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Features


Competing ideas abound for how Earth got its moon

Science News, April 2017

The moon’s origin story does not add up. Most scientists think that the moon formed in the earliest days of the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia whacked into the young Earth. The collision sent debris from both worlds hurling into orbit, where the rubble eventually mingled and combined to form the moon.

Feature article on the mysteries surrounding the moon’s formation.

Devastation detectives try to solve dinosaur disappearance

Science News, January 2017

Below the shimmering turquoise waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies the scene of a prehistoric mass murder. In a geologic instant, most animal and plant species perished. Drilling through hundreds of meters of rock, investigators have finally reached the footprint left by the accused: Earth’s most notorious space rock impact, Chicxulub. The dinosaur killer.

A feature article about new clues about the apocalyptic final days of the dinosaurs, including the first direct victims of the Chicxulub impact. Published in print as part of a special issue on the K-Pg extinction. Cover story of issue.

Year in review: AlphaGo scores a win for artificial intelligence

Science News, December 2016

In a hotel ballroom in Seoul, South Korea, early in 2016, a centuries-old strategy game offered a glimpse into the fantastic future of computing.


Melissa Omand’s clever tech follows the fate of ocean carbon

Science News, September 2016

As chief scientist for a voyage of the research vessel Endeavor, oceanographer Melissa Omand oversaw everything from the deployment of robotic submarines to crew-member bunk assignments. The November 2015 expedition 150 kilometers off Rhode Island’s coast was collecting data for Omand’s ongoing investigations of the fate of carbon dioxide soaked up by the ocean.


New desalination tech could help quench global thirst

Science News, August 2016

The world is on the verge of a water crisis. Rainfall shifts caused by climate change plus the escalating water demands of a growing world population threaten society’s ability to meet its mounting needs. By 2025, the United Nations predicts, 2.4 billion people will live in regions of intense water scarcity, which may force as many as 700 million people from their homes in search of water by 2030. Those water woes have people thirstily eyeing the more than one sextillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans and some underground aquifers with high salt content.

A feature on emerging technologies such as graphene that could make desalination cheaper and more accessible. Cover story for issue.

How alien can a planet be and still support life?

Science News, April 2016

Just how fantastical a planet can be and still support recognizable life isn’t just a question for science fiction. Astronomers are searching the stars for otherworldly inhabitants, and they need a road map. Which planets are most likely to harbor life? That’s where geoscientists’ imaginations come in. Applying their knowledge of how our world works and what allows life to flourish, they are envisioning what kind of other planetary configurations could sustain thriving biospheres.

A feature story on how unearthly mechanisms could keep planets habitable well outside the traditional “Goldilocks” zone.

Changing climate: 10 years after An Inconvenient Truth

Science News, April 2016

More than 25 years before the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson was about as far away from the red carpet as possible. It was 1978, and high in the rugged Andes, Thompson and fellow scientists were witnessing the first glimpses of a pending worldwide disaster. Rising temperatures were melting ancient titans of ice and snow. Mammoth glaciers were disappearing at unprecedented rates and withering to the smallest sizes in millennia. The delicate balance of Earth’s climate was upset.

A feature story on a decade of climate discoveries since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Published in print edition as well as a special online package. Cover story of issue.

New fascination with Earth’s ‘Boring Billion’

Science News, October 2015

Earth’s long history starts with an epic preamble: A collision with a Mars-sized space rock rips into the young planet and jettisons debris that forms the moon. Over the next few billion years, plot twists abound. The oceans form. Life appears. Solar-powered microbes breathe oxygen into the air. Colossal environmental shifts reshape the planet’s surface and drive the evolution of early life.

A feature article on Earth’s so-called boring billion, a seemingly uneventful time in the planet’s history that’s now the setting of a fierce debate between scientists over what delayed the rise of animals: evolution or the environment.

Shinsei Ryu: Error-free quantum calculations

Science News, September 2015

On the boundary between the quantum and everyday realms, things don’t always make a whole lot of sense. The bundles of particles that make up materials behave in ways both unexpected and unexplained. This is the weird world that theoretical physicist Shinsei Ryu hopes to bring into focus.


The magnetic mystery at the center of the Earth

Science News, September 2015

Earth’s depths are a hellish place. More than 5,000 kilometers belowground, the iron-rich core scorches at temperatures comparable to the sun’s surface and crushes at pressures akin to the weight of 20 blue whales balanced on a postage stamp.

A feature article on a baffling paradox surrounding Earth’s core and magnetic field. Published in both online and print editions. Accompanied by a list of the magnetic fields around the solar system’s other rocky worlds.

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News Stories


Ice particles shaped like lollipops fall from clouds

Science News, May 2017

Right now, somewhere in the world, it could be raining lollies. A 2009 research flight through clouds above the British Isles gathered ice particles with an unusually sweet look. Each millimeter-sized particle consisted of a stick-shaped piece of ice with a single water droplet frozen on the end, giving it the appearance of a lollipop. Atmospheric scientist Stavros Keppas of the University of Manchester in England and colleagues report the discovery of the atmospheric confections in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.


Mars may not have been born alongside the other rocky planets

Science News, May 2017

Mars may have had a far-out birthplace.


Crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf forks

Science News, May 2017

The 180-kilometer-long crack threatening one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves has branched out, new satellite observations reveal. The main rift in the Larsen C ice shelf hasn’t grown longer since February. But radar mapping shows that a second crack has split off from the main rupture like a snake’s forked tongue, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported May 1. That second branch, which stretches around 15 kilometers, didn’t exist on radar maps taken six days earlier, the scientists say.


Here’s how an asteroid impact would kill you

Science News, May 2017

It won’t be a tsunami. Nor an earthquake. Not even the crushing impact of the space rock. No, if an asteroid kills you, gusting winds and shock waves from falling and exploding space rocks will most likely be to blame. That’s one of the conclusions of a recent computer simulation effort that investigated the fatality risks of more than a million possible asteroid impacts.


‘Fossil’ groundwater is not immune to modern-day pollution

Science News, April 2017

Groundwater that has lingered in Earth’s depths for more than 12,000 years is surprisingly vulnerable to modern pollution from human activities. Once in place, that pollution could stick around for thousands of years, researchers report online April 25 in Nature Geoscience. Scientists previously assumed such deep waters were largely immune to contamination from the surface.


Plot twist in methane mystery blames chemistry, not emissions, for recent rise

Science News, April 2017

A recent upsurge in planet-warming methane may not be caused by increasing emissions, as previously thought, but by methane lingering longer in the atmosphere.


The Arctic is a final garbage dump for ocean plastic

Science News, April 2017

The Arctic Ocean is a final resting place for plastic debris dumped into the North Atlantic Ocean, new research suggests.


‘River piracy’ on a high glacier lets one waterway rob another

Science News, April 2017

Ahoy! There be liquid booty on the move in the high mountains. Since May 2016, a channel carved through one of northwestern Canada’s largest glaciers has allowed one river to pillage water from another, new observations reveal. This phenomenon, almost certainly the result of climate change, is the first modern record of river piracy caused by a melting glacier, researchers report online April 17 in Nature Geoscience. Such piracy was rampant as the colossal ice sheets of the Last Glacial Maximum began shrinking around 18,000 years ago.


More than one ocean motion determines tsunami size

Science News, April 2017

Earthquake-powered shifts along the seafloor that push water forward, not just up, could help supersize tsunamis.


New tech harvests drinking water from (relatively) dry air using only sunlight

Science News, April 2017

A new device the size of a coffee mug can generate drinkable water from desert air using nothing but sunlight.


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Press Releases


New Collaboration on Theory of Microbial Ecosystems Launched

Simons Foundation, May 2017

The Simons Foundation has established a new collaboration investigating the mysteries of nature’s smallest communities. Called the Simons Collaboration on Theory of Microbial Ecosystems, or THE-ME, it is an at least five-year undertaking that will investigate how microbial ecosystems in the oceans form and function.


Rediscovered Apollo data gives first measure of how fast Moon dust piles up

American Geophysical Union, November 2013

When Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first otherworldly steps in 1969, he didn’t know what a nuisance the lunar soil beneath his feet would prove to be. The scratchy dust clung to everything it touched, causing scientific instruments to overheat and, for Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a sort of lunar dust hay fever. The annoying particles even prompted a scientific experiment to figure out how fast they collect, but NASA’s data got lost.

Picked up by Universe Today, Science News, ABC News, SEN, French Tribune, and others .

Martian chemical complicates hunt for life’s clues

American Geophysical Union, September 2013

The quest for evidence of life on Mars could be more difficult than scientists previously thought. A scientific paper published today details the investigation of a chemical in the Martian soil that interferes with the techniques used by the Curiosity rover to test for traces of life. The chemical causes the evidence to burn away during the tests.


Upgrade to Mars rovers could aid discovery on more distant worlds

American Geophysical Union, September 2013

Smart as the Mars Curiosity mission has been about landing and finding its own way on a distant world, the rover is pretty brainless when it comes to doing the science that it was sent 567 million kilometers to carry out. That has to change if future rover missions are to make discoveries further out in the solar system, scientists say. The change has now begun with the development of a new camera that can do more than just take pictures of alien rocks – it also thinks about what the pictures signify so the rover can decide on its own whether to keep exploring a particular site, or move on.

Picked up by Wired.com, Space.com, Yahoo News, CBS News, The Daily Mail, Huffington Post, RedOrbit, and others.

Crowdsourcing weather using smartphone batteries

American Geophysical Union, August 2013

Smartphones are a great way to check in on the latest weather predictions, but new research aims to use the batteries in those same smartphones to predict the weather. A group of smartphone app developers and weather experts created a way to use the temperature sensors built into smartphone batteries to crowdsource weather information. These tiny thermometers usually prevent smartphones from dangerously overheating, but the researchers discovered the battery temperatures tell a story about the environment around them.

Picked up by Washington Post, Wired.co.uk, Discovery News, MIT Technology Reviews, Slash Gear, CBS News, Telegraph, Gizmag, and others.

Ozone hole might slightly warm planet

American Geophysical Union, August 2013

A lot of people mix up the ozone hole and global warming, believing the hole is a major cause of the world’s increasing average temperature. Scientists, on the other hand, have long attributed a small cooling effect to the ozone shortage in the hole. Now a new computer-modeling study suggests that the ozone hole might actually have a slight warming influence, but because of its effect on winds, not temperatures. The new research suggests that shifting wind patterns caused by the ozone hole push clouds farther toward the South Pole, reducing the amount of radiation the clouds reflect and possibly causing a bit of warming rather than cooling.

Picked up by LiveScience, Yahoo! News, Huffington Post, Nature News, NBC News, and others.

Distorted GPS signals reveal hurricane wind speeds

American Geophysical Union, July 2013

By pinpointing locations on Earth from space, GPS systems have long shown drivers the shortest route home and guided airline pilots across oceans. Now, by figuring out how messed up GPS satellite signals get when bouncing around in a storm, researchers have found a way to do something completely different with GPS: measure and map the wind speeds of hurricanes.

Picked up by National Geographic, LiveScience, The Houston Chronical, and others.

Stanford scientists eavesdrop on erupting volcano’s astonishing seismic sound

Stanford University News Service, July 2013

When volcanoes grumble, scientists listen.In 2009, Redoubt Volcano outside Anchorage, Alaska, began spewing towering ash plumes more than 12 miles tall. While similar volcanic outbursts are common in Alaska, seismic sensors listening to the volcano’s innards recorded something unusual: an accelerating series of earthquakes leading up to each of the volcano’s eruptions.

Picked up by National Geographic, New Scientist, Discovery News, ScienceNOW, Los Angeles Times, EarthSky, NPR, Wired.com, The Guardian, CBS News and others.

SLAC X-rays resurrect 200-year-old lost aria

Stanford University News Service, June 2013

At first glance the beautifully bound 1797 Luigi Cherubini opera Médée looks like an impeccably preserved relic of opera’s golden age. However, flip to the final pages of the aria “Du trouble affreux qui me dévore” (“The terrible disorder that consumes me”) and you see the problem: Thick smudges of carbon completely black out the closing lines.

Picked up by KQED, the San Jose Mercury News, Discover Magazine, Wired.co.uk, LiveScience, Phys.org, NBC News, Yahoo News, The Daily Mail, the Mumbai Mirror, and others.

Stanford physicists develop revolutionary low-power polariton laser

Stanford University News Service, May 2013

Lasers are an unseen backbone of modern society. They’re integral to technologies ranging from high-speed Internet services to Blu-ray players. The physics powering lasers, however, has remained relatively unchanged through 50 years of use. Now, an international research team led by Stanford’s Yoshihisa Yamamoto, a professor of electrical engineering and of applied physics, has demonstrated a revolutionary electrically driven polariton laser that could significantly improve the efficiency of lasers.

Featured in Game Changers: Energy on the Move

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Blog Posts


The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a major coral bleaching event right now

Science News, April 2017

A severe coral bleaching event spurred by high ocean temperatures has struck the Great Barrier Reef for an unprecedented second time in 12 months, reveal aerial surveys released April 10 by scientists at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. While last year the northern third of the reef was hardest hit, this time around the reef’s midsection experienced the worst bleaching. The two bleaching events together span around 1,500 kilometers of the 2,300-kilometer-long reef.


Arctic sea ice hits record wintertime low

Science News, March 2017

Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for the third year in a row. It’s the paltriest maximum extent seen since recordkeeping began in 1979, scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced March 22.


Saturn’s ‘Death Star’ moon may not conceal an ocean after all

Science News, February 2017

An ocean of liquid water probably doesn’t lurk beneath the icy surface of Mimas, Saturn’s smallest major moon, new calculations suggest. Scientists had proposed the ocean in 2014 to help explain an odd wobble in the moon’s orbit.


Antarctic sea ice shrinks to record low

Science News, February 2017

Sea ice around Antarctica shrunk to its lowest monthly extent on record in January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.


Dual magma plumes fueled volcanic eruptions during final days of dinosaurs

Science News, February 2017

Not one but two rising plumes of magma from deep within the Earth fueled the titanic volcanic eruptions that marked the final days of the dinosaurs, new research suggests. The Deccan eruptions in what is now India, some scientists argue, helped wipe out most animal and plant species around 66 million years ago, including all nonbirdlike dinosaurs.


Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf nears breaking point

Science News, January 2017

One of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves is nearing its breaking point, scientists warn. A colossal crack in the Larsen C ice shelf abruptly grew by 18 kilometers during the second half of December 2016, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported January 5. The crack is now only about 20 kilometers away from reaching Larsen C’s edge and snapping off a hunk of ice the size of Delaware.


CO2 emissions stay steady for third consecutive year

Science News, November 2016

Global emissions of carbon dioxide won’t increase much in 2016 despite overall economic growth, newly released bookkeeping suggests. The result marks a three-year-long plateau in the amount of CO2 released by human activities, scientists from the Global Carbon Project report November 14 in Earth System Science Data.


First signs of boron on Mars hint at past groundwater, habitability

Science News, December 2016

A new element has been found in Mars’ chemical arsenal.


Solar panels are poised to be truly green

Science News, December 2016

The solar panel industry has nearly paid its climate debt. The technology will break even in terms of energy usage by 2017 and greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 at the latest, if it hasn’t done so already, researchers calculate.


Say hola to La Niña

Science News, November 2016

El Niño’s meteorological sister, La Niña, has officially taken over.


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Multimedia


Infographic: Global warming surface data

Science News, June 2015
Interactive infographic comparing old and new climate data analyses created by NOAA. The new analyses removed the so-called post-1998 “warming hiatus.” Created in Tableau.

Infographic: ScienceWOW Facts

Science, February 2014
Infographics about cool science facts. Created in Adobe Photoshop.

Podcast: Helping children speak after cleft palate surgery

Science Notes, August 2013
Podcast about the creation of an iPad game aimed at helping children born with cleft palates improve their speech. Created in Adobe Audition and Audacity.

Infographic: Speech Recognition

Science Notes, August 2013
Infographic demonstrating how the speech recognition system works on an iPad game built to help children born with cleft palates improve their speech. Created in Adobe Photoshop.

Video: Peel and Stick Electronics

University of California, Santa Cruz, June 2013
Featured on Why-TV. Created in Adobe Premiere.

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