Though my husband and I are very different in terms of our educational interests (science teacher vs. special ed/history teacher), we enjoy sharing stories and talking about our passions with each other. While I was on an endless rant about all the cool scientific discoveries and stories of the past week, he thought it would be a fun addition to the blog to do a weekly scientific roundup (what a guy). So without further ado, here’s what’s new in science!
- Mastodon bones tell a new human history: Researchers have found new evidence that potentially points to ancient humans roaming North America nearly 130,000 years ago. That’s 117,000 years earlier than previously thought and the oldest archaeological site in the Americas. Two discoveries in one?! The leader of this study, Tom Demere, states that the mastodon bones show clear signs of handling by ancient humans. Stone hammers were found with the bones, and some of the bones seem to be smashed by these hammers. The kicker to all this? The site was actually excavated in 1992…nearly 30 years ago! The announcement of this finding so late is due to the difficulty in aging the site. But Demere, a paleontologist by trade, is confident in his team’s findings, which have already been met with skepticism by the rest of the scientific community. Looks like this is still up in the air for now. Click here for more information!
- Cassini’s Tight Squeeze: On April 26th, the Cassini Spacecraft made its first nosedive between Saturn and its rings. This is the first time any spacecraft of any kind has been this close to Saturn’s atmosphere. Cassini dove about 1,900 miles above Saturn’s clouds and only 200 miles from the innermost ring. That’s crazy close for space travel! This is the final leg of Cassini’s journey, which began back in 1997! Scientists are hoping to use the data collected from this trip to better understand Saturn’s rotation, atmosphere, and exact origin of those infamous rings. For more information about the Cassini’s mission, click here. And if you’re still not convinced of this mission’s importance, check this out.
- Artificial Womb: Researchers at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia have developed a functional artificial womb that may be a game-changer for premature babies. The artificial womb, dubbed the “bio bag” is unique compared to the incubators currently being used. These wombs are completely sealed, preventing potential infections, and are filled with water and salts to mimic amniotic fluid. It’s a much more controlled environment that works like an actual womb. Fetal lambs are the only animals to have been tested thus far, and with great results. They’ve been able to sustain premature lambs for at least a month, all showing normal lung and brain development. This does, however, raise many ethical questions in terms of quality of life, abortion laws, and much more. For more information, visit this website.
- Forest Bathing: The idea of “Forest Bathing,” just being in the presence of trees, has been a longstanding Japanese tradition. For years now, people have noted feeling psychological benefits of being in nature (feeling calmer, less stressed, etc,), but now researchers at the Chiba University in Japan put this tradition to the scientific test. Was feeling nice in nature just a placebo affect, or were there actual physiological changes happening? Researchers measured many different physiological changes, like cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone), blood pressure, and nervous system activity. After just 30 minutes of “forest bathing,” all 280 subjects showed lowered cortisol levels, lower sympathetic nervous system activity, lower pulse rates, and lower blood pressure readings – all signs of improved health. They even found that just by breathing in the forest air, immune system function improved. Looks like Ralph Waldo Emerson was right all along – so get outside!
- Caterpillars Recycle Plastic Bags: People have known for a while know that plastic bags aren’t the best for the environment, and since many people don’t know how to properly recycle them, many end up in landfills or littering the streets – no bueno. Researcher Federica Bertocchini, who also happens to be an amateur bee keeper, was cleaning the panels of her beehives. Wax worms (Galleria mellonella) love to eat honeycomb and are often found in beehives. While cleaning, Bertocchini came across a bunch and put them into a plastic bag and tied it shut. Within an hour, the wax worms were all over the place – they had chewed their way out of the plastic bag. Scientist by trade, Beretocchini started her research right away. She and her team found that these worms can produce an enzyme that biodegrades the plastic used in plastic bags because the bonds in the plastic bags are very similar to the bonds in beeswax. This could be the key to eliminating our overwhelming plastic bag buildup because not only can they breakdown these bags, but they can do it at an astounding rate! Wax worms for the win! Check out NatGeo for more information!
Do you have any other stories from science this week? Anything you’d like to hear more about? Let me know in the comments section! I’d love to hear them!