Science + Technology

Science + Technology
2:57 am
Tue August 20, 2013

How Extreme Australian Rains Made Global Sea Levels Drop

Heavy rains in Australia in 2010 and 2011 flooded farmland and homes, like these in the Queensland state town of St. George, seen here on Feb. 7. 2011.
Sally Nicol Rigney AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 9:19 am

Global sea level has been rising as a result of global warming, but in 2010 and 2011, sea level actually fell by about a quarter of an inch.

Scientists now say they know why: It has to do with extreme weather in Australia.

The sea level drop coincided with some of the worst flooding in that continent's history. Dozens of people died and torrents washed away houses and cars, forcing thousands from their homes.

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Science + Technology
1:32 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

How One Plus One Became Everything: A Puzzle of Life

Courtesy of Paolo Ceric

Originally published on Mon August 19, 2013 10:00 am

It's one of life's great mysteries ...

Four billion years ago, or thereabouts, organic chemicals in the sea somehow spun themselves into little homes, with insides and outsides. We call them cells.

They did this in different ways, but always keeping their insides in, protected from the outside world ...

... surrounded by walls or skins of different types ...

... but letting in essentials, nutrients. Some even learned to eat sunshine, capturing energy ...

... which gave them a pulse of their own ...

... so they could move ...

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Science + Technology
2:25 am
Mon August 19, 2013

Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?

This artist rendering provided by NASA shows Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system.
AP

Originally published on Mon August 19, 2013 2:52 pm

The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977 on a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. It kept on going. Today it's billions of miles from Earth, and scientists have been predicting it will soon leave the solar system.

NPR has been on Voyager watch since at least 2003, when longtime science correspondent Richard Harris provided this warning of Voyager's impending departure.

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Science + Technology
1:19 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

What's The Big Deal About Privacy?

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri August 16, 2013 8:40 am

Privacy is the state of being unobserved.

Looking back at history and prehistory, privacy is the rarest luxury. It requires walls or seclusion. It is not our natural condition.

In recent times people have taken privacy for granted, the same way we take other modern conveniences for granted. There's nothing natural about privacy, just as there is nothing inalienable about cheap fast food.

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Science + Technology
10:31 am
Fri August 16, 2013

Kepler Space Telescope Is Beyond Repair, NASA Says

An artist's illustration of Kepler-22b, a planet that circles its star in the "goldilocks" zone.
Ames/JPL-Caltech/NASA Getty Images

There's some sad news from NASA: The space agency says its Kepler space telescope is beyond repair.

The $600 million planet-hunting probe whose mission was to search other solar systems for Earth-like planets has lost its ability to keep its gaze on target.

Two of the four gyroscope-like reaction wheels that keep Kepler pointed in the right direction have broken down and can't be fixed, but NASA is still hoping it can find some less-stressful work for the orbiting observatory.

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Science + Technology
8:20 am
Thu August 15, 2013

VIDEO: 'Sideways Rocket Hop' By SpaceX Prototype

The "Grasshopper" during its hop into the air.
SpaceX

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 1:50 pm

The engineers at SpaceX this week successfully launched a 10-story rocket to an altitude of about 800 feet, moved it about 330 feet sideways and then brought the "Grasshopper" back down to its landing pad.

Check out the video.

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Science + Technology
3:01 am
Wed August 14, 2013

10 Years After The Blackout, How Has The Power Grid Changed?

The sun sets over the Manhattan skyline during a major power outage affecting a large part of the Northeastern United States and Canada on Aug. 14, 2003. Ten years later, some improvements have been made to the grid to prevent another large-scale blackout.
Robert Giroux Getty Images

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 12:58 pm

Ten years ago, a sagging power line hit a tree near Cleveland, tripping some circuit breakers. To compensate, power was rerouted to a nearby line, which began to overheat and sink down into another tree, tripping another circuit. The resulting cascade created a massive blackout in the Northeast U.S., affecting power in eight states and part of Canada.

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Science + Technology
5:44 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

Hacking Real Things Becomes Child's Play At This Camp

Owen Chilcoat hacking his tablet. "I am just messing around ... trying to break it," he says.
Steve Henn NPR

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 8:56 am

At r00tz, a camp that takes place each year during the Def Con convention in Las Vegas, children learn to pick locks, hack smart TVs and, most important, how to take apart and understand the technology that surrounds them.

The scene inside the camp a couple weeks ago was a bit of a madhouse — controlled chaos. Little kids everywhere. Brendan Herman was trying to program a machine to draw pictures on ping-pong balls, wearing a tinfoil hat.

"To protect me from aliens," he said.

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Science + Technology
3:36 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

Sprites: A Rarely Seen Sky Phenomenon Caught On Camera

Sprites sparkle over Red Willow County, Neb., on Monday.
Jason Ahrns via Flickr

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 3:57 pm

When thunderstorms emit lightning, we see the white, snaking electricity from the ground. But if you flew above the clouds, you would see a sky phenomenon known as sprites.

These are rarely seen bolts of red light that look like very fast burning sparklers. The Capital Weather Gang over at The Washington Post describes them like this:

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Science + Technology
5:27 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Particle Physicists Want A New Collider To Study The Higgs

This simulated image shows what information about a Higgs particle would look like in the proposed International Linear Collider.
Norman Graf interactions.org

Originally published on Mon August 12, 2013 6:03 pm

"It's a very curious time in high-energy physics," says Michael Peskin, a researcher at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. On the one hand, researchers have just made the most significant discovery in decades: In July of last year, they announced they had found the Higgs particle at a collider in Switzerland. The Higgs is part of the mechanism that gives mass to everything. It is so fundamental that without it, we wouldn't exist.

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Science + Technology
3:03 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Brains Of Dying Rats Yield Clues About Near-Death Experiences

Could the images common in accounts of near-death experiences be explained by a rush of electrical activity in the brain?
Odina iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 7:57 am

A burst of brain activity just after the heart stops may be the cause of so-called near-death experiences, scientists say.

The insight comes from research involving nine lab rats whose brains were analyzed as they were being euthanized. Researchers discovered what appears to be a momentary increase in electrical activity in the brain associated with consciousness.

Although the experiment relied on animals, the results could apply to humans, too, the researchers say.

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Science + Technology
9:24 am
Mon August 12, 2013

When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart

Neuroscientists have found evidence to suggest feeling powerful dampens a part of our brain that helps with empathy.
Vladgrin istockphoto.com

Originally published on Sun August 11, 2013 9:52 am

Even the smallest dose of power can change a person. You've probably seen it. Someone gets a promotion or a bit of fame and then, suddenly, they're a little less friendly to the people beneath them.

So here's a question that may seem too simple: Why?

If you ask a psychologist, he or she may tell you that the powerful are simply too busy. They don't have the time to fully attend to their less powerful counterparts.

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Science + Technology
5:23 pm
Sun August 11, 2013

The Algae Is Coming, But Its Impact Is Felt Far From Water

Chinese beachgoers walk by an algae-covered public beach in Qingdao, China, in July. The seas off China have been hit by their largest-ever growth of algae, ocean officials say, with waves of green growth washing onto the shores.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sun August 11, 2013 5:49 pm

Algae blooms are green or red or brown, slimy, smelly and you don't want it coming soon to a waterfront near you.

Most of us don't give a lot of thought to algae until the furry-like monstrosity is spreading over beaches, rivers, lakes and bays, but gigantic algae blooms have become an increasing problem around the world.

The danger algae blooms pose is that they sap the body of water where they are growing of nutrients and oxygen; they then die, decompose and rot.

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Science + Technology
10:32 am
Fri August 9, 2013

The Nature Of Consciousness: A Question Without An Answer?

How does our subjective reality emerge from the physical structures of the brain and body?
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 12:08 pm

Today I'd like to go back to a topic that leaves most people perplexed, me included: the nature of consciousness and how it "emerges" in our brains. I wrote about this a few months ago, promising to get back to it. At this point, no scientist or philosopher in the world knows how to answer it. If you think you know the answer, you probably don't understand the question:

Are you all matter?

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Science + Technology
5:22 am
Fri August 9, 2013

New Digital Amber Alerts Could Create A Backlash

Amber Alerts were issued as cellphone text messages in California this week.
NPR

Originally published on Fri August 9, 2013 1:20 pm

A couple of nights ago I had just closed my book, turned off my light, and was drifting off to sleep when my cellphone started to shriek. I shot awake and groped for the phone. My sleep-befuddled brain was greeted with this message: "Boulevard, CA Amber Alert update." Then there was a license plate number, and a make and model of the car.

Groggily, I Google this town — Boulevard, Calif. — and discovered it was 541 miles away from my house. That's more than the distance between Washington, D.C., and Detroit. I was mystified. Why was I getting this?

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Science + Technology
3:04 am
Fri August 9, 2013

On Vine, Brands Look To Deliver Their Message In Six Seconds

Jethro Ames uses the camera on his smartphone to take six- second videos on Vine. He's produced clips for various companies like GE Appliances and MTV.
Daniel Hajek NPR

Originally published on Fri August 9, 2013 12:06 pm

Try telling a story in six seconds. With the social media app Vine, owned by Twitter, users are doing just that. They're creating everything from artistic pieces to random comedy sketches in six-second videos that loop endlessly.

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Science + Technology
3:03 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Why Aren't More Girls Attracted To Physics?

Girls are more likely to take high school physics if they see women in their communities working in science, technology, engineering and math, a new study finds.
Dominik Pabis iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 9:05 pm

You don't need to be a social scientist to know there is a gender diversity problem in technology. The tech industry in Silicon Valley and across the nation is overwhelmingly male-dominated.

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Science + Technology
5:20 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Swinging CO2 Levels Show The Earth Is 'Breathing' More Deeply

Plants accumulate carbon in the spring and summer, and they release it back into the atmosphere in the fall in winter. And a change in the landscape of the Arctic tundra, seen here, means that shrubs hold onto snow better, which keeps the organic-rich soils warmer and more likely to release carbon dioxide that's stored there.
Jean-Erick Pasquier Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 9:34 pm

Plant life on our planet soaks up a fair amount of the carbon dioxide that pours out of our tailpipes and smokestacks. Plants take it up during the summer and return some of it to the air in the winter. And a new study shows that those "breaths" have gotten deeper over the past 50 years.

This isn't just a curiosity. Plant life is helping to reduce the speed at which carbon dioxide is building up in our atmosphere. That's slowing the global warming, at least marginally, so scientists are eager to understand how this process works. The new study provides some clues.

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Science + Technology
12:44 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

NASA: Sun Getting Ready For A 'Field Flip'

NASA/SDO

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 3:05 pm

Our nearest star is about to pull a once-in-11-years move by swapping its north and south magnetic poles.

The sun's polarity switch is a natural part of "solar max" — the period of peak activity during what averages out to be roughly an 11-year cycle. According to NASA, this year will mark the fourth time since 1976 that scientists have observed the 180-degree pole flip.

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Science + Technology
3:49 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Science Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S. Bring Hip-Hop Into The Classroom

Jayda Neor and Kephra Shaw Meredith, seventh-graders from KIPP Bridge middle school in Oakland, Calif., perform a rap song about the discovery of DNA's structure in front of a green screen.
Tom McFadden

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 12:48 pm

This story comes to us from our friends at the science desk. They produced the 7-minute video documentary you see above.

"Modern-day rappers — all they talk about is money, and all these unnecessary and irrelevant topics," says Victoria Richardson, a freshman at Bronx Compass High School. Richardson's rhymes tackle a much less-popular subject: DNA.

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