In this weekly feature, Man about Science Zach Kagan takes a close look at some of the fascinating things Columbia scientists are brewing in the labs.

In the last 50 years, scientists have found the universe is more wobbly then we ever imagined! (click this image to see it shake, shake, shake that hydrogen)

Last week Columbia’s own Brian Greene sermonized science across the nation in his latest PBS special “Fabric of the Cosmos“, where many a blue, shiny spinning thing appeared inside his hands. The first part of the special was screened in the Miller theater to an audience of eager physics fanboys and fangirls. Greene held an amusing Q&A session afterward, which is well worth a watch just to see how Greene handles awkward questions about UFOs.

  • But while some physicists are hobnobbing with the public television elite, others are in the lab, building stuff out of lasers ‘n shit. Professor Szabolcs Márka shows us all how science really gets done by building a light barrier that repels mosquitos. Márka has received over a million dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue his research to fight malaria. What does he do with that money? Raise an army of mosquitos in the basement of Pupin, of course! Saving lives has never so close to mad science.
  • new Columbia study shows the power that a gateway drug can have on facilitating addiction, but not the one you think. Nicotine is the nogoodnik here: mice that were primed with nicotine saw a much greater reaction to cocaine then regular mice. Nicotine reprograms gene expression so that mice are much more likely to become dependent on addictive substances. Science is important, but it’s a shame that these mice went to Columbia University just to get hooked on coke.
  • Here’s one for the com-sci majors! A team of Columbia engineers have developed a solution to the problem of ‘data races’ created in multithreaded programming. For the uninitiated, a data race is when a program’s success is dependent on what order things are completed by program. If the wrong thread finishes first the program could crash. The team’s new system fixes this by analyzing and planning the order that threads need to be executed. The breakthrough is important for the stability of multithread systems, whatever that means.