science news

A Llama Could Save Your Life

Beasts' unusual immune systems offer benefits to humans

Spitting, kicking and saving lives: all in a day's work for the lovable llama. Scientists have found that the uniquely small size of the llama's antibodies, used by the immune system to identify and counteract bacteria and viruses, could provide new and improved therapies for diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.

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Pointing the Way to Success

A study of financial traders finds a surprising correlation

What does it take to be a successful financial trader? Education, experience, and, according to new research at the University of Cambridge, a long ring finger.

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How I Met Your Bacterium

New research casts light on a fateful hookup, 1.9 billion years ago

It seemed like an ordinary day in the primordial ooze, but romance was in the methane-ammonia air. An amoeba, pseudopoding along as usual, met and was enchanted by a particularly lovely photosynthetic bacterium. He took her inside his cell membrane, but instead of digesting her as he first planned, the two fused into a single organism. The bacterium gave the amoeba the new ability to absorb energy from sunlight, and their descendants became every plant in the world.

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The First Few Minutes After Death

A three-year study will explore the nature of death and consciousness

After countless accounts of near-death experiences, dating as far back as ancient Greece, science is now taking serious steps forward to explore the nature of the phenomenon. A new project aims to determine whether the experience is a physiological event or evidence that the human consciousness is far more complicated than we ever believed.

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Who's Calling?

Scientists have documented the first known case of a person born without the ability to recognize human voices

Your phone rings. But when you pick up, you don't recognize your mother's voice on the other end. It's not amnesia, but phonagnosia -- the inability to recognize voices. If you've never heard of it, that's because it's a very rare condition that usually occurs after a stroke, as a result of lesions in the right hemisphere of the brain. This week, however, scientists at University College London (UCL) reported the first known case of a woman born with phonagnosia in the online journal Neuropsychologia.

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Dinosaur Stomping Ground Found

Thousands of prehistoric tracks are clustered in less than an acre of Western desert

About 190 million years ago, during the Early Jurassic Period, a vast desert larger than the Sahara covered much of what is now Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Given that Jurassic time was the "Age of Dinosaurs," it's not surprising that fossil evidence of the great reptiles would show up there now and then. But recently, geologists from the University of Utah uncovered an exceptional find -- a large concentration of dinosaur tracks and rare tail-drag marks.

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Sorry, You're Just Not My (Testosterone's) Type

Hormonal states cause fluctuating levels of attraction

Hormones are no longer responsible just for teenage angst and questionable food cravings; new research shows these temperamental chemicals also dictate the type of person to which you are attracted. In the first study of its kind, Drs. Ben Jones, Lisa DeBruine, and Lisa Weeling at the University of Aberdeen demonstrated that hormones play a key role in determining who you are attracted to at any given time.

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Cheap Labor

Big problem, small budget? Tap the affordable talents of brainy undergrads

Big-money competitions—like the $25-million Virgin Earth Challenge to suck carbon from the atmosphere and the $10-million Progressive Automotive X Prize to build a 100mpg car—are a great way to inspire life-changing technologies. Winning strokes the ego, of course, and eight-figure prize money is also a good lure. But what if you need some innovative ideas, only you don’t have a lot of prize money to throw around? Hand out course credit instead.

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A Baby Earth

Why does the planet act like a giant magnet? One scientist is building his own Earth to find out

Dan Lathrop needs a bigger Earth. His old one is two feet across and 500 pounds, about 20 millionths the size of the real thing. And after four years of tests, it failed to generate a magnetic field similar to the real Earth’s, which shields us from the sun’s radiation and guides some navigation systems by pointing compasses north.

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Ms. Scientist

Self-confidence and teacher support helps girls succeed at math and science

In 2005, the then-president of Harvard University said that men are better at math and science than women. (President Lawrence Summers' exact words were a bit more roundabout. While theorizing why women are underrepresented in those fields, he said "there is a different availability of aptitude at the high end.")

Turns out Summers's attitude may be to blame, according to a new study from vocational psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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The Fast Way Around

To get those protons up to speed, LHC engineers had to build 17 miles’ worth of the coldest, emptiest place in the universe

The purpose of the LHC is to get lots of protons moving very, very fast. The magnet system is the core piece of technology that makes this happen. More than 1,200 magnet sections, each weighing 10 tons, bend proton beams through vacuum pipes around the 17-mile-long underground tunnel near Geneva. Since these protons are going so fast—99.9999991 percent of the speed of light—superconducting coils of niobium and titanium must produce a magnetic field that’s about 200,000 times as strong as Earth’s to bend them.

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Breaking Open the Unknown Universe

The most powerful and complex science experiment in the history of the universe is finally—after 14 years and $10 billion—about to begin. There’s no telling what it may find, and that’s entirely the point

The proton is a persistent thing. The first one crystallized out of the universe's chaotic froth just 0.00001 of a second after the big bang, when existence was squeezed into a space about the size of the solar system. The rest quickly followed. Protons for the most part have survived unchanged through the intervening 13.8 billion years—joining with electrons to make hydrogen gas, fusing in stars to form the heavier elements, but all the while remaining protons. And they will continue to remain protons for billions of years to come.

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A Mammoth Discovery

A 400,000-year-old fossilized skull could provide a missing link

Mammoths are making a mighty big comeback. Last week, there was a stir among scientists when a controversial DNA-based study came out claiming that woolly mammoths have their roots exclusively in North America, since it has long been believed that they roamed from Western Europe to North America. Although the study is still raising eyebrows, many heads have turned to the gigantic discovery in Southern France's Auvergne region of a rare fossilized steppe mammoth skull weighing 1,300 pounds.

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Catching Crooks With Salt

Salty sweat may leave trace fingerprints on metal

A new crime-fighting technique could make avoiding capture more difficult for even the most fiendish gunsels.

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How the Human Got His Thumbs

A new study suggests that so called “junk DNA” might be what separates apes and man

For decades, people referred to the non-coding bits of DNA between genes as junk DNA. Then, in the eighties scientists discovered that some of that junk DNA served an important purpose. The DNA attracted or repelled transcription factors and RNA, greatly enhancing or inhibiting the potency of adjacent genes. Now scientists have just found that one of those gene enhancers may be what separates humans and chimps.

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