SciNews Nov 1, 2015

Tractor beams, Mars missions, marijuana, meal worms and electric eels – just what your students want to know on Monday to get them excited about science.  This eclectic collection of current science news stories is brought to you by STAOBlog.

SciNews is published twice weekly. Stay tuned for more.

7308778_s from 123rfBiology

New site for where wild canines became dogs. Science News for Students

Dogs first snuggled up with people in Central Asia. That’s the conclusion of a new study looking at genetic diversity in these popular pets. Earlier findings had suggested dogs were first tamed elsewhere.

Laura Shannon works at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. As an evolutionary geneticist, she studies how traits in a species have changed over enormous spans of time. For the new study, Shannon joined an international team. “We have a large dataset,” she says, which allowed their team “to sample dogs from all over the world.” Read more…


Marijuana Use, Disorders Doubled Since 2001. Scientific American

As attitudes and laws in the U.S. have become more tolerant of marijuana, the proportion of adults using and abusing the substance at least doubled between 2001 and 2013, according to a new study.

Although marijuana dependence and abuse was found to be on the rise, that is largely due to the overall increase in new users, researchers note, while existing marijuana users experienced a 15% decline in pot-related disorders. Read more…



13698187_s from 123rf

Mealworms chow down on plastic. Science News for Students

Polystyrene foam, best known under the brand name Styrofoam, is a plastic with lots of uses. It insulates coolers and refrigerators. It cushions electronics for safe shipping. It holds drinks, yogurt and other tasty foods. It also makes a great snack for mealworms. And that could point to a new way to get rid of this long-lived plastic.

This and other types of plastic currently present big problems. They take up lots of space in landfills. And some types of plastic, including polystyrene, can resist breakdown for a long, long time, notes Wei-Min Wu. He’s an environmental engineer at Stanford University in California. Read more…



18685938_s from 123rf

Tiny ‘Tractor Beam’ Moves Objects With Acoustic Holograms. Discover

It’s a classic science fiction scene: A large vessel moves near a smaller one, captures it in a so-called tractor beam, and pulls it inside. Now imagine bringing that technology to life, but instead of moving meddlesome space ships, terrestrial tractor beams would perform touchless assembly, microsurgery or deliver drugs directly to the body part that needs them. You may not have to imagine for long: A British research team is making early strides toward developing small-scale tractor beams, using high-amplitude sound waves to create invisible force fields they can adjust in real-time. Read more…


How electric eels put more zip in their zap. Discover

Electric eels are even more shocking than biologists thought. When prey fights back, eels just — curl their tails. Muscle has evolved “into a battery” independently in two groups of fishes, explains Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Smaller species send out slight tingles of electric current that detect the fish’s surroundings in murky nighttime water. People can handle these small fishes and not feel even a tickle. But touching the bigger Electrophorus electricus (a member of a South American group of battery-included fishes)“is reminiscent of walking into an electric fence on a farm,” Catania says. Read more…


Earth and Space Science12693495_s from 123rf

Mass gains of Antarctic Ice Sheet greater than losses. Science Daily

A new study says that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers. Read more…


NASA considers sites for human mission to Mars. Globe and Mail

NASA has begun the long process of looking for a suitable place to land humans on Mars.

Kicking off a three-day workshop in Houston on Tuesday, U.S. space agency officials asked nearly 200 scientists and engineers to help them identify particular locations on Mars that merit further study as potential landing sites. Dubbed “exploration zones” by meeting organizers, the locations are areas within a 100-kilometre radius that include features of scientific interest along with nearby resources that would help support astronauts working there over months or years. Read more…


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