Getting kids into science

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Getting Kids Interested In Science: Parents, Teachers & Educators Comment

I don’t know if you’re a parent, but one of the toughest things is to get them to actually LIKE studying, and WANT to study. It’s difficult. But I always disliked the idea of forcing any child to do anything, which is why I would much prefer to encourage my child to take their own interest in studying.

As far as I am concerned, science is inherently interesting (why else would I have started a science news blog?) and there’s something wrong if kids have an automatic disgust for it.

In this article, many different people talk about how you can actively get kids interested in science. Worth reading! See also how to get your kids interested in STEM from lifehacker.


That’s how crocodiles have survived mass extinction

How have crocodiles managed to stay alive despite the various mass extinctions that have occurred since they set foot on Earth? This is the question that a team of researchers at the Milner Center for Evolution at the University of Bath tried to answer.
Crocodiles are one of the oldest surviving lineages to date. They have survived two extinctions in particular: the late Cretaceous extinction, the most notorious one that wiped dinosaurs off the globe 66 million years ago, and a lesser extinction than the Eocene, which occurred 33.9 million years ago, the extinction that wiped out so many aquatic species.

This is not the first study trying to answer this riddle. Previous studies have suggested that diet may have helped these animals cope with these difficult conditions as well as their semi-aquatic behaviour (in essence they are neither marine nor terrestrial animals).
However, a new study, which appeared in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, suggests that the answer lies in their particular reproductive biology.

The sex of crocodile cubs, in fact, is determined by the temperature at which they are incubated since these animals do not have sex chromosomes. The higher the temperature during the incubation phase, the more likely it is that males are born. It is a little the discourse of the turtles only that for these last ones the contrary is true.

Precisely for this reason the climate changes, which are seeing an ongoing global warming, are partly beginning to influence also the reproductive biology of this type of animals. For example, in some turtle populations 80% of turtles are born female, something that could lead to devastating consequences for these animals in the near future.

Going back to crocodiles, the scientists have analyzed 20 different species, coming from all over the world, discovering that the smaller species tend to live closer to the equator while the bigger species tend to live at higher latitudes and in more temperate climates. They also discovered that incubation temperatures are not latitude related.

This means that crocodiles may not be threatened in the future, as are turtles, by climate change in relation to birth levels. It should also be added that crocodiles themselves, unlike turtles, take care of their young (turtles lay their eggs on the beach and then leave the young alone).

And it is precisely this more practical approach to parenting that has evidently allowed crocodiles to survive the aforementioned mass extinctions.
This does not mean that crocodiles are not globally threatened: there are human activities that, for these animals, could be considered a more threatening factor than mass extinction.


139 other trans-Neptunian objects discovered, periphery of the increasingly crowded solar system

The neighborhood of the solar system beyond Neptune is full of surprises. Analyzing data from the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has in fact confirmed the presence of more than 300 additional Transneptunian objects (TNO), of which center 139 new discoveries, several of them considered as minor planets or dwarf planets, in these remote areas of the solar system.

The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, also describes what can be defined as a new approach to find objects of this kind, something useful also for future research, and above all to find the much coveted Planet Nine, also called Planet X, a hypothetical planet (and not a dwarf or minor planet) that would circulate undisturbed in the most remote areas of the solar system.

The DES survey was not initially conducted to discover new objects beyond Neptune but to understand the nature of dark energy by analyzing, through high-precision images, the area of the southern sky everything that can be observed from that position, primarily galaxies and supernovae. However, the succulent data have made the astronomers’ hearts beat faster, including graduate student Pedro Bernardinelli and professors Gary Bernstein and Masao Sako from the University of Pennsylvania.
Bernardinelli explains that to find TNO all you need to do is find a way to see the object move in the background, which makes it easier to find them.

The researcher, with the help of the two professors, started a first phase in which he had to work on as many as 7 billion possible objects detected by the software, interesting movements of transient objects on a fixed background, which indicated the proximity of these same objects to galaxies, supernovae or other distant objects.
As this list of candidates was skimmed, through a new method developed by Bernardinelli himself, and after many months of work, the result was 316 confirmed trans-Neptunian objects, of which 139 are new discoveries as never previously published.

Since there are only 3000 TNOs in total, this new catalogue represents 10% of all known TNOs. These are objects that are 30 to 90 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. In addition, some of these objects have extremely long orbits due to which at some point they will be very far away, well beyond Pluto and far beyond the distances that now separate them from the Sun.
The method used by Bernardinelli could be used in the future to make similar discoveries, as the researcher himself explains: “Many of the programs we have developed can be easily applied to any other large data set, such as the one that the Rubin Observatory will produce”.


Bizarre objects discovered around a black hole in the centre of the Milky Way

A team of astronomers believes they have discovered a new class of cosmic objects after observing “bizarre objects” at the center of our galaxy, in the very region where there is a huge supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A.

It seems to be somewhere between a gas condensate and a star, as suggested by Andrea Ghez, professor of astrophysics and director of the Galactic Center Group at the University of California at Los Angeles. In the study, published in Nature, compact objects are described that at a certain point seem to stretch as they approach the black hole. The orbit of these objects is relatively long and can range from 100 to 1000 years, as explained by Anna Ciurlo, another UCLA researcher involved in the same study.

The objects, called G3, G4, G5 and G6, stand alongside two other objects (G1, discovered in 2005, and G2, discovered 2012) previously discovered that were very strange. All these objects, according to Ghez and colleagues, could be the result of the fusion of binary stars, i.e. stars that rotate around each other attracted by their gravity.

These pairs of stars, once they reach a point in their orbit very close to Sagittarius A*, seem to merge because of the immense gravitational force of this supermassive black hole, a process, the process of fusion, which takes more than a million years to complete.

According to the researchers, these objects, whose form and substance are apparently not understood, could really be the final product of fusion, a product arrived in a state of relative “calm.” However, we are talking about an extreme environment, the one around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which has a density of stars much higher than our galactic quarter, at least a billion times, according to what Ghez himself explains.

In a region like this, not only the gravitational attraction is very strong, but also the magnetic fields can be considered “extreme.” Precisely for this reason, we should not be so surprised if, in a region like this, we find something that, at least initially, we cannot explain its features or its oddities.


Cigarette butts continue to emit nicotine and other substances into the air for days

We can see the remains of smoked cigarettes, so-called cigarette butts, and estimates reveal that there are five trillion (5000 billion) cigarette butts generated by people every year across the globe. Naturally, such waste has an environmental impact, as has already been demonstrated by various studies.

However, when we think about the environmental impacts of cigarette butts, we usually refer to the soil (or water if the butts are abandoned in watercourses or in the sea) and never to the fact that these butts can continue to pollute the air even though they are no longer lit. This is what a team of researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) considered.

The scientists devised a method for analyzing the chemicals that swirl and are still present in the air around cigarette butts, hours and days after the cigarettes had been extinguished. The researchers “smoked” over 2100 cigarettes using a “smoking machine” that simulates what humans do when they smoke, including movements and gestures with their hands. The same cigarettes were then extinguished in a stainless steel chamber in which scientists were able to analyze air emissions hours and days after they were extinguished.

The researchers made a very interesting discovery: cigarette butts, once completely cooled, can emit up to 14% of the nicotine emitted from a whole cigarette and smoked in a single day. This is a result that first surprised the researchers, as Dustin Poppendieck, one of the scientists who participated in the study whose results were then published in Indoor air, admits.

In addition to nicotine, the researchers measured eight of the hundreds of chemicals that are typically emitted from a cigarette when it is smoked. These include triacetin, a plasticizer that is used to make the filters stay hard. Triacetin can make up to 10% of a filter. They also found that the higher the temperature, the more the butts emitted the chemicals into the air at higher speeds.

“Nicotine from a cigarette butt after seven days could be comparable to nicotine emitted from the main and secondary smoke [second or third hand smoke] during active smoking,” Poppendieck notes. This means that, for example, if you don’t empty an ashtray at home or in the car for a week, non-smokers who frequent these rooms are exposed to more than a significant amount of nicotine.