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Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.

Maggie goes places and talks to people. Find out where she'll be speaking next.


Pterosaurs: Winged, awesome, and surprisingly rare

Pterosaurs weren't birds. They weren't dinosaurs, either. And they are definitely more than just pterodactyls. As an order, the pterosaurs contained a huge amount of diversity. Sordes pilosus looked like a flying monkeyduck. Quetzalcoatlus northropi was an extra in The Dark Crystal. Thalassodromeus sethi looked like something your brain would invent after watching Froot Loops commercials on acid.

But, despite that wide variety (and, from what scientists can tell, their ubiquity on every continent), it's incredibly rare to find pterosaur fossils. In fact, all the freaky pterosaurs we can recreate in pictures probably only represent a fragment of the order's true diversity. There are many more pterosaurs whose fossil remains aren't well-preserved or numerous enough for us to get a good idea of what they looked like. Why? This video from the American Museum of Natural History explains it.

Bonus: The museum has a whole pterosaur exhibit opening April 5.

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Liquid water discovered on the surface of Minnesota

Next up, searching the area for extremophile life forms. Maggie 15

What we lose if we lose antibiotics

This is about more than just the ability to treat an infection, important as that is, writes Maryn McKenna. If antibiotics no longer work, we also lose organ transplantation, cancer treatments, kidney dialysis, safe childbirth, many types of surgery, and cheap meat. Maggie 20

Autism linked to second-trimester fetal brain development

Scientists found differences in the brain structures of kids with autism compared to kids who don't have autism. Those specific structures form during the second trimester of pregnancy, suggesting that autism is something that is present long before birth. Maggie 22

Two new discoveries, one space object: Planetoids in the news

Our solar system has eight planets (again, sorry Pluto). But it has many, many more planetoids — more than 600,000 at last count. It's a broad category. The word planetoid covers anything that isn't a true planet (objects with enough mass that they have taken on a mostly round shape and have become the dominate gravitational force in their orbit) and that also isn't a comet.

Planetoids are big news this week, with two new discoveries that will teach us more about the structure of objects in space and about our solar system, as a whole.

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Electricity decentralization, here we come

Small-scale, rooftop solar power is starting to seriously destabilize the future of electric utility business plans. What will be the utility's role? Will we even need an electric grid? At Scientific American, David Biello reports on how companies and customers are navigating the shift to a different model of energy production. Maggie 29

The bad science behind brain training

Why Lumosity.com (and other workouts for your brain) are unlikely to actually make you smarter or help you think better. Maggie 11

Invasion of the mind-altering parasites

This year, science writer Ed Yong went from being a noted critic of the TED conference science coverage to being part of the TED conference science coverage. And he nailed it.

Here's Ed's talk — all about the wonders of mind-controlling parasites — which manages to tie awesome scientific facts back to a larger idea without overselling that Big Idea so much as to become misleading. May it be a model for all science TED talks to come.

Also: I particularly love the video Ed shows at about 2:47 into the talk. It features a worm that drives a cricket to suicide and then uses the death as an opportunity to crawl out of said cricket and continue on its merry way through the worm life cycle. In other words, it's got everything a good mind-control parasite story should have.

Video Link

Washington disaster site has a long history of landslides

Last weekend, a landslide buried/destroyed a neighborhood in Oso, Washington. That location has been the site of many landslides in the past — so many, that a 1967 Seattle Times article called it "slide hill". At The Landslide blog Dave Petley has more on the history and geology behind this disaster. Maggie 6

The mysteries of dog sex

You guys, dog sex is seriously strange. If you grew up with un-spayed/neutered dogs, this is probably not a revelation. If you missed out on witnessing this information first hand, though, be prepared to spend the next 15 minutes being mesmerized by videos of dogs doing it on YouTube. (The link here is SFW.) Maggie 21

18th-century scientist sewed tiny pants for frogs

It was all part of proving that sperm are crucial to the creation of life. Maggie 6

Why failed science matters

The Michelson-Morley Experiment — a 19th-century attempt to prove that electromagnetic waves traveled through a "luminiferous aether", the same way that waves travel through water — failed. But that failure is one of the most important moments in early modern physics. In fact, it earned Albert Michelson a Nobel Prize. Maggie 6

In a world of text, humans experiment with different ways of conveying emotion

Texting has changed the English language! We now use more exclamation points than we did 15 years ago! But that's okay, because language is always changing! Maggie 5

Quakebot allows journalists to break news in their sleep

Three minutes after last week's earthquake, a Quakebot created by the The Los Angeles Times had already written a story breaking the news. It took humans another five minutes to copyedit and publish. Maggie 4

A biodegradable battery

This four-cell battery dissolves in water after three weeks. Made from non-toxic concentrations of metals and saline electrolyte, researchers hope to use it to power medical devices inside the human body. Another interesting application: Powering devices used to monitor oceans after an oil spill.