Science + Technology

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.

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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.

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Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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?).

So what's the last-minute buy for your plugged-in friend, sister or mom? Do they really need another Internet-connected thing? Nothing against gadgets and gizmos, but if you're of the philosophy that thoughtful gestures qualify perfectly well as Christmas presents, we've got a few ideas for 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.

For some survivors of the Ebola virus disease, complete recovery is slow.

Doctors reporting Wednesday on a follow-up survey of the nine survivors who were treated for the Ebola virus in the U.S. say the survivors experienced a "wide constellation" of symptoms, involving many organ systems, for months after their successful treatment for the virus.

On Monday, NASA started accepting applications for its new class of astronauts. Applying is simple: Just log in to USAjobs.gov, search for "astronaut," and upload your resume and references. The job description says "Frequent travel may be required."

Fuel economy is at record highs and carmakers have surpassed strict greenhouse gas emissions standards for the third straight year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which released a pair of annual reports about the U.S. fleet of cars and trucks Wednesday.

Overall, fuel economy for vehicles in the U.S. did not budge from last year's record high of 24.3 miles per gallon, the EPA says. The figure includes a new high of 20.4 mpg for trucks, vans and SUVs from model year 2014.

Weighing in at 17 1/2 pounds, 4-month-old giant panda cub Bei Bei made his media debut Wednesday at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Keepers say the cub, born in August, is developmentally on track and ahead of his older sister Bao Bao in some milestones. The cub will make his public debut on Jan. 16.

"He's actually walking a lot sooner than his older sister did," said panda keeper Juan Rodriguez. "He's about 4 or so pounds heavier than his sister was at this same age, so he's definitely a much larger bear and developing a lot faster than his sister did."

The camera on your smartphone is powerful. You use it to record your baby's first steps. Take a panorama shot or selfies at the Taj Mahal. Every day, we're finding new uses.

And recently, a startup in Silicon Valley realized: That camera on the phone could be used by people who are blind, to get help seeing remotely. The company Be My Eyes has created a novel kind of volunteer opportunity on the Internet.

Southern California Gas Co. says it detected a gas leak on Oct. 23 in its Aliso Canyon storage facility. A month and a half later, it still hasn't been able to stop it.

The company said in a statement on its website that they are drilling a relief well to plug the flow of gas — which they expect will take three to four months to complete.

The United Nations climate summit is over, the weary diplomats have gone home, and now the historic deal is being dissected by scientists.

After the recent attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif., social media platforms are under pressure from politicians to do more to take down messages and videos intended to promote terrorist groups and recruit members.

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