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Bora’s Picks (July 12th, 2013)

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


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Mysterious Manatee and Dolphin Deaths in Florida Confound Scientists by Nadia Drake:

Once a lush and healthy estuary, the Indian River Lagoon is now an enigmatic death trap. Running along 40 percent of Florida’s Atlantic coast, the lagoon’s brackish waters harbor a mysterious killer that has claimed the lives of hundreds of manatees, pelicans, and dolphins. Nobody knows why….

Physics and the birth of the emoticon by Julianne Wyrick:

The use of the smiley face may be frowned upon in professional communications, but it’s an essential part of the lexicon of the Internet. It didn’t take long after the invention of the message board for people to start using it. According to alumni of Carnegie Mellon University, it all began with a joke in a conversation about physics…

Fatal Attraction: Does Static Help Spiders Catch Prey? by Anne-Marie Hodge:

It has probably happened to you: you pull a sweater over your head or take a load of freshly dried clothes out of the dryer, and all of the sudden you are a victim of static electricity. Your hair defies gravity, unwanted items cling to your clothes, your eyes feel dry, and you may even experience minute electrical shocks. This can be annoying and potentially awkward, to be sure . . . yet, as recent research conducted by scientists at the University of California at Berkeley shows, it could be worse, especially if you are an insect approaching the charged threads of a spider web….

Ada Yonath and the Female Question by Kathleen Raven:

Just minutes after Ada Yonath learned of her shared Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on the ribosome in October 2009, she answered another phone call. This time Adam Smith, editor-in-chief of the Nobel Prize Foundation, spoke crisply on the other line, asking her questions for a short, recorded phone interview, per tradition….

Every six years, Earth spins slightly faster and then slower by Cristy Gelling:

The world turns slightly faster and slower on a regular 5.9-year cycle, a new study suggests. Researchers also found small speed changes that happen at the same time as sudden alterations in Earth’s magnetic field. The world’s rotation speed can change slightly, by up to milliseconds per day, because of shifts in winds or the movement of fluid in Earth’s interior. Scientists can measure how fast the Earth spins by observing distant objects in space and timing how long they take to come back into view — that is one day length. …

Glass Sponges Move In As Antarctic Ice Shelves Melt by Hannah Waters:

When most people think about organisms growing on the seafloor around Antarctica (if they think of them at all), a few short words come to mind: cold, slow, and dull. But under the right conditions, seafloor life on Antarctia’s continental shelf can grow very quickly, according to new research published today in Current Biology. The collapse of ice shelves in the Antarctic over the past two decades due to warmer waters bathing their undersides has already changed seawater conditions enough to allow typically slow-growing communities of glass sponges to sprout up under the more transient sea ice that has replaced the shelf….

Why Do We Sigh? by Jordan Gaines:

I sigh. A lot. And, I realize, it’s only when I feel discontent. I sigh when I’m frustrated by statistics and can’t make sense of the code on my computer screen. When I sit in class for three hours and daydream of all the productive things I could be doing. When I’m confused by the competing research literature on the desk in front of me. When I’m disgruntled by somebody’s ignorant comments….

AUDIO: Health gets hip (hop) by Alexa C. Kurzius:

Healthy eating and exercise. As adults we know it’s important, but how do you teach these things to young children? Hip Hop Public Health, a Harlem-based public health organization, is using hip hop to make health education fun and meaningful for elementary school-aged children all around New York City. One school, Thurgood Marshall Lower Academy, is using the organization’s hip hop videos, cartoons, and interactive games to develop a combined healthy eating and exercise program. Listen to the podcast below to find out how things have been going, or read about Hip Hop Public Health’s history and their program on stroke education for elementary school kids….

Zond 8 and the Plaster-like Moon by Amy Shira Teitel:

It happens occasionally that I come across a picture so striking that I stop what I’m doing to track down its backstory. This morning, it was this picture of the Moon taken by the Soviet Zond 8 spacecraft that sent me hunting through books for context. It incredible how much this picture of the Moon looks like the one in Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent movie “Le Voyage dans la Lune.” Unsurprisingly, the story behind Zond 8 is a fascinating if minor episode of the Space Race……

Dolphins May ‘See’ Pregnant Women’s Fetuses by Tanya Lewis:

Using echolocation, dolphins might be able to detect a pregnant woman’s developing fetus, some experts say. Dolphins emit sounds in their environment and listen to the echoes that return — a process that helps them identify the shapes and locations of objects. Doctors use a similar technique to image a developing human baby. Both involve ultrasound — high-pitched pulses of sound above the range of human hearing…

The Asian needle ant: Coming to a forest near you by Andrew P. Han:

Perhaps no ant species has gained more notoriety in recent years than the smallish brown Argentine ant, an aggressive swarmer that has constructed an incomparable empire covering parts of every continent except Antarctica. After coming to the United States by boat in the 1920s, they have overrun native ant species wherever they have been introduced. As with many invaders, they are finally encountering resistance. They have not run up against local opposition, however, but another invasion….

A Two Way Street: Science and Pop Culture by Paige Brown:

What do zombies and science have in common? A lot these days, it would seem, as I tried to describe in a recent Scientific American Guest Blog posted I penned on zombies and culture. As I pointed out in that blog post, although scientists and science communicators often see opportunities for science education through popular culture icons, and talk about how science has influenced films, video games, books, etc., I think there has long been a force in the other direction that scientists don’t always acknowledge….

Strange Blue World: Alien Planet’s True Color Revealed, a First by Miriam Kramer:

Call it the deep blue dot. For the first time, scientists have seen the visible color of a distant alien world. The exoplanet — called HD 189733b — is 63 light-years from Earth and a “deep cobalt blue,” with raging storms of glass rain and super-fast winds, scientists say. The alien planet’s blue color was pinned down using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. Although the planet might be the same color as Earth from space, scientists think that HD 189733b is a “hot Jupiter” — a gas giant planet that orbits very close to its star. It takes 2.2 Earth days for the planet to travel fully around its sun…..

The Bikini’s Inventor Guessed How Much It Would Horrify the Public by Rose Eveleth:

As summer ramps up in the northern hemisphere, so do rates of bikini sightings. The skimpy bikini is a summer staple, the suit of choice for many women. And today, it turns 67 years old. The name bikini was coined by Louis Reard, and it actually refers to Bikini Atoll, where atomic bomb testing took place. He chose the name because he hoped that the raunchy two-piece would elicit the same shock and horror that the atomic bomb did. Reard’s bikini rival, Jacques Heim, a fashion designer, was also designing a tiny suit; he wanted to name it “Atome,” in honor of the recently discovered atom. Seriously….

Tingling palms and knocking knees: Why do we fear heights? by Caitlin Kirkwood:

Kennywood – Pittsburgh’s premier amusement park – has filled my childhood with magical memories. Riding the stunning carousel horses around-and-around to the accompaniment of big band music. The scent of Potato Patch fries and funnel cake wafting through air. But what is the one memory I’ll never forget? The 251-foot Pitfall scaring the living daylights out of me…..

Bike program may roll into Greensboro by Kelly Poe:

A downtown advocacy group is studying who should bring a bike share program to Greensboro. Action Greensboro’s task force is looking at bike share programs across the country and hopes to have a recommendation by fall….

Energy storage, rare metals and the next ice age by Kathleen Raven:

The holy grail of energy storage may lie in chemical bonds, but a process for making this happen remains unknown. All of the Nobel Laureates who weighed in Wednesday on a chemical energy conversion panel agreed on this much. “Replacement of liquid fossil fuels is still in far reach,” said moderator Wolfgang Lubitz, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy and Conversion. From there, the men focused on the major questions relating to solar power, endothermic reactions, rare metals, the ever-controversial nuclear energy and another ice age….

When brains venture into outer space (Part I): Bone density partially at inner ear’s beckoning by Caitlin Kirkwood:

Loren Acton, an American physicist that flew into space with NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 1985, makes an excellent point that is relevant to human physiology. Earth “welcomes”, or is ideal for, our bodies because this is where we are intended to live. The human brain was designed for life on Earth, not space travel. Not to say that we should abandon exploration of this final frontier, but strange things start to happen to the body above the Earth’s atmosphere. One such anomaly is highlighted in a new study by Vignaux et al. that suggests workings of the inner ear have a say in changing the body’s bone density during space flight and potentially for aging individuals here at home on Earth…..

Relief due as heat wave wanes, but humidity to linger by Alyssa A. Botelho:

Monday promised to be the first day of relief from a five-day heat heat wave of muggy over-90 degree weather that has sent Bostonians in search of shady spots and air conditioning. The temperature hit 90 at Boston Logan International Airport at 10:37 a.m. Sunday, officially marking day five of the summer’s second heat wave, and had climbed to 94 degrees by mid-afternoon….

Jay-Z Is Right: Most Rappers Are Lying About Their Money by Allison McCann:

Fresh off of Jay-Z’s new album is the track Versus, on which he chides fellow hip-hop artists and their dubious tales of extraordinary wealth: “The truth in my verses, versus, your metaphors about what your net worth is.” Like Jay-Z, we’ve long been skeptical of just how wealthy some hip-hop stars claim to be, so we created a way to separate the truly rich from the loud-mouth lyricists. Scroll over each bar in the chart below to compare specific lyrics with data from Forbes’s annual “Cash Kings of Hip Hop” report from the same year the given artist’s net worth-related rap song was released. You’re welcome, Hova….

Imaging the near invisible with TEM: a master class by Kathleen Raven:

Though nanometer-level imaging has come far with transmission electron microscopy, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman (Nobel Prize 2011, Chemistry) warned his master class audience on Tuesday that today’s images will seem primitive a few years in the future. For now, the five students—four females and one male—presented research at the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting that teetered at the edge of what this writer can comprehend….

The People Have Spoken, and Pluto’s Tiny Moons Have Names by Nadia Drake:

Formerly known as P4 and P5, Pluto’s tiniest moons now have official names: Kerberos and Styx. The names were among the top three selected by voters during a two-week polling period; they have just been approved by the International Astronomical Union’s official nomenclature committee. Thus, from this day forward, the two tiniest of rocks orbiting the overgrown-snowball-formerly-known-as-a-planet will conjure the tales of a three-headed dog guarding the gates of the underworld (Kerberos), and the river that doomed souls must cross (Styx)….

Trees responding to climate change: Being smart about water use by Rebecca Burton:

While the human species is struggling to collaborate on the best methods to combat climate change, trees are using their instincts to survive, a new study finds. …

 





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