Stepping on the CO2 Pedal, Turning Turtles, Earliest Reptile Evidence, Monkeys talk baby talk, Paper Batteries, Fact or Fiction: touching baby chicks


 

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Stepping on the CO2 Pedal

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Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are largely to blame for current and anticipated climate change. Unfortunately, those emissions are rising faster than even the most pessimistic scenarios had predicted. Dr. Chris Field, Director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, and his colleagues, have found that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising precipitously. They blame three factors: a higher than expected level of economic growth, especially in Asia; increasing carbon intensity; and most alarmingly, a reduction of the rate at which land and seas are absorbing CO2.

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Turning Turtles

gomboc_turtle.jpg Gomboc and Indian Star Tortoise - courtesy Dr. G. Domokos

Dr. Gabor Domokos, an engineer at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and his colleague Dr. Peter Varkonyi, spent ten years trying to build a unique three-dimensional object that automatically rights itself. When they finally built the object, which they call a "Gomboc", they realized nature had already discovered it. They tested turtles and found that some species of turtle had exploited this shape to right themselves, when turned upside-down by predators or in turtle fights.

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Earliest Reptile Evidence

footprint.jpg Rock containing probable reptile footprints

When most people think of fossils, animal skeletons come to mind. But sometimes, the best evidence for a prehistoric animal's existence isn't the bones, it's proof the animal was walking by. That's the case with a pair of fossils recently found in New Brunswick. They're track ways, or footprints, of creatures that were wandering around about 315 million years ago. Dr. Randy Miller, from the New Brunswick Museum explains why these fossils look like they were tracks left by reptiles, and how, if that's the case, it pushes back evidence for the first appearance of reptiles by about one million years.

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Monkeys Talk Baby Talk

babytalk.jpg Macaque Mother and Baby

The way adult humans talk to small babies is quite distinctive. Our voices raise in pitch and often we'll babble nonsense, merely trying to get the child's attention. According to research by Dr. Jessica Whitham, we aren't the only species to use this strategy. By watching Macaque Monkeys in the wild, she was able to determine that adult females use baby talk as well, when they're addressing the young of their own species. This suggests baby talk may be something quite old in our evolutionary lineage.

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Paper Batteries

paperbattery.jpg Paper Battery, courtesy RPI

Batteries are vital to our modern technological society, but frankly, they're a pain. They're fragile and bulky, they're full of toxic and dangerous materials, and they're hard to recycle. Dr. Robert Linhardt, a professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and colleagues, have begun developing a battery system that might reduce some of these problems, and it's made chiefly of paper. The paper is impregnated with carbon nanotubes and soaked in a salt solution, and can act as both a battery and a supercapacitor, which discharges energy more quickly than a battery.

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Fact or Fiction: Touching Baby Chicks

We kick off a new occasional feature today, called Science Fact or Science Fiction. From time to time, we'll present a commonly held idea, or a popular saying - and ask a Canadian scientist to set us straight on whether we should believe it or not.

And we begin today with one we've all heard before: If a human touches a bird egg or a young bird, their parents will abandon it.

For the scientific lowdown, we go to Dr. Erica Nol, a professor of biology at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. She says it's science fiction

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Theme music copyright Raphaël Gluckstein. Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0
Musical stings courtesy of Beatsuite.com Music Library.