On This Week’s Show

  • Evidence for a new fundamental particle
  • Pluto has dunes
  • CRISPR Gene-Editing Pioneers Win Kavli Prize for Nanoscience
  • Oldest Known Lizard Fossil Discovered
  • This Week in Science History
  • Pub Quiz

Listener feedback

We heard from our good friend, Sam Danby, in Norway. Sam is a new father, a cancer researcher, and a footballer. Sam writes, “Once again, great to have you back with the podcast, and there’s something interesting every week. The new ‘where you been, what you doing’ feature is great!”

Sam also asked about what to do all summer to entertain his 1 year old. Make it a science summer! Two of the best virtual and real places we know of for that are Matilda's Lab, Atom Club, and the Dorset Science and Technology Centre!

Science on!

Science News with Amrita Sule and Chris MacAlister

Evidence Found for a New Fundamental Particle

Time for some news from the world of Particle physics. Since past couple of days news headlines have been flashing about – evidence of a new fundamental particle or how an experiment just detected a particle that shouldn't exist.

What is all this fuss about and what particle is this? The MiniBooNE which is short for Mini Booster Neutrino Experiment carried out at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago have detected “sterile neutrinos”.

Sterile neutrinos are particles that only interact via gravity and not via any other fundamental interactions of the standard model.

Neutrinos in general are part of matter particles and are nearly massless. They interact through weak nuclear forces and barely interact with matter. They oscillate between three known types or flavors, electron, muon and tau.

In the MiniBooNE experiment, a beam of muon neutrinos was shot towards a giant oil tank. On its way some of these muon neutrinos transform into electron neutrinos and are detected when they interact with oil molecules. These have different masses which allows their detection. In its 15-year run, MiniBooNE has registered a few hundred more electron neutrinos than expected.

This could be because some of the muon neutrinos oscillate into the heavier 4 kind of neutrino – sterile nuetrino (which never interact with anything that isn’t a neutrino) and some of these got transformed into electron neutrinos which were detected by the MiniBooNE.  A neutrino excess like this was 1st recorded in the 1990s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico with a different apparatus however the count wasn’t as big as miniboone.

This is very exciting as it has been long thought that sterile neutrinos make up the dark matter. Detection of sterile neutrinos could take us a step forward in the direction of understanding dark matter. However, several physicists remain apprehensive and are not fully convinced as sterile neutrinos have not been detected in many other experimental set ups and the evidence of their existence has been weak.

I guess we should let the physics world mull over this.

Science News, Quanta, Live Science

Pluto Has Dunes

This story gets really interesting when you understand how dunes are made and that is that tiny, individual grains of sand get blown around in the wind until they run into something that stops them. Whatever stops them will likely stop many other grains of sand causing a mound. This mound then stops even more sand until you end up with full blown dune. So to distill this down to an equation that even can understand; sand + wind = dunes; and this is what has made it so surprising that dunes have now been discovered on the dwarf planet Pluto.

Pictures from NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft taken 3 years ago have seen dunes on Pluto. This is confusing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no one expected anything to be moving on Pluto due to the extreme cold there. Pluto is so cold that even the water there is frozen harder than rock; it’s certainly far too cold to have sand lying around. We also have a problem with the wind, or lack of. Wind is just our atmosphere moving around, but Pluto doesn’t really have an atmosphere. It has 0.0001% of the atmosphere that Earth has which means that winds on Pluto are weaker than the beer in a student bar!

To put this into context, if you were to fart on Pluto this would create a hurricane the likes of which that dwarf planet has never seen; at least it would if the fart didn’t freeze the moment it left your arsehole. Pluto is so cold that it can freeze farts. And really, this is the solution the puzzle. As any school child will tell you, farts contain methane; and this is what Plutonian dunes are made of. Even if you freeze methane into individuals grains, they are still as light as air; so even Pluto’s meagre winds can shift them to create dunes.

So there we have it: Pluto’s fart dune created by the lightest breezes known in the solar system.

BBC News Science and Environment, Science News, Scientific American, Nature, National Geographic

CRISPR Gene-Editing Pioneers Win Kavli Prize for Nanoscience

Do you guys know about the World Science Festival (WSF)? Happens around end of May every year. I attended it 2 years ago and was a lot of fun. It’s an excellent opportunity to hear about cutting edge research from the scientists itself. The Kavli prize which recognizes scientists for their contributions in three research areas; astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience and is announced every year at the WSF.

This year the nanoscience committee awarded the Kavli prize for. Any guesses?? It’s CRISPR-Cas9, a precise nanotool for editing DNA; to  Emmanuelle Charpentier at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley (UC-Berkeley), and Virginijus Siksnys at Vilnius University in Lithuania.

CRISPR system, – is primarily used by microbes as a defense against invading viruses. The microbes record and target the DNA sequences of these invading viruses. Teams lead by duo Charpentier and Doudna and separately by Šikšnys first showed that this CRISPR system  from bacteria can be used with an enzyme Cas9 to alter free floating DNA in test tubes – thus making them molecule scissors for tailoring genes. This system, has now evolved into a modern day tool for gene editing.

Charpentier and Doudna were first to publish in Science hence received more attention. Bad luck for Šikšnys, whose paper was rejected by Cell even though it was submitted before those two. Nevertheless, work from all three labs set a foreground that Cas9 can be used as nano-sized scissors to selectively cut pieces of DNA.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system has since then been exploited by scientists around the world to explore its potential in avenues ranging from biomedical sciences to agriculture.

I came across a comment from Cori Bargmann who is a scientist at Rockefeller and a Kavli prize winner herself.  She compares such prizes/awards to winning an Oscar which will push people to see that particular movie. Here a prize for CRISPR could tell the non-science community to be more informed about this as it could very well be a part of their life soon. I am sure I am not the only one rooting for a Nobel prize for CRISPR!!

Quanta, Scientific American, Genome Web

Oldest Known Lizard Fossil Discovered

In creationist news this week; evolutionists have once again changed their mind about the theory of evolution. This time they’ve change the date that they think reptiles first appeared. By how much you may ask? 10, 15 years? No, by 75 million years! Can you believe it?

Well, back in the world of rational and responsible science reporting  we can justify this change because we have a reptile fossil that is 75 million years older than anything previously discovered. To put this into context, it’s moved the date back from 168 million years ago to 240 million years ago.

This is not a new discovery. This fossil of Megachirella wachtleri has been on the books for about 20 years already. What is new is the lizard classification. Small fossils can be trickier to work with than large ones. They are more fragile, harder to find and seem to occur less often. This fossil is half concealed in rock stopping full examination, CT scanning has finally allowed paleontologists to see the full creature.

It’s not widely appreciated outside of taxonomic circles how precise the distinctions between some pretty major categories of animals is {Insert Chris’ Quiz here}. The divide between reptiles and amphibians is complicated due to the sparse fossil record at this time, that’s why the lizard classification is so important.

It suggests that reptiles were around during the mass extinction that ended the Permian period. Forget dinosaurs, this was the big daddy extinction wiping out 96% of all life. There could be parallels with mammals. The dinosaur extinction paved the way for the mammals to diversify, maybe the Permian-Triassic extinction did the same for reptiles?

Science News, Live Science,


I have fantastic news. We have our very first Patrons!

They are John and Louise Richardson, are hereby declared official Blue Streakers, with all honors and benefits accorded thereof.

A national holiday will be declared in their honor, and I request that all governments of the world follow suit, and give everyone a day off.

Thank you, John and Louise.

If you also want to help support our podcast and keep this thing rolling you can do so.

We need it. We owe people money! And the way we’re getting support is through Patreon.

We’ve crafted the campaign to give you different levels at which you can give us some support. You can donate as little as a dollar per episode at the Patron Level, all the way up to the Associate Producer Level. Any amount of support that you can give us will help tremendously!

I encourage you to check out our Patreon page at bluestreakscience.com/patreon

On behalf of the Blue Streak Science Team

Thank you!

This Week In Science History

…in 1859, T.H. Huxley gave his first public defense of Charles Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species” when he presented his paper to the Royal Institution titled ‘On the Persistent Types of Animal Life'. Later when asked why he chose this scientific theory to defend, he replied, “It was the natural selection”.

…in 1965, In a classic case of Cold War one-upsmanship American astronaut Ed White spent 20 minutes on a spacewalk outside his Gemini 4 space capsule only 3 months after Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov took a 10 minute stroll outside his space capsule.

Six weeks after astronaut Ed White’s spacewalk cosmonaut Ivan Yurkenov took his Siberian husky Misha for a spacewalk and a frisbee toss. However, a malfunction in one of the Soviet’s poop bags cut short the otherwise pleasant outing.

…in 1942, Owing to the ongoing Second World War silk was in short supply, so the U.S. military needed a suitable alternative for the manufacture of parachutes. Fortunately, the newly invented material Nylon was available. And so was pilot and stunt parachutist Adeline Gray. Making her 33rd jump Miss Gray convinced the army and the navy that nylon parachutes were safe and durable.

…in 1975, the discovery of imprints of large, soft-bodied, toothless marine worms radiometrically dated to be 620 million years old, was reported in the New York Times, making them the oldest fossils in the United States. The fossils held their place until recently when another even older, toothless, soft-bodied fossil was discovered in the both the swamps of Washington, D.C., and Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

And the rest is science history.

Pub Quiz

Today it’s the letter D.

Joining us are the delightful Amrita Sule and debonaire Chris MacAlister.

Here’s how it works. I ask a science question and our denizens of deduction deduce the answers.

  1. Name an English naturalist and geologist born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1809.
  2. This molecule is a linear polymer of four building blocks called nucleotides arranged in a double helix.
  3. What is a substance or entity that is derived from the breakdown or division of another. For example, a product of the radioactive decay of an element; or cells that are derived from the division of a parent cell?
  4. What type of matter can only be inferred only by it gravitational interactions?
  5. What is another word for mass per unit of volume?
  6. What do we call a region where rivers reach lakes, seas, or the ocean, and deposit their sediment in a broad, flat plains?
  7. The change in observed frequency due to relative motion between the source and the observer is also known as?
  8. The bending or spreading of light waves when they meet a change in density. What’s that called?
  9. He was a mathematician and philosopher born in France in 1596, and invented analytical geometry and developed a system which describes geometry in term of algebra. Who is he?
  10. Another word for ancestry or heritage?

How did YOU do?

Answers available in the episode.

Where Have We Been?

Chris: The most interesting thing that happened to me in the las week is that the big ISO17025 assessment that I talk about last week didn’t happen, so I have another 2 months to wait for that to come around again.

JD: On Monday I was supposed to attend an event at the California Academy of Science on exoplanets. A busy schedule and heavy traffic intervened, so I had to give that a miss.

Where Are We Going?

Chris: I’m going to start investigate the bizarre cases that we talk about off-air last week. Nevena has inspired me to follow up my leads so I will be writing about the people who strapped a fake tail onto a chicken, for science. I also need to build a new rain catch for my daughter’s rain station as I seriously underestimated the amount of rain that falls in the UK!]

JD: I’m heading to the Bodega Marine Lab once again for a lecture titled “Primary drivers and consequences of ecological change in marine communities of today and tomorrow” by Tye Kindinger, Postdoctoral Scholar from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As usual it will be preceded by some birdwatching on the Sonoma Coast and a crab sandwich.

In Closing

Until next time…follow the science!

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