The Science Book – The greatest hits of science

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Science Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) DK 2014, 352 pages, 8 x 9.6 x 1 inches $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

The Science Book is DK publishing’s “greatest hits” of science. Laid out chronologically and full of diagrams and photos, it gives you a coffee table book experience but in a manageable way. No book clocking in at 350-ish pages could be totally comprehensive, yet it includes most of the major scientific milestones from 600 BCE to today without being dry or overwhelming.

I found that I was able to gain a better understanding of principles that I only marginally understood, like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which is clearly laid out in layman’s terms and with genuinely helpful visuals. Genetics is a particularly complicated topic that has always fascinated me, so I was especially drawn to the chapters that tackled it and found a diagram using bees to explain recessive traits to be one of my favorite features. The individual chapters are broken up into sections and use sidebars and trivia to keep things interesting, so no matter what topic you land on the information is always accessible. I haven’t read it cover to cover, but rather peruse whatever topic catches my eye and always find something I didn’t known before. Textbooks devoted to science have an unfortunate tendency to be dry and technical, so I am especially excited to share The Science Book with my son as he gets older, with the hope that it may help him develop a real interest in science and an appreciation of its value. Read the rest

Earth’s magnetic field is weakening

Image: ESA/ATG medialab

Satellite data from the European Space Agency have revealed that the Earth’s magnetic poles are weakening, and doing so faster than scientists previously thought.

From Mysterious Universe:

Chris Finlay, one of the researchers with the ESA, says that this new data is groundbreaking in terms of how much it reveals about Earth’s magnetic field: "Swarm data are now enabling us to map detailed changes in Earth’s magnetic field, not just at Earth’s surface but also down at the edge of its source region in the core. Unexpectedly, we are finding rapid localized field changes that seem to be a result of accelerations of liquid metal flowing within the core."

From ESA:

Although invisible, the magnetic field and electric currents in and around Earth generate complex forces that have immeasurable effects on our everyday lives.

The field can be thought of as a huge bubble, protecting us from cosmic radiation and electrically charged atomic particles that bombard Earth in solar winds. However, it is in a permanent state of flux.

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How an engineer/public health whistleblower led the citizen scientists who busted Flint's water crisis

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When Marc Edwards was a young Virginia tech engineer, he landed a job with Cadmus Group, an EPA subcontractor who'd been hired to investigate problems with the DC water-supply, but when he discovered a lead contamination crisis and refused to stop talking about it, he was fired. Read the rest

Bumblebees sense electricity with their fine hairs

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In 2013, Gregory Sutton from the University of Bristol published an important paper demonstrating that bumblebees can sense electricity (his experiment trained bees to associate current in fake flowers with nutrients, and showed that bees preferentially sought out electrified flowers), but now how they sensed it. Read the rest

NASA telescopes spot clues for how Giant Black Holes formed so quickly

NASA Illustration of evidence that the direct collapse of a gas cloud produced supermassive black holes in the early Universe.
NASA today announced that astronomers studying data from NASA’s Great Observatories have found the best evidence yet for “cosmic seeds in the early universe that should grow into supermassive black holes.”

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Optography: retrieving a dead person's last sight from their retina

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Could you recover a murder victim's last sight of their killer by extracting it from the retina? Little more than a century ago, forensic scientists thought it might be possible. After all, in 1877 physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne was able to develop a simple image from an albino rabbit's dissected eyeball. (Above, the two images on the right come from rabbits who stared at two different windows. The left shows just nerves and blood vessels.) From Smithsonian:

The College of Optometrists in the U.K. reports that police photographed the eye of a murdered man in April 1877, "only partly aware of what optography involved," and that investigators on the trail of Jack the Ripper may have considered a proposal to use the technique.

Faith in optography was misplaced, however, as Kühne's experiments showed that only simple, high-contrast surroundings were able to produce interpretable optograms, Douglas J. Lanska writes in Progress in Brain Research. Furthermore, the retina needs to be removed very quickly from the recently deceased.

"How Forensic Scientists Once Tried to "See" a Dead Person's Last Sight" Read the rest

Big Vitamin bankrolls naturopaths' attempts to go legit and get public money

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Backed by huge donations from vitamin companies, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians is pushing to get naturopathic medicine recognized and regulated in all 50 US states, paving the way to receiving public funds in the form of Medicare reimbursements. Read the rest

Texas oil firm indicted in massive 2015 oil spill off coast of Santa Barbara, CA

A brown pelican being cleaned of oil by a bird rescue volunteer on May 22, 2015, after thousands of gallons of oil leaked on to San Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific. REUTERS

In California today, a grand jury indicted the Plains All-American Pipeline and one of the oil company's employees on criminal charges over the massive 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara County.

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Doctors perform first penis transplant in U.S.

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Thomas Manning, 64, is recovering after receiving the first penis transplant in the United States. Manning had his penis amputated in 2012 due to penile cancer. It took 15 hours for surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital to complete the transplant, medically known as a "gentitourinary vascularized composite allograft." The surgery involved "grafting the complex microscopic vascular and neural structures of a donor organ onto the comparable structures of the recipient." According to the surgeons, the procedure could someday be used for gender reconstruction. From CNN:

Dr. Dicken Ko, director of the hospital's Regional Urology Program, said the objectives of the surgery were primarily to reconstruct the genitalia so that it appeared natural, followed by urinary function and hopefully sexual function. However, Ko added that while sexual function is a goal, reproduction is not, because of a concern surrounding the ethical issues of who the potential father may be.

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The mind-blowing neuroscience of hacking your dreams

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Moran Cerf, a pen-testing bank-robber turned horribly misunderstood neuroscientist (previously, previously) gets to do consensual, cutting-edge science on the exposed brains of people with epilepsy while they're having brain surgery. Read the rest

Transport for London blames Tube delays on "wrong type of sun"

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The agency says that the angle of the sunlight that strikes its tracks creates glare that blinds the CCTVs that train-drivers use to ensure that the platform is clear before pulling out of the station. Read the rest

Infested: an itchy, fascinating natural history of the bed bug

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The resurgence of the bed bug caught modern civilization flatfooted: an ancient pestilence dating back to the Pharoahs, gone for two generations, has returned with a vengeance, infesting fancy hotels and slums alike, lining our streets with mattresses spraypainted with the warning BEDBUGS. Infested, science writer Brooke Borel's natural history of the bed bug, looks at the bug's insurgency as a scientific, cultural, and economic phenomenon, and will leave you itching with delight.

Watch Penn and Teller's anti-anti-vaccine rant

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Penn and Teller's classic takedown of anti-vax bullshittery. And if you don't know, now you know.

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Watch the bang as man skips sodium across river

A favorite demonstration in high school science classes of yesteryear, dropping sodium into water is spectacularly explosive. In this video, a fellow attempts to skip a pound of sodium across a river.

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Reading With Pictures: awesome, classroom-ready comics for math, social studies, science and language arts

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Since its inception as a 2012 Kickstarter, the Reading With Pictures project has gone from strength to strength, culminating in a gorgeous, attractively produced hardcover graphic anthology of delightful comic stories that slot right into standard curriculum in science, math, social studies and language arts. Read the rest

Comics and Science: An Explosive Combination

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In honor of Free Comic Book Day, we present this essay by Jon Chad, author of Science Comics: Volcanoes: Fire and Life, and the co-author, with Maris Wicks, of "Science Comics," a free comic available in comics stores all over the world today. Read the rest

Scientists view never-before-seen glowing jellyfish in Mariana Trench ocean depths

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Marine biologists with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expedition in the Mariana Trench encountered a luminous red-and-yellow jellyfish in April, Scientific American reports.

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