Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment. In keeping with the theme of the past three months, Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday is featuring science and other news from the major public research universities in the midwestern states where Republican governors and legislatures are threatening the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
That written, this week's featured story does not follow the theme, as it comes from Discovery News and NASA Television on YouTube.
Countdown to Shuttle Launch -- and Layoffs -- Under Way
By Irene Klotz
May 13, 2011
Dual countdowns are under way at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. The traditional three-day countdown for launching of a space shuttle began Friday morning. There also is a 60-day clock running for about half the shuttle workforce who will be out of a job when NASA ends the shuttle program this summer.
Endeavour's second launch attempt is slated for 8:56 a.m. EDT on Monday. The first try on April 29 ended a few hours before the planned liftoff when a heater in one of the ship’s onboard power generators failed.
Final preparations are being made for Monday morning's scheduled launch of space shuttle Endeavour from the Kennedy Space Center. An electrical problem that scuttled the last STS-134 launch attempt, on April 29, has since been corrected.
Also, Dawn breaks new ground; spring flood imagery; Discovery crew visits HQ; two new Webbys; two new Astro Hall of Famers; and, NASA at Kings Dominion.
More stories after the jump.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
Watch this space!
In Defense of Teaching Creationism
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This week in science
Green diary rescue: Can the world grow economically without terminally wrecking the environment?
by Meteor Blades
Purdue University: Purdue-led C3Bio video in running for DOE People's Choice Award
May 11, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A bioenergy research initiative led by Purdue University has released a video that highlights its efforts to advance how liquid fuels and high-value bioproducts are made from non-food plant biomass.
The video for the Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels, known as C3Bio, was submitted as part of a People's Choice Award competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science Energy Frontier Research Centers program, said C3Bio project manager Carl Huetteman.
The video is embedded below. To vote for it or one of its competitors, http://www.energyfrontier.us/...
The video with the most votes by 5 p.m. May 24 will be shown and the video team recognized at the Energy Frontier Research Centers summit on May 25-27 in Washington, D.C. Two members from each of the winning teams travel for free to the event.
Can we imagine a future fueled by living plants rather than oil? The Center for direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels (C3Bio) was established in 2009 with a 5-year, $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. C3Bio researchers at Purdue University are investigating new ways to make advanced biofuels ... it really is rocket science.
Discovery News: Mysterious New Human Coexisted with Neanderthals: Photos
Neanderthals shared Europe with a mysterious member of our genus that may represent an entirely new species of human, suggests a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Human Evolution.
The study describes the recently unearthed remains of a hominid from what is now Serbia. The remains -- a fossilized jaw and teeth -- date to at least 113,000 years ago.
Discovery News: Boat Would Sail on Saturn Moon's Sea
By Irene Klotz
May 10, 2011
Scientists are working on a mission to send a robotic boat to explore an extraterrestrial ocean in hopes of learning about how the building blocks of life began to assemble.
The destination: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn -- bigger than Mercury and Pluto -- which sports lakes of liquid methane and ethane near its northern polar region.
"We have no expectation of finding living things," Johns Hopkins University planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz told Discovery News. "But we think the complexity of the organics (on Titan) can lead us to the steps toward life."
Purdue University: Purdue alumnus names lake on Saturn's largest moon after Indiana's Lake Freeman
May 5, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Lake Freeman in Monticello, Ind., now has a namesake more than 800 million miles away on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
The International Astronomical Union recently approved the name suggested by Robert Brown, a Purdue University alumnus and Lafayette native who leads the science team that runs the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
Brown's team discovered the approximately 12-mile-long methane lake while taking measurements and observing the moon in January. He proposed the name Lake Freeman after the Indiana lake where his family often vacationed during his childhood.
Indiana University: STAR TRAK
May 5, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The closest gathering of four bright planets in decades will be on display low in the eastern sky before dawn during May.
Unfortunately, at mid-northern latitudes these planets will be only a few degrees above the horizon a half hour before sunrise for most of the month. In the Southern Hemisphere the gathering will be considerably higher in the sky.
Venus, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars will fit within the field of view of binoculars on May 12, and within a circle of 10 degrees from May 2 to May 19. Jupiter will leave the group after that, but the other three planets will remain tightly clustered until almost the end of the month.
Indiana University: IU-led $2.4 million NASA project eyes climate change in Greenland -- with a third eye on Mars
May 11, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington scientists will use knowledge about methane production by cold-weather microbes on Earth to help NASA zero in on evidence for similar, carbon-based microbes that could have evolved on Mars, the Jovian moon Europa, or Saturn's Enceladus.
The three-year project, funded by a $2.4 million grant from NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program, will be led by biogeochemist Lisa Pratt. Her team will conduct field research in Greenland using the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support Facility as the base of operations and moving instruments and equipment to the Arctic with the 109th New York Air National Guard, which provides logistical support for NASA- and National Science Foundation-run research projects in remote polar regions.
"In order to be prepared for robotic or human exploration of other habitable worlds, scientists and engineers need to thoroughly test instruments and exploration concepts in extreme environments on Earth," said Pratt, Provost's Professor of Geological Sciences. "These environments mimic, in some ways, the places we expect to explore for evidence of extraterrestrial life."
Purdue University: Selaginella genome adds piece to plant evolutionary puzzle
May 5, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University-led sequencing of the Selaginella moellendorffii (spikemoss) genome - the first for a non-seed vascular plant - is expected to give scientists a better understanding of how plants of all kinds evolved over the past 500 million years and could open new doors for the identification of new pharmaceuticals.
Jody Banks, a professor of botany and plant pathology, led a team of about 100 scientists from 11 countries to sequence the genome of Selaginella, a lycophyte. Lycophytes, which are the oldest living vascular plants, shed spores to reproduce and have a single vascular vein through their leaves, as opposed to more complex vascular plants.
"There are only three families and about 1,000 species of lycophytes remaining. Selaginella has been on Earth about 200 million years," said Banks, whose findings were published Thursday (May 5) in the journal Science. "This plant is a survivor. It has a really long history and it hasn't really changed much over time. When you burn coal, you're burning the Carboniferous relatives of these plants."
Discovery News: Toddler Tyrannosaur Redefines 'Terrible Twos'
No helpless child, this juvenile dinosaur didn't have to rely on mom and dad for a meal.
By Jennifer Viegas
May 9, 2011
The youngest and most complete known skull and skeleton for a tyrannosaur reveal that even juveniles among these infamous carnivores were strong hunters, capable of outrunning and killing other dinosaurs, according to new research.
The remains, described in the latest Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, belong to a two to three-year-old Tarbosaurus bataar, the closest known relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. It lived 70 million years ago and died young of unknown causes.
While this juvenile dinosaur gives new meaning to the "terrible twos," it also provides evidence that young tyrannosaurs looked and behaved differently than their parents did.
University of Wisconsin: In the battle against invasive aquatic species, Wisconsin bait shops are on the front line
by Bob Mitchell
May 5, 2011
Wisconsin bait dealers are aware of the risks associated with aquatic invasive species, and they are taking steps to help address the problem, a new University of Wisconsin-Madison study indicates.
That's good news, because bait shops are on the front lines in the battle to stop the spread of invasive plants, animals and diseases in Wisconsin's lakes and rivers, says Bret Shaw, an Extension environmental communication specialist and assistant professor in the UW-Madison life sciences communication department.
"Bait business owners and employees are important partners in helping spread the word, because they interact with these anglers and boaters on a daily basis and understand the damage that invasive species can cause to lakes in the state," Shaw says.
University of Michigan: U-M to study why childhood exposure to toxicants makes us sick as adults
May 10, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A newly funded center at the University of Michigan will allow researchers from the School of Public Health and the Medical School to study the way environmental toxicants change genetic programming, and how those changes contribute to chronic disease in adults.
The center, a collaboration between the U-M SPH and the U-M Health System, is the first of its kind at U-M and is the only new National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences P30 Core Center to be funded (as opposed to renewals of existing centers) in the last six years, said the center's director, Dr. Howard Hu.
Hu said the landmark grant of $4 million was his top research goal when he came to U-M as chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in 2006.
University of Michigan: Probe human diseases in yeast? Possibly, protein study suggests
May 9, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The molecular-level workings of proteins are surprisingly similar across a wide range of organisms, from humans to fungi and plants, research by University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Jianzhi "George" Zhang and colleagues suggests.
This finding raises the possibility of using much simpler organisms, such as yeast, to study the mechanisms underlying human disease.
The study is scheduled to be published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of May 9.
University of Wisconsin: New ‘corn atlas’ shows which genes are active during each stage of plant growth
May 10, 2011
Just as a road atlas helps travelers find their way, a new corn atlas will help plant scientists navigate vast amounts of gene expression data from the corn plant, as described in the May 10 issue of The Plant Journal.
The atlas, developed by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University, tells researchers which of corn's 50,000 genes are actively expressed in various parts of the plant during each of the major stages of plant development.
"The atlas is basically the whole landscape of the plant's transcriptome. It contains information about all of the genes in corn — where they're expressed and when they're expressed," says Rajandeep Sekhon, the study's co-lead author, a research associate in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at UW-Madison.
Such atlases, which already exist for rice and Arabidopsis, have proven useful for homing in on key genes involved in important biological processes.
University of Wisconsin: Heart Cells Derived from Stem Cells Used to Study Heart Diseases
May 6, 2011
Madison, Wisconsin - A research team at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is the first to use heart cells derived from stem cells to specifically study certain genetic mechanisms of heart diseases.
Researchers led by Drs. Craig January and Tim Kamp, professors of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, are using iPSC (induced-pluripotent stem cell) technology to make heart cells from skin cells.
The goal is to offer a cell model allowing researchers to study disease mechanisms, and new treatments and therapies for genetically based heart diseases such as inherited arrhythmias.
Discovery News: Trees Hold Thousand-Year History of El Niño
By John Cox
May 10, 2011
A new 1,100-year-long history of the El Niño-La Niña climate cycle that dominates seasonal weather patterns now and then promises to sharpen the skills of computer models trying to simulate the impacts of global warming.
Climate specialists at the University of Hawaii-Manoa used an archive of tree ring measurements in the Southwestern United States to extend an El Niño historical record previously limited by Pacific Ocean coral data to only a few hundred years.
"Our work revealed that the towering trees on the mountain slopes of the U.S. Southwest and the colorful corals in the tropical Pacific both listen to the music of El Niño," lead scientist Jinbao Li said in a statement released by the university. The study is published in the current issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.
N.Y. Times: Ford Says There’s Wealth in Weeds
By SEBASTIAN BLANCO
Petroleum is found throughout passenger vehicles, not only in the gas tank. But Ford announced on Tuesday a project intended to minimize its reliance on petroleum-based vehicle components, and it chose an unlikely standard bearer: the dandelion.
Developed in collaboration with Ohio State University, the project harnesses the scourge of lawn tenders worldwide, Taraxacum kok-saghyz, commonly called the Russian dandelion, to produce a versatile, milky-white substance that can be used as a plastics modifier. The substance, Ford said, could find application in cup holders, floor mats and interior trim pieces, replacing synthetic rubber commonly used in these applications.
While rubber does literally grow on trees, synthetic rubber is a petroleum product, and even if all the rubber Ford used were sustainably grown, it still would be cleaner to produce plastic from locally sourced dandelions because shipping would be minimized.
The dandelion-based plastic has not reached Ford vehicles yet. Company engineers are still testing the substance to ensure its durability.
Michigan State University: Research maps out trade-offs between deer and timber
May 11, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a sweeping study of a huge swath of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Michigan State University researchers document that in many places the sugar maple saplings that should be thriving following harvesting are instead ending up as a deer buffet. This means the hardwood forests are not regenerating.
Since the 1950s, sustainability in northern hardwood forests was achieved by chopping down trees in small clumps to naturally make room for new ones to spring up. Early experiments with single-tree and group selection logging found that desirable species like sugar maples did a great job of regenerating in the sunny, rain-drenched harvest gaps – theoretically eliminating the need to replant.
But hungry deer and other factors have changed that, according to a study in Forest Ecology and Management.
“We’ve found that deer, light availability and competition from nontree plant species are affecting sugar maple regeneration in parts of the Upper Peninsula,” said Megan Matonis, who recently earned a master’s degree in forestry while a member of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at MSU. “No sugar maples are regenerating in the southern area near Escanaba. In the future, this could challenge the sustainability of timber harvesting in this region."
University of Michigan: Air pollution near Michigan schools linked to poorer student health, academic performance
May 4, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Air pollution from industrial sources near Michigan public schools jeopardizes children's health and academic success, according to a new study from University of Michigan researchers.
The researchers found that schools located in areas with the state's highest industrial air pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates—an indicator of poor health—as well as the highest proportions of students who failed to meet state educational testing standards.
The researchers examined the distribution of all 3,660 public elementary, middle, junior high and high schools in the state and found that 62.5 percent of them were located in places with high levels of air pollution from industrial sources.
Indiana University: Global warming won't harm wind energy production, climate models predict
May 2, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The production of wind energy in the U.S. over the next 30-50 years will be largely unaffected by upward changes in global temperature, say a pair of Indiana University Bloomington scientists who analyzed output from several regional climate models to assess future wind patterns in America's lower 48 states.
Their report -- the first analysis of long-term stability of wind over the U.S. -- appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
"The greatest consistencies in wind density we found were over the Great Plains, which are already being used to harness wind, and over the Great Lakes, which the U.S. and Canada are looking at right now," said Provost's Professor of Atmospheric Science Sara Pryor, the project's principal investigator. "Areas where the model predicts decreases in wind density are quite limited, and many of the areas where wind density is predicted to decrease are off limits for wind farms anyway."
Mother Nature Network: Are reusable bags doing the good we think they are?
As we accumulate more reusable bags, many of them go unused. Reusable bags are creating their own environmental problems. What’s the answer?
By Robin Shreeves
Although the reusable bag market has grown, there isn’t any hard evidence that suggests the plastic bag market has decreased. In fact, “indirect measures suggest that plastic bag production has remained relatively steady.”
Reusable bags are supposed to help us consume less, specifically fewer plastic and paper bags. The number of reusable bags being given away at Earth Day events, sporting events, town festivals, banks, grocery stores and more ends up in the millions each year, and not everyone who is given a bag uses it. (Target gave away a million reusable bags just this month.)
With all of these bags going unused, a new environmental problem is developing — bags that end up getting thrown away without having been used. When the Chicago Bears gave away 40,000 bags at a 2009 game, many of them ended up in the stadium trash. I wonder about the bags that I took to Goodwill over the weekend. Is anyone ever going to use them?
Agence France Presse via Discovery News: Small Quake in Spain Makes Big Impact
Buildings collapsed and eight people lost their lives following a 5.1-magnitude quake Wednesday.
May 12, 2011
A magnitude 5.1 quake killed at least eight people in southern Spain, sending historic buildings crashing down as panicked residents fled.
Eight people including one child perished in the southeastern city of Lorca in the deadliest tremor in Spain in more than five decades, the regional government of Murcia said in a statement.
Another 167 were injured including three in grave condition in hospital, health officials reported.
Agence France Presse via Discovery News: Shale-Gas Drilling Contaminating Drinking Water
A high-tech drill method for natural gas is leaking flamable methane.
May 11, 2011
Methane leaks are contaminating drinking water near shale gas drilling sites in the northeastern United States, scientists said Tuesday, placing a further question mark over this fast-growing energy source.
Scientists tested water samples taken from 68 private wells in five counties in Pennsylvania and New York to explore accusations that "hydro-fracking" -- a contested technique to extract shale gas -- has contaminated groundwater.
Methane was found in 85 percent of the samples, and at sites within a kilometer (0.6 mile) of active hydraulic-fracturing operations, levels were 17 times higher than in wells far from such operations, said the study by researchers at Duke University in North Carolina.
University of Michigan: Persuasive speech: The way we, um, talk sways our listeners
May 14, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Want to convince someone to do something? A new University of Michigan study has some intriguing insights drawn from how we speak.
The study, presented May 14 at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, examines how various speech characteristics influence people's decisions to participate in telephone surveys. But its findings have implications for many other situations, from closing sales to swaying voters and getting stubborn spouses to see things your way.
"Interviewers who spoke moderately fast, at a rate of about 3.5 words per second, were much more successful at getting people to agree than either interviewers who talked very fast or very slowly," said Jose Benki, a research investigator at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).
University of Michigan: Girls less likely to be violent when seeking others' approval
May 12, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Many teen girls who push, slap or punch their dates know the situation could become more violent, but they think most consequences are unlikely, a new study shows.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University used the theory of planned behavior, which predicts a person's intentions and actions.
"We know that girls' use of force often occurs in the context of violence against them, either as self-defense or sometimes retaliation," said Richard Tolman, U-M professor of social work, who wrote the study with lead author Poco Kernsmith, an associate professor of social work at WSU. "The impact of dating violence is more severe for girls who are victimized than for boys."
Previous research indicates many girls say they initiate the use of force, and "we wanted to understand more about the predictors for girls' actions," he said.
Wayne State University: Wayne State University researchers find new way to examine major depressive disorder in children
May 10, 2011
DETROIT - A landmark study by scientists at Wayne State University published in the May 6, 2011, issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, the most prestigious journal in the field, has revealed a new way to distinguish children with major depressive disorder (MDD) from not only normal children, but also from children with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
MDD is a common, debilitating disease prevalent in childhood and adolescence. Examination of cortical thickness in patients with MDD has not been widely studied, and WSU's team of researchers set out to determine if differences in cortical thickness might not only distinguish children with depression from healthy children who are not depressed but also from those with other psychiatric disorders such as OCD.
Purdue University: Professor: Pain of ostracism can be deep, long-lasting
May 10, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Ostracism or exclusion may not leave external scars, but it can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer than a physical injury, according to a Purdue University expert.
"Being excluded or ostracized is an invisible form of bullying that doesn't leave bruises, and therefore we often underestimate its impact," said Kipling D. Williams, a professor of psychological sciences. "Being excluded by high school friends, office colleagues, or even spouses or family members can be excruciating. And because ostracism is experienced in three stages, the life of those painful feelings can be extended for the long term. People and clinicians need to be aware of this so they can avoid depression or other negative experiences."
When a person is ostracized, the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which registers physical pain, also feels this social injury, Williams said. The process of ostracism includes three stages: the initial acts of being ignored or excluded, coping and resignation.
Ohio State University: MORE KNOWLEDGE NOT ALWAYS HELPFUL FOR WOMEN DEALING WITH HEART DISEASE
May 4, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Women with congestive heart failure who repress their emotions, especially anger, are more likely than emotionally expressive women to experience symptoms of depression associated with knowledge about their disease, according to new research.
Coping styles of women in the study influenced how depressed or anxious they felt. The less they talked about or expressed their emotions, the more likely they were to have symptoms of depression and anxiety.
When Ohio State University researchers examined the influence of knowledge about their illness on the patients’ mental well-being, they found that some women with heart failure felt worse emotionally when they had more information about the disease. For those women -- who tend to deny their emotions -- less information is better. For them, certain types of knowledge can actually lower their emotional quality of life, according to the research.
Ohio State University: RESEARCHERS SEE A ‘PICTURE’ OF THREAT IN THE BRAIN: WORK MAY LEAD TO NEW MODEL OF INFLAMMATION
May 3, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A team of researchers is beginning to see exactly what the response to threats looks like in the brain at the cellular and molecular levels.
This new information, including the discovery that a model of social stress can increase inflammation among brain cells, should provide new insight into how the stress response affects inflammatory and behavioral responses.
It may also provide new targets for drugs treatments in the continuing struggle to curtail depression and anxiety.
Discovery News: Crocodile God Temple Featured Croc Nursery
By Rossella Lorenzi
May 9, 2011
Egyptian authorities put another archaeological site on the country’s tourist map yesterday by opening a visitor center at Madinet Madi in the Fayoum region south of Cairo.
Founded during the reigns of Amenemhat III (about 1859-1813 B.C.) and Amenemhat IV (about 1814-1805 B.C.) of the 12th Dynasty, Madinet Madi contains the ruins of the only Middle Kingdom temple in Egypt.
Approached by a paved processional way lined by lions and sphinxes, the temple was dedicated to the cobra-headed goddess Renenutet, and the crocodile-headed god, Sobek of Scedet, patron god of the region.
annetteboardman is taking a well-deserved week off.
Science News: New laser is from the birds
Light amplification device inspired by brightly colored feathers
By Devin Powell
Friday, May 13th, 2011
The brilliant plumage of bluebirds, blue jays and parrots has inspired a new kind of laser. The device mimics structures in these birds’ feathers that can create color without pigments.
The barbs of these feathers contain tiny pockets of air. Light striking the tightly packed air bubbles scatters, bringing out deep shades of blues and ultraviolet (which birds can see but humans can’t).
“Birds use these structures to create colors that they can’t make in other ways,” says Richard Prum, an ornithologist at Yale University who discovered the mechanism behind this color.
Purdue University: Portable tech might provide drinking water, power to villages
May 3, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Researchers have developed an aluminum alloy that could be used in a new type of mobile technology to convert non-potable water into drinking water while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity.
Such a technology might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations, said Jerry Woodall, a Purdue University distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.
The alloy contains aluminum, gallium, indium and tin. Immersing the alloy in freshwater or saltwater causes a spontaneous reaction, turning the water into steam and generating hydrogen and aluminum tri-hydroxide until the aluminum is used up. The hydrogen could then be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity, producing potable water.
Zero Hedge: Slow Relief at the Pump As Gasoline Decouples From Crude Oil
May 14, 2011
In the two weeks ending Friday, May 13, Brent dropped about 10% to close at $113.83 a barrel on ICE, while WTI plunged 12% to $99.65 a barrel at Nymex, and RBOB gasolne futures for June also lost 8% to around $3.0766 a gallon.
The price tumble was big enough to trigger a five-minute halt in trading of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline for the first time in over two years on Wednesday. May 11 at CME electronic trading platform.
With the record retreat in crude oil prices, many consumers are expecting ‘some big retail price drops’ in time for Memorial Day weekend. After all, crude oil accounts for more than two thirds (68.3%) of the price in a gallon of gasoline as of March 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
Crude oil and gasoline prices typically trend in tandem on the same set of market fundamentals, but this time around, the decoupling of gasoline and crude oil would mean gasoline prices may be harder to drop.
It could take all summer for prices to drop down to $3.50, let alone $3.00.
Michigan State University: Solar cells more efficient than photosynthesis – for now
May 12, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a head-to-head battle of harvesting the sun’s energy, solar cells beat plants, according to a new paper in Science. But scientists think they can even up the playing field, says Michigan State University researcher David Kramer.
Plants are less efficient at capturing the energy in sunlight than solar cells mostly because they have too much evolutionary baggage. Plants have to power a living thing, whereas solar cells only have to send electricity down a wire. This is a big difference because if photosynthesis makes a mistake, it makes toxic byproducts that kill the organism. Photosynthesis has to be conservative to avoid killing the organisms it powers.
“This is critical since it’s the process that powers all of life in our ecosystem,” said Kramer, a Hannah Distinguished Professor of Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics. “The efficiency of photosynthesis, and our ability to improve it, is critical to whether the entire biofuels industry is viable.”
While photosynthesis is less efficient on a pure energy basis, it has the advantage of producing high-energy liquid fuels. (It also makes all of our food, and is thus essential for life). The paper summarizes several specific approaches to improving photosynthesis, some likely achievable in the short term, some more involved.
University of Michigan: U-M receives Sustainable Energy Program of the Year award from DTE Energy
May 10, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—University of Michigan's Planet Blue Operations Team program has been named the Sustainable Energy Program of the Year by DTE Energy for its efforts to conserve energy and engage the campus community.
The award was given on May 10 in conjunction with the Energy Conference and Exhibition 2011 hosted by DTE and the Engineering Society of Detroit. U-M received its award in the commercial category, and its entry was judged based on the Ann Arbor campus being actively engaged in the program, participation by U-M leadership, the goals set under the Planet Blue Operations Team program and tracking of results.
"This is great recognition for the efforts of the people working on the Planet Blue Operations Team program and the U-M campus at-large," said Richard Robben, executive director of Plant Operations at U-M. "The vision of this program was that we would reduce energy consumption and the corresponding costs, but that we would engage the people to foster a culture where everyone is focused on doing the right thing in the buildings where they teach, learn and work. This award shows we're delivering on that goal."
University of Michigan: U-M researchers working toward efficient harvesting of solar energy
May 3, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—At the University of Michigan College of Engineering, recent breakthroughs may lead to more effective means for harnessing the power of the sun.
Conventional means of collecting solar energy, solar cells for example, have been notoriously inefficient.
Now a team of chemical engineers at U-M is exploring new means of exploiting the abundant energy produced by Earth's nearest star. They have discovered a method for utilizing metal nano-particles, which act much like nanometer-sized light antennae, to help accelerate the production of renewable solar fuels and other chemicals.
N.Y. Times: Oakland Airport Builds E.V. Chargers and Awaits the E.V.'s
By CHRISTINE NEGRONI
If every electric car in the United States suddenly descended on Oakland International Airport, only 15 of them would be able to charge their batteries. But for E.V. drivers in the Bay Area, that is plenty of capacity, for now.
As it makes preparations to accommodate E.V.-driving travelers, Oakland Airport officials will formally inaugurate 15 charging stations next week.
“We’re definitely trendsetters in terms of providing these for our customers,” said Rosemary Barnes, a spokeswoman for the airport. “E.V.’s are coming on line more here than in other parts of the country,” she said.
N.Y. Times: Wheelies: The Pipeline Edition
By New York Times Staff
Toyota, in collaboration with Shell and the Energy Department, inaugurated a hydrogen filling station in Torrance, Calif., this week, which is fed directly by an industrial pipeline. Automakers including Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Honda and General Motors have leased hydrogen vehicles to drivers near the station. For now, lessees can fill up there for free.
On Thursday, Volkswagen announced it had signed a letter of intent with the city of Hamburg, Germany, to start a car-sharing program this fall. The fleet would be comprised of the brand’s BlueMotion turbodiesel cars, with 200 Golf models expected to inaugurate the program. VW Group representatives said that the redesigned Beetle could also join the fleet, which will be spread across 50 pick-up locations throughout the city at introduction.
N.Y. Times: With Financing in Flux, Saab’s First E.V. Program Awaits Its Fate
By JIM MOTAVALLI
Saab’s partnership with the Chinese manufacturer Hawtai Motor Group, announced on May 3, would have brought 120 million euros ($171 million) to the ailing Swedish automaker. The deal, however, fell apart, leaving Saab’s future as murky as it was when it first halted vehicle production more than a month ago. Also left in flux is Saab’s ePower electric vehicle program.
The transatlantic partnership paired Saab with Boston-Power, a Massachusetts-based battery developer that supplies the Asian market for electric scooters and bicycles, as well as the computer industry. In a bit of incidental symmetry, Boston-Power is headed by a Swedish woman, Christina Lampe-Onnerud.
“Saab’s financial situation hasn’t affected the electric car program at all,” said Dr. Lampe-Onnerud in a telephone interview conducted before the Hawtai deal dissolved. “Both companies are determined to bring a really great E.V., with high-performance batteries to the market, as soon as possible.” Through a spokeswoman, she declined to comment on the collapse of the Hawtai partnership.
N.Y. Times: From the Cloud, Google Pulls Down an Energy Saver
By JIM MOTAVALLI
Engineers have long been trying to adapt the automobile to drivers’ preferences. In partnership with Google, Ford is hoping to create cars that could receive data in real time and predict driver behavior and probable destinations. Such information could then be applied to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.
The tool is called Google Prediction API, and in optimized form, it can help enable a Ford of the future to ask questions of the car’s drivers based on routes regularly traveled, time of day and current location. Picture a voice inquiring, “Good morning, are you going to work?” If you reply in the affirmative, it may then say, “Your vehicle performance has been optimized for your trip.”
The system as currently imagined would interact best with a plug-in hybrid like the prototype Ford Escape that Ryan McGee, a Ford technical expert, said his team was developing. Early research is being shown off at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco this week.
N.Y. Times: Amp Delivers Its First Electric Mercedes-Benz ML Conversion
By JONATHAN SCHULTZ
As Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Motors, learned during filming of "Revenge of the Electric Car," developing an E.V. from the ground up is a prohibitively expensive exercise. Amp Electric Vehicles, an Ohio company that removes the guts of internal-combustion passenger cars and replaces them with electric powertrains, says it has a more viable way to get E.V.’s on the road, even if those roads are almost an ocean away.
On Wednesday morning at its showroom and production complex in Cincinnati, Amp executives handed over the keys of an electric Mercedes-Benz ML 350 to the company’s newest and biggest client, Gisli Gislason, the chairman and chief executive of Northern Lights Energy, a utility in Iceland. The luxury S.U.V. is the first vehicle to be produced in a five-year contract between the two companies, during which Amp expects to ship 1,000 E.V.’s to the island nation.
N.Y. Times: Robert Stempel, a Voice for Alternative-Energy Sources, Dies at 77
By PAUL STENQUIST
Robert C. Stempel, the former General Motors chairman and chief executive who died on Saturday at 77, spent a turbulent two years atop the country’s largest automaker, during which he cut jobs and closed plants to minimize company losses. However, for every automaker that deepens its experimentation in alternative-energy sources, Mr. Stempel’s legacy as an auto-industry seer is bolstered.
Mr. Stempel was an early advocate of alternative energy within G.M. and championed the EV1 electric-vehicle program. The G.M. board, however, lost confidence in his leadership before the EV1 was ready for production, and Mr. Stempel, who was also experiencing health problems, resigned in October 1992.
But while sourcing batteries for the proposed EV1, Mr. Stempel befriended Stanford Ovshinsky, the noted scientist credited with the invention of nickel-metal hydride batteries, thin-film solar panels and a long list of other technologies.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
Michigan State University: Major changes necessary to sustain U.S. farming’s future
May 6, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — In order to provide abundant and affordable food, feed, fiber and fuel, U.S. agriculture needs to change its approach, according to research appearing in the current issue of Science magazine.
Sandra Batie, the Elton R. Smith Professor of Food and Agricultural Policy, and Richard Harwood, professor emeritus of crop and soil sciences, at Michigan State University, were part of a team of scientists and farmers who wrote a report published by the National Research Council. The report, which was expanded as a policy forum in Science, identifies policy and practice reforms that could place agriculture in the U.S. and abroad on a more sustainable trajectory that includes improved natural environments and food security for the future.
U.S. farmers continue to provide growing supplies of food and other products, such as fiber and ethanol. But these efforts have been accompanied by the unintended consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation and public health problems. Agricultural efforts also are vulnerable to resource scarcity, climate change and market vulnerability. Furthermore, society continues to ask that agriculture better address not only these sustainability issues and challenges, but also issues involving the welfare of rural communities, farm workers or farm animals, Batie said.
“To improve the sustainability of farming in the U.S. and worldwide, the team recommended that farmers, policymakers and scientists continue current sustainability efforts as well as expand them, addressing whole systems redesign,” said Batie, who is also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. “There are many examples of such redesign that address and balance sustainability goals, including the goal of enhancing farming productivity and financial viability.”
The recommendations come at a pivotal time as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow will hold the first field hearing for the 2012 Farm Bill on May 31 on MSU’s campus. While the bill addresses U.S. policy, the hearing will focus on agriculture, energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that will impact Michigan.
Mother Nature Network: USDA releases Food Desert Locator
By Robin Shreeves
With the United States Department of Agriculture’s new Food Desert Locator, anyone can “map food deserts and view census tract-level statistics on population groups with low access to healthy foods.”
People who live in a food desert (all of the areas shaded in pink in the above map are considered food deserts) do not have easy access to fresh produce, healthy grains, low-fat dairy and other nutritionally sound whole foods. When you take a look at the map, you might be surprised at the location of some of these deserts. Some of them are located in the heart of heavily farmed areas.
Taking a look at where the food deserts are in your region can help you understand how unevenly distributed healthy food is. Perhaps it will motivate you to find a way to help.
University of Michigan: U-M hosts U.S.-China conference on sustainable energy, water and transportation
May 5, 2011
DATE: May 20-21, 2011.
EVENT: Science, policy and industry leaders from the world's two largest emitters of heat-trapping greenhouse gases—the United States and China—will gather at the University of Michigan to tackle one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: how to develop sustainable societies.
Unlike a purely academic conference, "Developing Global Sustainability: U.S./China Partnerships" will feature representatives from the energy, transportation and water industries, government policy leaders from both countries, university researchers, and members of non-governmental organizations.
The conference will focus on the key policies and technologies needed to attain sustainable energy, water resources and transportation, especially as they pertain to the United States and China. About 225 participants are expected, including at least 100 from China.
Michigan State University: MSU scholar leads program on global food safety
May 9, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University scholar is leading a three-week program with 24 senior government officials from China that aims to strengthen global food safety.
The delegation began the program May 7 in Geneva and will travel to Paris, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis before wrapping up with a three-day visit to the MSU campus in East Lansing.
The Global Food Safety-China Program focuses on protecting public health through a more integrated approach to food safety, said Kevin Walker, MSU professor of veterinary medicine and veteran researcher of global food safety and animal and public health issues.
Purdue University: U.S. State Department selects Purdue to lead China EcoPartnership
May 9, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The U.S. State Department is selecting Purdue University to lead one of six U.S.-China EcoPartnerships, which will focus on sustainability issues including environmental challenges posed by alternative energy and climate change in the two countries.
A formal signing ceremony announcing the agreement is planned for Tuesday (May 10) in Washington, D.C., in connection with the third annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to participate in the signing ceremony.
"The new EcoPartnership will focus on environmental and energy challenges in the United States and China," said Purdue President France A. Córdova. "We are looking forward to being an active and leading global player to address these challenges, working with State Department officials, our colleagues in China and our U.S. university partners."
The Purdue-China EcoPartnership, a five-year initiative, will focus on joint research aimed at addressing the combined effects of climate change, renewable energy and human activities on regional and global ecosystems. Research teams also will explore technologies that would aid in restoring damaged ecosystems.
Purdue University: Purdue president signs research agreement in China
May 3, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University President France A. Córdova has returned from a trip to China where she and the president of China Agricultural University signed an agreement in Beijing to create a joint research center that will address issues of global food security and hunger.
Also present at the April 25 signing were Purdue's Arden Bement, director of the Global Policy Research Institute, and Michael Brzezinski, interim dean of international programs.
Work at the CAU-Purdue Joint Research Center initially will focus on plant stress biology, including how to make crops better withstand drought and heat in Indiana, the United States and globally. The center will promote research collaborations and the exchange of information between the two institutions with the aim of increasing agricultural productivity.
The partnership demonstrates the importance of international collaborations in fundamental research, Córdova said.
Purdue University: Purdue, China forming joint energy-research labs
May 2, 2011
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University is forming two joint laboratories with China's Beihang University to focus on low emissions, combustion and energy systems research.
"These collaborations will advance knowledge that is needed to create cleaner, more efficient energy and power systems," said Purdue President France A. Córdova.
Córdova signed an agreement with Beihang University President Huai Jinpeng to form the BUAA-Purdue Joint Laboratory on Energy Systems and the BUAA-Purdue Joint Laboratory on Low Emissions Combustion. Beihang University also is known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
University of Michigan: URC researchers team up on winning proposals
May 2, 2011
University Research Corridor seed funding of more than $750,000 will support two major environmental health studies including researchers from all three member institutions: Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.
"We believe that one significant value of the URC alliance is our opportunity to provide seed funding for collaborative research that offers transformational promise," said Jeff Mason, URC executive director.
"This funding will better position our researchers for national competitiveness, as well as help influence the outcomes of both state and national environmental health policy decisions."
One of the projects, The Michigan Bloodspot Environmental Epidemiology Project, will utilize the State of Michigan's newborn blood spot repository to investigate whether researchers can obtain environmental exposure and genetic information from the available bloodspots...
The second winning research proposal will study the affects of air pollution on asthma in the Dearborn area Arab American population.
Michigan State University: MSU study: Digital forensic examiners face stress, role conflict
May 11, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Despite playing an increasingly vital role in criminal investigations, digital forensic examiners face staffing cuts, heavy caseloads and stress within police departments that may not fully understand their responsibilities, according to a study led by a Michigan State University criminologist.
Police officials should consider hiring more digital forensic examiners or, failing that, improving their work environment, said Thomas Holt, MSU assistant professor of criminal justice. His study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.
Digital forensic examiners gather evidence from digital media such as computers, cell phones and other devices for use in the prosecution of crimes.
“There needs to be some consideration given to how we improve the work experience for forensic digital examiners given that they’re going to be tasked more and more over time,” Holt said.
Wayne State University: Michigan Area Health Education Center receives $750,000 grant from Kresge Foundation, appoints advisory board
May 9, 2011
The Michigan Area Health Education Center program established to recruit, train and retain a diverse health care workforce in the state has received a $750,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation in support of its efforts.
The Wayne State University School of Medicine and College of Nursing received an initial federal grant in fall 2010 to establish the MI-AHEC program and are now partnering with community groups and schools in southeast and mid-Michigan to establish regional centers during the next two years that will develop and implement programs to increase interest in health professions. The AHEC program is particularly important because Michigan is suffering from a severe shortage of health care professionals, and the problem is only expected to worsen.
"Our AHEC program is committed to promoting the health and well being of people in underserved rural and urban areas," said Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., dean of the WSU School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the grant. "That mission lines up perfectly with the Kresge Foundation's priority to foster healthy and safe communities. The grant is just what the doctor ordered."
Michigan State University: MSU’s Birbeck wins outreach award for work on epilepsy in Zambia
May 12, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Gretchen Birbeck, director of MSU's International Neurologic and Psychiatric Epidemiology Program, has been selected as a regional winner of the 2011 Outreach Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award for her work with epilepsy in Zambia.
Birbeck – who has been studying in Zambia and sub-Saharan Africa since the early 1990s, focusing in part on the link between epilepsy and cerebral malaria – led one of four community outreach initiatives honored by Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
In addition to being honored at the 12th annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference hosted by Michigan State University in October, Birbeck will receive a $5,000 prize and qualifies to compete for the APLU’s annual C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award.
The other regional award winners come from Montana State University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Michigan State University: MSU announces first group of teaching fellows
May 12, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Twelve aspiring science and mathematics teachers will begin their professional preparation at Michigan State University this summer as part of a new statewide fellowship program focused on preparing future educators for jobs in high-need classrooms.
Gov. Rick Snyder today announced the inaugural cohort of fellows selected to complete the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship, which includes a $30,000 stipend and admission to a master’s-level teacher certification program at one of six Michigan universities.
Across the state, 92 fellows were picked from more than 1,500 applicants based on their diverse backgrounds in math or science-related fields – and a passion for becoming great teachers.
Michigan State University: MSU’s LaDuca earns ‘Professor of the Year’ honors
May 6, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Robert LaDuca, a professor in Michigan State University’s Lyman Briggs College, is the recipient of the Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year Award from the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.
LaDuca is one of four professors from Michigan public universities to earn the award, which honors the outstanding contributions made by the faculty from Michigan’s public universities to the education of undergraduate students.
LaDuca, who also has an appointment in the Department of Chemistry, was honored for his ability to create a “fun, enthusiastic and interactive environment for intense scientific development and inquiry in chemistry.”
Wayne State University: A summer camp that is out of this world: Wayne State Planetarium to host “Camp Cosmos” for metro Detroit’s student explorers
May 9, 2011
NASA is nearing the end of its space shuttle program, but that isn't stopping Wayne State University from preparing the next generation for the final frontier.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy invites students ages 12-15 to register for Camp Cosmos, a new program that introduces kids to the most interesting aspects of space science. The day camp - taught by WSU faculty and staff - offers students hands-on experience designed to educate and entertain.
Students will investigate the night sky and learn about telescopes; use Starry Night software to program their own planetarium show; and learn about the Big Bang, stellar evolution, supernovas, neutron stars, black holes, galaxies, cosmology, and current mysteries like dark matter and dark energy.
University of Wisconsin: Public opportunities abound at National Science Olympiad Tournament
May 9, 2011
The public will have many opportunities to experience a massive showcase of hands-on science when the National Science Olympiad Tournament rolls into the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Wednesday-Saturday, May 18-21.
More than 6,000 students, educators and parents from all 50 states will visit UW-Madison for the 27th annual tournament, one of the nation's most prestigious competitions of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The event will bring together 120 winning middle school and high school teams that advanced from state-level competitions this spring. Teams compete in more than two dozen scientific and engineering events on topics ranging from human health, ecology, chemistry, cell biology, geology and engineering. Awards are given for the best overall team score and individual scores in each event.
Science Writing and Reporting
Michigan State University: Book on bacterial genetics highlights work of late prof
May 3, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — More than 40 leading experts in bacterial genetics, inspired by the work of the late Michigan State University professor Thomas S. Whittam, have contributed to a new book that highlights the innovative work done by the pioneering evolutionist.
Population Genetics of Bacteria - published by ASM Press of the American Society for Microbiology - brings together Whittam's research, projects and ideas. A cadre of experts discusses his work and its impact on themselves and their fields.
The 360-page, hardcover book was edited by Seth T. Walk of the University of Michigan and Peter C. H. Feng of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is available at http://estore.asm.org/....
Science is Cool
Mother Nature Network: Alton Brown ends 'Good Eats'
The cooking show host and author announced on Twitter that he's ending the show after 249 episodes.
By Robin Shreeves
May 12, 2011
According to Serious Eats, Brown made an announcement today on Twitter that "Good Eats has come to its end."
G.E. fans, I've decided to cut the half hour series at 249 eps. There will be 3 new 1 hour eps this year and that's it. But mourn not. New things brew on the horizon..."good" things.
"Good Eats" has been part of Food Network's lineup since 1999, and in my opinion it's one of the best shows that has ever run on the network. He explains the science behind what he does in the kitchen in an entertaining and approachable way. When he did a show on chocolate chip cookies, for instance, he didn't simply show viewers how to bake one recipe. He explained how different amounts of sugar in a recipe can create a cake-like cookie, a moist cookie, or a flat, crispy cookie.
Ironically, Alton Brown just won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best TV Food Personality/Host
Wayne State University: Sport Science, featuring WSU's Cynthia Bir, takes home an award at 32nd Annual Sports Emmys
May 5, 2011
DETROIT - Sport Science, the popular television series featuring Cynthia Bir, professor of biomedical engineering at Wayne State University, took home an award at the 32nd annual Sports Emmys, held May 2 at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.
The Sport Science team won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Graphic Design. It was also nominated for Outstanding New Approaches - Sports Programming - Short Format. The show's first two seasons earned a total of six nominations and three wins at the Sports Emmys.