Science news

There is a mindless, senseless yellow-tinted blob of an organism that lives on the forest floor. It’s called slime mold and even though it lacks a brain, it can be relied upon to make a healthy decision more often than most humans. 

Science Friday video producer Luke Groskin described slime mold to host John Dankosky. 

What exactly does a 'war' against ISIS entail?

Nov 18, 2015

The hacktivist group Anonymous has doubled down on its digital war against ISIS.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the group released a video declaring, “We are Anonymous. We are legion. We don’t forgive. We don’t forget. Wait for us.”

This is a digital war that took shape after the Charlie Hebdo attacks last year, says Gabriella Coleman author of the book, "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous.”  The hacktivists have focused on attacking ISIS’ social media propaganda machine.

Eight things spiders can do that you’ve never heard of

Nov 18, 2015
A pair of black widows (Latrodectus hesperus). 

They have eight legs, multiple sets of eyes, and build webs in the corners of your house. But arachnologists Lauren Esposito and Catherine Scott say the bizarre world of spiders goes far beyond anything you’ve ever heard of. Here are eight things spiders can do that you've probably never heard of:

1. Some spiders eat their mates during copulation

Catherine Scott, an arachnologist and doctoral student at the University of Toronto says the redback spider, a species in the genus of black widow spiders, is actively eaten during copulation:

Six things you believe about spiders that are totally false

Nov 16, 2015
photo by Sean McCann

Lauren Esposito regularly milks scorpions. Catherine Scott lets black widows crawl on her. Both of these spider experts love arachnids, and they want you to love them, too.

Here are six myths about spiders they say are totally wrong, and are giving arachnids a bad rap: 

Myth Number 1: Spiders are aggressive

Is Football Bad for Your Brain?

Nov 12, 2015

At the beginning of his high school football season Blake Ripple’s football coach read aloud a sticker that said the helmets the teenage players would wear would not prevent head injury, only head fracture. 

Nutritional recommendations that help astronauts solve health problems associated with extended stints in space can also help patients on Earth, according to nutritional biochemist Scott M. Smith of the NASA Johnson Space Center. 

Smith will discuss space flight nutrition and its implications for those on Earth and on the International Space Station, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. in the Campanile Room of the University Student Union. The event is free and open to the public.

 Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

Science Writer Sam Kean has had real-life experiences worthy of a horror film. During one such recent episode, he woke up from a night of sleep and found that he was unable to move, completely paralyzed, but fully awake. 

Kean isn’t the only one who’s had such an experience. Others have had similar episodes — waking from sleep to what they described as a “demon sitting on their chest” or an alien abduction. One woman in this state was even thought to be dead and was taken to a morgue before recovering the ability to move her limbs. 

He documented his own death by snakebite instead of going to the hospital

Nov 10, 2015

In September 1957, someone from the Lincoln Park Zoo brought a young 30-inch snake to the Chicago Natural History Museum. They asked for help identifying the snake. 

Famed herpetologist Karl P. Schmidt was working at the Natural History Museum at the time, and agreed to take a look at the snake. Schmidt was a well-known snake expert, prestigious in his field, adept at identifying snakes and so successful that he even had many species named after him. 

University of Kansas

Dakotaraptor, a newly described fossil found in the Hell Creek formation of Harding County stood about 6 feet tall at the hip and was up to 17 feet long.    

It lived alongside well known dinosaurs like the T. rex and triceratops.   

But the Dakotaraptor could change the popular notion about carnivorous dinosaurs, because it was covered in feathers.


Did the Kepler telescope just find the first signs of alien life?

Nov 9, 2015

A recent paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describes a star more than 1,400 light years away that dims and glows in a strange flickering pattern. A number of theories have been suggested to explain why this might be happening, but one of them has gained outsized public notice. 

Could this be an “alien megastructure.” We don't know — but maybe?

Britain's oldest tree may be undergoing a sex change

Nov 5, 2015
<a href="">Mogens Engelund</a>/Wikipedia Commons

The Fortingall Yew, one of the oldest living organisms in Europe, may be undergoing a sex change.

The tree in Scotland — which by some estimates has been male for nearly 5,000 years — was recently found sprouting red berries. The berries are female.

"They're there to attract birds to eat them and disperse the seeds," says Dr. Max Coleman, a Botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, who first spotted the berries on the ancient Yew.

In 1979, the cult classic sci-fi thriller Alien unleashed one of the most blood-chilling monsters in movie history. When it lurches from a dark spaceship vent (or a human chest), we feel Ripley’s fear.

Colin Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist, and the author of “Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life.” His work involves studying how city grids, storefronts, and streetscapes effect our mood and our health.

His scientific career wasn't always focused on studying humans, however. At one time he was the world's leading expert on the visual system of the Mongolian gerbil. 

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Last year's Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people. The pandemic may be diminished, but public health officials think another major outbreak of infectious disease is fast-approaching, and they’re busy preparing for it.

Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

We’d all like to think that a simple browser and a few keystrokes can give us access to the unlimited knowledge base of the Internet. But there are a growing number of toll roads on the information superhighway.

What if scientists were able to forecast the spread of flu the way meteorologists forecast the weather? What if they could track the spread of the virus and predict if it has a 75 or 80 percent chance of striking ... you?

“The flu happens every year, but we still don't have a good idea of [important] factors, like who's going to be affected first, where that will happen and when exactly the peak week might be,” says Rumi Chunara, an assistant professor at the College of Global Public Health and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at New York University.

To be fair, the US isn’t entirely a failure when it comes to IT. But its record? Really not that good, either.

Bob Charette, a contributing editor with IEEE Spectrum, has been analyzing the past 10 years of government tech mishaps. He points to the Pentagon’s Global Combat Support System as one example of government tech done right. It was completed early, under budget and, by many measurements, has been a phenomenal success. 

Did Dark Matter Doom the Dinosaurs?

Oct 30, 2015

Scientists generally concur that the dinosaurs were killed off by a giant asteroid that struck Earth tens of millions of years ago. But what sent the asteroid hurtling this way?

Harvard University physics professor Lisa Randall has a creative new theory. She points the finger at a cluster of dark matter, a gravity-like force, as what sent an asteroid missile toward Earth.

How vulnerable are the undersea cables that carry the web?

Oct 28, 2015
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Undersea fiber optic cables are the arteries of the Internet. A story in the New York Times this week has started a conversation about the vulnerability of these cables and consequently, the Internet itself.

The Times reported that the Pentagon is increasingly concerned about Russian naval activity in proximity to key cables. The suggestion is that the Web could be crippled by Russian attack in the event of a confrontation with the West.

Climate change may soon make much of the Persian Gulf region too hot for humans

Oct 27, 2015

Imagine a world where even the most basic outdoor activities can put your health or even your life at risk. No, that’s not a cheesy trailer for a Hollywood sci-fi flick about life on a remote desert planet. It’s a real-life scenario about life in the Persian Gulf region right here on Earth at the end of this century, laid out in a startling new study in the current issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

These scientists say they’ve found a cure for a type of congenital blindness

Oct 26, 2015

Just this month, drug manufacturer Spark Therapeutics said it successfully completed a phase III trial for an exciting new gene therapy treatment for inherited retinal dystrophies, a progressive disorder that can cause blindness. This means they're one step closer to putting a cure for congenital blindness actually on the market.

"The trial results are very exciting," says Katherine High, president and chief scientific officer of Spark Therapeutics. 

Have we reached the TV saturation point?

Oct 25, 2015

Entertainment execs, actors and journalists all seem to be in agreement that we’re experiencing a “golden age of television.” ABC, FX, HBO, Showtime, IFC, AMC, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix — all have a cornucopia of new shows on TV now or coming soon. 

John Landgraf, the CEO of FX, however, says there is “simply too much television.” The golden age is really a glut, he argues. It’s overwhelming consumers and, Landgraf thinks, imperiling TV creators’ ability to stay in business.

This parent-led bedtime story app will help your kid rock at math

Oct 25, 2015

A new study in the journal Science finds that a mobile app that prompts parents and kids to solve nightly number problems together greatly improves student achievement in math. The app, Bedtime Math, creates a kind of math story time.

Mobile phones can stream videos, play songs, podcasts, audio books, even pay for your dinner bill. So why is it still so hard to hear the person on the other line? 

Science and technology writer Jeff Hecht says he doesn’t even own a smart phone. 

“I don't have a smartphone. I do have a dumb phone,” Hecht says, “The dumb phone does have one advantage — it's a flip phone. So there's a logical place to hold it to my mouth. One side's on my ear, one side's on my mouth I can feel where it is so it doesn't just drift off.”

This new museum explores the effect humans are having on the natural world

Oct 23, 2015

Several years ago, after visiting a lot of natural history museums, Rich Pell, associate professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, noticed the natural museums seemed to be missing a lot of what he considered the natural world. There were, for example few farm animals, almost no pets. 

The reason? Human involvement. Once humans start breeding and training animals, the animals are less and less likely to fit in a natural history museum. 

Build a Cloud Chamber

Oct 19, 2015

All around you, and on every surface of the earth, there is radiation pummeling the atoms that make up the matter that we can see and feel. Even as you read this sentence, you are being bombarded by radiation. Pew! Pew!

But fear not, it’s completely normal. This background radiation is safe. And though it cannot be seen directly, you can build a cloud chamber to help you indirectly observe radiation and begin to understand it.

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Content Areas: Physics, Engineering and Technology

Forecasting the Flu

Oct 19, 2015

Researchers seek to track the flu using nasal swabs and search engine queries.

BuzzFeed News science reporter Azeen Ghorayshi talks about the sexual harassment accusations against astronomer Geoff Marcy, as well as other selected short subjects in science.

Here's what happens when you grow sunflowers in outer space

Oct 16, 2015

NASA astronaut Don Pettit is a bit of a space gardener. He even refers to his plants by affectionate nicknames. 

“I grew three plants on my last mission,” Pettit says. “Space zucchini, and then he had his buddy space broccoli. And then there was space sunflower.”

Dakota Midday: Dakotadon Like Rhino Sized Horse With A Beak

Oct 15, 2015
Darrin Pagnac / SDSM&T

New research on a fossil discovered 40 years ago is adding to the understanding of a species of dinosaur that once roamed South Dakota.
The Dakotadon lakotaensis is a plant eating dinosaur that can be found in a layer of rock called the Lakota Formation.     If you live on the hogback ridge that circles the Black Hills, it’s likely you had them in your own yard between 110 and 130 million years ago.