The more you know, the more you don’t know. Ain’t that the truth! The more we know about the universe the more confusing and contradictory it seems to get. Nevena talks about this crisis in cosmology in today’s episode of Blue Streak Science.

Oh, there’s so much more than that. Join us. 

On This Week’s Show

  • Good dogs (there’s no such thing as bad dogs)
  • The Shape of Things…of everything
  • Scientists speak out…no, they scream out at the top of their collective lungs on the climate crisis

Science News with Nevena Hristozova, and Chris MacAlister

Brains of girls and boys are similar, producing equal math ability

Nevena Hristozova

  • Jessica Cantlon at Carnegie Mellon University led a research team that comprehensively examined the brain development of young boys and girls. 
  • Their research shows no gender difference in brain function or math ability. The results of this research are available online in the November 8 issue of the journal Science of Learning, and was funded jointly by NIH and NHS.
  • Cantlon and her team conducted the first neuroimaging study to evaluate biological gender differences in math aptitude of young children.
  • Her team used functional MRI to measure brain activity in 104 young children (3- to 10-years-old; 55 girls) while watching an educational video covering early math topics, like counting and addition. 
  • The researchers compared scans from the boys and girls to evaluate brain similarity. 
  • In addition, the team examined brain maturity by comparing the children’s scans to those taken from a group of adults (63 adults; 25 women) who watched the same math videos.
  • They found no difference in the brain development of girls and boys. In addition, the researchers found no difference in how boys and girls processed math skills and were equally engaged while watching educational videos. 
  • Finally, boys’ and girls’ brain maturity were statistically equivalent when compared to either men or women in the adult group.

Neuroscience News, Pharmacy Practice

Bad dog? Think twice before yelling, experts say

Chris MacAlister

  • Whether you’re looking after a canine or a human there is no clear cut right way of doing things.
  • There have been studies in working dogs that show negative side effects in dogs trained through corrective training rather than reinforcement training. But working dogs live very different lives from family pets, can we make the same inferences here?
  • Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro and her team at the University of Porto in Portugal have looked into this exact question. They recruited about 100 dogs, half from a reinforcement based training school and half from a corrective training school and then let the animal testing begin!
  • They started by bringing all of the dogs in for a training session. During the session they filmed the dogs and took saliva samples. With the saliva they can measure levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone, commonly known as the stress hormone. 
  • The team found that correctionally trained dogs do show increased cortisol levels during training. The reinforcement trained dogs showed no significant change. 

Cosmological crisis: We don’t know if the universe is round or flat

Nevena Hristozova

  • According to some newly crunched data from the Planck observatory, our universe might actually be a sphere rather than a plane.
  • The focus of the observatory was to map the cosmic microwave background – a sea of light left over from the big bang.
  • We know of the existence of an effect called gravitational lensing. A gravitational lens is a distribution of matter (such as a cluster of galaxies) between a distant light source and an observer, that is capable of bending the light from the source as the light travels towards the observer. Such bending is due to the gravitational pull of such massive stellar bodies.
  • However, with the latest calculations, astronomers seem to be observing much stronger gravitational lensing than expected.
  • With a new model, researchers could explain the “extra” magnitude of lensing by factoring a shape of space-time different than what we’ve considered before. 
  • These Planck measurements indicate that the universe is 41 times more likely to be “closed”, or spherical, which would mean that if you travelled far enough in one direction, you would end up back where you started. That is because the extra lensing implies the presence of extra dark matter, which would pull the universe into a finite sphere instead of a flat sheet.
  • Why some cosmologists call this a crisis is because it throws a lot of theories and models about other events in the universe down the crapper.
  • For example, the model of our ever-expanding universe, scientists have had some trouble explaining some of the things that happen in real life and at the same time, not able to prove or detect others which should be happening according to our model of a flat universe. With the closed one – the number of such discrepancies increases, even if with the data used to draft this closed model, we are using the most fine measurements of the sort to present days.
  • On the bright side, the Simons Observatory, will be able to measure gravitational lensing even more precisely than Planck, and it should tell us whether or not there really is a cosmological crisis.
  • On the flip of this though, we’ll have to live with the unknown for quite some time, as the Simons Observatory is still being built.

New Scientist, Wikipedia

Climate change: ‘Clear and unequivocal’ emergency, say scientists

Chris MacAlister 

  • A global group of around 11,000 scientists have endorsed research that says the world is facing a climate emergency. 
  • The study, in BioScience by Dr Thomas Newsome et. al. looks back over 40 years worth of evidence and pulls no punches in pointing out that governments are failing to deal with the issue and that we are cruising toward “untold human suffering”.
  • It also says that simply measuring global surface temperatures is an inadequate way of capturing the real dangers of an overheating world. Which is somewhat ironic considering that the study was released on the same day as satellite data confirmed that we have just had the warmest October on record. 
  • But rather than just bring us bad news, this study gives us six things that could be changed immediately that would make a big difference:
  • Energy: Politicians should impose carbon fees high enough to discourage the use of fossil fuels, they should end subsidies to fossil fuel companies and implement massive conservation practices while also replacing oil and gas with renewables.
  • Short-lived pollutants: These include methane, hydrofluorocarbons and soot – the researchers say that limiting these has the potential to cut the short-term warming trend by 50% over the next few decades.
  • Nature: Stop land clearing, restore forests, grasslands and mangroves which would all help to sequester CO2.
  • Food: A big dietary shift is needed. With people eating mostly plants and consuming fewer animal products. Notice that they don’t say that we have to go full vegan. I would argue that bees are more of a help than a hindrance here and they can do with all the help that they can get. Reducing food waste is also seen as critical.
  • Economy: Convert the economy’s reliance on carbon fuels – and change away from growing the world’s gross domestic product and pursuing affluence.
  • Population: The world needs to stabilise the global population which is growing by around 200,000 a day.

BBC Science and Environment, Smithsonian Magazine

In Other Science News this Week

  • Broadcom Masters contest
    • The Broadcom Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public announced Tuesday that 14 year old Alaina Gassler of West Grove, Pennsylvania, has won the Samueli Foundation Prize, 
    • This is the top award in the Broadcom MASTERS, which is the nation’s premier science and engineering competition for middle school students. 
    • The five winners, all girls, were chosen from 30 finalists selected from 2,348 applicants by a panel of scientists, engineers and educators. 
    • Alaina Gassler of West Grove, Pennsylvania, won the Samueli Foundation Prize, for her project reducing blind spots in cars and her exemplary performance during the Broadcom MASTERS’s hands-on challenges. 
    • Rachel Bergey of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, won the Lemelson Award for Invention. 
      • Rachel developed a trap made of tinfoil and netting for the Spotted Lanternfly, an invasive species causing damage to trees in Pennsylvania.
    • Sidor Clare, of Sandy, Utah, won the Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation. 
      • Sidor developed bricks that could one day be made on Mars. 
    • Alexis MacAvoy, of Hillsborough, California, won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement by designing a water filter using carbon to remove heavy metals from water.
    • Lauren Ejiaga of New Orleans, Louisiana, won the STEM Talent Award.
      • Lauren’s research focused on how current levels of ultraviolet light from the sun due to ozone depletion impacts plant growth and performance.

In Closing

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