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Observations


Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
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    From the editors and reporters of Scientific American , this blog delivers commentary, opinion and analysis on the latest developments in science and technology and their influence on society and policy. From reasoned arguments and cultural critiques to personal and skeptical takes on interesting science news, you'll find a wide range of scientifically relevant insights here. Follow on Twitter @sciam.
  • The Top Ten Space and Physics Stories of 2014

    A spacecraft photographs itself approaching a comet in deep space

    From humanity’s first, flawed foray to the surface of a comet to the celebrated discovery of (and less celebrated skepticism about) primordial gravitational waves, 2014 has brought some historic successes and failures in space science and physics. Here are my selections for the top ten stories from this year, with a look forward at what [...]

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    The Year in Energy and Environment: It Wasn’t All Apocalyptic

    earth

    ‘Tis the season for year end lists. The problem is: news keeps happening. One of the members of this list only happened just last week. Two of these you’ve no doubt already seen on Scientific American’s annual Top 10 list: Scientific American‘s Top 10 Science Stories of 2014 I’ll add them here, because they are [...]

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    5 Top Chemistry Stories of 2014

    chemicals in flasks

    New ways to see inside cells, art conservation, and the origin of life are some of the most interesting chemistry stories of the year.

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    Birthday of the First Airplane Flight: Happy 111th!

    Credit: Scientific American

    It was 111 years ago today that the world’s first piloted, powered, controllable, heavier-than-air machine built and flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the air. Adding all of those qualifying adjectives had taken 120 years since the first manned flight in a balloon built by another pair of brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. [...]

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    Who Eats Whom under the Arctic Sea Ice [Video]

    Nereid

    San Francisco — Although polar bears and seals have become the poster children for vanishing sea ice in the Arctic, they have thrived for a long time. The bears eat the seals, but what do the seals eat? Maybe fish, although in many parts of the Arctic fish are few in number. Even then, what [...]

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    Fracking Banned in New York State

    fracking-in-pennsylvania

    Fracking, as it looks across the New York State border, in Pennsylvania. Fracking has been banned in New York State since 2008. Then-Governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium on the controversial technique— which fractures shale rock using high pressure, specially treated water to release gas trapped inside—citing the need for further study of health and [...]

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    The Real Outcome of Global Warming Talks in Lima: A Future for Coal

    US-climate-change-negotiator-todd-stern

    “There will be coal burning.” Negotiators from around the world produced a four-page climate-change accord (pdf) after some sleep-deprived haggling over the weekend in Lima, Peru, but the agreement could be summed up in those five words. For the first time, all nations agreed that all nations must have a plan to curb greenhouse gases. [...]

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    Google’s Top Searches of 2014

    John Maino, radio personality in Wisconsin, performs the Ice Bucket Challenge.

    Americans looked to Google for information on Ebola, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the actor Robin Williams’s suicide this year—all of which ranked among the hottest search terms of 2014. Google has announced the results of its “14th Annual Year in Search,” an inventory of the year’s most-searched-for keywords and phrases. The data gives [...]

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    Frequent Flyers Could Take a Hit of Radiation from Lightning

    Lightning

    San Francisco — The energy released by a lightning bolt is so strong that it creates an intense flash of light and usually loud thunder. But recent data taken by spacecraft and a few crazy research pilots reveals that lightning also often emits an intense burst of X-rays and gamma rays. The bursts typically radiate [...]

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    First Flexible Airplane Wing Takes Flight

    A Gulfstream III jet retrofitted with flexible wing flaps takes its first test flight while an F-18 chase plane keeping watch. Credit: FlexSys Inc

    In our May 2014 issue, Sridhar Kota, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan and founder and president of the company FlexSys, published an article about his long-running campaign to take complex, multipart machines and redesign them as flexible, one-piece devices (subscription required). Kota has been working on morphing airplane wings since the [...]

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