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.


  • Thursday, February 11, 2016 3:00pm
    Scientists have announced a revolution in astronomy: LIGO – the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory – has recorded signals of the gravitational waves resulting from two black holes colliding. Gravitational waves are tiny ripples in space time, which Albert Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity over 100 years ago. Large bodies like black holes warp space-time around themselves, and when they collide, the distortions of the collision ripple outward at the speed of light. LIGO consists of two giant detectors, each eight kilometres in length, one in Louisiana and one in Washington State. The detectors are like microphones listening to the Universe, sensitive to waves coming in from all directions. Professor Sheila Rowan explains why this discovery is equivalent to developing an entirely new sense, allowing astrophysicists to “hear” the universe for the first time. Neanderthal DNA May Influence Depression Homo sapiens migrating out of Africa first mingled with Neanderthals around 50,000 years ago. A new study has identified Neanderthal genetic variants that may be responsible for conditions like depression, blood clotting and tobacco addiction in modern humans. Horses Know When You Are Angry Domestication has enabled horses to distinguish human emotions, a new study shows. When the horses were shown pictures of angry human faces, they tended to look at them with their left eye – which is associated with perceiving negative stimuli. Pond Slime Bacteria Act Like Tiny Eyes Biologists have solved the riddle of how a bacterium senses light and moves towards it. The entire organism acts like a tiny eyeball, focusing light on the far side of the cell. Light Flashes Could Stop Jet Lag Sleeping in front of a strobe light could help people realign their internal clock after travelling across time zones. Researchers found that an hour of flashlight therapy shifted volunteers’ day-night cycle by up to two hours. Climate Change Affects Transatlantic Flights Air travel is an increasingly popular mode of transport, with thousands of planes up in the air at any given time. According to estimates, aviation contributes around two percent to global carbon dioxide emissions, adding to global warming. New research shows that this is actually a two-way street, with climate change also affecting planes’ travel times. Rising temperatures will accelerate the jet stream – a strong, high-altitude wind that travels across the Atlantic – leaving westbound flights battling stronger headwinds. Dr Paul Williams has calculated that this will cause planes on transatlantic routes to spend an extra 2,000 hours in the air, using up $20 million worth of extra fuel and increasing emissions even further. (Image credit: Artist’s impression of two black holes colliding © Nasa) Presenter: Jack Stewart Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz Assistant: Jennifer Rieger
  • Thursday, February 4, 2016 3:00pm
    Zika has been officially declared a global public health emergency, just three weeks after the World Health Organisation announced the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to be over. Reported cases of Zika infections are on the rise. The virus is thought to be linked to an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly – babies born with abnormally small heads. The WHO is calling on scientists to co-ordinate their efforts to find out more about the virus. Being able to diagnose and monitor the disease quickly is crucial. The best results come from genome sequencing, which can be used to identify any type of pathogen. Dr Nick Loman tells us about a portable lab that has been tested with Ebola, which fits comfortably into a suitcase. Real Data on Melting West Antarctic Ice Sheet Warming oceans cause Antarctic ice to melt. According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, this could lead to a sea level rise by about three metres, which would be catastrophic for coastal communities. This study provides the first real geological data on what happened to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in previous warmer periods. Dr Andy Hein from Edinburgh University is part of the team that studied sediments on peaks protruding through ice in the Ellsworth Mountains. Forest Management Affects Climate Forests are thought to be good for climate change mitigation, with the trees soaking up the carbon dioxide. However, the impact of planting trees and managing forests may not be as good as we thought. New research shows that over the past 250 years, the way European forests are managed has changed and this has led to considerable changes in the way forests affect climate. Dr Kim Naudts and her team have found out how Europe’s forests may actually contribute to climate change rather than mitigating it. Bacteria Help Bears Hibernate Bears binge eat every year to prepare for hibernation. New research shows that gut microbes help them adjust their metabolism. Nuclear Fusion Experiment German researchers have managed to turn hydrogen gas into plasma for a fraction of a second, starting off a new experiment they hope will pave the way for nuclear fusion. A Spider Named Johnny Cash Aphonopelma johnnycashi is one of 14 new species of tarantula discovered in the south-western United States. (Photo: Ebola test in a suitcase being used in Guinea, © Tommy Trenchard/European Mobile Laboratories)
  • Thursday, January 28, 2016 3:00pm
    Since October 2014 almost 4000 babies have been born in Brazil with underdeveloped brains and smaller heads. Although not proven, doctors suspect that infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy is causing these abnormalities. The virus is spreading at an alarming rate across South and Central America and the WHO has warned that all the Americas are at risk of the virus. The symptoms seem fairly mild – a flu like illness, sometimes with soreness of the eyes, yet it appears to have devastating consequences on the developing foetus. Some areas have declared a state of emergency, doctors have described it as "a pandemic in progress" and some are even advising women in affected countries to delay getting pregnant. Prof Jonathan Ball tells us about the virus and its spread while Prof Trudie Lang on what science can do; she runs neglected tropical clinical trials in developing countries. Cold Weather in East Asia An unusually cold weather front coming from the North Pole brought temperatures to record lows in many parts of East Asia over the past week. Heavy snow storms caused at least five deaths in Japan. Hundreds of flights were cancelled in South Korea, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded. Hong Kong and South China were also hit. Reports link the weather to at least 85 deaths in Taiwan from hypothermia and cardiac disease – temperatures there were the lowest in 44 years and most homes do not have heating. Cindy Sui, our Taipei correspondent tell us more. New Antibiotic Test New results have come out from a paper which may provide a test for dealing with the problem of antibiotic misuse. The test takes a novel approach to determining whether respiratory infections are caused by bacteria or viruses or something else. Currently the approach is to look for the pathogen causing the infection. However this new research suggests that it might be more accurate to look at the host response as opposed to the pathogen. Here today we have professor Chris Woods from Duke University, author of this new paper, to discuss the implications of this new blood test and whether it could be used across the globe. Tracking Jupiter on Clay Tablets New research shows that Babylonians were able to model the pathway of Jupiter using geometry between 350-50BC. The ability of humans to do this was previously thought to be around 1400 AD by the work of Astronomers in Oxford and Paris. Dr. Mathieu Ossendrijver, who is trained in both astrophysics and the cuneiform writing system used by the Babylonians, made the discovery. (Photo: Aedes aegypti mosquitos © Mario Tama/Getty Images)
  • Thursday, January 21, 2016 3:00pm
    Estimates of global fish catches over the past sixty years have been vastly underestimated, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications. In certain cases it was found that previous estimates may have been over 50% too low. Scientists at the University of British Columbia, along with many collaborators across the world, found this out by using an approach called ‘catch reconstruction’ where they use local knowledge to fill in missing gaps in global data sets. Professor Daniel Pauly, one of the lead authors of the paper, talks to Jack Stewart about the findings and the reliability of the available data. Killer whale extinction threat in Europe The first ever analysis of the impact of organochloride pollutants on Europeans top marine predators has revealed that some species have dangerously high levels of pollutants in their blubber. The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that banned chemicals – called PCB’s – have stayed in the marine environment, making their way up the food chain, accumulating in top predators like killer whales and bottlenose dolphins. The levels found in the blubber of some of these animals is at dangerously high levels and appears to be impacting breeding and the health of newborn calves. Dr. Paul Jepson, from ZSL, is one of the authors of the study. New bird species in India Scientists have described a new species of bird in northern India and China, called the Himalayan forest thrush. During fieldwork in the mountains, researchers noticed that thrushes in the forests sang much more musically than those on the rocky peaks. They then discovered physical and genetic differences as well, and have now declared the known "plain-backed thrush" to be two distinct species. The mountain-dwelling variety has been re-christened the "alpine thrush". Beards are healthy A study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, shows that clean shaven hospital staff, swabbed to find out what bacteria were growing on their skin, were more likely to carry drug resistant bacteria on their faces than their bearded colleagues. A new planet? American astronomers say they may have found a ninth planet in our Solar System orbiting far beyond Pluto. The team, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has no direct observations to confirm its presence but hope that scientists will use Earth based telescopes to look for this possible new solar system member. Flower in space A flower has bloomed for the first time on the International Space Station Space farming Scientists at the University of Arizona are trying to mimic conditions in Space and grow fruit and vegetables. (Photo: Chinese Mongolian ethnic group catching fish using a centuries old technique of placing a net under ice © MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Jack Stewart Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz
  • Thursday, January 14, 2016 3:00pm
    Astronomers have seen what could possibly be the most powerful supernova ever seen. The ball of hot gas, billions of light years away, is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of our sun. Estimated to be 10 miles across it’s found in a very unusually active galaxy and it outshines all other supernovae currently published in the literature by at least a factor of two. The object could be a very rare type of star called a Magnetar – but if it is, it pushes the energy limits allowed by physics to the extreme. Professor Christopher Kochanek of Ohio State University explains how they found it and how time using the Hubble Space Telescope next month should help determine exactly what this object may be. Nepal Quake Explained An international team of scientists have discovered what caused the Nepal Earthquake of 2015, which killed almost 9000 people. The study, published in Nature Geoscience, also explains why the highest mountains in the Himalayas appear to grow between quakes. Using satellite data the scientists have determined that quake activity was spread across what they term a "hinge point" (a kink in the fault lines), where the main fault in the region transitions from being fairly straight to being sharply angled into the Earth. This, they say, explains why the ground around Kathmandu rose up about 1m during the quake, yet dropped by about 60cm in the northern mountains. Dr. John Elliott from Oxford University explains the findings. Mountain Lion A mountain lion killed in Idaho in the United States had a set of fully formed teeth growing out of its forehead. Biologists think they may be the remains of a conjoined twin. Milky Way Map Astronomers have measured the age of 70,000 stars across the Milky Way and put the results into the largest ever galactic map. The team now hopes to be able to start determining the chemical composition of some of the stars. Farewell Philae Scientists at the European Space Agency fear they may have lost contact with the Philae lander on Comet 67P forever. A signal was sent earlier in the week, but there was no response. If nothing is heard within the next few days it’s very unlikely to have enough power to make contact again as the comet moves away from the Sun. Early Humans in Arctic Two papers have just come out in Science and Nature suggesting that humans have been around a lot longer than was previously thought in the Arctic and Indonesia. However both of these papers come from indirect evidence – that of the tools used by humans as opposed to more direct evidence such as human remains. We have Dr. Marija Edinborough from Universtiy College London discusses the findings. (Photo: An artist's impression of the record-breaking powerful, superluminous supernova ASASSN- 15lh as it would appear from an exoplanet located about 10,000 light years away in the host galaxy of the supernova. Credit: Wayne Rosing)