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Science + Technology

On the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it was the car companies that got the spotlight.

The convergence of the auto industry and tech world began decades ago. There are millions of lines of code in the average car on the road. A recent study shows that tech (Bluetooth, lane assistance, backup cameras) are the deciding factors in new car purchases.

How Real Is Reality?

Jan 5, 2016

Each day when you wake up, the world is, for the most part, unchanged from the day before.

The sun rises again in the east. Your underwear falls if you drop it. The water in the sink spirals down the drain like always. Just as important, your mattress won't turn into a sports car and you can't jump into the air and fly like Superman.

Reality, in other words, seems pretty stubborn, pretty fixed — and pretty much independent of whatever is going on in your head.

But is it? Is it really all those things?

As technology advances, many industries are being disrupted by increased automation. But when it comes to managing and protecting the water supply, there are many tasks that still require a combination of people and technology.

That's where reservoir caretakers come in. Some cities and counties employ these workers to live in remote locations and watch over the water supply.

The Paris agreement to curb climate change calls for a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels and the greenhouse gasses they emit, especially carbon dioxide.

For now, they're known by working names, like ununseptium and ununtrium — two of the four new chemical elements whose discovery has been officially verified. The elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 will get permanent names soon, according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

In Spring Hill, Tenn., people often lurk outside the library on their laptops — before it opens and after it closes.

Librarian Jennifer Urban says it's not that they're just mooching the free Wi-Fi. The cost may be one aspect, but this town of about 30,000 people is also growing fast, she says, so fast that Internet providers can't keep up with home construction.

"There are subdivisions here that no one in the subdivision has Internet access, for one reason or another," she says.

Research out of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania suggests that people see New Year's Day, their birthdays and even the start of a new month or week as "temporal landmarks" — an imaginary line demarcating the old "inferior" self from a new and improved version. That explains why we often fail at resolutions — our new selves are usually not much better than the old ones. But it also suggests how we might stick to our resolutions — use more temporal landmarks to reach our goals.

Last year, snowpack across the Sierra Nevada was just 5 percent of average. Up and down the West Coast in fact, the 2014-2015 season was marked by late openings, early closings and some resorts not opening at all.

This year's strong start will be good news for farms and cities down the mountain later, but it's especially promising right now for people like Andy Wirth, the resort's CEO.

He took over in 2011, a record snowfall year, only to be followed by three dry years and then last year, the driest in 1,200 years.

What's the universe made of?

It's a question that's been bothering scientists and philosophers for millennia, and has become even more vexing in recent decades, as physicists have become convinced that most of the universe is made of something we can't see or touch or measure.

At least not yet.

This was a record-breaking year for rooftop solar power. It's booming across the country. But as more homeowners make their own power, electric utilities are making less money, and that's shaking up their business model.

Utilities in two states — California and Georgia — are handling the growth of solar in dramatically different ways.

Matt Brown recently got solar panels on his Oakland, Calif., home, but it's dark out right now — his panels aren't working. So Brown's appliances are running on electricity he's buying from his utility, Pacific Gas & Electric.

VIDEO: Meet The Bots That Beat The Obstacles

Dec 30, 2015

In 1957, humans launched a satellite into orbit, Sputnik-1.

The same mission also created our first piece of space junk: the rocket body that took Sputnik into space.

By the year 2000, there were hundreds of satellites in orbit — and thousands of pieces of space junk, including leftover rockets and pieces of debris.

You have probably been hearing a lot about virtual reality in the past couple of years; this coming year you finally may get to try it. Several major consumer headsets are hitting the market, allowing users to experience everything from travel, games, news and shopping.

But it's not clear whether that will be enough to entice consumers to spend a few hundred bucks on a VR headset.

Brian Blau thinks it will be enough. The analyst at Gartner, a tech market-research firm, has watched dozens of people don a virtual reality headset for the first time.

Right before the holidays, Congress approved tax credits for clean energy. It was just a tiny part of a $1.8 trillion spending bill, but solar and wind power companies say it's a Christmas present that will catapult their industry forward. Analysts are predicting a big boost in wind and solar projects over the next few years.

Every once in a while a technology comes along that completely alters the way scientists do their work.

It's hard to imagine astronomy without a telescope or high energy physics without an accelerator.

From here on in, it's going to be impossible to imagine biology without CRISPR-Cas9.

A novel immunotherapy drug is credited for successfully treating former President Jimmy Carter's advanced melanoma. Instead of killing cancer cells, these drugs boost the patient's immune system, which does the job instead.

Immunotherapy is cutting-edge cancer treatment, but the idea dates back more than 100 years, to a young surgeon who was willing to think outside the box.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

3 Big Moments From Space In 2015

Dec 26, 2015

It's been an exciting year for developments in space. NPR Science Correspondent Geoff Brumfiel shares three highlights with host Linda Wertheimer.

Do you remember cutting paper snowflakes in school? Artist Rogan Brown has elevated that simple seasonal art form and taken it to science class.

These large-scale paper sculptures may evoke snow, but actually trade on the forms of bacteria and other organisms. The patterns may feel familiar, but also a bit alien. You're not looking at a replica of a microbe, but an interpretation of one. And that distinction, Brown says, is important.

It was early 1954 when computer scientists, for the first time, publicly revealed a machine that could translate between human languages. It became known as the Georgetown-IBM experiment: an "electronic brain" that translated sentences from Russian into English.

The scientists believed a universal translator, once developed, would not only give Americans a security edge over the Soviets but also promote world peace by eliminating language barriers.

Editor's Note: This post accompanies a story that you can hear on the NPR One app by following this link.

The words you use betray who you are.

Linguists and psychologists have long been studying this phenomenon. A few decades ago they had a hunch that the number of active verbs in your sentences or which adjectives you use (lovely, sweet, angry) reflect personality traits.

It's the solstice again, which is an astronomer's favorite time of year. That's because it's one of the few occasions where we have anything semi-practical to say to anyone.

"Hey, Adam, you're an astronomer. What's this whole solstice thing about?"

Well, I'm glad you asked.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has placed one breed of African lions on its endangered species list, a move aimed at discouraging hunting of the animals at a time when their numbers are dwindling.

A second breed of lion will be designated as threatened, the agency said today.

Commercial spaceflight company SpaceX launched a rocket with a group of communications satellites into orbit. But it was the landing that received most of the attention and made history.

The Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off Monday evening in Florida, was carrying 11 small satellites for communications company Orbcomm.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This post was updated on Dec. 19, 2016.

Bummer, you've missed the best time to order Christmas gifts online! And now you have these options: pay for same-day delivery or face the dreaded shopping mall (or resort to that end-of-the-line choice of a gift card, but you wouldn't go there, would you?).

The U.S. wind power industry is celebrating after reaching a new milestone in November: 70 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity.

"That's enough to power about 19 million homes," says Michael Goggin, senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

There are more than 50,000 wind turbines operating across 40 states and Puerto Rico, according to the AWEA.

How many times have your teachers or editors told you that every word counts? Now, it turns out that every character you send counts, too.

In fact, it turns out that the best way to punctuate a text message may be by not punctuating it at all: Researchers at Binghamton University have found that ending your text with a period — full stop — may make you seem more insincere.

In a finding that suggests "considerable water activity" on Mars, NASA says its Curiosity rover has found very high concentrations of silica on the red planet. The agency says it also found "a mineral named tridymite, rare on Earth and never seen before on Mars."

Thomas Furness is known as the pioneer who stood at the inception of what we know today as virtual reality.

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