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Science + Technology

Lots of companies make products that don't have much in common, but AeroVironment specializes in two products that are very different — electric vehicle chargers, which keep cars like the Nissan Leaf on the road, and military drones. The Los Angeles-area firm is a leading manufacturer of small unmanned aircraft.

Here's a new, sly (and frankly selfish) way to think about global warming: Instead of worrying about the whole planet and all its oceans, how about asking a more personal question ...

What about me? What about where I live? Or where my grandma lives? Or the North Pole? Or Siberia? What if I could take my cursor, plop it onto any place on Earth and find out what's happened to temperatures right there.

For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas destroyed genetically modified food (GMO) crops in what he calls a successful campaign to force the business of agriculture to be more holistic and ecological in its practices.

His targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops.

Earlier this month he went in front of the world to reverse his position on GMOs.

Modern scientists trying to understand climate change are engaged in an unlikely collaboration — with two beloved but long-dead nature writers: Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold.

The authors of Walden and A Sand County Almanac and last spring's bizarrely warm weather have helped today's scientists understand that the first flowers of spring can continue to bloom earlier, as temperatures rise to unprecedented levels.

When you watch science fiction movies, you notice there are two things that seem like we will get in the future — a silver jumpsuit and driverless cars.

Millions of acres of marginal farmland in the Midwest — land that isn't in good enough condition to grow crops — could be used to produce liquid fuels made from plant material, according to a study in Nature. And those biofuels could, in theory, provide about 25 percent of the advanced biofuels required by a 2007 federal law.

But there are many ifs and buts about this study — and, in fact, about the future of advanced biofuels.

We wrote earlier this week on the stifling pollution in Beijing that's being called "airpocalypse." According to an air monitoring station located at the U.S. Embassy there, particulate pollution was literally off the charts — with readings well into the 700s on a 0-500 scale.

For thousands of years, sailors have told stories of giant squids. In myth and cinema, the kraken was the most terrible of sea monsters. Now, it's been captured — on a soon-to-be-seen video.

Even after decades of searching, giant squids had only been seen in still photographs. Finally, in last July, scientists filmed the first video of a live giant squid swimming some 2,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Edie Widder is the ocean researcher who shot the footage, which is slated to be released in a Discovery Channel documentary later this month.

The U.S. had its hottest year on record last year. That heat, combined with the relatively dry winter that came before, has brought a historic drought.

From forest fires and low crop yields, to infrastructure and recreation, the drought has been costly, with early estimates putting the cost at between $50 billion and $80 billion.

It's hard to imagine how this teeny little rock — it's not even a whole rock, it's just a grain, a miniscule droplet of mineral barely the thickness of a human hair — could rewrite the history of our planet. But that's what seems to be happening.

Agreed, Baby Pandas Are Cute. But Why?

Jan 10, 2013

Xiao Liwu made his public debut Thursday at the San Diego Zoo. Fans crowded around the exhibit, their camera lenses extended, hoping to catch a glimpse of the 5-month-old giant panda cub. If they're lucky and actually do see the 16-pound panda (his Chinese name means "Little Gift"), there'll be much oooing and aaahing.

You'd have to be heartless not to agree that pandas, especially the youngest of them, are as cute as all get-out. Right? But why?

On average, YouTube streams 4 billion hours of video per month. That's a lot of video, but it's only a fraction of the larger online-streaming ecosystem. For video-streaming services, making sure clips always load properly is extremely challenging, and a new study reveals that it's important to video providers, too.

Maybe this has happened to you: You're showing a friend some hilarious video that you found online. And right before you get to the punch line, a little loading dial pops up in the middle of the screen.

According to photographer Jamey Stillings, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) will be the "world's largest concentrated solar thermal power plant" when complete at the end of this year. That's if we want to get all technical.

In plain terms: There's a huge solar plant under construction in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and Stillings has been documenting the process since the very beginning. Did you know this was happening? I didn't.

Across the United States, college administrators are poring over student essays, recommendation letters and SAT scores as they select a freshman class for the fall.

If this is like most years, administrators at top schools such as Harvard and Stanford will try hard to find talented high school students from poor families in a push to increase the socioeconomic diversity on campus and to counter the growing concern that highly selective colleges cater mainly to students from privileged backgrounds.

2 Pi: Rhymes And Radii

Jan 8, 2013

Are You Eating Too Fast? Ask Your Fork

Jan 7, 2013

What's the coolest new gadget at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week? It's too soon to tell. But I have an early favorite for the title of oddest new gadget: the HAPIfork and HAPIspoon. They may sound like characters from a nursery rhyme, but this fork and spoon connect to the Internet and can monitor and record how you eat.

The HAPI utensils measure how long your meals last, how long you pause between each bite and how many mouthfuls of food you consume.

These rocks, says the artist, are not glued, not Velcroed. This is not a trick. Go ahead and click through our glossary of photographs. There are big rocks pirouetting on little ones, little ones dangling on top of big ones, pebbles tightly clumped and suspended in air ...

The lab robot affectionately called "Vomiting Larry" has gone viral. His image and videoed vomiting for science are all over the Web.

Oh, I wish, wish, wish I could spend a few days totally weightless, floating about high above the planet. And now that I've seen this video, I wish it more than ever, because now I know the down and dirty — details that make it seem so ... different.

Every year at around this time, tens of thousands of people take part in a kind of bird-watching marathon. From Canada to Latin America and throughout the United States, participants will get up in the middle of the night. Some brave frigid winter temperatures, and many do whatever else it takes to count as many birds as they can in 24 hours.

No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they'll be tomorrow.

That's according to fresh research that suggests that people generally fail to appreciate how much their personality and values will change in the years ahead — even though they recognize that they have changed in the past.

Daniel Gilbert, a psychology researcher at Harvard University who did this study with two colleagues, says that he's no exception to this rule.

The wind energy industry is dependent on something even more unpredictable than wind: Congress. Hidden in the turmoil over the "fiscal cliff" compromise was a tax credit for wind energy.

Uncertainty over the credit had lingered long before the last-minute political push, causing the industry to put off further long-term planning. So while the now-approved tax credit revives prospects for an industry facing tens of thousands of layoffs, don't expect to see many new turbines coming up soon.

Growing Uncertainty

People have been sharing food with strangers since ancient days, offering up the household's finest fare to mysterious travelers. Think Abraham and the three men of Mamre in the Bible and the folks who take in strangers after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. That deep tradition of generous hospitality has long been thought uniquely human.

If so, then bonobos, those gregarious African apes, may be more like us than we thought.

It's a year-end tradition to cobble together a list of the most important advances in science. But, truth be told, many ideas that change the world don't tend to spring from these flashy moments of discovery. Our view of nature — and our technology — often evolve from a sequence of more subtle advances.

Even so, chances are good that this year's list-makers will choose the discovery of the Higgs boson as the most important discovery of 2012.

It's unlikely 2013 will be the year that jet packs make it big, but the coming year could bring us a host of other new technology trends and products, such as 3-D printers for consumers, smarter smartphones and more connected devices like glasses and cars.

Updated Jan. 1, 2013: I've added a postscript to this post. You can find it at the bottom of this page.

Look at yourself. Right now.

You are muscle,skin, bone, brain, blood, warmed by energy, and all of you, every cell, even the subsets of those cells, all trillions and trillions of them, are going to tire, waste and depart. In 10 years almost every bit of you will have been replaced by new bits.

2013: A Tipping Year For Climate Change?

Dec 30, 2012

This year's extreme weather was one for the record books; 2012 is slated to be the hottest summer on record.

The worst drought in 50 years struck the South and Midwest, devastating the U.S. agriculture industry. Deadly floods and superstorms paralyzed the northeast and other parts of the country.

While the public is in shock by extreme weather events that have taken place, environmentalist Bill McKibben and other members of the science community say it is a result of climate change.

Once upon a time, there was one screen that TV broadcasters needed to fill. These days, it's all about the two-screen experience.

People have been watching television with their laptops, smartphones and tablets in hand for a while now. But this year, big business tried harder than ever to bring television to a second screen.

The Mars Rover Takes A Selfie

Dec 28, 2012

Who hasn't turned a camera around at arm's length to snap a picture to send to friends or family? It always seems like it takes a few tries to frame the shot just right to capture both you and that awesome mountain summit behind you.

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