Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors ScottyUrb, Bentliberal, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir and jlms qkw, guest editors maggiejean and annetteboardman, 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, and the environment.
Between now and the end of the primary/caucus season, Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday will highlight the research stories from the public universities in each of the states having elections and caucuses during the week (or in the upcoming weeks if there is no primary or caucus that week). Tonight's edition features the science, space, environment, and energy stories from universities in the states of Alabama, Hawaii, Kansas, and Mississippi. Next week's edition will also feature stories from Alabama, Hawaii, and Mississippi along with stories from Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and Puerto Rico.
This week's featured story comes from the University of Alabama.
When the Earth Shakes
March 1, 2012
The United States Geological Survey records earthquakes every day. The earliest reported U.S. quake was felt in 1769 about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles. A single earthquake several thousand years ago is believed to have killed 800,000 in central China.
In 2011, a Richter magnitude 9.0 quake in Japan became the largest Japanese earthquake since records began. The Japanese National Police Agency confirmed 15,787 deaths from it with more than 6,000 injuries. In addition, the earthquake, tsunami and aftershocks damaged or destroyed more than 125,000 buildings. From an economic standpoint, the Japanese government estimates the overall costs could exceed $300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in Japanese history.
In the wake of a catastrophic natural disaster, engineers review whether human and economic losses can be reduced. Through structural-engineering research and experimentation, building codes and retrofitting techniques are improving, better protecting inhabitants and property.
Also see the story about the connection between daylight savings time and heart attacks under Biotechnology and Health.
More stories after the jump.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
C'mon. Wanna see a plant genome?
by mem from somerville
The Daily Bucket: Maclay Gardens part 2 - The Blooms!
More on the Scientific River of Denial
This week in science: Good news and bad
A new series: Books that will help you see the world anew.
by don mikulecky
Auburn University: Tiny Sensors Detect Huge Diseases
March 5, 2012
Sensors developed by food safety engineer Bryan Chin are revolutionizing the way inspectors test food for biological pathogens that sicken about one in six Americans each year.
American Museum of Natural History on YouTube: New Dinosaur Research: Microraptor's Feather Color Revealed
A team of American and Chinese researchers, including scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, has revealed the color and detailed feather pattern of Microraptor, a pigeon-sized, four-winged dinosaur that lived about 130 million years ago. By comparing the patterns of pigment-containing organelles from a Microraptor fossil to those in modern birds, the scientists determined that the dinosaur's plumage was iridescent with hues of black and blue like the feathers of a crow. Their results were published by the journal Science in March.
Look for the io9 story under Paleontology/Evolution.
Auburn University: Studying Plasma to Save the Satellite
March 1, 2012
Galileo Galilei was the first man to observe Saturn’s rings. He wrote of the occasion, “I do not know what to say in a case so surprising, so unlooked for and so novel.”
Four hundred years later, questions remain about his discovery. How did these gigantic rings form around a planet? Why Saturn and not other planets? We know at least part of the answer, and Auburn scientists are figuring out the rest.
University of Hawaii: Tiny comet grain dates Jupiter’s formation
By Tracy Matsushima
March 9, 2012
A study by researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Ma-noa’s Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology found that particles from comet 81P/Wild 2 brought to Earth in 2006 by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft indicate that Jupiter formed more than three million years after the formation of the first solids in the solar system.
The new finding helps test solar system formation theories, which do not agree on the timing of Jupiter though it is certain the formation of this giant planet affected how materials moved, collided and coalesced during the complex planet-forming process.
Ryan Ogliore, a HIGP postdoctoral researcher, conducted the study with Researcher Gary Huss and Specialist Kazuhide Nagashima and colleagues from the University of California at Berkeley, University of Washington and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The results were published in the February 1, 2012 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
io9: This four-winged dinosaur is helping rewrite the book on prehistoric plumage
By Robert Gonzales
March 8, 2012
What color were the dinosaurs? It's a question that people have puzzled over for close to 200 years, and one that many long believed to be unanswerable. But a few years ago, scientists discovered that microscopic structures called melanosomes could be used to reveal prehistoric creatures' true hues.
Now, an international team of researchers studying the melanosomes of a four-winged dinosaur named Microraptor has made a remarkable discovery: Microraptor was completely black, but its feathers shone with a glossy hint of blue. In other words, it's plumage was iridescent — and that, say the researchers, provides us with some surprising insights into the early evolution of feathers.
"One of the things modern birds are known for is their elaborate visual displays," explains Mark Norell, chair of The American Museum of Natural History's Paleontology Division and coauthor on the study. These displays, which have no bearing on a bird's capacity for flight, can serve any number of functions — to attract a mate, for instance, or to ward off potential predators.
Auburn University: Plant Experts Combat Dangerous Weed
March 1, 2012
Move over, kudzu. In terms of invasive plants, there’s a new bad boy in town: cogongrass.
Cogongrass first escaped from Satsuma orange crates imported to southern Alabama in 1912. It takes over fields and forests, ruins crops, and destroys native ecosystems. Its serrated leaves and grainy composition mean that even goats won’t eat it. Cogongrass is resistant to herbicides, and though it burns at over 800 degrees, it’s fire tolerant and rebounds vigorously. Now a team of Auburn scientists has received a grant to look for links between the spread of cogongrass and the decline of valuable pine forests.
University of Hawaii: Sea star invaders are local
February 28, 2012
One of the greatest biological threats to tropical coral reefs can be a population outbreak of crown-of-thorns sea stars. Outbreaks can consume live corals over large areas, a change that can promote algal growth, alter reef fish populations and reduce the aesthetic value of coral reefs. Despite more than 30 years of research, the triggers and spread of crown-of-thorns outbreaks are not fully understood.
Human impacts such as urbanization, runoff and fishing have been correlated with outbreaks, but some outbreaks continue to occur in the absence of known anthropogenic triggers. Waves of a spreading outbreak that moves southerly along the Great Barrier Reef are termed secondary outbreaks because they are thought to be seeded from dispersing larvae of a primary outbreak upstream.
This secondary outbreak hypothesis has been widely accepted but a team of scientists from University of Hawai?i at Ma-noa’s Hawai?i Institute of Marine Biology and the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research and Rutgers University demonstrated that unlike on the Great Barrier Reef, crown-of-thorns larvae are not moving en masse among central Pacific archipelagos. In fact, crown-of-thorns outbreaks came from local populations.
University of Alabama, Birmingham: Heart attacks rise following daylight saving time
March 6, 2012
Daylight-saving time this year begins March 11, and while we all might look forward to another hour of sunshine a University of Alabama at Birmingham expert says the time change is not necessarily good for your health.
“The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack,” says UAB Associate Professor Martin Young, Ph.D., in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease. “The opposite is true when falling back in October. This risk decreases by about 10 percent.”
The Sunday morning of the time change doesn’t require an abrupt schedule change, but, Young says, heart-attack risk peaks on Monday when most people rise earlier to go to work.
“Exactly why this happens is not known but there are several theories,” Young says. “Sleep deprivation, the body’s circadian clock and immune responses all can come into play when considering reasons that changing the time by an hour can be detrimental to someone’s health.”
Kansas State University: Research finds manganese concentrations higher in residential neighborhoods than industrial sites, levels vary by region
March 7, 2012
MANHATTAN -- In residential neighborhoods near manufacturing industries, a breath of air may be more hazardous than refreshing depending on the location, finds a recent study involving a Kansas State University geologist.
Saugata Datta, assistant professor of geology at Kansas State University, along with researchers at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Department of Environmental Health Sciences, explored levels of the elemental metal manganese in airborne particulate matter -- a combination of dust, soot and other organic and inorganic particles suspended in a gas or liquid. Five counties across the U.S. were sampled as researchers characterized manganese and identified if manganese concentrations in the airborne particulate matter varied by geographic region.
"Manganese is an element that was originally thought to have a lot of nutritional aspects for humans and was relatively harmless health-wise," Datta said. "But more recently that thinking is changing. Manganese is a neurotoxin at certain levels when in water, so there is a question about if it's toxic in air, too."
University of Kansas: KU scientist elected president of international geological society
March 9, 2012
LAWRENCE — Evan Franseen, Kansas Geological Survey senior scientific fellow and professor of geology at the University of Kansas, has been elected president of the largest and one of the oldest international societies in the field of sedimentary geology.
In February 2012, Franseen started serving a three-year term — first as president-elect, then president, then past president — of the Society of Sedimentary Geology, an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination of information on sedimentology, stratigraphy, paleontology, environmental sciences, marine geology, hydrogeology and related specialties.
“SEPM is a major scientific society, and election to its presidency is an honor and a recognition of Evan's standing within the discipline of sedimentary geology,” said Rex Buchanan, director of the Kansas Geological Survey.
University of Kansas: Memories of good, bad deeds can alter perception of brightness
March 7, 2012
LAWRENCE – From sacred religious texts to books to movies, light and darkness have always symbolized good and evil.
But is it possible that abstract concepts such as good and evil can actually influence our perception of light and darkness in the environment around us?
According to University of Kansas business professor Promothesh Chatterjee, the answer is yes. In an upcoming article, Chatterjee reports that individuals who were asked to recall a time that they did a good deed judge their immediate surroundings to be brighter than individuals who were asked to recall an unethical deed from their past.
Additionally, Chatterjee finds that when offered a selection of random objects, individuals who recalled an unethical deed – and therefore perceived the room to be darker – preferred light-producing objects such as flashlights and candles, as opposed to non-light-producing objects likes crackers or apples.
American Psychological Association: The oil spill's reverberations
The Mississippi coast has begun recovering from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but what about the people whose lives were changed as a result of the disaster? A team of graduate students investigates.
By Kirsten Weir
Nearly two years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Gulf Coast, the effects of the disaster still linger. The accident on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the next three months. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The environmental devastation grabbed most of the headlines, but the human impact was just as significant. Millions of Gulf Coast residents were affected by the disaster. Rig workers found themselves unemployed, and the fishing and tourism industries — both major contributors to the Gulf Coast economy — suffered huge hits. As of December 2011, BP had paid more than $21 billion in cleanup costs and economic damages. Yet a report by the U.S. Travel Association estimated that the spill could cost the coastal region $22.7 billion over three years in lost tourism alone.
"Yes, it's an environmental disaster, but it really affects people's lives financially," says Scott Sumrall, director of disaster preparedness and response with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
Along with that financial devastation came depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To address the mental health effects, BP provided $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Oil Spill Recovery–Behavioral Health Grant Program for outreach, training and clinical services. Most of the grants went directly to mental health centers and other groups that provide direct care to people on the coast. But $285,000 of that funding, over a two-year period, also went to Stefan Schulenberg, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Mississippi, and a team of graduate students who have been charged with assessing how well the program is meeting the mental health needs of people on the Mississippi coast.
Eloquent Peasant: Reports of Looting in El Hibeh
March 9th, 2012
Update: Excavator of the site Carol Redmount is posting to a newly founded Facebook group ‘Save El Hibeh Egypt’
This Egyptian news video (click here to view) reports on looting in El Hibeh. Photographs of ransacked tombs and scattered human remains are shown from the 7.20 mark. These heartbreaking images bear witness to a heartless attack on Egyptian history and human dignity. Glenn Meyer has provided a translation of the Arabic commentary:
“While political parties are wrestling to reformulate the constitution and members of parliament are competing to gain as much media attention as they can. While politicians are busy attacking / defending the Military Council and economists are concerned about the bad financial situation of the country. While the Ministry of Interior is busy with the battle over whether to allow beards or not, while other activists are jostling to impose their opinions in the media throughout Egypt and while the elite are busy with these cases, there is a mafia is devoted to looting antiquities what the ancient Egyptian civilization left us. They are no longer practicing their crimes in darkness, but in the middle of the day with bulldozers while the Ministry of Antiquities and the police are in silent!!”
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman, who sent in the above article.
The Guardian (UK): Did Stone Age cavemen talk to each other in symbols?
Previously overlooked patterns in the cave art of southern France and Spain suggest that man might have learned written communication 25,000 years earlier than we thought
Saturday 10 March 2012
Visit the caves of Pech Merle, Font-de-Gaume and Rouffignac in southern France and you will witness some of the most breathtaking art our planet has to offer. Images of bisons, lions and other creatures loom from the cavern walls. Herds of horses and the occasional rhino, not to mention the odd mammoth and giant bull, parade across the rocks. Many animals are depicted in vivid colours, with a sense of perspective and anatomical detail that suggest these artists had acquired considerable skill.
These underground galleries, found mostly in France and Spain, also turn out to be remarkably old. The works at Rouffignac have been dated to around 13,000 years old, while those at nearby Chauvet and Lascaux are thought to be more than 30,000 years old. This testimony on rock walls – in daubs of ochre and charcoal mixed with spittle and fat – shows that our hunter-gatherer ancestors could depict the world around them in a startlingly sophisticated way. As the art critic John Berger once said of these painters, they appear to have had "grace from the start". Picasso was even more awestruck. "We have invented nothing," he remarked gloomily, after a visit to Lascaux in 1940 to inspect the handiwork of his Stone Age predecessors.
Not surprisingly, these paintings attract tens of thousands of visitors every year. However, there is another aspect to this art that often escapes attention, but which is now providing scientists with fresh insights into our recent evolution. Instead of studying those magnificent galloping horses and bisons, researchers are investigating the symbols painted beside them.
Hat/Tip to palantir, who sent in the above article.
University of Kansas: Electron-detection breakthrough could unleash next-generation technologies
February 28, 2012
LAWRENCE — Physics researchers at the University of Kansas have discovered a new method of detecting electric currents based on a process called “second-harmonic generation,” similar to a radar gun for electrons that can remotely detect their speed.
Their new idea could improve many present-day renewable-energy technologies — like solar cells, batteries, artificial photosynthesis and water splitting — that rely on detection of electric currents. Further ahead, sensors that better read the motion of electrons could underpin next-generation cell phones and computers.
“So far, most techniques to detect electric currents are very much like measuring the speed of a car by tracking it with a camera, and later analyzing how the position changes with time,” said Hui Zhao, assistant professor of physics at KU. “But for moving cars, a radar gun is a much better tool, since radar allows us to instantaneously measure the speed. Yet, for electrons, there has been no tool available that allows us to directly ‘see’ the motion like this.”
Auburn University: Auburn researchers play role in antimatter breakthrough featured in journal Nature
March 7, 2012
AUBURN – A recent scientific breakthrough could lead to changes in the world of antimatter physics, according to Francis Robicheaux, an Auburn University physics professor and member of ALPHA, the international team of scientists conducting the antimatter research.
Last year the ALPHA (Anti-Hydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) team was able to trap and hold the antimatter version of the hydrogen atom. They have now accomplished the goal they set at that time of being able to measure the fundamental properties of antihydrogen.
An article in this week's edition of the journal Nature, titled "Resonant quantum transitions in trapped antihydrogen atoms," describes the progress made in that research.
University of Alabama: UA Engineering Professor Receives Grant to Make New Magnetic Material
March 7, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Efficient electric machines power much of today’s energy technology and are looked to as crucial to emerging energy industries. Unfortunately, they are powered by a limited global supply of certain naturally-magnetic minerals that grow costlier as demand increases.
A University of Alabama engineering professor hopes to swap these rare earth minerals with more abundant substitutes to drive down costs and encourage swifter adoption.
The United States Department of Energy recently awarded Dr. Yang-Ki Hong, the E. A. Larry Drummond Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the UA College of Engineering, along with a team of researchers, a $1.26 million grant to determine if the idea works by creating a bulk permanent magnet using the substitute minerals and demonstrating it can function as well as, if not better, than current rare earth permanent magnets.
“We want to prove our concept and then manufacture permanent magnets without these rare-earth materials,” Hong said.
Mississippi State University: CAVS studies radiation effects on nuclear reactor materials
March 9, 2012
STARKVILLE, Miss.--Testing how steel reacts under radioactive conditions with tens of thousands of simulations may seem ambitious, but that's the goal of research at Mississippi State University.
The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, a year ago--a crisis started by a massive earthquake that set off a tsunami--helped show the importance of learning more about the strength of materials used in nuclear reactors. While Japan continues to deal with the fallout of the nuclear reactor's breakdown, the global scientific and research community for nuclear energy are taking measures to prevent this scenario from happening again.
Mark Tschopp, an assistant research professor at Mississippi State, has led efforts to create better predictive models for materials used in extreme environments such as nuclear reactors. The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Kansas State University: The future of fuel: Roadblocks facing biofuels focus of 2012 L.T. Fan Lecture
March 6, 2012
MANHATTAN -- Renewable fuels and the challenges facing their use will be the topic of the spring presentation in Kansas State University's L.T. Fan Lecture Series.
This year's lecturer will be Harvey W. Blanch, the Merck professor of biochemical engineering in the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He will present "Renewable fuels: A challenge for technology or for policy?" at 9:30 a.m. Monday, March 26, in Fiedler Hall Auditorium. The lecture is free and the public is invited.
Currently biofuels such as ethanol are produced largely from grains, but a large resource of plant biomass could be utilized as a renewable, domestic source of liquid fuels. Blanch will review the history and roadblocks, both technical and political, of biomass conversion to fuels.
Mississippi State University: MSU selected to lead national transportation research
February 29, 2012
STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State is the lead institution for a $3.5 million federal grant to help fund a center of excellence for transportation research.
The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation's University Transportation Center program, which works to advance technology and expertise required to meet national needs for the safe, efficient and environmentally sound movement of people and goods.
The new National Center for Intermodal Transportation for Economic Competitiveness will promote the development of a national intermodal transportation network by integrating all transportation modes for both freight and passenger mobility.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
University of Kansas: EPA administrator to speak at town hall meeting
March 6, 2012
LAWRENCE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will speak at the University of Kansas next week on environmental issues and recent EPA actions to protect people’s health and environment.
The town hall forum featuring Jackson will be at 2 p.m. Monday, March 12, at Spooner Hall, and is free and open to the public.
Jackson was named by Newsweek as on of the “Most Important People in 2010” in addition to being featured in Time Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in both 2010 and 2011. She now leads the EPA in its efforts to ensure clean air and water for all Americans.
University of Hawaii: UH technology will be commercialized
March 6, 2012
Three technologies developed by the University of Hawai?i are now owned by Honolulu-based Pono Corporation under an agreement that will allow UH to realize the value of the technologies sooner than it would with a traditional licensing deal due to long drug development timelines.
Under the terms of a technology commercialization agreement signed by the university’s Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development with Pono, the university receives equity stake in the company and is now a shareholder in Pono in exchange for an assignment of the technologies.
“We are evolving our technology transfer process to speed commercialization of early-stage technologies developed at the University of Hawai?i,” said UH President M.R.C. Greenwood. “The agreement with Pono will allow the university to participate side-by-side with other Pono shareholders and founders as technology developed at the University of Hawai?i is commercialized.”
University of Kansas: Study: Privilege not indicator of women's success in STEM fields
March 5, 2012
LAWRENCE — Researchers and educators have long tried to encourage young women to consider science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, as career fields in an effort to address the shortage of females in those areas. Two University of Kansas professors have published a study showing that ability alone simply isn’t enough for women to excel in the STEM fields, and that how far women are from privilege makes a much bigger difference.
Barbara Kerr, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology and Research in Education; and Karen Multon, professor and chair of psychology and research in education, published the study in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment. The study examines “distance from privilege,” or the idea that how far young women perceives themselves from ideal socioeconomic, geographic, educational and various other variables can determine how likely they can be to persist in education and careers in the STEM fields. Two methods for measuring where women view themselves in relation to ideal places of power and privilege were also developed.
“We’re trying to understand how to keep young women in college in STEM,” Kerr said. “Once they are in the field, how do we keep them there? We find over and over that women who do persist have had to overcome many barriers.”
University of Kansas: KU aircraft design team prepares for competitions
March 8, 2012
LAWRENCE — Members of the University of Kansas School of Engineering Jayhawk Heavy Lift team are employing a technique that’s literally cutting-edge as they prepare their remote control aircraft for two competitions this spring. First up is the SAE Aero Design West competition, set for March 16-18 in Van Nuys, Calif. KU also plans to compete in the SAE Aero Design East, set for April 26-28 in Marietta, Ga.
“We have a new laser cutter that allows us to do more advanced design work,” said Justin Howard, a senior in aerospace engineering and captain of this year’s Jayhawk Heavy Lift team. “We can cut out lightening holes in each rib, which means we can make the structure a lot lighter and maintain enough strength. To try to do all that by hand (like in years past without the laser cutter) would’ve been a mess.”
The sleeker design is expected to help the team improve on last year’s performance. The Jayhawk aircraft carried the most weight at the 2011 competition but broke its landing gear on touchdown, nullifying their highest score. The KU team still finished third overall, but Howard is confident this year the team can fare better.
University of Alabama: UA Engineering Students Compete in Robotics Program
March 8, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A team of engineering students at The University of Alabama will compete in the IEEE SoutheastCon Hardware competition March 17 in Orlando, Fla.
Robots will be tasked with traversing a maze-like course of connected boxes by analyzing electrical signals and other information along the way. Each box includes a task for the robot to interpret. The four different tasks, of varying difficulty, include measuring voltage and interpreting the magnitude. Correct interpretation of the electrical information will provide the robot with directional instructions, such as turning left or right.
Points will be given for correctly reading and interpreting this information consistently as the robot circulates the track. Winners will be determined by the robot that achieves the most points. Each challenge will last four minutes.
Science Writing and Reporting
io9: New report reveals how corporations undermine science with fake bloggers and bribes
By Annalee Newitz
March 9, 2012
You've probably heard about how the tobacco industry tried to suppress scientific evidence that smoking causes cancer by publishing shady research, bribing politicians, and pressuring researchers. But you may not have realized that tabacco's dirty tricks are just the tip of the iceberg. In a disturbing new report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists about corporate corruption of the sciences, you'll learn about how Monsanto hired a public relations team to invent fake people who harassed a scientific journal online, how Coca Cola offers bribes to suppress evidence that soft drinks harm kids' teeth, and more. Here are some of the most egregious recent examples of corruption from this must-read report.
The report is a meaty assessment of corporate corruption in science that stretches back to incidents with Big Tobacco in the 1960s, up through contemporary examples. Here are just a few of those.
One way that corporations prevent negative information about their products from getting out is by harassing scientists and the journals that publish them.
Science is Cool
io9: What Hypnosis Really Does to Your Brain
by Esther Ingliss-Markell
March 8, 2012
Most people agree that hypnosis does something to your brain — specifically something that makes people make fools of themselves at hypnotist shows. But how does it actually affect the human brain? Can it make people recall events perfectly? Are post-hypnotic suggestions a bunch of baloney? What is the truth about hypnotism?