Tune in Tuesday, December 17 at 2:00/1:00 MT/PT to watch "Muscles" on Idaho Public Television or here on the web.
December 2, 2013:
When making a decision, has anyone ever told you to "listen to your gut"? It is a phrase that means you should act on your feelings or instincts. But scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles now think our guts may really influence the way we think.
Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry, thinks the bacteria in our digestive system helps mold our brain structure as we grow and may shape our moods and behavior. Looking at brain scans from 60 volunteers, he compared brain regions of folks with different types of bacteria in their digestive system. He found brain regions differed based on the type of species of bacteria found in the subjects' guts. Now this doesn't mean there is a direct connection between the two things, but it was an important indicator.
Another scientist, Stephen Collins of McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, did research that supports the idea that gut bacteria can influence mood and personality. He had bold mice and shy mice. When he put bold mice's bacteria in shy mice's guts, the shy mice became more fearless. When he reversed the experiment and put shy mice's bacteria in bold mice's gut, the bold mice became more anxious. Changing the gut's bacteria changed the chemistry of the mices' brains.
While this research is new, it is leading to some interesting hope for people with autism and some mental illnesses. So, if you are feeling anxious, consider eating some yogurt. That's one good way to get good probiotics or bacteria into your gut. If you want to read more, check out this article from NPR.
Two updates for you. Last week, I wrote about a study that showed that male fruit flies were less aggressive when they were exposed to female fruit flies. A study this week suggests that male fruit flies exposed to female fruit flies don't live as long. Apparently being around all those female pheromones causes male fruit flies to age faster. On the upside, if the male fruit flies had a chance to mate, their health improved. If not, then the negative effects on their health continued. Read more about this new study in this EurekAlert article.
My other update is from a story a long time ago. Several months ago, NASA invited people to wave at the planet Saturn. Saturn was going to be between the sun and the Cassini probe and it was a great time to take a picture. The Earth would be in view as well. So I sent my picture waving at Saturn.
Now NASA has released a composite picture of all the folks who sent in a picture of their wave and recreated a mosaic picture like the original picture of Saturn taken by Cassini. See if you can find me waving! Read more about it here.
Have a great week.
November 25, 2013:
Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukah! Lots to celebrate this week.
I have three quick science stories to share. The first two have to do with your brain.
There are great reasons to learn more than one language. You understand more about the world. You make connections and, according to a new study out of India, you help protect your brain.
Scientists at a hospital studied 648 patients in their memory clinic. 391 of them were bilingual, that is, they spoke more than one language. Not all of the bilingual patients could read and write, but they all spoke at least two languages. The study showed that bilingual patients suffered from a disease called dementia onset 4.5 years later than patients who only spoke a single language. So knowing a second language helped protect patients' brains for almost five years. The delaying benefits of knowing a second language applied to people who suffer from Alzheimer's and other similar dementia diseases. The best time to learn another language is when you are young, so start now, but starting at any age is a good thing for your brain.
Something else good for your brain: exercise. Researchers from the University of British Columbia report that physical activity helps rats do better on memory tests. Rats that ran on a treadmill for at least four months had more blood vessels and white matter in their brains than did sedentary rats. The active rats improved their mobility and had higher levels of dopamine, a brain chemical important for movement.
My final story has to do with males and females . . . male and female fruit flies. It seems female fruit flies have a secret power. Female fruit flies keep male fruit flies calm. University of California professor Yuh Nung Jan and his team discovered that fruit flies behaved differently depending upon their company. Two male fruit flies in a cage together will start acting aggressively toward each other. They will head butt each other or toss one another around. But the researchers found that male fruit flies that had spent time with a female fruit fly the day before were much less likely to fight.
It apparently has to do with chemistry. Males and females send out chemicals called pheromones. Like fruit flies, we humans also unconsciously detect these chemicals and we react in response.
The scientists found that a pheromone-sensing structure on a male fruit fly's leg bristles when it picks up a communication pheromone signal from the female fruit fly. The researchers found the part of the fruit fly's brain that receives these chemical signals. They discovered the signal activates a group of neurons in the brain that dampens aggression. So having some female company keeps the males from fighting.
Do you suppose the same thing happens when brothers and sisters get together for a big family celebration? Something for science to study. If you want to learn more about the fruit fly report, check out this article from livescience.
Have a great holiday week.
November 18, 2013:
We are all about trees this week. Our new show, “Trees,” airs Tuesday, November 19th at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT. The broadcast show and the Web Show will go live here on the site at the same time. Check it out.
Speaking of trees, Google Earth has released a new interactive online tool which tracks changes in the world's tree canopies from 2000 to 2012. The tool was built from 650,000 images taken by the satellite Landsat 7.
Over those years, the Earth lost 2.3 million square kilometers of tree cover. If you combined all those lost forests, you would have a forest the size of Mongolia or six times the size of the United Kingdom. Most of the loss was due to logging, fire, disease or storms.
On the positive side, the Earth gained about 800,000 square kilometers of forest-land over those same 12 years. Brazil showed the best improvement, cutting annual forest loss in half between 2003-2004 and 2010-2011. Indonesia has the largest amount of deforestation, doubling its annual loss in 2011-2012. Researchers say overall tropical forest loss is increasing by about 2,100 square kilometers per year.
How about here in America? The maps show a “disturbance rate” in the southeastern forests was four times that of South American rainforests. That means more then 31% of the forest cover in that region was lost or re-grown.
Climate change scientists are excited to have this new tool. It can help them monitor the impacts of deforestation and make sure forest management programs are effective. You can read more about the new tool in this BBC news story.
I have blue eyes. They stay that color year-round and life-long. But if I were a reindeer, that wouldn't be true. Scientists have discovered that reindeer change the color of their eyes from gold in the summer to blue in the winter.
Neuroscientist Glen Jeffery from the University College London was looking at a collection of reindeer eyeballs. He found a reflective layer behind the retina of reindeer's eyes. There are fibers in that reflective layer. Reindeers apparently can increase the pressure inside the eyeball during the winter and that compresses these fibers together. Reducing the space between these fibers makes the eyes reflect a bluer light. In the summer, when there is lots of sunlight, the reindeer's eyes turn golden and reflect a lot light through the retina. In the winter, when there is hardly any sunlight, reindeer's eyes turn blue to capture more light inside the eye and help the reindeer see in the Arctic's winter darkness.
This has nothing to do with eyes, but I thought it was fun. November 12th is a special day. Can you guess why? It will be 11-12-13. Apparently, there are lots of wedding scheduled on the 12th so people will have an easy time remembering their anniversary. I think it is also a good excuse to celebrate. After all, we only get one more of these funky sequential dates in this century. After December 13, 2014 (12-13-14), we will all have to wait almost a hundred years for another such combination.
We are working on our Tree show. Be sure to tune in on November 19th to watch. If you have a question for one of our upcoming shows, send it in. We are taking Muscle questions until the 15th.
Have a good week!
November 4, 2013:
Do you know your left from your right? Your dog does. Scientists now think that dogs recognize a left-sided wag from a right-sided wag and that the direction dogs' tails wag is an indication of their feelings.
An Italian research team found that dogs wag their tails to the right when they feel positive emotion and to the left when they feel negative emotions. Researchers showed dogs videos of other dogs wagging their tails. When the dogs saw another dog wagging its tail to the left, the viewing dogs' heart rates went up and they looked anxious. When they saw another dog wagging its tail to the right, the viewing dogs stayed relaxed.
The scientists don't think dogs do the left or right wagging tail on purpose. They think it has to do with how dogs' brains are wired. Dogs, like people, have what's called “asymmetrically organized brains.” That means the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. Researchers think the direction of the dog's wag is sort of hardwired by the brain rather than the dog making a decision to wag one way or the other.
This can be useful information. Next time you see a dog, look at the direction of the wag. It could give you a good idea how the dog is feeling. Read more about it in this article from Eurekalert.
Have a good, right-tail wagging week.
October 28, 2013:
Like science? Like soccer or other sports? Go for it! Girls who were more physically active at 11 did better in science as teenagers. A British study, called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, shows that the more active an 11-year-old is, boy or girl, the better he or she did on standardized math, science and English tests. The same study also found that physically active girls were better at science than their peers. That good result held when the children took tests at 13 and 16 years-of-age. This is an on-going study looking at almost 5,000 children since 1991. You can read more about it in this article from NPR.
The researchers also found that few children were getting the recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise. The boys got an average of 28 minutes a day and the girls got just an average of 18 minutes. The scientists don't know why more exercise improves grades, especially for girls and science, but the exercise-good brain connection isn't just true for kids. Studies have shown that exercise improves brain function in older people too. So, put down the electronic tablet, turn off the TV and computer, and go outside and exercise — and take your parents with you! It's great for the whole family.
Scientists have a new idea about why we sleep . . . to clean up our brains! Researchers at the University of Rochester did some experiments on mice. They found that cerebral spinal fluid, the liquid found in the brain, is pumped around the brain while we sleep and acts like a “biological dishwasher.”
As part of their day-to-day operations, brain cell produce waste products. Scientists think some of these waste products are toxic proteins that can build up and damage the brain and lead to a condition know as dementia. But researchers did some experiments on mice and found that brain cells shrank when sleeping, making the space between cells much wider. This made cerebral spinal fluid flow ten times faster around the brain than it does when the mice were awake. It takes a lot of energy to push all the fluid around, so the mice didn't do much of it when they were awake. But when they were asleep, the cerebral spinal fluid flowed freely. Researcher Maiken Nedergaard said it was kind of like having a house party. “You can either entertain the guests (do all the thinking you do during the day) or you can clean up the house (wash out the cells), but you can't do both.”
Eventually those brain waste products are swept out of the brain and make their way to the liver where they are broken down and removed by the body in your poop and urine.
Now, is this the only reason for sleep? Scientists aren't sure. Many think there are lots of other good reasons for sleep. They all do agree that we need to get enough sleep to stay healthy. So this is another good reason to stick to your bedtime tonight! Read more about the study in this article from the Guardian.
I have some sad news to report. If you have been a long time viewer of Science Trek and D4K before that, you may have seen my pet rabbit Winslo. He joined me on the set for my 10th anniversary special and was “the bad bunny” in the video short we did for the CSI show. Winslo passed away this past weekend. He was a wonderful pet and I and my whole family will miss him. You can watch Winslo in action at the end of this CSI video. Click on the video short.
Have a good week. Think good thoughts of Winslo.
October 14, 2013:
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Science tells us that a consistent bedtime makes a kid behave better.
Researchers in England looked at data from a long-term study of more than 10,000 children. Their parents filled out surveys when the kids were 3, 5 and 7. Included in the survey were questions about bedtime and behavior.
They found that kids with a regular bedtime (every night, not just school nights) had fewer behavioral issues than kids with irregular bedtimes. And kids who had late bedtimes behaved the worst.
Kids this age need 10 to 12 hours of sleep and doctors say sleep-deprived kids don't say they are tired. They act out. So, you kids might not like a more regular and perhaps earlier bedtime than you are getting now, but you will be healthier and everyone will be happier if you get a consistent night's sleep. Read more about it and sleeping tips in the LiveScience article.
Check out our newest broadcast show! Science Trek: “Salmon” airs on Idaho Public Television on October 15th at 2:00 p.m. MT, and you can find it on the Salmon website. Be sure to watch the Science Trek: “The Web Show” too!
We are now taking muscle questions, but if you have a tree question, I can still slip it in. Send a question on any of our active topics today!
Have a great week!
October 7, 2013:
Want to understand others better? Increase your emotional intelligence? Science has a suggestion. Try reading a really good book.
Okay, first a couple of definitions. Literary novels like War and Peace are complex works that make you think. “Popular” novels tend to have more consistent characters and predictable settings. Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Okay, back to the science.
Scientists at New York's New School for Social Research divided volunteers into four groups. One group read literary fiction. One group read best-selling novels. Once group read Smithsonian magazine and one group read nothing at all. The volunteers then took a computerized empathy test. They found that “reading literary fiction temporarily enhances your Theory of Mind.” In other words, reading a really good back improves your empathy. They believe having to really think about how the characters in a book are feeling may help you better judge how real people are feeling. The scientists think the way to improve your empathetic skills isnâ€™t limited to just reading good books. Seeing complex plays, studying great art may also help you be a better person. Give it a try! Read more about it in this article. (though reading the article will not make you more empathetic!)
Our newest broadcast show airs next week. Learn more about salmon. Tune in on Tuesday, October 15 at 2:00/1:00 p.m. MT/PT on Idaho Public Television or here on the Science Trek website.
Have a great week!
September 30, 2013:
La-la-la-la-la-la-la. Vocalists will sing or trill the scales to warm up their voices, but they are not the only ones that trill. Two species of tawny brown mice “sing” too. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have found that the Alston's singing mouse and the Chiriqui singing mouse trill to set their territory. When the smaller Alston mouse hears the song of the larger Chiriqui mouse, it steers clear.
Bret Pash, from the Department of Integrative Biology wrote a paper about the mice for the journal The American Naturalist. He says the mice songs are a series of rapidly repeated notes. He says, “The notes are produced each time an animal opens and closes its tiny mouth, roughly 15 times per second.” Because the animals live in the same areas of the mountain cloud forests of Costa Rica and Panama, they can have overlapping territories. The mice sing to protect their turf and let others know to stay away. Many small rodents make sounds, many too high pitched for human ears. Scientists study the genes from singing mice to better understand the genes that lead to language in humans. You can read more singing mice and watch a video of an Alston's singing mouse at this EurekAlert article.
Our deadline for Tree questions is this week. If you have a question about Trees, send it in now! Here is the link. Have a great week!
September 23, 2013:
Which is better Bach or Stravinsky? Don’t know? Ask your goldfish.
A new study shows that goldfish can tell the difference between classical music composed by Bach or Stravinsky. Researchers at Keio University first taught a group of fish to nibble on a food-filled ball while Bach music was played. This would teach the fish to associate food and Bach. Then the scientists played Stravinsky and the fish didn’t go for the food. That suggests that the fish could tell the difference between Bach and Stravinsky.
Other animals can tell the difference between types of music. Lead Researcher Kazutaka Shinozuka did similar tests with Java sparrows, pigeons and rats. He says only Java sparrows showed a preference for Bach over the more modern Stavinsky. Why? Well, that is up for debate. Other research has shown that monkeys, cats and dogs react to music that is designed to match their vocal frequencies and heart rate. We humans like sounds in similar frequencies and beats. You can read more about this research in this article from LiveScience.
Our new broadcast show is available for your viewing pleasure. Check it out here. To watch the 30-minute show, click on “The Show.” To watch the less-than-ten-minutes Web Only show, click on “Web Extra” and to watch the video short, click on “Video Short.” They will all show up in our built-in player. To download, right click on your selection and follow the download instructions for your operating system.
We are now asking for questions for out “Trees” show. Send us your email or video questions. You can find out how on our “Submit a Question” page. If your teacher would like to borrow our video camera to record questions, send me an email.
Have a great week!
September 16, 2013:
It’s almost here! The new season of Science Trek starts Tuesday, September 17th! We have a great line up of new shows and lots of great new features on the website. Check it out. We will be answering your questions about Mars. The new show airs on Idaho Public Television at 2:00pm/1:00pm Mt/Pac or you can watch it here on the website. We are so excited! Let us know what you think about the new show and the new website. Send me an email!
It is an exciting week in the heavens too. Voyager 1 has left the solar system. Voyager 1 is a probe launched in 1977. It has traveled about 12 million miles, past of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune and several moons of those outer planets. Scientists think it went out of our solar system on August 25, 2012. So why did it take more than a year to figure that out? Well, first of all, nothing has ever gone out that far so scientists had to figure it out what it means to be outside the solar system. The edge of the solar system or solar bubble is known as the heliosphere. It is marked by plasma. Plasma is ionized gas and the scientists were looking for a change in plasma levels. They had built computer models and last year they finally started to detect differences. It took them a long time to decide Voyager 1 had finally left. They had to analyze the data and make certain choices. It is pretty amazing that something we humans made is now heading out into the universe beyond our solar system. You can read how they figured it out in this article from NASA.
So what now for Voyager 1? It will continue to travel outward. By 2025, scientist think it will no longer be sending information back to Earth, but it will continue on exploring space.
There are a couple of other astrological things of note coming up. We will have a Harvest Moon on September 19th. The Harvest Moon the name for the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox.
The autumnal equinox hits on September 22nd. The equinox happens twice a year (vernal in the Spring, autumnal in the fall) when the tilt of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s orbit crosses the celestial equator. It means the day and night are equal in length. For us in the northern hemisphere, it means the days are getting shorter as we head into autumn and winter.
Lots going on in the sky, but don’t let that distract you from watching our new show about Mars! It is awesome!
Have a great week!
September 09, 2013:
One more week! The new season of Science Trek starts with our show on Mars. Watch it on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday, September 17th at 2:00/1:00pm Mt/Pac or here on the website. Our new website will also launch soon so stay tuned!!
Hissing snakes and parents swearing are making science news this week. First, a study reported in Developmental Science says babies pay attention when they hear certain sounds that signal danger; "older" sounds not modern ones.
Psychologist Nicole Erlich of the University of Queensland, Australia and her colleagues played sounds for 61 male and female infants sitting in highchairs. A parent was nearby. When the scientists played sounds like snakes hissing, crackling fire or another infant's cries, the babies showed a drop in heart rate and larger numbers of eye blinks, both signs that the infants were paying more attention. The same infants did not show a similar response to sounds of more modern dangers like glass breaking or a siren wailing or to pleasant sounds like music or a baby laughing.
The scientists think tens of thousands of years of evolution have changed babies' brains to key into signs of danger. That may explain why more modern sounds don't get the same reaction. You can read more about these studies in this Science News article.
While babies don't like the hissing of snakes, it seems teens don't like being yelled at. A new study suggests the more teens are yelled at, the worse they behave.
Researcher Ming-Te Want at the University of Pittsburg published his study in the journal Child Development. He and his colleges found that young teens interpret harsh verbal discipline as "indicative of rejection or scorn." The psychologists think teens that have been yelled at may have lowered self-esteem and a negative view of themselves, which may lead to poor behavior. These same teens also had an increased risk of depression. So the more teens were yelled or sworn at, the greater their risk became for behavior problems.
So what should parents do? Psychologists suggest the best form of discipline for teens would be to communicate with them on an equal level and "explaining rationale and worries to them." Read more about the study in this LiveScience article.
My advice for this week: Don't let babies near snakes and don't swear at teenagers. Do watch the upcoming Mars show next week and do check out the new Science Trek website.
September 05, 2013:
How close is too close? We all have a comfort zone, an area of separation we need from other people. Someone gets too close and we feel threatened. But scientists really weren't sure how close was too close until now. According to researchers at the University of London, the average person gets nervous if something gets between 20 and 40 centimeters (7 7/8 inches to 15 ¾ inches) from his/her face.
To find out what a human's comfort zone is, researchers Chiara Sambo and Giandomenico Iannetti zapped 15 people on the wrist. That made these test subjects blink. At the same time, the researchers moved that same hand closer and closer to the test subjects' faces. They then measure the amount of blinking. On average, people could get their wrist about 20-40 centimeters away from their face before they started blinking quickly, a sign of a defense reaction. So a jolt 40 centimeters away wasn't a problem, but a jolt 20 centimeters away was a big issue.
The scientists say this is only an average. Some people can stand having something closer to them than others. If you are a more anxious person, your comfort zone is probably a bit wider. Sambo and Iannettis published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience. You can read more about it on the ScienceNews.org website.
My blog is late this week because I have been out shooting material for an upcoming show. Al, our director, is in the edit bay now working on our September 17th program on Mars. We hope to new Science Trek website will be coming soon too. Keep checking in and watch for new developments. By the way, I am looking for questions about salmon. If you have one, be sure to send it in. Click here for an email form.
Have a great week!
August 26, 2013:
Big news!! We are changing the name of our project. Our new name is Science Trek! We decided to change the name of our series from D4K, or Dialogue for Kids, to Science Trek to give our viewers a better understanding of our goal. In case you don't know what that goal is, it is to introduce science topics to elementary-age schoolchildren; to provide educational materials for teachers and parents; and to inspire students to investigate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career potentials.
You may have noticed the difference if you went to the D4K website today. Our new home page is under construction, but you can get to all the D4K material by clicking on the link provided. The new Science Trek site will be viewable on smartphones and tablets as well as your computer. We will have faster navigation to the things you want and the same great, award-winning and kid-approved content. Stay tuned as we finish up and launch the new front page.
As for science news this week, researchers came up with answers to two questions about wildlife: Why do wolves howl? And do mountain sheep with the biggest horns have more offspring or is bigger better?
Let’s talk sheep first. In this case, bigger is not better. According to a report on Science News Weekly’s web site, Researchers at the University of Sheffield in Scotland report in the journal Nature that sheep with a blend of small and big horn-genes have more offspring than the purely big-horned neighbors.
Mountain sheep with big horns do attract more ladies, kind of like male peacocks with the brightest feathers attract more peahens. But scientist Jon Slate found that sheep with a gene blend that can result in smaller horns actually had more offspring. He thinks it may because the big horn sheep spend a lot of time fighting to keep their place, as the head of the herd and may not live as long. So at least as far as these mountain sheep are concerned, it is okay to be smaller.
Why do wolves howl? Wolves howl when a friend or the head of the pack leaves. Friederike Range from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria co-authored a study published in Current Biology. He and his team followed a group of captive wolves and watch how they reacted when one wolf was taken out for a walk. Dr. Range said the wolves howled differently based on who was taken from the pack. Wolves’ howls are unique; so one wolf can recognize another wolf's howl. Dr. Range says, "Wolves seem to howl more when higher ranking individuals leave because these individuals play quite important roles in the social lives of wolves." She also found that wolves didn’t howl just when a high-ranking wolf left. Wolves also howled when a close friend left. So why do wolves howl? Wolves howl to keep in touch. Read more about this study in this article from the BBC.
Many more of you are heading back to school this week. I hope you have a great year and come and visit our Science Trek website often.