sciencehabit writes: On the edge of the Dead Sea, the ground is caving in. Trucks and small buildings in Israel and Jordan have fallen into pits, beaches and plantations have closed, and roads been rerouted to avoid the more than 5500 sinkholes that pockmark the region. Now, by building a physical model of the Dead Sea in a laboratory, scientists have figured out what's causing the sinkholes in the first place, and whether a proposed controversial canal can stop them.
sciencehabit writes: This marks the 26th year of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the contest that celebrates scientific studies that "make you laugh, and then think." Among this year's winners: A study on the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, work on whether rocks have personalities, and a chemistry award to Volkswagen for "for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested."
sciencehabit writes: During the past decade or so the oil and gas industry has injected wastewater into deep rocks in eastern Texas, causing Earth’s surface to bulge ever so slightly—and likely triggering a series of tremors there in 2012, a new study suggests. Scientists say the work offers hope that similar analyses of the landscape in other oil- and gas-producing regions could help identify areas at risk of human-caused earthquakes.
sciencehabit writes: Scientists and architects across the globe are trying to adapt wood, one of the oldest building materials, for the demands of the modern city. Spurred by new ways to work with wood and concerns about the environmental toll of urban construction, they are trying to push the limits of height for wood construction and win wider acceptance for its use. Engineers have conceived designs for soaring wooden skyscrapers that, at up to 80 stories, would rival their steel-framed cousins. But wood’s true potential for 21st century cities is likely to emerge in the lab, where scientists are conducting myriad torture tests on new designs for wooden walls, beams, ceilings, and floors. Their goal: to see whether wood can overcome concerns about fire safety and strength that, in the past, have consigned wood to low-rises and single family houses.
sciencehabit writes: Scientists have discovered that horses can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a “no change” symbol or symbols for “blanket on” or “blanket off.” The horses did not touch the symbols randomly, but made their choices based on the weather. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the blanket-on icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the “no change” image. The study’s strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions.
sciencehabit writes: A soft brush that feels like prickly thorns. A vibrating tuning fork that produces no vibration. Not being able to tell which direction body joints are moving without looking at them. Those are some of the bizarre sensations reported by a 9-year-old girl and 19-year-old woman in a new study. The duo, researchers say, shares an extremely rare genetic mutation that may shed light on a so-called “sixth sense” in humans: proprioception, or the body’s awareness of where it is in space. The new work may even explain why some of us are klutzier than others.
sciencehabit writes: Australian Aborigines have long been cast as a people apart. Although Australia is halfway around the world from our species’s accepted birthplace in Africa, the continent is nevertheless home to some of the earliest undisputed signs of modern humans outside Africa, and Aborigines have unique languages and cultural adaptations. Some researchers have posited that the ancestors of the Aborigines were the first modern humans to surge out of Africa, spreading swiftly eastward along the coasts of southern Asia thousands of years before a second wave of migrants populated Eurasia. Not so, according to a trio of genomic studies, the first to analyze many full genomes from Australia and New Guinea. They conclude that, like most other living Eurasians, Aborigines descend from a single group of modern humans who swept out of Africa 50,000 to 60,000 years ago and then spread in different directions
sciencehabit writes: Two teams have set new distance records for quantum teleportation: using the weirdness of quantum mechanics to instantly transfer the condition or “state” of one quantum particle to another one in a different location. One group used the trick to send the state of a quantum particle of light, or photon, 6.2 kilometers across Calgary, Canada, using an optical fiber, while the other teleported the states of photons over 14.7 kilometers across Shanghai, China. Both advances could eventually lead to an unhackable quantum internet, but what else is quantum teleportation good for? And will we ever be able to use it to zip painlessly to work on a frigid January morning? Science Magazine explores.
sciencehabit writes: The “necklaces” are tiny: beads of animal teeth, shells, and ivory no more than a centimeter long. But they provoked an outsized debate that has raged for decades. Found in the Grotte du Renne cave at Arcy-sur-Cure in central France, they accompanied delicate bone tools and were found in the same layers as fossils from Neandertals—our archaic cousins. Some archaeologists credited the artifacts—the so-called Châtelperronian culture—to Neandertals. But others argued that Neandertals were incapable of the kind of symbolic expression reflected in the jewelry and insisted that modern humans must have been the creators.
Now, a study uses a new method that relies on ancient proteins to identify and directly date Neandertal bone fragments from Grotte du Renne and finds that the connection between the archaic humans and the artifacts is real. Ross Macphee, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who has worked with ancient proteins in other studies, calls it “a landmark study” in the burgeoning field of paleoproteomics. And others say it shores up the picture of Neandertals as smart, symbolic humans.
sciencehabit writes: Scientists have smashed through another time barrier in their search for ancient proteins from fossilized teeth and bones, adding to growing excitement about the promise of using proteins to study extinct animals and humans that lived more than 1 million years ago. Until now, the oldest sequenced proteins are largely acknowledged to come from a 700,000-year-old horse in Canada’s Yukon territory, despite claims of extraction from much older dinosaurs. Now geneticists report that they have extracted proteins from 3.8-million-year-old ostrich egg shells in Laetoli, Tanzania, and from the 1.7-million-year-old tooth enamel of several extinct animals in Dmanisi, Georgia. The teeth, buried at the fossil site that houses the earliest hominin remains outside Africa, came from extinct horses, rhinos, and deer. One team has also extracted proteins from 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells from the site of some of the world’s earliest human footprints.
sciencehabit writes: Before dogs were our friends, they were our hunting companions, tracking and taking down everything from deer to wild boar. At least that’s the speculation; scientists have little proof that ancient canines actually played this role. Now, a study of more than 100 dog burials in prehistoric Japan claims to provide the strongest evidence yet that early dogs did indeed help people hunt—and may have been critical to human survival in some parts of the world.
sciencehabit writes: Chicken is the most ubiquitous meat on menus around the world, from chicken Kiev to chicken McNuggets. But the bird wasn’t a common food in Europe until about 1000 years ago. That’s when the Catholic Church got tough and banned meat from four-legged animals on fasts—which numbered 130 days out of the year. Suddenly, demand for meat from two-legged chickens surged, according to a talk here yesterday at the seventh International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology. The edict also appears to have influenced the evolution of a gene that made the birds lay eggs year-round and set in motion changes that helped make them plumper.
sciencehabit writes: Camouflage—in particular, clever patterns of skin pigmentation—helps many modern animals hide from predators in plain sight. The same was true nearly 120 million years ago in the Cretaceous. Now, researchers studying that era have taken reconstruction of fossil remains a step further, using the pigmentation patterns preserved in the fossil of a small, horned dinosaur to find out where it most likely lived. The answer? A dimly lit, dense forest.
The study is “a very welcome and very clever addition to the really limited information we have on dinosaur color and coloration patterns,” says Anne Schulp, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the research. “If there's one question that keeps on popping up amongst our visitors, it's the question on the color and color patterns dinosaurs had,” she adds.
sciencehabit writes: A veritable army of outfits in Iran offer to write theses and scientific papers for a fee, advertising on the internet, through fliers, and via the placard-carrying touts who line the sidewalk outside the University of Tehran. It’s unknown how many papers and theses are ginned up under false pretenses. In 2014, a member of Iran’s Academy of Sciences estimated that each year as many as 5000 theses—roughly 10% of all master’s and Ph.D. theses awarded in Iran—are bought from dealers. Such transactions may soon be illegal. This autumn, Iran’s parliament is expected to take up work on a bill that would outlaw shady practices in scientific publishing.
sciencehabit writes: Artificial intelligence (AI) has gradually become an integral part of modern life, from Siri and Spotify’s personalized features on our phones to automatic fraud alerts from our banks whenever a transaction appears suspicious. Defined simply, a computer with AI is able to respond to its environment by learning on its own—without humans providing specific instructions. A new report from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, outlines how AI could become more integrated into people’s lives by 2030, and recommends how best to regulate it and make sure its benefits are shared equally. Here are five examples—some from this report—of AI technology that could become a part of our lives by 2030.