Science

Science news

Editor's note: This story was first published in December 2014.

The first time I ever got tipsy was during a champagne toast at a cousin's wedding reception.

All was good, until the room started spinning — and the sight of my cousin's bride dancing in her wedding dress was just a whirl of lace.

Of course, if you're an uninitiated teenager, any amount of alcohol can go straight to your head. But, decades later, bubbly wine still seems to hit me faster than, say, beer. It turns out there's a reason.

In 1957, humans launched a satellite into orbit, Sputnik-1.

The same mission also created our first piece of space junk: the rocket body that took Sputnik into space.

By the year 2000, there were hundreds of satellites in orbit — and thousands of pieces of space junk, including leftover rockets and pieces of debris.

You have probably been hearing a lot about virtual reality in the past couple of years; this coming year you finally may get to try it. Several major consumer headsets are hitting the market, allowing users to experience everything from travel, games, news and shopping.

But it's not clear whether that will be enough to entice consumers to spend a few hundred bucks on a VR headset.

Brian Blau thinks it will be enough. The analyst at Gartner, a tech market-research firm, has watched dozens of people don a virtual reality headset for the first time.

Editor's note: One of the most intriguing stories we ran in 2015 looked at — and listened to — how the invention of the stethoscope changed medicine. We're presenting it again, in case you missed it in July.

A novel immunotherapy drug is credited for successfully treating former President Jimmy Carter's advanced melanoma. Instead of killing cancer cells, these drugs boost the patient's immune system, which does the job instead.

Immunotherapy is cutting-edge cancer treatment, but the idea dates back more than 100 years, to a young surgeon who was willing to think outside the box.

Our Parasites And Vermin Reveal Secrets Of Human History

Dec 24, 2015

They look like tiny tubes with stumpy legs. They can nestle snugly into pores, right at the base of small hairs. And there are probably hundreds on your face.

Ever notice the catnaps that older relatives take in the middle of the day? Or how grandparents tend to be early risers?

You're not alone. Colleen McClung did, too. A neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, McClung wanted to know what was going on in the brain that changes people's daily rhythms as they age.

In a finding that suggests "considerable water activity" on Mars, NASA says its Curiosity rover has found very high concentrations of silica on the red planet. The agency says it also found "a mineral named tridymite, rare on Earth and never seen before on Mars."

About 40 percent of Americans belong to a racial or ethnic minority, but the people who participate in clinical trials tend to be more homogeneous. Clinical trials are the studies that test whether drugs work, and inform doctors' decisions about how to treat their patients. When subjects in those studies don't look like the patients who could end up taking the treatments, that can be problematic. In short: Clinical trials are too white.

If you've found that you are sensitive to gluten — the stretchy protein that makes wheat bread fluffy and pie crusts crisp — perhaps you've had to bear the brunt of the gluten-free backlash.

In America, our food options are remarkably unaffected by the changing seasons. We just keep eating salad greens and tomatoes without regard to the onset of winter.

In most of the country, there's little chance that the greens we eat in the late fall and winter are locally grown.

But if there were greenhouses nearby, they could be. And in a small but growing number of places, local greenhouses are there.

Take Lower Makefield Township, Pa., right across the Delaware River from Trenton, N.J.

Adam Jones / Wikimedia Commons

Researchers at the University of Washington say they can use phone records to help humanitarian efforts in developing countries. The key is the different cell phone habits of wealthier and poorer people.

Is there ever a time when cool trumps science?

It's a question that becomes relevant when you consider NASA's plans to put a helicopter drone on an upcoming rover mission to Mars.

This is the time of year that ancient Greeks gave thanks to the goddess Ceres for bringing forth a bountiful harvest. Modern planetary scientists give thanks to a different Ceres — not a goddess, but the largest object in the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Studying Ceres should help researchers gain a better understanding of how our solar system formed, and they'll soon have unique new data about Ceres from a NASA spacecraft called Dawn, which is spending this Thanksgiving heading for its closest, and final, orbit around the dwarf planet.

Somehow we're squeezing 16 people into our apartment for Thanksgiving this year, with relatives ranging in age from my 30-year-old nephew to my 90-year-old mother. I love them all, but in a way the one I know best is the middle-aged man across the table whose blue eyes look just like mine: my younger brother Paul.

Every year before influenza itself arrives to circulate, misinformation and misconceptions about the flu vaccine begin circulating. Some of these contain a grain of truth but end up distorted, like a whispered secret in the Telephone game.

But if you're looking for an excuse not to get the flu vaccine, last year's numbers of its effectiveness would seem a convincing argument on their own. By all measures, last season's flu vaccine flopped, clocking in at about 23 percent effectiveness in preventing lab-confirmed influenza infections.

A look at the brain's wiring can often reveal whether a person has trouble staying focused, and even whether he or she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD.

A team led by researchers at Yale University reports that they were able to identify many children and adolescents with ADHD by studying data on the strength of certain connections in their brains.

Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Researchers at the University of Washington say they have figured out how to make lasers do something they have never done before: make a liquid colder.

Google's self-driving car is seeming more and more human. And like the rest of us, it's subject to traffic stops.

The head of Google's rapid rollout lab, David Weekly, tweeted a photo Thursday of the prototypical car stopped by a motorcycle officer. Apparently, the vehicle was going too slowly in a 35 mph zone, causing traffic to snarl.

Astronomers have spotted what they believe to be the most distant object ever seen in our solar system.

The dwarf planet, known for now simply as V774104, is more than 100 times farther from the sun than we are. Astronomers aren't sure what it's doing out there, but they're hoping follow-up studies of its orbit will teach them more.

Our Tools of the Trade series examines iconic objects of the education world.

The 24 juniors and seniors in the astronomy class at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Va., sink into plush red theater seats. They're in a big half-circle around what looks like a giant telescope with a globe on the end. Their teacher, Lee Ann Hennig, stands at a wooden control panel which, appropriately, has enough buttons and dials to launch a rocket.

In September, we reported on a charming little study that found people who feel blue after watching sad videos have a harder time perceiving colors on the blue-yellow axis.

Now the researchers may be feeling blue themselves. On Thursday they retracted their study, saying that errors in how they structured the experiment skewed the results.

Biologist Ethan Bier runs a laboratory at the University of California, San Diego where fruit flies are used to help unravel the processes that lead to some human diseases. One day recently, a graduate student in the lab called him over to take a look at the results of the latest experiment.

Bier was stunned by what he saw. "It was one of the most astounding days in my personal scientific career," Bier says. "When he first showed me, I could not believe it."

This week, for Halloween, the Hidden Brain podcast gets spooky.

Producer Maggie Penman visits a haunted house in Pittsburgh called The ScareHouse, curated in part by sociologist Margee Kerr.

Kerr teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of a new book called Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear.

Childhood is a time for pretend play, imaginary friends and fantastical creatures. Flying ponies reliably beat documentaries with the preschool set.

Yet adults are no strangers to fiction. We love movies and novels, poems and plays. We also love television, even when it isn't preceded by "reality."

hackNY.org / Flickr

There are many computer scientists these days trying to create machines that can make connections the way human brains do; but it is not an easy task.

Now the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is sponsoring a contest to see whose software can best answer 8th grade science questions. 

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

The maker culture is built around a do-it-yourself ethic. It’s not unusual to meet people teaching themselves carpentry, computer hacking or electrical engineering. But what about DIY biochemistry? or do-it-yourself genetic engineering? or do-it-yourself neuroscience?

Two scientists from Canada and Japan have won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 for opening "a new realm in particle physics," the Nobel Prize committee says. Working far apart, both Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald showed how neutrinos shift identities like chameleons in space.

Pages