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Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of science... the thrill of discovery... and the agony of failed experiments... the human drama of scientific advancement... This is the Blue Streak Science Podcast!

May 17, 2018

On This Week's Show

Science News

  • Origins of amphibian-killing fungus uncovered
  • How California becomes the first US state to mandate solar on new homes
  • New discoveries about some ancient reptiles

Science News

Origins of amphibian-killing fungus uncovered

This is a detective story. The chytrid fungus, also known as Bd (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has been decimating amphibian populations globally for a good 20 years now after it was first discovered in dying frogs in Queensland, Australia.

The fungus causes excessive skin shedding which makes the animals die of ‘thick skin’. Skin is such an essential organ to amphibians with many processes such as absorbing additional oxygen and releasing toxins. It’s a bit like amphibian eczema.

The impact of the disease has been so great due to the huge amount of global trade of amphibians. With animals moving before people realised that there was a problem, by the time people noticed the problem it was already everywhere. This has made tracking its origins hard. So far the origin has been narrowed down to Asia, Africa, North America or South America.

This mystery is now getting solved thanks to the combined global efforts of 10 years of field and lab work by 35 institutions. The conclusion is that the disease originated between 50 to 120 years ago in East Asia.

They figured this out by sequencing the fungal DNA from within amphibian genomes. Over 200 samples were used to draw this conclusion but sometimes less than 1% of sample material gave any usable results. Understanding the origin of this disease and how it links to other similar fungi could help plan for future risks.

Science News, BBC

 

California becomes first US state to mandate solar on homes

California first US state to mandate solar panels on new construction homes built after 1 January, 2020. That includes apartment buildings as well.

Already state law that requires that 50% of electricity to come from non carbon-emitting sources by 2030. 

Critics point out that mandate to add between $8,000 and $12,000 to the cost of a home. Average cost of home in California is about $440,000, about 2 ½ times the national average. According to Energy Commission homeowners will only see an additional $40 to monthly mortgage payments.

Californians pay some of the highest electric rates in the country already. However, residential customers’ monthly average bills are about $96, among the lowest in the country.

How?

Because California ranks 49th in the nation in per capita electricity consumption. Largely driven by the state’s strong commitment to energy efficiency, and the climate. Few people near coast have air conditioners. Cool summers.

Nearly 16% of California’s electricity last year came from solar.

Mandate still has to get through the Building Standards Commission. Decision later this year.

Remember when I said that there already exists a state law that requires that a full 50% of all electricity to come from non carbon-emitting sources by 2030? According to the Public Utilities Commission the state will likely meet goal of 50% generation of non-carbon electricity about 10 years ahead of schedule.

Currently rebuilding our home that was destroyed in the October 2017 wildfires.

Are we putting solar on it? Hell yes.

BBC News

 

Jurassic fossil tail tells of missing link in crocodile family tree

The latest missing link that has been discovered links crocodiles with the pelagosaurus genera. Pelagosaurus were reptiles of the open seas that lived for about 8 million years before going extinct about 175 mya. Whilst they would have resembled crocodiles they were more like whales and dolphins in their overall body structure.   

The new species is called Magyarosuchus fitosi after the amateur collector who discovered it, Attila Fitos. It is estimated to have been about 5m long. The first signs that a new species was on the cards were unusual vertebrae; these turned out to be a part of its tale fin, a feature previously only found on the Pelagosaurus. But unlike a Pelagosaurus, the creature also had heavy armour, more associated with land going crocodyliforms.

Sometimes with fossils it can be challenging to work out when you genuinely have a new species on your hands, but when you have discoveries as apparent as this one there leaves very little room for debate.

Science Daily, University of Edinburgh, PeerJ


What The Hell Was That?

This is where I’d normally put the conclusion and answer to last week’s WTHWT

Since we don’t have a quorum we are going to delay the fun until next week!


This Week In Science History

In a slight departure from our usual TWISH format I’m gonna to talk about one of the greatest scientists in history.

100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman

Was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in quantum mechanics as well as in particle physics

For his work quantum electrodynamics, Feynman, along with Julian Schwinger and Shin'ichirō Tomonaga were award the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

He developed the Feynman diagrams which were used as a representation for the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles. Feynman was also one of the great popularizers and spokespersons for science.

So today I’m gonna to rattle off four selected quotes from an article this week in Science News celebrating Richard Feynman

1. “There is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.”

An expression of the importance of atoms from the opening pages of Feynman’s lectures.

2. “From my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.”

That comes from a set of lectures compiled in book form as The Character of Physical Law,

3. “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

Perhaps Feynman’s sentiment might better be expressed by saying that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics, doesn’t.

4. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

The best advice to scientists and anybody else who seeks the truth about the world. The truth may not be what you’d like it to be, or what would be best for you, or what your preconceived philosophy tells you that it is. Unless you recognize how easily you can be fooled, you will be.

Bonus quote:

Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.


Promotion

Matilda’s Lab


In Closing

Until next time...follow the science!


This episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast comes to you from San Francisco, California; and Chester, England.