Writings

Robotic ants provide path to real ant brains

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 28, 2013   View Article

Robots built to mimic ants suggest that real ants waste little, if any, mental energy deciding which way to go when they reach an uneven fork in the road, according to a new study. Instead, the ants just take the easiest route as dictated by geometry.

“The shape of their network relieves some of the cognitive load for the ants; they don’t need to think about it,” Simon Garnier, a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, told NBC News. “The shape of their networks has constrained their movement in a way that is more efficient for them.”

The findings have implications for understanding ant biology as well as how humans design transportation networks for the flow of people, information and goods.

Hot cities more sustainable than cold ones, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 27, 2013   View Article

When it’s hot outside, people crank up air conditioners that usually suck electricity from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants at the root of human-caused global warming. This seems like a recipe for disaster, but it’s more sustainable than living in a cold climate and cranking up the heat, a new paper suggests.

“The traditional view that living in hot desert areas is not sustainable should be re-examined,” Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, told NBC News. “Because my data suggest that from this point of view — mainly a climate control point of view — living in very cold areas is less sustainable than hot areas.”

Arctic change reverberates around globe, experts say

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 26, 2013   View Article

Most of the sea ice that forms each fall and winter in the Arctic now melts each spring and summer, a recent change that is impacting global patterns of weather and trade as well as the U.S. military’s strategic planning, experts told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.

“There are tremendous two-way and multiple interactions between the Arctic and the rest of the world,” retired Rear Adm. David Titley said during the teleconference organized by Climate Nexus, a group trying to raise awareness about climate change.

Aye aye! Sequence genomes to save species

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 25, 2013   View Article

A study of nocturnal lemurs in Madagascar known for their smarts, beaver-like teeth, and long, thin middle fingers may point to the future of endangered species conservation: cheap and fast genome analyses.

Researchers obtained and compared complete genomes from three separate populations of aye ayes and found that one is more distinct from the others than are humans of African and European descent, suggesting that the population warrants greater conservation attention.

Into the maelstrom: US coastal population grows as storms intensify

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 25, 2013   View Article

The percentage of the U.S. population living in counties adjacent to coastline has reached nearly 40 percent in recent years, meaning more of us are exposed to extreme — and extremely costly — coastal storms such as Sandy and Isaac, according to a government report released Monday.

These coastal counties account for less than 10 percent of the U.S. land area, excluding Alaska, meaning that this growing population is packing into a finite amount of space, one that’s increasingly threatened by rising seas, storm surge flooding and damaging winds.

Meet the 6-legged robot lizards that may one day roam Mars

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 21, 2013   View Article

Wheels are great for traversing flat, paved surfaces, but when the terrain is covered with loose sand and large rocks, it’s time to grow feet. Scientists built a six-legged robot after studying the movements of lizards, and the breakthrough may mean a fast walking rover we send to Mars that’ll leave its predecessors in the dust.

“Having appendages like legs or limbs can be useful and beneficial” when the ground gets less even and solid, Daniel Goldman, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told NBC News.

Swallows evolve shorter wings to avoid cars, study suggests

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 18, 2013   View Article

Cars and trucks thundering down the road in southwestern Nebraska stand a much lower chance today of smacking a cliff swallow than they did in the 1980s, according to a new study that suggests the birds have evolved shorter wings to pivot away from oncoming traffic.

The adaptation is important for the birds’ survival given that they nest by the thousands under bridges and overpasses there, noted Charles Brown, a biologist at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma who regularly drives those same roads to and from a nearby research station.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach