Science + Technology

The Salt
10:36 am
Wed October 24, 2012

When Fire Met Meat, The Brains Of Early Humans Grew Bigger

Actors Stan Laurel and Edna Marlon play at socializing around the campfire. It turns out that early man's brain developed in part thanks to cooking.
Hulton Archive Getty

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 1:08 pm

If you're reading this blog, you're probably into food. Perhaps you're even one of those people whose world revolves around your Viking stove and who believes that cooking defines us as civilized creatures.

Well, on the latter part, you'd be right. At least according to some neuroscientists from Brazil.

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Krulwich Wonders...
4:37 pm
Mon October 22, 2012

How Human Beings Almost Vanished From Earth In 70,000 B.C.

Robert Krulwich NPR

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 12:33 pm

Add all of us up, all 7 billion human beings on earth, and clumped together we weigh roughly 750 billion pounds. That, says Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, is more than 100 times the biomass of any large animal that's ever walked the Earth. And we're still multiplying. Most demographers say we will hit 9 billion before we peak, and what happens then?

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Solve This
2:00 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Climate Politics: It's Laugh Lines Vs. 'Not A Joke'

This Sept. 16 image released by NASA shows the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic, at center in white, and the 1979 to 2000 average extent for the day shown, with the yellow line. Scientists say sea ice in the Arctic shrank to an all-time low of 1.32 million square miles on Sept. 16, smashing old records for the critical climate indicator.
NASA AP

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 12:11 pm

Scientists view climate change as one of the world's most pressing long-term problems. But the issue has barely surfaced in the U.S. presidential race. President Obama has taken steps to address climate change during his time in office. Republican challenger Mitt Romney would not make it a priority in his administration.

In fact, as Romney stood on the stage to accept his nomination at the Republican National Convention, he used global warming as a laugh line.

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Science
3:28 am
Thu October 11, 2012

Software Calculates City-Specific Carbon Footprint

Bedrich Benes and Michel Abdul-Massih

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 3:58 pm

One way to measure greenhouse gases is simply to capture them at the source: You put an instrument on a smokestack, for example. Cities, however, are full of cars, buses, factories and homes that all use fuel or electricity. No one really knows how much carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, comes from each.

Ecologist Kevin Gurney says he can find out.

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Shots - Health Blog
9:06 am
Mon October 8, 2012

Nobel Winners Unlocked Cells' Unlimited Potential

Shinya Yamanaka from Kyoto University was named the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how mature, adult cells can be reprogrammed into immature stem cells.
Shizuo Kambayashi Associated Press

Originally published on Mon October 8, 2012 3:28 pm

The two scientists who won this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine discovered that cells in our body have the remarkable ability to reinvent themselves. They found that every cell in the human body, from our skin and bones to our heart and brain, can be coaxed into forming any other cell.

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National Security
3:07 am
Mon October 8, 2012

Predicting The Future: Fantasy Or A Good Algorithm?

Originally published on Mon October 8, 2012 11:47 am

After failing to predict the Arab Spring, intelligence officials are now exploring whether Big Data, the combing of billions of pieces of disparate electronic information, can help them identify hot spots before they explode. The intelligence community has always been in the business of forecasting the future. The question is whether tapping into publicly available data — Twitter and news feeds and blogs among other things — can help them do that faster and more precisely.

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Krulwich Wonders...
11:03 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Are Those Spidery Black Things On Mars Dangerous? (Yup.)

Michael Benson NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Kinetikon Pictures

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 4:43 pm

You are 200 miles directly above the Martian surface — looking down. This image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 27, 2010. (The color was added later.) What do we see? Well, sand, mostly. As you scroll down, there's a ridge crossing through the image, then a plain, then dunes, but keep looking. You will notice, when you get to the dunes, there are little black flecks dotting the ridges, mostly on the sunny side, like sunbathing spiders sitting in rows. Can you see them?

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Education
5:42 pm
Sun September 30, 2012

Online Education Grows Up, And For Now, It's Free

Coursera founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller are computer science professors at Stanford University.
Jeff Chiu AP

Originally published on Mon October 1, 2012 5:26 pm

Online education isn't particularly new. It has been around in some form since the 1990s, but what is new is the speed and scale in which online learning is growing.

In barely a year, many of the most prestigious research universities in the world – including Stanford, Caltech, Oxford and Princeton — have started to jump onto the online bandwagon.

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Krulwich Wonders...
12:58 pm
Fri September 28, 2012

The Best College Prank Of The 1790s (With Bats, Poop & Grass)

Benjamin Arthur for NPR

Originally published on Fri September 28, 2012 12:03 pm

In yesterday's post, I crowned an Oxford geologist William Buckland as Most Daring Eater Ever. And he was. But I think he deserves one additional, albeit smaller, honor.

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The Salt
3:31 am
Wed September 26, 2012

How Food And Clothing Size Labels Affect What We Eat And What We Wear

There's no industry standard size for food and drink portions, so it's hard to compare a Big Gulp with a McDonald's medium soda.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 8:35 pm

When you go into a restaurant, you probably give some thought to whether you're ordering a small, regular or large sandwich.

That makes sense.With widening waistlines across the land, many of us want to make a health-conscious choice. But are we really getting a small portion when we order a small sandwich?

Well, that depends.

University of Michigan marketing professor Aradhna Krishna has studied how labels impact how much we eat. In one experiment, she gave people cookies that were labeled either medium or large, and then measured how much they ate.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:48 am
Fri September 21, 2012

Does The Multiverse Make Sense?

A portal to another universe? No, just the Trifid Nebula, a massive star factory. This amazing image was captured by the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in northern Chile.
ESO

Originally published on Wed September 19, 2012 4:35 pm

It's good to start by explaining this title since, to most people, "multiverse" isn't even a word. The idea is that our Universe (with capital "U") is but one amongst a multitude of other possible universes, all part of a single multiverse.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:02 am
Wed September 19, 2012

Scientists See Upside And Downside Of Sequencing Their Own Genes

Dr. James Watson looks at a reproduction of the structure of DNA, which he helped discover, in this 1962 photograph. Decades later, Watson was one of the first people to have his entire genome sequenced.
Mondadori Mondadori via Getty Images

Originally published on Mon September 24, 2012 4:03 pm

When scientists were looking for the first person to test a new, superfast way of deciphering someone's entire genetic blueprint, they turned to James Watson the guy who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

"They had to sequence someone, so they got me," he says.

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Krulwich Wonders...
11:47 am
Mon September 17, 2012

Which Is Greater, The Number Of Sand Grains On Earth Or Stars In The Sky?

Gilles Chapdelaine NASA & ESA

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 9:53 am

Here's an old, old, question, but this time with a surprise twist. The question is — and I bet you asked it when you were 8 years old and sitting on a beach: Which are there more of — grains of sand on the Earth or stars in the sky?

Obviously, grains and stars can't be counted, not literally. But you can guestimate.

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The Two-Way
3:22 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Monkey, New To Science, Found In Central Africa

Researchers have identified a new species of African monkey, locally known as the lesula.
Maurice Emetshu, Noel Rowe PLOS ONE/AP

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 11:19 pm

It would seem difficult to overlook something as large as a new species of monkey, but scientists had no idea about the lesula until just a few years ago when conservation biologist John Hart discovered a specimen being kept as a pet in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In retrospect, the monkey's striking, almost humanlike face should have made it hard to miss, and Hart, who spoke with All Things Considered host Melissa Block, is the first to admit that this new monkey was apparently not such a mystery to the Congolese themselves.

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Animals
2:49 pm
Tue September 11, 2012

New Center Trains Detection Dogs To Save Lives

Eleven-week-old 11-week-old Bretagne is beginning her training as a detection dog at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which opens Tuesday. Click here to see photos of Bretagne at the mic during her Fresh Air interview.
Sarah Griffith

Originally published on Tue September 11, 2012 3:27 pm

A detection dog-training center opens Tuesday, on the anniversary of Sept. 11, at the University of Pennsylvania so scientists can train dogs for search-and-rescue missions — and study what helps them succeed.

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Krulwich Wonders...
11:58 am
Fri September 7, 2012

Volcano Shoots Geyser Of Water Up Into Space

Michael Benson

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 11:53 am

What we have here is a moon — a small one (slightly wider than the state of Arizona) — circling Saturn.

If you look closely, you will see a small splay of light at its top, looking like a circular fountain.

That's because it is a fountain — of sorts. A bunch of volcano-like jets are sending fantastically high geysers of water vapor up into the sky, so high that you can see them in this remarkable print by Michael Benson, back lit by light bouncing off of Saturn.

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Author Interviews
1:34 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Conservation Biologist Explains Why 'Feathers' Matter

Thor Hanson's own cast of Archaeopteryx lithographica presents what he calls the "ancient wing written in stone."
Thor Hanson Basic Books

Originally published on Tue September 4, 2012 2:11 pm

It was the absence of feathers that got conservation biologist Thor Hanson thinking about the significance of them. Hanson was in Kenya studying the feeding habits of vultures, and he noticed the advantages that vultures had relative to other birds because of their bare, featherless heads.

"Having lost their feathers allows [vultures] to remain much cleaner and more free from bacteria and parasites and disease," Hanson tells Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies.

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Environment
3:19 am
Tue September 4, 2012

As Temps Rise, Cities Combat 'Heat Island' Effect

An art installation of a melting fan sits on display in a subway station Thursday, June 9, 2011, in Atlanta.
David Goldman AP

Originally published on Tue September 4, 2012 5:10 pm

More than 20,000 high-temperature records have been broken so far this year in the United States. And the heat is especially bad in cities, which are heating up about twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

High temperatures increase the risk of everything from asthma to allergies, and can even be deadly. But a researcher in Atlanta also sees this urban heat wave as an opportunity to do something about our warming planet.

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Shots - Health Blog
4:02 am
Mon September 3, 2012

Can We Learn To Forget Our Memories?

Research shows that under certain circumstances, we can train ourselves to forget details about particular memories.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 7:06 pm

Around 10 years ago, Malcolm MacLeod got interested in forgetting.

For most people, the tendency to forget is something we spend our time cursing. Where are my keys? What am I looking for in the refrigerator again? What is that woman's name?

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The Salt
9:26 am
Wed August 29, 2012

Grow Your Own Locust Kit Could Someday Help Feed African Refugees

Locusts are cheap and easy to farm, and are considered a delicacy in many countries in Africa.
Soon Wee Hong iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 10:36 am

When it comes to environmentally-friendly meat, insects can't be beat. As The Salt reported last year, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles are four times more efficient at converting grasses into protein-packed meat than cattle. Insects generate less greenhouse gases than cows, eat just about anything and survive in dry, inhospitable environments.

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