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Science + Technology

Richard Van As was working in his home near Johannesburg, South Africa, in May of 2011, when he lost control of his table saw.

"It's a possibility that it was a lack of concentration," he says. "It's just that the inevitable happened."

The 19th century just lost its last living man.

Jiroemon Kimura, of Kyotango, Japan, was born in April 1897, lived right through the 20th century and died last Wednesday. He was 116. According to Guinness World Records (which searches for these things), he was the last surviving male born in the 1800s. All the other boys from that century, as best we know, are dead.

America's privacy concerns go back to the origins of the country itself.

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a new rule that would extend "endangered species" protections to chimpanzees held in captivity. Nearly half of all the chimps in the U.S. live in research facilities, and the regulation changes would make it more difficult to use these animals in medical experiments.

Australian archaeologists using remote-sensing technology have uncovered an ancient city in Cambodia that has remained hidden for more than a millennium under dense jungle undergrowth.

The discovery of Mahendraparvata, a 1,200-year-old lost city that predates Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat temple complex by 350 years, was part of the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire that ruled much of Southeast Asia from about 800 to 1400 A.D., during a time that coincided with Europe's Middle Ages.

In a decision that could have broad-reaching effects on the future of science and medicine, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that:

-- "A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated."

-- But, synthetically created "strands of nucleotides known as composite DNA (cDNA)" are "patent eligible" because they do not occur naturally.

Get your family and home ready for a tornado with the official Tornado App from the American Red Cross. The tornado warning app puts everything you need to know to prepare for a tornado – and all that comes with it – in the palm of your hand. With interactive quizzes and simple step-by-step advice it’s never been easier to be ready.

The Bracken Bat Cave, just north of San Antonio, is as rural as it gets. You have to drive down a long, 2-mile rocky road to reach it. There's nothing nearby — no lights, no running water. The only thing you hear are the katydids.

The cave houses a massive bat colony, as it has for an estimated 10,000 years. Bat Conservation International, the group that oversees the Bracken Cave Reserve, wants it to stay secluded, but the area's rural nature could change if a local developer's plan moves forward.

I've been to New Delhi where traffic is frightening. I've seen pictures of Nairobi and Bangkok, where it's even scarier. But Ho Chi Minh City? The town we used to call Saigon? I don't think I'd put myself in a truck, car, bike or even a Sherman tank in that town. This video opens in the scariest traffic circle I could imagine — actually, it's beyond imagining — where bikes, cars and people seem simultaneously, collectively and individually heading straight at each other (when you look, just count the vehicles and people on collision course; there are at least two or three in every frame).

Last month, we told you about companies that are growing salmon on dry land. That's an effective — but expensive — way to reduce water pollution caused by fish farms. After all, marine aquaculture provides about half of the seafood we eat.

The origin of the first primates — the group that includes humans, apes and monkeys — is thought to lie in the deep past, about 55 million years ago.

Fossils from that period are rare. But now, there's an exciting new one. It's called Archicebus achilles, roughly meaning "beginning long-tailed monkey." Actually, this creature lived before the monkeys we know of today, a mere 10 million years after the dinosaurs died out.

The comedian in question is Marc Maron. He does a popular podcast, called WTF, out of his garage in California. It's an interview show, with other comedians and artists. Maron recently found an extraordinary letter in his mailbox. This letter said, basically, that by doing his podcast, out of his garage, he was violating a technology patent. His podcast was, according to the letter, illegal.

"They sent a copy of the patent with this letter," Maron says, "which looks like a large bunch of legal gibberish."

Aside from the occasional ferry down from England, the old Spanish port city of Santander doesn't get too many foreign visitors. So imagine the locals' surprise when delegations from Google, Microsoft and the Japanese government all landed there recently, to literally walk the streets.

Friday's tornadoes came less than two weeks after an F-5 tornado destroyed a large section of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City. Both episodes raise two sides of one question: When caught in a tornado's path, should you run or hide?

For Morning Edition the day after the powerful tornado on May 20, NPR's Wade Goodwyn spoke with Molly Edwards, who was covered in pink insulation and standing on the rubble of her home with her family.

An asteroid nine times the size of a cruise ship is dropping by Earth on Friday, and it's not coming alone. Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be about 3.6 million miles from our planet at its closest approach. And its proximity has already given scientists a surprise: It has its own moon, measured at about 2,000 feet wide.

Headed To Mars? Watch Out For Cosmic Rays

May 30, 2013

There was great fanfare when the Mars Science Laboratory launched in November 2011, and again when its precious cargo — NASA's Mars rover Curiosity — touched down on the red planet in August 2012.

The eight months in between had drama of their own. Curiosity was constantly bombarded with radiation as it traveled through space — high-energy protons thrown out by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays slicing through the solar system from distant supernovas.

Move over Archaeopteryx, an older bird just landed on the evolutionary tree.

Scientists writing in Nature magazine, say a feathered, chicken-sized creature known as Aurornis xui, unearthed recently in northeastern China, challenges the "pivotal position of Archaeopteryx" — long regarded as the oldest bird.

"Experience is the name everyone gives their mistakes" said Oscar Wilde and it is true that, hopefully, we all learn from our mistakes. But what about science?

In school we learn about the scientific method and its emphasis on observation, hypothesis and experiments. Clearly mistakes are an important part of the process. It has even been said that the point of science is to make as many mistakes as possible as fast as possible. Still, what about the really big mistakes?

In the news business, an evergreen is a story that doesn't have to run on a particular day, but can stay fresh for a long time.

This is an evergreen story about an evergreen. In particular, a group of plants called bryophytes. Turns out they may be evergreen quite a bit longer than most people thought.

The Ring Nebula, whose iconic shape and large size make it a favorite of amateur astronomers, can now be seen in new detail, after NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured a sharp image of the nebula. Researchers say the new clarity reveals details that were previously unseen, and a structure that's more complex than scientists had believed.

"I'm shocked by the optimism here," Howard Yana-Shapiro, the chief agricultural officer for Mars Inc. said Tuesday to the audience of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C.

Seated there before him were some of the leaders from the wealthiest international organizations and multinational companies of the fight to end hunger. And Shapiro told them they weren't even close.

Measuring The Power Of Deadly Tornadoes

May 20, 2013

Damaging tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma on Sunday and Monday, causing widespread damage that is still being assessed, and additional severe weather is expected.

It's the end of the semester here at UC Berkeley, and I've got testing on my mind. I'm not the only one; across campus, instructors are engaged in the arduous task of grading quickly and fairly while students sigh with relief as they exit their final, final exams.

We most often think of tests as being about assessment. They tell us something about how successfully an individual has mastered the material being tested, and this assessment can in turn help us to assign grades, make determinations about placement or identify areas that would benefit from further study.

By all the laws of anything, Winston Chen should not have quit his well-paying, midcareer job at a software company at age 40. But one day he was watching a TED Talk, one of those popular online video presentations, delivered by a New York designer.

"He presented this absolutely irresistible idea," Chen says. "He said, 'Why don't we take five years out of retirement and spread them throughout your working life?' "

Ah, if only all summers could be like June, July and August 1740 — when three young guys (and a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old) did a science experiment that startled the world. In those days, you could do biology without a fancy diploma. More people could play.

The news that U.S. scientists have successfully cloned a human embryo seems almost certain to rekindle a political fight that has raged, on and off, since the announcement of the creation of Dolly the sheep in 1997.

Scientists have discovered water that has been trapped in rock for more than a billion years. The water might contain microbes that evolved independently from the surface world, and it's a finding that gives new hope to the search for life on other planets.

The water samples came from holes drilled by gold miners near the small town of Timmins, Ontario, about 350 miles north of Toronto. Deep in the Canadian bedrock, miners drill holes and collect samples. Sometimes they hit pay dirt; sometimes they hit water, which seeps out from tiny crevices in the rock.

It turns out that the desire to speak with Apple CEO Tim Cook, along with $610,000, will buy you a cup of coffee. That's the winning bid offered in a charity auction for up to an hour of Cook's time.

As we reported last month, the chance to grab coffee with Cook at Apple's headquarters zoomed past the suggested value of $50,000 set at the Charitybuzz auction site, rising to more than $600,000 in just three days.

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