It’s Saturday, which means Chemical Charmer Zach Kagan has once again mixed a week’s worth of science news together in an erlenmeyer flask for your edification.
A landmark study from the Earth Institue suggests that ocean acidity is rising faster than any time in the history of the planet. Open water absorbs CO2 emissions, where it becomes carbonic acid. Normally that acid gets neutralized by sedimentary materials like fossilized plakton, but the quantity of CO2 is so overwhelming that all the carbonized plakton shells have dissolved away, leaving a layer of mud. There’s only one other record of the ocean floor transforming into an underwater swamp of sadness, 300 million years ago—and even that happened over a 5,000 year span. Meanwhile, ocean pH is falling at an unprecedented rate, which the scientists expect will lead to a major decrease in marine diversity.
In other weird nature news, a new collaborative study says that global warming also causes increased snowfall. Columbia researchers expanded on data which suggests that changes in atmospheric circulation and atmospheric water vapor content cause snowier winters, both of which are in turn caused by melting arctic ice. So the globe may be getting hotter, but at least it’s increasing the odds of getting a snow day.
While Columbia is lamenting a future without fish, scientists at NYU are making their own fish. They’ve developed a biomimic robot fish that can lead schools of real fish. The researchers claim their invention can be used to steer schools away from natural and man-made disasters, although they could also just be fulfilling Dr. Evil’s dreams.
Engineering professor Dirk Englund and his team have just received a million dollar grant to film the brain’s machinery in real time…with diamonds! The man explains it best himself: “We are using diamond nanoprobes to measure electrical signals in the brain in real-time to monitor the activity of entire neuronal ensembles. Just imagine that you could record a movie of a network of neurons–processing information! This kind of tool could revolutionize neuroscience and help us unlock some of the big mysteries about the brain.”
Scientists analyze the world, but who analyzes the scientists? Former Columbia economics professor Pierre Azoulay does. His research on the productivity of scientists has produced some interesting results. For example, when a young scientist collberates with a superstar, and then the famous researcher dies shortly after, the junior researcher’s productivity plummets. Importantly for grant season, it turns out that longer term open-ended grants produce more results than shorter term, more directed ones.