Monday, June 10, 2024

Science In The CBC News

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science
Ed Hessler

Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald, CBC Podcast for June 8. Below the segments are briefly described, each accompanied by an illustration and with the listening times.

--The sun's ramping up its activity and now we have a better idea of what's driving it 9m28s

This spring, we've seen some spectacular displays of northern lights and we're expecting to see more as we approach the peak of the sun's natural cycle, the solar maximum. Every 11 years, the sun cycles from having few sunspots on its surface to having many. Now, according to a new study in the journal Nature, scientists have figured out what may be driving this process. Geoff Vasil, an associate professor of computational and applied mathematics at the University of Edinburgh, said instabilities in swirling magnetic systems near the sun's surface gives rise to sunspots on its surface that can erupt and send solar storms our way.

--Female otters use tools more than males – to crack open tasty treats and save their teeth 7m28s

Otters are cute and clever – clever enough to be one of the few animals who use tools such as rocks, glass bottles, or even boat hulls to smash shells and access the tasty flesh inside. But researchers studying otters off the coast of California found that certain otters were using these tools more than others, and wanted to understand why. In a new study, published in the journal Science, research biologist Chris Law found that it was females that were using the tools more than the males, in order to access hard-shelled meals like clams and mussels without damaging their teeth.

--The longest-lasting human species (not us) were expert elephant hunters 7m55s

Our cousins, Homo Erectus, inhabited Earth for nearly two million years, and they were capable hunters. An analysis of stone tool manufacturing sites, published in the journal Archaeologies, gives new insight into the high levels of organization and planning by these early humans. Tel Aviv University archeologist Meir Finkel studied the ancient stone quarries in the Hula Valley, and discovered that they were often located on elephant migration routes near water sources – so the humans didn't have far to go to get weapons for slaying and butchering their meals. This triad of elephants, water and stone quarries is present across many Old Stone Age sites where the early humans lived, including South America, Africa and Europe.

--A plastic that carries the seeds of its own destruction 7m48s 

Researchers have been able to integrate spores of a plastic-eating bacteria into plastic to create a material that, over time, eats itself. In a controlled study, scientists found that the bacteria can break down 90 per cent of the soft plastic in the material in about 90 days. Mohammed Arif Rahman, a senior polymer scientist and R&D director of BASF, said they're still working on the material with hopes that the bacteria embedded within it will be able to keep on consuming the remaining plastic so as not to generate any microplastics. The proof-of-concept study was published in the journal Nature Communications. 

--A new book about gravity celebrates failing and falling 18m19s

When theoretical physicist Claudia de Rham didn't quite make the cut as an astronaut candidate, she doubled down on her fascination with the phenomenon of gravity. This puts her on the path of great thinkers like Newton and Einstein who helped us to start to understand what holds the universe together. In a new book, The Beauty of Falling: A life in pursuit of gravity, she ties her personal adventures with her theoretical explorations of gravitational rainbows and the origins of dark matter, and details all the mysteries that still remain about this fundamental feature of reality.

For the Amazon entry about the book see here.

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