SPONSORED BY THE LAURA MOORE CUNNINGHAM FOUNDATION

Tune in Tuesday, May 20 at 2:00 pm MT to watch "Garbage" on Idaho Public Television or here on the web.

Joan's Blog

April 14, 2014:

Blood Moon | Credit: FrauBucher (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oct_28_2004_total_lunar_eclipse-espenak.png)

We have a new Science Trek broadcast show for you this week! Check out our show about the Earth, Tuesday 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT or view the streaming version here on the Science Trek website. Be sure to also watch Science Trek: The Web Show. It is really good!

2014's first lunar eclipse happens this week. It will occur overnight April 14th and 15th, peaking about 1:00 a.m. MT. A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth's shadow blocks the sun's light. This one should be a total eclipse and visible from the Americas, Australia and out in the Pacific Ocean. The moon may turn a red color during the part of the total eclipse because some light from the sun is passing through the Earth's atmosphere and getting bent as it heads toward the moon. Red light tends to make it through a bit easier. The exact shade of red seems to depend upon how much dust and clouds are in the atmosphere. Send me a picture of the eclipse in your area and I'll post it next week.

My other bit of science news for the week is a report answering the vexing question: How do flies escape the fly swatter? Researcher Florian Muijres and colleagues used high-speed cameras to film flies' quick escapes. They found that flies can make a quick sideways turn in a just a few beats of their wings. Instead of rotating like an airplane, flies can make sharp pitches and rolls, and when threatened they do it five times faster than their normal in-flight turns. The researchers think flies have special sensory-motor circuits in their brains to help them respond so quickly to a threat like a fly swatter. Read more about it in this EuekAlert report.

Enjoy this week's new Earth show and be sure to send in your best pictures of the total eclipse of the moon.

Have a great week!

April 7, 2014:

Kid on a Computer | Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikemcilveen/5454636825

Spend less time in front of a screen and you may feel better and do better in school. Studies show that kids currently spend about 40 hours a week on average in front of a screen: a TV, a computer, a gaming device, tablet or smart phone. A report this week suggests we would all be better off turning off those screens now and then and that parents need to step up to make sure the kids hit the off button.

Researchers at Iowa State University studied the effects of parental monitoring of screen time. They looked at the media habits of more than 1,300 4th and 5th graders.

They found that when parents take an active role in monitoring screen time, kids spend less time in front of their electronics. The researchers also found something else. They discovered that kids who reduce their screen time get more sleep, perform better in school, both academically and behaviorally and registered a lower body mass. They said parents might not see the changes because each one happens in small ways, but adding it all up it leads to more healthy kids.

I hear what you are saying. I produce videos to watch on a screen as well as this blog to read on a screen. The research suggests that kids should spend less time in front of the screen. So pick and chose the best (that's us) and enjoy some time off the screen. Go outside. Read together. Get some exercise. All good advice.

And in the name of planning ahead so you can save some screen time for Science Trek, I just want to remind you that we have a new broadcast show next week. Be sure to watch our episode answering questions about the Earth! Watch it on Idaho Public Television on April 15th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT or view the streaming version here on the Science Trek website. We are also looking for any Garbage questions. Send in your question.

Enjoy a little less screen time and have a good week!

March 31, 2014:

Math Borders | http://www.tesindia.com/teaching-resource/Maths-Cut-out-Borders-7005288/

Learning math? Wave your hands! Yes, gestures help kids learn math.

According to research by Miriam Novack from the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, eight-year-olds learned math concepts better when they used gestures.

In a study, 100 children were taught to solve a formula like

4+2+6 = __+6

One group made a V-point beneath the numbers being added. The students then pointed at the blank. The second group used magnetic tiles on a white board to solve the problem. The third group just mimed, or pretended to use the magnetic tiles. Then the scientists tested all the children on the underlying mathematical principles. The children who used gestures were the only group able to solve other problems that used similar concepts. Using gestures helped the children learn what psychologists call “generalization.”

Psychologists think that when children move and make gestures, they are able to express ideas physically. That helps the learning process. These scientists think that abstract gestures may be a better teaching tool than manipulating or touching objects. So the next time you are trying to do your math homework, try adding a little movement with your math. You can read more about this study in this article from the BBC.

Crows understand water displacement at the level of a small child. | Credit: Sarah Jelbert; CC-BY

How smart are crows? A new study suggests that in some ways, crows may be as smart as a 5-7 year-old child. Scientists from the University of Auckland tested some New Caledonian crows to see if they understood how to displace water in a tube to receive a reward.This is called “causal understanding.”

The crows completed four of six water displacement tasks, like preferring to drop stones into a water-filled tube instead of a sand-filled tube. The crows failed two more challenging tasks, ones that required the crows to adjust for a wider tube or a U-shaped tube. Still, the researchers say crows have some understanding of the “causal properties of volume displacement,” at about the same level of understanding as a 5-7 year-old. Pretty smart crows! Read more about the study in this ScienceDaily article.

We are editing our Earth show that airs on April 15th and taking questions for our Garbage show. Send those questions in today. Click here to find out how.

Have a great week!

March 17, 2014:

Escherichia coli (E. coli | Credit: Image courtesy of Aston University

Do you follow the ‘5 second rule?’ According to study conducted by researchers at Aston University's School of Life and Health Sciences, 87% of us would eat food dropped on their floor. But is it a good idea? These same researchers decided to find out.

Biology students studied the transfer of bacteria from the floor to a piece of food. They studied different types of flooring (carpet, laminate and tiled) and different types of food (toast, pasta, biscuits and sticky sweets). They wanted to know how much bacteria transferred onto the food from three to 30 seconds.

Here is what they learned:

  • The longer the food was on the floor, the more bacteria transferred.
  • Carpet transferred the least amount of bacteria and the most bacteria transferred from laminate or tiled surfaces.

Professor Anthony Hilton says the ‘5 second rule’ is probably true, though there is some bacterial transfer anytime you drop food. So if you drop that piece of toast on the carpet, go ahead and grab it right away and eat it. You'll probably be just fine. Read more about the study in this article from Science Daily.

Joan as a bird of prey!

You might not know it by the weather outside, but spring starts on Thursday, March 20th at 10:57 p.m. MDT. Spring starts with the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox happens when the tilt of the Earth relative to the sun is zero, which basically means the day and night are approximately 12 hours long. Now the days in the northern hemisphere will start getting longer! Enjoy!

Something else to enjoy . . . our newest broadcast show airs tomorrow, March 18th!! Check out our Birds of Prey show at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Idaho Public Television or here on the Science Trek website.

I am taking spring break next week so the blog will be back on March 31st. Since March came in like a lion, let's hope it goes out like a lamb. Check out the new show and have a great couple of weeks.

March 10, 2014:

An Alarm Clock

Tired today? Having trouble paying attention? Blame the shift to daylight savings time. Research shows car accidents rise 6% on the Monday and Tuesday after we “spring forward.” Productivity at school and work also falls. Why? We are sleepy. The risk seems to fade by the end of the week, but sleepy Monday and risky Tuesday are something to be aware of.

By the way, Ben Franklin did suggest daylight savings time but he didn't “invent” it. And we don't move the clocks forward because of farmers either. In fact, the farm lobby opposed the idea of daylight savings time. Instead, the change first happened during World War I and World War II to save fuel. From 1945-1966, there was no federal daylight savings time. It was up to the states to decide whether to adopt it or not. In 1974, President Nixon signed the law making daylight savings time more uniform across the nation, though Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands still do not change their clocks. Most European nations observe daylight savings time but many African and Asian nations do not. Daylight savings time does save fuel but we spend more money on evening activities. And what is the solution to the dangers of shifting the clock forward? Go to bed earlier! Read more about the impact of daylight savings time in this article from USA Today.

Now here's some news about people who never seem to tire. Preschoolers might just be smarter than college students. Researchers at the University of California, Berkley and the University of Edinburgh were studying how people learn. They gave 106 preschoolers and 170 college students a game called “blickets.” In this game, the player has to place differently-shaped clay pieces on a red-topped box. The right combination of the shapes would make the box light up and play music. The researchers found that the preschoolers were better at figuring how to get the box to work. Why? They think young children are more flexible and less biased than college students (and adults) are in their ideas about cause and effect. As we grow older, we gain experience and use that experience to solve other problems. Usually it works, but sometimes all that experience can close our minds to unusual ideas. Scientists are going to keep studying what makes young children's minds more flexible in hopes of finding out how to teach machines to learn in more human ways. Read more about this study in this article from Eurkealert.

Have a great week and get some more sleep!

March 3, 2014:

Kefir Grains - the root of ancient Chinese cheese | Credit: Fotografiert von A. Kniesel | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kefirpilze.jpg

Archaeologists have found the world's oldest cheese. How old you ask? How about dating back to as early as 1615 BC! Archaeologists were investigating graves at the Small River Cemetery, Number 5 in northwestern China. Swedish archaeologists first looked into this ancient site in the 1930s. Scientists often found ancient bodies with oddly shaped crumbs on their necks and chests. So they sent their findings to a lab at Germany's Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. Researchers there finally figured out that the clumps were cheese. The cheese was made by mixing milk with a “starter” of bacteria and yeast, a process some use today to make kefir, a sour dairy drink. The cheese came out looking something like cottage cheese and was very low in lactose. Some people have a problem digesting lactose found in milk and milk products.

Scientists were surprised to find this type of cheese so early in human history and made by this process. They thought cheese was invented when humans began carrying milk in bags made of animal gut. Cheese today is made with rennet, a substance from the guts of a calf, lamb or kid that curdles milk.

The cheese was able to survive so long because of the unusual conditions at the gravesites. The dry desert air and the salty soil sort of freeze-dried the remains, both of the people and of the cheese.

So why did these ancient people bury cheese with their dead? Archaeologists aren't sure but they guess it may have been food for the afterlife. You can read more about it in this article from USA Today.

Have a great week.

February 25, 2014:

Ancient zircon from Earth's crust

Scientists in the Jack Hills region of Western Australia have found the oldest scrap of the Earth's crust. Researchers found a tiny crystal and dated it to 4.4 billion years old. The Earth itself is about 4.6 billion years old. Researchers think this means the Earth had formed a solid crust much sooner than previously thought. Very little of the Earth's early crust is around for scientists to study. Plate tectonics and weathering have disturbed most of the Earth's early surface. Scientists can still find 3.5 billion year old rock formations in a few spots on the planet. This small piece of ancient zircon was found in newer sandstone. Scientists studied the crystal's uranium and lead atoms to determine its age. You can read more about it in this article from the BBC.

The Hyundai Company announced a new car fueled by an unusual source: poop! The car will use fuel made from processed sewage. Here's how it works: the waste from toilets and sinks is converted into hydrogen. Solids are separated from the water. Microbes are added, and these microscopic bugs turn the sludge into methane and CO2. The methane gets filtered and is finally turned into hydrogen gas. The cars come with unlimited hydrogen refueling at a dozen pumps in southern California. Filling the tank takes about three minutes and is good for about 300 miles. Read more about it on LiveScience.

And these are my favorite science news highlights for the week!

February 17, 2014:

Our newest Weather show airs on Idaho Public Television and on the Science Trek website on Tuesday, February 18th. Check it out starting at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT.

Weather map of North America with jet stream

Speaking of weather, scientists from Rutgers University in New Jersey reported on a major change in the jet stream over North America and Northern Europe this week. Professor Jennifer Francis says the jet stream has increasingly taken a longer, more meandering path. The jet stream is a high-speed air current in the atmosphere that brings the weather with it. So, if the jet stream is hanging around longer, it means the weather stays the same longer. The change in the jet stream's path also means colder weather gets driven further south and warmer weather gets pushed higher north. England and the U.S. Mid-West and East coast have experienced some wild winter weather this year. Scientists say the change in the jet stream means folks in these parts of the world can expect more of the same. Not good news.

The researchers think the change in the jet stream is a result of recent warming of the Arctic. The jet stream is fueled partly by the temperature differences between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes of the Earth. You can read more about this study in this article from the BBC.

One other quick bit of science news of note for the week. It turns out crocodiles can climb trees. Four different species can climb really high. Scientists think it helps the animals regulate their body temperatures and gives them a chance to check out their habitat. The climbing crocks live in Australia, Africa and North America, so if you are in a place were crocodiles live, you might want to look up occasionally. Yikes! Read more about it in this LiveScience article.

Have a good week!

February 10, 2014:

Cedar Sculpin [Credit: USGS]

Good news out of North Idaho and Western Montana. Scientists there have identified a new species of freshwater fish. It is called the cedar sculpin and it has a really big head compared to its body. It is about 3.5 inches long. Researchers at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station have been studying sculpin and were able to find a difference between the cedar sculpin and its cousin, the shorthead sculpin. The newly identified fish differs in its spine and tooth patterns. Sculpin are found in headwaters of the rivers in this region and are an important food supply for trout. They are also considered an “indicator species” because they are sensitive to water quality. How well they are doing tells us a lot about the health of the stream in which they live. Being identified as an official new species is good news for the fish too. It means it is now against the law to use the bigheaded fish for bait. Read more about the fish and how it got its name in this National Geographic article.

Valentine's day is coming up this week and I must confess to having a bit of a sweet tooth. Honeybees like sweets too but apparently they have a sweet claw. Scientists at the University of Toulouse, France have found that honeybees have hair-like structures on their mouthparts, antenna and the end part of their legs. This tarsi or claw-like structure at the end of a bee's leg has receptor nerve cells that are particularly sensitive to sugar. The scientists studied hundreds of honeybees. They put sugary, bitter and salty solutions on their tarsi to see if the bees would put out or pull in their tongues. Bees really reacted to sweet tastes. Scientists think having sweet-sensitive claws would allow worker bees to detect nectar as soon as they landed on a flower. That would save time, handy if you are bee that has to visit lots of flowers. And if you thought tasting sweets via your front claw was impressive, bees also have amazing abilities to detect salt from afar. The scientists found that the part of the bee's leg just before the claw, known as the tarsomere, was highly sensitive to salty tastes. Bees hovering over water ponds can detect the presence of salt in the water through their hanging legs. Read more about this research in this article from Eurekalert.

Have a great week, a happy Valentine's Day!

February 3, 2014:

Do you smell like the one you love? If you were a lemur, you would.

Coquerel's Sifakas, Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar [Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Frank Vassen]

Researchers at Duke University studied the scents given off by Coquerel's sifaka lemurs. They found that the stronger the connection between two lemurs, the more they smelled alike. How did the scientists figure this out? The sifaka lemurs have glands in their throats and in other areas of their bodies that secrete sticky goo. The scientists collected that goo and analyzed each lemur's individual chemical signature. They then compared the chemical signatures of groups of lemurs. It turns out that the scents of lemur couples with babies smelled the most alike. Couples without offspring were less in sync than the parent lemurs, but they still had very similar scents. It seems the stronger the love, the more similar the smell.

So why do lemurs in love smell alike? The scientists aren't sure. It might be a way or defending territories or it might be a way lemurs shows off to others that they are in love. I am hoping my Valentine sends flowers instead. Read more about the lemur study in this Popular Science article.

Have a great week!

January 27, 2014:

Three science reports caught my attention this week.

New River Dolphin - Boto do Araguaia

First, scientists in Brazil have found a new species of river dolphin. River dolphins are among the rarest creatures in the world. The new river dolphin is called the Araguaia River Dolphin, named after the river in which it lives. Researchers think there are only about 1,000 of them living today. That means they are considered critically endangered. River dolphins are distantly related to their sea-going cousins. They have long beaks so they can hunt for fish in the mud at the bottom of rivers. You can read more about them in this article from the BBC.

The possible face of a European Hunter Gatherer

The BBC also reported today on what scientists think ancient hunter-gathers looked like — and it is a surprise. Researchers were able to take DNA from the bones and teeth of two skeletons discovered in a cave in the mountains of Spain. The men lived 7,000 years ago. The scientists used the results to create a drawing of what the men might have looked like. Their DNA is most closely linked to modern-day residents of Finland and Sweden, but these ancient peoples had an unusual combination of dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes. Scientists had thought ancient people's skin grew lighter when they moved from Africa into Europe because they would be exposed to less sun. But these findings show differently. The scientists also learned a bit more about how these ancient people lived. These particular ancient hunter-gatherers ate mainly protein, were lactose-intolerant (unable to digest a protein found in milk and milk products), and were unable to digest starch. Read more about it here.

A colourful stomatopod, the peacock mantis shrimp, (Odontodactylus scyllarus) seen in the Andaman Sea off Thailand

Finally, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports on the amazing abilities of the mantis shrimp. The mantis shrimp have 12 different types of photoreceptors in their eyes. Most mammals have two types. Humans have three. Some birds and reptiles have four. So why do these shrimp have so many? Well, researchers think it has to do with where and how these shrimp live.

Even though these shrimp have four times as many photoreceptors in their eyes, they can't tell the difference between similar colors. Researchers taught some mantis shrimp to associate food rewards with various colors. They found that the shrimp couldn't tell the difference between light orange and dark yellow.

Still, having 12 photoreceptors in their eyes is an advantage. Scientists think that each of the 12 photoreceptors have a different sensitivity to look over objects and recognize the basic colors almost immediately. When looking at color, our human eyes send a signal to our brain for comparison. Mantis shrimp seem to skip that step. That speed may help them recognize a predator or prey more quickly, especially in the colorful coral reefs in which they live. Read more about it here.

Have a great week!

January 21, 2014:

Simple Machnes

Our newest broadcast show airs today! Find out more about simple machines. Watch Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00pm MT/PT or check out the online show on the Science Trek website.

The Sun is quieting down. That surprises scientists because the Sun is suppose be in an active phase. The Sun has an 11-year cycle of activity like sunspots, flares and coronal mass ejections. The Sun is supposed to be at its peak of activity this year, but scientists say it is being very inactive. Dr. Lucie Green from University of London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory says it feels like the Sun is asleep.

Scientists have been looking at ice-cores. These ice-cores show a long-term record of solar activity. These tests suggest that the Sun's decline in activity is the fastest that has been seen in 10,000 years.

This has happened before. During the latter half of the 1600, the Sun went through a quiet period scientists call the Maunder Minimum. This sleepy Sun period coincided with very cold winters in Europe. Conditions were so cold that some thought of the period as a mini-Ice Age. Scientists think low solar activity reduces the amount of ultraviolet light radiating form the Sun so colder temperatures on Earth. Read more about the sleepy Sun in this article from the BBC.

Have a great week and be sure to check out “Simple Machines” broadcast show, the “Simple Machines” Web show, our “Simple Machines” video short and all the information available at the Science Trek “Simple Machines” website.

January 13, 2014:

Prune Feet

Never be afraid to admit you were wrong. Science is all about trial and error. About a year ago, I reported on a study that proposed a reason why humans get “prune hands” or wrinkly fingers after a long soak. Those researchers thought wrinkly fingers would give you a better grip when your hands were wet.

But a new study couldn't reproduce the first report's results. The second researchers had 40 volunteers grab 52 items. Sometimes the volunteers had dry hands and some times they had “prune hands.” They found that the volunteers with wrinkly fingers weren't able to pick up the objects any faster than the folks with dry hands. So, the mystery continues. Is there an evolutionary reason why we get “prune hands?” Read about the second study here.

Our next new broadcast show airs next week. Check out Simple Machines on Idaho Public Television or watch the live streaming here on the Science Trek website at 2:00 p.m. MT on Tuesday, January 21st. We are also about to tape our Weather show. If you have a question, send it in today! You can submit an email or video question here.

Have a good week!

January 6, 2014:

Here is something I never thought I would write: Boise, Idaho is going to be warmer today than Atlanta, Georgia. Boise's high is predicted to be 34 degrees and Atlanta is expected to be 26 degrees. We can thank the polar vortex for all the cold. What is a polar vortex? One meteorologist describes it as a cold air hurricane. This vortex is a swirling pool of air that has been stuck in Arctic Canada for a long time. That means the air has grown colder and colder. The vortex usually dips into northeastern Canada, but this one is heading across America. This particular polar vortex is worse because of its extreme cold and very strong winds. Fargo, North Dakota will be 32 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 50 or 60 degrees below zero. The cold air will dip as far south as Atlanta, making it colder than my home in Idaho.

Scientists aren't quite certain what caused it to dip so low. It might be because of a build-up of warm air over Greenland or Alaska pushing the vortex down, or it may be due to just the right weather conditions or maybe both. Temperatures are supposed to start warming up in a few days, but officials expect the cold to freeze the Great Lakes and other northern bodies of water. Meteorologist Ryan Maue says that means cold temperatures will last the rest of the winter in those areas.

Now for a warmer science story: dogs align with magnetic fields while pooping. According to an article in the LA Times, biologist Sabine Begall and her colleagues at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany report dogs can sense the Earth's magnetic field and tend to poop along a north-south magnetic axis. The scientists studied 70 dogs of 37 different breeds as they pooped and urinated. They found that dogs “did their business” along a north-south axis as long as the magnetic field was stable. Solar storms can cause the Earth's magnetic fields to shift and Begall says when that happens, it is harder to see dog-pooping patterns.

Dogs are not the only animals that have this special sense of the Earth's magnetic fields. This sense is called magnetoreception. Birds have it. Bees do too and cows even line up along magnetic fields when they are standing in actual fields. Scientists aren't sure why animals do this. It is just something the scientists say they will continue to study.

Have a good (and warmer) week.

December 30, 2013:

From ancient words spoken today to a Voyager traveling beyond our solar system, 2013 had lots of interesting science stories. So, as promised, here are my favorite science stories of 2013, in no particular order.

10. Coldest Temperature on Earth recorded:

Nasa satellite data revealed that Earth set a new record for coldest temperature recorded in east Antarctica [Credit: Atsuhiro Muto/AP]

You think your weather is cold? Try visiting the newest coldest place on the planet. As reported in the Guardian, a NASA satellite recorded a new lowest temperature on Earth at -135.8°F (-94.7°C). It happened on August 2010 in east Antarctica. We came close again this year with a -135.3°F (93°C) temperature in July. The old record was -128.6°F (-89.2°C) at Vostok, Antarctica. The new location is northeast of Vostok and not far from the South Pole.

While this is a new coldest temperature detected on Earth, it will not be the new "official" record cold. The Guinness Book of World Records requires the temperature to be recorded by a thermometer rather a satellite, so this new record doesn't count. But ice scientists say the new data gives them more information to help them understand the possible range of conditions here on Earth.

9. Listen to your gut:

When making a decision, has anyone ever told you to "listen to your gut"? It is a phrase that means you should act on your feelings or instincts. But scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles now think our guts may really influence the way we think.

Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry, thinks the bacteria in our digestive system helps mold our brain structure as we grow and may shape our moods and behavior. Looking at brain scans from 60 volunteers, he compared brain regions of folks with different types of bacteria in their digestive system. He found brain regions differed based on the type of species of bacteria found in the subjects' guts. Now this doesn't mean there is a direct connection between the two things, but it was an important indicator.

Another scientist, Stephen Collins of McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, did research that supports the idea that gut bacteria can influence mood and personality. He had bold mice and shy mice. When he put bold mice's bacteria in shy mice's guts, the shy mice became more fearless. When he reversed the experiment and put shy mice's bacteria in bold mice's gut, the bold mice became more anxious. Changing the gut's bacteria changed the chemistry of the mice's brains. If you want to read more, check out this article from NPR.

8. Sleep cleans your brain:

Scientists have a new idea about why we sleep . . . to clean up our brains! Researchers at the University of Rochester did some experiments on mice. They found that cerebral spinal fluid, the liquid found in the brain, is pumped around the brain while we sleep and acts like a "biological dishwasher."

As part of their day-to-day operations, brain cell produce waste products. Scientists think some of these waste products are toxic proteins that can build up and damage the brain and lead to a condition know as dementia. But researchers did some experiments on mice and found that brain cells shrank when sleeping, making the space between cells much wider. This made cerebral spinal fluid flow ten times faster around the brain than it does when the mice were awake. It takes a lot of energy to push all the fluid around, so the mice didn't do much of it when they were awake. But when they were asleep, the cerebral spinal fluid flowed freely. Researcher Maiken Nedergaard said it was kind of like having a house party. "You can either entertain the guests (do all the thinking you do during the day) or you can clean up the house (wash out the cells), but you can't do both."

Eventually those brain waste products are swept out of the brain and make their way to the liver where they are broken down and removed by the body in your poop and urine. Now, is this the only reason for sleep? Scientists aren't sure. Many think there are lots of other good reasons for sleep. They all do agree that we need to get enough sleep to stay healthy. Read more about the study in this article from the Guardian.

7. Really, really meatless burger:

Lab-grown meat | photo: david parry / PA wire

We already have meatless burgers made from grains, but how about a "cow-friendly" meat burger? Scientists have unveiled the first lab-grown burger. Researchers took cells from a cow and grew them into strips and then combined the strips into a patty.

Professor Mark Post of Maastrict University and his team said the "burger" was made up of tens of billions of lab-grown cells. Researchers are developing lab-grown meat as a way to someday help feed people who don't have easy access to meat and as a way to produce meat in a way that is easier on the environment and on animals.

And how does a lab-grown burger taste? Food writers said it felt like meat but because there is no fat, it didn't quite have the right taste. More salt and pepper maybe? Read more about it in this BBC article.

6. New old carnivore discovered:

Sometimes scientists "discover" things that have been around for a long time. A team from the Smithsonian Institute announced that they have discovered a new species of carnivore (meat eater). The olinguito is the smallest member of the raccoon family. It lives in the cloud forests of the northern Andes in Ecuador and Colombia. It eats fruit and insects and spends its time in tress. It is about 14 inches long, weighs about two pounds and has a 13-17 inch tail.

How did they find the olinguito? Zoologist Kristofer Heigen was looking at some bones and animal skins at a museum in Chicago. He didn't recognize the anatomy and thought it might be a new species. The National Museum of Natural History houses more than 600,000 specimens, many of which are packed in flat trays and had been collected years ago. Heigen did some DNA tests on the bones and found that indeed it was a new species. The next question was were there any of these animals still alive? They looked in the cloud forests and sure enough, there they were. The scientists think that some zoos in between 1967 and 1976 actually had an olinguito on display. The zookeepers thought it was an olinga, a close relative, and the people couldn't understand why it wouldn't breed.

Find out more about this new creature and the story of its "discovery" in this article from the BBC.

5. Solving a pruney mystery:

This bit of science news caught my eye and it answers one of life's biggest mysteries: Why do your fingers and toes get pruney in water?

Feet wrinkled in the water

I always thought it was because the skin absorbed a lot of water and kind of puckered up, but apparently, that's not the reason. In the journal Biology Letters, researcher Tom Smulders reports that pruney fingers and toes are the result of the body's nervous system constricting blood vessels below the skin. Now why would our body do that? Well, scientists have learned that pruney fingers and toes grip wet surfaces better.

They had 20 volunteers pick up wet marble and small lead weights of different sizes. The volunteers either tried with dry hands or with hands that had been soaking in warm water for 30 minutes. The scientist found the folks with wet, wrinkly fingers picked up wet items 12 percent faster than those with dry hands. Smulders compares the effect to the treads on car tires. Good treads help your car's tires better connect to the road just as wrinkles on your fingers help you better grip wet marbles.

That begs a third question . . . why would our bodies adapt like this? Smulders thinks it may have once been a way for our ancient ancestors to get a better footing in the rain. You can read more about it in this Livescience article.

4. Really, really old words:

You use something every day that is probably at least 15,000 years old. Can you guess what it might be? How about a word? Researchers at the University of Reading in England say they have identified words they think date back 150 centuries.

Linguists, scientists who study language, used to think that words didn't survive more then 8,000 years. They believe that other languages force ancient words into extinction. But Mark Pagle, an evolutionary theorist, reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he and his team of scientists have identified a list of about two-dozen words that they think hunter-gatherers in Asia spoke 15,000 years ago. They call them "ultraconserved" words.

How did they decide what was an ancient "ultraconserved" word? Researchers started with 200 words that were known to be "core vocabulary," words found in all known languages. The researchers then studied "cognates," words that sound similar and have the same meaning even though they come from different languages. By the way, the 700 or so languages spoken in the world are grouped into families based on from where they come and how they evolved. So after doing all that work, the researchers found 23 words that are "cognates" in four or more language families.

Here is their list of "ultraconserved" words:

Thou, I, not, that, we, to give, who, this, what, man/male, Ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire, to pull, black, to flow, bark (like the stuff on trees), ashes, to spit, worm.

The researchers think that if these words survived for all this time that there must have been a language that was the common ancestor to the all the languages we humans speak today. That's going to be an interesting language to discover!

If you want to read more about "ultraconserved" words, check out this article in the Washington Post or the original article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

3. Global Climate Change:

I can't say this is a favorite story, but it is an important one. I didn't actually write a blog on this issue, but I thought it was important to include it in this year's list.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had some pretty scary findings (Read about them in this BBC news story). Scientists found increasing evidence that ice sheets are losing mass, that glaciers are shrinking, that Arctic sea ice and global snow cover is decreasing, and permafrost is thawing in the Northern Hemisphere. The average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide hit 400 parts per million in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, in May. Researchers say levels like that haven't been seen in about 3 million years. The scientists believe that humans are responsible for at least half the increases in global average temperatures seen since the 1950s. The question is what to do to and to do it soon!

2. Life on Mars:

Was there life on Mars? The Mars rover Opportunity may have found some evidence that suggests the answer could be yes. Opportunity spotted clay minerals in some very special rock. After testing the rock, scientists say that about a billion years ago, the area probably had water flowing through it.

Remnants of Ancient Streambed on Mars

Opportunity has found areas where water has flown before. Why is this one so special? Well, scientist found that the PH level of this water was neutral. Drinking water's PH is pretty neutral. Life can't exist in areas where the water is too basic or too acidic. With the discovery of this type of water, Steve Squyres of Cornell University says, "The fundamental conditions that we believe to be necessary for life were met here." So, Opportunity found evidence that ancient Mars may have been habitable. If you want to learn more about Opportunity's latest discovery, check out this article on Space.com.

1. Beyond our solar system:

When scientists first watched the launches of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in 1977, they were not sure either probe would survive to reach interstellar space. Thirty-six years later, Stone announced that Voyager 1 had become the first human-made object to pass beyond the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the giant invisible bubble inflated by subatomic particles from the sun. Based on measurements from the probe's instruments, Voyager entered into space beyond our solar system in August 2012. It just took scientists until this year to confirm the crossing. Read more about some of the interesting particles Voyager is finding in its journey in this article from Science News.

That's my list for 2013. Keep reading my blog for all the science news for kids in 2014. Have a great week and a very Happy New Year!

December 23, 2013:

Leafcutter ant Acromyrmex octospinosus on a stick carrying a leaf [Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Acromyrmex_octospinosus.jpg]

Okay, I confess. I am a bit of a clean freak, but I am a slob compared to Brazilian leaf-cutting ants. Scientists from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom report that these ants keep themselves clean by regularly bathing in antimicrobial secretions that come from glands in their butts. These ants also sanitize their young and scrub their broods and nesting materials using these same secretions.

Researcher Christopher Tranter and his colleagues took two groups of Brazilian leaf-cutter ants. With one group, the scientists sealed off the antimicrobial glands and left the other group alone. They placed the ants with broods for about two weeks. They also placed a set of sealed and nonsealed ants in brood-free nesting materials and then measured the fungal growth in the materials after two weeks.

They found that the baby ants raised by the nonsealed adults survived better than did those raised by the sealed ants. They also found that there was more fungal growth in the nesting material in the sealed ants than in the nonsealed ants. The antimicrobial secretions played a difference in maintaining a healthy environment.

So, two thoughts: One, the ants show us why it is important to keep your room cleaned; and two, be glad you don't have to be cleaned the way the ants are cleaned. You can read about the ant study in this LiveScience article.

Did you enjoy the shortest day of the year? The Winter Solstice occurred on December 21st. That's the day the Earth's north pole tilts the farthest away from the sun, giving us the shortest day and longest night of the year. From now on, the days will start to lengthen a little bit each day until we get to the Summer Solstice on June 21st, the longest day and shortest night of the year. If it doesn't seem like the days are getting longer, that may be because the Earth reaches perihelion a couple of weeks after the winter solstice. Perihelion is the point when the Earth is at its closest point to the sun. This shorter distance from the sun causes Earth to move faster in its orbit, so it takes a few seconds more than 24 hours for the sun to reach the same point in the sky. That means the latest sunrise happens about January 8 in our part of the world. Why is it so still so cold if we are closer to the sun? Remember, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun this time of year. That is what gives us winter. Read more about this in an article from the Washington Post.

Norad Tracks Santa Logo

The NORAD website tracking Santa's flight is up. Check it out at this festive NORAD page.

Next week, my blog will be about the best science stories of 2013. Until then, have a Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2013:

Nasa satellite data revealed that Earth set a new record for coldest temperature recorded in east Antarctica [Credit: Atsuhiro Muto/AP]

You think your weather is cold? Try visiting the newest coldest place on the planet. As reported in the Guardian, a NASA satellite recorded a new lowest temperature on Earth at -135.8°F (-94.7°C). It happened on August 2010 in east Antarctica. We came close again this year with a -135.3°F (93°C) temperature in July. The old record was -128.6°F (-89.2°C) at Vostok, Antarctica. The new location is northeast of Vostok and not far from the South Pole.

So what is it like at this temperature? Scientists who did the analysis said a human can survive outside for about three minutes at -100°F. The new record is almost 36° colder! Another pointed out that these new record cold temperatures are colder than dry ice. A National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist said, “If you took your glove off, you hand would freeze off very fast.”

While this is a new coldest temperature detected on Earth, it will not be the new “official” record cold. The Guinness Book of World Records requires the temperature to be recorded by a thermometer rather a satellite, so this new record doesn't count. But ice scientists say the new data gives them more information to help them understand the possible range of conditions here on Earth.

Muscles of the body

Our newest broadcast show airs Tuesday, December 17th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. We will be answering your questions about muscles and the muscular system. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television or here on the website. And save time for the new Muscles Web Show too!

Have a great week!

December 9, 2013:

The U.S. government dropped 2,000 dead mice attached to tiny cardboard parachutes into Guam. Now that you have that picture in your mind, try to guess why they did it.

A helicopter deploys acetaminophen-treated dead mouse baits in Guam [Credit: USDA/APHIS]

Scientists are trying to eliminate invasive brown tree snakes. These snakes first came to Guam in the 1940s or 1050s and been causing big problems. The snakes eat native birds and lizards and have caused some species to go extinct. The snakes also get into electric substations, triggering power outages.

So the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to drop dead mice loaded with painkillers for the snakes to eat. The amount of painkiller in the dead mice is enough to kill the snakes but not enough to kill other animals that might eat the carcass. Oh, what we do in the name of science! You can read more about the dead mice drop in this LiveScience article.

Speaking of science, I am crazy about it and I am not alone. "Science" was named the word of the year by Merriam-Webster.

According to an article in the LA Times, Merriam-Webster kept track of how many times someone looks up the definition of a word in its online dictionary. Based on 100 million lookups, "science" showed the highest increase compared to last year, up 176%. That made it the word of the year. Way to go "science"! And just in case you don't know, the definition of "science" is: "the knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation." And what was the second most looked up word? It was "cognitive," or "of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)." So think about that!

We are working on our next broadcast show. Tune in next Tuesday, December 17th to learn more about muscles. You can watch it on Idaho Public Television at 2:00/1:00 p.m MT/PT or here on the Science Trek website. Be sure to tune in. We are also looking for questions for our Simple Machines show. Send them in now!

Have a good week! Stay warm!

December 2, 2013:

When making a decision, has anyone ever told you to "listen to your gut"? It is a phrase that means you should act on your feelings or instincts. But scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles now think our guts may really influence the way we think.

Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry, thinks the bacteria in our digestive system helps mold our brain structure as we grow and may shape our moods and behavior. Looking at brain scans from 60 volunteers, he compared brain regions of folks with different types of bacteria in their digestive system. He found brain regions differed based on the type of species of bacteria found in the subjects' guts. Now this doesn't mean there is a direct connection between the two things, but it was an important indicator.

Another scientist, Stephen Collins of McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, did research that supports the idea that gut bacteria can influence mood and personality. He had bold mice and shy mice. When he put bold mice's bacteria in shy mice's guts, the shy mice became more fearless. When he reversed the experiment and put shy mice's bacteria in bold mice's gut, the bold mice became more anxious. Changing the gut's bacteria changed the chemistry of the mices' brains.

While this research is new, it is leading to some interesting hope for people with autism and some mental illnesses. So, if you are feeling anxious, consider eating some yogurt. That's one good way to get good probiotics or bacteria into your gut. If you want to read more, check out this article from NPR.

Two updates for you. Last week, I wrote about a study that showed that male fruit flies were less aggressive when they were exposed to female fruit flies. A study this week suggests that male fruit flies exposed to female fruit flies don't live as long. Apparently being around all those female pheromones causes male fruit flies to age faster. On the upside, if the male fruit flies had a chance to mate, their health improved. If not, then the negative effects on their health continued. Read more about this new study in this EurekAlert article.

Joan waving to Cassini probe

My other update is from a story a long time ago. Several months ago, NASA invited people to wave at the planet Saturn. Saturn was going to be between the sun and the Cassini probe and it was a great time to take a picture. The Earth would be in view as well. So I sent my picture waving at Saturn.

 

Now NASA has released a composite picture of all the folks who sent in a picture of their wave and recreated a mosaic picture like the original picture of Saturn taken by Cassini. See if you can find me waving! Read more about it here.

Have a great week.

 

November 25, 2013:

Saying Brain, from around the world

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukah! Lots to celebrate this week.

I have three quick science stories to share. The first two have to do with your brain.

There are great reasons to learn more than one language. You understand more about the world. You make connections and, according to a new study out of India, you help protect your brain.

Scientists at a hospital studied 648 patients in their memory clinic. 391 of them were bilingual, that is, they spoke more than one language. Not all of the bilingual patients could read and write, but they all spoke at least two languages. The study showed that bilingual patients suffered from a disease called dementia onset 4.5 years later than patients who only spoke a single language. So knowing a second language helped protect patients' brains for almost five years. The delaying benefits of knowing a second language applied to people who suffer from Alzheimer's and other similar dementia diseases. The best time to learn another language is when you are young, so start now, but starting at any age is a good thing for your brain.

Something else good for your brain: exercise. Researchers from the University of British Columbia report that physical activity helps rats do better on memory tests. Rats that ran on a treadmill for at least four months had more blood vessels and white matter in their brains than did sedentary rats. The active rats improved their mobility and had higher levels of dopamine, a brain chemical important for movement.

So get out and exercise and study another language. Do it for a better brain. You can read about these two studies in these articles from NPR: The brain and bilingualism and Sweat your way to a better brain.

My final story has to do with males and females . . . male and female fruit flies. It seems female fruit flies have a secret power. Female fruit flies keep male fruit flies calm. University of California professor Yuh Nung Jan and his team discovered that fruit flies behaved differently depending upon their company. Two male fruit flies in a cage together will start acting aggressively toward each other. They will head butt each other or toss one another around. But the researchers found that male fruit flies that had spent time with a female fruit fly the day before were much less likely to fight.

It apparently has to do with chemistry. Males and females send out chemicals called pheromones. Like fruit flies, we humans also unconsciously detect these chemicals and we react in response.

The scientists found that a pheromone-sensing structure on a male fruit fly's leg bristles when it picks up a communication pheromone signal from the female fruit fly. The researchers found the part of the fruit fly's brain that receives these chemical signals. They discovered the signal activates a group of neurons in the brain that dampens aggression. So having some female company keeps the males from fighting.

Do you suppose the same thing happens when brothers and sisters get together for a big family celebration? Something for science to study. If you want to learn more about the fruit fly report, check out this article from livescience.

Have a great holiday week.

November 18, 2013:

Deciduous trees in a park

We are all about trees this week. Our new show, “Trees,” airs Tuesday, November 19th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. The broadcast show and the Web Show will go live here on the site at the same time. Check it out.

Speaking of trees, Google Earth has released a new interactive online tool which tracks changes in the world's tree canopies from 2000 to 2012. The tool was built from 650,000 images taken by the satellite Landsat 7.

Over those years, the Earth lost 2.3 million square kilometers of tree cover. If you combined all those lost forests, you would have a forest the size of Mongolia or six times the size of the United Kingdom. Most of the loss was due to logging, fire, disease or storms.

On the positive side, the Earth gained about 800,000 square kilometers of forest-land over those same 12 years. Brazil showed the best improvement, cutting annual forest loss in half between 2003-2004 and 2010-2011. Indonesia has the largest amount of deforestation, doubling its annual loss in 2011-2012. Researchers say overall tropical forest loss is increasing by about 2,100 square kilometers per year.

How about here in America? The maps show a “disturbance rate” in the southeastern forests was four times that of South American rainforests. That means more then 31% of the forest cover in that region was lost or re-grown.

Climate change scientists are excited to have this new tool. It can help them monitor the impacts of deforestation and make sure forest management programs are effective. You can read more about the new tool in this BBC news story.

Be sure to watch our new “Trees” show, Web show and video short and check out the “Trees” website. Have a good week.

November 11, 2013:

A close-up view of a reindeer in the Arctic. |Credit: © Kia Hansen

I have blue eyes. They stay that color year-round and life-long. But if I were a reindeer, that wouldn't be true. Scientists have discovered that reindeer change the color of their eyes from gold in the summer to blue in the winter.

Neuroscientist Glen Jeffery from the University College London was looking at a collection of reindeer eyeballs. He found a reflective layer behind the retina of reindeer's eyes. There are fibers in that reflective layer. Reindeers apparently can increase the pressure inside the eyeball during the winter and that compresses these fibers together. Reducing the space between these fibers makes the eyes reflect a bluer light. In the summer, when there is lots of sunlight, the reindeer's eyes turn golden and reflect a lot light through the retina. In the winter, when there is hardly any sunlight, reindeer's eyes turn blue to capture more light inside the eye and help the reindeer see in the Arctic's winter darkness.

So far, reindeer are the only mammals that can change their eye color. But now that scientists know what to look for, they are peering into the eyes of other Arctic animals to see if their eyes might change color too. If you want to learn more about the eye, check out our eye site. If you want to learn more about light and color, check out this light and color video short. You can read more about the reindeer eye color study in this article from LiveScience.

This has nothing to do with eyes, but I thought it was fun. November 12th is a special day. Can you guess why? It will be 11-12-13. Apparently, there are lots of wedding scheduled on the 12th so people will have an easy time remembering their anniversary. I think it is also a good excuse to celebrate. After all, we only get one more of these funky sequential dates in this century. After December 13, 2014 (12-13-14), we will all have to wait almost a hundred years for another such combination.

We are working on our Tree show. Be sure to tune in on November 19th to watch. If you have a question for one of our upcoming shows, send it in. We are taking Muscle questions until the 15th.

Have a good week!

November 4, 2013:

Dogs in a field | http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/63717.php?from=252315

Do you know your left from your right? Your dog does. Scientists now think that dogs recognize a left-sided wag from a right-sided wag and that the direction dogs' tails wag is an indication of their feelings.

An Italian research team found that dogs wag their tails to the right when they feel positive emotion and to the left when they feel negative emotions. Researchers showed dogs videos of other dogs wagging their tails. When the dogs saw another dog wagging its tail to the left, the viewing dogs' heart rates went up and they looked anxious. When they saw another dog wagging its tail to the right, the viewing dogs stayed relaxed.

The scientists don't think dogs do the left or right wagging tail on purpose. They think it has to do with how dogs' brains are wired. Dogs, like people, have what's called “asymmetrically organized brains.” That means the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. Researchers think the direction of the dog's wag is sort of hardwired by the brain rather than the dog making a decision to wag one way or the other.

This can be useful information. Next time you see a dog, look at the direction of the wag. It could give you a good idea how the dog is feeling. Read more about it in this article from Eurekalert.

Have a good, right-tail wagging week.

October 28, 2013:

Girls playing Soccer | Photo By: http://www.flickr.com/photos/evoo73/
Like science? Like soccer or other sports? Go for it! Girls who were more physically active at 11 did better in science as teenagers. A British study, called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, shows that the more active an 11-year-old is, boy or girl, the better he or she did on standardized math, science and English tests. The same study also found that physically active girls were better at science than their peers. That good result held when the children took tests at 13 and 16 years-of-age. This is an on-going study looking at almost 5,000 children since 1991. You can read more about it in this article from NPR.

The researchers also found that few children were getting the recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise. The boys got an average of 28 minutes a day and the girls got just an average of 18 minutes. The scientists don't know why more exercise improves grades, especially for girls and science, but the exercise-good brain connection isn't just true for kids. Studies have shown that exercise improves brain function in older people too. So, put down the electronic tablet, turn off the TV and computer, and go outside and exercise — and take your parents with you! It's great for the whole family.

We are starting editing our November Trees show. That means we are looking for questions for December's “Muscles” show. Send in your questions now!

Have a good week!

October 22, 2013:

An Alarm Clock

Scientists have a new idea about why we sleep . . . to clean up our brains! Researchers at the University of Rochester did some experiments on mice. They found that cerebral spinal fluid, the liquid found in the brain, is pumped around the brain while we sleep and acts like a “biological dishwasher.”

As part of their day-to-day operations, brain cell produce waste products. Scientists think some of these waste products are toxic proteins that can build up and damage the brain and lead to a condition know as dementia. But researchers did some experiments on mice and found that brain cells shrank when sleeping, making the space between cells much wider. This made cerebral spinal fluid flow ten times faster around the brain than it does when the mice were awake. It takes a lot of energy to push all the fluid around, so the mice didn't do much of it when they were awake. But when they were asleep, the cerebral spinal fluid flowed freely. Researcher Maiken Nedergaard said it was kind of like having a house party. “You can either entertain the guests (do all the thinking you do during the day) or you can clean up the house (wash out the cells), but you can't do both.”

Eventually those brain waste products are swept out of the brain and make their way to the liver where they are broken down and removed by the body in your poop and urine.

Now, is this the only reason for sleep? Scientists aren't sure. Many think there are lots of other good reasons for sleep. They all do agree that we need to get enough sleep to stay healthy. So this is another good reason to stick to your bedtime tonight! Read more about the study in this article from the Guardian.

The Bunny, Winslo

I have some sad news to report. If you have been a long time viewer of Science Trek and D4K before that, you may have seen my pet rabbit Winslo. He joined me on the set for my 10th anniversary special and was “the bad bunny” in the video short we did for the CSI show. Winslo passed away this past weekend. He was a wonderful pet and I and my whole family will miss him. You can watch Winslo in action at the end of this CSI video. Click on the video short.

Have a good week. Think good thoughts of Winslo.

October 14, 2013:

Girl Sleeping in a Chair

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Science tells us that a consistent bedtime makes a kid behave better.

Researchers in England looked at data from a long-term study of more than 10,000 children. Their parents filled out surveys when the kids were 3, 5 and 7. Included in the survey were questions about bedtime and behavior.They found that kids with a regular bedtime (every night, not just school nights) had fewer behavioral issues than kids with irregular bedtimes. And kids who had late bedtimes behaved the worst.

Kids this age need 10 to 12 hours of sleep and doctors say sleep-deprived kids don't say they are tired. They act out. So, you kids might not like a more regular and perhaps earlier bedtime than you are getting now, but you will be healthier and everyone will be happier if you get a consistent night's sleep. Read more about it and sleeping tips in the LiveScience article.

Check out our newest broadcast show! Science Trek: “Salmon” airs on Idaho Public Television on October 15th at 2:00 p.m. MT, and you can find it on the Salmon website. Be sure to watch the Science Trek: “The Web Show” too!

We are now taking muscle questions, but if you have a tree question, I can still slip it in. Send a question on any of our active topics today!

Have a great week!

October 7, 2013:

Girl Reading a book

Want to understand others better? Increase your emotional intelligence? Science has a suggestion. Try reading a really good book.

Okay, first a couple of definitions. Literary novels like War and Peace are complex works that make you think. “Popular” novels tend to have more consistent characters and predictable settings. Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Okay, back to the science.

Scientists at New York's New School for Social Research divided volunteers into four groups. One group read literary fiction. One group read best-selling novels. Once group read Smithsonian magazine and one group read nothing at all. The volunteers then took a computerized empathy test. They found that “reading literary fiction temporarily enhances your Theory of Mind.” In other words, reading a really good back improves your empathy. They believe having to really think about how the characters in a book are feeling may help you better judge how real people are feeling. The scientists think the way to improve your empathetic skills isn't limited to just reading good books. Seeing complex plays, studying great art may also help you be a better person. Give it a try! Read more about it in this article. (though reading the article will not make you more empathetic!)

Our newest broadcast show airs next week. Learn more about salmon. Tune in on Tuesday, October 15 at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Idaho Public Television or here on the Science Trek website.

Have a great week!

September 30, 2013:

Alston's Singing Mouse

La-la-la-la-la-la-la. Vocalists will sing or trill the scales to warm up their voices, but they are not the only ones that trill. Two species of tawny brown mice “sing” too. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have found that the Alston's singing mouse and the Chiriqui singing mouse trill to set their territory. When the smaller Alston mouse hears the song of the larger Chiriqui mouse, it steers clear.

Bret Pash, from the Department of Integrative Biology wrote a paper about the mice for the journal The American Naturalist. He says the mice songs are a series of rapidly repeated notes. He says, “The notes are produced each time an animal opens and closes its tiny mouth, roughly 15 times per second.” Because the animals live in the same areas of the mountain cloud forests of Costa Rica and Panama, they can have overlapping territories. The mice sing to protect their turf and let others know to stay away. Many small rodents make sounds, many too high pitched for human ears. Scientists study the genes from singing mice to better understand the genes that lead to language in humans. You can read more singing mice and watch a video of an Alston's singing mouse at this EurekAlert article.

Our deadline for Tree questions is this week. If you have a question about Trees, send it in now! Here is the link. Have a great week!

September 23, 2013:

Which is better Bach or Stravinsky? Don’t know? Ask your goldfish.

Goldfish | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/helgabj/ Helga Birna Jónasdóttir

A new study shows that goldfish can tell the difference between classical music composed by Bach or Stravinsky. Researchers at Keio University first taught a group of fish to nibble on a food-filled ball while Bach music was played. This would teach the fish to associate food and Bach. Then the scientists played Stravinsky and the fish didn’t go for the food. That suggests that the fish could tell the difference between Bach and Stravinsky.

Other animals can tell the difference between types of music. Lead Researcher Kazutaka Shinozuka did similar tests with Java sparrows, pigeons and rats. He says only Java sparrows showed a preference for Bach over the more modern Stavinsky. Why? Well, that is up for debate. Other research has shown that monkeys, cats and dogs react to music that is designed to match their vocal frequencies and heart rate. We humans like sounds in similar frequencies and beats. You can read more about this research in this article from LiveScience.

Our new broadcast show is available for your viewing pleasure. Check it out here. To watch the 30-minute show, click on “The Show.” To watch the less-than-ten-minutes Web Only show, click on “Web Extra” and to watch the video short, click on “Video Short.” They will all show up in our built-in player. To download, right click on your selection and follow the download instructions for your operating system.

We are now asking for questions for out “Trees” show. Send us your email or video questions. You can find out how on our “Submit a Question” page. If your teacher would like to borrow our video camera to record questions, send me an email.

Have a great week!

September 16, 2013:

Cartoon Joan

It’s almost here! The new season of Science Trek starts Tuesday, September 17th! We have a great line up of new shows and lots of great new features on the website. Check it out. We will be answering your questions about Mars. The new show airs on Idaho Public Television at 2:00pm/1:00pm Mt/Pac or you can watch it here on the website. We are so excited! Let us know what you think about the new show and the new website. Send me an email!

It is an exciting week in the heavens too. Voyager 1 has left the solar system. Voyager 1 is a probe launched in 1977. It has traveled about 12 million miles, past of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune and several moons of those outer planets. Scientists think it went out of our solar system on August 25, 2012. So why did it take more than a year to figure that out? Well, first of all, nothing has ever gone out that far so scientists had to figure it out what it means to be outside the solar system. The edge of the solar system or solar bubble is known as the heliosphere. It is marked by plasma. Plasma is ionized gas and the scientists were looking for a change in plasma levels. They had built computer models and last year they finally started to detect differences. It took them a long time to decide Voyager 1 had finally left. They had to analyze the data and make certain choices. It is pretty amazing that something we humans made is now heading out into the universe beyond our solar system. You can read how they figured it out in this article from NASA.

So what now for Voyager 1? It will continue to travel outward. By 2025, scientist think it will no longer be sending information back to Earth, but it will continue on exploring space.

There are a couple of other astrological things of note coming up. We will have a Harvest Moon on September 19th. The Harvest Moon the name for the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox.

The autumnal equinox hits on September 22nd. The equinox happens twice a year (vernal in the Spring, autumnal in the fall) when the tilt of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s orbit crosses the celestial equator. It means the day and night are equal in length. For us in the northern hemisphere, it means the days are getting shorter as we head into autumn and winter.

Lots going on in the sky, but don’t let that distract you from watching our new show about Mars! It is awesome!

Have a great week!

September 09, 2013:

Teen by D Sharon Pruitt | http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/

One more week! The new season of Science Trek starts with our show on Mars. Watch it on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday, September 17th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or here on the website. Our new website will also launch soon so stay tuned!!

Hissing snakes and parents swearing are making science news this week. First, a study reported in Developmental Science says babies pay attention when they hear certain sounds that signal danger; "older" sounds not modern ones.

Psychologist Nicole Erlich of the University of Queensland, Australia and her colleagues played sounds for 61 male and female infants sitting in highchairs. A parent was nearby. When the scientists played sounds like snakes hissing, crackling fire or another infant's cries, the babies showed a drop in heart rate and larger numbers of eye blinks, both signs that the infants were paying more attention. The same infants did not show a similar response to sounds of more modern dangers like glass breaking or a siren wailing or to pleasant sounds like music or a baby laughing.

The scientists think tens of thousands of years of evolution have changed babies' brains to key into signs of danger. That may explain why more modern sounds don't get the same reaction. You can read more about these studies in this Science News article.

While babies don't like the hissing of snakes, it seems teens don't like being yelled at. A new study suggests the more teens are yelled at, the worse they behave.

Researcher Ming-Te Want at the University of Pittsburg published his study in the journal Child Development. He and his colleges found that young teens interpret harsh verbal discipline as "indicative of rejection or scorn." The psychologists think teens that have been yelled at may have lowered self-esteem and a negative view of themselves, which may lead to poor behavior. These same teens also had an increased risk of depression. So the more teens were yelled or sworn at, the greater their risk became for behavior problems.

So what should parents do? Psychologists suggest the best form of discipline for teens would be to communicate with them on an equal level and "explaining rationale and worries to them." Read more about the study in this LiveScience article.

My advice for this week: Don't let babies near snakes and don't swear at teenagers. Do watch the upcoming Mars show next week and do check out the new Science Trek website.

September 05, 2013:

Paw in front of face

How close is too close? We all have a comfort zone, an area of separation we need from other people. Someone gets too close and we feel threatened. But scientists really weren't sure how close was too close until now. According to researchers at the University of London, the average person gets nervous if something gets between 20 and 40 centimeters (7 7/8 inches to 15 ¾ inches) from his/her face.

To find out what a human's comfort zone is, researchers Chiara Sambo and Giandomenico Iannetti zapped 15 people on the wrist. That made these test subjects blink. At the same time, the researchers moved that same hand closer and closer to the test subjects' faces. They then measure the amount of blinking. On average, people could get their wrist about 20-40 centimeters away from their face before they started blinking quickly, a sign of a defense reaction. So a jolt 40 centimeters away wasn't a problem, but a jolt 20 centimeters away was a big issue.

The scientists say this is only an average. Some people can stand having something closer to them than others. If you are a more anxious person, your comfort zone is probably a bit wider. Sambo and Iannettis published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience. You can read more about it on the ScienceNews.org website.

My blog is late this week because I have been out shooting material for an upcoming show. Al, our director, is in the edit bay now working on our September 17th program on Mars. We hope to new Science Trek website will be coming soon too. Keep checking in and watch for new developments. By the way, I am looking for questions about salmon. If you have one, be sure to send it in. Click here for an email form.

Have a great week!

August 26, 2013:

Science Trek Logo

Big news!! We are changing the name of our project. Our new name is Science Trek! We decided to change the name of our series from D4K, or Dialogue for Kids, to Science Trek to give our viewers a better understanding of our goal. In case you don't know what that goal is, it is to introduce science topics to elementary-age schoolchildren; to provide educational materials for teachers and parents; and to inspire students to investigate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career potentials.

You may have noticed the difference if you went to the D4K website today. Our new home page is under construction, but you can get to all the D4K material by clicking on the link provided. The new Science Trek site will be viewable on smartphones and tablets as well as your computer. We will have faster navigation to the things you want and the same great, award-winning and kid-approved content. Stay tuned as we finish up and launch the new front page.

As for science news this week, researchers came up with answers to two questions about wildlife: Why do wolves howl? And do mountain sheep with the biggest horns have more offspring or is bigger better?

Let’s talk sheep first. In this case, bigger is not better. According to a report on Science News Weekly’s web site, Researchers at the University of Sheffield in Scotland report in the journal Nature that sheep with a blend of small and big horn-genes have more offspring than the purely big-horned neighbors.

Mountain sheep with big horns do attract more ladies, kind of like male peacocks with the brightest feathers attract more peahens. But scientist Jon Slate found that sheep with a gene blend that can result in smaller horns actually had more offspring. He thinks it may because the big horn sheep spend a lot of time fighting to keep their place, as the head of the herd and may not live as long. So at least as far as these mountain sheep are concerned, it is okay to be smaller.

Why do wolves howl? Wolves howl when a friend or the head of the pack leaves. Friederike Range from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria co-authored a study published in Current Biology. He and his team followed a group of captive wolves and watch how they reacted when one wolf was taken out for a walk. Dr. Range said the wolves howled differently based on who was taken from the pack. Wolves’ howls are unique; so one wolf can recognize another wolf's howl. Dr. Range says, "Wolves seem to howl more when higher ranking individuals leave because these individuals play quite important roles in the social lives of wolves." She also found that wolves didn’t howl just when a high-ranking wolf left. Wolves also howled when a close friend left. So why do wolves howl? Wolves howl to keep in touch. Read more about this study in this article from the BBC.

Many more of you are heading back to school this week. I hope you have a great year and come and visit our Science Trek website often.

Have a great week!

PBS
Find Us on TV

© 2014 Idaho Public Televison

Idaho State Board of Education, an agency of the State of Idaho