Science + Health

All’s Well That Tends Wells? New State Law To Control Sucking Up of Water

The drought gets a lot of undeserved blame for California’s water crisis. Naturally, four dry years have exacerbated the problem, but the real culprit is the state’s Gold Rush–era water law, which has allowed landowners to sink wells that suck ever deeper and drier— unfettered by any accountability to their neighbors, their region, or the state. Historically low groundwater levels have resulted, spawning all kinds of Wild West drama. The Central Valley is sinking! A thousand Tulare County wells go dry! Read more about All's Well That Tends Wells? New State Law To Control Sucking Up of Water »

It’s Elementary: Berkeley Can Bask in the Glow as More Elements Hit Periodic Table

The recent inclusion of four new elements to the periodic table was cause for the clinking of champagne glasses at places where people cook up such exotic stuff, including Berkeley. One reason is that credit for some of these latest discoveries goes to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was itself birthed out of UC Berkeley. Read more about It's Elementary: Berkeley Can Bask in the Glow as More Elements Hit Periodic Table »

Elusive Target: Can New Push to Background-Check More Gun Buyers Make a Difference?

In the short but statistic-fueled period after every recent U.S. mass shooting, the gun control debate is roused from its intermittent slumber. Whether the victims are in grade-school classrooms in Sandy Hook, on a college campus in Oregon, at a predominantly African-American church in South Carolina, or attending a holiday party in San Bernadino, the results have become predictable. Gun control advocates plead for tighter restrictions that might curb violence. Read more about Elusive Target: Can New Push to Background-Check More Gun Buyers Make a Difference? »

Straw Into Gold: New Way to Retrieve CO2 From Air and Recycle It Into Useful Products

Turning an undesirable substance into something valuable seems like the plot of an old fable, but UC Berkeley researchers Chris Chang and Omar Yaghi may have done just that. Their invention, covalent organic frameworks, or COFs, can transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into a useful building block for biodegradable plastics, fuel, and more.

Chang likens COFs to TinkerToys, though at a nano scale. They consist of strings of carbon crystals that are special in their unique porosity, as they can be custom tailored to capture the chemical of choice. Read more about Straw Into Gold: New Way to Retrieve CO2 From Air and Recycle It Into Useful Products »

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Quantum Dots Promise Better-Than-Ever Digital Color Resolution—Will it Matter?

Have you ever been engrossed in your favorite episode of Star Trek on your smartphone and thought “Hey! The color of Kirk’s uniform doesn’t look pure!” Yeah, most of us probably wouldn’t think that. But with quantum dots seeping into modern displays, our viewing expectations could drastically change. Read more about Quantum Dots Promise Better-Than-Ever Digital Color Resolution—Will it Matter? »

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Giving Credence: Why is So Much Reported Science Wrong, and What Can Fix That?

In January, David Broockman, then a political science Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, found something unusual about a study he and fellow student Joshua Kalla were trying to replicate. The data in the original study, collected by UCLA grad student Michael LaCour and published in Science last December, had shown that gay canvassers, sent door-to-door in California neighborhoods, could, after a brief conversation about marriage equality in which the canvassers disclosed their own sexual orientation, have a lasting impact on voter attitudes on the subject. Read more about Giving Credence: Why is So Much Reported Science Wrong, and What Can Fix That? »

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Say What? Scientists Devise an Algorithm That Detects Sarcasm Better Than Humans Can

Think people know when you’re being sarcastic? Yeah, right.

Studies show that most of us believe we are much better at communicating than we actually are, especially when interacting online. For instance, a 2005 study found that recipients correctly identified the sarcasm behind email statements only 56 percent of the time. Furthermore, the participants remained confident they were being understood even when their actual ability to convey sarcasm varied significantly between email and verbal communication. Read more about Say What? Scientists Devise an Algorithm That Detects Sarcasm Better Than Humans Can »

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Strip It and Stash It: Climate Scientists Focus on Extracting the Carbon Already in Our Air

For decades, most of the strategizing about how to slow down climate change has focused on cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, mainly by shifting away from fossil fuels. Other proposals range from reducing meat consumption (cattle belch massive quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas) to curtailment of chlorofluorocarbons (compounds that both retain heat and destroy atmospheric ozone) in refrigerants and aerosols.  Read more about Strip It and Stash It: Climate Scientists Focus on Extracting the Carbon Already in Our Air »

Setting Misery to Music: Collaboration Lets Listeners “Hear” Effects of Climate Change

As the 2015 U.N. climate change conference continues in the outskirts of Paris—pursuing a global agreement to slow down the devastating effects of global warming—there will be graphs. There will be charts. There will be slideshows.

But if presenters really want to tug at a world leader’s heartstrings, they might want to bring a violin. Break out a synthesizer, a keyboard, and play a snippet of what climate change sounds like: Earth, out of tune and distorted, an orchestra gone a little haywire. Read more about Setting Misery to Music: Collaboration Lets Listeners "Hear" Effects of Climate Change »

Is This El Niño Really Set to Bring Epic Precipitation? Be Careful What You Wish For…

With perhaps one of the most intense El Niño ever recorded simmering like a massive coddled egg off the coast, Californians are bracing for precipitation on an epic scale. More than that: They’re hoping for it. There is a general sense that even the rampaging floods that can result from a full-blown El Niño-driven winter would be tolerable as long as our reservoirs fill and aquifers recharge and we can get back to long showers and adequately watered hydrangeas. Read more about Is This El Niño Really Set to Bring Epic Precipitation? Be Careful What You Wish For... »

Reporter Excoriates Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study: I Stopped at 14,000 Words-Enough Was Enough

Years ago, I never thought to myself, ‘Hey, I’ve gotta be the guy who writes about chronic fatigue syndrome.’ I mean, why would I? It just sort of happened. When research suggested in 2010 that the illness might be linked to a mouse retrovirus, I wrote a piece about it for The New York Times.

After that I wrote another story, and then more stories, and then a few more—probably a dozen or so in all. But within a couple of years the mouse retrovirus hypothesis fell apart. And media interest in the illness vanished. Read more about Reporter Excoriates Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study: I Stopped at 14,000 Words-Enough Was Enough »

Color My World: Innovative Glasses Allow Colorblind to See What They’ve Been Missing

I had to see for myself why some users have called them “happy glasses”—through them, everything looks more vibrant, distinct and intense. As soon as I donned the glasses, the run-down street I was walking on in West Berkeley looked as if it suddenly had been given a fresh coat of paint, the grays dusted away. I felt as if I was inside an oversaturated Instagram photo, or Pleasantville after the town was colored in.

The color shift I experienced while wearing EnChroma Cx lenses was overdramatic—but that’s because I’m not colorblind. Read more about Color My World: Innovative Glasses Allow Colorblind to See What They've Been Missing »

Fried to a Crisp: Why Some Experts Say We Must Burn the Trees to Save the Forests

The recent rains have blunted the psychological impact of California’s four-year drought, washing down the streets, perking up the landscaping, and heightening anticipation for a stormy El Nino-driven winter. We know, however, that one wet year is highly unlikely to end water shortages. What we may not fully grasp is that the damage done to the state’s forests is so far reaching that it may be permanent. Read more about Fried to a Crisp: Why Some Experts Say We Must Burn the Trees to Save the Forests »

Pet Therapy: Students Increasingly Bringing “Emotional Support” Animals to College

Americans have not only embraced the Shultz dictum that happiness is a warm puppy: They’re applying it to warm rabbits, kangaroo rats, pot-bellied pigs, cockatiels and ferrets. And for that matter, to decidedly tepid ball pythons, Cuban rock iguanas and Chilean rose hair tarantulas. The issue here isn’t the type of beastie; it’s that animals equate to happiness, whether you’re at home, in the workplace, or in the stressful milieu that is the modern academy. An increasing number of students believe they benefit from having pets for emotional support or comfort. Read more about Pet Therapy: Students Increasingly Bringing "Emotional Support" Animals to College »

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