John Glenn, the Last Remaining Mercury Astronaut, Dies at Age 95

By John Wenz | December 8, 2016 3:04 pm


John Glenn, a military vet turned space pioneer, has died at the age of 95.

After flying 59 combat missions in World War II, Glenn became an early recruit into NASA’s Mercury program. In 1962, he became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. Years later, in 1998, he became the oldest person to fly in space when he joined the STS-95 crew aboard Discovery.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Child Mummy Could Rewrite Smallpox Timeline

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 8, 2016 1:55 pm

The child mummy the researchers drew their samples from. (Credit: Kiril Cachovski/Lithuanian Mummy Project)

The oldest genetic sample of smallpox ever studied could rewrite the timeline for this deadly disease, which ravaged Europe and much of the world beginning in the eighteenth century.

Using tissue samples taken from the mummy of a Lithuanian child dating back to the 1600s, an international team of researchers reconstructed the full RNA sequence of the smallpox virus strain that likely killed her. By comparing this genetic information to more recent samples, the team pieced together a phylogenetic tree that traces the history of the virus over the past few centuries. They say that a particular smallpox strain responsible for millions of deaths emerged only within the past two or three hundred years.

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Deform to Perform: A Different Take On Programmable Matter

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | December 8, 2016 1:32 pm


Crowning the plethora of issues with the last Transformers movie, Michael Bay notwithstanding, was the programmable matter — matter that can change its physical properties autonomously, or based on instructions from a designer.

Bay’s take on it, transformium, is a new pop-culture reference point for programmable material (when, on the spectrum of fantastic self-assembling robot bodies, Terminator was objectively more realistic). Bay also overlooked the wide array of applications the tech could have, in addition to shape-changing. But most of all, it just seems a bit unrealistic for matter to just take on new physical properties just by changing shape…until now. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Flickering Light Could — Key Word Could — Treat Alzheimer’s

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 7, 2016 12:12 pm

(Credit: Piotr Krzeslak.Shutterstock)

Staring into a flickering light could help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Using a mouse model, researchers from MIT have demonstrated that flashing light at a specific frequency can alter patterns of brain activity in a way that reduces levels of amyloid-beta plaque in the brain. While human trials haven’t begun, this approach to treating the neurodegenerative disease is quite novel, and the method could treat a range of diseases in the brain. Read More

Aviation Research, for the Birds

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 6, 2016 2:12 pm

The fearless research subject, ready for flight. (Credit: Lentink Lab/Stanford University)

Sometimes, it takes a goggle-wearing parrot to show us where we went wrong.

A study from researchers at Stanford University suggests that our previous models of lift, as they pertain to animals, are all incomplete, based on observations of an intrepid parrotlet in their laboratory. Flying through a sheet of illuminated aerosol particles, the avian aviator pushed through the boundaries of our current understanding of wake dynamics, hinting that there is new ground yet to be broken. Read More

MORE ABOUT: animals, physics

Chimpanzees See Butts Like We See Faces

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 5, 2016 3:21 pm

(Credit: AJancso/Shutterstock)

Chimpanzees may look at each other’s butts the same way we look at faces.

A pair of researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands and Kyoto University in Japan studied how chimps process images of other chimps’ rear ends, and found that they perceive them in the same way that we do faces. Chimps seem unable to recognize posteriors well when they are flipped upside down. Humans experience the same difficulty — what’s called an inversion effect — when looking at faces.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: animals, Senses

Breakthrough Prize-Winning Scientists Share $25 Million

By Steve Nadis | December 4, 2016 7:00 pm

The Breakthrough Prize trophy. (Credit: Breakthrough Prize)

During the 5th Annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony, an affair with all the trappings of the Oscars, a handful of scientists in the fields of life sciences, physics, and mathematics became millionaires.

Never before has more cash been placed in the hands of the world’s brightest minds.

The event is the brainchild of Yuri Milner, a Russian-born internet entrepreneur who is now based (as might be expected) in Silicon Valley. Other founders of the Breakthrough Prize attended as well, including Sergey Brin of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

An Imposing Egyptian Queen, Survived Only By Her Knees

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 2, 2016 4:19 pm

An image of Nefertari, taken from inside her tomb. (Credit: The Yorck Project/Wikimedia)

After years of speculation, researchers have proven that a pair of mummified knees found in Egypt’s Valley of the Queens once belonged to Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramses the Great.

The partial legs are all that remain of the legendarily beautiful Nefertari, who was buried in a lavish tomb during Egypt’s 19th Dynasty, around the 13th century B.C. At some point after her death, robbers ransacked the tomb. Read More

MORE ABOUT: archaeology

For Cancer Patients, Psilocybin Brings Much-needed Relief

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 1, 2016 3:18 pm

Fruit bodies of the fungus Psilocybe semilanceata. (Credit: Alan Rockefeller/Wikimedia Commons)

Two recent studies of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in so-called magic mushrooms, contend that the chemical can act as a powerful remedy for cancer patients suffering from depression and anxiety.

The two studies, one from New York University and one from Johns Hopkins University, are the largest and most rigorous studies of psilocybin and depression in decades, and they report that the anti-depressant effects of the drug can last for months, offering relief to chronically ill patients for whom traditional treatments have failed to work. Read More

Found: A Missing Link in Whale Evolution

By Jon Tennant | December 1, 2016 2:03 pm

Alfred the Aetiocetid. (Credit: Carl Buell)

Whales are some of largest animals to ever exist on Earth, and they have an incredible evolutionary history.

Modern species can be divided into two major groups depending on their feeding style: the toothed carnivores, such as the killer whale, and those such as the blue whale that use comb-like ‘baleen’ to filter enormous amounts of plankton from seawater. Baleen is formed from a series of plates made from keratin that hang suspended from the upper jaw, and provide a distinct filtering system to that of teeth.

When this dietary divide occurred in their evolutionary story has long eluded scientists, even from the time of Charles Darwin, due to an incomplete whale fossil record. That is, until now. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology


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