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Bora’s Picks (November 16th, 2012)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Invasion of the trees? by Kate Prengaman:

I love trees. Photographic proof exists that I’ve hugged a wide variety of species. But, even though I love forests, I have to admit that not every ecosystem needs trees. In some ecosystems, like grasslands, natural and prescribed fires keep trees from taking over the grass’s territory. In the vast, typically tree-less sagebrush steppe of the Great Basin, scientists worry that increasing density of small pine and juniper trees are providing more fuel, and therefore, higher risk for severe wildfires…

Staten Island’s “Bluebelt” Doesn’t Fight Superstorms, but Plays Crucial Role in Managing Excess Rainfall by Kathleen Raven:

During an eerily foreshadowing talk I attended the week before Sandy came crashing ashore, New York City’s climate resilience advisor, Leah Cohen, assured the small attending audience that PlaNYC 2030, a tentative map for the city’s sustainable growth, outlined no such plans to “buy back” developed areas in the city—even those dangerously close to the water’s edge. That is true. It’s also true that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been in the habit of snatching up unwanted acres—most of them inland, not beachfront properties—on Staten Island since 1991….

Brigham and Women’s obtains ‘clarity’ by Susan Matthews:

It’s got to be quite a competition when the winner can boast solving a family’s medical mystery, but those are the bragging rights the clinical genetics division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital captured when it won Boston Children’s Hospital’s first CLARITY contest (short for Children’s Leadership Award for the Reliable Interpretation and appropriate Transmission of Your genomic information)….

Soothing the Savage Beast: Researchers explore animals’ musical preferences by Arielle Duhaime-Ross:

Some researchers believe that music is a universal language that humans all share. Music is powerful stuff that can soothe, agitate, and even improve your gaming skills. But we aren’t the only animals that can carry a tune or keep time, so it’s only natural that researchers have been looking beyond our species to search for the perfect jam. And it seems that, in most cases, that jam is a calm one. …

Astronomers spot leftover light from ancient stars by Nadia Drake:

Light from the universe’s very first stars still lingers in space. Now, astronomers have a new way to catch it: Distant, ultra-bright galaxies that act as cosmic beacons, capturing relict photons in a blaze of gamma rays….

Irene and Sandy, the newest mean girls: New York City copes with sea level rise and flooding [Video] by Taylor Kubota and Miriam Kramer:

Hurricane Sandy has devastated the Northeast in ways most of us never would have believed possible. Now, days beyond the storm, thousands of us have been fortunate enough to take refuge in the apartments of co-workers, relatives, and friends in islands of light scattered throughout our cities. In this (relative) calm after the chaos, our attention has largely turned from searching for wall outlets and running water to questioning whether this seemingly singular catastrophe isn’t part of something greater….

SFSYO Scientist of the Month: Philipp Schiffer by Erin Podolak:

Hello first graders! I hope you are all okay and back at school after hurricane Sandy. Now that it is November we have a new scientist of the month. I am so excited to introduce you to Philipp Schiffer who is finishing up his PhD at school in Cologne, Germany. Like I did with Dr. Penny, I asked Philipp a bunch of questions to find out more about what he does. I hope you will enjoy learning more about him. Below you can read my interview with Philipp, and if you’d like to ask him any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments!…

Tasting colours and seeing sound: Synaesthesia by Lauren Fuge:

“One hears a sound but recollects a hue, invisible the hands that touch your heartstrings,” wrote Vladimir Nabokov, 20th century novelist. He experienced a curious condition called synaesthesia, which comes from the Greek words syn (together) and aisthesis (perception) and literally means ‘joined perception’. The condition basically causes a fusion of sensory perceptions in which the stimulation of one sense produces a perception in another sense….

Hurricane Sandy Wakeup Call by Samantha J.:

Two weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc on the East Coast and on Caribbean countries, such as Haiti. More than one hundred people died, millions of people lost power for over a week, people’s homes were swept away, beachfront communities that were once a placid safe-haven for many, are now nonexistent, and there is over $60 billion in total economic losses for the United States….

Galactic Regulators: Black holes spew energy and influence the formation of stars by Kate Baggaley:

You might already know that the gravitational pull of black holes is so extreme that not even light can escape it. But new research suggests that black holes do more than just gobble up any star that passes by: they emit energy, and this energy is regulating the creation of stars and planets….

How I Prepared for the Apocalypse by Douglas Main:

Every night the world ends, and every morning it begins anew. Or so the ancient Maya believed. On Monday night, Oct. 29, when the sun went down, the world inside my apartment in Manhattan’s East Village still consisted of the comforts of electricity and momentary concerns: How bad would Hurricane Sandy be? Had I bought enough food? And why did “Breaking Bad” on Netflix keep pausing to buffer?…

How to Learn a Language in Less Than 24 Hours by Rachel Nuwer:

Learning a language in 24 hours is impossible, right? Not according to British memory champion Ed Cooke, who co-founded a company called Memrise along with a Princeton neuroscientist. They combine what cognitive science knows about what makes information memorable with common social gaming strategies about what makes an activity fun and addictive. They claim their web app can help anyone memorize anything in no time at all….

Our three-dimensional future: how 3D printing will shape the global economy by Rose Eveleth:

Lately, it seems like nearly everything has been reproduced by a 3D printer. Between the group that 3D printed a gun, the people who printed a drone, and the army of items sold at this small marketplace for 3D printed goods, there are plenty of novelty uses for these suddenly trendy machines. We’re a long way from 3D printing a house, but it’s clear that the hobby is inching into the mainstream….

Neuroscience gets behind the mask of Greek theatre by Hannah Krakauer:

Over 2000 years may have elapsed since masked Greek tragedies had their heyday on stage in Athens, but some of the most modern neuroscience may be able to give classicists a better understanding of how the ancients watched and thought about those plays that today exist only on paper….

Smoking in pregnancy tied to lower reading scores by Kathleen Raven:

Babies exposed to their mother’s cigarette smoke in the womb later perform more poorly on reading comprehension tests, according to a new study.

“It’s not a little difference – it’s a big difference in accuracy and comprehension at a critical time when children are being assessed, and are getting a sense of what it means to be successful,” lead author Dr. Jeffrey Gruen of Yale University told Reuters Health.

In the study, researchers found that children born to mothers who smoked more than one pack per day struggled on tests specifically designed to measure how accurately a child reads aloud and if she understands what she read….



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