Science Channel - InSCIder

21 Aug

Ten Things to Love About Lemons

National-lemonade-day1-blogDid you know that, yesterday August 20th was National Lemonade Day? Lemonade is probably the most popular thing we think of when it comes to lemons. There are fewer things nicer on a hot summer day than an ice-cold glass of inexplicably sweet-tart lemonade.

There’s much more to lemons than just lemonade however, and just because summer comes to an end doesn’t mean we should stop loving and celebrating them. Lemons are gifted with some pretty powerful natural substances that make them not only smell and taste good, but can do some amazing things for your body, inside and out.

Let’s get to know the four key ingredients in lemon juice and then break down just ten of the many things they can do. Lemon juice contains:

  • Citric acid – Citric acid is a weak organic acid that acts as a preservative and a part of the metabolic process in aerobic organisms. In addition to being a preservative, it also adds taste to certain foods.
  • Limonene – Limonene is a colorless, liquid hydrocarbon with a strong smell, found concentrated in the rinds of citrus. In various molecular forms, it can be used in everything from solvents to medical applications, including new research on battling cancer cells.
  • Ascorbic Acid – Ascorbic acid is a naturally occurring compound that has anti-oxidant properties. It is also known as Vitamin C, which has countless health benefits.
  • Lemon Oil – Lemon oil is a naturally occurring oil found in the rind of the lemon; unlike many other oils it is generally not distilled from the fruit but cold-pressed. In addition to being valued for its strong smell, it is also said to have antibiotic properties.

Together the ingredients in lemon juice have a very low pH number, meaning they are acidic – which is no surprise to anyone. Some people love the sour tang of lemons, but beyond taste, the acid in lemon juice can have an effect on the body, even at a cellular level.

So should we see lemons as a magic food waiting in the wings to be consumed en masse? It’s true that lemons and lemon juice is the subject of ongoing cancer research, including some interesting new tests involving other compounds they’ve been found to carry. To add perspective, remember lemons are relatively small and provide a small amount of juice. You’d have to eat a lot of lemons for their juice to have a clinical impact.

Lemons CAN be a great addition to your daily diet and routine. They help aid with some common health problems, and research may prove eating them regularly may even prove to have some important preventative effects.


We love them not only for the health problems they can address, but they are a great to add to your arsenal of sustainable living practices. How? Once you’re done with the juice or the zest, you can cut the lemon into wedges and use them to deodorize and clean everything from your garbage disposal and trash cans to making your fridge smell nice and help scrub your pots and pans. Nothing goes to waste!

So let’s get to it and geek out on just some of the ways the lemon shows us some love.

Acne – While most of our body has a naturally regulated neutral pH balance, it turns out our skin really likes the acid in lemons. Bacteria living on our skin and in our pores often cause nasty breakouts, inflammation and acne. For some, the addition of lemon juice on a cotton swab makes the skin a less of a breeding ground for overactive bacteria on the skin’s surface. Scientists in Korea have found that lemon juice not only curbs the bacteria, but also acts on chemical messengers within that triggers our immune systems to overreact to the bacteria by creating redness and even killing skin cells.

Anti-Aging – All that vitamin C in lemons can help to battle free radicals – highly unstable, quick moving molecules formed from weak chemical bonds that break apart. That creates some hungry molecules looking to repair their own bonds and when our skin cells are in their path they work to steal molecules from our tissue, breaking down cells in the process. Aging. While some of this happens naturally during metabolism, there are a lot of environmental free radicals attacking our skin that pushes the aging process along. By arming out skin, and our bodies in general, with enough vitamin C it can help slow down that process and in some cases help repair it to a degree. While you’ll now see vitamin C added to face creams and beauty treatments, you can also do a lot of good with a daily glass of warm lemon water.

Anti-Bacterial – Have you ever seen a person at the grocery store or in a tollbooth wiping their fingers on a half a lemon? Many people who handle money will use the lemon juice to wet their fingers to make the money easier to handle. There’s another reason, however. We know that the acidity from the citric acid and vitamin C of the lemon juice acts as a natural anti-bacterial agent, and frankly, who knows where that money’s been? Many people even use lemon juice as a disinfectant due to its anti-bacterial properties, but scientists say that on a large scale it may not truly kill all types of bacteria. The acid in small amounts of lemon juice have been shown to kill some bacteria, but its real strength lies in creating an atmosphere where they just don’t want to reproduce and grow. So think of the lemon juice or lemon water on your hands or fingers as a really great retardant for common bacteria.

Cancer – Can lemons cure cancer? No, not as such, but studies have shown that people with a high vitamin C intake do have lower instances of some forms of cancer. Plus we know vitamin C works against those free radicals in the body that attack our cells. Seriously damaged cells are those that lead to cancers. The citric acid in lemon juice shouldn’t be ignored either; not only does it help battle free radicals, but it is a compound that acts as a catalyst for the absorption of other essential vitamins and minerals in the body. So not only is it healthy in its own right, it helps the other healthy things you eat do their job.

National-lemonade-day2-blogDiuretic – Lemons are one of those foods that can help the body flush out extra fluids, and that’s helpful for many reasons. It can help lower blood pressure and ease a case of uncomfortable bloating. Over the counter diuretics do the job, but often they deplete your body of other things like vitamin B in the process. Lemon juice doesn’t work that way. We know that on the whole, lemon juice and its citric acid like to help the body keep and metabolize what’s good for it. Many people claim that lemon juice helps them lose weight – likely due to the loss of excess water, but it must be stressed that although darn healthy, lemons cannot be directly correlated to long-term weight loss. Think of them as a big picture health tool.

Detoxification – Many people have heard of the lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper cleanse. That is a serious concoction that should only be considered with doctor’s advice. On a more day-to-day preventative level the ingredients in lemon juice can help keep your kidneys and liver functions on the right path. The juice and oil from the peels contain a compound called d-limonene. It acts as an antioxidant that activates enzymes in the liver to fight against and break down toxins. In the kidneys the citric acid in the lemons help fight kidney stones. Again it’s the acids that help correct the alkaline levels, combined the boost it gives to binding calcium that helps your kidneys flush out the right things. Here too, think of lemons in the big picture as part of your healthy diet and not as a magic cure all.

Electrolyte Replacement – When you exert yourself or when you are sick, your body loses important salts, minerals and acids. All of these are important because they contain the ions or the electrical energy that helps your body work properly. The electrical energy communicates instructions back and forth between your cells and neural pathways. While there are many products on the market, you can make your own electrolyte replacement with lemons. Lemon juice also contains calcium and potassium, and those combined with the acids help speed the replenishment of the lost minerals and resets your pH balance. A quick recipe is 32 oz. of water, a pinch of salt, 16 oz. of lemon juice and a half a teaspoon of honey – which adds some sweetness and glucose to speed up absorption of the replenishing compounds.

Insect Repellent –Instead of using chemical sprays to ward off insects, lemons may again provide a natural alternative. Mosquitoes are particularly attracted to sweet smells and warmer temperatures among other things, but they do NOT like the sour citrus scent of lemon. It’s the essential oil of the lemon that is projecting the strong smell so you can make a natural solution of lemon oil and water and wipe yourself down to stay cool and bug free. Be careful though; the essential oil of the lemon is so strong it could irritate some people’s skin so be sure to test your level of tolerance and mix the oil with water or a non-scented cream. It’s no joke to ward off pests like mosquitoes – they carry West Nile Virus and other diseases that are serious health risks above and beyond being itchy.

Nausea – Surprisingly, for some people sipping lemon water can help stave off nausea. Citric acid helps neutralize troublesome gastric acids, much like popular antacids. Again it’s all about that balance between alkaline and acid, and citric acid can act like a regulator to even things out.  It’s not a treatment that works for everyone, and should be tried in moderation as too much of the citric acid can create an upset stomach in its own right.

Stress relief – We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of stress in our overall health. When we are stressed all our systems are knocked out of the balance our body needs. As we’ve learned from the facts above, lemons and the compounds within them love to keep body systems in balance. Plus, the acids in the lemons – ascorbic acid and citric acid help boost the immune system by amplifying the effect of vitamins and minerals you are taking in from other foods. They are like tasty little bundles of peacemaking compounds for your body. Then there is the citrusy smell. Lemon oil has been used in aromatherapy for centuries for its relaxation and calming properties Some sources believe the smell of lemons has the ability to stimulate you and make you more focused and productive, so don’t be surprised if you see some people using a citrus scent at their desks to give them an edge.

The takeaway is lemons are remarkable fuel for the body. Their powerful compounds act as a regulator when needed to reset the body’s pH balance and make the environment for bacterial growth and toxins unfriendly. Amazingly they also boost other vital vitamins and minerals so your body gets to a more overall sense of well being.

So take those versatile lemons and add the zest to your diet or start your day with a warm cup of water with lemon. All things in moderation so don’t go crazy with these simple little fruits. Just augmenting your daily diet with a little bit of lemon can bring a bigger picture of good taste, good health, and a good sense of well being.

Some day in the future, science may find a way to harness the power of these fruits to provide targeted cures, and there is no doubt they are interested in what they see. But until then, just enjoy your lemonade.


30 Jul

Secret Space Escapes

What’s it like to leave earth to explore the unknown? How does it feel to be in space? What happens when you’re in space and something goes terribly wrong? Science Channel’s SECRET SPACE ESCAPES reveals terrifying accidents, fights for survival, and stories of close calls and near misses by the astronauts who survived them. This all-new series offers chilling accounts of the challenges of space exploration as told only by the explorers who lived them and the men and women in mission control who helped each team avert disaster. SECRET SPACE ESCAPES premieres on Science Channel Nov. 10 at 10 PM.

Recounting missions as recent as 2013, SECRET SPACE ESCAPES will draw viewers into the emotional experience of space exploration. Through first-hand accounts by the astronauts who relied upon science, training, colleagues on earth and, most importantly, their wits, in order to survive launches, space walks, landings, collisions, outages and other dangerous situations that occurred during their missions.  This is the first time that these near-disasters-turned-triumphs have been told solely from the point of view of the men and women who problem-solved each event – there is no narration in the series, and the stories unfold solely in the words of the people who were there. S98e5276

“The personal stories of the astronauts in SECRET SPACE ESCAPES have never been seen like this before on television,” said Rita Mullin, General Manager of Science Channel.   “These men and women have pushed space exploration forward with each mission, and their stories will haunt, entertain, educate and inspire.”

Featuring rare and never before seen footage, the astronauts and stories featured in SECRET SPACE ESCAPES will include:

  • Robert Curbeam and Thomas Jones trained for years to install a new American module on the International Space Station (ISS). During their long-anticipated spacewalk, a valve malfunctions and toxic ammonia flakes from the cooling system pour all over Curbeam. He struggles desperately to stop the leak before the vital cooling system fails. Covered like a snowman with ammonia flakes, Curbeam cannot risk re-entering the spacecraft, where the toxic ammonia could sicken or blind the crew. His only option is to stay outside, zooming at 17,000 miles per hour, 225 miles above the earth, and wait for the sun to melt away the contaminants.
  • When a new solar panel on the ISS tears, Scott Parazynski ventures out on a 90-foot arm to make improvised repairs. The solar panels carry enough voltage to fry Dr. Parazynski in his oxygen-filled suit -- but if he fails in his task, the ISS is doomed.
  • In 1997, Mike Foale is on an extended mission aboard the Russian Mir space station when it is struck by a resupply vessel. The station springs a leak, losing power rapidly and launching into an out of control spin. Under extreme pressure, Foale makes an ad hoc calculation using the position of the stars to determine the speed and direction of the spin. He and his Russian colleagues Vasily Tsibliyev and Aleksandr “Sasha” Lazutkin are able to use the rockets inside the attached Soyuz capsule to stop the roll, save the ship -- and their lives.
  • Hoot Gibson and Mike Mullane are on the second shuttle to launch after the Challenger disaster. It’s 1986 and STS-27 is a classified mission to launch a spy satellite. During liftoff, a video of the launch reveals a fragment of the booster rocket’s insulation breaking off and striking the underbelly of the space shuttle, Atlantis, damaging many of the protective heat shield tiles that leave parts of the shuttle exposed to 5,000 degree heat upon re-entry. Gibson thinks he’s going to die and Mullane suspects they may be facing certain disaster. They have no alternatives – there are no stations to dock to, there is no time to send another Shuttle to aid them and no way to conduct a spacewalk to fix the issue. Miraculously, even with vulnerable unshielded spots on her, Atlantis withstands the heat of reentry because a steel plate just happens to protect the aluminum hull where it is most exposed.
  • In 1969, the Soyuz 5 capsule tumbles to earth in a fireball because a malfunction does not jettison an extra equipment module. It’s like a car dragging a U-Haul trailer. When the capsule finally rights itself and the extra modules are jettisoned, its parachutes only partially deploy and the rockets that aid a soft landing barely function. Cosmonaut Boris Volynov lands way off target. Covered in blood from his broken teeth sustained in the crash landing, he manages to climb out of the wreckage and find his way to the door of a very surprised peasant.

SECRET SPACE ESCAPES is produced for Science Channel by ITV Studios America where Vincent Kralyevich and Patrice Andrews serve as executive producers. For Science Channel Neil Laird and Rocky Collins serve as executive producers and Lindsey Foster Blumberg is producer. Bernadette McDaid is vice president of production for Science Channel.

4 Jul

Could Technology Reverse Aging?

The fountain of youth. The idea of retaining or returning to one’s healthy youthful state indefinitely is a concept that has been studied in one form or another since the dawn of humankind. The ‘fountain of youth’ idea is based on the idea there is some product – a cream or a pill that will somehow turn the effects of aging around. Billions of dollars are spent each year on products that claim to in some way mask or slow the effects of aging, but what if we’re looking in the wrong place? What if the fountain of youth has really been inside us the whole time and we just need the technology to find it?

By asking whether technology can reverse aging we have to split the current research into two groups. The first is the group of researchers like Randal Koene who want to preserve life by turning our intellect and emotions into digital copies. This could mean purely a digital experience, and not just reversing aging but creating a limitless one.

Other scientists are tackling aging at the cellular level. The generally accepted idea with this theory is aging is caused by breakdowns or gradual mutation of the mitochondria in our cells. Mitochondrial DNA control cellular respiration and energy – key to keeping our cells young. Gradual breakdown of the mitochondria sequences over time lead to the signs we associate with aging and eventual shutting down of the cells.

Teams of scientists in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. have recently made the discovery that it may not be as simple as the sequencing of our DNA breaking down. The Japanese team studied the cells from a range of fetal to 12-year old young people and 80 to 97 year-olds. It turns out the actual sequences, or capacity of the DNA between the two groups was largely the same.

What they theorized is the breakdown or misfiring at the cellular level is really caused by turning on or off of genes, which can be done by adding the proteins or chemical structures like amino acids that enable them. If you can control delivery of chemicals and proteins you can reprogram genes to reverse the breakdowns.

The Japanese team proved they could successfully turn the genes off that affect cellular respiration. Then they turned them back on by adding the amino acid glycine. The combined team from Australia and the U.S. restored the functionality or ‘communication’ between mitochondria and the nuclei of cells by injecting mice with a natural compound called NMN. It accelerates the levels of molecule NAD that repairs the functionality. In the study, the results of the injection had some of the same effects as those mice that were fed the equivalent of a low calorie diet. The younger the mice were, the more dramatic the effect; so could it be possible that if we start taking or injecting ourselves early enough we could stall aging altogether?

With these new breakthroughs in understanding how we might treat our cells we could be looking at prolonged and healthier future. But where does the technology come in?

It’s a given that to accomplish this research scientists are working with advanced medical equipment to create, deliver, and document gene therapy. We are talking about microsurgery at an advanced level as scientists look to bind healthy, treated cells to other cells and replace them in the body to grow and help regenerate damaged cells.


But beyond microsurgery, there are already technologies hitting the market in the near future that could help us prevent and treat malfunctions in the body earlier. As the team from Discovery News documents in their video there are wearable wristbands that already track our fitness and diet; in addition to be preventative health care to slow down aging, these devices could one day also alert us to more serious medical problems.

The Discovery News team also highlights magnetic pills we could ingest to directly target the source of cellular breakdown with the appropriate amino acid. Imagine 3-D printers are creating these pills or vaccines on a mass scale.

The fountain of youth is an ephemeral concept. Will we live forever as intellect inside a computer, or will we use computers and advanced technology to tap and fix what is already inside us? The race is on.

Which avenue of anti-aging would you pursue?



Sydney Morning Herald


23 Jun

The Very Real Project To Upload A Human Brain

Understanding how our brain works is the holy grail of neuroscience. Our brains are estimated to be made of 85 to 100 billion neurons with electrochemical signals jumping between them, creating thought, decisions, bodily functions, and the essence of who we are. If we understand how these neurons and synapses operate then we could cure diseases, prolong our health and memory, and maybe – just maybe – we could copy those patterns to a computer or to host bodies.

The creation of a “substrate independent minds” sounds like science fiction or the subject of fringe science. The fact is, the project to upload a human mind to a computer is happening right now with neuroscientist Randal Koene as a chief advocate.

For Koene, the idea is very simple. If you map the brain and identify the patterns by which the neurons fire, you could effectively copy them as basic binary computer code. If you do this correctly you would copy those unique synapses that make up our emotions, skills, and personalities. Koene believes that if all the basic functions of the brain are copied and the complexities of how the neurons communicate are rendered accurately, then the computerized version of your brain would be self-aware.

Are you freaked out? Do you have questions? Of course you do.

This is a big idea that raises a lot of unknowns. While something may be possible, it doesn’t mean that we know exactly how it will work. That’s much like the story in the movie Self/Less – just because we could upload our brains to another, younger body doesn’t mean we know what would happen.


Koene has theorized that we could potentially live in host bodies – human, or even human ones that our computerized brains have adapted to different living environments. Koene also thinks we could simply live in a digital environment much like the “Cloud.” While we know how our brains react to each other as humans, we don’t know how our brains would act towards each other in bodies we don’t recognize now or even just as a digital brain occupying space in the Cloud. Our synapses for memories and behavior would probably have to evolve.

This evolution or expansion of our consciousness is exactly why Randal Koene believes uploading the human brain is a good thing. As a species we need to find a way to evolve to meet the rapidly changing future and infrastructure around us, and this could be the answer. After all, many prominent minds like Stephen Hawking haven’t been shy about stating they believe the very artificial intelligence and robots we’ve created will one day evolve themselves beyond our intelligence and eventually take over. Suddenly it doesn’t sound like science fiction any more, but perhaps a necessity to keep our species – or at least the intelligence and essence of it alive.

In fact, it isn’t science fiction it’s science fact that Koene’s research and those of others’ are real. There is an open source movement called “The Open Worm Project” that has already created a virtual brain of a roundworm and uploaded it into a Lego robot. YOU can even participate in refining that project to begin to get comfortable with creating virtual intelligence.

There is also the research being done at USC and Wake Forest where in 2011 scientists created the world’s first artificial neural implant which works in a rat. They targeted the rat’s hippocampus where neurons and electrical signals create the memory to perform tasks. The scientists copied the patterns of the signals and placed them on a chip. Next, they removed the rat’s hippocampus and the rat couldn’t do the tasks. Adding in the chip? The memory to complete tasks was restored.

It’s cutting edge science, but no longer science considered on the fringes. In 2013 the EU and US announced initiatives to boost the field of brain research and hopefully move the goals into the mainstream.

We’ve come a long way, but we all know worm and rat brains are far from the beautiful, complex machine that is the human brain. Koene’s continued work on mapping the brain with the goal of creating a “whole brain emulation” could take years and years to complete. So each neural pathway Koene and other neuroscientists explore is critical in achieving a full understanding of the brain and how to replicate it.

That time may be just what we need to wrap our minds around the enormous consequences of creating our own virtual intelligence means. How long would we be able to live? Would we redefine what it means to be human by programming out undesirable traits? Would we be able to have relationships?

In short, would the rush of being “immortal” be replaced by a reality that brings on more questions than answers? One can theorize, but we can’t yet answer that question. As we find out in the movie Self/Less, it will likely be a very personal question.

Would YOU upload your brain? Let us know!




Randal Koene

22 Jun

Hydrogen Fuel Provides Clean Energy Promise

The use of hydrogen as a clean energy source for the future is the subject of much R&D these days. We’ve long since figured out that hydrogen is an element that produces a lot of energy – the key is finding out how to harness it and store it in an efficient fashion so we can use if for everyday purposes like powering our cars or items in the home.

One of the cleanest ways to harness hydrogen is to separate it from a hydrogen heavy resource like water. In a process called electrolysis, an electrical current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen molecules in water. Our colleagues over at TestTube have created this awesome video explaining the process in detail.


So it’s relatively easy to harvest the hydrogen, the problem is how do you store it? The reason hydrogen holds so much hope as a fuel source is that it has a high mass energy density – that means it is powerful stuff compared to other fuels. The problem is hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which means it generally takes up a LOT of space to store.

In the past we’ve been able to deal with that given it’s large-scale industrial applications. In fact, NASA used it in the Space Shuttle programs. They used liquid hydrogen (produced when the hydrogen is super cooled) to power those massive rockets to get the Shuttle into space. In that case size wasn’t a barrier.

The key to using hydrogen for slightly less dramatic uses than launching rockets is finding that way to store it in fuel cells. NASA used early versions of hydrogen fuel cells on the Shuttle to power their electrical systems. The only by-product is water, which conveniently the astronauts used to drink.

The system has been improved upon so much over time that NASA is researching how to use it to power spacecraft to explore our solar system. On the smaller, more personal scale we now have cars like the Toyota Mirai that efficiently and cleanly use hydrogen fuel cells. The cars  fill up with water, and utilize it's own air in-take to power the process of electrolysis. The hydrogen is stored in carbon fiber fuel cells and the only footprint it leaves behind is more water.

The Mirai is even more efficient because it combines existing electric car technology where electricity created by the braking mechanism is used to power the electrolysis process that creates the hydrogen.

As this car hits the market, the research on creating the next generation of hydrogen fuel use is underway. Creating new efficiencies in the fuel cells is one area of focus, looking both at what substances can most efficiently aid in the electrolysis process and help store them without corrosion.

One new study from McGill University in Montreal has demonstrated how existing technology of storing hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons can be driven by ambient solar energy. Going a step further than electrolysis, some current storage applications create hydrocarbons by adding a catalyst chemical that bond with multiple hydrogen molecules. The trick is generating enough energy to “dehydrogenize” the hydrocarbon back into hydrogen to store in the fuel cells that make things go. It’s a process that can take a lot of energy and may be impractical on smaller scales, than say needing to power a rocket.

The researchers have found that plain old sunlight can drive dehydrogenization by using platinum based nanoparticles as the catalyst to pull the hydrocarbons apart without using high energy temperatures.

Some day soon things could be powered on a large scale by the very water and air around us, leaving nothing behind to corrupt the planet. We now have cars that can efficiently create and store hydrogen for clean transportation, and someday soon, huge solar farms could transform and store these high-energy molecules on a large scale to power entire city grids.

That’s a clean energy future we look forward to!

For more information please see our resources:

Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Energy World

Toyota Mirai



19 Jun


See Videos of Their Incredible Projects

Harnessing ocean currents, curbing CO2 emissions, circular ion accelerators. How cool do these ideas sound? What’s even cooler is these are just a few of the real amazing projects the national finalists in the annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge are creating.

We here at Science Channel are in awe of the possibilities this next generation is embracing. Science, curiosity, and questioning everything will be how we embrace the challenges of the future. Clearly the ten students chosen have their eyes on that future, and are thinking about how we can make it a better place.

So how did these ten students get to this point? The annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science competition for students in grades 5-8. Students all over the country submitted short videos communicating the science behind a possible solution to an everyday problem. The finalists rose to the top of the competition due to their science acumen, innovative thinking and exceptional communication skills demonstrated in their entry videos.

151126_YSC_JUNE_FACEBOOK_1_FINEach bright young student will now have the exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M Scientist during a unique summer mentorship program, where they will be challenged to develop an innovation that positively impacts them, their family, their community or the global population. As part of the world-renowned program, students will meet virtually with their mentors, who will provide guidance as the finalist develops his or her idea from a concept into an actual prototype.

Throughout the program, each student will have access to resources and support provided by 3M and Discovery Education. Students will then present their inventions during the competition’s final event at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. October 12th and 13th.

Congratulations to the top 10 finalists in this year's Challenge:

  • Peter Finch, Harrisville, R.I., Homeschool
  • Arthur Frigo, III, Jupiter, Fla., Turtle River Montessori
  • Raghav Ganesh, San Jose, Calif., Joaquin Miller Middle School, Cupertino Union School District
  • Amulya Garimella, Pittsburgh, Pa., Dorseyville Middle School, Fox Chapel Area School District
  • Iris Gupta, North Potomac, Md., Robert Frost Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools
  • Hannah Herbst, Boca Raton, Fla., Alexander D. Henderson University School, Florida Atlantic University Schools
  • Alec Lessing, New York, N.Y., Collegiate School
  • Conner Pettit, Lone Tree, Colo., Cresthill Middle School, Douglas County School District
  • Krishna Reddy, Wichita Falls, Texas, Kirby World Academy, Wichita Falls Independent School District
  • Sanjana Shah, Cupertino, Calif., John F. Kennedy Middle School, Cupertino Union School District

You can check out the finalists’ impressive entry videos by visiting the following YouTube playlist: Young Scientist Challenge 2015

For more information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, including photos and bios of the ten finalists and a list of the state merit winners, please visit




8 May

When Earth Makes Its Moves

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific just between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on Thursday. This follows on the heels of the 7.8 quake in Nepal. A look at daily activity shows smaller quakes happening all over the world, especially in the infamous “Ring of Fire” region around the edges of the Pacific Ocean where tectonic activity is especially high.

What is happening when these earthquakes hit? Though it might not feel like it to us, the crust and mantle –essentially the “skin’ around the earth’s inner cores are always slowly moving. The pieces that make up these layers are bumping up against each other as they travel; the areas where they make contact are called fault lines.


When two plates of crust get stuck against each other, the energy of the movement builds up. Eventually that stored up energy is released with force when the two pieces finally come unstuck. The location where the energy is released is called the hypocenter under the surface of the crust, and the epicenter on the surface. The energy released heads outwards from the center, shaking the earth in waves.

One plate may slip up while the other slips down under the other in what’s called a subduction zone. In fact, in the case of the recent Nepal quake, the way the two plates came to rest caused Mt. Everest to lose height! Subduction zones often become areas of heightened activity.

One of the most challenging things about earthquakes is the drama isn’t over after the “main” shock. After the initial devastation at the epicenter, the earth is still settling and reshuffling itself into place causing further shakes called aftershocks. Some can be quite severe, frequent, and go on for extended periods of time – even years. It’s what makes recovery in remote areas quite hard to manage. Buildings and infrastructure have become unstable and more susceptible to the rattling – even if it is of lesser magnitude.

So can we predict earthquakes? The most reliable answer is to say not definitively. There have been cases in China where monitoring set up in high-risk regions have recorded questionable activity and given officials time to evacuate. However, just as often a quake will come with no warning at all.

The earth is unpredictable. While we have become extremely knowledgeable over the years about where trouble zones are for earthquakes and volcanoes around the world, we still don’t have a full understanding of when devastating events may occur. Fortunately, there are scientists and researchers all over the globe studying the earth’s hotspots with a keen eye, and those who head into the devastation afterwards to gain clues that might help us create informed, reliable warnings in the future.

We hope you’ll find deeper answers in our playlist above, all about when the earth makes its moves.



US Geological Service


The Telegraph


29 Apr

Through The Wormhole: Studying "Us vs. Them"

Guest Post By: Mina Chikara, Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. (Full bio below)

The human brain is specialized for group living. People who accurately identify, value, and cooperate with in-group members enjoy numerous material and psychological benefits (e.g., protection, belonging, emotional support). However, group life is also a source of social strife and destruction. Conflict between groups, in particular, has been described as one of the greatest problems facing the world today. For example, it has been estimated that over 200 million people were killed in the last century in acts of genocide, war, and other forms of group conflict.

What my lab finds fascinating is how easily people form groups. Sometimes when we’re interested in studying group dynamics and we want to control for factors such as stereotypes or a history of rivalry, we’ll assign people to new groups. For example, we have run studies online with thousands of people and randomly assigned them to either the Eagles team or the Rattlers team. We tell people that they are going to play against each other in a problem solving challenge in order to get them in a competitive mindset. In the end they never actually compete, they just tell us how they feel about teammates’ and competitors’ experiences (which are, by design, irrelevant to the competition they think will happen later on).


Even though they’ve only just been assigned to these teams and they never lay eyes on teammates or competitors, the majority of people say they feel worse about negative events when they befall teammates rather than competitors. Moreover, people also say they feel better about negative events when they befall competitors rather than teammates. Some people even leave messages such as, “This was an awesome study! F*#! EAGLES, GO RATTLERS!”

On another occasion, I asked a participant to come back to the lab after she was assigned to a team a few weeks prior. When I asked her if she remembered which team she was on she replied, “Of course!” This was puzzling to me because she had been randomly assigned to the Eagles. When I asked her why she said “of course,” she replied, “My family is a military family so the Eagle is a very important totem to us.”

Groups are important. Even when we haven’t been members for long we make meaning out of them so that they become important. Groups change the way we see the world and ourselves. This why I will never grow tired of studying how people change when they move from thinking about “me and you” to “us and them.”

Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Policy from Princeton University and completed a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Professor Cikara studies how the mind, brain, and behavior change when the social context shifts from “me and you” to “us and them.” She focuses primarily on how group membership, competition, and prejudice disrupt the processes that allow people to see others as human and to empathize with others. She uses a wide range of tools—standard laboratory experiments, implicit and explicit behavioral measures, fMRI and psychophysiology—to examine failures of empathy, dehumanization, and misunderstanding between groups. She is equally interested in the behavioral consequences of these processes: discrimination, conflict, and harm. Most recently, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology selected her as a Dissertation Award Finalist. She has published articles in Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and NeuroImage. She tweets about psychology and neuroscience @profcikara.

19 Apr

The Best Investment

Guest post by: Max Erik Tegmark

At a cost of about $30 per American, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the best investments humanity has ever made. Its spectacular images have shed light on our cosmic origins and destiny and they have inspired us all, showing us that we’d underestimated the beauty and diversity of our cosmos.


Max Erik Tegmark is a Swedish-American cosmologist. Tegmark is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute. He is also a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.

Below: PIA08097

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19 Apr

The Space Telescope That Transformed How We Do Science

Guest post by David Spergel

I got my PhD just before the Hubble Telescope launched so have followed its trajectory from disappointment to scientific triumph. I have been most impressed by how clever astronomers have used the telescope in ways that were not anticipated by its builders.Astronomers have used HST to discover stars stripping the atmospheres off of their planetary companions and to use supernova to trace the deceleration of the universe.   

While future space telescopes  will look even further back in time (James Webb Space Telescope, will survey much larger volumes of our universe  and begin the detailed study of exoplanets (Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope), Hubble will always be the space telescope that transformed how we do science.


David Nathaniel Spergel, is an American theoretical astrophysicist and Princeton University professor known for his work on the WMAP mission. Professor Spergel is a MacArthur Fellow

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