If you want to see some actual explosions, Dr. Picklestein, a.k.a. Dr. Henry Charlier, invites everyone to the BSU Holiday Chemistry Demo Show on Monday, December 7th. The demonstrations begin at 6:30p.m.with several hands-on activities to follow. The event is free and will be at the BSU Special Events Center. Check it out!
I do have one update for you. In October, NASA sent a rocket to the moon. It smashed into the planet and then the scientists looked at the dust and dirt the rocket kicked up to see if there was any evidence of water on the moon. Well, NASA scientists now report that is water there. They think that the water, which is now ice, has built up over billions of years. This is good news for future explorers who may be able use the water on the moon on their way toward mars.
November 10, 2009:
One week until our next broadcast D4K! We will be taking your questions about chemistry. This is the first time that we’ve talked about chemistry on D4K. Our guests are planning some surprises, so be sure to tune in either on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac or watch it here live. You can also watch the archive version here later that day. Send in your questions now.
Chemists are making science news this week. Researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered ways to make ice cream healthier. They are adding nutrients like fiber and pro-biotics. It is tricky because you don’t want to change the creamy goodness of ice cream. Chemists there have found that flavors like chocolate are easier to work with because they are strong and can cover up some of the taste of the additives. What the scientists don’t know is if people will pay more for ice cream with added nutritional benefits or if they will be mad about science messing with their comfort food. What do you think?
We will be talking about nutrition in our January show, but there are great facts and links already available on the nutrition site. If you are curious, check it out.
I’m looking forward to seeing your questions and learning more.
November 02, 2009:
Today is El Dia de los Muertos or All Souls’ Day or the Day of the Dead. I remember my Dad, Fred Cartan, who was a scientist, on this day.
My Dad would have appreciated these pictures. Matt Kohn, Associate Professor of Geology at BSU and one of the guests on our recent Geology show gave these pictures to me. These pictures are examples of the forces nature uses to shape rocks. They are pretty cool.
We have a new site on the D4K web page. Be sure to check out the new “Games” page. This is our first jump into educational games, so try some and let me know what you think. We plan to redesign the page next season based, in part, on your feedback.
As for science news this week, here is one interesting study noted in EurekAlert. I present it in honor of the World Series. Zhong-Lin Lu, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Southern California, USC alumni Emily Knight and Robert Ennis and Arthur Shapiro, associate professor of psychology at American University answered the question of whose curveball breaks harder—that of the Yankees’ AJ Burnett or the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. It turns out that the answer is neither one.
The scientists developed a simple visual demonstration that suggests a curveball’s break may be just a trick of the eye. It seems that the batter thinks there is a break in the ball’s path when he is forced to switch between his peripheral vision and his central vision during a swing. Their demonstration won the Best Visual Illusion of the Year prize earlier this year. You can see it for your self here: http://illusioncontest.neuralcorrelate.com/2009/the-break-of-the-curveball/
Our next broadcast show is coming up on November 17th. Send in your questions about chemistry.
October 26, 2009:
Boo! Did I scare you? Probably not, but many people seem to be scared by something. If you are so scared by something that it becomes a problem in your life, your fear is called a phobia. So in honor of Halloween, here is a list of the top 10 things that really scare people, according to the folks at LiveScience.
10. The dentist (I like my dentist, Dr. Bruce. You can see him in the
How does this list compare to what scares you?
My favorite scientific study this week isn’t scary at all. It deals with being clean. It turns out the cleanliness fosters morality. So, what does that mean? Well, researchers set up a game. Players were given $12, which they were told came from someone they didn’t know in another room. That player had to decide how much money to keep and how much to return to the other person. That second person trusted the first player to divide it fairly.
The researchers sprayed one room with a common window cleaner and left another room unscented. The players who were in the room with the cleaner gave back on average $5.33 to their unknown partners. The players in the unscented room gave back on average only $2.81. None of the players said they noticed any scent. So why did the players in the clean room give back more?
Researchers know that smells can play a role in whether an experience is a good or bad one. Now they think that a clean smell might inspire you to do the right thing. So, clean your room and you might get a nice reaction from your Mom. If you want to read more about it, here is the link to the article in LiveScience.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out last week’s new broadcast show on bird migration. Be sure to send in your question for our November show. We will be talking about Chemistry. More about that next week!
October 13, 2009:
Happy day after Columbus Day! Sorry the blog was delayed, but I took the day off and did some exploring on my own. I’m not the only one still exploring. NASA is looking for water on the moon. This past week, they fired a rocket into the face of the moon, hoping to find traces of water in the dust and debris that the explosion would throw up into the air. If you want to watch the impact, check out the NASA TV coverage. Did they find any water? The short answer is they don’t think so, but it will really take a couple of weeks before they can confirm exactly what they did find. I will report when I hear.
One other bit of news caught my eye. Scientists from Oxford University in England report that juggling increases brain power. It turns out that learning a complex task, like juggling three balls in the air, can increase the white matter in your brain by 5%.
Your brain has white matter and gray matter. Gray matter is made up of nerve cell bodies. White matter is made up of long, thin, string-like filaments that carry electrical signals in the brain. They are called gray matter and white matter because that’s what they actually look like.
Scientists have known that we can increase gray matter in our brain by learning, but this is the first time they have proved you can also increase your white matter. That is important because it could lead to better treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis.
In this study, 24 people were given brain scans and then divided into two groups. One group spent six weeks learning to juggle. The other didn’t. At the end of the experiment, everyone had another brain scan. Scientists found a 5% increase in the brains of the jugglers in the part of the brain that we use to reach for objects in our peripheral or side vision. It didn’t seem to matter how well the volunteers learned to juggle, as long as they trained. Scientists think that juggling isn’t the only way to grow white matter. They believe you can probably increase your brain power by learning any complex task. Cool. Here’s a link to the BBC article if you want more information.
We are getting ready for next week’s broadcast show. We will be taking your questions about bird migration. Watch the show and meet my new friend. Be sure to also send in your questions.
October 05, 2009:
How many times do you have to shuffle a deck of cards to make sure that deck is really shuffled? It turns out it took mathematics and magic to learn the answer.
Persi Diaconis was interested in answering this question. When he was 14, he started life as a professional magician doing card tricks. Eventually, he realized to answer his questions, he would have to study math and he became a mathematician at Stanford University. Much of his research is about shuffling cards and probability, the study of chance.
So after years of studying and with the help of some major computers, Diaconis and his friend Dave Bayer of Columbia University came up with the answer: seven. Say you pick a card, the three of hearts, and put it back on top of the deck. After the first shuffle, the computer could identify patterns in the cards and find your three of hearts out of order. Bayer describes it this way. “Shuffling cards is like mixing a marble pound cake. For a while, there are clear streaks of black and white. Then, all of a sudden, it turns brown.” For cards, it would take seven shuffles before the patterns get so mixed up that a computer would have trouble identifying your specific card. If you are playing Old Maid, where the suits of cards (the hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) don’t matter, you only have to shuffle it four times.
So if you are playing cards this week, shuffle seven time for a really well mixed up deck.
I’m working on our next broadcast show. On October 20th, we will be taking your questions about bird migration. If you are wondering what to ask, check out the Bird Migration web site and send in an email.
September 28, 2009:
The World Wildlife Fund reported the identification of a whole bunch of new species. Scientists found 100 new plants, 28 new types of fish, 18 new reptiles, 14 new amphibians, 2 new mammals and a new bird. How about that? All of the species were found within the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia. That area includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan. My favorite is the Khorat big-mouthed frog. The frog has fangs that stick out from its bottom jawbone. It waits for its prey in streams, eating other frogs and insects. It has been found in three remote locations in Thailand.
The WWF report also says all of these species and many more are in danger from climate change. Rising seas may push more saltwater into the area threatening all of these species. Climate change threatens moose in Minnesota and even species here in Idaho. Ask the scientists about how climate change affects birds on our next live broadcast show. Send in a question today!
Scientists in San Diego this week released another interesting report not about frogs but about spanking. University of New Hampshire professor Murray Straus reports that being spanked as a child that child’s IQ. The IQ is a test of intelligence. Straus says children in the United States who were spanked had lower IQs than those who were not spanked, lowered by as much as five points. That is a big difference. Straus says the same is true of children all over the world. “The more spanking, the greater the slower the development of a child’s mental development,” according to the Professor. He and his study team think that children who are spanked are under stress and it is hard to learn when you are stressed out. What do you think? You can read more about the study from and ABC report.
Have a good week!
September 21, 2009:
Happy first day of Fall. This year, the autumnal equinox hits on September 22nd at 3:18 p.m. MT. We will have 12 hours of daylight and dark and the days will be getting shorter until December 21st, the shortest day of the year.
The biggest science news this week came out of China. Scientists there found a small dinosaur fossil that looks like a miniature T-Rex. This three feet tall dinosaur called Raptorex kriegsteini came along about 35 million years earlier than the T-Rex, but it looks just like its bigger cousin.
Paleontologists, scientists who study dinosaurs, used to think T-Rex’s features, like its puny arms, evolved because of its huge size. But this smaller version has the same build, just in much smaller proportions. The Raptorex was about nine feet long and weighed about 150 pounds. T-Rex’s grew 90 times that size.
Dr. Paul Sereno, a scientist with the University who studied the new fossil, thinks that the Raptorex’s and T-Rex’s small arms are a trade off for the creatures’ big heads. The bigger the head got, the smaller the arms got so the dinosaur would be able to maintain its balance. To learn more, click on this article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and thanks to Todd Marshall for the drawings.
We also had our first broadcast show of the 2009-2010 school year. If you haven’t had a chance to see our Geology show, video short or Web only show, click here and check them out.
September 8, 2009:
But then how do you explain Olympic winner Usain Bolt? He recently set the world’s record in the 100 and 200-meter race and Bolt is six-feet-five inches tall!
Scientists went to work trying to figure out how such a tall guy can run so fast. And they think it may have something to do with the way he flexes toward his shin when he runs. According to an article in the LA Times, Corey Hart, an exercise physiologist with the Physio Performance Lab in Boise suggests that Bolt doesn’t put his heel too close to the ground when he runs. That’s called dorsiflexion. Sprinters, he says, run on their forefeet. But another scientist, Dan Cipriani, from San Diego State University thinks the key to Bolt’s speed is due to the movement of his shins away from his feet or the opposite of dorsiflexion. That happens when Bolt takes off.
Whatever it is, be it how he flexes his foot or something in his genes, Bolt proves that old saying: you can judge a book by its cover. Don’t let someone limit you to one sport just because “you’re built for it.”
This week we celebrate a mathematical miracle. Wednesday is 09/09/09. This is the last time for more than a century that we will see a triple single digit day. Dates like this play an important role in some cultures. In China, 09/09/09 is big. The number 9 is a positive thing. According to legend, the Emperor’s Forbidden Palace has 9,999 rooms. But in Japan, the number 9 is associated with bad things. Many Japanese hotels do not even have a room number with a 9 in it. Me? I associate 9/9/9 with something wonderful. September 9th is my Mom’s birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!
One more date to note-September 15th. That’s the premier of this season’s broadcast shows for D4K. Send in your questions now (link) for our Geology show and check out the program live on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac or watch it here on the Web site live or anytime afterwards. Remember, when you send in a question, you and your class will have a chance to win stuff for your classroom.
August 31, 2009:
According to “Science News,” researchers have discovered that infant girls but not infant boys learn to link the sight of a snake or spider to the frightened reaction of others by about 11 months of age. Bites from poisonous snakes were a real danger to prehistoric women, so researchers think that we may have inherited this discomfort with snakes. Another scientist thinks girls learn how to read other people’s facial expression before boys. If that is the case, girls would link a dislike of snakes sooner than boys would by reading their parents’ faces.
How about you? Do you like snakes?
Oh, sorry for not posting a note last week. We have been shooting video for the upcoming season. Here are a few pictures of what we have been up to…
Start the count down for the new season of D4K. Our first broadcast show of the season is September 15th!
August 17, 2009:
Why do flamingoes stand on one leg? Researchers Matthew Anderson and Sarah Williams from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia have finally come up with an answer to that question and it wasn’t the answer many scientists thought it would be.
Researchers originally thought flamingoes stand on one leg because it helps them use less energy when they take off to fly or because it helps them balance better in the wind. But both theories turned out to be wrong. Instead, they found that flamingoes stand on one leg to help regulate their body temperature. Flamingoes stand in water for long periods of time and they lose less body heat with just one foot down. Simply, keeping one foot up keeps them warmer.
Also, it seems like flamingoes don’t prefer standing on one foot over another. Apparently, flamingoes are not right or left-footed. They will just change which leg they stand on to keep the other leg from getting too cold.
Now that is important. Not preferring one leg over the other was an important discovery for Anderson and Williams. That’s because these researchers were also trying to find out if flamingoes favor one side of their body over the other, in the same way we humans are left-handed or right-handed.
While flamingoes are not right or left-footed, they apparently do favor right side sleeping. When flamingoes rest, they curl up. Some placed their heads on the right side of their body and some on their left side. Anderson and Williams watched captive Caribbean flamingoes at the Philadelphia Zoo and learned that most flamingoes prefer to sleep with their heads to the right. They also found that those flamingoes that sleep with their heads to the left seem to get into trouble with the other flamingoes more often. Anderson and Williams think that being right-side sleepers may be a way flamingoes form social groups. Look for a flamingo sleeping to the left and you may have found a rebel or a bully. Do you think being left or right-handed makes a difference in who your friends are? Now that would be an interesting research question!
August 10, 2009:
As reported in LiveScience.com, the average dog is as smart as the average 2-year-old. Stanley Coren, a dog expert and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia tested a number of dogs. He found that the average dog can learn 165 words, about what a 2-year-old knows. He says the really smart dogs can learn 250 words.
Coren says dogs are better than some 3 and 4-year olds at basic arithmetic and have spatial problem-solving skills (that is dogs are good at figuring out how to open that latch and get at a good treat). And while dogs might not feel guilt, they do show the basic emotions of happiness, anger and disgust. Yes, your dog might not like it when you do something you shouldn’t.
And just what are the smartest breeds? Here’s this list:
And who is at the bottom? Many of the hounds, like the basset hound and the bulldog, beagle and basenji. Why? Well Coren says the dogs on the bottom are older breeds. They were trained to find things (such as tonight’s dinner). These dogs may have more instinctive intelligence, that is the ability to do what they were bred to do rather than play with us humans. Coren says the smartest dogs have been bred to respond to humans. So that would give them an advantage in a test to respond to human signals.
That is not to say the dogs on the bottom of the list aren’t great dogs. Beagles were on the list of top 10 most popular dogs in 2008. Coren thinks that’s because they are sweet and sociable.
What do you think? How smart is your dog? Smarter than my rabbit? Not more cute. Here’s Winslo’s latest picture. Have a great week.
August 3, 2009:
So, how do you get enough vitamin D? You can drink milk fortified with vitamin D and eat foods rich in vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a vitamin D supplement. But perhaps the best thing you can do is get outside! Our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to sunshine. You should be outside 15 to 20 minutes a day. Now, I sunburn easily, so I suggest using sunscreen if you are going to be outside more than that…but it is important to get outside.
Also, drink water if you are going to be out in the heat!
One other scientific study of note starting today... British psychologist Richard Wiseman is inviting people in England to participate in a five-day study to improve their happiness level. He is hoping thousands of people will help. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of four groups. People in each group will rate their mood and then watch a video describing one of four ways to boost happiness and use that technique for the week. They start today and will finish by Friday. By the end of the week, the participants will rate the mood again and see if the happiness suggestion worked. Researchers hope to figure out which of the various happiness suggestions work best.
Here are some suggestions for things to do to make you happier…
Which activities do you think will make people happier? Professor Wiseman says he will release the results of his experiment next week and I will try to report the results here. In the meantime, I am going home to pet Winslo!
July 27, 2009:
So, have you found a way to beat this summer’s heat? If not, ask a toucan. Scientists reported this week that toucans use their beaks to help regulate their body heat.
Researchers have long wondered why toucans have such big bills. After all, the beak makes up about a third of the bird’s entire body length. Some thought the bill might be used to attract mates or used in defense. But Glenn Tattersall of Brock University in Ontario, Canada and his team had a different idea.
They found that a toucan’s beak contains lots of blood vessels. Using a special type of photography that detects heat, called infrared thermal imaging, Tattersall found that toucans use the blood veins in their bills to help get rid of extra heat when it is hot and keep heat in when it is cold. Birds, by the way, don’t sweat so they would need something to help them regulate their body temperature.
Scientists say that toucans may still use their bills for other reasons too, like showing off for females, but they think that having your own radiator/beak to keep you the right temperature is pretty, well, cool.
July 20, 2009:
Today is an important anniversary for space travel. 40 years ago, the first humans stepped on the Moon. Be sure to check out the Web site WeChooseThe Moon.org. There you can listen to a real time re-creation of the Apollo 11 mission with great animation. I have the widget on my desktop to remind me to check the site at key moments.
The science blogs were all a flutter about news that moths use sonar to escape bats, but I liked the story finding cats do control humans. Anyone who owns a cat already knows this, but it is nice science confirms it.
It turns out that cats learn that if they make a purring sound combined with a high-pitched meow when they are hungry, their owners will feed them. Cats have learned that general meowing doesn’t get as good a response from human. So they are more likely to use this special purr-cry to get you to do something.
Why not just a regular meow? It turns out the sound of a cat crying is similar to the sound of a baby crying. Humans have an instinct to answer a baby’s cry. So we are programmed to answer a cat’s cry too. But humans are also likely to toss a meowing cat out the door if its cry is too annoying. So cats have learned that this special cry-purr is better for getting what they want.
So just how did scientists test this theory? They had cat owners record the sounds their cats made when the cats wanted food and when the cats didn’t. The researchers then played the cries to 50 subjects, not all of whom owned cats. The humans rated that special purr-cry as more urgent than a regular purr. That means the special cat purr-cry would be more likely to make you get out of your chair and find your cat its favorite treat.
So, if you are feeling at bit used at the moment, consider one other fact. Only cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners make this sound. They have to know you and like you, to manipulate you.
July 14, 2009:
It has been 40 years since Apollo 11 made its historic journey to the moon. I wasn’t very old at the time, but I do remember the excitement of watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, the first human to do so. It was cool! Back then, we followed the whole journey on television. Now, you have the chance to follow that journey in real time, just like it happened 40 years ago, on your computer.
Starting Thursday, July 16th at 9:32 a.m. (Eastern time), the Web site, WeChoseTheMoon.org will recreate the entire mission. They will replay the video and audio building up to the landing on the moon on July 20th. They will have special animation and lots of fun information about the Apollo 11 mission. You can follow the astronauts as they head to the moon on the Web site or on a special Twitter feed. There is even a cool widget for your Facebook or desktop to help you keep track of the mission. The John F Kennedy Library and Museum sponsors the site. President Kennedy was the first to challenge us to reach for the moon. So take some time this summer and reach for the moon yourself. If you want to learn more about the moon, check out the Moon section here on the D4K site.
July 7, 2009:
My favorite science news this week comes out of Australia. Paleontologists there have discovered three new dinosaur species. I love their nicknames too. They were named after characters in Australia’s famous song, “Waltzing Matilda.” The first is carnivore, a meat eater, named Australovenator wintonensis. Its nickname is Banjo, named after Banjo Patterson who wrote “Waltzing Matilda” in Winton in 1885. Banjo, not the songwriter, was a scary dinosaur. He could run fast and had three sharp claws on each foot.
The next two are plant-eating sauropods and were among the largest animals to ever walk on Earth. Witonotitan watts, better known as Clancy, was a tall slender animal. Diamantinasaurus matildae or Matilda was shorter and more rounded.
Matilda and Banjo were found in a 98-million-year-old pond known as a billabong. Scientists think Matilda might have been Banjo’s last lunch.
If you want to learn more about dinosaurs, there is lots of information on this D4K site.
FYI, the American Association for the Advancement of Science put out a list of new science books for summer reading. Here is the link: http://www.eurekalert.org/features/kids/2009-06/aaft-a1s062909.php. Head to your local library and find something fun to read.
June 26, 2009:
So, what do pigeons think about? A New York Times article reports that scientists are working on answering that question. Scientists think that homing pigeons use landmarks, the earth’s magnetic fields and the position of the sun to find their way home, but they really don’t know exactly how homing pigeons find their way. They wondered if pigeons think about their route, or do they travel just by instinct, without much thought.
The scientists implanted very tiny electric EKGs into the brains of homing pigeons. An EKG is a machine that can track brain waves. Scientists think that when the EKG machine shows mid-range frequencies, the brain is thinking about something it sees. When the brain shows high-frequencies, scientists believe the brain is really thinking about something complicated. That is called cognitive activity. The scientists also put little global positioning systems on the pigeons so they could match the brain activity to right spot.
So then, the scientists let these special pigeons fly starting over water, which has few landmarks. Not much brain activity. But when the birds flew over land, landmarks they would recognize, their brains started registering those mid-range and high-frequency brain waves. So it seems that pigeons can recognize landmarks and understand what they see.
One other thing surprised the scientists. Their EKG readings showed the pigeons had an increase in brain waves at two places the scientists hadn’t expected. They went back to those spots and found a couple of wild pigeon colonies. It seems pigeons think about more than just landmarks.
Have a great week and a happy 4th of July!
June 22, 2009:
Are boys better than girls at math? The former President of Harvard University got into big trouble for saying that he thought men were innately better at math than women. Others argued that men aren’t naturally better at math. They said women are not encouraged to do well in math when they are girls, so they don’t do as well when they grow up. Neither side had any proof for their belief, so a couple of scientists decided to do a little research and find out which side was right.
They looked at math test scores. Researchers looked at how many boys and how many girls scored at very top of the tests. Then they looked those students who scored in the middle. They also looked at how those scores changed over time.
At the high end of the scale, they found that girls are catching up with boys. And they found no difference in general between the number of girls and boys who scored in the middle. It seems that boys don’t have more of a natural talent for math than girls do. What does makes a difference is how well you are encouraged to learn and enjoy math, whether you are a girl or a boy. Teachers and schools need to get rid of the idea that boys are better suited to do math and do more to encourage girls to like the subject.
One other big story in the science this week, we are heading to the Moon again. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched last week. It will take pictures of the Moon with the hopes of finding new landing sites. After it does that, the Orbiter will crash part of its rocket into the surface of the moon. Scientists will look at the dust and dirt the crash throws into that air. They hope to find out what lies beneath the surface of the Moon, maybe even find some water. Cool, huh.
Hope you had a good Father’s Day and a good first day of summer!
June 15, 2009:
So, have you ever caught your dog doing something it shouldn’t and seen a ‘guilty look’ come across its face? Bad dog. Bad dog. But science now suggests that you, not your dog, has something to feel guilty about.
Researchers at Barnard College in New York took a set of dogs and owners. Owners left their dogs in a room after telling them not eat a tasty treat. Some dogs got the goodies, some didn’t. Then the researchers told some of the owners that their dogs ate the treats even when the dogs had not. Those owners then gave their pets a talking to and reported the dogs had a guilty look. So it seems that it didn’t matter if the dog had eaten the treat or not. If the owners thought the dog was guilty, the owners reported a guilty look on the dog’s face. Researchers concluded that the “guilty look” is a result of the owner’s behavior and not the dogs.
Why is this important? Well, it shows we humans sometimes think animals pick up human traits. This is called anthropomorphism. So, if you are going to study animal behavior, like does a dog feel guilt, you have to be sure you aren’t just seeing something that really isn’t there.
Is this true of other pets? I don’t know. What do you think?
Just a couple other bits of science news for the week… The World Health Organization has declared a pandemic of the swine flu. That means there are enough cases spreading all over the world that health officials may need to take new steps to deal with it. So far, the swine flu isn’t too severe. It is no fun to catch, but isn’t as life threatening as other forms of the flu. That is good news. Still, when flu season rolls back around next fall and winter, it will be a good idea to follow basic health rules: Wash your hands. Cough into your elbow. And, if you feel sick enough, stay home.
And scientists report that gray hair is a sign of stress. Tell that to your parents!
June 8, 2009:
I have two bits of science news this week that involve your sight. Have you ever heard the phrase “seeing the world through rose-colored glasses”? They say if you see the world through rose-colored glasses, you see the positive side of things. Sometimes it means you aren’t seeing things the way they really are. Well, scientists report this week that that people who are in a positive mood actually see better.
University of Toronto researchers gave two sets of people, one set in a good mood and one set in a bad mood, an image to look at that had a face in the center surrounded by “place” images, such as a house. The people were asked to focus on the person and tell whether it was a man or a woman. Then they were asked to describe the place around the face. Folks in a good mood were able to describe the place image, while the people who were in a bad mood couldn’t do it as well. It seems there was a change in the brain that allowed positive people to see more of the details.
Now scientists say there is a good and a bad side to this finding. The positive people were able to see the whole picture, but they weren’t able to focus on one thing quite as much. Someone in a bad mood might be able to block out other things and focus on that single task more easily. Of course, they might miss details they need to do the job. It is an interesting challenge. Is it better to focus or see big picture?
Speaking of focus, many of us wear glasses or contacts so we can see better. Some kids may not like wearing glasses because they think it makes them look ugly. But a new study says they are wrong. A survey of children between 6 and 10 reports that children think other kids who wear glasses are smarter and more honest. So, if you need glasses, wear them with pride, even if they are rose-colored!
June 1, 2009:
Have you ever played a Lituus? No, it is not the latest video game. It is an 8 and a half-foot long trumpet-like instrument. People stopped using them about 300 years ago. Unfortunately, that also meant people stopped making them too. Today, We don’t really know what a Lituus looked or sounded like. So researchers at Edinburgh University decided to try to make one. They looked at old paintings of musical instruments like the Lituus and then used computer software to figure out what it might have sounded like. They eventually built two copies and turned them over to musicians to try them out. They are kind of tough to play and have a unique sound. Bach, a famous classical composer, used a Lituus in some of his work because of the instruments haunting sound. And thanks to science, we can all hear Bach’s work as he originally composed it. Cool.
May 26, 2009:
Hope you had a great Memorial Day holiday. Did you get out in the sun? Did you use sunscreen? Odds are against it and that, according to scientists, is not good. A survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center reports that 31 percent of Americans never use sunscreen and 69 percent use it only occasionally. You should be using sunscreen on your face and neck every day!
The sun puts out UVB rays. Those rays can damage your skin. You notice it as sunburn. Over time, damaged skin can develop skin cancer. But sunscreen protects your skin from UVB rays. Scientists say it is especially important for young people to protect their skin as studies have links bad sunburns when you are young to skin cancer when you are old. Scientists also say it is important to get out in the sun every day because it helps your body. So get out in the sun, but take my advice and use sunscreen!
And enjoy your last few days of school and keep checking back here over the summer. Watch some videos from shows you haven’t seen. Send me an email. We won’t have another live show until September, but the D4K Web site is always here to explore and I’ll blog each week about fun science news.
May 19, 2009:
Birds of Prey are fascinating to watch. Check out these links to watch a family of Peregrine falcons who have made their home at the top of the One Capital Center in downtown Boise.
If you want to learn more about Birds of Prey, check out this week’s broadcast show or the Birds of Prey Web Extra. This was our last live show of the 2008-2009 school year. We will be back with a new season of programs starting in September. I will spend the summer preparing for those shows AND I will still be doing my blog. So check it out each week for the latest, most interesting science news.
Oh, one more thing, thanks to Norm at Echo Films for letting us use some of his spectacular footage for the Birds of Prey shows. I ran out of time on the live show to express my appreciation. Thanks Norm!
May 11, 2009:
If I could wish for something for you all, according to science, it would be to have a good Mom. Now Dads are important, no doubt, but scientists at Tufts University report that genes you get from your Mom have a lot more to do with how you turn out.
Genes determine how our body works and whom we turn out to be. We get half our genes from our Mom and half from our Dad. Researchers now think that it is the genes you get from your Mom that decide how those genes are first “expressed.” Genes “express” themselves in different ways. They determine how we look, if we are naturally athletic, even if we are more likely to get a deadly disease. Apparently, your Mom’s genes have more say than your Dad’s genes, especially if you are a mouse.
Scientist Larry Feig and his colleagues at Tufts University took a female mouse and gave her an education. In a mouse world, an education comes from living in an “enriched environment.” We know that mice that live in a more interesting place become smarter than mice that hang out in a bare cage. The researchers followed the educated mouse from her youth. When she grew up, she was put in a boring cage and than mated. Her pups, who had never lived in that “enriched environment” still turned out smarter than pups who came from a mom who had never had an education. They also found that the pups of a wise mom were smarter than their peers, even if a different, not-so-educated mom raised those pups. The education level of the dad mouse apparently had no effect.
This is not to say Dads aren’t important. They are. But since we just celebrated Mother’s Day, I thought I’d give you another reason to tell your Mom thanks!
Be sure to get your questions in about Birds of Prey for our next live D4K. That program will be broadcast on May 19th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac on Idaho Public Television or live streamed here on the web site. Email a question here or check out the Birds of Prey web site.
May 5, 2009:
This is exciting! We have our first prime time D4K special this week. We are celebrating our 10th anniversary with a look at some of our favorite video shorts and studio moments. Watch the one-hour special Wednesday, May 6 at 8:00 pm on Idaho Public Television. You can watch the promo for the D4K 10th Anniversary show by clicking here. The show itself isn’t encoded yet so it isn’t available on-line. I’ll let you know when you can see it on-line.
And just a reminder, our last broadcast show for this school year airs on May 19th. Send in your questions about birds-of-prey.
April 27, 2009:
Astronomers, scientists who study the stars, have found a giant dust cloud in the center of the Milky Way and they think it might taste like raspberries. Yup, raspberries.
First some background . . . The Earth is a planet in the grouping of stars called the Milky Way. Radio Astronomers in Bonn, Germany were searching space for amino acids. Amino acids are one of the basic chemicals from which life is created. They look for very small parts of those chemicals called molecules. Find the molecules and you've found the substance.
So, these astronomers were looking at a region near the Milky Way's center. It was a gas cloud that surrounds a newborn star. The scientists studied the chemical properties of the molecules in the gas cloud and found ethyl formate, the chemical responsible for the flavor of raspberries.
So, does space taste like raspberries? Perhaps. Ethyl formate is also the chemical responsible for the smell of rum. Now that is an interesting combination!
But I wouldn't suggest you run out and try to smell and taste this particular space cloud. Scientists also found a deadly chemical, propyl cyanide, in the same place. However, they say that this is actually good news. Both molecules are the largest yet discovered in deep space and are both part of the essential building blocks of life. They will continue looking and see what other berries they find in space (just kidding!)
Have a good-smelling, good-tasting week!
April 20, 2009:
Ever hear laughter is the best medicine? Scientists at Loma Linda University think it at least helps. According to LiveScience.com, researchers there found that laughter may improve the health of people with diabetes. Diabetes is a serious illness, nothing to laugh at.
The researchers split diabetes patients into two groups. Both groups received the same treatment except one group watched 30 minutes of something that made them laugh each week. After two months, the laughter group had lower stress hormones in their system. Humor, according to the researchers, gives people hope and hope is good for your body.
You know what else is good for your body, spending time outside with nature. Tomorrow, we have our next broadcast show all about nature deficit disorder. Watch it on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac or live streamed here on your computer. You can also watch it afterwards here on your computer.
Be sure to send in a question so you and your class can be entered in a drawing for stuff for your classroom. Oh, here is my joke for the day: Why did the chicken cross the basketball court? Because the ref was calling fowls. Hope you feel better.
April 15, 2009:
Sorry I’m a bit late this week. We have been working on the schedule for next season’s shows. My thanks to the teachers and others who suggested topic ideas. We’ll let you know what we decided to do next month.
I have been getting a few questions about next week’s topic. On Tuesday, April 21st, we will be answering your questions about “Being Outside.” A few of you have asked what that means and why is it important.
Being Outside is an effort to get kids outside. Health experts think not spending time in the out of doors is unhealthy. For the first time in human history, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities rather than in rural areas. That means more of us aren’t getting outside and spending time with Nature. More of us are inside watching TV or playing video games or working on a computer.
So, does science back up the idea that we humans do better when we spend time outside?
If you are thinking of questions for next week’s show, how about considering ways to add more outdoor activities in your life? How could educators move their classes outside? What kind of activities could your family do on your next vacation?
Whatever your question, send it here or call in live. The show airs on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday, April 21st at 2:00/1:00 p.m. Mt/Pac. Remember, when you send in a question, you and your class could win stuff for your classroom.
April 6, 2009:
Do you look like your pet? It is possible. A study out of England showed that people can guess what breed of dog someone owns just by looking at the person’s picture.
According to a report in Live Science.com, a group of 70 people who do not own dogs were asked to match photos of 41 dog owners to one of three possible breeds- a Labrador, poodle or Staffordshire bull terrier. They matched the right person to the right dog more than half the time. Now, if it were just left to chance, they should have made the right match only one third of the time. The fact that they did better than chance supports the idea that we look like our pets.
Here is my picture and a picture of my pet Winslo. Do we look alike? I think we have the same twinkle in our eyes!
We are about to set the schedule for next season’s D4K. If you have any suggestions for topics, email them to me! I will send the first 10 teachers who submit an idea ten of our D4K Frisbees.
March 30, 2009:
Welcome back from Spring Break (for those of you who had Spring Break last week).
Did you play any video games while you were off of school? Well, it turns out that playing action video games may improve your vision. Scientists have discovered that playing video games with lots of action can improve your ability to see “fine contrast differences” by up to 58 percent. What does that mean? Well, with being able to see “fine contrasts” mean you can see small differences in shades of gray. That really is important. Scientists say being able to tell the difference between shades of gray is how we decide how well someone can see overall. We wear glasses or contacts to improve “contrast sensitivity,” that is being able to see small differences in shades of gray.
The scientists in this study tested the vision of 22 students. They then divided the students into two groups. One group played action video games. The other group played “The Sims 2.” The students played 50 hours over nine weeks and then the scientists tested the students’ vision again. They found the group that played the action games showed an average 43 percent improvement in their ability to see small differences in shades of gray. The Sims players showed no improvement. The scientists think playing action video games may train the brain and some how improve the way the brain processes the stuff you see.
Now, studies have also shown the violent video games are not good for kids, so don’t use improving your sight as an excuse to play those mature rated video games. But maybe you can find a non-violent action game and spend a little time seeing better.
March 23, 2009:
It is spring break for me and my family, but I thought I would pass along this bit of news. Mount Redoubt Volcano in Alaska has erupted five times! The volcano sent ash nine miles into the air and a bunch of air planes had to change their route or cancle their flights. Folks in Anchorage were getting a light dusting from the ash but so far no one has been hurt. Scientists knew something was up when the area had an earthquake on Sunday. If you want to see more about the volcano, go to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
We are just starting to set the schedule for next year's season of D4K. If you have an idea for a show topic, send me an email. The first 10 teachers to submit an idea will receive 10 of our D4K Frisbees as a thank you. Sorry, you must be a teacher to get the prize...but hey, anyone can submit an topic idea so send your best suggestion! If this is your spring break too, enjoy!
March 16, 2009:
Another reason not to litter… NASA engineers are considering moving the International Space Station out of the way of some space junk. An old Soviet satellite will zip past the station tomorrow (Tuesday) and is traveling at about 19,800 mph! If apiece of the space junk hits the space station, it could cause a lot of damage and put the astronauts there at risk. There is a lot more space junk after two other satellites collided on February 10th and it is a real problem for engineers. So next time your Mom or Dad asks you to clean up your junk, consider yourself to be lucky. Your job is easier than NASA’s.
Have a question about Bears? Now is the time to send it in. We have our broadcast show Tuesday, March 17th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac. Watch it live on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer or watch the archived version or the Web extra sometime after the live show.
Also, now is the time to send me any ideas for our next season. We are looking at topics for 2009-2010. Have an idea? Send it in!
March 9, 2009: Sorry I have been absent lately. Al Hagenlock (the D4K Director/Editor) and I have been busy creating the D4K 10th Anniversary show. Hopefully you had a chance to see it when it aired on Idahoptv. Al and I still have some tweaking to do on the show, but eventually it will make it to the Web site.
I didn’t forget my blog entirely while we were editing. I saved a couple of interesting science news reports for you. The first is the discovery of the earliest human footprints.
As reported in the journal Science, anthropologist John Harris and his colleagues found several footprints in Northern Kenya. They believe the footprints are 1.5 million years old. And just in case you were wondering, some of these ancient humans would have worn men’s shoes size 9. Check with your Dad or an older man and see if they wear a size 9. That will give you an idea how big the feet of some ancient humans were.
The other bit of science news I wanted to pass along comes form England. Researchers at the University of Essex have found a “genetic tendency to optimism.” That means scientists thinks being cheerful is something that runs in families. If you have older relatives who tend to be positive, than it is likely that you have a greater chance to be someone who sees the bright side of life. Scientists are trying to figure out why some people bounce back more easily from life’s stresses and now they think it may be something in your genes.
We are coming up on our next broadcast D4K show. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, we will be answering questions about bears. Send in your questions or plan to call in live. Watch it on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or here on your computer.
Oh, one more thing… I am collecting ideas for next season’s shows. If you have a topic you’d like us to do, send me an email. See you on the 17th and don’t forget to wear green.
February 16, 2009: Hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day. Did you get some chocolate? I hope you enjoyed it. Scientists report that chocolate is in danger. Because of farming practices, disease, global climate change, and other factors, the world may face a shortage of cacao beans, the primary ingredient in chocolate. Now that is BAD news. The good news is that scientists and officials in various countries are trying to solve the problems before your favorite Hershey bar costs $100.
One of the problems for cacao growers is changing weather. We will be talking about the weather tomorrow in our next broadcast D4K show. Send in your questions for our two meteorologists to answer. Watch the show live on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer at 2:00/1:00 pm Mt/Pac or watch the archived show here later.
Also, I am proud to announce that you can watch the best of the last ten years of D4K on our Anniversary Special. Check that out on Idaho Public Television on March 1st at 5:00 pm. Al Hagenlock and I are still working on the show, but I think you and your parents will enjoy it! Be sure to tune in.
February 9, 2009: If you like frogs, you are in for some good news. Scientists report they found as many as ten new species of amphibians in the jungles of Columbia and a dozen new species in the forest of India. It is good news because frogs and amphibians have been going through some tough times. They have been dying off because of climate change, fungal infections and other issues. Amphibians are considered to be an indicator species, that is when frog are in trouble so is the habitat in which they are living. And that could spell trouble for humans, plants and other species in the same place.
The new Columbian frogs include three types of glass frogs, three types of poison dart frogs, two species of rain frogs, a salamander and a harlequin frog. View pictures of the Indian frogs on the MSNBC site.
Be sure to send in a question about the weather for next week’s broadcast show. You and your class could win stuff for your classroom if your question is picked. You can see that broadcast show on Tuesday, February 17th at 2:00/1:00 pm Mt/Pac or watch it live here on your computer. You can watch the archived version of the show or our Web Extra later in that same day. Tune in!
February 2, 2009: Hi, sorry I have been absent lately. I'm afraid January was a busy month, including some travel, so I haven't blogged for a while. But I'm back and with some bad news.
Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. America's furriest weather forecaster says we are in for six more weeks of winter. According to legend, this groundhog comes out of his burrow on February 2nd. If he sees his shadow, we can expect more snowy weather. If he doesn't, we get an early spring. Now an upstart groundhog in New York City didn't see his shadow, but true Groundhog fans say the NY guy is a fake. For 120 years, folks have been gathering in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to see what Phil has to say. So, how accurate is Phil? According to groundhog.org, he is never wrong. I'm not so sure. What do you think?
If you want to know what tools meteorologists really use to forecast the weather, tune in on February 17th for our next D4K broadcast show. We'll be taking your questions about the weather. Send in a question now.
Just one more science note because I've been away so long… Scientists have discovered that cows give more milk if they have a name and are treated as individuals. Researchers at Newcastle University report that farms where each cow was called by her name showed a higher milk yield than farms where cows were herded as a group. So one-on-one attention is good for cows and people too. Science marches on….
December 31, 2008: Happy New Year! I hope you have a good celebration to start 2009. I thought I would use this last blog of the year to pass along the top science stories of 2008. In no particular order, here they are:
My thanks to the Boston Museum of Science, the Science Channel, the Omaha Science Examiner, Science magazine, Time magazine and The Hindu for their help in drawing up this list. Have a Happy New Year and check out my blog in 2009!
December 24, 2008: Happy Holidays everyone!
Science has come to the rescue of all cookie bakers. In an article for NPR, Food Scientist Shirley Corriher had some good ideas about how to fix common problems with cookies. Do your cookies break up after you pack them in a package to give as a gift? Corriher suggests adding a tablespoon of water to a cup of flour that's going to be used in the cookies. Why? Because flour is made up of proteins and when you add the extra water the flour becomes a "springy stretchy, strong elastic sheets of gluten." The gluten is what holds the cookies together, she says.
Do your chocolate chip cookies spread too much? Corriher suggests chilling the dough in the refrigerator overnight before baking. She also suggests using bread flour because it is higher in protein. So, make some cookies and share some science!
I also received this press release from NORAD yesterday.
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. Members of North American Aerospace Defense Command are preparing to track Santa again this year, and are working to accommodate the jolly fellow's change in flight schedule. Santa, according to NORAD, will launch two hours later than he has in previous years. They didn't exactly say why, but rumor has it that Santa changed his departure time because too many kids were awake when Santa arrived at their houses and he had to come back later. You can track Santa's progress at www.noradsanta.org or, new this year, people can get updates on Santa's travels using Twitter. Follow @noradsanta once logged in to www.twitter.com to not only track Santa but to participate in Twitter holiday conversations. Check with your parents first! Also, on December 24th, you can call Santa at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723). You can also send him an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukah!
December 16, 2008: You know how some days seem longer than others? Well this year, December 31st will actually be longer than most days. The U.S. Naval Observatory is going to add a "leap second" to the world's clocks. On December 31st, the day will be 86,401 seconds long.
Historically, time was based on the earth's rotation around the sun. But when scientists invented atomic clocks, they were able to calculate time more accurately. So they have two time scales, one based on atomic clocks and one based on the earth's rotation. The problem is that, because the earth's rotation is very gradually slowing down, the two time scales get off. So the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, the group that keeps track of time for the world, has called for the addition of a "leap second" to get the time scales back in sync. This is the 24th time a leap second has been added to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The last time was on December 31, 2005. If you want to keep track of time, click here for the U.S. Naval Observatory's Master Clock.
Tuesday will be our next live broadcast show. Be sure to send in your questions about the planets. Check out the show on Idaho Public Television or here on the Web site at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT, or watch the archived show afterwards. You can also check out our planet video short or web-only show.
December 10, 2008: Are you happy? Find someone who is and become his or her friend. It turns out that happiness may spread like germs. Research from social scientists in England reports that those who surround themselves with happy people are more likely to be happy themselves. Scientists know that we are influenced by other people's moods, but this study shows that happy people tend to form their own groups, or social contacts. If you are a part of a group that is made up of happy people or come in contact with those people, you are more likely to pick up on the happiness. Kind of like ripples in a pond, happiness spreads.
Envy, it turns out, is another emotion making science news this week. Researchers found out that dogs experience envy. Scientists were trying to learn more about emotions and animals. They knew that monkeys get resentful if a partner received a greater reward for doing the same task. But do dogs? In new research, scientists found that indeed dogs reacted differently to unfair food distribution. They "felt" envy. So, there is a similarity between humans and their dogs.
If you don't want to be envious of other students and if do want to spread some happiness, send me a question about the planets for next week's broadcast show. We will be answering your planetary questions at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Tuesday, December 16th. Watch it on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer.
By the way, the biggest and brightest full moon of the year will happen the evening of December 12th. The path of the Moon's orbit will put it closer to earth than it has been all year, so the full moon will look 14% bigger and 30% brighter than it has all year. If you have clear skies on Saturday, check it out. The best time is just when the moon is near the horizon. Send me a picture if you have a chance!
December 1, 2008: Check out the skies tonight, Monday, for a cool sight! The planets Venus and Jupiter are close to each other and the crescent moon. Check out the horizon early in the evening. You'll see two bright lights near the moon.
The crescent moon is pretty cool looking too, with earthshine dimly lighting up the rest of its face. We will hope for no clouds tonight so you can see it. This planetary show won't last long and the planets won't line up like this again until 2052, so take some time tonight for stargazing.
And if you want to learn more about planets, be sure to check out our Planets site. I'm taking questions now for our next broadcast show all about the planets. Send one in and be entered in our drawing for stuff for your classroom. The Planets show airs December 16th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT.
November 24, 2008: Happy Thanksgiving! I am very thankful for all of you who check out my blog and the D4k site. I am thankful for those of you who call or email in questions for our broadcast show. I am thankful for the folks with whom I work here at Idaho Public Television and I am thankful for science and scientists. Here's a cool story for this week — it deals with light waves, guinea pigs, and the deaf.
Scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois are shining infrared light on the nerve cells in the inner ear of deaf guinea pigs. Sounds a bit odd, I grant you, but what they have discovered is pretty interesting. It turns out that you can use light to help the deaf hear.
Some deaf people have a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is a tiny electronic device implanted in a deaf person's head that stimulates the nerve cells in the ear and helps that person to hear. But cochlear implants aren't as good as regular hearing. People with cochlear implants have a hard time in noisy places or hearing music well. But doctors found that when they stimulated ear nerve cells with light, the brain reacted like it had heard a sound. Dr. Claus-Peter Richter shone infrared light into the inner ears of deaf guinea pigs while measuring electrical activity between the inner ear and the brain. He found the light did a better job of causing brain activity than the cochlear implants did. Now it is a big step from a guinea pig to a person, but it is a promising start. It is something for which we can be thankful!
November 18, 2008: Well, that was a first. My guests for today's show about robots didn't make it to the studio in time for the live show. John Sosoka, UGOBE's Chief Technology Office, sends his apologies and regrets for missing the show.
Well, sometimes things happen and you just have to figure out your options and move forward. We were lucky that we had a good show "in the can." Idaho National Laboratory scientists Matthew Anderson and Mark McKay answered questions about robots back in 1999. That was our first season! Anyway, if you want to see what I looked like nine years ago, check out the archived show.
Because we had no new guest, we did not do a Web extra program, but the new video piece on robots is available. Check out that video to learn how UGOBE built Pleo, a robotic baby dinosaur.
I really appreciate everyone who emailed and the few folks who called in their questions. We will put everyone's name into the hat for this month's drawing, so your efforts weren't entirely wasted.
Don't give up on us. Our next broadcast show will be on December 16th and we will be taking questions about the Planets. I promise I will do whatever I can to make sure the guests show up!
November 17, 2008: Check out our new broadcast D4K show on Tuesday. We will be taking questions about Robots! You can send in your email or tune in live either here on the website or over-the-air on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00p.m. MT/PT. The show and the web-only program will be archived here on this site later in the day so, if you miss the live broadcast, you can watch it here. More science news later!
November 10, 2008: Boy, you can tell I wasn't with it last week. At the end of last week's blog, I encouraged you to send in questions for out next broadcast show on planets. Oops! Our next show is actually all about Robots. We will discuss planets in December. Sorry about that. I am already getting questions about robots and it should be a great show. Check out the website and send in your questions.
ABC News has an interesting report about sharks and golf balls this week. Sharks can swim really fast, up to 50 miles per hour. Scientists were trying to figure out how. It turns out that sharks can raise the scales on their skin. This unevenness creates little hill-and-valley like pockets across the surface of their skin just like the dimples on a golf ball. Scientists already know that the dimples on golf balls helps cut drag. When you hit a golf ball, it flies through the air. Now, the air rushing past the ball forms little whirlpools within each of the dimples. This extra layer of air acts as a buffer and helps the ball move faster. Sharks apparently take advantage of the same physics. With less drag, a shark can swim faster and golf balls can fly farther.
Amy Lang from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and her colleagues discovered the difference when they created artificial sharkskin with those raised scales. They put the skin through water tests and found the speedy effect. Lang says, "It's like the difference between pushing a box over ball bearings instead of dragging it along the floor." Scientists think they can now use this discovery to improve the design of things like underwater vehicles.
Have a great week and send in those questions about ROBOTS!
November 3, 2008: Junk falling from space, a Presidential election, and a cool meteor shower . . . lots of news on a planetary scale this week.
A refrigerator-sized piece of space junk fell into the South Pacific Sunday night. The junk was a tank full of ammonia coolant from the international space station. Astronaut Clayton Anderson threw it overboard during a spacewalk in July 2007 because it was no longer needed. The space junk fell in the ocean somewhere between Australia and New Zealand.
Tomorrow is Election Day, even if you are floating in space. NASA astronauts Michael Fincke and Gregory Chamitoff will vote from the International Space Station. Texas Law allows their votes to be sent electronically from space and then counted. In the last 50 years, only four Americans have been allowed to vote from space. That's because the Texas law was only passed 11 years ago. Another good reason to vote tomorrow: to elect legislators who think beyond the earth's atmosphere.
And finally, look to the skies between November 5th and November 12th for the Taurid meteor showers. You should be able to see 10 to 15 meteors per hour after the moon sets. Moonlight makes it kind of hard to see. The Taurid meteors are the leftovers from Encke's Comet. Scientists think that this year the shower will include a few unusually bright meteors known as "fireballs." Meteors create streaks of light when they burn up in the atmosphere. I don't know if they make bigger shooting stars than tanks of coolant, but they are still cool to see.
Something else cool to see . . . check out our next D4K broadcast show on November 18th. We will be taking your questions about robots.
October 27, 2008: Dance. Dance. Dance. That's how scientists jokingly describe a new find of dinosaur footprints on the Arizona-Utah border. Paleontologists found more than 1,000 prints inside the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. At first, everyone assumed the marks were just holes caused by erosion. But when research established that four dinosaur species had lived in the area, scientists took another look at the holes. Professor Mark Can from the University of Utah thinks the area was probably a watering hole from the late Jurassic Period. He thinks there were mothers walking around with babies. He says you can even see tail marks in the rocks, a rare find. Scientists think the prints were locked in the sandstone after being covered by shifting sand dunes.
If you want to hear what stars sound like, click on over to the BBC. A group of scientists using France's Corot space telescope recorded the sounds. It's called stellar seismology. Scientists use the recording to tell different things about what's happening to the star. The sounds stars make depend upon their age, their size and their chemical composition.
If you didn't have a chance to see it, check out last week's new broadcast show and Web Extra on habitat. They are both very interesting. Or, if you are in the Halloween mood, check out our website on bats! Happy Halloween!
October 20, 2008: We have a live broadcast show up tomorrow (October 21st). Watch it here on your computer or on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. Email in your questions about Habitats. Be sure to check out the Habitat website too.
I'm jumping the gun a bit here, but here's a science story better suited to our planets show scheduled in December. School children and others are participating in the Great World Wide Star Count from October 20th to November 3rd. The Great World Wide Star Count helps scientists map light pollution globally. What is light pollution? Well, bright outdoor lighting makes it more difficult to see stars. Your eyes just can't see the fainter light of stars in the face of a streetlight, for example. It is annoying to us, but it is an especially big problem for scientists who are trying to study the stars.
The Windows to the Universe project at the University Corporation organizes the Great World Wide Star Count for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. This year, star-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere will look for the constellation Cygnus. Those in the Southern Hemisphere will look for the constellation Sagittarius. Participants can look outside their homes or go to places where there is less light pollution. Participants report on what they see, and UCAR then builds a map of star visibility around the world. If it is cloudy, participants can report on cloud cover and that will be added to the map.
Dennis Ward from UCAR says, "Without even being aware of it, many of us have lost the ability to see many stars at night. Part of our goal is getting people to look up and regain an appreciation of the night sky." If you are interested in getting involved, here's a link to UCAR.
October 13, 2008: Happy Columbus Day! Scientists are explorers too, and some researchers have discovered quite a find in a most unusual place.
Scientists have found a bug that could give us a clue whether life could exist on other planets. Desulforudis audaxviator is a microbe or a tiny bacterium found inside a gold mine in South Africa. This bacterium lives almost two miles beneath the surface of the Earth in total darkness and without any oxygen. It apparently relies on water, hydrogen and sulphate for its energy. The microbe lives entirely alone, making this the first known ecosystem with a single biological species.
Dr. Dylan Chivian from California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, whose team gets credit for this find, notes that early Earth and other planets didn't have much oxygen on them. He says if life forms were to develop, they would need to use chemicals like sulphate to get their energy. They will study Desulforudis audaxviator and find out more over then next few years.
All life forms need a habitat that provides them with energy to survive. Desulforudis audaxviator lives in total isolation and miles under the ground. What is your habitat like? You can find out more about all kinds of habitats on our next broadcast show. Tune in on October 21st at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Idaho Public Television or here on the website. Send in your question and you'll be entered into our contest for stuff for your classroom.
October 8, 2008: Sorry my blog is a bit late this week. It has been a busy place around here and I'm not the only one with something new on her plate. In Brazil, scientists have found a new species of ant. It's called a Martialis heureka. It has no eyes. Its body is pale and its mouthparts are longer than the rest of its head. Christian Rabeling from the University of Texas at Austin gets credit for the discovery. He says the Martialis heureka appeared on Earth earlier than any other ant living today. Scientists think it is blind and pale in color because it lives underground.
Scientists also reported some good news and some bad news this week. The bad news is one in four mammals are facing extinction. The threats seem to come from hunting and destruction of habitat. If you want to learn more about this, be sure to tune into our next D4K broadcast show. We will be taking your questions about habitats. Email them before the show and watch the show over the air or on line on October 21st at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT.
This week's good news is that an asteroid that was heading on a course to collide with the earth will burn up once it gets into our atmosphere. That's good news because it means the asteroid won't destroy the Earth and because it is among the first times scientists have been able to identify and track an asteroid long before it heads toward our planet. Finding, tracking and predicting the path of asteroids that are headed toward Earth is very hard and this was a sign scientists are getting better at doing all that.
Here's hoping your week has good news in it!
September 30, 2008: The wind is blowing at a 50-year low . . . but not the wind here on Earth. Scientists say solar winds are blowing about 20-25% less hard and about 13% cooler than they were during the last solar minimum. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles or plasma that is shot out from the sun. These particles head out into space, creating a Heliosphere or a bubble of wind material that surrounds the Sun and planets. Solar winds have a regular cycle where they blow hard sometimes and less at others. But scientists say the winds now are a lot less than they had expected.
So what does that mean? Well, the winds carry with them some of the Sun's magnetic field. That field helps protect the planets from high-energy cosmic rays that come from outside the solar system. We here on Earth are safe because we still have our atmosphere to protect us, but it may not be a good time to travel in space. Also, satellites are at greater risk of being damaged.
And why is this happening? Scientists aren't sure. If you want to learn more about plasma, check out our States of Matter video short. We'll be talking more about planets in our December show, so send your questions in and I'll hold onto them until then. Have a good week!
September 22, 2008: Happy first day of Fall! Fall, or the autumnal equinox, happened at 9:44:18 a.m. on Monday, September 22, 2008. The equinox happens twice a year when the Sun crosses the equator and the day and the night are approximately the same length, 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of dark. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will now get shorter. We will lose a few minutes of daylight each day until December 21st, the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year.
To keep you amused during these darker days, I am passing along some fun websites to check out.
There are 170 volcanoes around the world that could potentially erupt. Take a look at this site that tracks these volcanoes: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/ You'll be glad to know that the volcanoes closest to Idaho, the ones in Yellowstone National Park, are calm. Whew! But if you are heading to Hawaii, watch out.
A few seasons ago, D4K worked with Zoo Boise to promote ways of saving endangered or threatened animals. Zoo Boise collects a little bit of its entry fee into a fund each year and then awards money to preservation efforts. Kids like you can vote on which program will receive the money this year. Go to the Zoo Boise web site, read more about the various nominees and vote!
I also encourage you to check out last week's Dinosaur program. It was great! You can also watch the video short or the web-only program. Have a bright first week of fall. I'll have more science news next Monday.
September 8, 2008: Do you have a favorite song? It might be the key to helping you remember elementary school when you are older. Dr. Catriona Morrison, a researcher from the University of Leeds in England, is studying why music helps people remember things from way in their past. Dr. Morrison asked people to remember something relating to the Beatles, one of the world's most popular music groups from the 60's and early 70's. The memories they came up with were almost always positive and folks could remember a lot of detail. It seems attaching music to an event may help humans remember that event years later.
Our first D4K broadcast show of the season is next week! We'll be talking about dinosaurs so get your questions in. You can email questions. Remember, if you send in a question, you and your class will have a chance to win stuff for your classroom.
Be sure to tune into the Dinosaur show. It airs Tuesday, September 16th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television or here on the D4K Web site.
September 2, 2008: Elephants can't jump and T-Rexes didn't run fast. That's the news today out the University of London. John Hutchinson, a biologist at the Royal Veterinary College, studies how large animals move. First, about elephants. Using stop motion photography, Hutchinson filmed elephants walking and running. He discovered that their legs are not built like stiff columns, as previously thought. Instead, they are more flexible, more bouncy. Still, he reports, elephants don't jump. They don't have all four feet off the ground at once. Hutchinson also used computers to study how fast a T-Rex could run. His research shows that these big creatures were probably walkers rather than runners. Their legs just couldn't, ahem, stand up to the pressures of running at fast speeds. Want to know more about dinosaurs?
Our first show of the new school year will be all about dinosaurs. Check it out on September 16th. Be sure to send in your questions too and win stuff for your classroom.
August 25, 2008: Welcome back to school for many of you! After taking a few weeks off, I'm back to my weekly D4k blogging today. Check it out each week as I offer you one of the week's most interesting science stories. This week, it has to do with your nose.
All living things send out chemical signals to their fellow species when they are in danger or in trouble. The signals are called "pheromones." They are molecules and are very small. Scientists know pheromones exist, but they don't know what pheromones are made of and how animals and plants produce them. But now, scientist know how animals detect them.
These molecules float out into the air and go into your nose. A group of tight, round cells located near the tip of the nose, called the "Grueneberg ganglion," apparently picks the pheromones up and alerts you to the danger. Scientists knew about the Grueneberg ganglion years ago, but until now they didn't know what its purpose was.
Julien Brechbuhl and his colleagues at the University of Lausanne discovered the Grueneberg ganglion's role by comparing how normal mice and mice without Grueneberg ganglion react to alarm pheromones. Normal mice froze. The mice without the Grueneberg ganglion were unaware of the danger.
So, next time you seem to "sense" something is wrong, it may just be your nose doing its job.
My thanks to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for providing this story. Be sure to check out our new season of shows and our updated Web site next week!
July 14, 2008: All right guys, time to hang out with girls for a while. It might make you a better student. A study by psychologist Arlen Moller of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania shows that preschool boys do better in school when they are in classes that have more girls than boys in them.
There is lots of debate about what's better for learning: classes with boys and girls together or classes that are only boys or only girls. Other studies have shown that in high school, girls may do better in all girl classes. But the results aren't as clear in junior high or grade school.
In this study, the researchers looked at 70 preschool classes over a school year. They looked at the students' motor, social and thinking skills. They found that boys in majority-girl classrooms developed these skills more quickly. Boys who were in majority-boy classrooms didn't develop as fast.
And what did they find for girls? It turns out that the number of boys in a classroom didn't affect how the girls learned. What do you think of that!
July 7, 2008: Mercury is shrinking! That's a headline you don't see too often. We usually think of the planets in the solar system as staying pretty much the same.
But scientists at NASA say Mercury's diameter, that is the distance around the planet, has shrunk by about a mile over time. Scientists think the planet is shrinking because its core, the planet's center, is cooling. The core of the planet is made up of hot liquid. When it cools, it doesn't take up as much space; hence the whole planet is getting smaller.
Scientists are learning more about Mercury because the Messenger spacecraft flew by the planet last January. Messenger, by the way, stands for "Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging." This spacecraft will fly by Mercury three times as it prepares to settle into an orbit around the solar system's smallest planet in 2011.
June 16, 2008: Old Faithful is the world's most famous geyser. A geyser is a hot spring that erupts a burst of steam and hot water. Old Faithful goes off once every 50-to-90-minutes. Now scientists think that the length of the period between eruptions has to do with the annual rainfall. Researcher Shaul Hurwitz and other scientists from Yellowstone National Park have discovered that when there is less rain, the length of time between eruptions gets longer and when there is more rain, the duration is shorter. Watch Old Faithful erupt.
Just so you know, there are less than a thousand geysers worldwide, with more than half of them in Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful was named in 1870 and was the first geyser in the Park to be named.
May 27, 2008: Who would have thought that Idaho and the planet Mars have something in common? Researcher Michael Lamb at the University of California at Berkeley does. Lamb and his colleagues studied Idaho's Box Canyon and have decided that it may tell us how water shaped the landscape on Mars.
Geologists had always thought that Box Canyon was formed slowly, with groundwater seeping through the canyon walls and wearing the rocks away in a process called erosion. These canyons are stubby and end with a round steep wall. They are called "amphitheater-headed" canyons. Geologists assumed other, similarly shaped canyons, including canyons on Mars, were formed in the same manner. But Lamb and his colleagues have decided that a massive flood formed Box Canyon about 45,000 years ago. The water probably came from melting ice sheets and would have blasted through the canyon at an incredibly fast speed. If this is the case, Lamb says it is likely that megafloods occurred on Mars and created similarly shaped canyons there.
If you want to learn more about rocks and minerals in Idaho, be sure to check out our most recent broadcast show. You can also find out more on our rocks and mineral site. And just a reminder, even though we won't have any new broadcast shows until September, there will be new postings here on my blog. There are also lots of interesting things to find on this web site, so check out a topic, watch a video short, a web-only show, or a full 30-minute program. Send me an email for the "Watt's up" section. School may be out, but D4K is always here!
May 12, 2008: While I wouldn't recommend having anything to do with an alligator, you might someday need its blood. Chemists Dr. Mark Merchant, Kemit Murray and Lancia Darville are working on ways to use alligator blood to create new antibiotics. Doctors use antibiotics to kill germs that make us sick. If you get a cut, and the cut gets infected with bad germs, it can turn red and puffy. But these chemists noted that when alligators get cut, they don't get this kind of infection even though they live dirty, germ-filled water. Why?
It turns out alligator blood contains materials that work like antibiotics. In laboratory tests, gator blood seems stop a number of the Earth's worst infections, so the researchers hope to turn the proteins in alligator blood into new medicines.
One more roundup of scientific news in honor of Mother's Day. It turns out that scientists have concluded that if you have a good Mom, you will probably live longer and healthier and be smarter and happier. Researchers found that good mice Moms, the ones who licked and groomed their pups, turned out pups that did better on mouse IQ tests. Researchers at the McGill University in Montreal found that mouse pups that were canoodled by their mothers grew into less anxious, more self-assured adults.
Scientists at the University of Tampere in Finland found human Moms are important too. Researchers videotaped infants 8 to 11 weeks old and their Moms and noted how much each parent and child interacted. Two years later, they found that those children who did not interact with their Moms tended to be sicker and had more chronic illnesses. So science proves good kids need good Moms! By the way, this research doesn't mean you don't need good Dads. Moms (especially mice Moms) tend to be the primary caregivers, so Moms were the focus of the research. But Dads can be primary caregivers too.
Be sure to send in your questions about rocks and minerals. We have a new broadcast show next Tuesday, May 20th. Email me or plan to call in live 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. You can watch the show on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer. The show and the Web Extra will be archived here on the Web site shortly afterwards.
May 5, 2008: Scientists have found what they think is the biggest animal eye. The eyes of the colossal squid measure eleven inches across. The human eye is only about an inch across. So this lady could really see! The scientists think that when the animal was alive, the eyes were probably even larger.
By the way, the squid itself is no small creature. It is about 34 feet long. A fisherman caught this one in the Ross Sea near Antarctica last year. Scientists don't know too much about this type of squid because only ten have ever been caught. They are dissecting the rare specimen in hopes of learning more about the animal.
April 21, 2008: A 'bionic eye' may give sight to those left blind by a hereditary disease. Scientists at London's Moorfields Eye Hospital are testing an artificial eye on two men who lost their sight to the disease retinitis pigmentosa. The 'bionic eye' is implanted in the back of the eye and is connected to a camera on a pair of glasses. The camera sends a wireless signal to a very thing electronic receiver and electrode panel. That panel is implanted in the eye and attached to the retina. Learn more about the eye from one of our previous D4K shows. Initially, doctors hope the men will be able to see light and dark outlines. They aren't sure if everything will work, but the doctors are hopeful. If perfected, the bionic eye may give sight to thousands of Americans.
If you want something to look at, check out our program with Idaho's Teacher-in-Space, Barbara Morgan.
One other note of interest, D4K received two (2) Emmy nominations! The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Northwest chapter nominated D4K in the Children/Youth program category, and the D4K "Web Extra" was nominated for best Children/Youth/Teen Advanced Media. This Emmy is given for programs designed exclusively for the Web. The Emmys for the Northwest region will be presented on June 7, 2008 in Seattle. Yippee!
April 14, 2008: Have you felt the ground moving? You might have if you lived in central Oregon. Scientists have detected an unusual number of earthquakes in that area. Using underwater microphones, the scientists picked up more than 600 quakes over the past 10 days in a basin deep within the earth about 150 miles southwest of Newport, Oregon.
Researchers aren't quite sure what these quakes mean. This type of quake usually happens before a volcanic eruption, but there are no volcanoes in this area. Scientists think that molten rock is moving away from recognized earthquake faults off Oregon shores. They hope to send research ships into the ocean to take water samples. They want to look for evidence that sediment has been stirred up. That might show that magma is on the move.
Speaking of moving, it's time for you to get moving and send in a question for this week's new broadcast show. Teacher-in-Space Barbara Morgan will be our guest for a one-hour special. That show airs at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Tuesday, April 15th.
Send in your questions via email or call in during the live show. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer. We will archive the show and the Web Extra shortly afterwards. Remember, when you send in a question, you and your class are entered into a drawing for stuff for your classroom. I hope to hear from you.
April 7, 2008: DNA extracted from, well, poop, is making news this week. Scientists found some fossilized feces in a cave in Oregon. It shows that humans lived in North America more than 14,000 years ago, 1,000 year earlier than previously thought.
Researchers also learned that these ancient peoples were related to humans living in Siberia and East Asia. This suggests that these peoples came to North America from Asia over a land-bridge between Alaska and Siberia.
The ancient poop also gives scientists an idea about what these early humans ate. How's this for a diet: squirrels, bison, fish, grass, sunflowers, birds and dog.
Scientists call fossil feces coprolites. The oldest bit of coprolite being studied is about 14,340 years old.
If you are more interested in space than coprolites, here is your chance to talk with a real astronaut. Idaho's Teacher-in-Space, Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan is our guest on next week's D4K. She will be joining us from Houston for a one-hour special. Send in your questions now or call in live during the show. Check it out at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Tuesday, April 15th on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer. We will also archive the show afterwards AND do a Web extra with Barbara. So check it out!
April 1, 2008: For years, everyone thought that a recording of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" by Thomas Edison was the oldest known recording of the human voice. But scientists have discovered a song recorded 17 years earlier. In 1860, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian inventor, recorded, sort of, a bit of the song "Au Clair de la Lune." I say "sort of" because the recording isn't like any modern day recording. The French inventor used a "phonautograph." This invention scratched lines onto a piece of paper covered in soot from a burning oil lamp. The lines came from a needle attached to a diaphragm that responded to sound. The BBC has more on the story. You'll also find a link there to listen to this ancient piece of music.
I hope you had a chance to see our show on Amphibians. While you're there, you can also watch our web-only or video short pieces. Our next program is a one hour special with Education Mission Specialist, Idaho's Teacher-in-Space, Barbara Morgan. If you have a question for her, send it in soon. We are expecting more than a thousand questions. You can also call-in during the live show.
We are starting to decide what subjects we will feature next season. Do you have any suggestions? Send me an email.
We are starting to build up to our next broadcast show with Barbara Morgan. If you have a question for her, get it in early. Last time Barbara was on, we had more than a thousand questions. Send in your question here.
My favorite science story of the week comes out of Harvard. Researchers there were testing the idea that good guys finish last. It turns out they were wrong. Being nice and fair helps you succeed.
Researchers watched 100 college students play the same game over and over. The theory was that punishment makes two equal players cooperate rather than compete. But when played over and over, punishment didn't seem to work as well. Working together, being nice, was the way to win.
The author of the study, Marin Nowak said, "We find that those who used punishment are losers." Those who escalate the conflict, or push punishment, often wound up 'doomed.'
So when playing the game of life, science seems to think, that they best way to play is to be nice.
Be sure to check out the amphibian pages. For those of you on Spring Break, have a great time!
March 10, 2008: Rats and frogs are not necessarily the best of friends, but they share one thing in common, the year 2008. According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2008 is the year of the Rat. But starting February 29th, it is also officially the year of the Frog. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is promoting 2008 as the Year of the Frog because, they say, frogs are going extinct. The World Conservation Union estimates that at least one-third of known amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
If you want to learn more about why amphibians are in trouble, tune into next week's live broadcast show. Scientists will be in the studio to answer your questions about amphibians. You can see it here on your computer or on Idaho Public Television on March 18th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. You can also catch the web extra or the full half hour show after that here on the D4K site. Be sure to email your questions or call in live.
March 3, 2008: You are what you drink, or at least your hair is. Scientists have discovered that they can figure out where you live and where you have been based on the chemical makeup of your hair. And they can do this because of the water we drink.
Remember, water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. These atoms can vary in how much they weigh. Different forms of a single element like hydrogen or oxygen are called isotopes. And scientists know that tap water in different parts of the world contain unique proportions of heavier and lighter hydrogen and oxygen isotopes.
Now, water makes up more than half of an adult's body weight. Our bodies break down water as part of the digestive process and parts of the water we drink end up in our hair. So environmental chemist James R. Ehleringer from the University of Utah wondered if he could learn where you live based on the amount of isotopes found in your hair.
He and his colleagues collected hair samples from 65 cities in 18 states and found that hair from a specific spot matched the concentrations of isotopes found in that spot's water supply.
Even if you drink bottled water, Ehleringer and his team say your hair will still give you away because you probably use tap water for your cooking and because milk and soft drinks contain large amounts of water from within a local region.
Now, Ehleringer says the technique can't pinpoint a person's exact location because similar types of water can be found in rather broad regions. But it can help narrow down the search, especially for police who use hair samples to investigate criminals or to help crime victims.
February 25, 2008: The frog from hell, that's quite an introduction. Scientists have unearthed a fossil of a frog believed to have weighed in at about nine pounds. They call it Beelzebufo, or "frog from hell." It was apparently quite different from frogs today. Its body was about 16 inches long, with short legs and a big mouth. Scientist Susan Evans, from the University College of London, believes the frog from hell might have been a scary predator. "Its diet most likely [would] have consisted of insects," she said, but it might have also eaten small dinosaurs. If you want to learn more about frogs, be sure to tune into our next broadcast show. We'll be answering your questions about amphibians on March 18th. You can send in your questions now, and you and your class will be entered into a drawing for stuff for your classroom.
Did you have a chance to watch the lunar eclipse last week? Here are a couple of pictures I took of the event. The next lunar eclipse we can see will be in 2010.
You don't have to wait that long if you missed last week's broadcast show on teeth. Take a couple minutes to look at the "Video Short" or the "Web Extra" programs.
February 18, 2008: Ever been head-butted? Apparently head-butting was the weapon of choice for one dinosaur. Paleontologists (scientists that study dinosaur bones) found the bones of two new meat-eating dinosaurs in Africa. The first was named "Kryptops palaios" or "old hidden face." Scientist Paul Sereno called it that because of a horny covering over its face. Sereno and his other fossil hunters named the second new dinosaur "Eocarcharia dinops," which means "fierce-eye dawn shark" for its razor-sharp teeth and bony brow.
Both dinosaurs were about 25 feet long and stood 7 feet tall. By studying the dinosaurs' teeth, scientists think Kryptops was a scavenger. His short snout was better for gnawing its food. They think Eocarcharia used its head to butt its rivals.
Scientists can tell a lot about a creature by looking at its teeth. Do you want to know how? Well, tomorrow, Tuesday, February 19th, I have a new broadcast show all about teeth. Check it out on Idaho Public Television or here on your computer at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT or watch it here afterwards on this website. Be sure to send in your question about teeth (link) so you can win stuff for your classroom.
February 11, 2008: Researchers have come up with a new power source for your iPod or cell phone, and it is as close as your knee. Maxwell Donelan of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and his colleagues have invented a device that looks like a knee brace. It converts the energy from a moving leg into electricity. When we walk, we generate energy. The hamstring muscle slows our knees, absorbing energy with each step. Donelan's device "harvests" the extra energy and converts it into electricity.
Volunteers wore the brace walking slowly on a treadmill. They found they could walk with the device without much bother and without much effort. But the payoff was pretty good. They could generate about five watts of electricity. That's enough power to run ten cell phones or twice the power needed to run a computer. That's good news for the millions of kids who live in places without electricity. Just think, some day you may take a walk around the block to check the Internet!
Two more things: if you are giving your Valentine a bunch of roses this week, be sure to also give a can of lemon-lime soda. Scientists at the University of Missouri report that lemon-lime soda can extend the life of cut roses.
Here is the whole recipe: 12 ounces of lemon-lime sofa (regular, not diet), 12 ounces of water, and half a teaspoon of bleach or mouthwash. If you have hard water, add a drop of dishwashing liquid. Once your Valentine gets his/her roses home, have them re-cut the stems under running water (very important to be cut under running water) and put them into your lemon-lime formula. That should do it. Science can make your love last — or at least your love's flowers!
Finally, remember we have a new D4K broadcast show next Tuesday, February 19th. Send in your questions about teeth! See the show on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT or here online afterwards.
Happy Valentine's Day!
February 4, 2008: Happy Year of the Rat! This Thursday, February 7th, is the beginning of the lunar year in China. The Rat is the first of 12 animals on the Chinese Zodiac. People born in the year of the Rat are supposed to be leaders and pioneers and to like order. It is all based on an ancient Chinese philosophy.
Check out this chart and find out what animal you are. Remember, if you were born in January or early February, you are probably associated with the prior year's animal. That's because the Chinese New Year happens in early February, not on January 1st. I am an Ox.
I am also a fan of roses. And Japanese researchers worked for 14 years to develop a new blue rose. They created the rose by implanting the gene that makes blue pigments in pansies into a rose. The company says it will start selling them in Japan next year. They aren't saying how much they cost. So if you want a blue rose for your valentine this year, make it out of paper!
Be sure to send in your questions about teeth for our next D4K broadcast show. That program airs on Idaho Public Television on February 19th at 2:00/ 1:00 p.m. MT/PT.
January 28, 2008: What did the dentist see at the North Pole? A molar bear. What was the dentist doing in Panama? Looking for the Root Canal? What did the tooth say to the departing dentist? Fill me in when you get back.
Dental humor might or might not be your thing, but scientists now believe humor might help you learn more and might help your parents cope with difficult jobs. Researcher Melissa B. Wanzer, a professor of communication studies at Canisius College in Buffalo New York, wondered how health care providers for very sick people managed to go to work each day. The answer: humor. Workers who approached their job with a sense of humor coped better in tough situations. She also found that if a manager or teacher used humor appropriately, they were generally viewed as doing a better job. She reports that students also learn more when their teachers use humor effectively.
Now this is not to say your teacher should start each day with a stand-up routine, but a joke now and then and a good sense of humor can make everyone's day a bit better.
What does the dentist of the year get as a prize? A little plaque.
If you have a question for the dentist who will appear on our next broadcast D4K, send it in. The show airs on Idaho Public Television on February 19th and will be here on the D4K website after that.
One more thing — D4K was just honored with the Best Instructional Program (small market) award from the National Education Telecommunication Association (NETA). Yippee!
January 21, 2008: I hope you had a chance to see last week's show on Force and Motion. If you missed it, you can see the whole show, the video short, or the web-only extra from the show's video archive page. Check it out!
I've been doing lots of reading about teeth leading up to our show next month so this bit of science news caught my eye. Scientists think they may have come up with a better way to cure bad breath.
Halitosis, or bad breath, can be caused by germs that grow in your mouth. The germs live on the bits of food left on your teeth. If you don't brush and floss regularly, the germs grow. They excrete waste, using your mouth as a, forgive the term, toilet. Those waste products leave you with bad breath.
But scientists in Illinois report that breath mints made with magnolia tree bark extract kill the germs in about half an hour. Minmin Tian and Michael Greenberg tested the magnolia bark using spit taken from volunteers. They found the magnolia tree bark extract mints killed more than 61 percent of the bad breath making germs. That's 15 times better than your average breath mint.
They also found that the extract mints helped kill the bacteria that cause cavities. The scientists say the best way to stop bad breath and cavities is still brushing and flossing regularly, but any new weapon in the war against bad breath is important. There is one thing news reports about this discovery doesn't say. It doesn't say what the magnolia tree bark extract mints taste like!
Be sure to check out the Force and Motion videos and send in a question for February's broadcast show. It is all about teeth. Maybe the dentists coming on the show know what magnolia tree bark extract mints taste like!
January 7, 2008: Okay, I have a few more weird science stories of 2007 to report. MSNBC polled its readers and came up with its own list. Here are my favorites from their list:
Now, time to look forward. We have a new broadcast show all about force and motion for January 15th. Send in your questions now and be entered in our contest for stuff for your classroom.
December 31, 2007: Happy 2008 to you all! Before we jump into the New Year, let's look at some of my favorite science stories of 2007. Here they are, in no particular order:
* The weather was a big story in 2007. January was the warmest first month on record worldwide at 1.53 degrees above normal. And 2007 was shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere. We here in Idaho felt the heat. Chilly Barton Flat (in Central Idaho) was singled out for its record high temperatures of 100 degrees for four days in July and August.
* Astronomers spotted the brightest supernova of a star ever observed in May. The star was 240 million light years away. A supernova is a star that explodes. This one was located in the galaxy NGC 1260SN. It burned for more than 250 days.
* Scientists all over the world discovered thousands of new species including:
But, scientists also say that if global warming continues, 20% of the world's plant and animals may vanish. That's not good news.
* Archaeologists in China discovered the remains of a feathered, 16-foot-tall, 3000-pound flightless dinosaur. The 70-million-year-old Gigantoraptor erlianensis was found in Mongolia.
* Scientists learned that Neanderthals might have been redheads. Hey!
* Experts have found a way to make Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) brighter and use less power than regular bulbs. This may mark the end of incandescent lights. Actually, that's good news because we all need to use less energy and this way, we will still be able to see in the dark!
* By the end of the year, the world's population will top 6.6 billion — that's 100 million new people since last year. Wow.
My thanks to Lisa Stein at Scientific American and Elizabeth Weise at USA ToDAY for their help with today's blog. If you have a minute, scroll down this page and check out some of the other science stories I highlighted over 2007. They include more about giant ancient scorpions, why you like chocolate, the oldest living creature (a clam), and a web of millions of spiders that covers acres in Texas, just to name a few.
Have a great 2008 and keep checking back here for fun science news!