Science news

Breastfeeding is already a civil right in Seattle, and now it’s getting financial support everywhere. Under new health rules taking effect today, as part of President Obama’s health law, women will get a number of new "preventive" services covered for free (no co-pays). 

The most talked-about new benefit has been contraceptives – and how some Catholic groups prefer not to pay for birth control. 

But seven other provisions now must be covered by nearly all health insurance plans. One of them is breastfeeding supplies and counseling. 

Distracted driving is a problem for all drivers, but teens are at higher risk.

Yes, it's true that drivers under 25 are up to three times more likely to send text messages or emails while behind the wheel than older drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But there's a deeper problem: Teenagers are also at a developmental stage where getting distracted is more problematic than it is for older drivers.

Telescope targets black holes' binges and burps

Jul 31, 2012

NASA's newest space telescope will start searching the universe for black holes on Wednesday. Scientists hope the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, which launched about six weeks ago and is now flying about 350 miles above the Earth, will help shed some light on the mysteries of these space oddities.

Mission control for the telescope is a small room on the University of California, Berkeley, campus, where about a dozen people with headsets rarely look up from their screens.

A potential new cure for blindness is showing promise in an experiment at the University of Washington and University of California. The study shows that losing your eyesight as you grow older may someday be reversible. 

The experiment used mice – blind mice.

Hamilton Cty, NY Public Health

Federal health investigators say a new clue has emerged about the whooping cough epidemic in Washington.

The epidemic shows no signs of waning – and the U.S. is on track to have more whooping cough cases than any time in 53 years. Washington and Wisconsin have the biggest outbreaks this year, with 3,000 reported cases each.

Astronomers made a surprising announcement today: They have found a spiral galaxy that existed very early in the universe — the oldest spiral galaxy ever seen.

The galaxy is special because such a well-formed spiral wasn't thought to have existed this early on, when the universe was tumultuous.

Prostate cancer surgery shows no benefit for many men

Jul 18, 2012

Finally, the results from a decades-long study that compared surgery for prostate cancer to careful monitoring have been published.

Overall, the researchers found no difference in rates of death from any cause, including prostate cancer, among men who had their prostates surgically removed compared to those who didn't.

Preliminary results were released more than a year ago.

The newly published conclusion:

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has produced a record-breaking laser beam at its National Ignition Facility. The lab's system of 192 beams produced more than 500 trillion watts and 1.85 megajoules of laser light onto a 2-millimeter in diameter target.

And we know, those numbers sound like gibberish. But the laboratory puts it in every-day terms:

While you're enjoying your coffee this morning, half a dozen scientists are already at work. They're not sitting at desks, however, but a few miles off the Florida Keys, 60 feet down on the ocean bottom.

Assuming you can't spend a heat wave bobbing up and down in some cool body of water, the next best option is to hunker down inside with air blowing on you, right?

Preferably it's from an air conditioner set on arctic chill.

But if there's no AC, then an electric fan would be the next best thing, wouldn't you think?

Well, it turns out health experts aren't so sure about electric fans. And they say using one in a really brutal heat wave can sometimes do more harm than good.

The Seattle area biotech and medical device industry is not likely to produce any companies as big as Microsoft or Amazon. But smaller companies, with strange names, keep popping up—like Etubics, Numera, Obenomics, and NanoString.

And, apparently, this sector is adding jobs.

That’s the word at the annual Life Science Innovation Northwest conference, in Seattle this week.

It's well-known that exercise is good for our bones, even as we age, but how about that nightly glass of wine?

A new study of women in their 50s and early 60s finds that moderate alcohol consumption may help prevent bone loss. The women in the study consumed about 1 1/2 drinks per day.

We're not quite sure what to make of it. Is it an honor? Is it an insult?

Either way, a biologist and a fan of Bob Marley has decided to name a new species in honor of the Jamaican singer.

Not as many people are dying from prescription drug overdoses in Washington – but heroin abuse appears to be spiking higher. Those figures come from an annual report on drug abuse in the state.

Heroin abuse peaked in the 1990s. Since then, it's been a problem primarily for aging drug-addicts. But Caleb Banta-Green of the UW’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute says it's making a comeback among younger people:

It sounds to us like someone's banging on a pipe. Others think it's like a clap.

Melinda Gates is promoting access to contraceptives around the world, and urging everyone to believe it's not a controversial step.

She's co-hosting a global summit on Wednesday in London, along with the British government.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes to overcome religious and cultural resistance by saying birth control is simply one option that women want.

Diabetes is on the rise, especially among ethnic minorities. Hispanics and blacks are nearly twice as likely as whites to die of diabetes, and the rate is even higher for and Native Americans. Even Japanese Americans, despite their healthier image, have a higher than average risk of diabetes.

Scientists have discovered a new subatomic particle with profound implications for understanding our universe. On Wednesday, they announced they've found a particle believed to be the long-awaited Higgs boson. Nicknamed the "God particle," it represents the final piece in a theory that explains the basic nature of our universe.

In this video, shot just after results of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN were announced, University of Washington physics scientist Gordon Watts declares – "We've got the Higgs."

Jake Ellison / KPLU

A University of Washington physics professor with connection to the experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider said a Higgs-like particle has been discovered.

"We have discovered something ... and quite frankly I can't see how it can be anything other than the Higgs but  we need scientific proof to close that door," said Gordon Watts, a physics professor at UW, at a tavern-based seminar tonight in lower Queen Anne with nearly 150 colleagues and science aficionados. "We just do not have the data yet to determine what the flavor of Higgs it is that we see.

"I am positive. My gut tells me that is what this is."

The Associated Press

Maybe you're planning your summer vacation and want something totally impractical to worry about (just to keep your mind off of real problems ... like money, say). And, we've still got more than a month to go to Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week', but ...

Great white sharks have been seen off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass; and on e off the coast near San Diego.

Bald Eagle: A Mighty Symbol, With A Not-So-Mighty Voice

Jul 3, 2012

Few sounds symbolize American patriotism like the piercing shrill of a bald eagle. But just like George Washington and his cherry tree, that majestic call … is a myth. The screech associated with the bald eagle, in fact, belongs to a different bird.

Bird expert Connie Stanger blames Hollywood. You know the scene:

Stanger describes it: “You’ve got John Wayne riding through the sunset and you hear the jingle of spurs and often that piercing, loud cry.”

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

(Press release from Fermilab)

After more than 10 years of gathering and analyzing data produced by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Tevatron collider, scientists from the CDF and DZero collaborations have found their strongest indication to date for the long-sought Higgs particle. Squeezing the last bit of information out of 500 trillion collisions produced by the Tevatron for each experiment since March 2001, the final analysis of the data does not settle the question of whether the Higgs particle exists, but gets closer to an answer.

The Tevatron scientists unveiled their latest results on July 2, two days before the highly anticipated announcement of the latest Higgs-search results from the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.

Before we get to the fireworks on the Fourth of July, we might see some pyrotechnics from a giant physics experiment near Geneva, Switzerland.

Scientists there are planning to gather that morning to hear the latest about the decades-long search for a subatomic particle that could help explain why objects in our universe actually weigh anything.

The buzz is that they're closing in on the elusive Higgs particle. That would be a major milestone in the quest to understand the most basic nature of the universe.

Photo by MilborneOne / Wikimedia Commons

NASA is making a special delivery to Seattle this weekend. If you go to the Museum of Flight on Saturday morning, you’ll see one of the world’s biggest cargo planes land in the parking lot. It’s carrying the cockpit and crew cabin of a full-sized space shuttle trainer.

Health-care providers in Washington are in the midst of changes that will speed up now that the federal health law has been sustained. The ruling was welcome news to hospitals, doctors and many others in the medical field.

They're especially glad nearly everyone will have health insurance. That’s been one of the big challenges in the current health system. People get sick and go to the hospital, even if they can’t afford it.

By 2014, when subsidies for insurance kick-in, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler predicts about 80% of the uninsured will get coverage.  

A baby robot has been born. Now, with little DeeChee's help, researchers are studying how babies transition from babbling to forming words.

Dr. Caroline Lyons of the University of Hertfordshire is one of the computer scientists who helped design DeeChee the robot. She tells Weekend Edition host Scott Simon that humans are also critical to their experiments.

Nearly 5,000 Washington residents are getting rebates on their health insurance, courtesy of the new federal health law.

If you bought an individual health plan from an out-of-state company called Time Insurance, then you should be getting money back. The plans are sold under the brand, Assurant Health. The company sells primarily high-deductible health coverage.

Meet Jake. At 500 pounds, he stands 4 feet 4 four inches tall, with a spine that stretches another foot. He has white urethane skin, a flat head sporting an array of camera lenses, and a laser scanner in his throat.

And he may be coming to a home near you.

Columbia University/Earth Institute

Updated 6/18/12, with comments and links from whale advocates.

An expensive science mission off the Washington and Oregon coasts has been scaled back, at least for now, out of concern for orca whales. A research ship is using blasts of sound to create maps of a major earthquake fault, which is considered the greatest tsunami risk along the U.S. Pacific coast.