Science & Technology

Science news

Time travel, microbes, black holes, and polar bears. There’s something for everyone on this year’s list of best science books.

Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, and Scientific American editor Lee Billings have combed the shelves and come up with this list of 18 books you might want to ask Santa to stick under your tree.

Maria Popova’s picks:

Black Hole Blues, by Janna Levin

JC Raulston Arboretum Digital Archive

Horticulturist J.C. Raulston died in 1996, but his legacy lives on at the North Carolina State University arboretum that bears his name, the nine plants named in his honor, and all over the backyards and nurseries of North Carolina. 

It’s 2016. Why is the common cold still so hard to avoid?

Dec 5, 2016
h
Mizianitka/CC0

Winter is setting in, marking the unofficial height of the dreaded “cold season” in offices and schools across the country.

The common cold is a familiar foe: Maybe you’re fighting one off right now, or stocking up on vitamin C, tissues and canned chicken soup for the long battle ahead. But despite the regularity of colds in daily life, there’s a lot you may not know about them. Where do they come from? Is there actually a link between colds and cold weather? And why don’t we have the ultimate weapon — a vaccine — to beat them once and for all?

A new report in Nature gives hopeful news about how we could recover from paralyzing spinal cord injuries in the future.

The moon just had its Hollywood close-up. In mid-November, its slightly elliptical orbit brought the full moon closer to Earth than it’s been since 1948, and it dazzled in the part. Photos from sky-gazers around the world show the familiar orb looking round, bright and startlingly big.

As it stands, the mushroom is already a multi-purpose organism: Aside from its ecological functions, it can be eaten as nourishment, brewed as tea, taken as a naturopathic remedy and used in dyes. But a San Francisco start-up by the name of MycoWorks has even more plans for mushrooms, starting with a leather-like material made from the fungi.

Conservationists want you to eat more of this fish. Wait, what?

Nov 29, 2016
3
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/trik/3945251175/">Tiziano Luccarelli</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

With its arsenal of spiny, venom-tipped fin rays, the lionfish is not a typical (or easy) ingredient in your fish tacos. But at Norman’s Cay, a restaurant in downtown Manhattan, lionfish comes grilled or fried — and its mild white meat is starting to show up in other restaurants in Florida and New York.

2
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/peretzpup/2486757322/">Eugene Peretz</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>. Image rotated, cropped.

If there’s one word that can sum up our feelings about this year’s presidential election — the most polarizing and bitterly fought in recent memory — it might just be “stressful.”

In October, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that the election was a significant source of stress for more than half of all Americans. And now that Election Day has passed, we’re probably still reeling — whether from a hard-fought battle or our candidate’s loss at the polls.

Scientists just used Hawaii as a 'body double' for Mars

Nov 28, 2016
7
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/daveynin/7189311678/">daveynin</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>. Image cropped.

This fall, there's been plenty of buzz about sending humans to Mars. Elon Musk recently unveiled designs for a two-stage Mars vehicle and NASA has its own transport system in the works, slated for launch by the 2030s.

But how will scientists (and the rest of us) get to the Red Planet, and how will science actually happen once we're there?

p
Erik De Castro/Reuters

It’s been more than 50 years since the Food and Drug Administration first approved birth control pills for women. Since then, other reversible contraceptives like implants, injections and intrauterine devices (IUDs) have also entered the market — but still, just for women.

For men, condoms have remained the only completely reversible birth control option, and they have a 12 percent failure rate with typical use.

Courtesy Sönke Johnsen

Sönke Johnsen was always driven by art. As a youth he captured documentary photos on the streets of Pittsburgh and developed them in a homemade dark room. Later he practiced and taught modern dance. But Johnsen's pursuit of artistic awe led him on a surprising path toward biology. Today, as a professor of biology at Duke University, he plunges thousands of feet under the sea, discovering mysterious marine animals that hide in plain sight. He has won multiple awards for his scientific writing, teaching, and mentorship.

If you own a car, chances are it’s parked much of the time, whether at the office or in your driveway. Sure, not a great overall use of the vehicle. But would you be comfortable with another option — renting it out, perhaps even to a stranger?

In science, a picture is worth a thousand data points. And recently, our glimpses at two very different worlds got much, much clearer.

When artist Matthew Reinhart gets an idea for a children’s book, he scribbles a note to himself about what he wants the illustrations to do. Things like, “T-Rex head bites reader.”

“That's it,” Reinhart says. “I don't know how it's going to happen with all the engineering. I just know that’s what I want to happen.”

What Causes the Common Cold?

Nov 18, 2016

Science Goes to the Movies: ‘Arrival’

Nov 18, 2016
1
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/dougtone/15218887503/">Doug Kerr</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>. Image cropped.

Ever imagine Minnesota as a coastal state?

The idea sounds absurd (especially as winter nears), but history shows that at one time, it wasn’t so unlikely: 1.1 billion years ago, the continent was splitting apart along the Midcontinent Rift, a move that could have turned states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan into oceanfront real estate. But the rift stalled, leaving a huge scar in the Earth’s crust. What happened?

Pages