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.
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.
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:
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 .
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.”
Inside Science recently wrote about the study by UCSD’s Neil Cohn, Navigating Comics, which looks at the underlying structure of the comics language:
People who read the English written word scan text from left to right. Once our eyes hit the end of the page, we stop. Then ding!, like an old-time typewriter, our eyes shift downward and snap back to the left to start reading the next line. This is known as a “Z-path,” as our eyes whip about like the end of Zorro’s sword.
But that linear track gets derailed in comics with complex layouts and Cohn wanted to know if experienced readers had strategies to follow along.
Cohn rustled up 145 participants at the 2004 Comic-Con International, a comic book convention held in San Diego. Participants had varying experience with reading comics, ranging from “never” to “often.”
Each participant was given a booklet containing 12 pages of blank panels. Each page was independent of the rest and used different design techniques.
An Animal Planet segment ponders how and why this cat seems to be playing the piano. Animal behaviorist and UC Davis alumna Dr. Sophia Lin says that cats can hear and understand different tones played on instruments such as the piano. Additionally these animals are born imitators and so this cat could very well be trying to communicate to her piano teacher owner.
Sophia researches animal behavior as a way for humans to better understand their pets:
“Pets don’t understand spoken language, they rely on body language plus desired or undesired consequences in order to learn. This means that humans must be aware of their movement and actions because every move they make while interacting with the pet influences the animal’s behavior and perception of them.”
UC Davis brewing science professor Charles Bamforth is known as the “pope of foam.” His lab delves into the science behind creating the perfect beer foam, which is essential to a great tasting brew. That’s because most of the flavor of beer is detected by smell, which is why Bamforth says you must drink beer from a glass and not straight from a bottle or can. He explains beer-making and reveals how to pick the freshest pint when you’re at a pub.