Science news

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.

The Associated Press

Marking the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Emerald City will host its first-ever Seattle Science Festival next month.

The festival has landed a major celebrity as one of it’s so-called “Luminaries.”  Steven Hawking, the British physicist known for writing about the history of the universe, will speak on June 16th, at the Paramount Theater. 

The Associated Press

EPHRATA, Wash. — Biologists went to check on endangered pygmy rabbits in a remote area of Columbia Basin sagebrush near Ephrata and found they've been reproducing like rabbits.

State Fish and Wildlife biologists told The Wenatchee World they 80 baby pygmy rabbits they found last week in the Sage Brush Flat Wildlife Area is more than they expected.

We've all been there: Banging the back of a glass ketchup bottle, begging it to give you a dollop of the good stuff or battling with a plastic bottle coercing it into giving up the last of its contents.

Maybe that will be a thing of the past.

Six MIT researchers say they've solved that problem as part of an entrepreneurship competition. The result is a bottle coated with "LiquiGlide," a nontoxic material so slippery that the ketchup or for that matter mayonnaise just glides out when you turn it over.


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.

Feist, Michael / Flickr

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — An oceanographer who tracks flotsam says West Coast beachcombers may find floating athletic shoes with human bones as more debris from the Japanese tsunami washes ashore. In a presentation Monday at a tsunami symposium in Port Angeles, Curt Ebbesmeyer told the audience he's expected 100 sneakers with bones in them.

Infections with the bacterium Clostridium difficile hit record numbers in recent years. Now there's evidence the hard-to-treat infections are becoming a problem for children.

The infections often strike the elderly, especially those who've been taking antibiotics that clear out competing bacteria in people's intestines. People sickened by the bug have persistent diarrhea that can, in severe cases, lead to dehydration.

The percentage of kindergartners in Washington who are fully vaccinated has gone up slightly, since a new law took effect making it harder to opt-out.

A change in state law took effect last July, requiring parents who want to exempt their kids from one or more vaccines to first hear from a doctor or nurse about the risks and benefits.

Michele Roberts, of the Washington Department of Health's immunization program, says some people doubted the law was strict enough to make a difference.  

Woodland Park Zoo

Spring is in the air! First, it was a litter of endangered red wolf pups at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. Now, Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo is announcing the arrival of three endangered, yet adorable, snow leopard cubs.

Zoo officials say the cubs were born May 2nd and are just now opening their eyes. This is the second litter for 7-year-old Helen and 6-year-old Tom. The cubs will stay secluded in their mother's den for now, but may go on public display in July.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

At least 6 red wolf pups have been born at Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA).

Millie, an 8-year-old, gave birth to the pups over a 30 hour period that began Sunday night. The father is 9-year-old Graham. The mother and pups are secluded in an out of view den area in the Red Wolf Woods exhibit.

Thanks to Bad Astronomy for posting this beautiful fly-over of the asteroid Vesta via the Dawn space probe.

The Associated Press

More babies in Washington are entering the world at full-term. An effort to end the practice of mothers scheduling an early delivery has led to a 65% drop since 2010.

Even doctors have been “really surprised” to see compelling research that babies born just two weeks early are more likely to have medical problems, all the way up through age five, says Dr. Tom Benedetti, an obstetrics professor at the University of Washington.

Until a couple years ago, if a baby was born at 37 weeks, it was still considered full-term. 

The five finalists in a contest to be sent into space as part of Seattle Needle's 50th anniversary celebration are in Seattle this week.

The final phase of the contest begins Monday morning. The finalists will each face three challenges before the winner is announced on Wednesday. (Meet the finalists after the jump and pick whom you'd send into space.)

You can't predict the turns new technology takes.

The Internet, originally developed for scientists in southern California to bandy information back and forth with scientists in northern California, has also become the prime means of sending naughty jokes instantaneously around the world.

This week Twitter, the social media service famed for carrying the messages of pro-democracy dissidents in Iran, Egypt and other places, featured something a little difficult to conceive: live tweeting of the artificial insemination of a giant panda at the National Zoo.

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.

Woodland Park Zoo

Wild pigs are making their debut at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo this weekend. Domestic pigs have long been a fixture at the zoo's Family Farm, but this is the first time wild pigs have been on display.

Three critically endangered Visayan warty pigs are moving into Elephant Forest exhibit near the elephant pool.

Two warthogs are taking up residence in the 4.5 acre African Savanna exhibit, which also includes giraffe, hippos, gazelles, zebras and monkeys. 


A group of computer science and electrical engineering seniors at Washington State University is building an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), otherwise known as a robosub.

The underwater robot will be entered this July in the 15th International RoboSub Competition. The contest, in San Diego, is co-sponsored by the AUVSI Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

If the skies clear up Saturday night you could get a glimpse of the “super moon.”  Saturday’s full moon will appear the largest it has in more than a year. 

As you can probably tell, at least one person on this blog's masthead likes ants.

So we've always been bummed that we haven't had the opportunity to tell you about zombie ants, but today we are glad to report there is a new development in the field. Luckily, it's a good-news report about a fungus that limits the fungus that turns ants into zombies.

A controversial former Obama health-care administrator was in Seattle this week, speaking to 1,000 people about what can be learned from medical mistakes--saying patient safety should be an ethical imperative .

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho - The federal government’s top health officers are making an appeal to the Northwest’s medical community to boost vaccination rates. The deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control’s immunization branch spoke at a public health conference in Coeur d’Alene Friday as part of the national campaign.

Last year, Washington and Oregon immunization rates were among the lowest in the nation. Idaho’s was average. That’s according to a CDC survey.

Sequim Lavender Farmers Association

The area around Sequim on Washington's Olympic peninsula is known as one of the top lavender growing regions in the nation. Most of that lavender ends up as dried flowers or scented potpourri.

Nowadays, it’s also ending up in food. The growers are meeting today (April 30th) to discuss the safest ways to make those flower buds edible, using a certification process.

The Associated Press

Whether they ever manage to get any platinum out of an asteroid, Bellevue-based Planetary Resources could become known for surrounding Earth with telescopes.  

That’s the first item in the “prospecting” stage of the space company’s effort to get precious metals from asteroids, using robotic space-craft.

Tonight is a good night for a meteor shower. The Lyrids aren't known for their flashy shows, but this year they're getting help from a new moon.

The dark skies will be "ideal for meteor watching from the ground," NASA says.

Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor for Sky and Telescope magazine, tells Weekend Edition host Scott Simon the best views are from the darkest places.

A prototype earthquake early warning system worked as designed when an actual quake gently shook California last Friday. Researchers reported the results Tuesday at the annual meeting of American seismologists.

Last year, a private foundation in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey gave a multimillion dollar grant to create an automated earthquake warning system for the Pacific Coast states.

The idea is to provide advance notice to prepare people for severe shaking. It could come via a cell phone alert or a pop-up on your computer or TV screen.

Psychologists at Purdue University have come up with an interesting twist on the old notion of the power of positive thinking. Call it the power of positive perception: They've shown that you may be able to improve your golf game by believing the hole you're aiming for is larger than it really is.

Jessica Witt, who studies how perception and performance are related, decided to look at golf — specifically, how the appearance of the hole changes depending on whether you're playing well or poorly.

One in four women has had a migraine. And, it turns out, the debilitating headaches affect three times more women than men.

But why?

Decades ago, these headaches were attributed to women's inability to cope with stress, a sort of hysteria. Now experts are starting to figure out the factors that really make a difference.

Today scientists know a migraine is all in your head — but not in that old-fashioned sense. Migraines are biologically based, and they play themselves out as a wave of electrical activity traveling across the brain.

Scientists who created mutant forms of bird flu want to see their research published, and an influential advisory committee recently gave them the green light after a debate that lasted for months.

But one of the manuscripts is now being blocked from publication because of Dutch legal controls on the export of technology that could potentially be used for weapons.

It's just the latest example of how complicated international export control laws have affected the debate over what to do about two studies on bird flu.

danmachold / flickr

Scientists have been pretty sure autism must begin very early in development, possibly even at the moment a sperm meets an egg. New research, conducted partially in Seattle, supports two interesting theories: