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Bora’s Picks – Science Notes edition (August 30th, 2013)

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


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It is that time of year when I’d be remiss not to highlight all the amazing Science Notes articles written as final projects by students of the Science Communication Program at UC Santa Cruz. Here they are – real joy to read them all:

At a Snail’s Pace by Ryder Diaz:

A male white abalone soaks in a bucket of hydrogen peroxide. A fringe of long, thin tentacles peeks out from under his reddish-brown shell. The sea snail plants his muscular foot firmly against the bottom of the tub. Hydrogen peroxide usually puts an abalone in the mood to spawn, coaxing him to shoot sperm through holes in his shell. The bucket of clear liquid should turn a murky white. But all that emerges from this lonely snail is a small cloud, like a faint puff of smoke. …

Bones and Bombs by Rina Shaikh-Lesko:

The squee-CHUNK, squee-CHUNK of the vacuum pump forces everyone in the cavernous room to yell. Physicist Bruce Buchholz peers at an aluminum container the size of a black bean. Inside its thick walls, a cavity as thin as a toothbrush bristle holds a tiny smudge of carbon in the form of graphite. It was culled from a tooth, extracted from a partial skull found in Canada four decades ago….

Under Thick Skin by Paul Gabrielsen:

Esteban Abarca and I wait in a dermatology clinic in Santa Cruz, California. We’re there to donate biopsies of the skin and upper layers of flesh from our heels. Scientists will study the 3-millimeter-wide punch-outs — half the diameter of a pencil — to examine how his severely damaged nerve endings differ from my healthy ones. We both know it will hurt. But Abarca is sweating. It will hurt him more than either of us imagine….

Defying Death Caps by Elizabeth Devitt:

Appearances can be deceiving. For mushroom foragers, they can also be deadly. One of the world’s worst poisons comes in a small, delicious package: the white-capped Amanita phalloides. This modest-looking mushroom often grows alongside chanterelles and porcinis, the favorites of many a chef. The “death cap” also looks similar to tasty mushrooms common in other countries. But if foragers mix up this mushroom with other fungi, eating just one might be the last mistake of their lives….

Future Flock by Kelly Servick:

Twelve birds lie belly-up in a wooden drawer. Bloated with stuffing, their ruddy brown chests resemble a row of sweet potatoes. Slate blue heads and thin white tails protrude in perfect alignment, except for one bird that cranes its neck to face its neighbor. A pea-sized bulge of white cotton sits where its eye should be. A slip of paper tied to its foot reads, “Ectopistes migratorius. Manitoba. 1884.” This is the passenger pigeon, a species that went extinct nearly a century ago….

Dark Questions by Jessica Shugart:

Perched atop a rugged peak in the north Chilean Andes, one of the world’s largest cameras is taking portraits of deep space. Light traveling for billions of years tickles the camera’s gigantic eye every night, yielding crisp images of ancient clusters of galaxies. But the explorers who built the camera seek imprints of something dark and rather disturbing within the pretty pictures: a pervasive, invisible force pushing the universe apart….

Shooting Star Showdown by Chris Palmer:

Aboard NASA’s famed “Vomit Comet” — a modified 727 with all the seats ripped out — Stanford University graduate student Nicolas Lee folds a one-meter-square sheet of Mylar plastic. Lee, an origami whiz, twists the Mylar sheet and wraps it like a giant ribbon around a spool. He then gently crams the whole thing into a CubeSat, a microsatellite slightly bigger than a Rubik’s Cube….

Socializing Darwin by Laura Poppick:

As the sun rises on a damp California winter morning, Lynn Zhang dips a brush into yellow acrylic paint. The scent of eucalyptus trees thickens the air as sunlight glows through dewy leaves. Her field partner, Theadora Block, and I are the only other humans awake in the arboretum at UC Santa Cruz. The animal world sings with morning gossip….

Palatable Speech by Thomas Sumner:

Alexis sits on a blue chair in the middle of the room. “Hey, look at this book with us,” she parrots back to a therapist, squirming nervously. As the eight-year-old struggles to make the “b” sound in “book,” her voice trails off. Alexis was born with an opening between the roof of her mouth and her left nostril. Along with one in 700 newborns, she came into the world with a cleft palate. The scar from her reconstructive surgery has faded away, but her speech impediment is a constant reminder of how Alexis was born disfigured….

And now some notable articles and blog posts by others:

“Casanovas are Liars” and the launch of a new open-access science journal by Anne-Marie Hodge:

It is well known that higher quality items tend to be more desired, and often more expensive, than their lower quality counterparts. This applies to everything from tomatoes to cell phones to sexual partners. Social species face a quandary if the quantity of preferred items is limited, however, and competition is especially intense if members of that species commonly mimic each other’s choices. For example, if you express a preference for something, you are indicating that you think it’s relatively valuable. Soon, everyone will want that same highly desirable item (or others just like it), and the increase in competition will hurt your likelihood of monopolizing the resource for yourself. What to do?…

What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore. by Rebecca Burton:

As a Floridian I have somewhat become immune to the feel of a mosquito bite. The annoying quick itch sensation is quickly thwarted by the thoughtless reflex of my hand slapping the affected area and then quickly scratching up and down for a few seconds. After that, I pretty much forget about the bite. When going on my evening runs, I usually plan to wear bug spray and then realize I have none. I really haven’t ever bought any. As far as I can remember, I only wear it if someone who has it offers it to me. This person is usually not from Florida and probably read/heard about our horrible mosquito problem prior to residing…..

A Salty Solution for Nuclear Waste by Jessica Morrison:

Our caravan of SUVs pulls into a parking lot in the middle of four square miles of scruffy, unassuming brown desert 26 miles outside Carlsbad, New Mexico. Through the front window, I can see a row of semi-trailers loaded with drab, hulking metal and concrete casks. As I step out, the sun beats down on me with unrelenting intensity, despite the air’s slight spring chill. Above, jets streak across the cloudless, blue sky. Below, the ground conceals a national legacy, though it’s not the kind we tend to brag about. Entombed in a labyrinth of tunnels that wend their way through a 250-million-year-old salt deposit are decades of radioactive waste….

East Coast Dolphin Deaths Linked to Measles-Like Virus by Nadia Drake:

A measles-like virus is being cited as a likely cause for the mass dolphin die-off that’s been plaguing the U.S. East Coast this summer. Since July 1, 333 carcasses have littered shores from New York to North Carolina – a number that’s roughly 10 times more than normal for this time of year. Scientists don’t yet know how many dolphins have died offshore without reaching mid-Atlantic beaches, but it could be thousands. In July, NOAA declared the die-off an Unusual Mortality Event, which frees up federal funding and investigators to address the crisis….

We Got the Beat by Rebecca Schwarzlose:

It is both amusing and enlightening to hear my 21-month-old daughter sing the alphabet song. The song is her favorite, though she is years from grasping how symbols represent sound, not to mention the concept of alphabetical order. Still, if you start singing the song she will chime in. Before you think that’s impressive, keep in mind that her version of the song is more or less this: “CD . . . G . . . I . . . No P . . . S . . . V . . . Dub X . . . Z.”….

Hygiene, sanitation tied to small effects on growth by Kathleen Raven:

Children from poor regions with clean water, hygiene and sanitation programs tend to be slightly taller than those who grow up in similar areas without such programs, according to a new review. Kids ages four and younger who washed their hands, drank clean water or used well-maintained toilets – or some combination of the three – were on average 0.2 inches taller than those lacking such protocols, the findings show….

Online tools may boost breast cancer patients’ mood by Kathleen Raven:

Women with breast cancer who created a personal website about their health reported feeling less depressed, more positive and having a greater appreciation for life in a small new study.
Though cancer patients have long benefited from support groups made up of fellow patients and survivors, researchers said, they may still have trouble talking about their experiences with family and friends – who may also feel uncomfortable broaching the subject…..

Eighty sea turtles wash up dead on the coast of Guatemala by Lacey Avery:

An assortment of marine animals and birds reside along the black volcanic sand beaches of Guatemala’s Pacific coast, but lately both residents and visitors on the southeast beaches of the country have observed a tragic event – the stranding of dead sea turtles…

Ground zero for endangered species: new program to assist animals on the brink across Southeast Asia by Lacey Avery:

Organizations within the international conservation community are joining forces to minimize impending extinctions in Southeast Asia, where habitat loss, trade and hunting have contributed to a dramatic decline in wildlife. The coalition is aptly named ASAP, or the Asian Species Action Partnership….





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