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Big Picture Science

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 3:00am
What rocks reveal about the history of Earth and how that history has influenced humans

Coronal sneezes

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 3:00am

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Another type of solar eruption distinct from a solar flare is a coronal mass ejection (CME). These violent eruptions, which often occur alongside flares, send magnetic fields and plasma hurtling through the solar system. CME material traveling over a million miles per hour can reach Earth in as little as 18 hours or as much as a few days. When this wave of magnetic material washes over the Earth, it interacts with the planet’s magnetic fields, causing a geomagnetic storm that can disrupt communications, GPS and the power grid. It can also expose orbiting astronauts to unsafe levels of radiation. Understanding the magnetic activity that drives these events is critical to minimizing the damage they can do on and above the Earth. The National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will look specifically at changes in the sun’s corona associated with CMEs and solar flares when it comes online in 2020.

Image credit: NSO/AURA/NSF

Algal blooms cost Ohio homeowners $152 million

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 3:00am

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In a new study, researchers estimate algal blooms at two Ohio lakes cost Ohio homeowners $152 million in lost property value over six years. Sale prices for homes within one-third of a mile of a lake fell 11 to 17 percent during that time, while prices for lake-adjacent homes fell more than 22 percent. A number of additional factors that influence property values were included in the analysis to ensure that the observed losses in property values were directly attributable to changes in water quality. For example, seasonal trends in the housing market, differences in structural characteristics across homes and spatially varying provision of public services, such as school quality, were all controlled for in the analysis. Meanwhile, a related study suggests that algae is driving anglers away from Lake Erie, causing fishing license sales to drop at least 10 percent every time a bloom reaches a moderate level of health risk. Based on those numbers, a computer model projects that a severe, summer-long bloom would cause up to $5.6 million in lost fishing revenue and associated expenditures by anglers.

Image credit: Brenda Culler, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Stanford researchers develop vine-like, growing robot

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 3:00am
Stanford researchers develop vine-like, growing robot

NSF's Science Nation

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 3:00am
NSF-funded research that aims to help doctors diagnose and treat chronic diseases more quickly and accurately

Bug battles

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 3:00am
Bug battles

Survey captures global picture of air pollution's effects on birds

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 3:00am

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Researchers sorted through nearly 70 years of scientific literature to assess the state of knowledge of how air pollution directly affects the health, well-being, reproductive success and diversity of birds. Only two field studies since 1950 have looked at any aspect of the health and ecological well-being of wild bird populations in the United States. Part of the problem, one researcher said, is the many variables in play. Not only are studies of wild bird communities difficult to implement, but factors such as types and levels of air pollution, dynamic atmospheric conditions, species-specific responses and the difficulty of teasing out direct versus indirect effects of air pollution can confound even the most basic efforts to assess how birds fare when exposed to chemicals in the air. Air pollution is one of the leading and most direct environmental threats to human health, said another researcher.

Image credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison

A model sunspot

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 3:00am

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Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory used a supercomputer to create this 3-D, high-resolution image of a sunspot’s dark central region, called the umbra, and its outer region, called the penumbra. The ability to accurately model the complex structure and dynamics of sunspots helps researchers better understand when they will emerge and how they will evolve. Being able to anticipate sunspot activity using advanced computer models of the sunspot cycle may help scientists one day forecast future solar storms 24 hours or possibly 22 years--one solar cycle--in advance of a storm.

Image credit: Matthias Rempel/National Center for Atmospheric Research

Defeating cyberattacks on 3-D printers

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 3:00am

The Discovery Files

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 3:00am
Special coatings that chemically "communicate" with bacteria, telling them what to do

Skewing the aim of targeted cancer therapies

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 3:00am

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A team exploring genetic mechanisms in cancer has found evidence that a prevailing concept about how cells produce protein molecules, particularly when applied to cancer, could be erroneous as much as two-thirds of the time. Broad inadequacies in a widespread biological concept that affects cancer research could be significantly deflecting the aim of targeted gene-based cancer therapies, such as immunotherapies, according to their new study. The concept stems from common knowledge about the assembly line inside cells that produces protein molecules. It starts with code in DNA, which is transcribed to messenger RNA, then translated into protein molecules, the cell’s building blocks. According to the study, this assumption, that proverbial factory orders passed down the DNA-RNA line determine in a straightforward manner the amount of a protein being produced, proved incorrect 62 percent of the time.

Image credit: Georgia Tech/McDonald

Look Ma, no hands

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 3:00am

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North Carolina State University engineers have utilized vacuum to create a more efficient, hands-free method for filling complex microchannels with liquid metal. Their work addresses two of the most common difficulties in creating liquid metal-filled microchannels and may enable broader use of liquid metals in electronic and microfluidic applications. Shown here are two complex microfluidic designs completed with vacuum filling: a branched tree and a circuit board.

Image credit: NC State University