Science news

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.

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.

One of the touchiest topics in medical research is the use of animals. For example, there are perennial protests at the University of Washington, which has one of the biggest research programs using animals in the country (reflecting that it has one of the largest centers for biological and medical research in the country). About 600 different research projects use everything from rats to monkeys.

miracc / Flickr photo

A new study is shedding some light on a long-debated question about Native Americans. Just how much smaller was the indigenous population in North and South America after the European conquest? 

Clues can be found in DNA, according to research conducted at the University of Washington and University of Goettingen in Germany. 

Clinics and hospitals that serve low-income people are holding candle-light vigils in Seattle, Yakima and Spokane this week to draw attention to proposed budget cuts they call devastating. After education, the second biggest slice of the state budget goes to health care, totaling about a third of the general fund.

Some community clinics are taking the desperate step of marketing themselves to people with private insurance. That's a big change for non-profits with a mission to serve the poor.

Associated Press

Doctors across the country are saying they might fire you as a patient if you refuse to let your child be immunized, according to a few stories that have ignited all kinds of discussions about vaccines and the role of pediatricians.

But a new survey confirms that’s a minority viewpoint, particularly among pediatricians in Washington. 

Sergei Golyshev / Flickr

Biotech and research jobs have increased in Washington, even as the overall economy sputtered. That’s according to a trade-group, the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.

But the outlook for next year and beyond is less rosy.

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.

Charles Lam /

The West Nile virus season is over, and the state Department of Health reports there were no human cases of the disease in Washington this year, nor were any birds or horses found to be infected.

Flickr photo by VoxEfx

In the old days, you might have tied a string to the door, and pulled a tooth with a slam (see the YouTube video below). But these days, most of us prefer a sterile environment and some anesthetic, not to mention a professional guiding hand.

How much training and supervision you need to pull teeth (and offer dental advice) are the central questions in a dispute between dentists and advocates for poor children. 

Matt Handy / Flickr

Four years ago the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called for the eradication of malaria. Since then it has spent nearly $2 billion in the effort.

While there has been success, many still wonder: What factors are driving malaria away? What's causing the success? There are also many confounding factors at play ranging from climate change to the mysterious disappearance of mosquitoes in east Africa.

It appears the economic recession has taken its toll on babies. Researchers have found the number of babies with severe head injuries nearly doubled in 2008 and 2009. Stress in the family seems to be a factor.

Keith Seinfeld / KPLU

King County Executive Dow Constantine says he’ll be able to preserve as many as a dozen sheriff’s deputies and 20 public health nurses. That’s because King County employees have been improving their health – and saving taxpayers about $23 million this year.

The savings go back into the county’s budget, and will mean fewer cuts next year.


Washington continues to make progress boosting immunization rates among toddlers, despite having the highest percent in the nation of families exempting kids from vaccines. 

The new survey from the Centers for Disease Control shows the gains come with room for improvement.

This spring there was a big volcanic eruption in the Pacific Northwest. If you missed it, you're not alone. It happened under the ocean off the northern Oregon coast.

However, all this week a University of Washington research ship has been streaming live video via satellite of lava flows in the undersea crater. In a couple years, 24/7 video coverage of the ocean floor will be made possible by a new underwater fiber optic cable.

Courtesy of University of Washington

A University of Washington research ship is sending amazing live video of the aftermath of an undersea volcanic eruption. The large volcano is about 300 miles due west of Astoria, Oregon.

Some scientists theorize life on our planet started at a place like this.

Be.Futureproof / Flickr

A new approach to prescription painkillers at Group Health Cooperative could become a model for other medical providers. 

Painkillers have become a national concern because they're addictive and there’s been an uptick in overdoses. The number of people who have long-term prescriptions for painkillers has doubled over the past decade. 

Public Health Seattle & King County

Why spend $800,000 to advertise what seems like common knowledge?  That smoking is bad for you, that eating nutritious foods is better than a diet of fast-food and physical activity is a good idea?

Because too many of us have trouble following those golden rules.