Bunsen Bwog: Unnatural Nature

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Not just a girl's best friend

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‚ÄĒand 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.‚ÄĚ

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.

Sparkles via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Anonymous  

    "Engineering professor Dirk Engulnd and his team have just received a million dollar grant to film the brian’s machinery in real time"
    typo: brAIn's not brIAn's

  2. Correction  

    The name of the researcher is Dirk Englund, not Dirk Engulnd. Does anyone proofread these?

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