Tag Archives: science

Could Poop Power Our Cars?

Is brown the new green? UCLA researchers are using waste matter (yes, including poop) to make a new generation of advanced biofuels.

The U.S. alone annually produces over 1 billion tons of manure from agriculture, which produces nitrous oxide methane emissions, greenhouse gases 325 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But what if all this poop could have another use – one that could stimulate a sustainable biofuel movement?

Graduate researcher David Wernick talks about ongoing work at UCLA to turn manure, sewage, plant waste and even carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere into feed stocks for producing biofuels, and for making the process of manufacturing biofuels clean and sustainable.

Learn more about David Wernick’s work to turn poop (and other waste streams) into sustainable fuel sources:  Will Cars Of The Future Run On Poop?

The research highlighted in this video was supported in part by the UCLA-DOE Institute of Genomics and Proteomics and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The influence of fatherhood on the science of Charles Darwin

There are drawings in Charles Darwin’s manuscripts that defy explanation — until we remember that Darwin and his wife Emma had a huge family of ten (rambunctious) children. Scholars believe that a young Francis Darwin —the naturalist’s son— drew this on the back of Darwin’s manuscript for On the Origin of Species.

UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has noted that Darwin’s family life may have inspired some of his scientific writing. When his daughter Annie died at age 10, Darwin started to have deep insights about the place of suffering and compassion in human experience.

That led him to argue, in The Descent of Man, that sympathy is our strongest instinct, sometimes stronger than self-interest, and he argued that it would spread through natural selection, for “the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

This point was totally forgotten by evolutionary science for quite some time. Well, given all the awful things humans do to each other, how could you make the case that sympathy is our strongest instinct?

The answer lies in the dependence and vulnerability of our children. Little baby chimpanzees eat by themselves; human babies can’t. Baby chimpanzees sit up on their own; you sit up a human baby, and they go, “Watch out, man, my head’s really big!” Boom!

Their heads are so big because their brains are so big. To fit their big heads through the human birth canal—which narrowed as we started to walk upright on the African savanna—our babies were born profoundly premature and dependent upon people to take care of them.

In fact, our babies are the most vulnerable offspring on the face of the Earth. And that simple fact changed everything. It rearranged our social structures, building cooperative networks of caretaking, and it rearranged our nervous systems. We became the super caregiving species, to the point where acts of care improve our physical health and lengthen our lives. We are born to be good to each other.

Watch how the vulnerability of our children transformed human relationships and made compassion essential to our survival:

 

 

 

Make The Best Pie Ever Using Science

One of the staples of the holiday season is pie and while you may have Grandma’s recipe for the perfect crust, do you really know what goes on at a molecular level? UCLA biophysicist Amy Rowat shares some of the scientific aspects of apple pie and explains how you can apply these insights in the kitchen.

1.    Think of butter as a gas.

Butter is really just a bunch of teeny tiny water droplets dispersed in a matrix of fat. In the oven, these water droplets convert from liquid to gas. This means that the chunks of butter you can see in your dough are really just big pockets of air waiting to happen. More air = flakier crust! While butters with the highest butterfat content are generally synonymous with the highest quality butter, when it comes to baking pie a slightly lower fat content, and higher water content, may be a good thing.

2.    Experiment with the liquids you add to your pie dough
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Gluten gives structure and stability to pie dough, but can also make pie dough dense and tough when over-developed. Typically water is added to create pie dough, but you can experiment with different liquids —like vodka, rum or even carbonated water— that impede the formation of gluten protein networks.

 3.    Sometimes the best pie is a day-old pie.
Temperature is important for pie texture. Because molecules flow more quickly past each other at higher temperatures, hot pie filling straight from the oven will be more runny; as the pie filling cools, starchy molecules like cornstarch and flour spend more time interacting with each other. As the pie cools, the pectin molecules of your fruit also spend more time interacting with each other. This results in a more solid, gel-like filling that will take longer to seep out of the pie when it is cut and served on a plate.

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We are built to be kind

Greed is good. Competition is natural. War is inevitable. Whether in political theory or popular culture, human nature is often portrayed as selfish and power hungry. UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner challenges this notion of human nature and seeks to better understand why we evolved pro-social emotions like empathy, compassion and gratitude.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, born from the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Keltner adds nuance to this concept by delving deeper into Darwin’s idea that sympathy is one of the strongest human instincts — sometimes stronger than self-interest.

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Do gut bacteria rule our minds?

Gut Bacteria

It sounds like science fiction, but it seems that bacteria within us — which outnumber our own cells about 100-fold — may very well be affecting both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity.

In an article published this week in the journal BioEssays, researchers from UC San Francisco, Arizona State University and University of New Mexico concluded from a review of the recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way.

Bacterial species vary in the nutrients they need. Some prefer fat, and others sugar, for instance. But they not only vie with each other for food and to retain a niche within their ecosystem — our digestive tracts — they also often have different aims than we do when it comes to our own actions

Read more about the manipulative bacteria in our gut

Universitium ofium Californium Berkelium…?

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UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have discovered a total of 22 elements on the periodic table.

Scientific American just recently published a great interactive version of the periodic table of elements.  When clicking on each element the user can learn obscure facts about each element’s discovery.  “Berkelium” reads:

In 1950 The New Yorker sarcastically remarked that Glenn T. Seaborg’s team had missed a chance to have four elements in a row named “universitium,” “ofium,” “californium” and “berkelium.” The team replied it did not want to risk naming the first two elements universitium and ofium lest the East Coast beat them to naming the next two “newium” and “yorkium.”

Using weather to shape architecture

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When Hirsuta, a small architecture firm run by UCLA Professor Jason Payne, took the task of renovating an old Utah schoolhouse, they noticed that the south side had been nearly weathered away from exposure to the elements while the north side remained untouched.  Payne thought they could use this to their advantage:

“We’re looking at the way the weather is curling the paneling and we thought we should do that, but more and with more intent and control.  The thought is if it took 100 years to get to there, we know it will happen and so we could substitute a building material that could get it to that state in 20 years.”

The structure above is a replica of the schoolhouse and was on display in a recent exhibition at Southern California Institute of Architecture.

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