Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Wait, Water Can Start a Fire?

I've apparently been watering under a misapprehension. I always thought the logic behind hosing down plants in the cooler hours was that a midday jolt of frigid water might "shock" them. I never considered that dewy beads of water could magnify high noon rays and literally burn leaves. Because that just sounds too bizarre to be true, right?

How Fighting Asteroids Works

Asteroid impacts are inevitable. As they hurtle toward Earth, experts race against the clock to build an effective asteroid deterrent. Will they succeed in time? Learn more about asteroid fighters -- and their plans to save the world -- in this episode.

Amazing Infestations!

From hordes of caterpillars in Liberia to the Australian mice plagues, infestations can occur in almost any part of the world. Join Robert and Allison as they explore some of the world's largest -- and strangest -- infestations.

T Pyxidis supernova to destroy Earth?

I know it's hump day and all, so I hate to spread the bad news, but U.S. astronomers from Villanova University in Philadelphia are apparently saying they've spotted human civilization's destined destroyer via the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite. It's name is T Pyxidis, and it's a star set to explode in a supernova powerful enough to strip off Earth's ozone layer .

Bob Barker Saves Whales with Namesake Ice-crusher

Bob Barker is best known for his genial, tanned, 35-year-long presence on "The Price is Right." But there's also the tough as nails, fighting Barker of movie cameos -- notably, "Happy Gilmore." This piece of news seems to satisfy both reputations: Barker is helping to stop whaling with a 1,200-ton (1,000-metric-ton), ice-crushing namesake ship. According to the AP, Barker donated $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which in turn named its anti-whaling vessel "The Bob Barker" in honor of the game show host. On Tuesday, the high-speed ship had its first encounter with Japanese whalers off of Antarctica.

Severely burned? Try some licorice.

Licorice! You might know it as the black jelly bean that makes you gag, the unsettling flavor in many a traditional liquor or, if you read this blog back in March, the candy that makes your transplanted kidney fall out. But hey, there's more to licorice than puckered lips and catastrophic organ failure. Read on to find out how the black candy just might save a few lives.

Random Snowflakes: Lies, Solar Power, Slashers and Distractions

Snowflakes are elegant examples of fleeting beauty, each a unique work on the verge of disappearance. But you already knew that, so let's do this white Christmas right and discuss snowflake-related Flash-based eye candy, fractals, serial killers, comic books, fantasy epics, solar cells, satellites, holiday cards and my parent's house. So grab a shovel (don't actually grab a shovel) and venture into this post for a handful of snowflake-related links, tidbits, news articles and distractions.

Top 5 Stocking Stuffers for Scientists: Funding

We've been beating around the bush here with all this fanciful talk of plane tickets and rides aboard the Virgin Galactic. What your scientist needs is cash. Funding. A check from grandma. Make that lots of checks from grandma. If you can point to a researcher who isn't scrounging for more funds to give a talk, attend a conference, get a study off the ground or purchase whatever crazy piece of equipment will advance his or her experiment, we can point to a liar.

Up until now, our holiday gift suggestions have been catering to the physics fanatics and the space geeks. It's time to turn to the biologists toiling amid the scientific ranks and contemplate what might make a good gift for them. I'm thinking a holiday tin full of stem cells. 2009 was a banner year for stem cell research in the United States, with President Obama issuing Executive Order (EO) 13505, which essentially removed barriers to responsible scientific research involving human stem cells. Before the executive order was issued, U.S. scientists doing federally funded research could access 21 lines created before Aug. 9, 2001, according to NPR. That number was blown to bits just within the past month. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has approved 40 new lines that are eligible for use in federally funded research. At least 11 of them are compliments of one George Q. Daley, an M.D., Ph.D. and stem cell scientist at Harvard.

Are we to blame for beached whales and dolphins?

In my last post, I talked about the two varieties of whale stranding and Dr. Gregory D. Bossart 's Science on Tap lecture on the topic at the Georgia Aquarium. This time around, I'm going to run through some of what Bossart had to say about the possible causes behind mass strandings. Sadly, a number of the cases point back to human alteration of the environment.

Why do whales beach themselves?

Last night I had the privilege to attend another Science on Tap lecture at the Georgia Aquarium, this time featuring Dr. Gregory D. Bossart, the aquarium's chief veterinary officer. Bossart discussed a subject that he's devoted much of his career to: the mysteries surrounding stranded marine life.

Top 5 Stocking Stuffers for Scientists: A Plane Ticket to Switzerland

If you're like me, you're not finished with your Christmas shopping yet. So that means our third suggestion isn't coming too late for you. It might even be time to throw the budget out the window and just get the shopping done at any cost. Either way, we have another idea for you, and it should tuck nicely into your scientist's stocking.

Computer Sciences to Abandon Nerd Image and Talk to Girls

This week I wrote an article for Discovery News on how stereotypically nerdy environments turn prospective female students away from the field of computer science. You know the kind of environment I'm talking about: "Star Trek" posters on the walls, scantily clad anime figurines sexing up the desk space and random video game boxes, empty Coke cans and Funion bags littering the corners of a room with nary a gleam of natural lighting in sight.

Top 5 Stocking Stuffers for Scientists: Virgin Galactic Tickets and a Tattoo

Wouldn't the scientist in your life love to find a Virgin Galactic ticket in his or her stocking? Failing that, how about a lower back tattoo of Carl Sagan juggling the planets? Let us help you with those last minute gift ideas.

Top 5 Stocking Stuffers for Scientists: Spiffy New Threads and Sweet Reads

Around this time of year, many people frantically start buying some pretty, pretty, pretty random stuff for their loved ones, myself included. Whether it's a Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish, a candle holder in the shaped of a turquoise stiletto or a regifted calendar from the bank, we're all guilty. With that in mind, I thought I'd compile a few gift ideas for the scientist on your list. Be warned. Some are attainable, some are... well, you'll see.

Donut Sludge Clogs Sewers

Until I edited an enormous suite of heart health articles last year, I always had a hard time visualizing the slow buildup of arterial plaque -- the clog, if you will. Now I have a striking visual parallel, and a colorful one at that: the gradual clogging of Virginia sewers with "donut sludge" (words from footnoted.org, via Slate).

Is Santa a mad scientist?

In most accepted mythoi, Santa Claus is a being of at least supernatural whimsy, if not divine purpose. Seriously, in the MSTed Mexican classic "Santa Claus," he battles the devil, and in TerryPrachett's "Hogfather," the Discworld's own version of Kris Kringle helps ensure the sun comes up Christmas morning. Hey, he breaks natural laws and does it with a smile, so he must be magic, right?

The Laws of Science (and Faith)

Devout environmentalism is now tantamount to religious conviction -- in British law at least. No, the UK hasn't made a mass return to its Druidical past, enshrining the cycles of the moon in law or worshipping sun gods with parabolic solar collectors. But the employment laws that protect religious freedom have been extended to include the belief in man-made climate change.

New York Times: Water Pollution Laws Violated Half a Million Times

The New York Times has released its sweeping look at the U.S. public water supply, nicely timed to coincide with Copenhagen, and the news isn't good. You might say it's not all that potable, much like the water laced with contaminants that more than 49 million people have drunk since 2004, reports Charles Duhigg. How does your state rank?

Space Music: Cory McAbee, Stingray Sam and the Space Musical

As we continue our voyage through space music, I thought it might be time to discuss space musicals. For my money, we just don't have enough song and dance pictures set amid the stars -- and there's an even greater dearth of musicals concerning the exploits of cowboy/roughneck astronauts. I speak of Cory McAbee: writer, director and star of "The American Astronaut" and 2009's "Stingray Sam."