science

Fear Of Knowing

May 16, 2016

Science can sometimes come across as a stuffy, inflexible collection of facts — absolute truths not to be questioned. At least, that's the way it is often taught in schools.

The reality of science is very different. Scientists are always questioning, holding out the possibility of being wrong, and learning new things by making mistakes. The progress of science is one long sequence if trials and errors — mostly errors.

Not long after publishing his first book, London designer Thomas Thwaites found himself with no real job and in relationship trouble. His book, The Toaster Project — about his attempt to build a toaster from scratch — was a huge success, but he found the whole business of being a celebrity thinker a hard act to follow.

To be human is to worry about getting by, doing better, finding love and accepting the march of mortality. Thwaites decided to try to escape the burden of being human — and he would do it by becoming a goat.

If you think your job is painful, try spending a workday with Justin Schmidt.

Schmidt is an entomologist who focuses on a group of insects called Hymenoptera — we know them as stinging ants, wasps and bees.

Schmidt has traveled all over the world looking for bugs ... and getting stung by them. The result of his work is an alarmingly comprehensive pain index, ranking 83 insect stings on a spectrum of 1 to 4.

NASA announced Tuesday the discovery of an unprecedented number of planets beyond our solar system — astronomers have confirmed the existence of 1,284 new worlds orbiting distant stars.

These planets beyond our solar system — exoplanets — were discovered with the help of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which launched in 2009.

Deep in the ocean, a mission is underway to explore the "unknown and poorly known areas" around the Mariana Trench.

Discarding the results of a public poll that embraced "Boaty McBoatface" as the name for a $300 million research vessel, Britain's science minister has instead named the ship for famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Boaty McBoatface received more than 124,000 votes in the online poll that was set up by Britain's Natural Environment Research Council — more than 10 times the 11,000 votes Attenborough's name received.

Scientists have had a literal breakthrough off the coast of Mexico.

After weeks of drilling from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico, they have reached rocks left over from the day the Earth was hit by a killer asteroid.

Forty centimeters is a long way down when you’re digging a pit in the forest.

“That’s why you never find perpetrators burying a body six feet under – it’s way too much work,” quips Western Oregon University Professor Misty Weitzel to the raucous approval of her sweaty students.

These Western Oregon University students aren’t burying bodies. They’re digging them up. Weitzel assures that the bodies are not human.

“What we have are three domestic pig burials that were placed in the ground 10 years ago,” says Weitzel, who teaches criminal justice.

A small mammal has sabotaged the world's most powerful scientific instrument.

The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable.

Over the past decade, states have passed laws intended to help women understand the results of their breast cancer screening mammograms if they have dense breasts. But those notifications can be downright confusing and may, in fact, cause more misunderstanding than understanding.

When you sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, only half your brain is getting a good night's rest.

"The left side seems to be more awake than the right side," says Yuka Sasaki, an associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University.

Rebecca Yeung (left), and Kimberly Yeung retrieve the Loki Lego Launcher outside Ritzville, WA, after the ballooncraft returned from the stratosphere.
Courtesy of the Yeung Family

Kim Malcolm speaks with Seattle sisters Rebecca, 11, and Kimberly Yeung, 9, about bringing their "spacecraft," the Loki Lego Launcher, to the White House Science Fair

Before the White House, the Loki Lego Launcher was just a family project. The girls built the craft at home, with equipment and instructions they found online. They made it out of plywood, arrow shafts, rope, a helium balloon and some styrofoam feet "in the event of a water landing." 

Ian Burkhart, now 24, was paralyzed in 2010 after diving into a wave in shallow water. The accident left him with some arm movement but no use of his hands.

Some users of LSD say one of the most profound parts of the experience is a deep oneness with the universe. The hallucinogenic drug might be causing this by blurring boundaries in the brain, too.

Artificial limbs have come a long way since the days of peg legs and hooks for hands. But one thing most of these prosthetics lack is a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao intends to change that.

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