Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Like many of my fellow obsessive-compulsive types, I routinely rifle through drawers and closets for unwelcome hangers-on. Once the offending garments have been found, it's off to the Salvation Army -- where it's hard not to do a little browsing. However, the selection at your local thrift store just got a whole lot slimmer, thanks to a new U.S. lead law that went into effect in February. Called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the federal law aims to limit the amount of lead and other harmful chemicals, like phthalates, in products geared at children under 12. But the law has been generated an angry uproar and landed lead in the headlines yet again. You don't need me to tell you that the U.S. economy is in the toilet. The Dow just dipped below 7,000 today for the first time in more than 10 years, and the global economy isn't far behind.

Among the many, many things your snazzy iPhone can accomplish, add one more: It can sniff out ghosts. Or pretend to. A company called Moderati Inc. released a simulated paranormal state EMF meter that you can download free on iTunes. It turns out the app is more of a promo for the A&E show "Paranormal State" than anything that will help you detect beings suspended between our world and the hereafter. It did get me curious about EMF meters and if I could buy one if were so inclined. Yeah, yeah, I'm the science editor, but I will admit to being fascinated by ghosts. Berate me if you will. An EMF meter or reader measures the electromagnetic fields in your immediate surroundings, be they haunted house or humdrum household. Ghosts supposedly have strong electromagnetic fields that will register on your handheld meter and confirm or deny your paranormal suspicions.

Might ancient microbes have traveled to Earth aboard meteorites? Russian scientists plan to put this theory to the test by sending a canister of Earth life on a round trip to the Martian moon of Phobos. Will these life forms come back alive or potentially contaminate other worlds?

Human sexuality tends to provide us with enough complexity on its own, but the occasional glance at the rest of the animal kingdom helps put everything in perspective. Yep, according to a new study, the beetles with the "longest and spiniest genitalia" experience the most success in passing on their genes. National Geographic even provides a photo gallery of "bizarre beetle genitalia" if your boss isn't watching over your shoulder. Scientists believe these spines help to anchor the male in place for the duration of the coupling, internally injuring the female in the process. Don't drag all your anthropomorphic baggage into this, though. I think doomed mad scientist Seth Brundle put it best in "The Fly." "Have you ever heard of insect politics?" he asks. "Neither have I. Insects don't have politics. They're very brutal. No compassion, no compromise."

If our TV-watching habits are any indication, people love forensic science. I'm not sure how many "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" shows have been spawned, but people undoubtedly dig a diet of grisly crime-scene dramas and cheesy David Caruso one-liners. Nothing like a fortuitously obtained DNA sample to right the miscarriage of justice and send a show straight to successful syndication.

I hope someone over at the National Security Agency is slacking off and reading the MIT International Review because several geography professors have developed some interesting ideas on how to find one of the most-hunted men on the planet. Yup. Osama bin Laden. Typically, the study's main authors, Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew, are more preoccupied with "theories that predict how plants and animals distribute themselves over space and over time." But combine those theories with some intelligence gathered by trusty spy satellites and you may be on to something. The professors think that their work represents the first scientific approach to establishing bin Laden's current location. Really? Given the time and money the U.S. intelligence community has devoted to the manhunt, that seems a bold claim. But why not give the authors' methods a shot? It's not like anything else has worked. To see a map of one of bin Laden's proposed locations, read this New Yorker article.

Our bodies possess remarkable natural healing capabilities. Throw in a little modern medical science and our ability to bounce back from an injury looks even better. Broken bones fuse back together. Ageing eyes return to 20/20 vision. With a few snips, a doctor can even re-string a major-league pitcher's throwing arm. When it comes to our teeth, however, our options are far more limited. Lose an adult tooth and there's no growing it back. But is there another way? According to a BBC science article, a team of U.S. scientists at Oregon State University may have discovered the key to growing new teeth in a laboratory. They successfully pinpointed a gene in mice responsible for the production of the hard, enamel coating that give our chompers their bite. In addition to playing a role in nerve and skin development, the Ctip2 gene plays a key role in the production of ameloblasts, the cells that secrete enamel.

Ah geez. After all that, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to launch this morning after its scheduled 4:55 a.m. liftoff. Instead of tracking your carbon footprint from on high as we wrote about here last week, it's probably watching fish swim by somewhere on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, according to NASA official John Brunschwyler.

In writing a recent article about nuclear winter, I ran across this outrageous statement quite a bit: "Couldn't we just cancel out global warming with nuclear winter?" The short answer? Yes. And you can also cure a hangnail with a meat cleaver, though it's probably not quite the fix you're looking for. To be fair, no one is seriously advocating the use of thermonuclear weapons to save the environment. Most of the time, the suggestion is either a thoughtless joke or a shot at the theoretic (and therefore fallible) aspects of both global warming and nuclear winter. When it comes to understanding our atmosphere, there's a whole lot of room to wind up getting it wrong.

sci-tech awardsEd CatmullPixarThat was it. There's no time in primetime for the geekier side of filmmaking. And there hasn't been since 1975. As usual, the academy shunted the scientific and technical awards ceremony to its own separate event and ven ...

Safe Sex Not Just for the Living

Thanks to Marc Abrahams over at Improbable Research, we now know that the safe-sex message has reached even the darkest corners of human desire. Yes, necrophiliacs are making sure to pack a few condoms when heading off to the cemetery. According to Channel 3000 out of Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court just decided in November 2008 that state laws forbid copulating with the deceased. A lower court had previously ruled that the state laws didn't take a stance on necrophilia, which according to "Stiff" author Mary Roach, isn't that uncommon. I mean, really, how often does this come up? As a result of the new ruling, the three men accused in a 2006 attempted grave robbing entered "not guilty" pleas. According to the original reports, the suspects were apprehended just before they could pry open the casket. They'd brought with them a crowbar, three shovels and -- most remarkably -- a box of condoms.

If you've ever woken up to find your house moving with a mind of its own and your breakables leaping off the shelves, then you probably wouldn't describe an earthquake as slow and silent. But some earthquakes don't like to make waves.

Earthlings are basically looking for the same thing in the night sky that any lonely grad student yearns for at a bar: something we can relate to outside of ourselves. So just how are we planning to make a love connection?

In 4 days, 17 hours and a handful of minutes, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory will get serious about monitoring the Earth's carbon dioxide sources and sinks. The observatory is already on-site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, waiting for its impending launch (and delay and rescheduled launch date) and eventual moment in the climate change spotlight.

Archeologists recently discovered the oldest human hairs ever found in a pile of fossilized hyena poop. Between 195,000 and 257,000 years ago, some hapless hunter-gatherer wound up in the belly of the scavenger and subsequently on the floor of a cave in present day South Africa.

We've been snickering at our wiener dogs and their short little legs since the 15th century and yet genetic science has only recently allowed us to understand exactly why they're so cute.

Forget class, race, sexual preference. One big thing divides us -- earwax. According to the good folks at When you send spit into a tube and send $399 of your hard-earned dollars to 23andme, you, too, can find out where you fall on the earwax divide. ...

A proposed new U.S. military program may offer U.S. citizenship in as little as six months to qualified temporary immigrants who enlist. Is it akin to hiring Here are the basics, according to the New York Times, which featured the Some critics see th ...

As millions scrambled for gifts or grumbled bitterly in the final 48 hours leading up to Valentine's Day, BBC News reported that any Neanderthal wooing of Homo sapiens likely resulted in heartbreaking rejection.

Marketta Vorel Remains Missing

A graduate student in the university's history department, Marketta was last seen entering Jermyn Hall's expansive basement by permission of Monster Studies Professor Dr. Anton Jessup. Based on her own notes, Vorel apparently sought a nearly forgotten antique in the university's permanent collection: the 300-year-old Bartholomew Glass.