Science + Health

Count Down

Electronic voting systems have been regarded with suspicion by the public in the wake of accusations that the machines have lost or miscounted votes. The manufacturers involved have improved their equipment in an attempt to regain voters’ trust, but even now Berkeley cryptologist David Wagner finds that not enough has changed: The systems are still vulnerable.

From the November December 2008 Stars of Berkeley issue of California.

Lucky Star

The first indication that something big was happening arrived in Maryam Modjaz’s inbox on January 10. The “circular” came from Princeton scientists who noticed a burst of X-rays while reviewing data from a NASA satellite. The event was labeled XRT 080109, and at first, all anyone knew for sure was that it was a transient—an object that quickly becomes luminous and then fades away (XRT stands for X-ray transient).

From the November December 2008 Stars of Berkeley issue of California.

Hearing Aids

The ear has a range that no other sense can match, whether biological or electrically engineered. The ear can hear sounds as soft as a whisper and as loud as an explosion, a sensory range spanning six orders of magnitude. While this ability continues to baffle scientists, Manfred Auer of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has for the first time developed a three-dimensional model of the molecules that allow us to hear.

From the November December 2008 Stars of Berkeley issue of California.

Hear Today Gone Tomorrow

It’s that all-important third date, the one where she’s ready to tell you everything, even that embarrassing story about her ex. Just as she begins to talk, the group of advertising executives at the table to your right gets animated, while the waiter on your left begins a lengthy recitation of the daily specials. You lean in and manage to hear her every word. But you remember nothing.

From the November December 2008 Stars of Berkeley issue of California.

The Ventilated Nursery

Thanks to the Back to Sleep educational campaign, most parents are now aware that babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the third leading cause of infant mortality. New research finds that having a fan on in the room may also be beneficial. The findings were published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and are based on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, with additional support from Kaiser Permanente.

From the January February 2009 Effect Change issue of California.

Voices from the Past

A linguist and a physicist walking into a room may sound like the start of a joke, but there’s nothing funny about the collaboration between Carl Haber, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett. The two are capturing and restoring sound from wax cylinders at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

From the March April 2009 The Soul of Wit issue of California.

Now You Don’t

More than a century ago, H.G. Wells told the fictional tale of Griffin, a gifted medical student who managed to make himself disappear. Griffin became the Invisible Man by tinkering with his body’s refractive index, the measure of how light is deflected off an object. Last fall, Berkeley researchers announced the development of new materials that have revolutionary refractive properties, bringing the prospect of invisibility from the pages of science fiction to the pages of science journals.

From the January February 2009 Effect Change issue of California.

Living with Fire

Years of drought across much of California brought a fast and furious start to the 2008 fire season. At one point in June, more than 2,000 fires were burning in the state. Wildfire is a natural, and vital, part of California’s ecosystems, and as more people move in to areas prone to burning, says Professor Scott Stephens of Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, we need to find ways to both actively manage and coexist with it.

From the January February 2009 Effect Change issue of California.

Salty or Sweet?

Experience has shown us where there’s sugar, there’s usually ants. But Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley and his colleagues found that in inland areas, ants swarmed to salt solutions in preference to sugar, their basic food. The study suggests that the availability of sodium could be what limits plant-eating ant populations globally.

From the March April 2009 The Soul of Wit issue of California.

Foolproof Funny

For those with a refined punchline palate, Jester, the Online Joke Recommender, is a dream come true. The website’s premise is simple: Read eight jokes and rate them according to how funny you find them. After that, Jester will begin suggesting new material tailored to your tastes. Whether you’re a fan of shaggy-dog yarns or snappy one-liners, you’ll find plenty of material for your next social gathering or paper presentation.

From the March April 2009 The Soul of Wit issue of California.

The Stars Her Destination

Natalie Batalha’s worst enemy is the clock. Installed around the corner from her office at NASA Ames Research Center, a looming LED display is counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the launch of the Kepler Mission: NASA’s first attempt to find habitable Earth-like planets in our galaxy.

“It’s terrible,” says Batalha ’89, who has been working on the mission for eight years. “It recently rolled over from 300 to 299, and I could just feel my blood pressure rising.”

From the November December 2008 Stars of Berkeley issue of California.

Pages

Subscribe to Science + Health