SciNews – Dec 11, 2014

This regular feature of STAOblog brings you a sampling of the latest science news that would be of particular interest to your students.  Incorporate these stories into your lesson.  Or, use them as a “cool attention-grabber” at the start of class.  Above all, enjoy the discussion and get your kids excited about science! “SciNews” is published every Monday and Thursday.

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7308778_s  from 123rfBiology

 Human Ancestors Were Consuming Alcohol 10 Million Years Ago. Discover.

The holidays are packed with opportunities to raise a glass of our favorite boozy beverages and toast family, friends and good fortunes. But our ability to digest rum-spiked eggnog may be due to a massive climate shift that occurred millions of years ago.

Using the tools of paleogenetics, scientists have recently traced the evolutionary history of an enzyme that helps us metabolize ethanol, the principal type of alcohol found in adult beverages. Scientists believe early human ancestors evolved their ethanol-digesting ability about 10 million years ago to fortify their diet as they shifted from a tree-based lifestyle to a more ground-based lifestyle. Read more…


Platypuses are full of mystery.  Science News for Students

The platypus is one of the oddest animals you’ll ever see. Aboriginal Australian legend says that the platypus was born after a female duck mated with a water-rat. British naturalist George Shaw, who in 1799 was the first person to officially describe the animal for science, originally thought the dead specimen he’d been sent was a hoax. The weirdness goes beyond your first glance at their duck bills and webbed feet: These are milk-producing mammals that lay eggs. And the males have venomous spurs on their hind legs. Read more…


13698187_s from 123rfChemistry

Thirdhand smoke poses lingering danger. Science News for Students

The stale smell of cigarettes is causing fresh worries. Even long after the smoke clears, every cigarette leaves behind airborne pollutants that are seriously harmful, experts now conclude. Those lingering pollutants are called thirdhand smoke. And they may cause up to 60 percent of smoke’s harm to nonsmokers, scientists report. Their findings suggest that even smokers who light up only when they are alone may harm others who later come into a room that still smells of smoke. That harm can include cutting short a person’s lifespan by a full year or so. Read more…


Does Blowing on Hot Food Really Make It Cooler? About Chemistry.

Thermal energy causes molecules to move. This energy can be transferred to other molecules, reducing the movement of the first molecule and increasing the movement of the second molecule. The process continues until all the molecules have the same energy (reach a constant temperature).  Read more…


18685938_s  from 123rf


Designing robots to help in a disaster. Science News for Students

Dennis Hong first spied Japan’s ruined nuclear power plant from a bus wrapped in plastic. A hefty layer of protection guarded the seats, floors and handles from radioactive dust. Hong wore a face mask and gloves to limit his own exposure. Like the other passengers, he had dressed in old clothes that he was willing to toss after the trip.

More than three years earlier, after an earthquake and tsunamis battered Japan’s eastern coast, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station blew, blasting radiation into the sea and sky. Today, villages outside the plant still lie as barren as ghost towns. Soccer balls and notebooks rest untouched in abandoned schools; hushed houses sit deserted. Along the coast, smashed buildings, flipped cars and train tracks twisted like taffy stand as reminders of the catastrophe. Read more…


In world first, researchers convert sunlight to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency. Science Daily

Australia’s solar researchers have converted over 40 percent of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported. A key part of the prototype’s design is the use of a custom optical bandpass filter to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells on towers and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could. Read more…


12693495_s from 123rfEarth and Space Science

2014 on track for world’s hottest year, UN weather agency warns.  Globe and Mail

With temperature data showing 2014 currently tied for the hottest year on record, the UN weather agency on Wednesday rejected claims that global warming has paused.

(Read the WMO’s statement on 2014’s weather trends here.)

The World Meteorological Organization said the global average temperature in January-October was 0.57 Celsius above average, the same as in record hot year 2010. Parts of the planet were cooler than average, including large areas of Canada, the United States and central Russia. But most of the world experienced temperatures above average, with heat waves in South Africa, Australia and Argentina in January and in large parts of South America in October, according to the WMO assessment. Read more…


Finding infant Earths and potential life just got easier. Science Daily

Among the billions and billions of stars in the sky, where should astronomers look for infant Earths where life might develop? New research shows where — and when — infant Earths are most likely to be found. Read more…


Astronomers observe galactic ‘blow out’ .  Science Daily

For the first time, an international team of astronomers has revealed the dramatic ‘blow out’ phase of galactic evolution. The astronomers have discovered dense gas being blasted out of a compact galaxy (called SDSS J0905+57) at speeds of up to two million miles per hour. The gas is being driven to distances of tens of thousands of light years by the intense pressure exerted on it by the radiation of stars that are forming rapidly at the galaxy’s center. This is having a major impact on the evolution of the galaxy. Read more…