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Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. From August 2014-May 2015, she will be a Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard University. You can follow Maggie's adventures in the Ivory Tower by subscribing to The Fellowship of Three Things newsletter.


Plants that "eat" metal

A cool graphic by Maki Naro explains the science of hyperaccumulators, plants that are capable of absorbing toxic levels of potentially dangerous minerals without harming themselves.

The waterlogged mineral hidden deep in the Earth

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Ringwoodite is a silicate mineral that can be made up of as much as 2.6 percent water by weight. That water isn't stored as a liquid in the rock. Instead, it's present as molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. But when ringwoodite is exposed to very specific temperatures and pressures, the rock can sort of "sweat" water.

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Listen to the 18th-century drinking song that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Written by John Stafford Smith, "To Anacreon in Heaven", it was the theme song for a gentlemen's society dedicated to love of wine, women, and song. You can listen to a recording of it at the Smithsonian site.

The Gypsy Moth and the threshold of extinction

Maggie Koerth-Baker on how protecting endangered species has taught us something about eradicating invasive ones.

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Senator calls out Dr. Oz for fraudulent weight-loss "miracle" drugs

Dr. Oz acknowledges that the products he pushes can't pass scientific muster. But that's okay, he says. Because his job is really to be a "cheerleader for the audience" and encourage them to find hope. Super.

How GM silenced its whistleblowers

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The cover of Bloomberg Businessweek this week riffs on a classic Vietnam-era Esquire cover. Sometimes, words speak louder than pictures.

How booze affects your immune system

Several studies are shedding light on how alcohol impairs the cells that make your immune system function — which could help explain some long-term health problems in alcoholics.

Tracking the killer of hundreds of ancient Romans

What killed the hundreds of people buried in a single catacomb known as "the X Tombs"? Scientists are finding answers with the help of DNA analysis.

Former governor: University of Minnesota leading massive human experimentation coverup

The death of clinical trial subject Dan Markingson is just the tip of the iceberg in a tale of corruption, mismanagement, and deaths.

Watch these frolicking sea lampreys build nests

We're used to thinking of sea lampreys as a bad thing, an invasive species. But that's in the Great Lakes. In New England streams, the lampreys are native and necessary to ecosystem health.

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Why did the PicturePhone fail?

Introduced in 1964, the PicturePhone was a fascinating, ahead-of-its-time technology that ultimately failed miserably — costing Bell half a billion dollars. The Engineer Guy explains what went wrong.

I really dig his series on great tech failures. They're all great examples of lessons that I learned studying the electric grid and the development of large-scale energy infrastructure. The technologies we end up using weren't inevitable winners preordained by the quality of their engineering. The best technologies often fail. And tech failures happen not because of engineering alone, but because of a complicated interplay of history, culture, technology, and society.

Were dinosaurs warm-blooded, cold-blooded, or something else?

Diagram: energy usage in a number of animal groups, including birds, mammals, dinosaurs and modern reptiles. Dinosaurs were "mesotherms," neither warm- nor cold-blooded, a new study finds. (John Grady, LA Times)


Diagram: energy usage in a number of animal groups, including birds, mammals, dinosaurs and modern reptiles. Dinosaurs were "mesotherms," neither warm- nor cold-blooded, a new study finds. (John Grady, LA Times)

Were dinosaurs warm-blooded or cold-blooded? That's a debate that's been going on since 1968, when Yale scientists first proposed that dinos could have been active, agile, and fast.

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Ring emerges from the sewers in which it was lost

Man loses class ring down the toilet. A year later, sewer workers return it. Bonus: Behind-the-scenes descriptions of sewer system maintenance.

Moths of unusual size in Southeast Asia

Moths with wingspans as big as six inches are swarming in Malaysia and Singapore.

Autopsy reveals flaws in Oklahoma execution system

Clayton Lockett died in April, following a botched execution that authorities blamed on a chance collapse of Lockett's vein. Autopsy results suggest that wasn't the case, pinning blame instead on the Department of Corrections.

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The fireflies that hunt other fireflies

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Male fireflies of the species Photinus carolinis light up the night in search of mates. But someone is watching. And I don't mean humans or female P. carolinis.

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Extreme close-up of squid's underarm totally looks like Audrey II

Seriously, you guys. Check out this electron microscope image that won an honorable mention in the 2008 Best Science Images contest. (Thanks, P.F. Anderson>!)

Using technology to make old songs sing again

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In 2008, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used digital imaging machine to play back the oldest known recordings of the human voice. Now, the machine is being used by The Library of Congress.

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Rocks made from plastic could mark the anthropocene in geologic layers

Let's name the types of rock: Igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic ... and plastiglomerate.

Plastic pollution in oceans can't be solved with a gadget

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Every so often, somebody comes up with a plan for finding and removing the particles of plastic that litter our oceans and accumulate in "garbage patch" gyres. These plans meet with great acclaim ... from everybody except the people who know the most about garbage patches and plastic pollution.

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TIL: What an oryctologist is

Paleontologists are not the people who dig up dinosaur bones. That's oryctologists. Some paleontologists are also oryctologists. But not all. And plenty of oryctologists don't do paleontology.

The real Turing Test crashes headlong into issues of gender identity

The game Alan Turing actually proposed: A man and a computer compete to see who is better at pretending to be a woman. As judged by men. In 1950. Hilarity ensues.

What happens when you go collect random virus samples in the jungle

Zika virus — a mosquito-borne illness that we discovered in lab samples almost 20 years before we identified a case in humans.

Religious pilgrimage sites hold clues to antibiotic resistance

Scientists are studying the sites of seasonal religious celebrations, like Rishikesh in India, to understand how human travel helps spread antibiotic resistance around the globe.

How has the American diet changed since 1970?

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The answer to that question was not exactly what I was expecting. Time has a couple interactive charts that visualize the changes. Here's some interesting things I learned ...

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Shark-related headlines: Fixed it for you

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At Southern Fried Science, David Shiffman helpfully corrects recent news headlines to remove anti-shark rhetoric and hysteria.

Science success!

Buried in a press release, an awesome fact: Since 2000, prevention and control measures have reduced global malaria mortality rates by 42%. Go team human!

What we can learn about gendered behavior by studying other primates

Looking at chimpanzees and bonobos demonstrates that the behavior of boys and girls is highly variable, depending on both nature and nurture.

Watch a volcanic eruption engulf a forest

Pyroclastic flows are the infamous deadly avalanches of superheated gas and debris that killed thousands at Pompeii and in the 1902 Mount Pelée eruption on Martinique. Now, thanks to a very brave scientist, you can watch a pyroclastic flow up close.

This is one of several videos taken during the recent eruption of Guatemala's Santiaguito (or Santa Maria) volcano. At the Eruptions blog, Erik Klemetti explains the background of how this footage was made, what it shows, and why it's so important.

So, when faced with a pyroclastic flow, why would you try to get up close to one? Julio Cornejo, an INSIVUMEH observer from the Santiaguito volcano observatory (OVSAN), did just that to capture some video (see top and below) that has surprised everyone that has seen it. Cornejo was able to film the very far end of a pyroclastic flow generated by the dome collapse at Santiaguito (see above), when it had lost most of its energy but was still moving. At this point a flow is likely still capable of engulfing and suffocating someone in hot ash and gasses, as happened to many people in the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelee. So, Cornejo is very lucky to have made it out alive with this footage, but what he got was remarkable.

Rudiger Escobar Wolf, a volcanology post-doctoral researcher at Michigan Tech who studies volcanoes in Guatemala, posted a sequence of videos from Cornejo and INSIVUMEH and annotated some of the video to understand what we’re seeing. I’ve also watched the video closely and have two here that show some likely never-before-filmed examples of how pyroclastic flows can be destructive even after they slowed to a snail’s pace relative to their usual speed.

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Moore's Law may be plateauing

An interesting look at how computing and the computing industry changes when processors no longer double in power every 18 months.