Science news

Scientists from Fermilab say they've basically "cornered" the elusive Higgs boson — that's the particle that some have nicknamed the "God Particle," because it is thought to give atoms mass and is also a key component of the Standard Model.

This is complicated stuff, of course, but essentially the scientists at Fermilab say they found a bump in their data that suggests the existence of the particle. That bump corresponds to the evidence scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have found.

Here's a bit of explanation from the Fermilab press release:

Seth Bynum / Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Two endangered clouded leopard cubs were born at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium this morning.

The cubs, one female and one male, are healthy and weigh about half a pound each. For safety reasons, they'll be hand-raised by zoo staff rather than the mama leopard.

Every so often, pieces of heaven crash into Earth.

They can come from our own solar system, or millions of light years away. Few of us are lucky enough to get our hands on one of these space rocks. But for meteorite hunters and dealers such as Ruben Garcia, touching a piece of outer space is a daily routine.

The Best Hunting Grounds

One of Garcia's favorite spots to go meteorite hunting is an enormous dry lake bed in southern Arizona.

What is it about our super rich tech guys and local culture that makes them want to send people into outer space?

Yesterday, the space venture backed by Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame) announced it was ready to conduct a “pad-abort test” in the summer of 2012, according to Flightglobal. The test is a crucial milestone in qualifying the company's New Shepard vehicle for human spaceflight.  

Craig McCulloch / KPLU

Widespread concerns that Canadian officials are silencing scientists have not been assuaged by a detailed government response to the accusations. The battle over “muzzling” Canadian scientists has been broiling for months after it was revealed that a virus deadly to salmon might have been discovered in salmon returning to the Fraser River.

The January response crafted by the Canadian government and submitted to the Cohen Commission after three days of hearings in December absolved officials for not reporting “suspected detection” of Infectious Salmon Anemia, or ISA, in waters off the Pacific Northwest.

More endangered clouded leopards will be born at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in the next few weeks.

Mama leopard Chai Li is pregnant with her second litter. She's due in March.

Chai Li surprised zoo officials last year when she secretly mated with breeding partner Nah Fun. She delivered two healthy cubs in June.

This time around, it's a planned pregnancy. Staffers believe she's carrying at least two cubs.

The air bag credited with saving a woman from an avalanche at Stevens Pass is starting to become standard equipment for back country skiers in the Northwest. The expert skiers who seek the thrill of more remote areas are no strangers to signs of avalanches.

Nereus Program

In Greek mythology, the original god of the sea was named Nereus. Among other powers, he could prophesy the future. That’s why researchers at the University of British Columbia thought to name a project to predict future ocean conditions after Nereus. Now, the initial computer simulations are out.

When the car is the driver

Feb 17, 2012

This week the state of Nevada finalized new rules that will make it possible for robotic self-driving cars to receive their own special driving permits. It's not quite driver's licenses for robots — but it's close.

The other day I went for a spin in a robotic car. This car has an $80,000 cone-shaped laser mounted on its roof. There are radars on the front, back and sides. Detailed maps help it navigate.

Do people notice it's a self-driving car and gawk?

Last month, scientists around the world agreed to temporarily halt certain genetic experiments with bird flu viruses. More than three weeks of that 60-day moratorium have already passed. And the scientific community is in the midst of a fierce debate about what needs to happen next.

The suspension of the research came in response to fears that researchers had created dangerous new germs that could cause a devastating pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab or fell into the wrong hands.

Whooping cough has made a big comeback across Washington. With more than 900 cases statewide, the illness hit its highest numbers last year since a similar spike in 2005. 

It’s reached epidemic proportions in Snohomish County. 

The situation there is serious enough that health agencies offered two free vaccination clinics last Saturday – and plan another one later this month.

Vaughn Iverson / UW

Scientists have deciphered some of the secrets of one of Puget Sound’s natural recyclers. It’s a microbe – which likes to eat sulfur and nitrogen – and might be found near any of our beaches.  

The technique they devised could open the door to a better understanding of microbial life that abounds everywhere – in the oceans, in soils, and in the human body.

New video from NASA gives us a fresh view of the far side of the moon (or the technically incorrect but way cooler sounding "dark side").

It's from NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar spacecraft.

There's no quick fix for severe depression.

Although antidepressants like Prozac have been around since the 1970s, they usually take weeks to make a difference. And for up to 40 percent of patients, they simply don't work.

As a result, there are limited options when patients show up in an emergency room with suicidal depression.

The doctors and nurses at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston say they see this problem every day.

Study: 1 in 14 People Has Oral HPV Infection

Jan 27, 2012

So how many people have human papillomavirus in their mouths?

Quite a few, say researchers who got more than 5,000 volunteers across the country to spit into a cup and answer detailed questions about their sex lives.

The bottom line: 6.9 percent of people in the U.S. (ages 14 to 69) have oral infections with HPV. Some types of HPV are linked to cancer and genital warts.

If your heart stops beating and you’re treated by paramedics in the next few years, which treatment you get may depend on a coin flip. Once again, King County residents are part of  a national study of how best to resuscitate someone from cardiac arrest.

A coin flip sounds pretty random – and that’s actually on purpose. 

The "Blue Marble" image of Earth snapped by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972 is one of the most famous photos ever taken. When it appeared, we all suddenly saw the world in a much different way.

In the years since, NASA has added other "Blue Marble" photos to its collection, and has used technology to enhance and sharpen the images.

Magic mushrooms are said to blow your mind, but the hallucinogenic chemical psilocybin, the active ingredient, actually reins in key parts of the brain, according to two new studies.

The memorably vivid emotional experiences reported by mushroom users may flourish because the parts of the brain suppressed by psilocybin usually keep our world view tidy and rational.

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.

By now we all know that distracted driving can kill you. But a new study suggests that distracted walking can be pretty deadly, too.

Smoking is banned at work. It’s banned in restaurants and bars. But most smokers can still head home and enjoy as many cigarettes as they’d like. That’s starting to change, when it comes to apartment buildings. 


Don’t be surprised if you notice a few co-workers are out sick, or if a stomach bug seems to be hitting your family. Winter is peak time for sharing germs – and right now, at least, most of those are NOT the flu bug.

For Lisa Steinbrueck of Seattle, it seemed at first like food poisoning:

In many families, getting together over the holidays means someone inevitably gets bent out of shape for what someone else thinks is no good reason. New research by Washington State University and Oregon's Linfield College sheds light on knee-jerk reactions to innocent remarks.

Is Uncle Henry giving you the silent treatment, or is he just a man of few words? What did that friend you only see on New Year's Eve really mean when she said you lost weight?

Olivier Roux / Flickr

Some say ignorance is bliss.  Others say ignorance is a drain on society.  But as contrary as it might sound, researchers have found there may actually be a place for the uninformed in group decision-making.

Keith Seinfeld / KPLU

Paul Allen is bankrolling a dramatic new space-craft, which aims to launch satellites later this decade, and maybe people, too. The project uses an airplane made from two rebuilt Boeing 747’s. 

It looks a little like a flying catamaran. It will be the largest airplane ever built, with six jet engines. And hanging from the wing in the middle will be a rocket.

Stratolaunch Systems

Paul Allen’s new company, Stratolaunch Systems hopes to bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions. Plans call for a first flight within five years, according to a company press release.

The air-launch-to-orbit system will mean lower costs, greater safety, and more flexibility and responsiveness than is possible today with ground-based systems, the company declares.

Losing your job often means losing your health insurance – and that’s reflected in the latest numbers of uninsured people in Washington. It’s approaching one million, or 14.5 percent of the population, according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

A Washington State University researcher says new findings about the emotions of rats could lead to treatments for mental illness in humans. Jaak Panksepp writes in the latest issue of the journal, Science.

He was reacting to a new study showing that rats demonstrate empathy and altruism toward a fellow rat who was stuck in a trap.