SciTech Briefs

Bard College starts mandatory science program

Aspiring toward well-roundedness, Bard College in New York has instituted a new graduation requirement: a mandatory science class. The liberal arts college’s president, Leon Botstein, created a program called “Citizen Science” in order to diminish the “profound lack of scientific literacy” in non-technically focused Americans. The program is intensive and immersive, requiring six hours of lab daily for three weeks. Bard College aims to combat the United States’ falling academic standards in science and math, which rank it lower than countries like China, South Korea, and France.

Source: The New York Times

Laser pointers negatively affect pilot performance

The Federal Aviation Administration released data on 2,836 reports of lasers being aimed at airplanes in 2010. This poses a great danger to the pilot because the sudden, intense beam of light shone into the dark cockpit can induce temporary blindness or distract pilots. The FAA’s administrator is contemplating a public awareness program, or a ban on lasers if extreme measures are required. Many of the incidents involved lasers that are far more powerful than the law allows, furthering the cause for legislative action.

Source: The New York Times

Betelgeuse approaching supernova

The star Betelgeuse is approaching gravitational collapse. Stars radiate electromagnetic radiation in the form of light and heat by using fuel at their cores, such as the hydrogen in the sun, and performing nuclear fusion. Once a star begins radiating more energy than it produces, its mass decreases and it begins to collapse into itself due to its core’s own gravitational pull. When Betelgeuse collapses, which could occur as early as 2012 or as late as a million years from now, it will explode in a supernova millions of times brighter than the sun, and will create constant daylight on Earth for a few weeks.

Source: Time Magazine

Mexico to begin using iris scans on ID cards

Today Mexico will begin issuing ID cards that include photographs of the cardholder’s iris in order to improve national security. It will be the first country to do so, and its ID cards already contain fingerprint images and other personal data. Critics of the initiative, such as the National Human Rights Commission, worry about the invasion of privacy. The $25 million cost of the proposal includes 28 million minors, and adults will be integrated starting in 2013.

Source: The Telegraph UK

Ancient pterosaur fossil and egg discovered in China

Scientists located a 160-million-year-old pterosaur adult fossil and egg belonging to the Darwinopterus species. This finding is especially significant for revealing the gender of the fossil (female) and thus allowing paleontologists to draw conclusions about physical variations between male and female pterosaurs. Pterosaurs were airborne reptiles that lived concurrently with dinosaurs, but are more closely related to extant reptiles like crocodiles. These animals laid soft-shelled eggs, which were most likely buried in the ground.

Source: The New York Times

Johns Hopkins researcher studies brain activity

Charles Limb of Johns Hopkins University has been studying the brains of rappers engaged in freestyling for over 10 years. When freestyling, the rappers in the study activated their medial prefrontal cortex, which is important in self-expression and individualism. Simultaneously, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreased activity, which led to less self-censoring and planning of actions. The rappers also showed an intensification of visual activity in the brain even when their eyes were closed, possibly signifying a link between the brain’s implementation of sight and a person’s creativity.

Source: Time Magazine

Compiled by
Vivian Chang