A three-foot-tall “hobbit” who lived in Indonesia up to 12,000 years ago is changing the way we think about the human family
She was only three feet tall, and her brain was smaller than your average chimp’s. Yet she and her relatives apparently lived fully human lives. They seem to have made sophisticated tools, cooperated to find food and cook it, and perhaps even buried their dead with ceremony.
The crazy critters astound us once again
Voluntary Castration To find its perfect mate, the male Tidarren sisyphoides spider routinely amputates one of its two oversize external sex organs, Tulane University researchers found in February. With a reduced weight, it can run faster and longer in pursuit of the female.
A Healthy Glow Hippos secrete a distinctive red-orange fluid from their skin that acts as a two-in-one antibiotic-and-sunscreen combo, Japanese researchers found in May. The highly acidic compounds in hippo sweat could become the basis for a new range of human
Overwhelming atmospheric evidence supports the reality of global warming—and humans’ role in causing it
It was the summer of animals gone weird. Alaskan salmon swam up rivers they weren’t born in, their native streams reduced to trickles. Scores of subtropical species, including seahorses and leatherback turtles, migrated into waters off northern England and Scotland. Polar bears were marooned on a remote Arctic island as large patches of what was normally sea ice melted into water. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds failed to breed. The culprit for all this odd animal behavior? A Northern fever: from Alaska to Norway, meteorologists measured record-setting spring and summer temperatures.
Why antidepressants may exacerbate depression and anxiety in some kids
An estimated 20 million Americans have at one point or another relied on Prozac or one of its chemical siblings, including Paxil and Zoloft, to ease depression or anxiety. For most adults who take them, the drugs, known collectively as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, work as advertised: Mood improves with increased levels of the brain chemical serotonin.
So odd, yet so true
Taking a pill made from prickly pear fruit five hours before boozing cuts the risk of a severe hangover in half, according to the June Archives of Internal Medicine.
Let the Bedbugs Bite
In January the FDA OK’d maggot therapy for chronic wounds. The maggots munch the wound site clean, dissolving dead tissue with their digestive juices and swallowing bacteria.
A new therapy shuts down the genetic process that causes eye disease
In the seven years since scientists discovered RNA interference, or RNAi—a way of hijacking a cell’s defense mechanism to silence
defective genes—the technology has been hailed
as a potential treatment for everything from cancer
to coronary heart disease. Now scientists are putting it to the test in humans.
Hello, kitty, kitty, kitty; good-bye, old mouse
Elements 113 and 115
In February, U.S. and Russian scientists announced that for a few milliseconds, they particle-accelerated two new superheavy elements into existence. “Such experiments help theorists predict nuclear structure,” says chemist Dawn Shaughnessy.
Brood X Cicadas
After 17 years underground in nymph stage,
in mid-May billions of adult Brood X’ers emerged from their natural hibernation, raring to mate. The shrimp-size insects swarmed the
Eastern seaboard, laid new eggs, and then died by mid-June.
The grandest, strangest, smallest and most controversial stories and findings of 2004.
With a bitter presidential election and the expanding chaos in Iraq, 2004 was a year of conflict both at home and abroad. And American scientists joined the fray in numbers unseen in decades—protesting an administration they believed distorted or ignored data that didn’t jibe with its political agenda on issues ranging from climate change to stem cell research to the evidence about Iraq’s unconventional-weapons programs. Yet while many
In a year when the heroes of space were robotic explorers and plucky capitalists, the future of NASA's manned program seemed shakier than ever
The year opened with a presidential commitment to space unrivaled since John F. Kennedy's vow to put a man on the moon: In January, George W. Bush promised not only to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 but also to use it as a testing ground for possible "human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond." His directive came less than a year after the Columbia disaster grounded NASA's human-spaceflight program.
The Chopper, Beta Version
In March 1931 PopSci reported that engineer Raoul Pescara’s latest helicopter had flown. It was “one of the strangest of flying machines,” we wrote—a veritable monster, sporting 16 gargantuan counterrotating blades. At the time, Igor Sikorsky was still a decade away from perfecting what would become the standard helicopter design, and dozens of people were vying to solve the problem of vertical flight. As early as 1842, W.H.
Can private industry revitalize embryonic stem-cell research in the U.S.?
Stymied by federal restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research, U.S. institutions are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. This year the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, one of nine privately funded stem-cell research facilities in the nation, plans to raise $100 million for new research. Rutgers University, the Rockefeller University and the University of Wisconsin
have announced similar fund-raising campaigns.
Two materials currently under development—self-healing
composites and “bubbloy”—could be the key to creating auto bodies that regenerate after an accident.
It’s a shame how easily cars get dented. All it takes is a runaway shopping cart or a reckless jerk pulling into an adjacent parking spot. Why not make them from carbon-fiber composites, which are stronger, stiffer and lighter than steel?
Rewarding, enriching—and embarrassing—prominent scientists
Some people eagerly anticipate the Oscars. We at Popular Science spend the early fall wondering which lucky scientists will be deemed deserving of Nobels and MacArthurs. This year was especially exciting because for the second year in a row, one of our Brilliant 10 recipients received a MacArthur fellowship, commonly known as a “genius grant.” Angela Belcher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our 2002 class of Brilliant 10, was honored this year for, among other things, genetically
engineering viruses to make metal nanowires. We didn’t predict any
Exotic science explained for the everyman
Math is hard!—Barbie
Plastic dolls of the world, take heart: Help is here in the form of a 262-page general science and technology book called How to Clone the Perfect Blonde (Quirk, $17). Penned by award-winning BBC journalists Sue Nelson and Richard Hollingham, How to Clone is not, as the title suggests, a DIY handbook of illicit science projects. Instead it’s a layman’s guide to modern science, a breezy and painless foray into the universe of cloning,
Your August obituary of astronomer Thomas Gold implied that his oil-abundance theory is off-base, but hasn’t recent research proved otherwise?
In a sadly ironic twist, one of the controversial astronomer’s theories did receive a boost shortly after his death. Gold contended that there are extensive stores of oil far below the Earth’s surface, vestiges from our planet’s formation. Conventional wisdom holds that this is impossible. The intense heat and pressure in the mantle would have eventually converted any oil to molten rock, not to mention that petroleum forms when
living things decompose, and thus would not have been created during the early days of the planet, when life was absent.