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  • Feature

    New, greener catalysts are built for speed

    Platinum, one of the rarest and most expensive metals on Earth, may soon find itself out of a job. Known for its allure in engagement rings, platinum is also treasured for its ability to jump-start chemical reactions. It’s an excellent catalyst, able to turn standoffish molecules into fast friends. But Earth’s supply of the metal is limited, so scientists are trying to coax materials that aren...

    02/21/2017 - 09:00 Chemistry, Materials, Sustainability
  • It's Alive

    Coconut crab pinches like a lion, eats like a dumpster diver

    A big coconut crab snaps its outsized left claw as hard as a lion can bite, new measurements suggest. So what does a land crab the size of a small house cat do with all that pinch power?

    For starters, it protests having its claw-force measured, says Shin-ichiro Oka of the Okinawa Churashima Foundation in Motobu, Japan. “The coconut crab is very shy,” he says. It doesn’t attack people...

    02/21/2017 - 07:00 Animals, Ecology, Biophysics
  • News

    Enzymes aid rice plants’ arsenic defenses

    BOSTON — Rooted in place, plants can’t run away from arsenic-tainted soil — but they’re far from helpless. Scientists have identified enzymes that help rice plant roots tame arsenic, converting it into a form that can be pushed back into the soil. That leaves less of the toxic element to spread into the plants’ grains, where it can pose a health risk to humans, researchers reported February 17...

    02/19/2017 - 12:08 Plants
  • News in Brief

    New imaging technique catches DNA ‘blinking’ on

    BOSTON — A new imaging technique takes advantage of DNA’s natural ability to “blink” in response to stimulating light.  The new approach will allow unprecedented views of genetic material and other cellular players. It’s the first method to resolve features smaller than 10 nanometers, biomedical engineer Vadim Backman said February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the...

    02/19/2017 - 10:39 Cells, Chemistry, Biophysics
  • News

    Microbes survived inside giant cave crystals for up to 50,000 years

    BOSTON — Microbes found stowed inside giant crystals in caves in Chihuahua, Mexico, may have survived there for tens of thousands of years. The microorganisms, which appear to be vastly different from nearly all life-forms found on Earth, offer a good indication of how resilient life can be in extremely harsh environments, including those found on other planets.

    “These organisms are so...

    02/18/2017 - 12:55 Microbes, Genetics, Astrobiology
  • News

    Europa lander mission takes another step toward reality

    BOSTON — For the first time since the Viking missions to Mars in the 1970s, NASA is making the search for evidence of life on another world the primary science goal of a space mission. The target world is Jupiter’s moon Europa, considered possibly habitable because of its subsurface ocean.

    The proposed mission, which could be operational in the next two decades, calls for a lander with...

    02/18/2017 - 11:09 Planetary Science, Technology
  • News

    Common fungus may raise asthma risk

    BOSTON — A fungus among us may tip the body toward developing asthma.

    There’s mounting evidence that early exposure to microbes can protect against allergies and asthma (SN Online: 7/20/16). But “lo and behold, some fungi seem to put kids at risk for asthma,” microbiologist Brett Finlay said February 17 at a news conference during the annual meeting of the American Association for the...

    02/17/2017 - 17:57 Health, Immune Science, Human Development
  • Science Ticker

    Juno spacecraft won’t go into shorter orbit around Jupiter

    NASA’s Juno spacecraft will stay in its current 53-day orbit around Jupiter instead of closing into a 14-day orbit as originally planned, the Juno team announced February 17.

    An issue with two helium check valves, which are tied to the spacecraft’s main engine, had scientists concerned. The valves took several minutes to open when the team pressurized the spacecraft’s propulsion system...

    02/17/2017 - 16:02 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • Science Ticker

    Antarctic sea ice shrinks to record low

    Sea ice around Antarctica shrunk to its lowest monthly extent on record in January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.

    Antarctic sea ice extent averaged just 4.04 million square kilometers, 1.19 million square kilometers below the 1981 through 2010 average. That’s 280,000 square kilometers smaller than the previous record low, set in 2006.

    The new record...

    02/17/2017 - 13:14 Climate, Oceans, Earth
  • News

    Helium’s inertness defied by high-pressure compound

    Helium — the recluse of the periodic table — is reluctant to react with other elements. But squeeze the element hard enough, and it will form a chemical compound with sodium, scientists report.

    Helium, a noble gas, is one of the periodic table’s least reactive elements. Originally, the noble gases were believed incapable of forming any chemical compounds at all. But after scientists...

    02/17/2017 - 09:00 Chemistry