Science news

Is there ever a time when cool trumps science?

It's a question that becomes relevant when you consider NASA's plans to put a helicopter drone on an upcoming rover mission to Mars.

This is the time of year that ancient Greeks gave thanks to the goddess Ceres for bringing forth a bountiful harvest. Modern planetary scientists give thanks to a different Ceres — not a goddess, but the largest object in the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Studying Ceres should help researchers gain a better understanding of how our solar system formed, and they'll soon have unique new data about Ceres from a NASA spacecraft called Dawn, which is spending this Thanksgiving heading for its closest, and final, orbit around the dwarf planet.

Somehow we're squeezing 16 people into our apartment for Thanksgiving this year, with relatives ranging in age from my 30-year-old nephew to my 90-year-old mother. I love them all, but in a way the one I know best is the middle-aged man across the table whose blue eyes look just like mine: my younger brother Paul.

Every year before influenza itself arrives to circulate, misinformation and misconceptions about the flu vaccine begin circulating. Some of these contain a grain of truth but end up distorted, like a whispered secret in the Telephone game.

But if you're looking for an excuse not to get the flu vaccine, last year's numbers of its effectiveness would seem a convincing argument on their own. By all measures, last season's flu vaccine flopped, clocking in at about 23 percent effectiveness in preventing lab-confirmed influenza infections.

A look at the brain's wiring can often reveal whether a person has trouble staying focused, and even whether he or she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD.

A team led by researchers at Yale University reports that they were able to identify many children and adolescents with ADHD by studying data on the strength of certain connections in their brains.

Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Researchers at the University of Washington say they have figured out how to make lasers do something they have never done before: make a liquid colder.

Google's self-driving car is seeming more and more human. And like the rest of us, it's subject to traffic stops.

The head of Google's rapid rollout lab, David Weekly, tweeted a photo Thursday of the prototypical car stopped by a motorcycle officer. Apparently, the vehicle was going too slowly in a 35 mph zone, causing traffic to snarl.

Astronomers have spotted what they believe to be the most distant object ever seen in our solar system.

The dwarf planet, known for now simply as V774104, is more than 100 times farther from the sun than we are. Astronomers aren't sure what it's doing out there, but they're hoping follow-up studies of its orbit will teach them more.

Our Tools of the Trade series examines iconic objects of the education world.

The 24 juniors and seniors in the astronomy class at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Va., sink into plush red theater seats. They're in a big half-circle around what looks like a giant telescope with a globe on the end. Their teacher, Lee Ann Hennig, stands at a wooden control panel which, appropriately, has enough buttons and dials to launch a rocket.

In September, we reported on a charming little study that found people who feel blue after watching sad videos have a harder time perceiving colors on the blue-yellow axis.

Now the researchers may be feeling blue themselves. On Thursday they retracted their study, saying that errors in how they structured the experiment skewed the results.

Biologist Ethan Bier runs a laboratory at the University of California, San Diego where fruit flies are used to help unravel the processes that lead to some human diseases. One day recently, a graduate student in the lab called him over to take a look at the results of the latest experiment.

Bier was stunned by what he saw. "It was one of the most astounding days in my personal scientific career," Bier says. "When he first showed me, I could not believe it."

This week, for Halloween, the Hidden Brain podcast gets spooky.

Producer Maggie Penman visits a haunted house in Pittsburgh called The ScareHouse, curated in part by sociologist Margee Kerr.

Kerr teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of a new book called Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear.

Childhood is a time for pretend play, imaginary friends and fantastical creatures. Flying ponies reliably beat documentaries with the preschool set.

Yet adults are no strangers to fiction. We love movies and novels, poems and plays. We also love television, even when it isn't preceded by "reality." / Flickr

There are many computer scientists these days trying to create machines that can make connections the way human brains do; but it is not an easy task.

Now the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is sponsoring a contest to see whose software can best answer 8th grade science questions. 

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

The maker culture is built around a do-it-yourself ethic. It’s not unusual to meet people teaching themselves carpentry, computer hacking or electrical engineering. But what about DIY biochemistry? or do-it-yourself genetic engineering? or do-it-yourself neuroscience?

Two scientists from Canada and Japan have won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 for opening "a new realm in particle physics," the Nobel Prize committee says. Working far apart, both Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald showed how neutrinos shift identities like chameleons in space.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Seattle scientists have managed to genetically transform human cells in the lab from HIV targets to HIV killers, and the technique could have implications for cancer and other diseases.

The virus that causes AIDS loves to go after a particular group of white blood cells called T-cells, a key part of the immune system. T-cells have a protein on their surface that the virus attaches to and uses to invade the cell.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

How do you make something called a “slime mold” sound even more disgusting? Call it “dog vomit slime mold.”

It looks more or less like you’d expect, at least from a distance.

“It looks a little bit gross to some people. I think it’s pretty cool,” said Angela Mele.

The Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium has diagnosed a sea otter with asthma and is training the animal to use an inhaler. KING-TV reports Dr. Lesanna Lahner diagnosed the otter, named Mishka, after she was having trouble breathing when smoke from wildfires was in the Seattle area.

 Mishka's trainer uses food to teach the 1-year-old to push her nose on the inhaler and take a deep breath. The medication in the otter's inhaler is exactly the same as what humans use.

Jennifer Wing / KPLU


The National Football League is giving $2.5 million to the University of Washington to study concussions in an effort to make sports safer. The donation, which helps advance work already underway at the university, will help fund the Sports, Health, Safety Institute.

Along with figuring out better ways to prevent and treat concussions, researchers will look at a variety of preventable sports health issues.

Stem Box

Imagine getting a box containing a ball of bones and fur regurgitated from an owl. That’s just one of the gross things a Seattle researcher plans to send to girls nationwide, as part of a new bid to attract girls into science.

Kina McAllister works as a research technician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and she’s the mind behind Stem Box. The subscription service sends out a kit each month geared toward awakening the scientist in young girls.

Dan Burgard


Sewage reveals a lot about our daily habits. With that in mind, the federal government is paying for a study to test sewage water in Washington State to determine how much marijuana people are consuming.


Dan Burgard, an associate chemistry professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, has been collecting waste water samples since December 2013, about eight months before the first legal pot stores opened.

Associate Press


When a man’s masculinity is threatened in a minor way it can lead him to tell blatant lies. This is the finding of a new study from researchers at the University of Washington and Stanford.

Smithsonsian Institute

UPDATE:  After DNA testing confirmed the 8,500-year-old Kennewick man was ancestor of modern Washington tribes, Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting that the remains be returned to Native American tribes.

A pair of college students discovered the skeleton near Columbia River and Kennewick in 1996. The U.S Army Corp of Engineers took control of the bones that are the oldest human remains discovered in North America. Recent DNA analysis proved that the Kennewick man is genetically linked to modern Native Americans.

“Now that DNA analysis has demonstrated a genetic link to modern Native Americans, including those in the State of Washington, I am requesting that the Ancient One be repatriated to the appropriate Tribes as expeditiously as possible,” Inslee wrote in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our Washington State tribes have waited nineteen years for the remains to be transferred for reburial.

Original Story, published June 18, 2015:

Scientists say they’ve pinned down the origins of a man who lived in the northwest about 9,000 years ago, and their conclusion is the same as what Washington tribes have been saying since the bones’ discovery: Kennewick Man was Native American.

Kennewick Man, known to the tribes as the Ancient One, has been fought over since his discovery in 1996. Researchers have suggested he came from Japanese, Polynesian or even European stock.

But Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen says DNA pulled from a hand bone now makes it clear where Kennewick Man belongs in the world’s family tree.

“Kennewick Man, the Ancient One, is more closely related to contemporary Native Americans than to any other contemporary populations in the world,” said Eske, speaking at a press conference at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

The museum has housed the bones while five Washington tribes have been fighting the federal government over control of the remains. They believe the new finding bolsters their case that Kennewick Man should be given to them, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

University of Washington


The findings in new study from the University of Washington show that intensive therapy for very young children with autism spectrum disorder appears to have lasting results. The study’s authors say this makes a strong case for targeted intervention where there is an early diagnosis.

The report will be published next month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

  Many will tune in to the U.S. Open golf championship in University Place for the grace of a perfect swing or the elegance of a golf ball’s arc. But people at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center hope you will also watch for the science at the heart of the game.

At the Science Center’s exhibit, “Learning Science through Golf,” you can see how much force it takes to make a four-foot putt or measure the volume of a golf club head by dunking it in a beaker of water. You can even learn what it takes to maintain healthy turf grass in the northwest climate.

Juno Theraputics

Seattle-based scientists are reporting more encouraging results from treating blood cancer patients with souped-up immune cells.

The trial, part of a larger study by Seattle-based biotechnology Juno Therapeutics, involved about 50 people with three different types of blood cancer. Patients in this type of trial typically have not responded to the usual treatments, and are nearly out of options.

Scientists from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center re-engineered the patients’ immune cells and injected them back into their bodies. Dr. Cameron Turtle of Fred Hutch reported Monday that 91 percent of those with acute lymphoblastic leukemia went into remission.

Courtesy of the Burke Museum

  Washington State has its first dinosaur.

Researchers at the Burke Museum say they excavated a weathered, 80 million year old thighbone from a beach on Sucia Island in the San Juans. It is the first verified dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington.