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Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors maggiejean, wader, Man Oh Man, side pocket, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, Oke, jlms qkw, Interceptor7, and ScottyUrb, guest editors annetteboardman and Doctor RJ, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, health, energy, and the environment.

Between now and the end of the primary season, Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday will highlight the research stories from the public universities in each of the states having primary or special elections for federal or state office this year plus stories from all research universities in major cities having municipal elections as listed in the 2014 Daily Kos Elections Calendar.  Tonight's edition features the research and outreach stories from the City of San Diego and the states of Connecticut, Michigan, and Virginia.

This week's featured stories come from Discovery News and Wayne State University.

5 Ways To Save Your Relationship With Science!

Need a date for Valentines day? Is your relationship falling apart? We all have love problems sometimes, so Trace and Meg Turney from Sourcefed are here with all the relationship advice you need... using science!

Light a fire in your relationship: Wayne State University research says double dating may be the answer to a perfect Valentine’s Day
February 12, 2014

DETROIT — Romantic relationships often start out exciting, but later often become routine and boring. A Wayne State University study reveals that going on a double date may reignite passion in a couple’s relationship more effectively than the classic candlelit dinner for two. According to their research findings, integrating other couples into their social life can make couples feel more passionate toward their own romantic partners.

“Passionate love is one of the first dimensions of love to decrease in couples over time as the newness of a relationship begins to wane,” said Keith Welker, a doctoral student at Wayne State University and lead author on the study. "Relationships have widely been thought to flourish and develop in a broader network of social relationships, while emerging research has suggested that novel, arousing experiences can increase feelings of passionate love.”

The research, conducted by Welker and his advisor Richard B. Slatcher, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in Wayne State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, brings together these two research areas, which show interactions with other couples can increase feelings of passionate love. Such interactions, the researchers say, may cause partners to view their and the relationship in a new and positive light.

The study will be presented this week at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin.

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories


Green diary rescue: Crafting Keystone public comments, Western states' drought, Landrieu in charge
by Meteor Blades

On Mars: For Valentine's Day -- Curiosity Dates a Rock
by LeftOfYou

"We have this book..."
by Rachel191

This week in science: Smaller is better
by DarkSyde


My able assistant annetteboardman contributed an image of the T-rex Sue, but technical problems interfered with my sharing it with you.  Sorry.

NSF: Science of the Winter Olympic Games: Olympic Movement and Robotic Design

Professor Raffaello D'Andrea at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, describes how control systems engineering is laying the groundwork for the design of more "athletic" robots.

NSF: Science of the Winter Olympic Games: Alpine Skiing and Vibration Damping

Kam Leang, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Tom Watson, of Watson Performance in Hood River, Ore., describe how advanced materials and engineering help reduce unwanted vibration, optimizing the performance of athletes.

NSF: Science of the Winter Olympic Games: Science of Snow

Snow is an essential part of the 2014 Olympics. How it's formed and how it reacts has been studied by scientists for centuries and continues to this day. Sarah Konrad, a former Winter Olympian who is also a glaciologist at the University of Wyoming, along with Cort Anastasio, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Davis, discuss how humidity and temperature help form snow.

NSF: Science of the Winter Olympic Games: Science of Ice

The science that makes ice slippery also makes the Olympic Winter Games possible. But exactly what makes ice slippery? Ken Golden, a mathematician at the University of Utah, explains how the unique surface of ice makes the slide and glide of winter sports possible.

NSF: Science of the Olympic Winter Games: Figure Skating Physics

Figure skating has become one of the most popular events at the Winter Olympics. Head of the Physics Department at the University of Michigan Brad Orr explains that good balance, or stability, is basic to everything a skater does--and that begins with understanding the center of mass.

Discovery News: The Physics of Figure Skating.

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have begun! Feeling inspired, Laci thought it would be fun to do some research of her own. So, watch as she takes to the ice to interview some professional figure skaters, learn the physics of figure skating, and view some of the incredible moves these skaters can perform!

Discovery News: SCIENCE FRICTION: All About the Physics of Curling.

After watching countless hours of 2014 Olympic Game coverage from Sochi, Trace became curious about the actual physics behind curling. Curiosity got the best of him, and he decided to learn about it first hand by actually learning how to play from the professionals themselves!

Discovery News: Things More Acceptable Than Being Gay in Russia

Russia has been under the microscope globally with all of their anti-gay laws. Many people are boycotting the Olympics in Sochi because of their stance on homosexuality. Meg Turney from Sourcefed joins us today to tell you a few surprising things that are more acceptable than being gay in Russia.

KPBS: Drought Prompts Call For Voluntary Water Restrictions In San Diego County

In light of the recently declared drought in California, local and county officials are calling for residents to conserve.

KPBS: WaterBoard

See the accompanying story under Environmental Policy.

KPBS: Fukushima Fallout: San Diego State Researchers Monitoring Sea Kelp For Radiation Exposure

San Diego State University researchers will be joining in a new program to monitor one of the most vulnerable areas of the marine environment — kelp beds — for radioactive isotopes.
Also read the accompanying article and SDSU Professor Helps Test California Kelp For Radiation Exposure From Fukushima Disaster.

KPBS: Drought Could Take Toll On San Diego Bird Populations

The lack of rain in San Diego County could cause dozens of bird species to skip breeding and nesting altogether.
Also see the accompanying article under Biodiversity.

NASA: New agreement signed on This Week @NASA

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of France's National Center of Space Studies or CNES, signed an agreement for cooperation on the lander for NASA's future InSight mission to Mars. InSight will probe deep into the subsurface of Mars to understand the evolutionary formation of rocky planets, including Earth. A CNES instrument onboard the lander is designed to measure seismic waves -- which provide clues about the earliest stages of the planet's formation. InSight is scheduled to launch in March 2016 from Kennedy Space Center. Also, Congressional hearing at KSC, Senator sees Langley tech, Future ISS crew announced, Project Morpheus test and Tech transfer awards.

NASA: NASA Mars Curiosity Rover Report -- February 14, 2014

A NASA Mars Curiosity rover team member gives an update on developments and status of the planetary exploration mission. The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars at 1:31:45 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012 which includes the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light. The rover will conduct a nearly two-year prime mission to investigate whether the Gale Crater region of Mars ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on Mars. Curiosity will use a drill and scoop, which are located at the end of its robotic arm, to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the rover's analytical laboratory instruments.

NASA: ScienceCasts: 10 More Years

With the space station no longer "under construction," the world's most advanced orbital laboratory is open for business. The station has just received a 10-year extension from NASA, giving researchers the time they need to take full advantage of its unique capabilities. Jupiter's Moon Ganymede - First Global Geologic Map Revealed | Video

Surface features, such as furrows, grooves and impact craters are illustrated on this 360 degree view of the moon. The best imagery from NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 and Galileo spacecrafts were used to create it. Galileo Galilei discovered it in 1610.
Also see the accompanying article.
The largest moon in the solar system has finally received its cartographic due.

Scientists have created the first global geological map of Jupiter's huge, ice-covered moon Ganymede, more than 400 years after its discovery by Galileo Galilei. The map, created using observations by NASA's twin Voyager probes and Galileo orbiter, highlights the varied terrain of Ganymede, which is bigger than the planet Mercury.

"This map illustrates the incredible variety of geological features on Ganymede and helps to make order from the apparent chaos of its complex surface," Robert Pappalardo, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "This map is helping planetary scientists to decipher the evolution of this icy world and will aid in upcoming spacecraft observations."

Astronomy/Space Russian Meteor Blast Thrust Asteroid Danger into Spotlight 1 Year Ago Today
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer
February 15, 2014 12:41am ET

One year later, the impact of the surprise Russian meteor explosion is still being felt all over the world.

On Feb. 15, 2013, a 65-foot-wide (20 meters) asteroid detonated in the skies over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, causing millions of dollars of damage and injuring 1,500 people. The dramatic event served as a wake-up call, many scientists say, alerting the world to the dangers posed by the millions of space rocks that reside in Earth's neck of the cosmic woods.

"These types of events are no longer hypothetical," David Kring, of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said in December at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. "We've been up here talking about these types of things for years, but now the entire world understands that they can be real."


KPBS: Researchers Watch El Niño Prospects As Dry Conditions In Southern California Persist
By Susan Murphy
Friday, February 14, 2014

El Niño prospects are growing in the Pacific, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency stated there’s a nearly 50 percent likelihood the weather phenomenon, which can bring heavy rains to Southern California, will develop this fall.

But the other 50 percent projects neutral conditions, similar to this year.

Another group of global researchers is predicting an even bigger chance an El Niño event could occur in 2014. In a study published in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers stated there’s a 75 percent chance for an El Niño, and that the event could push the global temperature to its highest level on record by next year, exceeding the previous record of 1998, set during an El Niño year.

University of Michigan: Methane leaks in the US are undercounted, new study shows
Contact Nicole Casal Moore   
Feb 13, 2014

ANN ARBOR—About 50 percent more of the greenhouse gas methane has been seeping into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to far-reaching findings that synthesize two decades' worth of methane studies in North America.
People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect. Adam Brandt

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

The study was a broad-based effort led by Stanford University that involved researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT, Harvard University and 11 other institutions and national laboratories. It's the first to integrate studies that looked at both individual ground-based components and continental-scale observations.

"People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect," said Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University.

Michigan State University: Population bomb may be defused, but research reveals ticking household bomb
February 12, 2014

After decades of fretting about population explosion, scientists are pointing to a long-term hidden global menace.

The household. More specifically, the household explosion.

In the current edition of Population and Environment, Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of the Michigan State University Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, and former MSU students Mason Bradbury and Nils Peterson present the first long-term historical look at global shifts in how people live. One large shelter for many people is giving way across the world to ones holding fewer people – sometimes young singles, sometimes empty nesters, and sometimes just folks more enamored with privacy.


SDSU: Where in the World
Biology professor Forest Rohwer defied Arctic climes to seek out nature's most diverse forms of life.
By Natalia Elko
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Virus. The word brings to mind illness, infection, even death. But should it?

Marine microbial ecologist, Forest Rohwer would say we have it all wrong. A pioneer in the study of microbes and viruses, Rohwer is an ardent admirer of the tiny organisms whose reason d’etre remains a mystery to scientists.  

“Most of biology has been thinking about it backward,” Rohwer maintains. “We never studied viruses until recently because we didn’t know they existed. Actually, there are more viruses and they have more diversity than any other living thing. To understand the biosphere, which is all of biology, we really need to understand its most important and populous creatures, the community of viruses that science calls the virosphere.”

Rowher’s quest to better understand viruses took him on a 40-day sea journey last summer to the Russian archipelago of Franz Josef Land, a remote cluster of islands just 900 kilometers from the North Pole.

Virginia Tech: Video: Scientists work to stop moth from destroying world's tomato crop

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 6, 2014 – In countries around the world, a tiny insect is wreaking havoc on farms and threatening to push up the price of tomatoes. At a recent workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, scientists gathered to learn more about the tomato leafminer and ways to combat it.

Since the moth was detected in Ethiopia, the price of tomatoes there has risen fivefold, and the economic damage is just going to get worse, according to Muni Muniappan, who organized the workshop. He said farmers and scientists across East Africa and South Asia need to be taught to recognize the pest, also known as Tuta absoluta, so that as soon as it is discovered, they can take appropriate measures to prevent widespread damage.

After seeing the leafminer in action in tomato fields outside Addis Ababa, workshop participants drew up recommendations to be distributed to policymakers and government officials in the region.

KPBS: Drought Could Take Toll On San Diego Bird Populations
By Susan Murphy
Monday, February 10, 2014

On a winding path at Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary in San Diego’s East County, a group of families, armed with walking sticks and binoculars, set off on a search for nature.

"Oh! I see a bird,” calls out Sylvia Busby, development and communications manager for San Diego Audubon Society.

Binoculars pressed against their eyes, the wildlife enthusiasts identify the bright blue bird.

“If anyone wants to see what we’re looking at, it’s this western scrub jay,” Busby announces, as she points to her bird book.

But the little bird and dozens of other native species could face a tough spring if dry conditions persist.


UCSD: Protein Switch Dictates Cellular Fate: Stem Cell or Neuron
By Scott LaFee
February 13, 2014

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that a well-known protein has a new function: It acts in a biological circuit to determine whether an immature neural cell remains in a stem-like state or proceeds to become a functional neuron.

The findings, published in the February 13 online issue of Cell Reports, more fully illuminate a fundamental but still poorly understood cellular act – and may have significant implications for future development of new therapies for specific neurological disorders, including autism and schizophrenia.

Postdoctoral fellow Chih-Hong Lou, working with principal investigator Miles F. Wilkinson, PhD, professor in the Department of Reproductive Medicine and a member of the UC San Diego Institute for Genomic Medicine, and other colleagues, discovered that this critical biological decision is controlled by UPF1, a protein essential for the nonsense-mediated RNA decay (NMD) pathway.

KPBS: San Diego Scientists Discover A Bacteria’s Weird Napoleon Complex
By David Wagner
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why does one of the smallest organisms known to science have such an outsized ability to conquer our immune systems? Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla found out in an unexpected discovery.

In a paper published in Science, Rajesh Grover and his colleagues describe a protein used by the bacteria M. genitalium to ward off virtually all the antibodies the human immune system can throw at it.
Grover and his colleagues discovered the secret weapon M. genitalium uses to fend off our body's antibody armies. They call it "Protein M," a molecule that hasn't been identified until now. What's remarkable about Protein M, according to Grover, is its tenacity.

University of Virginia: U.Va. Research Points to New Understanding of a Mysterious Form of Leukemia
February 12, 2014

Research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine has shed light on a mysterious form of leukemia that can appear and then disappear in children with Down syndrome. The findings may have important implications for other forms of leukemia and other diseases, possibly leading to new treatments, and could one day help people with problems related to platelet deficiencies as well.

The researchers have linked a mutation causing Down syndrome-associated leukemias to specific developmental abnormalities in cells that produce platelets, called megakaryocytes. Essentially, this mutation is interfering with an enzyme, Calpain 2, that acts as an initial trigger for a chain of reactions that determines size and shape of megakaryocytes. This interference causes the normal process of cellular enlargement and platelet production to get hung up.

“It’s like there’s a long pipeline and there’s a clog,” Dr. Adam N. Goldfarb of the Department of Pathology explained. “We think it’s this pipeline that’s getting clogged in this disease and other diseases.”

University of Virginia: U.Va. Student Finds Hispanic Women Opt for Labor Pain Relief Less Often Than Others
Christine Phelan Kueter
February 4, 2014

Since the 1970s, the frequency and use of pain relief during childbirth – and most especially the use of epidural analgesia during labor – has increased dramatically. Reports on epidural rates range from 47 percent to as high as 76 percent of vaginal births, while between 39 percent and 56 percent of women use narcotic analgesics – including drugs like Fentanyl – via IV for managing labor and delivery pain. Only about 14 percent of women, the literature reveals, use no pharmacologic method to relieve childbirth pain.

Hispanic women, however, are another story. New research from the University of Virginia School of Nursing, conducted by doctoral candidate Juliane Milburn, finds that Hispanic women were 53 percent less likely than all other races to have an epidural and 41 percent less likely to use a combination of epidural and IV medications during labor than all other races.

“One of the most unique features of childbirth pain is that it is one of the few situations in health care where acute pain may be left untreated as part of care management,” Milburn said, “and for some women, the ability to make that choice is more important than medical interventions.”

University of Michigan: Help for a scarred heart: Scarring cells turned to beating muscle
Contact Kate McAlpine       
Feb 12, 2014

ANN ARBOR—Poets and physicians know that a scarred heart cannot beat the way it used to, but the science of reprogramming cells offers hope—for the physical heart, at least.

A team of University of Michigan biomedical engineers has turned cells common in scar tissue into colonies of beating heart cells. Their findings could advance the path toward regenerating tissue that's been damaged in a heart attack.

Previous work in direct reprogramming, jumping straight from a cell type involved in scarring to heart muscle cells, has a low success rate. But Andrew Putnam, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and head of the Cell Signaling in Engineered Tissues Lab, thinks he knows at least one of the missing factors for better reprogramming.

University of Michigan: Poor conditions early in life may lead to health problems for many elderly in the developing world
Contact Mark Thompson-Kolar
Feb 12, 2014

ANN ARBOR—Well-intended efforts to improve infant and child health in the developing world in the mid-20th century could be linked with increased risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease for people born during this period when they reach older age, a University of Michigan researcher found.

People born in developing countries in the 1930s through the 1960s lived their early lives when there was rapid improvement in life expectancy—mostly due to public health interventions involving antibiotics or other medical innovations. But for many of them, their standard of living did not improve, said Mary McEniry, a demographer at the U-M Inter-university Consortium of Political and Social Research, part of the U-M Institute for Social Research.

"Having a higher standard of living often means better nutrition and improved ability to fight off infections," she said. "We know that adult lifestyle—diet and exercise—can be very important in terms of health. However, there are now several studies that suggest that poor living conditions in early life can have long-range consequences on one's health at older ages.


UCSD: Child obesity: Cues and Don’ts
Study suggests training kids to pay less attention to food might help them eat less
By Scott LaFee
February 14, 2014

Among the multiple factors that can cause obesity is an abnormal neurocognitive or behavioral response to food cues. The brain becomes wired to seek – and expect – greater rewards from food, which leads to unhealthful overeating.

Attention modification programs, which train a person to ignore or disregard specific, problematic cues or triggers, have been used effectively to treat cases of anxiety and substance abuse. In a novel study published this week in the journal Appetite, Kerri Boutelle, PhD, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues report using a single session of attention modification to decrease overeating in obese children.

“Attentional bias is a long-studied psychological phenomenon,” said Boutelle. “Attentional bias to food means that food grabs a person’s attention. If two people were in a room with potato chips on the table, the person with attentional bias would be paying attention to, maybe looking at, the chips and the person without the bias would not really notice or pay attention to them.

“We believe that there is a group of people who are inherently sensitive to food cues and, over time, eating in response to paying attention to food makes them pay even more attention.  It’s based on Pavlovian conditioning.”

UCSD: I Smoke, But I’m Not a Smoker
Why some “non-identifying smokers” face risks while denying the behavior
By Scott LaFee
February 11, 2014

While smoking among California adults has dramatically declined in recent decades, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report there is a surprisingly large number of people who say they use cigarettes, but don’t consider themselves to be “smokers.”

Writing in the February 5 online issue of Tobacco Control, Wael K. Al-Delaimy, MD, PhD, professor and chief of the Division of Global Health in the UC San Diego Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and colleagues estimate that, in 2011, almost 396,000 Californians (12.3 percent of the state’s population of smokers) smoked on a measurable basis, but rejected the characterization of “smoker.”

Almost 22 percent of these smokers consumed tobacco on a daily basis.

Virginia Commonwealth University: Study examines role of religious devotion in substance use and abuse
By Frances Dumenci
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

Analysis of religiosity in childhood and adulthood suggests that individuals who change in religiosity over time are at greater risk of using psychoactive substances, including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Religiosity is the relevance of religious belief to a person’s life – in other words, how religious or devout a person is. The study, which will be published in the March issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and currently available online, showed that those who have high religiosity in childhood – with belief playing a central role in their upbringing – and then lose religiosity as they mature are at risk of increased substance use, as well as misuse.

Likewise, those who have low religiosity in childhood and become more devout as they age, reaching very high levels of religiosity in adulthood, are also more likely to use and misuse substances.


Virginia Tech: Monologist Mike Daisey examines relationship between technology and world view in 'Faster Better Social'

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 10, 2014 – The Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech welcomes Mike Daisey, called a “master storyteller” by The New York Times, who uses wit and observation to explore the ways technology has changed the social landscape, in “Faster Better Social” on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.

The performance, which is for mature audiences only, will be held in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Moss Arts Center’s Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

Using monologues that weave autobiography, gonzo journalism, and unscripted performance to tell stories that define the world and the people who live in it, in “Faster Better Social,” Daisey focuses on life at this moment, where smartphones have transformed how the world is viewed.


Virginia Tech: Discovery opens up new areas of microbiology, evolutionary biology

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 7, 2014 – A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and University of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available.

The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology. The work also has broad societal implications as it allows scientists to better understand the production of natural gas, and it sheds light on climate change, agriculture, and human health.

“By looking at this one mechanism that was not previously studied, we will be able to develop new basic information that potentially has broad impact on contemporary issues ranging from climate change to obesity,” said Biswarup Mukhopadhyay, associate professor of biochemistry at the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, one of the lead authors of the study. He is also an adjunct associate professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. Plant and microbial biology professor emeritus Bob B. Buchanan at University of California, Berkeley, co-led the research and co-authored the paper.


LiveScience: Indonesia's Deadly New Volcanic Eruption 'Heard' Around the World
By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer
February 14, 2014 12:46pm ET

A powerful eruption yesterday evening (Feb. 13) at Indonesia's Mount Kelud volcano, in eastern Java, hurled ash 9 miles (15 kilometers) into the sky, grounding air travel and sending out sound waves picked up by more than a dozen nuclear weapon detectors.

More than 200,000 people have been evacuated from the region near Mount Kelud, one of Indonesia's most deadly volcanoes. Lava fragments ejected from the volcano crushed the roof of a home, killing two people, AFP reported. Another man died from inhaling ash.

The eruption, at 11:29 p.m. local time, forced a Virgin flight from Sydney to Bali to turn around midair, and airlines have now grounded flights to and from tropical resorts such as the Phuket, Thailand, as well as Australia's Christmas Island and Cocos Island. Airports across Java, including the capital of Jakarta, are also temporarily closed, according to news reports.


LiveScience: In Appalachia, Even Miners Want to Leave Coal Behind
Daniel Turner, Climate Nexus
February 14, 2014 09:02pm ET

For four generations, the coal mines of southwestern Virginia gave Nick Mullins's family a life. Now, he says, the mines are destroying the life he and his fellow miners have known.

"Coal mining is on the decline. The easy seams are gone. And the coal industry has set to exploiting workers as much as they used to," he said.


University of Virginia: U.Va.-Led Study Puts Quarks in the Looking Glass
February 6, 2014

From matching wings on butterflies to the repeating six-point pattern of snowflakes, symmetries echo through nature, even down to the smallest building blocks of matter. Since the discovery of quarks, the building blocks of protons and neutrons, physicists have been exploiting those symmetries to study quarks’ intrinsic properties and to uncover what those properties can reveal about the physical laws that govern them.

A recent experiment carried out by University of Virginia physicists and others at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility to study a rare instance of symmetry breaking in electron-quark scattering has provided a new determination of an intrinsic property of quarks that’s five times more precise than the previous measurement.

The results appeared Thursday in a paper published by the scientific journal Nature. U.Va. physicist Xiaochao Zheng is the lead author and worked on the experiment with nearly 100 researchers from more than 30 institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Jefferson Lab in Newport News and Argonne National Lab near Chicago. Zheng’s U.Va. colleagues and co-authors included physicists Gordon Cates and Kent Paschke.


Virginia Tech: Physics model helps biologist explain histone memory

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 10, 2014 – Jianhua Xing, a Virginia Tech associate professor of biological sciences, in a paper published Jan. 30 online in Physical Review Letter, uses statistical physics to explain histone memory.

His work with histones involves epigenetics, the study of heritable changes in gene activity not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, and how cells remember patterns. Epigenetic memory involves chemical decoration on the genome by special molecules. When cells divide, they can remember the patterns of these decorations and largely take those patterns with them.

Although it remains elusive how cells can remember the modification patterns on histones after division, the inheritance of epigenetic impact could help explain, among other things, why environmental factors like stress and diet can change the health not only of those who are exposed to them, but also the health of their descendants.

Virginia Tech: Chemist part of three nation group to receive nearly $1 million in international funding

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 13, 2014 – The National Science Foundation, along with the National Science Foundation of China, and the German Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, have recently awarded a multi-national group, including Webster Santos, associate professor and Blackwood Junior Faculty Fellow of Life Sciences in chemistry, a three year grant worth $950,000 to examine the reactivity and application of copper boryl complexes.

The research to develop novel catalyst systems that replace rare, expensive, and toxic transition metal catalysts, with earth abundant metals such as copper, is being conducted in collaboration with Todd Marder, Universitat Wurzburg, Germany, and Yao Fu, University of Science and Technology, China. The three groups will combine their separate areas of expertise to provide more sustainable, synthetic methods for the production of commodity chemicals.

Science Crime Scenes

KPBS: California Sushi Chefs Plead Guilty To Using Endangered Whale Meat
By City News Service
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Two chefs who worked at a now-closed Santa Monica sushi restaurant pleaded guilty Tuesday to serving meat from federally protected sei whales.

Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda, who worked at the The Hump at Santa Monica Airport, each admitted three misdemeanor charges -- conspiracy and offering to, and selling, a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose.

The chefs and Typhoon Restaurant Inc., parent company of The Hump, were initially charged in 2010, but the charges were dropped, later refiled and revised last month.

Yamamoto, 49, of Culver City, and 40-year-old Ueda of Lawndale each face up to three years in federal prison, plus fines and community service.

Science, Space, Health, Environment, and Energy Policy

KPBS: San Diego County Water Authority Adopts Voluntary Conservation Guidelines
By Kenny Goldberg
Friday, February 14, 2014

At a special board meeting, the San Diego County Water Authority unanimously approved a package of voluntary restrictions, aimed at reducing water consumption.

Despite nearly three years of low rainfall, San Diego's supply is much more substantial than in many other parts of California.

That's partly because since 2007, local ratepayers have cut water consumption by 27 percent.

KPBS: San Diego City Council To Consider Medical Marijuana Regulations Again
By City News Service, Claire Trageser
Originally published February 13, 2014 at 1:39 p.m., updated February 13, 2014 at 3:09 p.m.

The San Diego City Council will take another stab at establishing regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego at its Feb. 25 meeting, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said at a media briefing Thursday.

The panel has addressed the issue numerous times since California's Compassionate Use Act was approved by voters more than 17 years ago.

Zoning and operating guidelines passed in 2011 were rescinded after medical marijuana advocates collected enough signatures to force council reconsideration.

KPBS: Covered California Hires More Staff To Improve Customer Service
By Kenny Goldberg
Monday, February 10, 2014

Covered California officials concede their customer service leaves much to be desired.

In early January, callers had to wait an average of 39 minutes to talk to a real person at the exchange.

That average wait time has climbed to 51 minutes.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee said that’s why he’s adding 350 people to their customer service staff.

Virginia Tech: Food desert task force takes aim at hunger in Virginia

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 11, 2014 – Agriculture is Virginia's No. 1 industry. But, ironically, for a state that produces an abundance of food, the commonwealth has its share of food deserts — areas where residents have limited access to fresh, healthy foods.

According to a new report commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly, more than 1.4 million Virginians — 17.8 percent of the population — live in food deserts. In Lynchburg, the rate is 26.4 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as areas where people cannot access affordable and nutritious foods. They are usually found in impoverished areas lacking grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers. Food deserts contribute to food insecurity, which means people aren’t sure where their food will come from.

The report focused on the state as a whole as well as on eight cities and counties across Virginia. It was compiled by a task force chaired by Dean Jewel Hairston of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University and Dean Alan Grant of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. A PDF of the report, "Food Deserts in Virginia," can be downloaded from the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Science Education

KPBS: California Drought Feeds Interest For Water-Wise Landscaping In San Diego
By Erik Anderson
Monday, February 10, 2014

California's emergency drought declaration is driving up interest in more water-efficient landscaping in San Diego. Cuyamaca College's water conservation garden sold out so far this year.
Education director Elizabeth Ramos said all of the water management classes have had waiting lists so far this year and staff are already booking slots for the next class in March.

University of Connecticut: Fostering More Women Surgeons
By: Noreen Kirk
February 14, 2014

The percentage of U.S. physicians who are women grew from 12 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet women continue to be underrepresented in the field of surgery. American Medical Association statistics show women currently constitute only 19 percent of all surgeons. A group of students at the UConn School of Medicine have come together to try to close that gap. The Women in Surgery Interest Group (WISIG), now in its third year, is working to raise awareness among all students—women and men—about careers in surgery and especially to help break down the barriers that have traditionally discouraged women from becoming surgeons.

The idea for the group originated with UConn Health surgeon Dr. Linda Barry. She didn’t need the statistics; she had seen firsthand the imbalance between men and women in the specialty. “I was the only woman in my medical school class of 13 who went into general surgery,” Barry says. “And as a resident, I was the only woman in my year.”

Years later, she was concerned that she was the only woman faculty member in UConn’s Department of Surgery. So Barry began talking with interested students about forming a formal interest group. In early 2011, she and a group of students traveled to the University of South Florida to attend the National Women in Surgery Career Symposium, an annual event Barry had co-founded. The experience proved inspiring.

Michigan State University: Communication essential to scientists’ training
February 14, 2014

Today more than ever it is increasingly important for scientists to communicate their findings with colleagues, other professionals in related fields and the general public.

Essential to this is the training of future researchers in the so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and medicine.

At this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Karen Klomparens, dean of the Michigan State University Graduate School, gave her colleagues an update on how MSU is teaching these skills to future scientists.

Science Writing and Reporting

University of Connecticut: UConn Health Research in the Olympic Spotlight
By: Carolyn Pennington
February 10, 2014

The pioneering work of UConn Health researcher Dr. Cato T. Laurencin is featured in an educational video series on NBC called the “Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.”

A segment called “Injury and Recovery” describes new treatment advances in sports-related injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears – a relatively common injury in skiing and snowboarding. The piece highlights Laurencin’s invention of the L-C Ligament, the first bioengineered matrix shown to completely regenerate ligament tissue inside the knee. This patented technology is currently being tested in human clinical trials in Europe.

Michigan State University: Survey: Americans struggle with science; respect scientists
Feb. 14, 2014

While most Americans could be a bit more knowledgeable in the ways of science, a majority are interested in hearing about the latest scientific breakthroughs and think highly of scientists.

This is according to a survey of more than 2,200 people conducted by the National Science Foundation, one that is conducted every two years and is part of a report – Science and Engineering Indicators – that the National Science Board provides to the president and Congress.

A Michigan State University faculty member served as lead author for the chapter in the report that covers public perceptions of science. John Besley, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations, reviewed the data, as well as similar surveys from around the world, and highlighted key findings on Feb. 14 during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Science is Cool

L.A. Times: Lady Gaga: California's new drought spokeswoman
By Anthony York
February 13, 2014, 3:38 p.m.

Lady Gaga has a new message for all of her “little monsters”: Save water.

The five-time Grammy Award winner will soon be on the air with a public service announcement urging Californians to do their part to help with the state’s drought.

So how did Lady Gaga become the new face of drought awareness? It started when the “Poker Face” singer wanted to use Hearst Castle for what the Hearst Castle Foundation is calling "a special creative project."

For her trouble, Lady Gaga got a thank you note from Governor Brown (reproduced at Buzzfeed).

KPBS: Building A Digital Worm Is Harder (And More Important) Than You Might Think
By David Wagner
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

From San Diego to Siberia, researchers are joining forces to digitally recreate a very simple, very tiny worm. Their globe-spanning, volunteer-driven project is called OpenWorm, and it's raising big questions about our ability to simulate life.

When I met OpenWorm's San Diego-based coordinator, Stephen Larson, it was just barely 8 a.m. Already he was wide awake, Red Bull in hand, ready to start the group's biweekly meeting. The OpenWorm team sprawls over so many time zones, Larson doesn't have much flexibility in scheduling.

"For the guys from Novosibirsk, it's like midnight," he said.

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:10 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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