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Science news

The science of engineering touch

20 hours ago
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<a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-white-smartphone-141362/">kote baeza</a>/<a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo-license/">CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)</a>&nbsp;

How do you digitize touch?

You may have played video games where the controller shakes and buzzes, heightening the effect of onscreen crashes. In fact, you can find that digital touch sensation — known as haptic technology — in devices from your smartwatch to your cellphone.

But as engineer Katherine Kuchenbecker explains, the haptic possibilities don’t end with our entertainment and communication tools — haptics are now being used to “smarten” everything from virtual reality to robotics technology.

An image of the total Solar eclipse 1999 in France
Luc Viatour

On Monday, Aug. 21 millions of Americans will experience a cosmic event of a lifetime: a total solar eclipse. This is the first time in 99 years that people from coast to coast can witness the moon completely covering the sun.

Why we still remember a ‘relatively’ important eclipse nearly a century later

Aug 17, 2017

Millions of onlookers may find themselves pausing in awe of the cosmos on Aug. 21, as a total solar eclipse darkens swaths of North America. (And at PRI, we want your eclipse plans, stories and photos.)

Alan Alda's secret to better communication? Have a little more empathy.

Aug 13, 2017
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<a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo/marketing-man-person-communication-362/">Gratisography</a>/<a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo-license/">CC0</a>.

Actor Alan Alda is on a mission to help scientists make their research more relatable to the public. He even co-founded an organization at New York’s Stony Brook University, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, to get the message out.

What’s your game plan for the Great American Eclipse?

Aug 13, 2017
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<a href="https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4518">Ernie Wright/NASA&rsquo;s Scientific Visualization Studio</a>

If you’re reading this in the United States, you’re perfectly positioned for a dazzling glimpse of the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21.

In the US, the total eclipse will cross 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina, and, according to NASA, a partial eclipse will be visible across North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe.

Mark your calendar: Aug. 21 is the Great American Eclipse.

Slowing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by helping patients relearn lost skills

Aug 12, 2017
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<a href="https://www.pexels.com/u/matthiaszomer/">Matthias Zomer</a>/<a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo-license/">CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)</a>&nbsp;

For people with Alzheimer’s, the disease brings a gradual, devastating loss of ability to manage basic daily needs — a decline known as retrogenesis. First, patients lose higher planning functions, then skills like money management and then simpler skills like dressing and bathing.

Drugs can slow this decline, but new research has pinpointed an approach that could stall the slide even further: pairing medication with supportive care to help patients relearn basic skills. The findings were presented in July at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Probing Humanity’s Endless ‘Why?’

Aug 12, 2017

In small collisions, scientists find big new physics questions

Aug 7, 2017
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Pierre Albouy/Reuters

In physics, the Standard Model describes how particles like quarks, leptons and bosons should interact. But as a review paper detailed in the journal Nature in June, recent experiments at particle colliders around the world have turned up anomalies that the rule book doesn’t quite account for.

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Shawn Brackbill

You may not know what a Quindar tone is, but you have definitely heard one.

Quindar tones are the beeps heard in the background of famous space communications, like Neil Armstrong’s “the Eagle has landed” message to Mission Control when the lunar module first reached the moon.

Can we pay people to save the rainforests?

Aug 6, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/rod_waddington/21429887344/" style="font-size: 13.008000373840332px;">Rod Waddington/Flickr, CC-by SA 2.0</a>

Earth’s forests are crucial for controlling the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and for maintaining biodiversity, so efforts are underway around the world to stop deforestation. But what happens when those same trees are also crucial to a family’s livelihood?

One solution being tried in countries like Costa Rica and Uganda is to pay landowners not to cut down their trees.

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/widnr/">Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC-BY-ND 2.0</a>

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor — a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days — and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

The demand for beef, pork and chicken raised on smaller farms closer to home is growing. Now, some Midwest farmers, like Johnson, are exploring how to graze livestock to meet those demands while still earning a profit.

The Midnight Scan Club

Aug 5, 2017
Alex Dornburg scuba diving
Courtesy of Alex Dornburg

By modeling the evolutionary biology of ray-finned fishes, Alex Dornburg is answering an array of cross-disciplinary questions. His research on fish’s “tree of life” has applications for creating public health reporting systems, fighting antibiotic resistance, directing reforestation efforts in Madagascar and overturning understanding of biodiversity in Antarctica. 

How fire ants manage to build ‘Eiffel Tower’-like structures using their own bodies

Jul 30, 2017

As a child, you probably watched ants tunneling into cracks in a sidewalk or building elaborate, networked colonies in a toy ant farm. But have you ever seen a tower of fire ants?

The swirling structure is formed when fire ants pile together in a shape resembling an upside-down tornado, or the Eiffel Tower. Ant researcher David Hu estimates that for humans, the equivalents of some ant towers would stretch tens of stories high.

A new way to go local: Buy solar energy from your neighbors

Jul 28, 2017

The green trend these days is to go local — and if urbanites can source everything from veggies to craft beer in their neighborhoods, why not solar energy?

LO3 Energy, a New York-based startup, is working on one way to do so. Its project, Brooklyn Microgrid, aims to help electricity users buy energy from their energy-producing neighbors, using smart meters and an app.

Alan Alda: To Talk Better, Listen

Jul 28, 2017

Seawater in the pores? It’s what made Roman concrete great.

Jul 25, 2017
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Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

The ancient Romans mastered concrete more than 2,000 years ago and used it to build piers, breakwaters and other structures. Despite the batterings of time and seawater, some of those structures still stand today.

In fact, their concrete has grown stronger over time — the result, scientists now say, of complex interactions between seawater and volcanic ash used in the mortar.

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