The SA Incubator

The SA Incubator

The next generation of science writers and journalists.

Bora's Picks (June 15th, 2012)


Learning from Fires by Kate Prengaman:

The largest wildfire in New Mexico history, the Whitewater- Baldy Fire has been burning for weeks through the Gila National Forest. A lightning strike started the blaze on May 16th. As of today, June 9th, the fire has burned 274,838 acres, but thanks to more than 800 people fighting the fire, it’s 32 percent contained....

The Golden River by Rachel Felt:

Watching the waters of the Housatonic rush by after a few days of rain is an unparalleled visual experience. The rapids peak and foam climbing up the banks in a picture so perfect it’s practically a caricature of itself. Even the color of the water, opaque cafe au lait, seems like a detail added deliberately to make the river seem more wild and rugged. I imagine Nature’s paintbrush, thick with green and brown and red pigment after styling the forests and mountains, being dipped into the water and washed clean...

Sleepy brains drawn to junk food by Benjamin Plackett:

As any college student or shift worker will tell you, staying up all night or even just skimping on sleep can lead a person to seek out satisfying, calorie-packed foods. An emerging body of research suggests that sleep-related hunger and food cravings, which may contribute to weight gain, are fueled in part by certain gut hormones involved in appetite. But our brain, and not just our belly, may play a role as well...

The epigenetic jury is still out on C-sections: A new scientific field investigates delivery methods by Laura Geggel:

Thinking his wife and unborn child would die, Dr. Jesse Bennett performed the first successful reported cesarean section on American soil in 1794. Then, for good measure, he removed her ovaries so he (yes, he) “would not be subjected to such an ordeal again.”

Unbeknownst to Bennett, giving his wife a C-section might have affected their daughter’s DNA, her children’s and her grandchildren’s. People typically think about life as nature versus nurture — our genes versus our environment. But what if the environment, or our grandparents’ environments, shaped our genomes literally at the moment of birth?

Microfluidic chips offer a SMART-er way to detect flu by Kathleen Raven:

Tracking influenza outbreaks quickly and cheaply could get a whole lot easier thanks to a number of experimental devices that can accurately detect viral strains in an hour or so. Using microfluidic techniques, these ‘flu chips’ could lead to better disease surveillance and treatment...

A Storm is a' Brewing by Paige Brown:

The reverberating sound of cracking ice and trickling water pervades areas of even once-permanent ice-sheets in the Artic this time of year. With carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere passing up a proverbial 'milestone' of 400 parts per million, or ppm, as measured by local monitoring stations in the Artic, the time for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change impacts is today, if not yesterday. Before the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 levels were around 275ppm...

Munch on this: Using salt and vinegar chips to explain addiction by Taylor Kubota:

Before SHERP I was a regular student who held regular hours. Now I’m a science news zombie: barely resting and constantly consuming RSS feeds, Google news and Twitter at a ravenous pace. As a consequence of my new lifestyle, I have also begun consuming potato chips. And not just any potato chips. Salt and vinegar chips. The kettle-cooked kind. Thick-cut, with lashings of salt and vinegar that get caught in the crinkles. You know, those chips...

The Darker Thrills of Ecotourism by Rachel Nuwer:

For many people, ecotourism evokes a picnic in Muir Woods in California, perhaps, or counting endangered sea turtles on a Costa Rican beach or spending the night in a tree house with gibbons in Laos. Andrew Blackwell, a Brooklyn-based author and journalist, sees it differently. His idea of an interesting trip is less about beauty than environmental devastation. Taking the idea to an extreme, he set out to chronicle some of the world’s most spoiled places for his book, just released, “Visit Sunny Chernobyl.”

First vein grown from human stem cells successfully transplanted into a young girl by Kathleen Raven:

First came bladders. Then pulmonary arteries. Followed by urethras, arteriovenous shunts and tracheas. Now, in another first for the world of tissue-engineered body parts, Swedish surgeons have successfully transplanted a bioengineered vein into a 10-year-old girl suffering from portal vein obstruction....

Some newfound planets are something else by Nadia Drake:

When the Kepler spacecraft finds a giant planet closely orbiting a star, there’s a one in three chance that it’s not really a planet at all. At least, that’s the case according to a new study that put some of Kepler’s thousands of candidate planets to the test using a complementary method for discovering celestial objects in stellar orbits. The results, posted June 5 on, suggest that 35 percent of candidate giants snuggled close to bright stars are impostors, known in the planet-hunting business as false-positives. ...

The earthworm: preventing flooding and understanding cancer cells by Attilia Burke:

...Following the discovery of worms that could help aid toxic land clean up, we decided to investigate these overlooked creatures further....

Bringing Up Baboon by Hannah Krakauer:

Acting nonchalant in front of a baboon is not an art many scientists have to contemplate while going about their jobs. Robert Sapolsky, neuroscientist cum primatologist and long-time professor at Stanford, is faced with that very challenge on most days that he spends in the field with his tribe of baboons in Kenya. Sapolsky took over twelve years to assemble and write the stories that makes up A Primate’s Memoir, and what results is a riveting account of the decidedly unusual setting in which Sapolsky’s science takes place. ...

Seeing Evolution is Believing by Abby McBride:

To many of us, the idea of watching evolution sounds like watching mountain ranges rise out of the earth or witnessing a glacier wear down a landscape. How can we possibly observe such a slow-moving phenomenon? Even Charles Darwin himself was convinced of the unwatchability of evolutionary events: “We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages,” he wrote. And if it can’t be seen, how can evolution be measured? How can it be proven?...

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Unnoticed Lunar Wordplay by Amy Shira Teitel:

Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad and lunar module pilot Alan Bean had perhaps the most colourful wrist checklists of any crew. The checklists served as cheat sheets; astronauts referred to these small booklets attached to their lunar EVA suits to make sure they didn’t miss anything during their sojourns on the surface. In Bean’s case, he only missed one item: a prank so subtle that he didn’t see it for 30 years. ...

Badgers to the rescue by Rose Eveleth:

It isn’t often that rescuers say “if only I had a badger tracking device.” But perhaps that’s just what they need. A new company is using the same technology that scientists use to track badgers, to locate people...

Narcolepsy: more than just falling asleep on the job by Jordan Gaines:

...America is a sleepy country—but narcolepsy takes it to a whole new level. Imagine feelings of exhaustion at all times, accompanied by inappropriate sleep attacks. Sure, falling asleep on the job is embarrassing and unprofessional, but also imagine the danger of a narcoleptic attack while driving. What is narcolepsy, and what causes this mysterious disorder?...

Male Homosexuality Study: Gay Men Have Evolutionary Benefit For Their Families, New Research Suggests by Natalie Wolchover:

While female sexuality appears to be more fluid, research suggests that male gayness is an inborn, unalterable, strongly genetically influenced trait. But considering that the trait discourages the type of sex that leads to procreation — that is, sex with women — and would therefore seem to thwart its own chances of being genetically passed on to the next generation, why are there gay men at all?v

Lesbianism & Genetics: Female Sexual Orientation Partly Hereditary, But Erotic 'Plasticity' Still Unexplained by Natalie Wolchover:

Straight women are much more likely to get themselves knocked up than gay women. So, in terms of evolution, they would seem to have a better chance of passing on their genes, while at the same time it would seem that the genes that make women gay would quickly vanish from the gene pool. This raises the question, why are there gay women?

Acting in Unison Stirs Up Aggression by Daisy Yuhas:

Military leaders have long known that marching in unison makes for a tight-knit platoon. Past research by psychologist Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business suggests that this cooperation emerges when the group members’ emotions are aligned. Now he finds such synchrony can also encourage aggression, according to a study published in January in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology....

Why the Twitter cofounders predict we may all stop eating meat soon by Audrey Quinn:

If fake meat tasted just as good as the real thing, would you be more likely to eat it? That’s a bet Twitter cofounders Evan Williams and Biz Stone have put money on, Co.Exist Reports....

Good-Natured Jokes Ease Pain by Jessica Gross:

An amiable joke can be much more effective than darker humor at improving mood, according to recent research from Stanford University....

How a Map That Wasn’t a Map Became a Map by Lena Groeger:

Five of the nation's largest banks were required to pay states a total of $2.5 billion as part of this year's mortgage settlement. The money was intended to alleviate the foreclosure crisis, but many states aren't exactly using the funds that way. We made a map of what each state is doing with the millions of dollars it received...

Diesel exhaust can cause cancer, World Health Organization says by Erin Loury:

Diesel engines power commerce and transportation around the world, but the exhaust they produce can prove deadly. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday that it now classifies diesel exhaust as a cause of cancer. While major advances in technology have helped clean up some diesel pollution in the United States, the findings could have serious implications for developing countries still relying on dirty diesel power.

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

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