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Science On Ice: 7 Antarctic Experiments To Keep An Eye On

Popular Science News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:00

Since the 1950s, a small but growing number of international scientists have spent months at a stretch on the world’s most remote continent: Antarctica. This year, 29 countries will host research programs there, meaning about 800 scientists and support staff will venture south for the summer season, from October to March. The U.S. Antarctic Program alone will field more than 100 projects, many of which will be making up for lost time; sequestration kept some expeditions off the ice in 2013. The U.S.-led projects will investigate a number of critical questions, including how climate change is unfolding and what the earliest moments of the universe were like. Here are seven experiments to keep an eye on. 

Seven experiments to watch this year on the Antarctic continent Bigger version. Katie Peek  Marine Food Chain

The Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 281-foot icebreaker-equipped vessel, carries the AMLR team across the sea in search of a two-inch crustacean called krill. Penguins and whales—and humans, too—rely on krill as a food source. After three decades of study, ecologists knew little about their winter patterns. The AMLR team is in the third year of a five-year survey to map the distribution of krill—which like to hide under the sea ice—with acoustic sounding equipment. The work will help the U.S. manage the Antarctic krill fisheries.

 Global Ice Melt

GPS and seismic sensors embedded in the Antarctic ice make up PoleNet—the Polar Ice Observing Network—together with sensors in Greenland. This year, the team will add three new stations—each with about 3,000 pounds of monitoring equipment. The data help geoscientists predict how the Earth’s crust will rebound as the Western Antarctic ice sheet melts. The project might confirm whether the melting is a runaway process—as other researchers found earlier this year—and if the rebound could lead to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

 Evasive Particles

Astronomers have been trying to detect neutrinos, the elusive particles whose signatures help them understand mysteries like how supernovae work and what dark matter is, for decades. Traditional neutrino detectors, like Super-Kamiokande in Japan, are water tanks built into abandoned mines. But researchers on the IceCube team figured out how to make a detector 20,000 times bigger than Super-Kamiokande, for just twice the price. Instead of tanks, they use a cubic mile of near-perfectly-transparent ice of Antarctica, with 5,160 optical sensors drilled more than a mile deep. More than 30 neutrinos have been picked up since the detector started operation in 2010. This year, the team will be testing the computers they installed last year in an effort to make the detector more autonomous, and hope to find evidence for where in the universe neutrinos originate.

 The Infant Universe

In March, cosmologists reported a major result from the BICEP2 telescope: evidence of the once-speculative theory of inflation, the violent expansion of the universe the instant after the Big Bang. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and other astronomers have called for more research to repeat—or disprove—the experiment. This season, BICEP3 deploys. With five times more sensors than its predecessor and triple the field of view, it should help confirm or deny the BICEP2 finding. 

 Microbes In The Dark

Biologists know little about how microorganisms that rely on the sun for energy also survive dark polar winters. So the ALPS team has set up sensor stations in two ice-covered lakes, each equipped with algae detectors, phytoplankton samplers, and water chemistry analyzers for year-round data collection. This season, the team gets a first look at over-winter data. The results could help astrobiologists predict whether similar microbes might survive on other ice-covered bodies like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

 Hidden Stars

Because Antarctica sits right at the pole, Earth’s otherwise chaotic atmosphere is stable and predictable there. That means giant balloons—some are wider than a football field and as tall as the Washington Monument—can circle the continent but still land close to their launch point. This season, the Long-Duration Ballooning team’s payload is a 1,700-pound gamma-ray telescope, sent up to watch stars that the atmosphere conceals from the ground. The technique yields spacecraft-quality research trips for a fraction of the space-launch price tag. 

 Penguin Evolution

Because penguins are a key predator, they indicate how the Southern Ocean ecosystem is adapting to climate change. The Penguin Science team is using a 45,000-year record of bones and eggshells preserved in the Antarctic ice—along with data from 15 years of banding live Adélies—to decipher how the species is adapting today. This year, the team will focus on whether birds’ foraging prowess is a learned skill or inherited trait—and whether the ability will survive as sea ice melts.

Plus, McMurdo Station Gets A Makeover

The National Science Foundation is planning a multiyear upgrade to McMurdo Station, the largest and most active base on the continent. Potential overhauls include replacing many of its 100-plus structures, adding new wind turbines, increasing bandwidth, and upgrading instruments for Crary Lab, the main research facility. Technicians may even receive a DARPA-style research wing—dedicated to the development of advanced gliders, robotic field stations, and automated traverse vehicles, all purpose-built for polar expeditions.

Map data courtesy U.S. Antarctic Program; Penguin colony locations courtesy H.J. Lynch and M.A. LaRue; Sunrise data courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory.

Correction (9/22/2014, 7:30 p.m. ET): The original version of this map mislabeled the two Autonomous Lake Profiling and Sampling stations as being in Blood Falls and Lake Whillans. Both are at Lake Bonney, near McMurdo Station. The map has been corrected. We regret the error.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title "The Lab At The Bottom Of The World".

Acting Classes Could Help Kids with Autism

Scientific American News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:00
Kids with autism may learn valuable social skills in drama-based therapies

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“Glass Brain” Offers Tours of the Space between Your Ears

Scientific American News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:00
3-D visualizations combine EEG and MRI data to illustrate how brain signals propagate and could be used to study neural disorders

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No Airlifts for Sickened African Ebola Docs

Scientific American News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 07:00
West African physicians confront the same dangers as foreign health workers, but unlike their counterparts they do not receive emergency evacuations if they fall victim to the Ebola virus 

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Solar Energy Could Dominate Electricity by 2050

Scientific American News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 06:37
Plummeting costs of the equipment to generate solar energy are helping 

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When I Learned the Value of Diversity for Innovation

Scientific American News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 06:15
In a diverse team, the best ideas are more likely to rise to the top

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At Least 36 Feared Dead on Japanese Volcano, Search Called Off

Scientific American News - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 02:10
The volcano rained ash and stones on hikers, but the search for victims was abandoned on Monday due to fears of rising levels of toxic gases

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The Importance of Possessions While Homeless

Scientific American News - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 21:04
This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts...

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A New Idea for Treating Alzheimer's

Scientific American News - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 19:48
If it's good for the heart, it could also be good for the neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, cells that make up the main items on the brain's parts list.

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Teen Wins Big for His Sock Invention

Scientific American News - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:15
Recipient of the Science in Action Award, a 15-year-old develops a sensor to monitor Alzheimer’s patients

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Evolution versus Creation; Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

Scientific American News - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 10:00
Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American

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Book Review: <em>Alive Inside</em>

Scientific American News - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 09:00
Books and recommendations from Scientific American

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The Week In Numbers: Crabwalking Robots, Ferocious Fungi, And The Future Of Game Of Thrones

Popular Science News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 17:00

Clay Model. Click to enlarge. AMNH/D. Finnin 165: number of pounds Lonesome George weighed at the time of his death, before scientists stuffed and mounted him for display.

2: the number of rubber bands needed to build your own shoebox phone projector

100,000,000: amount of money in American dollars the President of Korea pledged at the UN Climate Summit to help developing nations undertake low-carbon economic growth.

Tumbling Alone Photo by Jez Arnold on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

250,000: number of seeds a tumbleweed can spread as it rolls. Scientists are researching two species of fungi that can limit the reach of these troublesome weeds. 

Packed up Crab Walker The Crab Walker is shown here with its rear and forward leg mounts retracted to enable movement over mountainous terrain with its main eight legs, as it keeps up with Chinese infantry., via Hongjian at China Defense Forum

8: number of limbs the new cannon-carrying robot, called the Crabwalker, might scuttle around on, as designed by Chinese engineers.

Laboratory Examination Of Ebola © Luchschen /

1.4 million: number of people who possibly will contract the Ebola virus by January 2015, as predicted by the CDC.

980,000: number of people who might die from the disease in the next six months.

The Last Gladiator Evel Knievel didn't undersell his 1974 feat. "When I make that jump," he said. "I'll be competing against the toughest opponent of all -- and that's death." Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

1,600: length in feet of the Snake River Canyon that daredevils are attempting to jump in homemade vehicles. Evel Knievel famously failed to jump the canyon in 1974.

25,600: frames of video the new slo-mo camera Phantom v2511 can capture in one second.

Why so pouty, Jon Snow? Home Box Office

60: percentage chance that Jon Snow does not die, according to a Game of Thrones-themed mathematics paper. The paper's authors used the Bayesian method to predict plot outcomes in future Song of Ice and Fire novels.

The Week In Drones: Drones Fight Ebola, Iranian Dogfighters, And More

Popular Science News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 16:15

Satellite Image Of The Hollywood Sign United States Geological Survey, via Wikimedia Commons

Here's a roundup of the week's top drone news: the military, commercial, non-profit, and recreational applications of unmanned aircraft.

Unprepared Skies

The future moves faster than bureaucracy. When the Federal Aviation Administration, responsible for the safety of America’s skies, started building its NextGen air traffic control system in 2003, drones were mostly limited to military targets and scouts flying over warzones. Since then, commercial drones and unmanned systems have experienced a great flourishing, but the NextGen system isn’t designed to handle them. While it means little for most small and low-flying drones, provided the FAA chooses to regulate them differently than other aircraft, this limitation could slow development of full-sized drones, like unmanned cross-country cargo carriers.

Hollywood Drones

On Thursday, the FAA granted six drone companies, all associated with the film industry, exemptions from normal prohibitions on drone flying, provided they accepted a specific set of safety standards. If this foreshadows other industry-specific exemptions, it’s good news for the drone economy.

Iranian Armed Dronefighter PressTV.IR

Iranian Dronefighter

Iran this week unveiled a new drone it says can fight air-to-air aircraft. That drone? A modified Mohajer drone with two man-portable anti-air missiles strapped under its wings. It is theoretically possible for such a drone to shoot down another aircraft, but in a dogfight against any armed fighter aircraft, it’s likely that the manned plane would win.

Internet From Above

In March, Facebook acquired drone maker Ascenta, whose solar powered drones can stay aloft for long stretches of time. This week, we got a peek into how Facebook plans to use these jumbo-jet sized internet relay machines to spread the web to unconnected parts of the world.

The Hybrid Exploration Robot for Air and Land Deployment. Mod Lab/University of Pennsylvania

Robo Rescue Squad

Three robots are better than one. A project by the University of Pennsylvania’s Modular Robotics Lab combines two snake bots with a flying quadcopter. From our story:

Together, this motley team of robots is known by their superhero-esque moniker H.E.R.A.L.D., which stands for Hybrid Exploration Robot for Air and Land Deployment. The drone is explicitly designed as an alternative to stronger, heavier robots that use force to power over rubble. A lighter approach leaves the rubble in place, and means rescue bots can find people where they are while not making the situation worse.

Stopping Ebola

In a seemingly strange twist, the United States sent military assets to Liberia to fight the still-raging West African Ebola outbreak. The Pentagon already has two bases for drones in Niger, and while the Liberia is too far for Reapers, if Global Hawks were based in Niger they could easily make the flight. Surveillance aircraft could help the fight against Ebola by looking for unusual human behavior, like a sudden vehicle exodus or overcrowded hospitals, which might give away an outbreak before its reported.

Did I miss any drone news? Email me at

Man Sets World Record for Deepest Underwater Dive

Scientific American News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 16:15
Hold your breath: New Guinness World Record set with 1,090-foot plunge

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Bacteria in Wine May be Good for Your Health

Scientific American News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 16:00
Wine harbors probiotics that may have health benefits

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A Guardian "Agent" to Protect You From Digital Fraud

Scientific American News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 15:32
Today, maintaining privacy without guided assistance is an onerous task, whose initial costs are high, immediate rewards low and solutions fragile and constantly evolving.

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Enormous Butterfly Swarms, Saharan Duststorms, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week

Popular Science News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 15:30

Woolly Micron Arthur E. Smith made took this microscopic photograph of a sheep tick 110 years ago to exhibit in London as part of a large collection. The pictures would have been the first many people of the time had ever seen. Arthur E. Smith/

Earth Has Water Older than the Sun

Scientific American News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 15:25
Not all water in the solar system today could have formed in our solar system

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FDA Takes Action Against Companies Selling Fraudulent 'Ebola Cures'

Popular Science News - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 13:30

Ebola Virus NIAID As the Ebola outbreak continues to spread throughout West Africa, one thing is on everyone’s minds: finding a cure. But while many researchers are toiling away, trying to fulfill this desperate need, others are trying to capitalize on it. Various companies are claiming to have treatments that can cure or prevent Ebola, and those treatments can be yours! For a fee, of course.

Sarcasm aside, there is no cure or treatment for Ebola yet, and anyone saying otherwise is just trying to swindle you.

Well thankfully, the FDA is stepping in on this one. The agency has issued warning letters to three separate companies that are marketing Ebola cures, demanding that they cease the sale of their products. The letters were sent to the Natural Solutions Foundation in New Jersey, as well as dōTERRA International LLC and Young Living, both based out of Utah.

"During outbreak situations, fraudulent products almost always appear."

According to the letters, the companies’ websites all make claims that their products are therapeutic, but none is FDA-approved. That puts the companies in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which basically gives authority to the FDA to oversee the safety all foods, drugs, and cosmetics. 

“Unfortunately, during outbreak situations, fraudulent products claiming to prevent, treat or cure a disease almost always appear,” the FDA said in a statement. And these particular products are pretty shady. The Natural Solutions Foundation purports to sell two products that can eliminate Ebola: Hemp Oil and Nano Silver. 

In a YouTube video on the site’s homepage titled “None Need Die from Ebola,” a woman named Dr. Rima Laibow makes the claim that Nano Silver has been shown “to inactivate viruses like the HIV virus, the hepatitis B and C virus, influenza viruses like H5N1, and Ebola virus.” Dang, that’s one impressive resume. It should be noted, however, that Dr. Rima’s website also includes a section on the truth about chemtrails, claiming they’re “designed to cut off your genetic line.” Hmmm…

"The Five Big Lies" Dr. Rima, founder of Natural Solutions foundations, claims to expose the truth on her homepage. Dr. Rima Truth Reports

As for dōTERRA, things get even weirder. On their website, there’s a heading called 'Fight Your Virus with Essential Oils,' which makes some bold claims about oregano:

Oregano is effective in inactivating MNV (non-enveloped murine norovirus) within 1 hour of exposure. Some of the primary uses for oregano include athlete’s foot, candida, canker sores, Ebola virus, intestinal parasites, MRSA, ringworm, staph infection, viral infections, warts, and whooping cough.

Really? Athlete's foot, canker sores ... and Ebola? That escalated fast!

While these efforts may be depressing, there are still many out there actively trying to find a treatment for Ebola, including generous benefactors that are helping to keep research funded. So during this terrible outbreak, the good outweighs the bad.

Meanwhile, these companies have 15 days to respond to the warning letters and notify the FDA of corrective action taken. Failure to do so could lead to a number of reactions from the regulatory agency, such as seizure of the fraudulent products or even criminal charges.

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