Archive for April, 2011

One signal herds microbot swarm

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 29, 2011   View Article

With the application of a single electrical signal, researchers can control swarms of tiny robots to assemble themselves into structures.

“We are controlling these robots kind of like remote controlled cars,” Igor Paprotny, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California at Berkeley who is co-leading the research effort, told me Friday.

Caterpillar Fungus Making Tibetan Herders Rich

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 27, 2011   View Article

Harvesting of a parasitic fungus that grows high on the Tibetan Plateau in China is infusing hordes of cash into rural communities, scientists say.

The fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, takes over the bodies of caterpillar larvae then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects’ heads.

Known as yartsa gunbu—or “summer grass winter worm”—by Chinese consumers, the nutty-tasting fungus is highly valued for its purported medicinal benefits, for instance, as a treatment for cancer and aging and as a libido booster. Far away in the booming cities of Beijing and Shanghai, demand for the fungus has soared.

Creationism on the rise in Texas?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 27, 2011   View Article

Everything is bigger in Texas, the saying goes, which is why advocates for science education are concerned about proposed supplemental, web-based instructional materials for biology courses that appear to promote creationist arguments.

“This gets a foot in the door,” Joshua Rosenau, the programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education, told me today. “In general, Texas is a concern with textbook issues because they buy so many textbooks. A publisher who was planning on being able to sell in Texas and then can’t is in real trouble.”

Military studies squid camouflage

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 25, 2011   View Article

The ability of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish to instantaneously change the color and pattern of their skin to blend in with their surroundings has caught the eye of the U.S. military. Its goal is a new generation of high-tech camouflage.

The Office of Naval Research has awarded $6 million to a team of U.S. scientists to conduct the basic research required to make the squid-like camo. Precisely how the military will use the technology is classified, noted Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

See ancient Earth from space

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 21, 2011   View Article

Over the past 750 million years, our blue marble has gone through remarkable changes— continents have shifted, ice ages have come and gone, sea levels have risen and fallen, and one-time deserts have turned green, allowing creatures to crawl out of the oceans and live off the land.

These changes are now being made visible by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. The first set of the Visible Paleo Earth visualizations are being released today, on Earth DAy, and more will be available in coming weeks.

Righties ruled 600,000 years ago

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 20, 2011   View Article

Lefties were as outnumbered 600,000 years ago as they are today, according to telltale markings on teeth found on Neanderthal and Neanderthal ancestors in Europe.

The finding serves as a new technique to determine whether a person was left- or right-handed from limited skeletal remains, and it also suggests that a key piece for the origin of language was in place at least half a million years ago, David Frayer, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas, told me today.

Cloudy skies for climate science

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 19, 2011   View Article

As spring storms rumble across the Great Plains in the coming weeks, government scientists will have their heads in the clouds hoping to gain a better understanding of the dynamics at play so they can improve models of the global climate.

“One of the real areas of hot debate in our field these days is what happens to the strength of storms as the climate warms,” Michael Jensen, a meteorologist with the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, told me today.

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