New ‘Sponge’ Material Is Like a ShamWow for Oil Spills

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 6, 2017 1:37 pm
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(Credit: jukurae/Shutterstock)

When an oil tanker runs aground or a deep-sea well suffers a leak, millions of gallons of oil can flood into the ocean. Once there, oil slicks can be tremendously difficult to contain, and pose risks to ocean-dwellers and coastlines when they wash ashore in waves of sticky sludge. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, top posts

Human-Caused Minerals: Another Sure Sign of the Anthropocene?

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 3, 2017 11:54 am
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Chalconatronite, a result of quarrying, Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, Canada. (Credit: RRUFF)

To the ever-growing list of uniquely human tweaks to the planet, we can add the creation of 208 minerals.

A list compiled by researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science, the University of Maine and the University of Arizona provides the first assessment of how many unique compounds human activities have created. The collection is another piece of evidence in favor of the Anthropocene, the authors say, and is illustrative of the effects human activities have had on the surface of the planet. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Building a Better Polar Ice Forecast

By Eric Betz | March 3, 2017 10:44 am
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A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker pierces the Beaufort Sea ice pack in September. (Credit: Alek Petty/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Watching Arctic sea ice shrink to record lows has become a summer tradition for climatologists. And while few would expect that long-term trend to reverse, it’s still a struggle to predict the annual highs and lows of polar sea ice.

In fact, just looking at long-term statistics — how much the sea ice maximum and minimum usually shrinks each year — has proven more accurate than existing forecast techniques. But a long-term approach can’t predict extreme years or forecast sea ice in specific regions. A local ice forecast would be vital for native Arctic hunters, wildlife researchers, as well as shipping companies hoping to move freight through newly melted passages. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Pushing the Theoretical Limits of DNA Data Storage

By Charles Choi | March 2, 2017 1:00 pm
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Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski, associate scientist at the New York Genome Center, prepare to make trillions of of a DNA file. (Credit: New York Genome Center)

By 2020, the volumes of data that humanity generates may reach 44 trillion gigabytes, according to information technology analyst firm International Data Corporation in Framingham, Massachusetts. That’s equivalent to over 6 towers of 128-gigabyte iPad Airs, each reaching from Earth to the moon.

To make use of all this data, it needs to be stored somewhere, and DNA may be up for the task.

Now, using a new strategy called DNA Fountain, scientists have nearly reached DNA’s theoretical storage capacity, and still recovered their data with zero errors. The secret of the new technique is that it essentially encodes files in DNA as very simple Sudoku puzzles, says study lead author Yaniv Erlich, a computational biologist at Columbia University in New York. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology

With Iron Nanoparticles, Cryopreserved Tissue Springs Back to Life

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 1, 2017 1:00 pm
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Senior author John Bischof and a sample. (Credit: University of Minnesota)

Every year, thousands of donated organs go to waste because they cannot be matched with recipients in the brief window of time in which they are still viable.

Extending the shelf-life of organs could help alleviate this problem, potentially cutting into waiting lists for organs where many patients languish for years. Chilling organs at extremely low temperatures and then reheating them when they are needed is one current solution. The freezing and reheating process still needs work before we start shipping large inventories of tissues to “organ banks,” but scientists are making progress.

University of Minnesota researchers reported Wednesday that they have developed an innovative way to quickly and safely warm tissues from sub-zero temperatures—a technique that could greatly increase the viability of donated organs. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Oldest Fossils Ever Found Give New Clues to Life’s Origins

By Eric Betz | March 1, 2017 12:21 pm
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Haematite tubes from the hydrothermal vent deposits are said to be the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. (Credit: Matthew Dodd)

Four billion years ago, as a faint young sun beat down on the newly-formed Earth, a cluster of creatures—each less than half the width of a human hair—were already thriving around volcanic vents.

In a study published Wednesday in Nature, researchers say they’ve found the microfossil remnants of organisms that, if confirmed, lived at least 3.77 billion years ago. Read More

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

Urine Is Sugary and Swimming Pools Are Sweet

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | March 1, 2017 10:58 am
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(Credit: tano_d’ere/Flickr)

Calorie-free, artificial sweeteners aren’t metabolized in the body—they go in, and they come out unscathed.

With that in mind, take a moment to metabolize the title of a new study: “Sweetened Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs.”

Indeed, in a study published Wednesday in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, researchers describe a new test that measures levels of acesulfame-K, a widely consumed artificial sweetener, floating in dubious pool water. Of course, researchers put their method to the test in pools and hot tubs in Canada, and the results may be disconcerting for some. It’s yet another addition to the corpus of research focusing on the cocktail of chemicals we swim in for fun.  Read More

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

Lasers Illuminate the Evolution of Flight

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 28, 2017 1:55 pm
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A reconstruction of Anchiornus, based on the new data. (Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi)

Firing lasers at fossils continues to be a winning strategy for paleontologists.

The new technique brings hidden details in fossils to the forefront, including remnants of soft tissue invisible to the naked eye. And a team of researchers from China is using the laser-assisted images to help piece together the evolutionary process that turned dinosaurs into the birds we know today. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

You Look Like a/an (Insert Your Name Here)

By Carl Engelking | February 27, 2017 4:14 pm

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Who are you more likely to find striking a sexy pose on the cover of a magazine: Gus or Tanner? Sophia or Bertha?

It’s a silly question given all we’re working with is names, but names are powerful social tags that influence how people interact with and perceive each other—for good or for bad. A name reflects race, age, religion and nationality. A name affects the number of callbacks jobseekers receive from employers. A name can influence expectations set by a child’s teachers. A name, in many ways, affects who we ultimately become.

But there’s more: A name might also affect the face we see in the mirror.

Read More

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

Brain Activity Can Predict If an Article Will Go Viral

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 27, 2017 2:15 pm
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(Credit: pathdoc/Shutterstock)

Chased fanatically but realized rarely, a truly viral story seems to happen purely by chance — a fortuitous alignment of trending topic, clever headline, compelling copy and maybe a witty GIF.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has built a model for “virality” by identifying neural mechanisms at work when people decide to share an article or not. In two studies, of 41 and 39 people each, they used fMRI to monitor participants’ brain activity as they rated how likely they were to share articles drawn from the New York Times health section. In doing so, they found they could predict the popularity of an article based on activity in the brain.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
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