Courtesy Luis Miguel Bugallo SánchezThey're the favorite punching bags and punchlines for politicians and late night comics: those seemingly odd science research projects. Right now there's a turmoil over a National Science Foundation grant of some $385,000 to study the genitalia of ducks.
The Washington Post today digs deeper into these kinds of projects. Are they frivolous? Do they lead to deeper scientific findings? If the government doesn't provide the funding, would anybody else? Does the government have a obligation to help provide opportunities for such research to happen? Who and how do we decide if a study is worth funding for the greater good of society? They're all interesting questions.
One of the problems of the past, the article notes, is that scientists typically have kept quiet and take their lumps from the critics while their research goes on. The thinking is that the critics don't want to understand science, so why even engage them in an argument. And unknown benefits can emerge from such projects. A researcher looking into why bluebirds are blue is now on the cusp of developing a new way to make paint.
It's a great topic for debate. Read the article and share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
What role do scientists should have in the political process. Do they have a responsibility to advocate and champion their research to the public by becoming involved in the political process? What impact would this have on their research being viewed as impartial and objective?
The Theater of Public Policy seeks to explore these issues with an in-depth interview with representatives from Broad Impacts, a U of M Science Policy group. After discussing these ideas, an improvisational comedy team will breathe life into these ideas; bringing to life the ideas, concepts and memes from the conversation. Through thought provoking conversation and inspired humor, the policy issue will be illuminated.
The show takes place at 6:30pm on Thursday, Oct. 6th at Huge Theater, 3037 South Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis and costs $5. The Theater of Public Policy is supported by InCommons and the Citizens League.
It's a world leader in clean energy investment and clean coal research and development. Last year, it manufactured a third of the world's solar panels and wind turbines, and it's luring companies from all over the world to build factories there. It has recently made huge investments in clean energy education. But it's not America.
Courtesy Jude Freeman
The country I'm describing is China. That's right--the world's newly-dubbed largest net emitter of greenhouse gasses. It isn't bound by reduction requirements under the Kyoto protocol, and its use of fossil fuels is powering a growing and booming economy. And yet, the Chinese are courting US companies with financial incentives to build clean tech factories and research centers in China. They're working to corner clean tech markets in California and South Africa. In fact, over the last three years, China has gone from controlling 2% of California's solar market to a whopping 46%--ousting its American competitors. And that's not all--the country has become a proving ground for clean coal with the guidance of US companies and researchers.
These companies hope to learn from their experiences testing clean coal tech in China, and bring that knowledge back to the US to transform our own polluting coal plants into next-generation powerhouses. So what's in it for the Chinese? They're quickly gaining lead on the cutting edge in green technology, making room for growth in the energy sector without increasing pollution or relying on foreign imports, and reaping economic benefits--and they foresee substantial economic benefits in the future, when they could be the major supplier of green technology and research to the world.
Given the US's slowing progress on clean technologies, what do you think this will mean for our future? Should we be trying to get on top of green tech research and development? Or is it best left to others? Or are those even the right questions--will we have the best success when we pool resources with other countries?
Courtesy Mr T in DC
Dyson, who makes a new type of "airblade" hand dryer, funded research which showed regular hot-air hand dryers could make your hands "germier".
When volunteers kept their hands still, the dryers reduced skin bacteria numbers by around 37 per cent compared to just after washing. But the count rose by 18 per cent when volunteers rubbed their hands under one of the machines. Paper towels proved the most efficient, halving the bacterial count even though volunteers rubbed their hands. That's because the towels actually scrape off the bacteria. Journal of Applied Microbiology
Reading this research paper made me think it was a commercial message written by the Dyson advertising department.
Courtesy RaeA In a paper titled Increased Food and Ecosystem Security via Perennial Grains scientist state that perennial grains could be available in two decades and urge that research into perennial grains be accelerated by putting more personnel, land, and technology into breeding programs.
Perennial grains have roots that reach 10 feet or deeper, reduce erosion, build soil, need less herbicide, and best of all, survive over winter so there is no need to plow, cultivate, or replant.
This week I came across another study showing that Vitamin D is a flu fighter. The study has just been published online, ahead of print, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In the study children were asked to swallow six pills a day (25% dropped out). Half of the children's pills were placebos (fake). The pill givers did not know which pills were fake (double blind).
Incidence of influenza A was 10.8 percent among the 167 kids who received vitamin D pills. That's in contrast to a flu rate of 18.6 percent among an equal number of children getting identical looking inert pills. Doctors monitoring the trial confirmed flu cases using a test to assay for the influenza-A germ.
The study also noted that two asthma attacks occurred during the trial among kids getting the vitamin, compared to 12 in the unsupplemented group. The study doesn’t say whether the same number of kids with a history of asthma were in each group so this result may not be valid.
The researchers also stated that it may take almost three months “to reach a steady state of vitamin D concentrations by supplementation". I interpret this to mean that takes our bodies about 90 days to accumulate an effective Vitamin D concentration (less illness after 3 months of taking vitamin D than during initial 3 months).
Courtesy Harvard University Gazette
"In the half-century since Henrietta Lacks' death, her ... cells ... have continually been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits".
Ever wonder how monarch butterflies navigate. They use the sun you might say. The sun is constantly moving, though. Well, maybe a built in clock helps. How important are the eyes compared to the antennas?
To figure out what was important scientists dipped some antennas in clear varnish and some in black paint. The ones with clear varnish had no trouble navigating. The ones with black paint covering their antennas could not.
That not only showed the antennas were sensing light for navigating, it also showed that the sense of smell isn't involved in finding the way, since both paints blocked that ability. USA Today
The study was led by Dr. Steven M. Reppert, chairman of neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I urge you to visit his faculty web page which explains how his team is using anatomical, cellular, molecular, electrophysiological, genetic and behavioral approaches to more fully understand the biological basis of monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) migration.
The incredible detail and depth of their research made me appreciate how understanding one little thing like butterfly migration can lead to better understanding how complex things like the human brain works. This recent paper published in science was titled, Antennal Circadian Clocks Coordinate Sun Compass Orientation in Migratory Monarch Butterflies.
Want to help track monarchs? The Minnesota Zoo is offering visitors the chance to participate in a monarch tagging project. (Data from tagged monarchs helps scientists learn about their amazing migration.)
August 30, 4 - 5 p.m.
September 6, 4 -5 p.m.
(Dates are subject to change depending on the weather.)
Cost is $10 per person. Children under 10 should be accompanied by an adult. Call 952.431.9273 to make a reservation.
My mom just sent me an E-mail. Why's that worthy of a Buzz post? Well, it just so happens that she's on board the OSV Bold, the US Environmental Protection Agency's only ocean and coastal monitoring ship. (It's crawling along the coast of Maine right now.) From the boat, scientists are able to sample the water column, ocean bottom, and sea life to get a sense of how the ocean is being impacted by human activities, and how we can better manage what goes into it. If you're curious, you can follow the adventures of the OSV Bold on Twitter, or read the daily observations log. (There's a photo of Moms in the batch posted for day 4, but her face isn't visible. Just trust me: she's the beautiful on the Bold. Oh, and lest you think this is a completely frivolous and nepotistic post, check it: www.whitehouse.gov picked up the story, too.)