Sunday, December 27, 2009
Acacia plants have chemical control over the armies of ants that guard them, scientists discover.
Scientists have demonstrated a way to harness the motion of swimming bacteria to turn tiny gears. This bacteria-driven mechanism could someday power micro-machines that combine living organisms and man-made materials.
To build their rudimentary device, the research team first fashioned silicon gears measuring a mere 0.01 inches (380 micrometers) across and 0.002 inches (50 micrometers) thick. With their slanted teeth, the gears look rather like tiny ninja stars.
The microgears were then placed into a nutrient broth swarming with the microbe Bacillus subtilis, the workhorses in this setup. When supplied with nutrients and oxygen the bacteria scoot about randomly.
Northwest Airlines Flight 253, from Amsterdam to Detroit, was again subject to a scare, but in this case, it appears to be a man who may have simply been sick, rather than a true incident.
Indian tribes buy back thousands of acres of land
The best science answers tough questions, and so some of the hardest-hitting discoveries often elicit controversy, ruffling the feathers of readers and sometimes even other scientists. Here are some of the most loved and hated science stories of the year.
Boys' issues are neglected. Growing up can be tough for girls and boys alike. But research out this year suggests while plenty has been done to help girls achieve academic and social success, boys have been neglected...to their detriment. The study found that compared with girls, American boys have lower literacy rates, lower grades, less engagement during school and higher dropout rates. Boys also have higher rates of suicide, arrests and premature death. The solution boils down to paying more attention to guys.
Spanking bad for the brain. A study involving hundreds of children ages 2 to 9 showed the more a child was spanked the lower his or her IQ score compared with others their age four years after the initial intelligence test. Since kids were followed, researchers could rule out the possibility that those with less brainpower cause more trouble and thus elicit more spanking. The researchers suggest various potential causes of the link, including the idea that spanking is a traumatic experience that can adversely affect the noggin. Another idea: By using hitting rather than words or other means of discipline, parents could be depriving kids of learning opportunities.
Dinosaurs succumbed to toxic algae. Scientists have yet to pin down with certainty what wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years, thought there are some leading theories, including the most widely accepted one involving an asteroid impact. So when a scientist puts forth novel and less-than well-established idea, there's bound to be some controversy. This year, Clemson University researchers suggested that toxin-producing algae not only killed off the dinosaurs but also had a hand in four other mass extinctions. Other scientists weren't convinced, saying evidence was at best lacking and that to point the finger at just one culprit for one mass extinction, let alone five, was nonsensical.
Fetuses have memories. Though you likely don't remember your time in the womb, a study out this year showed at just 30 weeks of age, fetuses have short-term memory. At this age, fetuses became habituated to a low sound that makes a vibration, and so weren't startled after repeated stimulation. Fetuses younger than 30 weeks never showed signs of habituation, while those older could remember the stimulation for longer and longer stints with age. The discovery both fascinated and churned up some lively debate on abortion and what makes us human.
Happiest states revealed. Who knew research on happiness could enrage so many? But two studies on happiness levels by state got lots of reader response. One study showed the wealthiest and most tolerant states stood out as particularly smile-y places. Another research team proved for the first time that a person's self-reported happiness matches up with objective measures of well-being.
Sounds scare wimps. Labeling people as a scaredy cat or wimp is likely to draw a reaction. And so it was no surprise our readers showed interest in a study finding that scrawny people perceive approaching sounds to be closer than do strong people. The researchers speculate this inclination may have evolved to help the weaker of our ancestors to escape from approaching danger. Even now, wimps might benefit from having a greater safety margin of potential hazards on the way.
Our ancestor, 'Ida?' Evolution-related science is sure to stir the pot. This year, in one of the biggest findings in the field, scientists unveiled a 47-million year old primate fossil dubbed "Ida." The discovery grabbed plenty of headlines and even got scientists debating over how to interpret Ida's remains, with some saying her features could redraw the evolutionary tree of life, going as far as saying Ida is an early precursor of humans. Others weren't convinced of Ida's direct link to a direct line leading to humans.
How the government spends "our money." Science and politics exchanged blows early this year, after President Obama's speech on the economy in which he noted a sum of $140 million for projects, including volcano monitoring. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal criticized the spending as wasteful saying, "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.," according to news reports.
Scientists responded with the facts on volcano monitoring. For instance, understanding how volcanoes blow their tops and the warning signs could help to save lives, as natural disasters are just that. "This is a hazard we can do something about," said John Eichelberger, program coordinator for the USGS's Volcano Hazards Program. "We can spend a modest amount of money and prevent a tragedy."
The firestorm of 'Climategate.' Nothing spells controversy like climate change. And global warming skeptics got plenty of fodder this year when thousands of private (and seemingly incriminating) e-mails and files of prominent climate scientists were hacked from computers at the University of East Anglia in England, a leading climate research center. The e-mails, which were made public, appeared to show scientific misconduct with some addressing ways to combat skeptics, whether certain data should be released and some derisive comments about people known for their skeptical views, according to news accounts.
Here's how LiveScience's Bad Science columnist summed up the debacle dubbed climategate: "Personal e-mails between climate scientists may be ill-advised and embarrassing, but by themselves do not provide hard evidence of scientific fraud." He added, "The fact is that the evidence for climate change does not hinge upon data from the East Anglia University researchers whose e-mails were exposed."
Who would have thought it?
Well, auto insurance companies for one, as they are now courting women drivers specifically because studies say women have a bigger problem parking than men do!
Primarily, it's the parallel parking that gets women tense, and makes them prone to becoming flustered, says a new study.
Women Worse Than Men Parking
At least 5 Iranian protesters killed
Nephew of Iranian reform leader killed
A produce market in Sidon, Lebanon. Photo by lux & pixel via Flickr.
A lack of food-safety laws in Lebanon has created a pesticide scare that may drive more consumers to seek out organic produce. Locally grown fruits and vegetables, including grapes, strawberries, potatoes, and apples, have been shown to have up to 25 times more pesticides than internationally accepted levels, Agence France-Presse reports.
Flight 253 terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's bomb was an explosive-packed condom sewn into underwear near his genitals, where al Qaeda operatives figured airport screeners were too squeamish to look, reports said.
What a package it was.
The condom was filled with a powdery substance called PETN -- a relative of nitroglycerine. It was to be ignited by a liquid detonator substance, which Abdulmutallab tried to inject into the condom with a syringe, reports say.
With 80 grams of PETN, the bomb could have packed a plane-destroying punch.
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Shoe bomber Richard Reid had just 50 grams of PETN when he tried to blow up a Miami-bound American Airlines plane in 2001, ABC News said.
Abdulmutallab's bomb failed to ignite either because the detonator failed to make proper contact with the powder, or because there was too little liquid in the detonator, ABC News said.
The bomb was made by al Qaeda leaders in Yemen, who personally placed it in Abdulmutallab's skivvies, the news organization reported.
The device is a new plane-bombing technology, and may have been a test bomb used by the terrorists to see if it would get through screening, CBS News reported.
"It appears to be different than what has been tried before, in terms of the ignition," Rep. Peter King (r-LI) told The Post. "No match was used. No cigarette lighter. The ignition was different. I'm not a scientist, so I'm not sure of the specifics, but I'm told this was different."
PETN -- which stands for pentaerythritol tetranitrate -- was first used in World War I. It is a component of the better-known plastic explosive Semtex.
Details of the bomb's construction came to light when Abdulmutallab spoke with federal investigators probing the case.
Passengers were rescued by a steam locomotive after modern rail services were brought to a halt by the snowy conditions in south-east England.
Trains between Ashford and Dover were suspended on Monday when cold weather disabled the electric rail.
Some commuters at London Victoria faced lengthy delays until Tornado - Britain's first mainline steam engine in 50 years - offered them a lift.
Rome, Lazio, Italy
Dnepropetrovsk, Dnipropetrovs'ka Oblast', Ukraine
Faro, Faro, Portugal
Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Jessheim, Akerhus, Norway
Islamabad, Islamabad, Pakistan
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
Ankara, Ankara, Turkey
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Stockholm, Stockholms Lan, Sweden
Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
London, England, United Kingdom
London, Ontario, Canada
Gdansk, Pomorskie, Poland
Manchester, England, United Kingdom
as well as Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United States
Go for the elegant instead of the excessive right now.
When it comes to stating your feelings, you have all the right words at your command.
Do with them what you will.
Everyone who encounters your way with words is sure to have a positive comment.
Who knows -- this could even lead to an interesting opportunity.
If you can find the time to relax tonight, it will feel well earned.
It's good to relax.