Science

Washington state students rank in the top 10 for math and science when compared with their counterparts in other countries, according to a new batch of test scores.

Washington's eighth graders tested better than the national average in both subjects. And scores here are higher than those in Ontario, Canada; Hungary, and Australia.

Cecilia Bitz photo

Arctic sea ice is melting at record rates, and the loss of that ice could drive significant degradation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, according to a researcher at the University of Washington. The researcher, Cecilia Bitz, is part of an international team of scientists whose findings are published this week in the journal, Science

Can you learn to like music you hate?

Feb 19, 2013

You hear some music you hate. That's fair. We all do on occasion. But can you learn to love — or at least not loathe — that music? Can you intentionally transform the visceral response you have to certain pieces and styles, or does that happen at some more incalculable, subtle level?

Researchers at Australia's University of Melbourne say that the more dissonance (which they describe as "perceived roughness, harshness, unpleasantness, or difficulty in listening to the sound") that we hear in music, the less we enjoy said music. Seems obvious enough, right?

We're in Milan. We're not happy. We're waiting for a bus that doesn't seem to come. Then we see this:

Three different sized sheets of bubble wrap, sized for how long you expect to wait: a little square for three minutes, bigger for five minutes, biggest for 10 — and the sign on top says: "Antistress For Free!!"

Everyone knows what to do. First, you calculate.

Then you choose.

Then you forget all about the bus and spend the time happily popping polyethylene-wrapped air bubbles.

The Associated Press

Washington scientists guessed that mysterious mounds hundreds of feet below the surface of Hood Canal were deposited by Ice Age glaciers or built up by natural gas seeps or geothermal vents.

After taking a closer look with a remote control camera they have another theory.

The director of a chimpanzee institute at Central Washington University says she feels urgency to bring in new animals. The education and research program in Ellensburg is now down to two aging chimps after the weekend death of another ape known for his sign language abilities.

The chimpanzee named "Dar" was 36 years old when he died unexpectedly on Saturday of unknown causes. Autopsy results are expected later this week.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Many jobs of the future will be in fields that go by the shorthand “STEM”: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But these are precisely the subjects where many American students are falling short. Educators are responding by creating STEM-focused schools, and in Seattle officials are breaking ground by pushing that emphasis back into younger classes, all the way to kindergarten.

Principal Shannon McKinney is in charge of figuring out how to build one of the first STEM elementary schools in the Northwest. K-5 STEM at Boren, as it’s awkwardly named, is in West Seattle, but any elementary student in the district can apply for a spot here.

As the school wraps up its first semester, McKinney and her team are still working out what a STEM education for Seattle’s youngest learners should look like.

Summer Skyes 11 / Flickr

Instead of increasing kids’ isolation, a new study from the University of Washington suggests life on the digital frontier is helping kids reach developmental milestones.

Phones and social media help kids share personal problems and build a sense of belonging, the UW noted in a press release.

Brittney Tatchell

For one thing, Kennewick Man – the 9,500-year-old remains found in the shallows of the Columbia River more than 16 years ago – was buff. We’re talking beefcake.

So says Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Owsley led the study of the ancient remains.

MATTAWA, Wash. – Kennewick Man spent most of his life on the coast, not in the region on the Columbia River where he was found. So says the federal scientist who fought for nearly 10 years to study the 9,500 year old bones. The scientist released some of his findings at a conference this week with Northwest tribes

Kennewick Man’s bones give an indication of what he ate, and how he lived. The research shows he wasn’t fond of oysters or clams but instead his menu included big sea creatures like seals.

The Northwest is known for its love of coffee. Now evidence of that is showing up in the Pacific Ocean. Researchers have found low levels of caffeine at half a dozen locations on the Oregon Coast.

Caffeine does not occur naturally in the environment in the Pacific Northwest. Marine scientists believe the java jolt gets into seawater through treated sewage and septic runoff.

A Portland State University graduate student collected water samples at 14 coastal beaches and seven nearby river mouths. Samples taken after heavy stormwater runoff contained traces of caffeine.

Lower Columbia Ciollege / Flickr

Many of the efforts to improve schools in Washington are focusing on science and technology, and some leading educators are concerned that’s coming at the expense of a well-rounded education. They’re forming a group to advocate for liberal arts learning.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

At the core of Washington’s agriculture industry is science – you can’t grow a potato or cherry without knowing about soil chemistry, hydrology and photosynthesis. But the people who get their hands dirty in the business of growing and picking don’t always think of it that way.

In fact, the children of that workforce tend to struggle in math and science. Just one in four children of migrant workers meets state science standards in eighth grade, far below the population as a whole. The gap in math is nearly as wide.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

SPOKANE, Wash. – Another damp spring has led to another outbreak of black flies in Spokane.

Image courtesy of Kate Saunders

If you’re wondering when Mount St. Helens is due to erupt again, so are a lot of scientists, and they’re finding new ways to forecast when eruptions are likely.

The latest idea uses crystals that form deep beneath the surface.

WSU researchers patent longer battery life technology

May 23, 2012

Researchers at Washington State University say they've found a way to keep lithium batteries charged three times longer. These are the batteries used in laptops, cell phones and electric vehicles.

The key ingredient in the new battery design is tin, as a replacement for carbon, which is more common.

The research is lead by engineering professor Grant Norton. He says the improvements could keep many electronic devices running much longer.

Smithsonian

If you came face to face with a great whale, you might find a few surprises in its chin: Like whiskers, if you look closely at the surface.

And, hidden inside the chin, lies a mysterious sensory organ, unknown to centuries of whalers and biologists.

The chance of a woman getting ovarian disease may be tied to the toxic chemicals her great-grandmother was exposed to. That’s according to a new study by researchers at Washington State University. The study could help explain the role of environmental factors in inherited diseases.

Here’s how it works. Picture your great-grandmother. Now let’s say, while pregnant with your future grandparent, she was exposed to some toxic chemical. Pesticides, phthalates -- that stuff in plastic -- or maybe jet fuel. Those are some of the things the researchers looked at.

WSU Researchers Studying Bears’ Hibernation To Narrow Down A Cure For Diabetes

030712AK_Bears.wav :57 Wrap 3/7/12 Anna King/CF

RICHLAND, Wash. – Hibernating bears do things that doctors tell humans not to do. They eat fatty foods, lay around for months on end and get high cholesterol. Yet they don’t suffer the same ill effects we would.

Two women losing their sight to progressive forms of blindness may have regained some vision while participating in an experiment testing a treatment made from human embryonic stem cells, researchers reported today.

The report marks the first time that scientists have produced direct evidence that human embryonic stem cells may have helped a patient. The cells had only previously been tested in the laboratory or in animals.

Let me take a second here.

Not very long, was it?

But a second tied up delegates to the UN's International Telecommunication Union, who postponed a decision this week on whether to abolish the extra second that's added to clocks every few years to compensate for the earth's natural doddering.

The earth slows down slightly as we spin through space. No one falls off, but earthquakes and tides routinely slow the earth by a fraction of a fraction of a second, which makes clocks minutely wrong. If not corrected, it could make a minute of difference a century.

Scientists watch comet plunge into the sun

Jan 19, 2012

For the first time ever, scientists have been able to watch a comet perform a deadly dive into the sun. Back in July, a Kreutz sungrazer known as C/2011 N3 passed so close to the sun that the icy body was vaporized.

Slapping on a nicotine patch may not just be for smokers trying to kick the habit.

In an intriguing test, researchers tried nicotine patches as a memory booster for nonsmokers with mild declines in their thinking ability, a precursor to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Associated Press

If you’re an early riser, you may get to see a total eclipse of the moon on Saturday. The full moon will fall into a dark shadow in the hours just before dawn.

The northwestern U.S. gets a better view of this eclipse than the rest of the mainland states – that is, if you’re not fogged in.

We were stunned when we saw this image:

According to HRL Laboratories that is an "ultralight metallic microlattice" sitting atop a dandelion. The material was developed by scientists at HRL, The California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Irvine.

The material is 99.99 percent air and 100 times lighter than styrofoam.

RICHLAND, Wash. - A federal nuclear watchdog agency is questioning some of the science behind a massive treatment plant at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. In a letter released Thursday, federal examiners say key treatment tanks could pose risks.

Flickr/Ravenelle

Ever had a summer beach vacation chilled by dense fog? Then you might be interested in new research at the University of Washington. A scientist there is looking at how fogginess along the coast has changed over time. 

AP

Western Washington can look forward to an added gift of the Winter Solstice: a total eclipse of the moon. The heavenly event begins at 10:32 pm tonight, with the moon in full eclipse from 11:41 pm to 12:53 am, according to NASA.

Photo courtesty Voice of America

One of the problems with saving lives is it’s hard to identify a death averted. Success in disease prevention is often invisible.

You typically can’t say, for example, that 380 cases of malaria, and one death, were prevented in African children for every $1,025 spent on insecticide-treated bed nets last year.

Except now you can.