Month: April, 2018

Miles of Dangerous Algae Covering Lake Erie

Dog swims through an algae bloom in North Carolina.

A potentially harmful algae bloom covered more than 1812 square km in the western basin of Lake Erie last week, turning the lake bright green and alarming residents and local officials.

Scientists say that algae blooms have been a growing problem for Lake Erie since the 2000s, mostly because of the extensive use of fertilizer on the region’s farmland.

The algae blooms contain cyanobacteria, which, under certain conditions, can produce toxins that contaminate drinking water and cause harm to the local ecosystem.




Millions of people get drinking water from Lake Erie. Previous blooms have been toxic.

While not all algae blooms are toxic, they can produce a type of toxin called microcystis that can cause serious liver damage under certain conditions.

Dangerous levels of the toxin caused Toledo, Ohio, to shut down the drinking water supply of a half-million residents for three days in 2014.

In total, almost 3 million people get drinking water from the central basin of Lake Erie. Officials have been testing the intake points in the lake where towns draw water and report that the current toxin levels are low.

Green waters of Lake Erie, which emit “18 times more carbon dioxide than all the cars in Detroit,” according to researcher Tonya DelSontro, who studies the relationship of lake algae to greenhouse gases.

The algae blooms are getting larger.

Since the 2000s, algae blooms in Lake Erie have become much more extensive.

According to one study by the Carnegie Institute for Science and Stanford University, most of the increase in the size of the blooms can be attributed to a rise in the amount of dissolved phosphorus flowing into the lake.

In the 1980s, researchers started tracking algae blooms in Lake Erie. They were mostly small, but changes in farming practices caused them to spike.

The blooms are expected to grow more harmful as global warming changes rainfall patterns.

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Pass it on: Popular Scientist

The Science of Climate Change Denial with John Cook of Skeptical Science

John Cook founded the website skepticalscience.com, where he has compiled a list of the most repeated climate change denial arguments and shows the science behind the myths. Along the way, he gained a PhD in Psychology and studies why people refuse to believe scientific truths.

Here, we talk about the science of climate change denial and I let him respond to some of the most common comments I’ve received about climate change.

Could This Trick Make You Like Your Vegetables More?

Could we learn to like our vegetables more!? It’s a question that many of us may have wondered, as we struggle to get through a plate of broccoli.

Now, an experiment done with a group of UK school children thinks it might have the answer!

The study wanted to see if it was possible to train ourselves to like a food that we didn’t like before.

To find out, a group of young scientists aged 9 to 11 were split down into two groups.




Half of them were asked to eat a piece of the green vegetable kale every day for 15 days, while the other half ate raisins – and there were some very interesting results!

Most of the kids who ate kale every day found that they did like it more by the end of the experiment.

So, by making yourself eat something you may not really like over a period of time, you could learn to not hate it as much!

However, there were still some in the kale group who really didn’t like it – even after the 15 days was up.

It was discovered this was because they had more fungiform papillae on their tongue, which contain our taste buds.

The more fungiform papillae a person has, the more strongly they will taste flavours – especially bitter ones – so these children are known as ‘supertasters‘.

About one in four people could be ‘supertasters‘, which makes them more sensitive to strong foods, like lemons, spices and bitter vegetables, like Brussels sprouts

Therefore, these people may need to eat kale for slightly longer before they learn to love it.

Jackie Blissett, professor in health behaviour and change at Coventry University, said: “It’s been wonderful to work with these young scientists, and they’ve helped shed some light on one of the great mysteries: why some of us might not like our Brussels sprouts!

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How Much Water Pressure Can The Human Body Take?

Depending on how you look at it, the human body is either one of the most vulnerable things on the planet, or one of the most resilient.

It’s true we can do amazing things — heal where we once were bleeding, attack and destroy unfriendly microbial invaders, even knit our own bones back together.

But despite our many abilities, we’re still pretty delicate when you consider the universe around us.

There’s only a tiny window of conditions in which we can thrive, and things that are rather inconsequential in the universe — a dip in oxygen, shocking cold, a flare of nuclear radiation — would mean the end of us in the blink of an eye.

But what exactly can we take? What are the limits of our survival, and what happens to our body if we cross them?

Here we explore the body’s (many) breaking points. First up: water pressure.




What is pressure?

Pressure can generally be defined as the force, per unit area, applied to the surface of something. We’re always under a certain amount of pressure, we just don’t notice.

We hear about air pressure on the weather channel, but we actually have our own pressure in air-filled spaces of our body like our lungs, stomach, and ears.

Our internal pressure is usually equal to the outside air pressure (the weight of the atmosphere pushing down on us.)

We become uncomfortable whenever we venture away from sea level; our internal pressure is no longer equal to the ambient pressure. This is why our ears hurt when we go up in a plane or when we dive too deep underwater.

Underwater Pressure

Ever wonder why we can’t just create extra-long snorkels to breathe underwater? Seems like an obvious and easy solution for breathing without an oxygen tank, but there’s a good reason this can’t work.

For every 33 feet a diver descends the weight of the water above them increases by 15 pounds per square inch.

At only a few feet below the surface, the water pressure is already too great for the muscles that expand and contract our lungs to work, making it extremely difficult for us to draw breath.

A couple feet of water pressure isn’t enough to do serious damage yet, but looking at deeper levels shows how pressure affects us a little more gradually.

At a depth of around 100 feet, the spongy tissue of the lung begins to contract, which would leave you with only a small supply of air that was inhaled at the surface.

An ancient “dive-response” is then triggered in our body, which constricts the limbs and pushes blood toward the needier heart and brain.

If you somehow got stuck in the middle of an oceanic abyss, the deepest part of the ocean, you’d have a few things to worry about.

The lack of breathable oxygen, freezing cold, and these charming creatures, to name a few, but the huge amount of water pressure pressing down on you would definitely be the immediate threat.

Since your body’s internal pressure is so much less than the ambient pressure, your lungs would not have the strength to push back against the water pressure.

At a deep enough level, the lungs would collapse completely, killing you instantly.

This is the most extreme consequence of underwater pressure, but thankfully most of us will never have to deal with ocean depths of this magnitude.

So, how deep can we go? Scientists haven’t yet determined a hard limit for how deep we can survive underwater.

There have been a few instances of divers surviving ridiculous depths (not without side effects), but most professional free divers don’t go past 400 feet deep.

The only way to test a limit would be to test on a real, live human, so obviously there are no handy studies to help us formulate an answer.

Scientists do know, however, what would happen to a diver who crossed their body’s limit. A diver could die from bleeding into the lungs, or pass out from the strain the redistribution of blood lays on the heart.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA Releases Astounding Video Of The Lagoon Nebula To Celebrate Hubble’s Birthday

The Lagoon Nebula as seen by Hubble in 1996.

Ever wanted to zoom near that central bulge in the Milky Way in the Sagittarius constellation where stars are born? NASA has almost made it possible thanks to the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

As a kind of a 28th Hubble birthday gift for all of us, the space agency has posted astounding videos and photos of what’s known as the Lagoon Nebula.

The main video takes viewers from far away into the very heart of the massive, colorful nebula, what NASA calls a “raucous star nursery full of birth and destruction,” 4,000 light-years away from Earth.




At the Lagoon Nebula’s heart is a massive “young” star (the million-year-old Hershel 36), 200,000 times brighter and eight times hotter than Earth’s sun.

It roils the region with ultraviolet radiation and winds carving out an exploding, undulating “fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust,” gushes NASA.

Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery and was a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.

The lagoon nebula seen in visible light ( left) and infrared (right).

Once a year the telescope takes a break from its assigned observations to take a detailed image of a particular spot of the cosmos.

The Hubble “has offered a new view of the universe and has reached and surpassed all expectations for a remarkable 28 years,” said NASA and the ESA. The telescope has “revolutionized almost every area of observational astronomy.”

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So You Want to Be A Space Tourist? Here’s What You Can Do

Though we’ve been living in the Space Age for more than half a century, going into space remains an extreme rarity.

Fewer than 600 people have gone above the Kármán line — the point, about 62 miles above Earth, that marks the beginning of space — and all were put there by the U.S. or another nation’s government.

But the rise of private spaceflight companies like Virgin Galactic and Space X means that the final frontier may soon be within reach of a great many more of us.

The firms have announced plans to put private astronauts, a.k.a. space tourists, on orbital or suborbital flights within the next few years.




Initially, the cost of a ride on one of these rockets will be hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum. That puts the experience within reach of only the wealthiest people.

But advances in rocket and capsule design are expected to lower the price to the point that people of more modest fortunes are able to afford a ticket.

Some projections put the global space tourism market at more than $34 billion by 2021.

What Space Tourists Can Expect

What exactly is in store for space tourists? The excitement of a rocket ride and a chance to experience weightlessness, for starters.

And the bragging rights are hard to beat. But some say the biggest benefit of going into space is getting a dramatic new outlook on life on the fragile blue marble we call home.

It’s a perspective shift that could have profound implications not just for individuals but also for society at large.

Billionaire computer engineer Charles Simonyi flew to the International Space Station aboard a Russian spacecraft with the assistance of a Vienna, Virginia-based firm called Space Adventures, and he echoes that sentiment.

It’s great to go to space just because it’s there,” he says. “But I think space is our destiny and we will discover great benefits from it.

Flying High

Virgin Galactic plans to offer suborbital jaunts into space, with customers being treated to six minutes of weightlessness along with that one-of-a-kind view.

The Las Cruces, New Mexico-based company says more than 600 customers have signed up, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry, Ashton Kutcher, and the late physicist, Stephen Hawking.

The price of a ticket stands at $250,000, with registration open for anyone who has that kind of extra cash on hand.

Virgin CEO Richard Branson said on July 5 that he hopes to see space tourists flying on Virgin by the end of 2018. But other executives at the firm seem reluctant to commit to that.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Meet ELIA, A New Tactile Reading System

The top row shows a standard alphabet. The middle row shows ELIA. And the bottom row depicts braille.

In 1829, Louis Braille published the first book introducing the braille system—and while the applications of braille have been immense, the system still relies on the outdated technologies of the 1800s.

This company created a modern, efficient alternative that’s incredibly easy to learn for people who have a visual impairment.




ELIA letters—known as ELIA Frames—leverage modern printing technology and design principles to optimize each letter’s design and create easily identifiable characters.

According to this company, ELIA Frames on the standard Roman alphabet, since roughly 70% of the world’s population uses it to read and write.

ELIA emerging from a specialized printer.

 

Each ELIA Frame features an outer frame (circle, square, house) and interior elements that combine to form the main characteristics of standard alphabet letters.

Currently, the employment rate among individuals with visual impairment is at an estimated 43%. For those who read braille, that rate soars to 85%. ELIA can have the same benefit for the 99% who can’t read braille.

A tactile ELIA skin on top of a standard keyboard.

ELIA Frames can be learned tactilely in as little as 3 hours—and visually in a few minutes—since the font leverages a previously established alphabet.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Prehistoric Humans May Have Practiced Brain Surgery On Cows

Marks on the cow skull (a, b, c) as compared to a human skull that underwent trepanation (d, e)

Humans have been performing brain surgery—or at least drilling holes in one others’ skulls—for thousands of years. But how did they get their practice?

A new study analyzing an exquisitely bored hole in the skull of a 5000-year-old cow (above) suggests they may have honed their skills on animals.

The bovine cranium in question was found in Vendée, France, a Neolithic site that was a trade hub for salt and cattle between 3400 and 3000 B.C.E.




Scientists originally thought the cranial hole came from a traumatic blow by another cow, but others suspected a human hand at work.

To find out if early human surgeons were responsible, scientists compared the hole in the cow’s skull to holes in two human skulls from France dated to the same period.

It was clear from the long straight lacerations that the human skulls had undergone some sort of primitive brain surgery.

Using a combination of powerful microscopes, hand lenses, and 3D reconstructions, the researchers looked for tell-tale signs of deliberate cutting on the cow skull.

Long, parallel marks surrounding the hole and traces of scraping motions matched those found around the openings in the human skulls, leading researchers to conclude that the cow’s gape came courtesy of human surgeons, they reveal today in Scientific Reports.

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Pass it on: Popular Science