Sep 29, 2009 | 9
The 60-Second Science series was created with the intention of providing our audience with bite-size, consume-in-one-minute pieces of scientific coverage. This format has proved ideal for our podcasts, but we've missed the option to write longer news and opinion pieces for the blog. We also wanted a way to better highlight the themes that have emerged within the 60-Second Science blogs. The editors put their heads together and the final result is the introduction of five ScientificAmerican.com blog categories:
Sep 25, 2009 | 7
Living whales may seem scarce in the world's vast oceans—and their carcasses even more rare. But to animals and bacteria that feed on these graveyards, they are a rich source of life. And to one doctoral researcher in Sweden, they proved to be a source of several new species.
In her dissertation for the University of Gothenburg, Helena Wiklund describes nine new species of polychaete worms found living in whale carcasses and other nutrient-rich areas off the coast of Sweden, Norway and California.
A whale carcass can bring as much nutrition to the seafloor as would otherwise take some 2,000 years to filter down. Wiklund and her coauthors note that although the worms seem to be especially adapted to live in environments such as whale falls, where they feed off the bacteria that cover the bones, they seem to also be thriving in bacteria-rich areas of waste resulting from human activity, such as below fish farms and even pulp mills.
Sep 25, 2009 | 25
The U.S. Secretary of Energy—channeling former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev perhaps?—has one thing to say in this week's Science to the greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired power plants: We will bury you. Nobel laureate Steven Chu's department has funneled $3.4 billion in stimulus dollars to research and develop the technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
But to give you a sense of the challenge, here are his estimates of the scale of the challenge: six billion metric tons of coal burned every year, producing 18 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and requiring an underground storage volume of 30,000 cubic kilometers per year with untold consequences on subsurface pressure, mineral composition and the like. And we are nowhere near that scale: "We now sequester a few million metric tons of CO2 per year," he wrote, largely from cleaning natural gas or so-called "enhanced oil recovery" efforts, in which CO2 is pumped down to flush out more of the valuable petroleum (and therefore not as useful, from a climate perspective, as sequestration for its own sake).
Sep 24, 2009 | 10
Editor's Note: A team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students are traveling up New York's Hudson River this week on the New Clermont, a 6.7-meter boat outfitted with a pair of 2.2-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cells to power the boat's motor. Their journey began September 21 from Manhattan's Pier 84 and will cover 240 kilometers (at a projected speed of 8 kilometers per hour). After making several stops along the way, the crew expects to arrive back at Rensselaer Polytech's campus in Troy, N.Y., on September 25. This is the third of Scientific American.com's blogs chronicling this expedition, called the New Clermont Project.
The New Clermont Project crew is learning valuable lessons about what it will take to make hydrogen power not only possible but practical as well. After losing both hydrogen fuel-cell-powered boat motors Tuesday, the New Clermont spent Wednesday docked in Beacon, N.Y., while the Rensselaer students figured out what went wrong.
Sep 24, 2009 | 14
In an early-morning announcement today, researchers reported that an experimental HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) vaccine effectively reduced the number of people who contracted the virus by nearly a third.
Tested in a U.S.-sponsored trial that involved more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, the vaccine was administered in six injected doses starting in 2006 to half of the group, and the other half received a placebo. Seventy-four people in the placebo group had contracted HIV by the end of the trial, whereas only 51 of the vaccinated group tested positive.* The injections consisted of two vaccines that had proven unsuccessful on their own: Sanofi-Aventis SA's ALVAC and VaxGen Inc.'s AIDSVAX.
The results came as a surprise to HIV-vaccine skeptics in the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) research field, whose numbers have increased after years of failed vaccine trials. "It's safe to say that the scientific community is caught off-guard," Mitchell Warren, director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, told Bloomberg News. Before the announcement, Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the World Health Organization's Initiative for Vaccine Research, told the news service: "I don't think that there is a lot of expectation that the efficacy of this vaccine will be very high." A 2007 clinical trial of a vaccine made by Merck was stopped when researchers found that, in fact, more people who received the active vaccine (49) than the placebo (33) had contracted HIV.
Sep 24, 2009 | 6
Planetary scientists looking for water ice on Mars have employed a number of tactics to great success in their search. The Phoenix lander dug it up; orbiting radar measurements have seen it under insulating blankets of debris. (Frozen water sublimates to vapor in Mars's climate and so is not stable when exposed at the surface.)
Now a team of researchers has let meteorite impacts do the digging for them—a paper in this week's Science presents observations of fresh impacts and what they turn up from below the surface.
Using instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a group led by Shane Byrne, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, found five recent impact craters in the Martian mid-latitudes, near the boundary where subsurface ice is thought to be no longer tenable. All were relatively small, ranging in size from about four to 12 meters across.
Sep 24, 2009 | 2
BALTIMORE—Deep in the brain, buried in the hippocampus and subventricular zone, reside adult neural stem cells, cells that retain the ability to become other types of neural cells and could serve as possible treatments for ailments ranging from vision impairment to Parkinson's to spinal cord injuries. Doctors, scientists and patients, however, are understandably hesitant to go digging around for them, their location being "a great deterrent," Sally Temple, founder of the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute, said at the 2009 World Stem Cell Summit here on Wednesday.
Researchers, therefore, are anxious to uncover other, more accessible neural stem cell candidates. Temple and her team have turned their sights to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer of tissue at the base of the retina that comes into being within 30 to 50 days of conception, before many other parts of the neural system differentiate. Cells from this area of the eye can be easily harvested from retinal fluid that is usually discarded during retinal surgery, she explained.
Sep 23, 2009 | 31
Bigger than coyotes but smaller than wolves, their howl is high-pitched and their diet includes deer and small rodents. They are "coywolves" (pronounced "coy," as in playful, "wolves"), and they are flourishing in the northeastern U.S., according to a study published today in Biology Letters.
Although coyote–wolf breeding has been reported in Ontario, where coyotes started migrating from the Great Plains in the 1920s, this study provides the first evidence of coywolves—also known as coydogs or eastern coyotes—in the Northeast. And even though they are more coyote (Canis latrans) than wolf (gray wolves are Canis lupus, and red wolves are Canis rufus), the expansion of these hybrids into western New York State marks the return of wolves to the Empire State.
Sep 23, 2009 | 10
A team of Duke University researchers in Durham, N.C., is studying new ways to use the abundance of sensors contained in most smart phones (including the camera, accelerometer, microphone, GPS and Wi-Fi radio) to determine mobile users' precise locations and thereby deliver hyper-localized services. This could enable a business such as Starbuck's to text-message a coupon to a person's phone as he or she enters the coffee shop, or it could allow Wal-Mart to send shoppers a listing of sales items as soon as the store's doors slide open. Another option could be to provide blind mobile subscribers with information about where they are as they move from store to store within a mall.
The researchers argue in a paper presented today at the ACM MobiCom 2009 conference in Beijing that the increasing number of sensors on mobile phones presents new opportunities for logical localization, which is more useful to people than simply representing their location as a set of latitude and longitude coordinates.
Sep 23, 2009 | 4
Editor's Note: A team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students are traveling up New York's Hudson River this week on the New Clermont, a 6.7-meter boat outfitted with a pair of 2.2-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cells to power the boat's motor. Their journey began September 21 from Manhattan's Pier 84 and will cover 240 kilometers (at a projected speed of 8 kilometers per hour). After making several stops along the way, the crew expects to arrive back at Rensselaer Polytech's campus in Troy, N.Y., on September 25. This is the second of Scientific American.com's blogs chronicling this expedition, called the New Clermont Project.
New Clermont Project team members Jenn Gagner and Jason Kumnick took the helm of the New Clermont for the second leg of the journey between Manhattan and Troy, N.Y. It was rough going for Gagner, a Rensselaer materials science and engineering grad student, and Kumnick, a Rensselaer doctoral student studying decarburization and workability of hardened steels, as the New Clermont suffered repeatedly from engine problems while traveling from Ossining, N.Y., farther up the Hudson to Beacon.
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