Science

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Researchers have found a curious purple orb near California's Channel Islands – and it's left them stumped.

A group of nano-scientists has discovered a way to arrange individual atoms to store and rewrite data 500 times more efficiently than the best hard drives on the market.

The 2,200-year-old mummy of an Egyptian man who spent a lot of time sitting and eating carbs went on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday and will be open to the public beginning Wednesday.

Tim Bouwer / Flickr

What does it mean to age? When are we over the hill? And what are the side effects of a longer lifespan?

On our most recent episode of Sound Effect on KPLU, we explored the idea of aging with Dr. Dan Gottschling. 

An African bird called the Greater honeyguide is famous for leading people to honey, and a new study shows that the birds listen for certain human calls to figure out who wants to play follow-the-leader.

The finding underscores the unique relationship that exists between humans and this wild bird.

In the summertime, the air is thick with the low humming of bees delivering pollen from one flower to the next. If you listen closely, a louder buzz may catch your ear.

When Sarah Gardner was 34, she started getting worried about whether she'd ever have a baby. So she took a test that aims to measure a woman's fertility.

The results terrified her. They indicated she had the fertility of a woman a decade older — a woman in her mid-40s.

"I was devastated," Gardner says. The news hit her especially hard because she was in the midst of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend.

Summer vacations: We wait for them all year. We pour time, energy and money into planning them. Expectations can run unreasonably high.

On this week's show, a summer edition of Stopwatch Science with Daniel Pink that explores what social science research has to say about vacations: How to make them better and what pitfalls to avoid.

Stopwatch Science

A Chemist Accidentally Creates A New Blue. Then What?

Jul 17, 2016

Mas Subramanian wasn't expecting blue.

In 2009, as part of his lab at Oregon State University, Subramanian — a professor of materials science — was working with students to manufacture new materials that could be used in electronics. They would mix and grind chemicals, then heat them to over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

One grad student, Andrew E. Smith, took a particular mix out of the furnace to find it had turned a surprising, bright blue color.

"You know what Louis Pasteur said?" Subramanian asks. "Luck favors the alert mind."

The way clouds cover the Earth may be changing because of global warming, according to a study published Monday that used satellite data to track cloud patterns across about two decades, starting in the 1980s.

Clouds in the mid-latitudes shifted toward the poles during that period, as the subtropical dry zones expanded and the highest cloud-tops got higher.

When a goat gazes into your eyes, it may be issuing a silent plea for help.

That's the suggestion from a new study of goats co-authored by Christian Nawroth, who researches animal cognition at Queen Mary University of London, published in Biology Letters.

Scientists have created a synthetic stingray that's propelled by living muscle cells and controlled by light, a team reports Thursday in the journal Science.

And it should be possible to build an artificial heart using some of the same techniques, the researchers say.

The exploration of our outer solar system is about to hit a real slump.

NASA is celebrating Juno's arrival at Jupiter, but in less than two years, Juno will be gone — it's slated to plunge into the gas giant and burn up. The Cassini spacecraft, now orbiting Saturn, will meet the same fate next year.

Updated 1:40 a.m. ET with Juno orbit maneuver

After a nearly five-year journey, NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft achieved orbit around Jupiter on Monday night. Juno navigated a tricky maneuver — including slowing by around 1,212 mph — to insert itself into orbit in what NASA calls "the king of our solar system."

At 11:18 p.m. ET, Juno transmitted a radio signal to Earth that meant its main engine had switched on. It stayed on for 35 minutes, placing Juno into exactly the orbit that mission managers had planned for.

In space, there are no road maps. So if you happen to be heading to Jupiter, you'd better bring your own navigation tools.

One really useful tool is an instrument called a star tracker, essentially a camera with a built-in star catalog. It looks at a patch of sky, picks out stars it knows, and uses their coordinates to tell the spacecraft which way it's pointing.

After a five-year journey through the solar system, NASA's $1.1 billion Juno mission is set to begin its orbit around Jupiter on Monday. But for the probe to be captured by the giant planet's gravity and go into the desired orbit, Juno's main engine has to fire for 35 minutes.

Frigatebirds, seagoing fliers with a 6-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for weeks at a time, a new study has found. The results paint an astonishing picture of the bird's life, much of which is spent soaring inside the clouds.

Why do people act the way they do? Many of us intuitively gravitate toward explaining human behavior in terms of personality traits: characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that tend to be stable over time and consistent across situations.

This intuition has been a topic of fierce scientific debate since the 1960s, with some psychologists arguing that situations — not traits — are the most important causes of behavior. Some have even argued that personality traits are figments of our imagination that don't exist at all.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU


Cancer researchers, doctors and survivors gathered Wednesday at hundreds of summits across the country to give guidance to the federal government’s cancer "moonshot.” At the summit in Seattle, hosted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, “Big Data” emerged as a priority.

Virtual Reality Aimed At The Elderly Finds New Fans

Jun 29, 2016

Virginia Anderlini is 103 years old, and she is about to take her sixth trip into virtual reality.

In real life, she is sitting on the sofa in the bay window of her San Francisco assisted-living facility. Next to her, Dr. Sonya Kim gently tugs the straps that anchor the headset over Anderlini's eyes.

A team of archaeologists diving near the Greek island of Antikythera have reported a startling new discovery from a previously explored 2,000-year-old shipwreck. The find — a very heavy, metal cylinder — offers new insights into the maritime warfare of ancient times, the scientists say.

The latest episode of the podcast Invisibilia explores the idea that personality — something a lot of us think of as immutable — can change over time.

Mike Marsella was a really competitive guy, a champion cross-country runner in high school. He got a running scholarship to college. Then a car hit him while he was riding a moped. He was left in a coma, with brain damage. And when his mind changed, his running changed, too.

Would he ever be Mike Marsella again? And would he ever run a four-minute mile?

Researchers have identified a substance in muscles that helps explain the connection between a fit body and a sharp mind.

When muscles work, they release a protein that appears to generate new cells and connections in a part of the brain that is critical to memory, a team reports Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Asthma-Free With No Hay Fever? Thank Your Older Sibling

Jun 22, 2016

Older siblings may be good for something after all. Infants whose mothers have been pregnant previously may have more active immune systems that protect them against asthma and hay fever, according to a paper in the June issue of Allergy.

Why do onions make us cry?

Many a poet has pondered. Is it because their beautiful, multilayered complexity moves us to weep? Are we mourning the majestic bulb as we cut it up and consume it?

Or are these tears induced by the tragic tedium of chopping, chopping, chopping?

Yes, yes. All of the above.

This summer, diners in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles will get their hands on a hamburger that has been five years in the making.

The burger looks, tastes and smells like beef — except it's made entirely from plants. It sizzles on the grill and even browns and oozes fat when it cooks. It's the brainchild of former Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and his research team at Northern California-based Impossible Foods.

The startup's goal is like many in Silicon Valley — to create a product that will change the world.

Scott McCarthy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife

An incredibly rare Northwest butterfly has been listed as a species that qualifies it for federal protection. It’s small, and at first glance, it's mostly white. It’s called the Island Marble butterfly. 

This is what passes for good news about coral reefs these days: Around the world, some reefs aren't dying as quickly as scientists thought they would.

Will Genetic Advances Make Sex Obsolete?

Jun 16, 2016

Stanford law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely predicts that in the future most people in developed countries won't have sex to make babies. Instead they'll choose to control their child's genetics by making embryos in a lab.

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