Science

NPR Science
9:51 am
Tue November 13, 2012

Adventurous Eating Helped Human Ancestors Boost Odds Of Survival

The first prehistoric chef who looked out at a field of grass in Africa and said, "dinner!" may have helped our ancestors use new resources in new locations.
Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 6:38 am

Picture, if you can, a prehistoric Bobby Flay — an inventive 3 million-year-old version of the Food Network star chef. He's struggling to liven up yet another salad of herbs and twigs when inspiration strikes. "We've got grass here, and sedge," he says. "Grass and sedge, that's what this dish needs!"

His pals take a tentative taste of this nouvelle cuisine. Sedges usually aren't considered gourmet fare, after all, by these human ancestors. They're tough grasslike plants that grow in marshes. But wow! Not only is this a new taste sensation, it's found in many places.

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NPR Science
6:48 am
Thu November 8, 2012

The Beatles' Surprising Contribution To Brain Science

The Beatles rehearse for that night's Royal Variety Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1963.
Central/Hulton Achive/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 8:18 am

The same brain system that controls our muscles also helps us remember music, scientists say.

When we listen to a new musical phrase, it is the brain's motor system — not areas involved in hearing — that helps us remember what we've heard, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans last month.

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NPR Science
10:45 am
Tue November 6, 2012

Oliver Sacks, exploring how hallucinations happen

Oliver Sacks is a physician, author and professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine. He also frequently contributes to The New Yorker.
Elena Seibert Knopf

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 9:58 am

In Oliver Sacks' book The Mind's Eye, the neurologist included an interesting footnote in a chapter about losing vision in one eye because of cancer that said: "In the '60s, during a period of experimenting with large doses of amphetamines, I experienced a different sort of vivid mental imagery."

He expands on this footnote in his new book, Hallucinations, where he writes about various types of hallucinations — visions triggered by grief, brain injury, migraines, medications and neurological disorders.

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Homelessness
2:03 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

Seattle's mentally ill on streets helped by 'roaming counselor'

Street counselor Larry Clum, with street 'ambassador' Carlo Garcia in downtown Seattle, near a few belonging left chained to a sign by a homeless woman
Keith Seinfeld KPLU

If you’ve been to downtown Seattle, you’ve probably seen people talking to themselves on street corners, or shouting at strangers. Now there’s a fresh face trying to help those in psychiatric crisis.

He’s a roaming mental health counselor, hired by the Union Gospel Mission and downtown’s business-funded Metropolitan Improvement District.

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Diversions
10:55 am
Fri November 2, 2012

Spooky self-portrait by Curiosity rover

This is Curiosity ... on Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

On Mars, Curiosity took a moment or two for self-identification, as if to say, this is me on Mars. The composite image however, almost looks as if Curiosity had a visitor.

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NPR science
10:31 am
Fri November 2, 2012

Sunflowers seen flying through empty desert – Why?

Vincent Liota

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 9:47 am

I've been hearing strange wind stories all my life. The best ones are both wildly improbable but still true, like how the Empire State Building gets hit by wafts of barley flying in on jet streams from Iowa, or how tons of sand from the Saharan desert rain down every year onto Brazilian rainforests. You never know what the wind will bring. The wind decides.

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NPR science
9:38 pm
Thu November 1, 2012

Move Over, Parrot: Elephant Mimics Trainer At Zoo

Koshi, an elephant, makes sounds that imitate Korean words.
Stoeger, et. al. Current Biology

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 8:43 am

Scientists say an Asian elephant at a South Korean zoo can imitate human speech, saying five Korean words that are readily understood by people who speak the language.

The male elephant, named Koshik, invented an unusual method of sound production that involves putting his trunk in his mouth and manipulating his vocal tract.

"This is not the kind of sound that Asian elephants normally make, and it's a dead-on match of the speech of his trainers," says Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna in Austria.

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medicine
4:18 pm
Wed October 31, 2012

Rising abuse has doctors pushing for fewer painkiller prescriptions

The more drugs such as OxyContin are prescribed, the more overdose deaths there are every year, one doctor said.
Adam Gerard Flickr

If you have a condition or injury that leaves you in non-stop pain, for months or years, your doctor might prescribe a powerful painkiller, such as Vicodin or OxyContin. Many doctors are looking for alternatives to these narcotics, and they're sharing approaches this week at a “National Opioid Summit” in SeaTac. 

Concerns about painkillers are rising, because abuse, addiction and overdose deaths are up.

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NPR science
7:06 am
Wed October 31, 2012

How rare is the Earth? Kepler satellite sheds light

This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-47, the first transiting circumbinary system — multiple planets orbiting two suns — 4,900 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus.
T. Pyle JPL-Caltech/NASA

Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 6:38 am

Now that we are fairly sure that there are many Earth-like planets in our galactic neighborhood, the time is ripe (or almost so) to wonder whether these new worlds do indeed have a high probability of hosting new forms of life.

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NPR Culture
10:06 am
Mon October 29, 2012

Is it silly to seek purpose in the natural world?

Does it have a purpose? Does it need a purpose?
Sean Gallup Getty Images

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 8:45 am

Science and religion alike grapple with some of our deepest questions: What is the purpose of life? Why is the natural world just so? Why does the biological world strike us as so exquisitely designed?

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NPR tech news
10:03 am
Sat October 27, 2012

When A Robot Comes Knocking On The Door

Wall-E fell in love with another robot in the movie named after him. Researchers have yet to create a sentient machine, but a breakthrough could be on the horizon.
John M. Heller Getty Images

Originally published on Sat October 27, 2012 3:03 am

Peter Remine says he will know it's time to get serious about rights for robots "when a robot knocks on my door asking for some help."

Remine, founder of the Seattle-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots, says the moment will come when a robot in an automobile factory "will become sentient, realize that it doesn't want to do that unfulfilling and dangerous job anymore, and ask for protection under state workers' rights."

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npr science
7:06 am
Fri October 26, 2012

Hey, Sexy Dino, Show Me Your Feathers

This artistic interpretation shows an adult and juvenile feathered ornithomimid dinosaurs.
Julius Csotonyi Science

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 5:43 pm

Some of the weirdest animal behavior is about romance. That's especially true with birds — they croon or dance or display brilliant feathers to seduce the reluctant.

This sort of sexual display apparently has a long pedigree: There's now new evidence that some dinosaurs may have used the same come-on.

The source is a kind of dinosaur that was built like a 400-pound ostrich. It lived about 75 million years ago and is called ornithomimus, meaning "bird mimic."

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NPR Science
5:24 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

On Saturn, Cassini observes huge storm, causing incredible temperature spike

These red, orange and green clouds (false color) in Saturn's northern hemisphere indicate the tail end of the massive 2010-2011 storm. Even after visible signs of the storm started to fade, infrared measurements continued to reveal powerful effects at work in Saturn's stratosphere.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 2:04 pm

"Frankenstorm" may be drawing the attention of meteorologists here on Earth.

But NASA scientists using the Cassini spacecraft have witnessed a rare massive storm on Saturn that was so violent it sent the temperature in the planet's stratosphere soaring to 150 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

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health care
12:20 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

Obamacare coming to life in state; eyebrows rise over funding

A new name, logo and slogan for Washington's version of the federal health law.

Far from the campaign trail, President Obama’s health-care law is chugging toward implementation in Washington state. A new agency is emerging, with a new name – and some questions about how to fund it.

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Diversions
1:53 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

How a Boeing worker invented computer graphics for movies

A screen grab from former-Seattleite Loren Carpenter's groundbreaking movie "Vol Libre."

In a blast from the past, the public radio show Bullseye dug up Seattle’s connection to the first video showing the genesis of computer-generated images or graphics in movies.

In 1980, Boeing employee and University of Washington graduate Loren Carpenter presented a two-minute computer generated movie call “Vol Libre” that almost immediately revolutionized moviemaking.

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