Friday Science Bites 9/2/16

Some notable tidbits from this week . . .

  1. One of my favorite polling websites has a regular feature entitled “Science Questions From A Toddler”.  Many of the questions are quite good, and it’s likely many (most?) adults wouldn’t know the answer.  A recent question was What is the Loudest Sound in the World?  Recorded history pinpoints the eruption of Krakatoa (Indonesia, 1883) as the loudest sound, a sound people heard thousands of miles away, and a sound that created a pressure wave that circled the globe several times.  The article has some other interesting factoids on sound, namely that the sperm whale may be the loudest animal on earth, and that you cannot hear a mosquito from twenty feet away.  I’d like to contest that last point.
  2. Kevlar.  Sounds familiar, right? Kind of like teflon.  But what is kevlar?  Briefly, it’s a polymer with five times the strength of steel.  It’s used in tires, racing sails, and body armor, to name just a few applications.  I came across an article about it’s founder, Stephanie Kwolek, the other day on a parenting website called Fatherly.  Apparently they are doing a series called Real Women of History.  Totally love this and a way to spread the word about this material and the story of its invention, which involved a flub-up, to a broader audience!
  3. The acids naturally produced by fungi may prove useful in recycling lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.  Specifically, two acids — oxalic and citric — were able to extra 85% of the original lithium in the batteries.  The idea of lithium not forever piling up in a landfill excites me, as does the opportunity to talk about the fungus among us!
  4. Have we reached a new geological time slice, notable due to our own impact on the environment?  Some scientists think so, and deem our current time the end of the Holocene (aka, the past 12,000 years) and the beginning of . . . the Anthropocene.  The final decision will be up to the International Union of Geological Sciences.
  5. With the recent spread of dengue, chinkungunya, and now Zika, the question of flat-out eliminating the mosquito species that carries these diseases, Aedes aegypti, has emerged.   This article captures some of the current thinking and research on this issue.  I personally am a big fan of using the CRISPR technology for this purpose, and wonder how to best educate the public on what this technology is and how it works.

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