science

In her most recent book, author Mary Roach talks about the unique ways science and war interacts on a more personalized level.
Dan Wanschura

‘Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War,’ is the newest book by author Mary Roach. And in it's pages, she doesn’t talk about what you might think of when you hear the words “science” and “war.” 


One of the most famous and vocal climate scientists is speaking out, again. Penn State researcher and author Michael Mann was recently asked by Democrats to be a witness at a hearing on climate science. It was held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Mann called the other three witnesses fringe experts because they were questioning the science behind climate change.

NASA

Early Thursday morning, the Space X Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station. The capsule is carrying supplies for the astronauts who live aboard the ISS, but it’s also carrying an experiment devised by students at Traverse City West High School.

The students want to know how quickly blue algae grows in space, and they convinced NASA to send their algae samples.

What could artificial intelligence (AI) mean for us in the future? And when might intelligent machines and technology be at a point where they become an integral part of our lives?

Those are the questions that Michigan State University researcher Arend Hintze explores.

He's an assistant professor of Integrative Biology and Computer Science and Engineering, and he runs the Hintze Lab, where they research the evolution of natural and artificial intelligence.

Sam Corden

Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes.

 

Eileen Pollack's new novel, A Perfect Life, took a while to find a publisher.

The book features a postdoctoral research scientist on a quest to uncover a genetic test for the disease that cut short her mother's life. This medical mystery also features a love story between the protagonist, Jane Weiss, and a man who may also carry the disease, adding human drama to the scientific exploration.

Still, the complexities of this plot were sometimes lost on publishers. One even told Pollack that "men don’t read fiction written by women, and women’s book groups don’t want to read something with science in it!"

Material that repairs itself after being shot? Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but what practical applications could this have?

Aaron Selbig

Outbreaks of measles and whooping cough have died down in northern Michigan. But a new state law has gone into effect that makes it harder for parents to refuse vaccinations for their children.

Parents seeking a vaccine waiver for “philosophical” reasons will first have to meet with a public health nurse. Health officials hope the new law will reduce Michigan’s high waiver rate but research shows the plan could be ineffective – or even backfire.

The scientific community largely agrees climate change is taking place. Yet the public debate over climate change is often polarizing.

Andrew Hoffman wanted to explore just what causes people to accept or reject the scientific consensus on climate change. The result is his new book How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate.

Hoffman is the Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He is also a Professor of Sustainable Enterprise.

Robert Alexander works to give the sun a voice. As a sonification specialist at the University of Michigan, Alexander turns data from the sun into music. 

Federal spending on scientific research hasn’t kept up with inflation in recent years, and it’s made it harder for researchers to fund their work. Some of them are turning to another source: crowdfunding. But this funding source raises new questions for scientists.  

It’s a cold day in East Lansing, but many are braving the cold to catch a glimpse of the next major step in a $730 million nuclear physics project. 

Over the next day or so, truckload after truckload of concrete is being poured into a deep pit on the Michigan State University’s campus.

At the bottom of the 65-foot-deep trench, the concrete will form an 8-foot slab that will support a key portion of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.    

 


University of Michigan researchers believe the water in your glass or bottle might be older than the sun.

One of those researchers is Ilse Cleeves, an astronomy PhD student. 

Cleeves and her fellow researchers arrived at the estimate by simulating the chemistry that went on as our solar system formed. They studied the ratio of two different varieties of water – common water and a heavier version. Through the simulation, the researchers found that at least half of our water likely formed in the cold molecular cloud that spawned our solar system. 

A recent report from the Council of Canadian Academies finds our Canadian neighbors have a pretty fine grasp of science. 

The panel has commissioned a nationwide survey of how Canadians relate to science. Compared to similar surveys in other countries, Canada ranked first in science literacy: 42% of Canadians are able to read and understand newspaper stories detailing scientific findings.

Despite our shared border, Canadians seem to be ahead of the U.S. in understanding and appreciating science topics.

What is the universe made of?

It’s a fundamental question that has been asked numerous times over the years, and Katherine Freese is devoting her scientific career to answering it.

Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan. Her book is called “The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter.”

Freese the answer is surprising ,and finding it begins by starting with what we do know.

“Your body, the air, the walls, let’s even throw in the stars and planets. All of that is made of atoms, but all of that only adds up to about 5% of the universe,” Freese said.

Freese said the quest to find the answer dates back to a Swiss astronomer in the 1930s who found something was pulling at the universe, causing it to expand. He called it dark matter.

So what does dark matter mean?

“It means that it does not shine,” Freese said. “It is invisible to our eyes and our ordinary telescopes."

Freese said scientists believe they are close to detecting it, and believe it is made of some new particle – entirely different from neutrons, protons, and everything we have learned in science class.

Freese said her book served two purposes: to talk about the hunt for dark matter, and to talk about her experience as a scientist.

*Listen to the full interview with Katherine Freese above. 

–Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Flying unmanned helicopters for science in Michigan

Aug 14, 2014


You might’ve heard that Amazon is hoping to one day deliver packages to your door by little unmanned helicopters.

Now, scientists are getting into the act, too.

Ever since Stephen Hawking came out with his theory about how black holes work, physicists – including Hawking himself – have been wrestling with a "hole" in that theory.

Hawking postulated that if you threw something like a chair into a black hole, given enough time that chair would "dematerialize." It would disappear, leaving no trace of its existence.

But the laws of physics don't allow for things to simply disappear. Things can change, or be altered, but they can't disappear. You can burn a piece of paper, and it's no longer there, but the carbon, water, and other molecules still exist somewhere. Again, it can't simply disappear.

It's called the black hole information paradox.

PBS' Kate Becker quoted Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind in describing Hawking's theory in her post "Do Black Holes Destroy Information?":

As Leonard Susskind wrote in “The Black Hole War,” his 2008 book on the problem of black holes and information loss, “The possibility of hiding information in a vault would hardly be a cause for alarm, but what if when the door was shut, the vault evaporated right in front of your eyes? That’s exactly what Hawking predicted would happen to the black hole.”

The solution?

Now comes a theoretical physicist and computational biologist from Michigan State University who believes he has solved Hawking's black hole information paradox.

Chris Adami joined us today on Stateside. (You can listen to how he explains his theory above.)

Hawking discovered that black holes emit a glow called the “Hawking radiation.” That radiation, Hawking theorized, consumes the black hole and all things in the hole are lost. Poof! Nothing left.

Adami theorizes that a copy of the chair is made before it goes into the black hole.

More on Adami’s solution from MSU:

Technology has opened the doors in recent years for do-it-yourselfers to complete scientific projects without help from universities or government agencies. But space exploration is one field that has remained largely out of reach for amateur scientists who don’t have NASA-sized budgets.

One way space enthusiasts have found to get more involved in the last few years is by building little satellites themselves, called cubesats.

Basically just metal boxes about the size of a loaf of bread, cubesats are popular in the DIY space community because they can be built cheaply with off-the-shelf parts and can be stuffed with cameras and all sorts of other instruments depending on the builders’ interests.

They’re usually put together by groups of amateurs or classes who pay to have their cubesat catch a ride on bigger rocket missions and once they’re dropped off, they stay in orbit and transmit pictures or other data back down to Earth.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan say they are working to expand the scientific capabilities of cubesats by giving them a push in new directions, literally.

They want to take the plasma propulsion systems that power big spacecraft, like communication satellites, and shrink them down so that amateurs can send their cubesats into new orbits or even off into the solar system.

*Listen to the full story above

TC Students Launch Experiment Into Space

Jan 15, 2014
Traverse City Area Public Schools

Northern Michigan high school students have had their work launched into space on Sunday. NASA astronauts will conduct their experiment on the International Space Station.

Three Traverse City West High School students won a contest.

Haley Dole, a junior, was one of the three students who created the experiment.

“It was surprising at first,” Haley said. “I didn’t expect it at all because there were a lot of kids in the contest. And then, it was really exciting.”

A young woman entered college, full of the dreams she’d been holding tight since early grade school: dreams of being a doctor. She entered college in pre-med as a biology major. The biology part of pre-med went just great. But the chemistry was tough, and, in the middle of her sophomore year, when she saw she’d gotten a “D” in organic chem lab, that was that. She dropped out of all her science classes, switched over to History and tried to forget that she’d ever wanted to be a surgeon.

Today she’s glad to be hosting Stateside here on Michigan Radio!

But even after 34 years in radio and TV, Cynthia Canty still finds herself wondering what if she had not let that one “D” chase her out of her science major? And why did no one try to encourage her to keep plugging away?

So when the New York Times Sunday Magazine recently ran a long piece by writer Eileen Pollack titled “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” it struck a very personal chord.

As Eileen finds, women are still underrepresented in the STEM classes and careers that are so crucial to our country’s future prosperity.

But the University of Michigan is working hard to find ways to nurture and support women students and faculty in the sciences.

We were joined today by the author of that New York Times piece. She is one of the first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics from Yale. Today she teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Tim McKay is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Michigan, and he directs the undergrad honors program.

Abby Stewart is a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Michigan. She directs the university’s advance program.

The three of them joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Scientists pushed to share their data sooner

Nov 21, 2013

Some policymakers say scientists hold onto their data too long. They say by the time the information is released, it can miss the window for addressing pressing problems.

The federal government is urging scientists to share their data sooner, but good data is like gold to scientists.

It can solve a lingering puzzle, and lead to professional success. That's why some scientists are considered data hoarders. They protect the information they collect.

But in a recent survey of over 1,300 scientists, Carol Tenopir found more of a spirit of collaboration than competition.

Tenopir participates in a National Science Foundation project called DataOne. Her job is to figure out how to overcome barriers to data sharing and broaden access to information.

Though only a small percentage of scientists said they actually share their data, she was surprised to find many are eager to do so.