Science & Technology

Science news

An image of writer Margot Lee Shetterly
Aran Shetterly

From the 1940s through the 1960s, a group of elite black women mathematicians known as "human computers" helped NASA put rockets, and eventually astronauts, into space. The women began working with federal aeronautical agencies at the Langley Research Laboratory during World War II, computing endless sets of data while enduring racial segregation and discrimination of the Jim Crow South. 

These black women were the mathematicians behind American spaceflight

Nov 5, 2016

Before NASA, there was NACA — the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, headquartered at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. And before there were computers to analyze the NACA engineers’ data and double-check calculations, that job was done by “human computers,” or mathematicians hired to make sure the numbers were flight-ready.

Leap Into the World of Jumping Spiders

Nov 4, 2016

Six Things You Can Break Down Today

Nov 4, 2016
Image of multicolor gems. A new PBS NOVA series explores gems and precious stones, some found right in North Carolina.

Hiddenite, North Carolina, is a tiny community with a big secret. Emeralds, some of the largest in the world, along with sapphires, and other precious stones lay hidden under the earth at this site in Alexander County. A new series of the popular PBS show NOVA, titled “Treasures of the Earth,” takes a deeper look at the science behind this local phenomenon.

Are on-demand, at-home blood tests better for our health?

Oct 30, 2016
frolicsomepl/CC0. Image cropped.

In the age of internet retail, products once available only in brick-and-mortar stores are now arriving on our doorsteps. And by cutting out the “middleman," or storefronts, products are often more affordable and easier to access than before.

But what if that middleman is your doctor? And those products … medical tests?

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

If you’ve visited a dairy farm, you may have noticed that the cows — usually Holsteins — are hornless. They weren’t born that way: Both female and male Holsteins naturally grow horns. But on farms, the horns of dairy calves are often removed (an unpleasant process for the animals), so that the cattle won’t pose a threat to one another, or the farmworkers handling them.

Researchers aim to make digital assistants like Siri less annoying

Oct 29, 2016

Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, Amazon has Alexa — and the list goes on. Today’s tech titans all offer “digital assistants” integrated into their devices, to help our lives run just a little more smoothly.

Driven by artificial intelligence, these voice assistants can navigate for us, set reminders and prod us awake with alarms. But for many consumers, frustrations with the technology can outweigh its benefits. Have you ever asked Siri what time your appointment is on Sunday, and heard her say, “How about a web search for it?”

The Microscopic World Beneath Our Feet

Oct 28, 2016

DNA as a Key to Plant Conservation

Oct 28, 2016
Volunteers for North Carolina's Candid Critters can set up motion-sensing cameras to capture photos of wildlife on their property or on public land.
North Carolina's Candid Critters / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

North Carolina scientists are asking everyday citizens to help them collect data on state wildlife. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences along with North Carolina State University and the State Wildlife Resources Commission are lending out motion-sensing cameras that citizens can set up in their backyards or state parks to capture photos of unsuspecting animals.

A gif image of a timelapse of host Frank Stasio's right underarm microbes grown at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences' Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab.
Courtesy Julie Horvath

They live in every nook and cranny of your body, from your belly button to your armpits. A new exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences explores the secret world of human microbes. Host Frank Stasio speaks with biologists Julie Horvath and Rob Dunn about the implications of microbial diversity for human health, and about Frank’s own armpit ecosystem.

How close are we to sending humans to Mars?

Oct 25, 2016
<a href="">NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>

In a recent op-ed, President Barack Obama renewed his call, first made in 2010, for Americans to reach Mars by the 2030s.

What’s the future of your commute?

Oct 23, 2016
Kaique Rocha/CC0

For commuters in Manhattan, the ride-hailing service Uber now offers a $5 flat fare for carpooling with other riders headed in the same direction.

Recently, the company inked a deal with the city of Summit, New Jersey, to offer commuters subsidized rides to and from the train station, as the area suffers from parking congestion. Does the future of commuting start with an app? Experts say there could be real benefits to merging ride-booking technology with our commutes, but for the moment, not everyone — or every place — stands to gain equally.

<a href="">NASA</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>. Image cropped.

Mike Massimino is one of the few people on the planet who has looked back down on Earth from the Hubble Space Telescope, which is now about 340 miles above us in space. Massimino got this chance twice, in fact, on separate repair missions.

But to hear him tell the story, Massimino’s dreams of becoming an astronaut were always a bit of a long shot. In fact, he was rejected by NASA’s astronaut program three times.

Is All Fair in Love and Cyber War?

Oct 21, 2016