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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from guest experts and from the editors of Scientific American

Hot and heavy: Insects sense the breath of approaching herbivores and flee plants

Plant-dwelling insects are in perpetual danger of being accidentally munched on by plant-eating animals. One such insect, the sap-sucking aphid (a common pest in gardens), has an effective escape plan, though: the bugs detect an approaching herbivore's breath and simply drop off the plant before it's eaten.Researchers at the University of Haifa at Oranim, Israel first noticed this phenomenon when they allowed a goat to feed on aphid-infested alfalfa plants—65 percent of the plant pests simultaneously dropped to the ground just before the vegetation was devoured.The team suspected that several cues might have motivated the mass dropping, including the sudden shadow cast by the goat, plant-shaking triggered by the munching marauder and/or the herbivore's exhalations...

August 9, 2010 — Nicholette Zeliadt

Mice movement neurons regenerated after spinal cord injury

Researchers have been searching for decades for a way to mend damage to the spinal cord, an injury that can lead to life-long paralysis. Even the smallest of breaks in these crucial central nerve fibers can result in the loss of leg, arm and other bodily functions...

August 8, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

Watching the electrons, and chemistry in motion

The elusive goal of observing chemistry in action at the atomic level just took a quantum leap forward. Physicists using laser pulses have been able to observe for the first time—in real time—the outermost electrons of krypton atoms...

August 4, 2010 — David Biello

Crocodile relative might have chewed like a mammal

Modern crocodiles might have sharp, flesh-tearing teeth, but they cannot chew like us humans. In fact, mammals have cornered the market on mastication, leaving other life-forms to simply shred their food before ingesting it...

August 4, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

World's first solar power plant that can work at night

How can one use solar energy after the sun sets? Simple: store the sun's heat in molten salts.

The world's first solar power plant to employ such technology—a thermal power plant that concentrates the sun's rays with mirrors on long, thin tubes filled with the molten salt—opened in Syracuse, Sicily, on July 14...

August 4, 2010 — David Biello

Confused circadian rhythm could increase triglycerides

Having a mixed up body clock has been linked to a vast array of ailments, including obesity and bipolar disorder. And researchers are still trying to understand just how these cyclical signals influence aspects of our cellular and organ system activity...

August 3, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

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