Science in Action on KTTZ-HD2

Science in Action is a magazine program pulling together the science issues of the week and delivering breaking science news.


  • Wednesday, July 29, 2015 7:00pm
    Following its precarious landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko last November, the first sets of data from the Philae Lander are presented in the journal Science. They reveal some unsurprising, but interesting results. There is a host of information about the physical characteristics of the comet. But it is the results from Philae’s two mass spectrometers, COSAC and Ptolemy, which are probably the most interesting. They managed to analyse the molecules present in the surface dust and nearby gases. Despite finding many expected molecules, the detection of what appears to be a carbon-hydrogen-oxygen polymer is great encouragement in the search for the prebiotic molecules that kick-started life on our own planet. Longhorn Crazy Ants Just Crazy Enough to Cooperate The erratic dashing of the longhorn crazy ant helps them live up to their name. But a study has shown that this unpredictable behaviour is vital in helping them unite to shift large pieces of food. Though most individuals will join together to drag a morsel in one direction, other scouting individuals will briefly join in and direct the group. The researchers think that this occasional steering only has an impact due to the inherent randomness in the movement of the group at large. Unique Dental Structure Made Tyrannosaurux Rex’s Teeth Even More Lethal A unique tooth structure, now discovered across the theropod group of dinosaurs, made the teeth of these meat-eaters even more powerful and effective. Shaped like steak knives, the serrations along the edge of their teeth extended inside the tooth itself, maximising the grip of the bite and enabling a vastly efficient feeding mechanism, which allowed the group to dominate the Mesozoic. Kirigami Graphene Upon discovering graphene’s stretchable properties to be incredibly similar to paper, a group of researchers have proceeded to apply the ancient Japanese art of paper-cutting or ‘kirigami’ to the single atom thick material. The ability to cut and stretch a sheet of graphene, like you would paper, infers promising uses for the material to create soft, stretchable electronics – at the nanoscale level. (Photo caption: Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae (front view) on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko © ESA/ATG Medialab) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, July 22, 2015 7:00pm
    The discovery of one of the most primitive and well preserved snake fossils ever found has given key insight into the early evolution of these reptiles. And the surprise is that it has four legs. The specimen has helped resolve a long-running debate over their early evolution, its characteristics firmly suggesting a burrowing ancestry as opposed to an aquatic, as well as suggesting that their limbs were used for other purposes than locomotion before they were lost. Death by Constriction It has long been thought that snakes that kill by constriction do so by squeezing and slowly suffocating their prey. But new research is showing that maybe this slow, lingering death is a lot more merciful. It is thought that the constriction actually cuts off the blood supply to the vital organs of the prey, meaning they pass out quickly and die fairly rapidly. Lizard's Water-Funnelling Skin Copied in the Lab Scientists have unpicked how the skin of the Texas horned lizard funnels water towards its mouth - and copied the principles in a plastic version that could have some engineering applications. Stink Bugs, Sunscreen and Crossword Puzzles Female stink bugs appear to provide their unborn young with a form of sunscreen. Mothers will lay darker or lighter eggs depending on how much light is reflected off a surface, with darker coloured eggs being better protected from UV radiation. Discovered by a Montreal PhD student, who noticed a pattern of egg colouration in those laid on a newspaper crossword in the bottom of their cage, stink bugs are the first animal found to be able to selectively control egg colour in response to environmental conditions. Updates on the New Horizons Mission to Pluto Following its fly-by of Pluto last week, new images sent back from Nasa’s New Horizons probe are revealing tantalising glimpses of the far flung dwarf planet, illuminating frozen peaks and icy planes with some very surprising properties. Professor John Spencer from the team explains why the lack of craters on Pluto’s surface is an unexpected and excitingly revealing discovery, hinting that the planet is not as cold and unchanging as initially supposed. Infections at the Livestock Wildlife Interface Infectious outbreaks tend to hit the headlines when they impact on human health. But there are so many other devastating infections that seem to go under the radar. Now a group of researchers have trawled through the scientific literature to identify those infections that span the livestock-wildlife interface to see where the scientists are concentrating their efforts and where potential research gaps may be. (Image caption: Tetrapodophis amplectus catching Olindalacerta © James Brown, University of Portsmouth) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, July 15, 2015 7:00pm
    Nobel laureates Edvard and May-Britt Moser and their team have found yet another piece of the puzzle on how our brains create maps of our environment. Place cells in our brains only fire when we are in certain locations, grid cells act as our positioning system and add directions to our mental maps. But as soon as we start moving, our location and directions change instantaneously, challenging our brains to update our mental maps within milliseconds. And now the researchers have discovered a new class of neurons in the brain that act as speedometers. Pluto Nasa’s New Horizons unmanned space probe sends back images and data of the Solar System’s most furthest planet (now demoted to dwarf planet). Pluto was only discovered in 1930, it appeared as a slow-moving speck in a series of telescope photographs. Over the years, instruments have grown in power and scientists have learned more. But even when viewed through the Hubble Space Telescope, which has resolved distant galaxies, details of this icy outcast have been scant. But all that is changing, as images of icy mountains and surprisingly few impact craters are being revealed. Science of Screams A baby’s cries, or a blood-curdling screech, grab our attention so well - but why? Apparently, according to new research, it is the roughness of the sound that cuts through all other noise. Could this be something that could be added to alarms and sirens to give better directionality and make them grab our attention better? (Photo: Image of a rat provided by Raymond Skjerpeng, NTNU)
  • Wednesday, July 8, 2015 7:00pm
    The climate is warming faster at the Poles, and this could be altering the important tundra landscape that circles the Arctic, according to a group of scientists studying this important biome. Historically the short summers and cold winters meant that the tundra regions were too cold for trees to grow tall, leaving a landscape dominated by grasses, flowering plants and low shrubs. But recent warming has led to the shrubs getting taller, and more dense in some parts. And taller shrubs means that the snow does not lay in a smooth blanket, losing the insulating effect in winter and reducing the amount of sunlight reflected back out to space. Together with changes in the soil chemistry, which could lead to greater releases of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, this could set up an irreversible feedback loop leading to increased global temperatures. Ice Cores Ice core samples have been invaluable in helping us to learn about past climates. By measuring the atmospheric gases trapped in the deep layers of ice, drilled in long sections from the permafrost, can help scientists to understand historic atmospheric conditions on Earth. But keeping these valuable time capsules in pristine conditions can be tricky. What if the freezer they are kept in breaks? One idea is to take them back to the Antarctic and store them in ice caves. China's Flooding Linked to Pollution In 2013 Sichuan in Central China suffered some terrifically powerful storms and subsequent flooding. An estimated 3.5 million people were affected, buildings collapsed and agricultural land was ruined. You may think this is a result of the more turbulent weather caused by climate change. But this time pollution, soot particles from big industrial areas, is thought to be to blame. Solar Impulse Solar Impulse, the solar powered aeroplane has successfully crossed the Pacific. It took 100 hours to cross the 7200 km. The next leg is across the USA to New York before it attempts to cross the Atlantic. Pluto NASA's New Horizons probe is approaching the dwarf planet Pluto. After some technical glitches the team hope to get some really good data from a close look at the recently demoted planet and its moons. Medicinal Cannabis An increase in the medical use of cannabis has led to it becoming legal in 23 of the United States. People take the narcotic herb for pain relief, epilepsy, and as an anti-spasmodic for Multiple Sclerosis sufferers. But the side effects on memory and the risk of psychosis, especially in younger users, still remains an issue. Now researchers have separated the 'medical' from the 'narcotic' pathways in the brains of mice, and from this, they hope to develop a safe medical form of marijuana. Photo caption: Tundra on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island on the Arctic coast of the Yukon Territory © Isla Myers-Smith/PA Wire Presenter: Jack Stewart Producer: Fiona Roberts
  • Wednesday, July 1, 2015 7:00pm
    Almost two months after the announcement that Liberia was officially free of Ebola, the discovery of the body of a teenage boy who died from the virus, and reports of additional cases, mean that the virus has returned. Identifying where the virus came from will be crucial to efforts to eliminate the risk of further cases. Genetic profiling of the virus, on the ground in the most affected areas, using the latest technologies, is helping to map the spread of the virus. Knowledge about the direction of virus movements will ultimately enable officials to implement effective control measures. Solar Plane Plagued by delays and an aborted flight, a plane powered entirely by solar energy has embarked upon the flight leg that will hopefully see it cross the Pacific Ocean. Leaving Japan on Sunday and bound for Hawaii the plane, Solar Impulse, is now reportedly past the point of ‘no return’ on its five day and night journey. As part of its epic round the world journey the plane will have to avoid adverse weather if it is to reach its interim destination. Sex-changing Dragons It is known that Australian bearded dragon lizards can change gender in the egg. Incubation temperatures of some reptiles can influence the sex of the babies. Unlike mammals, including humans, where the sex determination is purely based on the sex chromosomes inherited from the parents, some fish, amphibians and certain reptiles, included the dragons, have this other mode of sex determination. And when the temperature rises above 36ºC, the temperature mode of sex determination overrides the genetic mode. This means that lizards that are genetically male, are physically female. The researchers, at University of Canberra in Australia, have found these ‘sex reversed females’ breeding in the wild. They lay more eggs and all the offspring, provided the temperature remains hot during incubation, tend to be physically female, despite being genetically male. The implications of this ‘feminisation of these lizard populations and a warming climate could become a concern. Rats Memorise Dreamy Journeys When rats are asleep, their brains simulate journeys to nice places where they might get a food treat. Researchers at UCL monitored the activity of place cells in rats’ brains, first as the animals viewed food in a location they could not reach, then as they rested in a separate chamber, and finally as they were allowed to walk to the food. The activity of specialised brain cells involved in navigation suggested that during the rest the rats simulated walking to the food that they had been unable to reach. Our navigation system, it seems, might also help us dream of better things. (Photo caption: a member of an Ebola burial team straps down a body. The burial of loved ones is important in Liberian culture, making the removal of infected bodies for cremation all the more traumatic for surviving family members © John Moore/Getty Images) Presenter: Jack Stewart Producer: Fiona Roberts