science

Solar flares
Flickr user Jason Major / Flickr

Robert Alexander works to give the sun a voice. As a sonification specialist at the University of Michigan, Alexander turns data from the sun into music. 

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Federal spending on scientific research hasn’t kept up with inflation in recent years, and it’s made it harder for researchers to fund their work. Some of them are turning to another source: crowdfunding. But this funding source raises new questions for scientists.  

Detroit Observatory
Adham El-Batal / wikimedia commons

Nestled on a hill between dorms on the University of Michigan campus is a beautifully-preserved time capsule.

From the outside, the Detroit Observatory looks almost new, with its crisp white paint and sharp wooden molding. In reality, the observatory dates back over 150 years to the earliest days of University of Michigan’s founding.

History

Historically, the observatory was much more than simply a building to house telescopes.

Robert Axelrod receiving the National Medal of Science on November 20, 2014.
University of Michigan

President Barack Obama has given the nation's highest honor for achievement in science and technology to a University of Michigan political science and public policy professor.  

Obama presented Robert Axelrod with the National Medal of Science on Thursday during a ceremony at the White House. The president selected him and nine others last month for the medal.

During the National Medals of Technology and Innovation Award Ceremony at the White House, Axelrod was commended for his work:

"Rober Axelrod, University of Michigan, for interdisciplinary work on the evolution of cooperation, complexity theory, and international security, and for the exploration of how social science models can be used to explain biological phenomena."

Axelrod wrote The Evolution of Cooperation, which deals with de-escalating conflict.

Axelrod also has received a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" and has been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

The medals have been awarded annually since 1959.

User: marymactavish / Flickr

A recent report from the Council of Canadian Academies finds our Canadian neighbors have a pretty fine grasp of science. 

The panel has commissioned a nationwide survey of how Canadians relate to science. Compared to similar surveys in other countries, Canada ranked first in science literacy: 42% of Canadians are able to read and understand newspaper stories detailing scientific findings.

Despite our shared border, Canadians seem to be ahead of the U.S. in understanding and appreciating science topics.

www-personal.umich.edu/~ktfreese / www-personal.umich.edu/~ktfreese

What is the universe made of?

It’s a fundamental question that has been asked numerous times over the years, and Katherine Freese is devoting her scientific career to answering it.

Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan. Her book is called “The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter.”

Freese the answer is surprising ,and finding it begins by starting with what we do know.

“Your body, the air, the walls, let’s even throw in the stars and planets. All of that is made of atoms, but all of that only adds up to about 5% of the universe,” Freese said.

Freese said the quest to find the answer dates back to a Swiss astronomer in the 1930s who found something was pulling at the universe, causing it to expand. He called it dark matter.

So what does dark matter mean?

“It means that it does not shine,” Freese said. “It is invisible to our eyes and our ordinary telescopes."

Freese said scientists believe they are close to detecting it, and believe it is made of some new particle – entirely different from neutrons, protons, and everything we have learned in science class.

Freese said her book served two purposes: to talk about the hunt for dark matter, and to talk about her experience as a scientist.

*Listen to the full interview with Katherine Freese above. 

–Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom

John Lofy

Dr. Emanuel Tanay died of metastatic prostate cancer on August 5. A visitation is planned for Saturday, September 13 at 11:00 am at the Nie Family Funeral Home in Ann Arbor with a memorial service to follow at noon.

Tanay led an amazing life. Here's more about Tanay from a family press release: 

Central Michigan University / Steve Jessmore

You might’ve heard that Amazon is hoping to one day deliver packages to your door by little unmanned helicopters.

Now, scientists are getting into the act, too.

“This is our unmanned aerial vehicle; an electronically powered helicopter,” Benjamin Heumann says as he unpacks a 6-foot helicopter. We’re in the middle of a rare wetland called a prairie fen near Chelsea. Heumann directs the Center for Geographic Information Science at Central Michigan University.

University of Michigan

A group of doctors and researchers is getting in on the Ann Arbor Art Fair fun this week. 

The program is called Bioartography. Faculty and staff across the university submit images of cells and tissue from their research labs.

The images are photoshopped to add bright colors and patterns. The winning prints are then sold. All proceeds go to help graduate students and post-docs travel to medical conferences.

Dr. Deborah Gumucio helped develop the fundraiser in 2005. She said roughly $40,000 to $50,000 has been collected over the past nine years. That's been enough to give more than 80 students $500 travel awards.  

"It’s really important to get out to the public to tell them about what we do," said Gumucio. "How our work with the fruit fly and work with yeast, for example, can make huge differences in human health."

The prints are a representation of the intersection between art and science. 

They will be sold at the Ann Arbor Art Fair this week. They're also for sale online. 

– Reem Nasr, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user Alain r / Wikimedia Commons

Ever since Stephen Hawking came out with his theory about how black holes work, physicists – including Hawking himself – have been wrestling with a "hole" in that theory.

Hawking postulated that if you threw something like a chair into a black hole, given enough time that chair would "dematerialize." It would disappear, leaving no trace of its existence.

But the laws of physics don't allow for things to simply disappear. Things can change, or be altered, but they can't disappear. You can burn a piece of paper, and it's no longer there, but the carbon, water, and other molecules still exist somewhere. Again, it can't simply disappear.

It's called the black hole information paradox.

PBS' Kate Becker quoted Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind in describing Hawking's theory in her post "Do Black Holes Destroy Information?":

As Leonard Susskind wrote in “The Black Hole War,” his 2008 book on the problem of black holes and information loss, “The possibility of hiding information in a vault would hardly be a cause for alarm, but what if when the door was shut, the vault evaporated right in front of your eyes? That’s exactly what Hawking predicted would happen to the black hole.”

The solution?

Now comes a theoretical physicist and computational biologist from Michigan State University who believes he has solved Hawking's black hole information paradox.

Chris Adami joined us today on Stateside. (You can listen to how he explains his theory above.)

Hawking discovered that black holes emit a glow called the “Hawking radiation.” That radiation, Hawking theorized, consumes the black hole and all things in the hole are lost. Poof! Nothing left.

Adami theorizes that a copy of the chair is made before it goes into the black hole.

More on Adami’s solution from MSU:

PEPL / University of Michigan

Technology has opened the doors in recent years for do-it-yourselfers to complete scientific projects without help from universities or government agencies. But space exploration is one field that has remained largely out of reach for amateur scientists who don’t have NASA-sized budgets.

One way space enthusiasts have found to get more involved in the last few years is by building little satellites themselves, called cubesats.

Basically just metal boxes about the size of a loaf of bread, cubesats are popular in the DIY space community because they can be built cheaply with off-the-shelf parts and can be stuffed with cameras and all sorts of other instruments depending on the builders’ interests.

They’re usually put together by groups of amateurs or classes who pay to have their cubesat catch a ride on bigger rocket missions and once they’re dropped off, they stay in orbit and transmit pictures or other data back down to Earth.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan say they are working to expand the scientific capabilities of cubesats by giving them a push in new directions, literally.

They want to take the plasma propulsion systems that power big spacecraft, like communication satellites, and shrink them down so that amateurs can send their cubesats into new orbits or even off into the solar system.

*Listen to the full story above

Argonne National Laboratory / Flickr

A young woman entered college, full of the dreams she’d been holding tight since early grade school: dreams of being a doctor. She entered college in pre-med as a biology major. The biology part of pre-med went just great. But the chemistry was tough, and, in the middle of her sophomore year, when she saw she’d gotten a “D” in organic chem lab, that was that. She dropped out of all her science classes, switched over to History and tried to forget that she’d ever wanted to be a surgeon.

Today she’s glad to be hosting Stateside here on Michigan Radio!

But even after 34 years in radio and TV, Cynthia Canty still finds herself wondering what if she had not let that one “D” chase her out of her science major? And why did no one try to encourage her to keep plugging away?

So when the New York Times Sunday Magazine recently ran a long piece by writer Eileen Pollack titled “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” it struck a very personal chord.

As Eileen finds, women are still underrepresented in the STEM classes and careers that are so crucial to our country’s future prosperity.

But the University of Michigan is working hard to find ways to nurture and support women students and faculty in the sciences.

We were joined today by the author of that New York Times piece. She is one of the first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics from Yale. Today she teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Tim McKay is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Michigan, and he directs the undergrad honors program.

Abby Stewart is a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Michigan. She directs the university’s advance program.

The three of them joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Last month, Governor Rick Snyder called for less coal power and more renewable energy in Michigan. Utilities are in a good position, but questions remain over whether lawmakers will be able to act before the state's current energy standards expire. We found out more on today's show.

Then, of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14% are women. Why do some female scientists give up? And what can be done to help female students and minorities succeed?

And, we heard from the BBC on how China had become the world leader for wind power.

Also, a group of “free skiers” have found a new ski location in the abandon buildings of Detroit.

First on the show, it's Thursday, time for the first check-in of this New Year with Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes.

Understandably, he has the auto industry on his mind as we prepare for next week's opening of the North American International Auto Show. He got an early look at the show, and he joined us today to discuss it.

Ed Uthman / Creative Commons

Maybe don't read this story right after plowing through a pecan pie, ok? 

Because a group of scientists are finding that what young women eat during puberty could determine how breast cancer cells develop in their bodies for the rest of their lives.

The culprit: high-fat diets.

It's not just about weight: high fat diets may hurt skinny and heavy women alike 

Michigan researchers say eating lots of fat as a teen can speed up breast cancer cell development, especially for cancers usually associated with young adult women. 

Scientists pushed to share their data sooner

Nov 21, 2013
Scott Bauer / USDA, ARS

Some policymakers say scientists hold onto their data too long. They say by the time the information is released, it can miss the window for addressing pressing problems.

The federal government is urging scientists to share their data sooner, but good data is like gold to scientists.

It can solve a lingering puzzle, and lead to professional success. That's why some scientists are considered data hoarders. They protect the information they collect.

But in a recent survey of over 1,300 scientists, Carol Tenopir found more of a spirit of collaboration than competition.

Tenopir participates in a National Science Foundation project called DataOne. Her job is to figure out how to overcome barriers to data sharing and broaden access to information.

Though only a small percentage of scientists said they actually share their data, she was surprised to find many are eager to do so.

NCI

Environmental Health Sciences professor Andrew Maynard teaches one of the University of Michigan's only classes focused on blogging.

Here you can listen in on an exchange he has with his students:

Maynard says learning how to communicating online is a skill crucial to his students' professional success.

“I would say very strongly scientists should blog, and they should blog because it forces them to become very familiar with the state of the science in specific areas,” says Maynard.

Morguefile

A new report said Michigan eighth graders perform in the middle of the pack in math, and better in science, compared with students in other countries. 

Bob Geier is associate director of the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University.  He says students in Michigan and most other states lag behind the top-performing countries.

J. Gabás Esteban / Flickr

There was once a time when Uncle Sam and NASA opened the wallet to fund space travel and space research.

That was then. This is now.

These days, space scientists have to get much more creative in raising those research dollars.

Case in point: Benjamin Longmier, who's an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. His special area is propulsion, as he seeks to build the kind of thruster that will push a spacecraft out of Earth's orbit and send that space craft to other planets.

We spoke to Benjamin Longmier about his research a few months ago, and now he's moving to the "creative fundraising" stage of things.

Benjamin Longmier joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

CrowdHydrology

If you’ve ever wanted to get involved in science but thought it sounded like a lot of work, now all you have to do is send a text.

Chris Lowry is an assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo. He’s the co-creator of CrowdHydrology. You can think of it as crowdsourcing information about water.

“So basically how this works is we have some giant rulers that are set up in streams and there’s a little sign on the top of the ruler that says ‘please text us the water level’ and people who are walking by these signs with their mobile phones can look at the ruler and make a measurement off that ruler of what the water level would be at that particular time of the day and send us a text message," he says.

Then, the data you enter goes into an online database.

"And about five minutes after they send in that text message there’s a point on the plot that appears on our CrowdHydrology web page,” Lowry says.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan State University broke ground today on a new, $60 million dollar bioengineering building.

The building will serve as place for researchers in different disciplines to share ideas for advancements in medicine and other sciences.

“Let’s not forget that as important as the facility is to our success, it is the people, the researchers, the medical professionals applying their knowledge, curiosity and perseverance that will ultimately triumph,” said Stephen Hsu, vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at MSU.

A Michigan State University professor says most teachers aren't ready to implement new science standards planned by the state.

The Michigan Department of Education says a plan called "Next Generation Science Standards" will provide more depth to students.

MSU education professor Suzanne Wilson disagrees.

Pablo Martinez Monsivai/Greenwichtime.com

President Barack Obama has had a briefing from two Lansing-area teenagers about their new technology for warning swimmers about dangerous off-shore currents.

19-year-old Spencer Ottarson and 17-year-old Julie Xu represented Williamston High School on Monday as of 12 teams that presented their science projects at the White House's third science fair.

Obama examined their Offshore Rip Current Alert System, which was on display in the East Garden.

NASA / wiki commons

What would it take to get humans to Mars?

For the last seven months, NASA's rover 'Curiosity' has crawled all over the planet's dusty red Gale Crater.

As it explores, the rover has sent back all sorts of information to Earth for further investigation.

Most recently, a report of a rock sample collected by Curiosity shows that, yes, ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

But let's go one step further. What would it take for human beings to get to Mars?

Ben Longmier is an Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering and researches electric propulsion, spacecraft design and basic plasma physics.

Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty spoke with Longmier about the challenges and possibilities of getting humans on Mars.

Click the link above to hear the full interview.

www.michiganadvantage.org

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

Are there important jobs going begging in Michigan?

Michigan Department of Education

A new study shows a disappointing result for Michigan’s new high school academic standards.

The Michigan Merit Curriculum was introduced in 2006. The intent was to strengthen academic performance.

Researchers say students who entered high school in 2007 with strong academic skills saw only a small improvement in their math, science and reading tests scores.

Everybody knows the old saying that prophets are never  appreciated in their own countries. We take the familiar for granted.

That’s certainly the case in Michigan. This is one of the more beautiful states in the union, something we sometimes forget. We also have some of the nation’s most fascinating people, some of whom aren’t always on the media radar screen.

Scale of the Universe 2
screen grab / Scale of the Universe 2

Cary Huang (with a little help from his twin brother, Michael) built the interactive web page "The Scale of the Universe 2." It's their second pass at the concept, according to Discover Magazine.

With it, you can scroll down to see a representation of the microscopic (i.e. E. coli bacteria), and scroll back out to see the galactic.

ABCNews.com writes the ninth graders from Moraga, California were inspired by a teacher to create the page: 

"My seventh grade science teacher showed us a size comparison video on cells, and I thought it was fascinating. I decided to make my own interactive version that included a much larger range of sizes," said Cary in an email forwarded by his mother. "It was not a school project -- just for fun. However, my science teacher loved it so much she showed [it] to the class! My brother, Michael, helped me put it on the internet."

Cary said he worked on the project, on and off, for a year and a half, getting information from Wikipedia and astronomy books. It is now spreading virally online.

H/T to the A2Chronicle