Popular Science has been daydreaming about the flying car for decades. (Seriously, I’ve been to the office. You think an editor is working diligently, and then you glance over his shoulder – and there’s the proof. Dozens of doodles of flying cars.)
Nearly every summer rainstorm comes with thunder and lightning. Yet during even the blusteriest blizzard, there's nary a spark in the air. It can occur (although snow lightning strikes just six times a year on average in the U.S.), but winter air doesn't make for prime lightning-forming conditions, says meteorologist Robin Tanamachi of the University of Oklahoma.
You might guess that magma or tumbling rocks fill the void, but the truth is much more prosaic: water. Petroleum deposits, which are naturally mixed with water and gas, lie thousands of feet below the earth's surface in layers of porous rock, typically sandstone or limestone. (Contrary to what you might imagine, drilling for oil is more like sucking oil from a sponge with a straw than from a giant pool of liquid.)
If you put a steamy cup of coffee in the refrigerator, it wouldn’t immediately turn cold. Likewise, if the sun simply “turned off” (which is actually physically impossible), the Earth would stay warm—at least compared with the space surrounding it—for a few million years. But we surface dwellers would feel the chill much sooner than that.
Laugh first, think later. That’s the theory behind the annual Ig Nobel Awards, which celebrate academia’s most bizarre, irrelevant studies. Past winners have included Dan Quayle, doctors who found that Viagra helps jet-lagged hamsters, and two researchers who proved that sword-swallowing is dangerous. This year’s feature ovulating strippers, intelligent slime and soft drinks that double as spermicide.
If you make a mess, just cover it up. That's the theory behind the Department of Water and Power's latest project in Los Angeles, which aims to prevent the formation of a carcinogen in two drinking-water sources, the Ivanhoe [pictured] and Elysian reservoirs.
Finally, mental health is getting the respect it deserves.
Yesterday, Congress approved legislation that will compel employers and health insurers to provide the same benefits for mental illnesses as they do for physical ones. It hasn't been an easy bill to pass. For 15 years, the mental health bill has been stuck on the House and Senate floors, where it's been rewritten several times. Now, almost everyone is behind the legislation, including both parties, the President, businesses, insurance companies and the medical community. And the bill's advocates are thanking science for transforming the public's view of mental illness, which led to its passage. Representative Patrick Kennedy praised science for destroying "the myth that this stuff is a choice," according to a Washington Post article.
The myth may be busted, but that doesn't mean the legislation is a shoo-in.
Scientists have known for years that map sense stems from the magnetite in birds’ beaks, which measures the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field so they recognize home when they get there. But how do they know which direction home is?
In 2005, the then-president of Harvard University said that men are better at math and science than women. (President Lawrence Summers' exact words were a bit more roundabout. While theorizing why women are underrepresented in those fields, he said "there is a different availability of aptitude at the high end.")
Turns out Summers's attitude may be to blame, according to a new study from vocational psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.