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Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors maggiejean, wader, Man Oh Man, side pocket, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, Oke, jlms qkw, Interceptor7, and ScottyUrb, guest editors annetteboardman and Doctor RJ, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, health, energy, and the environment.

Between now and the end of the primary season, Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday will highlight the research stories from the public universities in each of the states having primary or special elections for federal or state office this year plus stories from all research universities in major cities having municipal elections as listed in the Green Papers or the 2014 Daily Kos Elections Calendar.  Tonight's edition features the research and outreach stories from Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Dakota, Nevada, South Carolina, and Virginia.

This week's featured story comes from Discovery News and LiveScience.

The Science Of Stay-At-Home Dads!

5 Ways Fatherhood Changes a Man's Brain
By Bahar Gholipour, Staff Writer
June 14, 2014 11:21am ET

Fatherhood can change a man's life. It also changes his brain, in ways that it seems to equip dads with the very same "baby sense" that's often attributed to moms.

From an animal kingdom perspective, human dads are unusual. They belong to a group of less than 6 percent of mammal species in which fathers play a significant role in rearing offspring. In these species, paternal care often involves the same behaviors as maternal care, with the exception of nursing.

But how does fatherhood change a man's brain? Science has only recently delved into the neural and hormonal mechanisms of paternal care, but so far the evidence suggests that mothers' and fathers' brains use a similar neural circuitry when taking care of their children. Moms and dads also undergo similar hormonal changes that are linked to their brain and behavior changes.

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

President says denying climate change is like thinking the moon is made of cheese
by HoundDog

65 Years Ago Today: Remembering a Forgotten Space Pioneer
by Richard Riis

Spotlight on Green News & Views: Teens sue over climate change, superbugs outwit antibiotics
by Meteor Blades

This week in science: the spice must flow
by DarkSyde

Slideshows/Videos

University of Arkansas: A Visual History of 20th Century Physics Equipment
By: Leah Markum
June 13, 2014

When you think about physics equipment, you may think of tools used in physics labs. A college-level physics laboratory course may require an ammeter to measure electrical current and a calculator to make sense of the experiment’s results. In the 1960s, calculators were a different kind of beast.

NASA: Carbon Observing Mission previewed on This Week @NASA

Science at NASA: ScienceCasts: Solar Mini-Max

Science at NASA: ScienceCasts: Rosetta Comet Comes Alive

JPL/NASA: Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2): NASA's New Carbon Counter

Discovery News: The Mystery Of The Moon Is Finally Solved!

Astronomy/Space

University of Colorado: Astronomers discover first Thorne-Zytkow object, a bizarre type of hybrid star
June 4, 2014

In a discovery decades in the making, scientists have detected the first of a “theoretical” class of stars first proposed in 1975 by physicist Kip Thorne and astronomer Anna Z.ytkow. Thorne-Z.ytkow objects (TZ.Os) are hybrids of red supergiant and neutron stars that superficially resemble normal red supergiants, such as Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. They differ, however, in their distinct chemical signatures that result from unique activity in their stellar interiors.

TZ.Os are thought to be formed by the interaction of two massive stars--a red supergiant and a neutron star formed during a supernova explosion--in a close binary system. While the exact mechanism is uncertain, the most commonly held theory suggests that, during the evolutionary interaction of the two stars, the much more massive red supergiant essentially swallows the neutron star, which spirals into the core of the red supergiant.

While normal red supergiants derive their energy from nuclear fusion in their cores, TZ.Os are powered by the unusual activity of the absorbed neutron stars in their cores. The discovery of this TZ.O thus provides evidence of a model of stellar interiors previously undetected by astronomers.

University of Colorado: CU-Boulder payload selected for launch on Virgin Galactic spaceship
June 4, 2014

A University of Colorado Boulder payload carrying a novel device designed to reduce the weight and cost of spacecraft fuel pumping systems has been manifested for launch on a suborbital space plane called SpaceShipTwo developed by the aerospace company Virgin Galactic.

The CU-Boulder payload consists of a lubrication-free, pistonless rocket fuel pump, said aerospace engineering sciences Associate Professor Ryan Starkey, principal investigator on the project. The device represents a potential advancement for rocket propellant pressurization and transfer that would reduce the weight and cost of spacecraft fuel systems.

Led by CU-Boulder, the project was initiated as a university-industry partnership between the university and Flometrics, a specialized engineering firm based in Carlsbad, Calif., that holds the patent on the device. Known as The Pistonless Pump Technology Demonstrator, the project was developed using a grant from NASA’s Game Changing Opportunities in Technology Development program.

University of North Dakota: UND student-launch rocket project overcomes series of setbacks to successfully lift off over Utah Salt Flats
UND student-launch rocket project overcomes series of setbacks to successfully lift off over Utah Salt Flats
By Amy Halvorson, University & Public Affairs student writer
June 4, 2014

Frozen Fury, University of North Dakota's rocket team, recently produced a successful flight in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Student Launch 2014, a NASA-sponsored national rocketry competition in Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah.

The NASA program is a rigorous one, said Tim Young, UND associate professor of physics and astrophysics. This year, NASA increased the research requirements related to the payload aboard competition rockets in addition to the usual four in-depth reports and presentations that it requires.

"Our team knew it was going to be hard, going from one payload experiment, as we had done the last six years, to three payload experiments compounded the complexity beyond just three times the work," he said.

The payload experiments are aligned with current research in the new NASA Space Launch System project. Along with designing and building the rockets and payloads, UND students had to develop a website, reach more than 100 middle school students, design and sew their own parachutes for rocket retrieval, and fundraise all the money for their rocket, fuel and payload.

UNLV: Protecting Astronauts from Radiation
Professor’s research examines how much cosmic radiation is too much, and what damage it can cause.
By Kevin Dunegan
June 9, 2014

Frank Cucinotta, a professor of health physics and diagnostic sciences, has been fascinated with space and space travel since he was a kid. And when he began his work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), that fascination morphed into studying how radiation in space, or cosmic radiation, affects astronauts.

All living things on the planet are protected from the intense radiation of space by a thick layer of shielding provided by the Earth’s atmosphere, which is equal to 10 meters of water. Radiation does get through to the surface of the planet, but at significantly lower levels than people would be exposed to in space.

Outside that protective layer, the cosmic radiation is intense and the biological damage produced by cosmic rays may be alien to the body’s natural defense mechanisms. One estimate is that a single day in space is equivalent to a year’s worth of natural radiation on Earth. And the effect is cumulative — it doesn’t dissipate when the astronauts return home.

Climate/Environment

Virginia Tech: Architectural researcher to tell global conferees how 'living roofs' help build better cities

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 11, 2014 – Hot town, summer in the city — it's nothing new, but ways to handle the heat, humidity, and stormwater haven’t changed much since the invention of the sewer system.

One solution offered by architectural researchers is known as a “green roof” — a roof covered in living, growing plants to soften the effects of heat, flooding, noise, and stormwater runoff.
...
“With growing numbers of people moving into cities, it is crucial to give architects and builders tools to make good decisions about green roofs,” Grant said. “These systems are on the rise not just because they represent a link to the natural world that is scarce in the city, but because they work. Extremes of temperature and rainfall are becoming unpredictable as climates change, and vegetated roofs help us build resilience in a rapidly changing world.”

Biodiversity

University of Arkansas: The little organisms that could
By: Chris Branam
June 12, 2014

In 1980, in “The River,” Bruce Springsteen sang about teenage lovers escaping their town.

“We’d go down to the river/And into the river we’d dive.”

Andrew Alverson is a huge fan of the Boss. He’s also an expert in the microscopic organisms in the river of which Springsteen sang. Alverson is an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas who studies single-cell algae called diatoms and that are found in oceans, lakes and rivers; practically anywhere where there is sunlight and moisture.

“They are prolific photosynthesizers,” Alverson told me in an interview this past spring. “They produce the oxygen for one of every five human breaths, so they’re extremely important in global cycling of carbon and oxygen.”

Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech scientists weed out pesky poison ivy with discovery of killer fungus

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 11, 2014 – Much to the chagrin of gardeners, hikers, and virtually anyone enjoying the outdoors, one of the hazards of summer is picking up an itchy poison ivy rash.

But researchers in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have found an effective way to kill poison ivy using a naturally occurring fungus that grows on the fleshy tissue surrounding the plant’s seed, potentially giving homeowners and forest managers the ability to rid landscapes of the pernicious pest. Their findings could make the maddening itch of the summer season a thing of the past for the untold millions who are allergic to the plant.

The study was published this week in the journal Plant Disease and is a first of its kind on a plant that affects millions but has had surprisingly little research done on it.

University of Maine: Spawning Sea Lampreys Amplify Streambed Diversity, Say UMaine Scientists
June 3, 2014

Sea lampreys impact rivers for months, perhaps years, due to their disturbance of streambeds when they spawn, say University of Maine researchers.

Robert Hogg, a master’s graduate who participated in the study, writes in a journal article that sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are ecosystem engineers.

The physical disturbance caused by their “nest-building activity was significant and persistent” and increased “habitat heterogeneity” and favored “pollution-sensitive benthic invertebrates and, possibly, drift-feeding fish,” according to the researchers.

Sea lampreys increase the complexity of a streambed by “creating and juxtaposing shallow, swift, rocky habitat patches with deep, slow, sandy habitat patches,” says the article. The effects are “similar to those of Pacific salmon.”

Colorado State University: GPS, cell phones help protect African elephants
The viral spread of smartphones has jumped a species. African elephants are now also benefiting, thanks to new software algorithms developed by researchers and conservationists.
June 14, 2014

A recent study published in the journal Ecological Applications by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Colorado State University and Save the Elephants reports on the use of advanced technology to help monitor and protect African elephants.

The sophisticated tracking system built by the study’s lead author – Jake Wall of the University of British Columbia – collects, analyzes and reports on the movements and activities of nearly 100 African elephants in real-time in an effort to both understand the ecology of movement and also to protect these threatened animals.

Biotechnology/Health

University of North Dakota: UND scientists find another way bacteria needle us
June 12, 2014

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — When harmful bacteria invade the body, the immune system recognizes the chemical flags or antigens on the surface of bacterial cells that tell the immune system the cells are foreign. The immune system mounts a defense to attack and repel the infection.

A University of North Dakota research team, led by Associate Professor Matthew Nilles, PhD; Assistant Professor Danielle Jessen, PhD; and Associate Professor David Bradley, PhD, in the Department of Basic Sciences at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, reports they have discovered that a molecular "needle" found on the surface of a group of bacteria signals the body's immune system it is under attack by a virulent family of bacteria that includes the flea-borne pest that causes the plague and other bacteria that are the culprits in contaminated food and produce that cause mild to severe cases of diarrhea or dysentery.

Their research was recently published in Infection and Immunity, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The significance of the researchers' work led to the journal accepting their submission in eight days. The normal time between submission and acceptance of papers is six to eight weeks.

University of Virginia: Innovative Alumni Aiming to Put Ultrasound in Docs’ Pockets
June 11, 2014

Although definitive statistics are hard to come by, the consensus is that the percentage of expectant mothers who choose to have an epidural during labor is on the rise – and in some hospitals has reached 90 percent. Considering that the Centers for Disease Control estimates that there were close to 4 million births in the United States in 2012, even a small failure rate can affect tens of thousands.

This is the issue that Will Mauldin and Kevin Owen, former doctoral students of University of Virginia biomedical engineering professor John Hossack, are attempting to solve with their company, Rivanna Medical. The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council recently recognized the firm for advances in the field.

One of the primary reasons for epidural failure is incorrect placement of the needle administering the local sedative. Rivanna Medical is developing a pocket-sized ultrasound device that an anesthesiologist could use to guide an epidural stick, an idea Mauldin first explored while taking a class at the Darden School of Business. The Department of Biomedical Engineering encourages students to take a translational perspective on their research, and this allowed him to take “Developing New Products and Services,” a course offered by Darden assistant professor Raul Chao.

University of Virginia: Biomedical Researchers Put Collaboration Power Behind Muscle Study
June 11, 2014

As any engineer will tell you, how you frame a problem determines how you solve it. Both Silvia Blemker and Shayn Peirce-Cottler, associate professors in the University of Virginia’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, study muscle tissue, and they both have developed highly sophisticated computer models that trace the ways muscles adapt to changing circumstances.

Because their approaches are distinct, the insights they drew from their research were distinct as well.

Blemker looks at muscles from a biomechanical perspective. She sees muscles as a series of structures and microstructures, and the model she and former graduate student Bahar Sharafi created shed light on the way the mechanical properties of these structures determine the way the muscle as a whole functions. If you’re interested in finding out why some people are more prone to pulling their hamstrings than others, this is a good place to start.

Shayn Peirce-Cottler takes a different approach. She looks at the muscle tissue in a blood vessel – tissue that enables blood vessels to expand and contract – and she’s interested in the biochemical signals that determine how this tissue responds to exercise and to disease. If you would like to know how diabetes affects blood vessel walls, the biochemistry can be revealing.

University of Virginia: Sneaky Bacteria Change Key Protein’s Shape to Escape Detection
June 9, 2014

Every once in a while in the U.S., bacterial meningitis seems to crop up out of nowhere, claiming a young life. Part of the disease’s danger is the ability of the bacteria to evade the body’s immune system, but scientists are now figuring out how the pathogen hides in plain sight. Their findings, which could help defeat these bacteria and others like it, appear in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The laboratories of Linda Columbus, an associate professor of chemistry and molecular physiology and biological physics, and Peter Kasson, an associate professor of molecular physiology and biological physics and biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, explain that the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, one cause of meningitis, and its cousin Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which is responsible for gonorrhea, have key-like proteins that allow them to enter human cells and do their damage.

Gonorrhea can be cured, although one type of the responsible bacteria has reached “superbug” status, becoming resistant to known drugs. If meningitis is not treated immediately with antibiotics, it can cause severe disability and death.

University of Virginia: U.Va. Engineer Developing Delivery Platform for Better Brain Cancer Treatment
June 4, 2014

Unfortunately, the most common form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, is also one of the deadliest and most difficult to treat. The statistics are stark: it kills about 95 percent of its victims within five years of diagnosis.

Surgery and radiation have only limited effectiveness because glioblastoma is particularly aggressive, infiltrating brain tissue surrounding the primary tumor. The use of chemotherapy to destroy these tendrils is equally ineffective. The blood-brain barrier – a coating of special cells around capillaries in the brain – keeps all but a handful of necessary nutrients from crossing from the blood to the brain’s extracellular fluid.

There may a solution to this problem. University of Virginia biomedical engineering professor Richard Price and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University have developed a technique designed to open the blood-brain barrier at targeted locations just far enough to allow the passage of drug-bearing nanoparticles. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health awarded the group a five-year, $3.3 million grant to put its ideas to the test.

This technique rests on the careful management of microbubbles, Price’s area of specialty.

University of Virginia: U.Va. Biomedical Engineer Studies Crowd Control and Cancer Cells
June 3, 2014

When Kevin Janes considers a tumor, he imagines the population of a dark and dystopian city. Originally colonized by the descendants of a single malignant cell, the tumor grows more diverse over time, as its inhabitants recruit different types of cells to join them and its cell of origin begins to evolve under the pressure of natural selection.

“Seen in this light, treating a tumor is like managing a volatile and unruly mob,” said Janes, a University of Virginia assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “Some of the cells may be truly bad actors, while others are swept along by circumstances.”

Janes has found just such a group. He has demonstrated that some cells found in breast cancer are not always malignant, but are affected by their relationship to the extracellular matrix that surrounds them. Depending on the signals that pass between them and the matrix, the cells grow and migrate uncontrollably or act like normal cells. They exist in two very different states.

Virginia Tech: Smoking-cessation products that contain nicotine may not be safest way to quit, researchers discover

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 12, 2014 – The nicotine patch may do more harm than good, researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute are discovering.

A recent paper in the journal Oncotarget details how nicotine is proving to be a formidable carcinogen, so much so that researchers caution that nicotine-infused smoking cessation products may not be the safest way to help smokers quit.

Nicotine is one of 4,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke. While many of these chemicals are recognized as carcinogens, nicotine has up until now only been considered addictive rather than carcinogenic. It is heavily used in smoking cessation products in patches, gum, and now in the increasingly popular electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette.

The latest in a series of studies about the carcinogenic qualities of nicotine revealed that nicotine excessively mutates a cell's DNA.

Psychology/Behavior

UNLV: Researching Veterans Issues
Various studies at UNLV explore how female veterans respond to stress, how faculty view student veterans, and what challenges lesbian soldiers face.
By Brian Sodoma
June 13, 2014

It’s hard for civilians to truly understand a military veteran’s experience. But that isn’t stopping a few UNLV researchers from at least asking a questions to help them better understand some of the unique challenges today’s veterans face.

University of Virginia: Rebels and Mean Girls Not So ‘Cool’ When Older, U.Va. Study Finds
June 12, 2014

Being one of the “cool” kids isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Teenagers who tried to act cool in early adolescence were more likely than their peers who didn’t act cool to experience a range of problems in early adulthood, according to a new decade-long study. Led by Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, the study appears in the journal Child Development.

While cool teens are often idolized in popular media – in depictions ranging from the James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause” to Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” – seeking popularity and attention by trying to act older than one’s age may not have good longer-term results.

Archeology/Anthropology

University of Virginia: Archaeologists Salvage Rotunda Cistern Signatures
June 10, 2014

The craftsmen who built the cistern alongside the University of Virginia’s Rotunda are long dead, but some of their names were preserved – etched into the cement that lines the 6,500-gallon water tank.

This spring, Rivanna Archaeological Services LLC carefully excavated the cistern, which dates to the 1850s, in preparation for the extensive renovation work at the University’s Rotunda. Its location in the east garden courtyard will eventually become the site of an underground chamber housing new mechanical systems for the Rotunda.

The names of some of the workers who built the underground cistern survived on its inside walls, which had been filled with 4½ tons of clay soil since the early 1890s. Now they will be above ground, as sections of the cistern walls have been removed and preserved.

annetteboardman is taking a well-deserved night off.

Paleontology/Evolution

LiveScience: 5-Million-Year-Old Arctic Fox Ancestor Found in Tibet
By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer
June 13, 2014 04:48pm ET

The fossilized jawbone and teeth of a 5-million-year-old fox have been unearthed in Tibet.

The fox, Vulpes qiuzhudingi, is probably the ancestor of modern Arctic foxes. The discovery, along with several other fossils from cold-loving mammals, buttress the Out of Tibet hypothesis: That iconic ice-age mammals such as woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and giant sloths first evolved for the cold weather in Tibet before fanning out over the steppes of Central Asia and into North America.

North Dakota State University: NDSU research leads to better bean-breeding strategies
13 June 2014

Two NDSU scientists are members of a national research team that successfully completed the sequence of the common bean genome. North Dakota is the leading producer of dry beans in the US.

The NDSU team members are Phil McClean, plant genomicist, and Juan Osorno, dry edible bean breeder. Both scientists are faculty members of the NDSU plant sciences department.

McClean guided the data analysis that determined that the domestication of the common bean in Mexico and the Andean region of South America involved almost completely different sets of genes.
...
For the study, the team sequenced and assembled a 473-million base-pair genome of the common bean. Though it is thought to have originated in Mexico more than 100,000 years ago, the common bean was domesticated separately at two different geographic locations in Mesoamerica and the Andes.

Geology

LiveScience: Earth's Oldest Rocks Hold Essential Ingredient for Life
By Becky Oskin, Senior Writer
June 13, 2014 12:21pm ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A critical building block for creating the first life on Earth was found in 3.8-billion-year-old rocks from Isua, Greenland, researchers reported this week here at the annual Goldschmidt geochemistry conference.

For the first time, rich concentrations of the element boron have been found in Isua's ancient marine rocks, study author Takeshi Kakegawa, a professor at Tohoku University in Japan, said Monday (June 9). The discovery signals that boron was circulating in seawater and was absorbed by marine clays, which eventually became tourmaline, he said.

Boron can stabilize ribose, one of three key components of RNA. Ribose, an organic sugar molecule, has a short half-life and naturally decomposes without a stabilizer. Many researchers think life on Earth descended from RNA, which self-assembled from building blocks such as ribose.

LiveScience: Russia's Popigai Meteor Crash Linked to Mass Extinction
By Becky Oskin, Senior Writer
June 13, 2014 07:35am ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — New evidence implicates one of Earth's biggest impact craters in a mass extinction that occurred 33.7 million years ago, according to research presented here Wednesday (June 11) at the annual Goldschmidt geochemistry conference.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles precisely dated rocks from beneath the Popigai impact crater in remote Siberia to the Eocene epoch mass extinction that occurred 33.7 million years ago. Popigai crater is one of the 10 biggest impact craters on Earth, and in 2012, Russian scientists claimed the crater harbors a gigantic industrial diamond deposit.

The new age, which is later than other estimates, means the Eocene extinction — long blamed on climate change — now has another prime suspect: an "impact winter." Meteorite blasts can trigger a deadly global chill by blanketing the Earth's atmosphere with tiny particles that reflect the sun's heat.

Energy

University of Arkansas: Researchers Design Circuits Capable of Functioning at Temperatures Greater than 650 Degrees Fahrenheit
Work will improve processors, drivers, controllers and other circuits
Thursday, June 12, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have designed integrated circuits that can survive at temperatures greater than 350 degrees Celsius – or roughly 660 degrees Fahrenheit. Their work, funded by the National Science Foundation, will improve the functioning of processors, drivers, controllers and other analog and digital circuits used in power electronics, automobiles and aerospace equipment – all of which must perform at high and often extreme temperatures.

“This ruggedness allows these circuits to be placed in locations where standard silicon-based parts can’t survive,” said Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor. “The circuit blocks we designed contributed to superior performance of signal processing, controllers and driver circuitry. We are extremely excited about the results so far.”

The research is critical because one-third of all power produced in the United States passes through some kind of power electronic converter or motor drive before it reaches the end user. Circuits developed by the University of Arkansas team will enable tight integration of control in the tough environmental conditions these applications demand. They will also improve electrical efficiency while simultaneously reducing the overall size and complexity of these systems.

Physics

LiveScience: Like Magic! Tiny Particles Can Pass Through Long-Distance Barriers
By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer
June 12, 2014 02:00pm ET

Almost anything is possible — at least for a subatomic particle.

One of the many mystifying consequences of quantum mechanics — the rules that govern the behavior of tiny subatomic particles — is that individual particles can pass through barriers that would otherwise be impenetrable.

Now, a new study has shown this same quantum tunneling effect can occur over relatively long distances, with particles seeming to shift places even when several other particles stand in the way. In fact, the interactions between the particles seem to help them along.

 

Chemistry

LiveScience: Forging Biodegradable Plastic From Methane and Plant Waste
Molly Morse, Mango Materials, Inc.
June 10, 2014 04:53am ET

What if we could make the Great Pacific Garbage Patch just disappear? What if plastics didn't accumulate in landfills? What if we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions while replacing up to 30 percent of the world's plastics with a biodegradable substitute?

Researchers have tried for decades to achieve those goals. One approach was to develop an efficient production process for poly-hydroxyalkanoate (PHA) — a biodegradable polymer similar to the polypropylene used to make plastic packaging.  

Scientists at Stanford University and a Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up company called Mango Materials have come up with a new way to make PHA from waste methane gas. And, with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Mango Materials is advancing the process toward commercialization.

Science Crime Scenes

University of Virginia: Law & Order for Juveniles: U.Va. Study Urges Altering Police Interrogations
Fariss Samarrai
June 6, 2014

Some interrogation techniques commonly used by police departments throughout the United States to obtain confessions from adult suspects may be inappropriate for use on juveniles, according to an ongoing University of Virginia psychology study.

Such techniques purport to detect deception in criminal suspects and use methods to heighten suspects’ anxiety during interviews, with the goal of obtaining an admission of guilt. Such psychologically manipulative interrogation techniques are considered contentious by critics because they can result in false confessions.

The risk of this is heightened for juvenile suspects, whose still-developing brains make them impressionable and vulnerable to interviewing methods in a stress-filled interrogation room.

University of Virginia: U.Va.’s Cornell Contributes to Report that Aims to Plug ‘School-to-Prison’ Pipeline
Ellen Daniels
June 10, 2014

For researchers like University of Virginia professor Dewey Cornell, it’s called the “school-to-prison pipeline”: students misbehave in school, are suspended, fall behind in their studies, drop out and subsequently find themselves swallowed up in the justice system.

Cornell, a professor in U.Va.’s Curry School of Education, is among a group of more than 100 experts in a wide range of fields, including education, juvenile justice, law enforcement and mental health, tapped by a national nonprofit group to identify evidence-based recommendations that would change the system of discipline in public schools to keep more kids in the classroom and out of the juvenile justice system. They released their report last week.

According to “The School Discipline Consensus Report,” published by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, millions of students are removed from their classrooms every year for minor misconduct.

Virginia Tech: New proactive approach unveiled to detect malicious software in networked computers and data

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 4, 2014 – Cybercrime comes in all forms these days. One recent headline told of the creepware or silent computer snooping that resulted in the arrest of some 90 people in 19 countries. Miss Teen USA was among the victims. Her computer had been turned into a camera and used to spy on her in her own bedroom.

On the commercial front, Target suffered the largest retail hack in U.S. history during the Christmas shopping season of 2013, and now the Fortune 500 company's outlook is bleak with steep drops in profits.

New research to be announced at the June 2014 ACM Symposium on Information, Computer and Communications Security in Kyoto, Japan, has unveiled the causal relations among computer network events.

The work effectively isolates infected computer hosts and detects in advance stealthy malware also known as malicious software.

Virginia Commonwealth University: How insects and microbes reveal crime scene clues
VCU forensic entomologist works to develop forensic tools to estimate time since death of corpse
By Sathya Achia Abraham
Friday, June 6, 2014

In a thick wooded area, a dead body lies. Within 5 to 10 minutes, a slew of tiny winged visitors –blow flies – are the first on the scene.

Experts say that where there be carrion, this metallic blue-green looking fly is often the first insect to arrive because it can smell death from up to 10 miles away.

As minutes turn to hours, and turn to days, weeks and months, the insect population will change with the passage of time. Flies, beetles and mites will come and go. Exactly which insects infest a decaying body is dependent on the conditions surrounding it, including the temperature and climate. Some insects will come to feed on the decomposing corpse, and others will come to lay eggs/larvae.

When a suspicious death occurs, insect activity on a corpse can provide valuable information to crime scene investigators about the post mortem interval. PMI is the estimated time that has elapsed since a person has died.

Science, Space, Health, Environment, and Energy Policy

UNLV: UNLV Report Details Health of Nevada's Kindergarteners
Annual survey of entering Nevada kidnergarteners reveals 30 percent are overweight or obese and nearly 13 percent do not have health insurance.
By Megan Downs
June 9, 2014

Nevada children entering kindergarten are participating in more physical activity, watching less television, and drinking less soda than last year, according to an annual report issued by the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy (NICRP) at UNLV.

However, the report also found many areas that need improvement. Four and five-year-olds are spending more time playing on computers and video games and consuming more diet soda, according to the report. As a result, maintaining a healthy weight remains an issue for Nevada kindergartners with 30 percent identified as overweight or obese – a 1.4 percent increase from last year.

“Nevadans are making many improvements and working to create healthy habits for our youngest residents,” said Amanda Haboush-Deloye, senior research associate for NICRP. “However, it’s clear that statewide we need to step up prevention efforts to help children and families have access to healthier foods and safe options to increase physical activity.”

Virginia Commonwealth University: Expected California safety-net financial shortfall a gauge for U.S.
By Eric Peters
Monday, June 2, 2014

By 2019 under the Affordable Care Act, California’s safety-net hospitals will experience a shortfall of more than $1 billion annually, according to a study published in the June issue of Health Affairs. The researchers warn that states not expanding Medicaid will fare much worse.

Katherine Neuhausen, M.D., now a faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the study’s University of California Los Angeles research team as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar.

“The Affordable Care Act will reduce the number of uninsured people and expand access to health care,” said the study. “However, the DSH (disproportionate-share hospital) reductions included in the act, combined with ongoing inflation in the cost of health care, will create funding gaps that must be filled to ensure the financial stability of safety-net hospitals.”

Science Education

University of Virginia: Award-Winning Computer Scientist Opens Door to Women
Jenny Clark
June 12, 2014

Smart homes and smartphones are taking center stage in computer science, but University of Virginia engineering professor Mary Lou Soffa hopes to see something else soon – even more smart women practicing in the field. There is currently a shortage of women in computer science, and Soffa has dedicated her professional life to changing that.

In honor of her efforts, she was recently recognized with the Association for Computing Machinery SIGSOFT Influential Educator Award, presented annually to educators who have made significant contributions to, and impact on, the field of software engineering with their accomplishments as teachers, mentors, researchers, authors and/or policymakers.

A female pioneer in the field of computer science, Soffa has mentored many women on their road to becoming computer scientists through teaching, personal relationships and professional organizations. Women earn only 18 percent of all undergraduate computer and information science degrees, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Nationally, only 19 percent of Ph.D. students in computer science are female, according to the Computer Research Association.

“We need women’s perspectives,” Soffa said. “We need the people who are using this technology to help design and create it. This is something that Google and other companies want.  They see the importance and they want more women in the field.”

Virginia Tech: New student group looks to boost female leaders in veterinary medicine

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 13, 2014 – Students at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine are leading national efforts to boost the number of female leaders in the veterinary profession.

They are at one of only three U.S. veterinary colleges to launch a new student chapter of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. Charter chapters have also been introduced at Cornell University and Texas A&M.

Since its establishment this spring, the Virginia-Maryland student chapter assembled a leadership team and hosted a panel discussion with female faculty members at the college. Student organizers already have plans for the upcoming year.

Science Writing and Reporting

Clemson University: Education scholar examines issues impacting African-American student achievement
Melanie Kieve
June 12, 2014

Lamont A. Flowers, executive director of Clemson University’s Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education, has been engaged in speaking and writing initiatives bringing attention to the subject of African-Americans and education in the United States.

Flowers’ book chapter titled “Exploring the Relationship Between Academic Self-Regulation and Educational Outcomes among African-American Male Education Majors” was selected by the editors of Emerald Group Publishing Limited as an Outstanding Author Contribution in the 2014 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence. The chapter was part of the book Black Male Teachers: Diversifying the United States’ Teacher Workforce.

Flowers co-authored a chapter titled “Exploratory Study of the Factors Affecting the Academic and Career Development of African-American Males in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” that was published in the book Building on Resilience: Models and Frameworks of Black Male Success Across the P-20 Pipeline. In the chapter, data from African-American male students pursuing degrees in STEM fields were analyzed to develop a framework to promote positive academic and career development outcomes among African-American males in college.

Virginia Tech: Scientists propose tactics for ethical use of Twitter data in research studies

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 10, 2014 – Twitter has emerged as one of the most popular social networks in the world. Billions of tweets present an unfiltered view of public opinions and experiences. Researchers can deduce a lot from those 140 characters — from tracking disease outbreaks to predicting social unrest.

Unlike other social networking sites, Twitter provides multiple application programming interfaces that allow for real-time data streaming. Metadata from the stream can even include geolocations that pinpoint the exact geographic coordinates of a user.

The vast amount of data available from tweets is extremely beneficial for researchers, but handling that information requires an ethical framework.

University of Colorado: Reporters using more ‘hedging’ words in climate change articles, CU-Boulder study finds
June 2, 2014

The amount of “hedging” language—words that suggest room for doubt—used by prominent newspapers in articles about climate change has increased over time, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Communication, also found that newspapers in the U.S. use more hedging language in climate stories than their counterparts in Spain.

“We were surprised to find newspapers increased their use of hedging language, since the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it has substantially strengthened over time,” said Adriana Bailey, a doctoral student at CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, and lead author of the paper.

Science is Cool

Clemson University: Physics major finds harmony between science and music
Molly Collins
June 13, 2014

If you are looking for a classically trained trumpeter on campus, and your search doesn’t begin in an upper-level astrophysics course, you’re going to miss out on John Farmer.

Farmer, a rising senior physics major, doesn’t buy into the trope that education in the arts and humanities and education in the sciences are to be mutually exclusive. Before he was a 4.0 college student taking part in groundbreaking research on particle physics and garnering scholarships and awards while simultaneously performing with several Clemson University ensembles, he was honing his chops in quintets, choirs and AP science courses at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

“I didn’t want to go into science without ever taking music seriously,” said Farmer, a Chesterfield, South Carolina, native. “Music and science complement each other in a number of ways, and I need to be doing both at the same time. When I’m doing research or course work, I always need some sort of creative vent to work with, and the same is true when I’m working with music.”

College of Charleston: Alumni Harness Sun to Power Entrepreneurial Dream, Golf Cart Taxis
By: Ron Menchaca
11 June 2014 | 9:15 am

Folly Beach has long been the epicenter of fun and sun for generations of College of Charleston students.

But for three recent graduates, the quirky little beach town is all about business.

By the time alumni Matthew Coda, Jake Cotreau and Taylor Denny walked across the Cistern stage to receive their diplomas in May 2014 they already knew how and where they planned to begin their careers.

This month the three young entrepreneurs launched Golden Sun Taxi, a fleet of three solar-powered, golf cart taxis that shuttle passengers along the sandy streets of Folly Beach. Aimed primarily at tourists, the business is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.

University of Virginia: Passion for Dance and Engineering Leads Amy LaViers into Robotics Research
Michelle Koidin Jaffee
June 9, 2014

When Amy LaViers was just 3, her mother and a group of parents in her tiny town in southeastern Kentucky collaborated to bring a dance teacher to the second floor of the fire station to provide lessons for the children.

In the years that followed, LaViers found herself falling in love with movement. She took ballet, tap and modern dance classes, and after her family relocated to a town outside Knoxville, Tennessee, she joined the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble and performed all over the southeastern United States and the world.

To the next generation of a long line of engineers, dance “was an interesting problem to solve,” she said. “Every class is different.”

Today, LaViers, an assistant professor of systems and information engineering at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, combines her passions for dance and engineering to conduct research into finding patterns in human movement  – and works to apply those patterns to robotics. Her research could have practical applications in manufacturing, such as having robots assist assembly line workers to improve efficiency.

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Jun 14, 2014 at 09:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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