Science news

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

One way young kids learn to organize the world is by dividing it into living and non-living things. But now that robots vacuum our floors and smart phones talk back to us, do children think of technology as alive? A team of Washington researchers is exploring how kids interact with robots, and what that might reveal about both their brains and ours.

Finding the right treatment for depression can be a struggle. People find relief with the first treatment only 40 percent of the time. Trying different antidepressants or therapies can take months, which means months of suffering.

Scientists are trying to better the odds by searching for signals in the body or in behavior that could be signposts to the right treatment. Researchers at Emory University say that PET scans of the brain may help predict which people do better on SSRI antidepressants, and which would benefit most from cognitive behavioral therapy instead.

wstryder / Flickr

There are two versions of this story.

One is the story of how drug-abuse involving heroin has spiked upward, especially in young adults, over the past decade. Drug experts say people end up on heroin as a last resort, after getting addicted to prescription painkillers.

That version is in the news this week, and has made headlines for the past few years, when annual drug trends come out.

If you've felt smug and safe using built-in, voice-controlled technology for text messages, email and phone calls while driving, forget it. There are some sobering findings about the risk of distraction from the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah.

The proliferation of hands-free technology "is a looming public safety crisis," AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet says. "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars."

We might need to change the definition of a designated driver from noble abstainer to something along the lines of not as drunk as you.

The idea of having one person in a group agree not to drink so that everyone else can get home safely after a night of alcohol-fueled fun has been promoted as a way to reduce the dangers of drunken driving, especially among teenagers and young adults.

Working families without health insurance will get extra attention all over Washington this fall. Health organizations are getting $6 million in federal grants to send health recruiters to libraries, church pulpits, and shopping malls. 

Face-to-face marketing and in-person recruiting are needed, according to the masterminds behind the the new health-care law, because about 25% of the uninsured won’t be able to use the new website.

(white rabbit) / Flickr

Washington state has earned a top grade from the American Cancer Society when it comes to helping people suffering from long-term pain. However, the state’s law on pain medication is unusual enough that the Cancer Society is surveying doctors to learn more about how it’s working.

In the past, many patients in chronic pain—lasting months or years—believed they were just supposed to suffer through it.

Exactly one year has passed since an angry and unstable man killed four people at Seattle’s Café Racer and one more woman near downtown before shooting himself. Ian Stawicki was never diagnosed with a mental illness, but he exhibited many of the signs.

When someone is in a mental health crisis, who decides if the or she gets hospitalized involuntarily?

Planetary Resoruces

A company devoted to space exploration is planning to make an orbiting telescope available to students, scientists, and space enthusiasts.

Bellevue-based asteroid mining company Planetary Resources hopes to eventually extract rare minerals from asteroids. But first the company must prospect, which will involve a fleet of space-based telescopes. Now the company has announced it will deploy an extra telescope for public use, paid for by a crowdfunding campaign on the website Kickstarter.

Associated Press

Doctors are sounding an alarm about marijuana and young children, especially when it comes to marijuana-infused products, or "medibles". 

The rise of medicinal marijuana has brought a growing number of food products that contain the drug and might appeal to kids. Pot brownies have been around for decades, but nowadays you can also find pot cookies, lollipops, bon-bons, lasagna, and more. These products make it easier on someone who needs to use marijuana for medical reasons but doesn’t want to smoke. 

Associated Press

If the price tag for health insurance goes up under Obamacare, it’s likely to hit some policy holders in their 20s, economists have warned. Now that the first round of numbers are available in Washington state, we can see whether that’s the case.

If the price tag for health insurance goes up under Obamacare, it’s likely to hit some policy holders in their 20s, economists have warned. Now that the first round of numbers is available in Washington state, we can see whether that’s the case.

Associated Press

Starting this fall, all high school students will get CPR training under a new mandate signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The students don’t have to get certified in CPR—the proposal for certification was rejected as too cumbersome for public schools. But the state-mandated health class, which kids typically take in 9th or 10th grade, will now include a day or two of CPR training. 

Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press

A silent epidemic in the baby-boomer generation has health officials urging widespread testing. It’s hepatitis C, which can quietly infect your liver for years, leaving tiny scars but without showing any symptoms. 

Left untreated, you end up with cancer or in need of a transplant.

Now, a new battery of tests and better treatments are arriving, just as boomers reach an age when their livers could suddenly fail.

Justin Steyer

May 6 isn’t known for much. Perhaps it languishes in the shadow of its older sibling, Cinco de Mayo.

But at least this year, May 6 saw something special when the mercury climbed to a record-breaking high of 87 degrees at Sea-Tac Airport around 5 p.m., crushing the past record high of 79 set in 1957.

Washington is one of the least religious states in the country, but when it comes to health care, it has some of the fastest growing religiously-affiliated hospitals, partly because so many hospitals are merging.

The trend has some communities worried about losing access to certain medical procedures—if they’re not allowed under church teachings. 

“The food’s not so bad,” says Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station.

Hadfield shared video of himself enjoying a post-lunch dessert of chocolate pudding cake and coffee.

Hadfield let the cake float out of its container in the gravity-free space before chasing after it a la Homer Simpson

Nurses, teachers and other school staff will likely have more flexibility next fall to give adrenaline shots if a student goes into allergic shock. Both houses of the Legislature have unanimously approved a bill that loosens restrictions on how and when schools can use an epinephrine injector. 

The change is meant to save the lives of kids who have a severe allergy, including some rare cases in which the first-ever reaction to a not-yet-diagnosed allergy takes place at school or on a field trip.

Keith Seinfeld / kplu

College and high school athletes are typically in top physical shape. Except a few have an invisible heart condition that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, where they drop dead on the court or field.

A new study by a group of physicians led by a team doctor for the University of Washington Huskies recommends all student athletes get a high-tech heart scan called an electrocardiogram, or EKG.

The catch is their doctors probably need additional training.

Department of Health

For the first time since 1998, Washington is getting a new secretary of health. Mary Selecky is retiring, and her replacement starts today.

Selecky has been a familiar face during health emergencies, such as the pandemic flu. She made tobacco her top health priority, and saw smoking rates drop year after year. But, as she steps down, the anti-smoking crusade is at a crossroads.

Lynn Kelley Author / Flickr

You might imagine everyone without health insurance will gladly sign up for free or subsidized coverage once it’s available this fall, under the Affordable Care Act.

However, it hasn't worked out that way for children. A high-profile effort to cover all the uninsured kids in Washington has stalled.

Well, the tears don’t fall. And you’ll want a handkerchief, says Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield.

“It just forms a ball on my eyes,” he says. “So if you keep crying, you’re just going to end up with a bigger and bigger ball of water in your eye.”

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Close your eyes, press the play button and travel back 14 billion years in time.

That’s the sound of the Big Bang, in high fidelity.

“It sort of sounds like what an airplane sounds like flying over your house in the middle of the night,” says University of Washington physics professor John Cramer who recreated the sound using cosmic microwave data. “A very low frequency that sort of builds up them falls off again.”

Courtesy of Stratolaunch Systems

Billionaire Paul Allen’s spaceship project has reached a milestone in the form of the world's widest garage door. 

The door will make way for a strange vehicle under assembly in the Mojave Desert. 

Allen's team has the most unusual plan, out of several private space ventures, for sending people and satellites into orbit. They'll launch their rockets from the belly of a gigantic airplane, which looks like two Boeing 747s bonded together. And constructing that bizarre jet requires a building wide enough to shelter it.

Having a walkable neighborhood has become a hot selling point for real estate. It’s also supposed to be better for your health — if it gets you out moving more.

But a study in Seattle suggests people don’t necessarily walk more just because they live in a walkable area.

The skies over Alaska lit up with “one of the best displays (of the northern lights) seen in recent memory” last Saturday, according to the photographer who captured it.

Last October, a freshman at Washington State University passed out after consuming hard liquor and an energy drink. The student later died in the hospital. His blood alcohol level was about five times the legal limit.

That led to some soul-searching on the campus in Pullman, Wash.

It turns out an average of 200 students each year end up in the ER at Pullman Regional Hospital for alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries.

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

New results from looking at the split-second after the Big Bang indicate the universe is 80 million years older than previously thought and provide ancient evidence supporting core concepts about the cosmos — how it began, what it's made of and where it's going.

The findings released Thursday bolster a key theory called inflation, which says the universe burst from subatomic size to its now-observable expanse in a fraction of a second. The new observations from the European Space Agency's $900 million Planck space probe appear to reinforce some predictions made decades ago solely on the basis of mathematical concepts.

LasseSH / Flickr

Game designer Jane McGonigal thinks gaming can save the world, or at least help make it a better place.

“I know you’d rather hear that these games are turning kids into brain-dead zombies,” McGonical told a packed room at the University of Washington today, for the School of Social Work’s annual breakfast.

But the evidence suggests otherwise and that gaming is better than harmless. It could be a powerful force for good. Gaming is building a library in Ghana, for starters. More on that in a bit. 

Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center

Good news for fans of the Honeycrisp apple: a similar variety is being developed right here in Washington state. 

Scientists at Washington State University have created a new apple variety specifically designed to thrive on the eastern slopes of the Cascades and win over consumers. It's a cross between the Honeycrisp with a variety called Enterprise, and is described as crisp and slightly sweet. 

"I was very excited by it. It’s a really nice eat," says Kate Evans, an apple breeder and horticulture professor at WSU's Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center.

CERN / Associated Press

The search is all but over for a subatomic particle that is a crucial building block of the universe.

Physicists announced Thursday they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.