Category: Science

Celebrating Hubble’s 25th Anniversary

This visualization provides a three-dimensional perspective on Hubble’s 25th anniversary image of the nebula Gum 29 with the star cluster Westerlund 2 at its core. The flight traverses the foreground stars and approaches the lower left rim of the nebula Gum 29. Passing through the wispy darker clouds on the near side, the journey reveals bright gas illuminated by the intense radiation of the newly formed stars of cluster Westerlund 2. Within the nebula, several pillars of dark, dense gas are being shaped by the energetic light and strong stellar winds from the brilliant cluster of thousands of stars.

Happy anniversary, Hub. Waiting patiently for Webb to take over.

Common pesticide harms wild bees

A common type of pesticide is dramatically harming wild bees, according to a new in-the-field study that outside experts say may help shift the way the U.S. government looks at a controversial class of chemicals.

But in the study published by the journal Nature on Wednesday, honeybees — which get trucked from place to place to pollinate major crops like almonds— didn’t show the significant ill effects that wild cousins like bumblebees did. This is a finding some experts found surprising. A second study published in the same journal showed that in lab tests bees are not repelled by the pesticides and in fact may even prefer pesticide coated crops, making the problem worse…

Exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides reduced the density of wild bees, resulted in less reproduction, and colonies that didn’t grow when compared to bees not exposed to the pesticide, the study found.

Scientists in Sweden were able to conduct a study that was in the wild, but still had the in-the-lab qualities of having control groups that researchers covet. They used 16 patches of landscape, eight where canola seeds were coated with the pesticide and eight where they weren’t, and compared the two areas.

When the first results came in, “I was quite, ‘Oh my God,'” said study lead author Maj Rundlof of Lund University. She said the reduction in bee health was “much more dramatic than I ever expected.”

In areas treated with the pesticide, there were half as many wild bees per square meter than there were in areas not treated, Rundlof said. In the pesticide patches, bumblebee colonies had “almost no weight gain” compared to the normal colonies that gained about a pound, she said…

The European Union has a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids and some environmentalists are pushing for the same in the United States. Rundlof conducted her study just before the European ban went into effect in 2013…

While many large farms rely on honeybee colonies, a 2013 study found that wild bees and other insects were more important in pollination than previously thought and far more efficient at pollination than honeybees. Plus, the wild flowers around the world are mostly pollinated by wild bees, said Rundolf’s co-author, Henrik Smith of Lund University.

The irony was a spokesperson for Bayer Chemicals complaining that the researchers in Sweden used too much of their neonicotinoid pesticide. What they used was – Bayer’s recommended dose.

Super-fast MRI technique demonstration – words & music by Arlen & Yarburg

In order to sing or speak, around one hundred different muscles in our chest, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips must work together to produce sound. Beckman researchers investigate how all these mechanisms effortlessly work together–and how they change over time…

The sound of the voice is created in the larynx, located in the neck. When we sing or speak, the vocal folds–the two small pieces of tissue–come together and, as air passes over them, they vibrate, which produces sound.

After 10 years of working as a professional singer in Chicago choruses, Aaron Johnson’s passion for vocal performance stemmed into research to understand the voice and its neuromuscular system, with a particular interest in the aging voice…

Thanks to the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) capabilities in Beckman’s Biomedical Imaging Center (BIC), Johnson can view dynamic images of vocal movement at 100 frames per second–a speed that is far more advanced than any other MRI technique in the world…

The basis for the technique was developed by electrical and computer engineering professor Zhi-Pei Liang’s group at the Beckman Institute. Sutton and his team further developed and implemented the technique to make high-speed speech imaging possible.

If I Only Had a Brain” (also “If I Only Had a Heart” and “If I Only Had the Nerve”) is a song by Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics). The song is sung in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz by the characters that meet Dorothy. The characters pine about what each wants from the Wizard. It was also sung in Jeremy Sams and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2011 musical adaptation with an additional reprise called “If We Only Had a Plan” when the characters discuss on how to rescue Dorothy in Act II.

Kids with ADHD actually have to squirm to learn

image

New research shows that if you want ADHD kids to learn, you have to let them squirm. The foot-tapping, leg-swinging and chair-scooting movements of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are actually vital to how they remember information and work out complex cognitive tasks…

…New research conducted at UCF shows that if you want ADHD kids to learn, you have to let them squirm. The foot-tapping, leg-swinging and chair-scooting movements of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are actually vital to how they remember information and work out complex cognitive tasks…

The findings show the longtime prevailing methods for helping children with ADHD may be misguided…

The research has major implications for how parents and teachers should deal with ADHD kids, particularly with the increasing weight given to students’ performance on standardized testing. The study suggests that a majority of students with ADHD could perform better on classroom work, tests and homework if they’re sitting on activity balls or exercise bikes, for instance.

The study at the UCF clinic included 52 boys ages 8 to 12. Twenty-nine of the children had been diagnosed with ADHD and the other 23 had no clinical disorders and showed normal development…

“What we’ve found is that when they’re moving the most, the majority of them perform better,” Rapport said. “They have to move to maintain alertness.”

By contrast, the children in the study without ADHD also moved more during the cognitive tests, but it had the opposite effect: They performed worse.

Now, broader, larger studies will be needed to verify and reproduce these results. Lots of emotional baggage stuck into existing conclusions.

11 images capturing the incredible vastness of space


#6 — Even a single comet is pretty darn big

This is the comet 67P/C-G — which the Philae probe landed on in November 2014 — superimposed on Los Angeles. In terms of space, the comet is absolutely tiny: just 3.5 miles wide. But once again, this image shows how most things in space are way bigger than you realize.

Click through to the article. One of the best space travelogues around – illustrating distance and size.

Anti-vaccine mom no more — all seven of her kids get whooping cough


The Hills family – in healthier days

Writing on The ScientificParent blog, a chagrined Canadian mom announced that she is leaving the anti-vaxx movement after all of her seven children — four of them completely unvaccinated — have come down with whooping cough.

Writing from quarantine, and surrounded by sick kids, Tara Hills wrote she is “emotionally, a bit raw. Mentally a bit taxed. Physically I’m fine,” before admitting that not only are her own kids sick, but they may have exposed her five-month-old niece who is too young to be fully vaccinated.

What began with a cold brought into her home by her brother-in-law, turned into coughing by her kids leading to full-blown whooping cough in all seven children…

“We had vaccinated our first three children on an alternative schedule and our youngest four weren’t vaccinated at all. We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust,” she explained. ” Was the medical community just paid off puppets of a Big Pharma-Government-Media conspiracy? Were these vaccines even necessary in this day and age? Were we unwittingly doing greater harm than help to our beloved children? So much smoke must mean a fire so we defaulted to the ‘do nothing and hope nothing bad happens’ position.”

Hills explained that she had a hard time overcoming her biases and mistrust of “Big Pharma,” asking herself, “Could all the in-house, independent, peer-reviewed clinical trials, research papers and studies across the globe ALL be flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy?”

Now Hills says that years spent “frozen” out of fear of vaccinating her kids has the whole family frozen: confined to their home by a quarantine.

She said she hopes her mea culpa will make other families who have held back from getting their children vaccinated rethink what they are doing.

I appreciate her fear and cynicism. I can match cynicism with most anyone; but, I also have a lifetime of experience reading science from academia, research – public, private and corporate. The peer review procedures we have are the best chance we have so far for verification and validation at present. Honest researchers include funding sources for the reader to judge.

The biggest mistake skeptics make about vaccination, GMO, climate change, any science-based products/systems which may be profitable/or not – is relying on a sampling of non-science sources. That’s laziness in my mind. I spent two years of casual spare time at the millennium reading and searching before I settled on agreement with the dangers human beings had brought to the climate of this planet. I didn’t have to wait for broad political statements from bodies like the IPCC because I combed through many reports from folks doing the research. Then made up my mind based on the science.

Questions about vaccines are easier for me to decide because – being a cranky old geek – I lived through the era before most modern vaccines were available. As I’ve mentioned other times, I stood with my classmates in elementary school every spring while we counted up who didn’t make it through the winter. Whooping cough, mumps, scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, influenza – all took their toll. And then we had summer and polio to look forward to.

The Large Hadron Collider is switching back on – What do scientists hope to learn?

image
Click to enlarge

The Large Hadron Collider — the particle accelerator used to discover the Higgs boson in 2012 — is being fired back up after a two-year break.

The gigantic collider (which includes a 17-mile-long underground tunnel that runs between France and Switzerland) was shut down in February 2013 so engineers could make upgrades. Now, physicists are starting it back up for a new series of experiments intended to push the laws of physics to their limits…

In essence, these experiment involve shooting beams of particles around the ring, using enormous magnets to speed them up to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light (causing them to whip around the ring about 11,000 times per second), then crashing them together. Sophisticated sensors capture all sorts of data on the particles that result from these collisions.

The huge amount of energy present in these collisions leads the particles to break apart and recombine in some pretty exotic ways. And these conditions can reveal flaws in the standard model of physics — currently our best formula for predicting the behavior of all matter.

Physicists want to do this because, as accurate as the standard model seems to be, it’s still incomplete…

The LHC’s biggest finding so far was the July 2012 discovery of an elementary particle called the Higgs boson.

Since the 1960s, the Higgs boson was thought to exist as a part of the Higgs field: an invisible field that permeates all space and exerts a drag on every particle. This field, physicists theorized, is why we perceive particles to have mass…

On paper, the Higgs field and boson both made a lot of sense — all the equations of the standard model pointed toward their existence. But we had no direct physical evidence of them…

After several years of upgrading the LHC’s magnets (which speed up and control the flow of particles) and data sensors, it’ll begin…a new series of experiments that will involve crashing particles together with nearly twice as much energy as before.

These more powerful collisions will allow scientists to keep discovering new (and perhaps larger) particles, and also look more closely at the Higgs boson and observe how it behaves under different conditions…

Once upon a time, it looked like a truly gigantic accelerator would actually be built in the US. In 1989, Congress agreed to spend $6 billion to build the Superconducting Super Collider: a 54-mile-long underground ring in Waxahachie, Texas, that would have produced collisions with five times as much energy as the LHC’s. But in 1993, with the costs rising to a projected $11 billion, Congress killed the project — after $2 billion had already been spent on drilling nearly 15 miles of tunnel.

Just in case you thought stupid was a new definition of Congressional priorities.

Invading other countries because liars in the White House say we must; building new fleets of fighter jets and ships to protect landing craft for future invasions because liars in the military-industrial complex say we must; building bridges to nowhere instead of repairing and improving our nation’s infrastructure because powerful members of Congress say we must – are the kinds of commitments to increasing the national debt that our politIcians adore, the average American loves. The size of the “Boom” is sufficiently impressive to draw everyone’s attention away from the results of science and studies headquartered outside our borders.

And TV news-as-entertainment gets to fill the space where conversation used to get in the way with beaucoup footage of all the people around the world who love Americans more than ever.

Who needs science, anyway?

Addendum: Ursarodinia sent me this link this morning – before the LHC post; but, I didn’t get round to checking my email until late this afternoon.

Art meets the science of the Biggs Boson

Tiny songbirds tracked crossing 1,700 miles of open ocean

blackpoll warbler by erickson
Click to enlargeLaura Erickson

A tiny songbird that summers in the forests of northern North America has been tracked on a 1,700-mile, over-the-ocean journey from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada to the Caribbean as part of their winter migration to South America…

Scientists had long suspected that the blackpoll warbler had made its journey to the Caribbean over the ocean, but the study that began in the summer of 2013 when scientists attached tracking devices to the birds was the first time that the flight has been proven, according to results published Wednesday in the United Kingdom in the journal Biology Letters.

“It is such a spectacular, astounding feat that this half-an-ounce bird can make what is obviously a perilous, highly risky journey over the open ocean,” said Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies…

The warblers, known to bulk up by eating insects near their coastal departure points before heading south, are common in parts of North America, but their numbers have been declining. “Now maybe that will help us focus attention on what could be driving these declines,” Rimmer said…

A number of bird species fly long distances over water, but the warbler is different because it’s a forest dweller. Most other birds that winter in South America fly through Mexico and Central America.

In the summer of 2013, scientists tagged 19 blackpolls on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield and 18 in two locations in Nova Scotia. Of those, three were recaptured in Vermont with the tracking device attached and two in Nova Scotia.

Four warblers, including two tagged in Vermont, departed between Sept. 25 and Oct. 21 and flew directly to the islands of Hispaniola or Puerto Rico in flights ranging from 49 to 73 hours. A fifth bird departed Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and flew nearly 1,000 miles before landing in the Turks and Caicos before continuing on to South America.

On their return journeys north, the birds flew along the coast.

Though not mentioned in the article, I presume the coastal return leg was governed by food availability. Though it may have been resistance from prevailing winds.

Regardless – what an impressive feat considered quite normal for these wee creatures.

Graphene light bulb set to be 1st commercial consumer application

In two claimed firsts, researchers at the University of Manchester have produced both the first commercial application of graphene and the world’s first graphene light-bulb. It is expected that this new device will have lower energy emissions, cheaper manufacturing costs, and a longer running life than even LED lights. And this isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky prototype, either. The team who developed it believes that the graphene light-bulb will be available for retail sale within months.

To that end, the University of Manchester has partnered with the UK company Graphene Lighting PLC to produce the new bulb and share in the profits of its sales. This will also make certain that the University is directly advantaged by commercial products being developed out of their National Graphene Institute (NGI)…

The University of Manchester told us that the light bulb comprises a traditional LED coated in graphene which transfers heat away from the LED, prolonging life and minimizing energy usage.

Known as “the home of graphene,” the University of Manchester is where this unique form of carbon was first isolated in 2004. This feat earned Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. Today, with more than 200 researchers in a myriad 2D material projects, the University is at the forefront of graphene know-how.

The sort of consumer advancement that birdbrains like Michelle Bachmann and other Tea Party types sought to halt. They oppose funding of research in US universities of energy-saving means and practices. Efforts to retire incandescent light bulbs are considered a socialist plot.

Mail me a penny postcard when the Koch Bros. and their flunkies announce they’ll pay my electricity bill.

This past winter set a global heat record

This map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows vast areas around the world where temperatures from December through February were above average this winter. Only the Northeast U.S. was in a big chill…

Last week, the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service reported that La Plata County’s average temperature for the meteorological winter – from December through February – was 5 degrees above average…

But Southwest Colorado was just part of a bigger global trend.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, with data from NASA, announced this week that this winter and the first two months of 2015 were the hottest on record globally, with the chilly Northeast U.S. sticking out like a cold thumb in a toastier world.

At nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, last month was the second-warmest February on record globally, slightly behind 1998.

But the combined January and February temperature beat the old record for the first two months set in 2002.

December through February broke the meteorological winter record set in 2007.

NOAA records go back 135 years to 1880. But, that’s OK. You probably can find a guy who trained as a weatherman for some local radio station, or a conservative investor who made money in the “weather business” – to dispute the sum of global scientific record-keeping and analysis.

And with slightly over 6% of the land area of planet Earth, you know the opinion of Americans about the weather is the only one that counts.