Vol. 180 No. #14
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More Stories from the December 31, 2011 issue

  1. Life

    A gland grows itself

    Japanese researchers coax a pituitary to develop from stem cells in a lab dish.

  2. Physics

    Superconductor may hide long-sought secret

    It conducts electricity without resistance, sure; but a new material could also demonstrate the existence of a particle proposed 70 years ago.

  3. Health & Medicine

    Coffee delivers jolt deep in the brain

    Caffeine strengthens electrical signals in a portion of the hippocampus, a study in rats finds.

  4. Life

    Biology’s big bang had a long fuse

    The fossil record’s earliest troves of animal life are the result of more than 200 million years of evolution.

  5. Space

    Distant world looks ripe for life

    Extrasolar planet hunt spots its most Earthlike orb yet.

  6. Life

    Bacteria in bondage

    Cells unleash proteins to cage unwanted invaders.

  7. Life

    Eggs have own biological clock

    Reproductive cells age independently from the rest of the body, research in worms reveals.

  8. Earth

    Dead Sea once went dry

    The Holy Land’s salt lake ran out of water during a warm spell about 120,000 years ago, which suggests it could disappear again.

  9. Life

    Building the body electric

    Eyes can be grown in a frog’s gut by changing cells’ electrical properties, scientists find, opening up new possibilities for generating and regenerating complex organs.

  10. Health & Medicine

    Bedbugs not averse to inbreeding

    The pests have also developed ways to resist common insecticides, research shows.

  11. Life

    He’s no rat, he’s my brother

    Rodents exhibit empathy by setting trapped friends free.

  12. Chemistry

    Deep-sea battery comes to light

    Microbes fuel a weak electrical current at hydrothermal vents.

  13. Earth

    Weather affects timing of some natural hazards

    Seasonal patterns in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can be linked to rain and snow in certain locations.

  14. Physics

    Tantalizing hints of long-sought particle

    Europe’s LHC collider finds traces of what could be the Higgs boson, a theoretical entity that explains why matter has mass.

  15. SN Online

    BODY & BRAIN Some U.S. presidents go gray in four years, but they still tend to live longer than average. See “Presidency not a death sentence.” A program in Nepal enlisting motorbike owners as emergency transport saves the lives of people bitten by snakes. Read “Scooters save lives of snakebite victims.” GENES & CELLS Tiny […]

  16. Science Future for December 31, 2011

    January 6–February 17 See five science and nature films on a 90-foot domed screen at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Omnifest. Visit www.smm.org/omnifest January 19 The St. Louis Science Center hosts a science café event to discuss space travel. See bit.ly/SNsltravel February 4 The Maryland Science Center introduces a hands-on insect exhibit. See bit.ly/SNmdinsect

  17. Science Past from the issue of December 30, 1961

    EARTH AND PLANETS FORMED FROM DUST DRAWN TO SUN — The Earth and all the other planets of the solar system were formed from tiny dust particles accumulating around the sun as it passed through a vast dust cloud in space. This theory on the origin of the solar system was proposed in London by […]

  18. Galileo’s Muse by Mark A. Peterson

    A physicist and mathematician argues that Renaissance art spurred the scientific revolution that laid the foundations of modern science. Harvard Univ., 2011, 336 p., $28.95

  19. Frozen Planet: A World Beyond Imagination by Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz

    Journey with four polar denizens — polar bear, Arctic fox, Adélie penguin and wandering albatross — through seasonal changes in this companion to a BBC television series. Firefly Books, 2011, 312 p., $39.95

  20. The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed Our View of Human Evolution by Dean Falk

    A scientist who studies brain evolution examines fossil finds — the Taung child and hobbits — that are changing views of human evolution. Univ. of California, 2011, 259 p., $34.95

  21. Super Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things: Power Devices with Your Plants, Modify High-Tech Toys, Turn a Penny into a Battery, Make Sneaky Light-up Nails … Sneaky Levitation with Everyday Things by Cy Tymony

    Put your engineering skills to the test with this guide to building gadgets from common household items. Andrews McMeel, 2011, 145 p., $12.99

  22. Book Review: Relics: Travels in Nature’s Time Machine by Piotr Naskrecki

    Review by Allison Bohac.

  23. Book Review: Time Travel and Warp Drives by Allen Everett and Thomas Roman and How to Build a Time Machine by Brian Clegg

    Review by Alexandra Witze.

  24. 2011 Science News of the Year: Nutrition

    Howard Oates/Istockphoto The value of vitamin D The simmering debate over vitamin D came to a boil as the scientific organization representing hormone experts embraced daily recommendations for the vitamin that far exceed those put forward in late 2010 by a U.S. Institute of Medicine panel. The Endocrine Society asserted in July that people need […]

  25. 2011 Science News of the Year: Molecules

    Molecular muscle does the job Chemists often wish they could reach into a test tube and physically force a chemical reaction — and now they’ve come pretty darn close. In a feat of molecular arm-twisting, researchers attached polymer chains to an extremely stable ring-shaped molecule and tore it in two (SN Online: 9/15/11). The new […]

  26. 2011 Science News of the Year: Environment

    Courtesy of Christopher Arp/USGS Arctic warming signs Climatologists pointing to the Arctic as the leading baro­meter of global change have plenty of new evidence that wholesale warming is under way. Observational data indicate that the region’s air, soils and water have warmed substantially since 2006, suggesting that the climate has established a “new normal” (SN […]

  27. 2011 Science News of the Year: Genes & Cells

    Nicolle Rager Fuller Boons and busts via gut microbes Studying the secret lives of bacteria living in human intestines has yielded some unexpected finds. One study suggests that most humans have one of three different combinations of friendly microbes (SN: 5/21/11, p. 14), and another reveals that people’s mix of microbes depends heavily on diet. […]

  28. 2011 Science News of the Year: Matter & Energy

    Baile Zhang and G. Barbastathis/SMART Centre Quantum theory gets physical Reality can be understood not only in terms of the flow of energy, but also in terms of the flow of information. So says a team of physicists with a new take on quantum theory (SN: 8/13/11, p. 12). This theory, which explains how matter […]

  29. 2011 Science News of the Year: Body & Brain

    CHAD SHAW, BRIAN DAWSON, YASUNARI SAKAI, H. ZOGHBI Sifting through autism’s tangled web Each person with an autism spectrum disorder has a different disease, yet some commonalities exist, a flurry of studies reveals (SN: 8/13/11, p. 20). Though the finds don’t point to a clear cause or a cure, they inch researchers closer to a […]

  30. 2011 Science News of the Year: Life

    Multicellular life from a test tube In less than two months, yeast in a test tube evolved from single-celled life to bristly multicellular structures. The new, snowflakelike forms act like multicellular organisms, reproducing by splitting when they reach large sizes and evolving further in response to harsh conditions, William Ratcliff of the University of Minnesota, […]

  31. 2011 Science News of the Year: Technology

    Courtesy of J. Rogers Epidermal electronics Scientists have created an ultrathin electronic device that puckers, stretches, wrinkles and bends just like human skin (SN: 9/10/11, p. 10). This flexible patch could one day allow the human body to enter the digital world, enabling Internet browsing without the mouse or communication without words. The patch’s electronics […]

  32. 2011 Science News of the Year: Earth

    NASA Warming slowdown The planet’s overall temperature has been climbing upward, but that trend stalled during the early 2000s — and now scientists think they can explain why. Several studies suggest that tiny sulfur-rich particles called aerosols, which shield the Earth from the sun’s incoming rays, are to blame. Some of those particles come from […]

  33. 2011 Science News of the Year: Humans

    While the Han Chinese (left) don’t show genetic contributions from Denisovans, Australian Aborigines (right) do.BLACKRED/ISTOCKPHOTO; GARY RADLER/ISTOCKPHOTO Asia takes a bow Often overlooked as a geographic player in human evolution, Asia has stepped into the scientific spotlight. New comparisons of ancient and modern DNA indicate that Stone Age humans migrated to Asia in two stages. […]

  34. 2011 Science News of the Year

    You can’t make this stuff up. An earthquake and tsunami trigger the worst nuclear accident in decades, contaminating thousands of square kilometers in one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Analyses of a sliver of finger bone reveal that the genes of an extinct human relative survive in many people living today. Single-celled organisms […]

  35. Science & Society

    2011 Science News of the Year: Science & Society

  36. 2011 Science News of the Year: Atom & Cosmos

    Not so fast, neutrinos News of particles zipping along faster than light (SN: 10/22/11, p. 18) was met with universal skepticism — including from the physicists in Italy who reported the results. But the Gran Sasso National Laboratory’s OPERA team hasn’t found any source of error that could explain how the neutrinos appeared to shave […]

  37. Letters

    Thinking probabilistically In the excellent article “Beware the long tail” (SN: 11/5/11, p. 22), the areas under each curve in the figure “Spotting the tail” should be unity (the total probability must be one). Therefore, the red curve should be lower in the center than the black one. Filson Glanz, Durham, N.H. Yes, the area […]

  38. American and Dutch physicists reach new low temperature

    Physicists compete in a race to the bottom with a finish line that can never be reached.

  39. An Engineer’s Alphabet by Henry Petroski

    A selection of quotations, anecdotes and other engineering trivia is arranged into a mini-encyclopedia of the profession. Cambridge Univ., 2011, 360 p., $21.99