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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!

Aug 17, 2018

  • Dr. Amber Stuver of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory
  • Blue Streak Science News
  • The Climate Lounge
  • Pub Quiz

Science News with Chris MacAlister and Nevena Hristozova

New Horizons Sees Glow at Edge of Solar System

It’s time for another update from my favourite little space probe; New Horizons. The explorer who brought us Pluto in all of its glory; with its heart and fart dunes, has something new to report on its way to its next rendezvous with Ultima Thule, an ultraviolet glow.

So what could be causing a glow in deep space? Well the experts are all in agreement. It’s aliens. Aliens people, they’ve finally come! If only we had a space force to save us.

Sorry, my error. It’s not aliens, it’s Hydrogen. The general consensus is that this glow is emanating from the edge of the heliosphere.

The heliosphere is our solar system’s bubble, created by the sun’s solar winds blowing out through the solar system and it keeps interstellar matter from drifting in. So this glow is thought to be where the winds stop. Forming a hydrogen wall at the point where the wind gets weak enough for the universe to push back.

Science News, Live Science

New Drug for Relapsing Malaria

Malaria is a disease caused by a total of 170 plasmodium species. Some infect humans, other - other animals, some cause slightly different symptoms of the same disease. In the majority of cases, the malaria plasmodium is transmitted by mosquitoes, and one species is known to be transmitted to humans via small primates. An estimated 600 million people worldwide are affected by malaria and about one to three million die each year.

The good news is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved tafenoquine for malaria prophylaxis.

Some of the malaria-causing plasmodia can remain dormant in the liver of affected patients and cause recurring infections of the patient months after the initial condition, and what is worse - they are also potentially contagious if a mosquito bites them.

This new drug was specifically developed against this recurring species.

It also has a strong negative side-effect though. For people with a X-chromosome related genetic condition causing deficiency in the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase enzyme which protects the red blood cells from oxidative damage, taking this pill can cause hemolytic anemia - destruction of their red blood cells, so that’s a pretty significant drawback.

The approval of FDA comes with the conditions for the pharma companies that make the drug to carry out further extensive pharmacovigilance tests once the drug is on the market and provide detailed reports of the results.

Pharmacy Times, PR Newswire, Science News

Debate On How People Arrived in The Americas

During the last ice age, pioneering humans crossed the Bering Strait on an ice bridge and became the first human population in the New World. Simple, eh?

Maybe not. Once on the continent there is still the small matter of making your way south and there are some conflicting ideas about how this would have happened.

One theory says that the explorers would have hugged the coast on their way down, whilst the other says that a more inland route would have been taken, passing between two ice sheets.

There is evidence to support each case, and we all know what happens when you have conflicting theories in science; fiiiiiiggggghhhhht!

Mercifully, a international team of multidisciplinary experts have come together to try and shed some light on this puzzle and stop some of the carnage and bloodshed.

Archeology, geology, anthropology and genetics have all been put to task to try and solve this question once and for all, the results are in, and the winner is…..La La Land. Sorry wrong card. The winner is…..we don’t know!

[caption id="attachment_1383" align="alignright" width="300"] Amber Stuver, Ph.D.[/caption]

Interview with Amber Stuver, Ph.D. - LIGO

Dr. Amber Stuver is an assistant professor of Physics at Villanova University and is also a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, better known as LIGO. Dr. Stuver has been a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration since 1999. She’s also a terrific science communicator having done videos with Tedx Talks and Ted-Ed.

Please have a listen to our conversation about this completely new way of discovering our universe.

The Climate Lounge

Welcome to the lounge! I see that last week we covered how the death toll for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was finally increased… something that should have occurred a long time ago. I was going to say that it should be a scandal. But it IS A SCANDAL. Even if most of the media has moved on and people have moved on. I’m imploring you to not move on. The island still have years, decades even left ahead in its rebuild. Is it going to be a climate resilient rebuild, or a patchwork effort that will lead to failure the next time a storm hits? I sure hope these stories reach the light of day… Ok.. onto this weeks science story. Let me set the stage…

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, if by galaxy, I mean region and if by region I mean Central America, I digress, a predominant technologically advanced civilization crumbled into non-existence due to, according to a new study, a change in the climate. God, please don’t let this be foreshadowing on all of us.

Ok, I’m talking about the Mayans here. An incredibly, for their time, advanced civilization when it came to math and astronomy and agriculture and lore located in the Yucatan peninsula. Built up over a thousand years, the Mayan civilization collapsed in just a few hundred potentially during the 8th and 9th centuryish. What the heck happened? (pedantic note, technically we are talking about how the Mayans abandoned they massive cities in the southern lowlands of their territory over just a couple hundred of years. They didn’t vanish. And some form of mayan civilization continued for hundreds of years)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but scientists have lots of theories. Disease, Over-population, deforestation, aliens to name a couple but one theory I want to talk about today involves a change in climate. Specifically,  a stupidly bad drought.

In a new paper published in Science, scientists attempted to quantify just how bad the drought was that impacted the region during the Mayan Collapse. It was called “Quantification of drought during the collapse of the classic Maya Civilization”. THREE CHEERS TO NOT PRETENTIOUS OR CONFUSING RESEARCH TITLES.

(another pedantic note: this paper didn’t discover this drought, they just quantified it. Probably lots of things caused the collapse)

To do this, scientists took sediment cores from Lake Chichancanab. Basically, just like an ice core, layers of soils can hold within them clues about the precipitation and temperature.

What did the paper whose first author was Nick Evans a graduate student at Cambridge (have to give shout outs to first author grad students HUZZAH) find? There was a 50% decrease in annual precipitation for over 100 years from 800 to 1000 AD. And at worst, it was as much as 70%.

How did they figure this out? Basically as water in the soil evaporates, lighter elements go first, leaving heavier elements behind. During particularly bad droughts, gypsum crystals form keeping within them lake water. The chemical properties of this fossilized lake water is what Nick Evans and colleagues looked at to determine how bad the drought was.

A pretty amazing climate detective case. Now we still don’t know what caused the drought. It could ahve been changes in the atmospheric circulation. Maybe there were more long lasting and bad El Ninos which lead to drought? Maybe something with the Medeval warm period, a time with less volcanic activity and a stronger sun. But really that is sorta besides the point.

What’s interesting for us today in a world impacted daily by human-caused climate change is just how easy it potentially was for a natural climate event, drought, to upend a thousand year old civilization. And all of those people had to go somewhere.

Now think about the implications today for areas that potentially could dry out over the next century due to climate change. Add on a natural drought and you get a particularly bad scenario. And then you have millions of climate refugees. Are we are a society prepared for that? I’ll leave that one hanging. But I’m sure you might have answered that for yourself already.


Pub Quiz

Taking part in the pub quiz today are: Chris MacAlister, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto

  1. There was an annually occurring meteor shower last week. What is it called?
  2. What dangerous substance has The United States Environmental Protection Agency proposed to allow for the approval of "new uses"?
  3. A study published in Nature Scientific Reports last week suggests that cremated human remains from Stonehenge most likely came from whe
  4. In honor of it being the Dog Days of Summer, something I take Sirius. I have a question about dogs. A new study suggests that some dogs may be lying about something when they have a pee. What are they lying about?
  5. New archaeological research from The Australian National University has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of human, went extinct, at least in part, because they were what?

How did YOU do?

In Next Week’s Episode

We’ll be talking with Kaeli Swift of the University of Washington who has been studying some really interesting behavior about my favorite birds...crows! We may have to re-think what it means to be a bird brain after this. Don’t miss it!

In Closing

Thanks a million to Amber Stuver!

Thanks to our audience, especially our Patreon supporters. We’ve only recently begun our Patreon campaign, but soon we’ll be offering some incentives.  Perhaps extra content. Live streaming? Maybe the opportunity to sit in with us while we record the podcast? Or even a completely new Patreon-only live stream. We’re looking at all these ideas. So, watch this space, and get in early!

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember...follow the science!