Profile: The Conversation - Science

Academic rigor, journalistic flair

The Conversation US launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.
We aim to help rebuild trust in journalism. All authors and editors sign up to our Editorial Charter. All contributors must abide by our Community Standards policy. We only allow authors to write on a subject on which they have proven expertise, which they must disclose alongside their article. Authors’ funding and potential conflicts of interest must also be disclosed. Failure to do so carries a risk of being banned from contributing to the site.

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NoteStreams By The Conversation - Science

The Super Blue Blood Full Moon

During the early hours of Jan. 31, there will be a full moon, a total lunar eclipse, a blue moon and a supermoon – all at the same time. None of these things is really all that unusual by itself. What is rare is that they’re happening all together on one day.
Look up at the super blue blood full moon – here’s what you’ll see and why.
Post by Shannon Schmoll, Director, Abrams Planetarium, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University
Cover image by NASA Goddard, CC BY
The Conversation
CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Science

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Maryam Mirzakhani was a Role Model for More Than Just Mathematics

On July 14, Maryam Mirzakhani, Stanford professor of mathematics and the only female winner of the prestigious Fields Medal in Mathematics, died at the age of 40.
The grief was especially hard-hitting for a generation of younger academics like me who have always held Maryam as a role model whose example is helping redefine women’s status in science and especially mathematics.
Post by Mehrdokht Pournader, Lecturer in Operations Management and Organizational Behavior, Macquarie Graduate School of Management
The Conversation
CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Science

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How Forensic Science can Unlock the Mysteries of Human Evolution

The newest research has extended forensic science’s reach from the present into prehistory.
The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Science

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Before Nobels: Gifts Were Early Science’s Currency

Gifts from patrons offered a crucial means of support, yet they came with many strings attached.
The Conversation
CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: History

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Why Do We Fall for Fake News?

Unless we understand the psychology of online news consumption, we won’t be able to find a cure for what The New York Times calls a “digital virus.”
The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Social Awareness

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How Many Genes Does It Take to Make a Person?

It’s time to rethink the question of how the complexity of an organism is reflected in its genome.
The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Science

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Cage-Free Sounds Good, But Does it Mean a Better Life for Chickens?

What is a good life for an egg-laying hen?

The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Sustainability

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Turning Diamonds’ Defects Into Long-Term 3-D Data Storage

On the atomic level, these crystals are extremely orderly – but sometimes defects arise. We’re exploiting these defects as a possible way to store information in three dimensions. Siddharth Dhomkar explains.
The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Science

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The Next Frontier in Medical Sensing: Threads Coated in Nanomaterials

In my engineering lab at Tufts University, we asked ourselves whether we could make sensors that could be seamlessly embedded in body tissue or organs – and yet could communicate to monitors outside the body in real time.
The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Science

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Why We Like to Laugh at Things that Go Bump in the Night

While this might seem an unlikely choice in the fictional world of film, from the perspective of religious traditions and folklore it might make much sense.
The Conversation
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Science

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How Do Food Manufacturers Set Food Dates?

Many Americans look at "use-by" and "best before" dates, but have no idea what those labels are actually saying.

Category: Health

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Does Using a Period in a Text Make You Sound Insincere?

The period is merely one example of a way language changes with new communication methods.

Category: Lifestyle

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Cinema Classics: 5 Best Science and Technology Films

Here are some of the greatest triumphs of cinema’s fertile engagement with science and technology.

Category: Arts

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Can Being A Good Storyteller Lead To Love?

As psychologists and experts in narrative persuasion, we wondered: how might stories influence the course of a romantic relationship?

Category: Self Discovery

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Using Lasers to Make Data Storage Faster than Ever

As we use more and more data every year, where will we have room to store it all?

Category: Science

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The Mystery Of The 'Meow' Solved By A New Talking Cat Collar?

How good are people at interpreting a cat’s meow?

Category: Lifestyle

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Are the High-Rolling Quants of Horse Racing Friends or Foes?

From Wall Street to politics, quantitative analysts (or quants) are revolutionizing much of the world. Nowadays, that even includes horse racing.

Category: Science

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‘Skin Orgasms’ From Listening to Music?

Listening to emotionally moving music is the most common trigger of frisson, but some feel it while looking at beautiful artwork, watching a particularly moving scene in a movie or having physical contact with another person.

Category: Science

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Why Public Health Scholars Should Study Pornography

I am a public health researcher and teacher, and have conducted several studies on adolescent pornography use. Personally, I do think pornography is a public health issue; it has implications for sexual and reproductive health promotion, and violence prevention.

Category: Social Awareness

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Are Robots Taking Out Jobs?

Automation, driven by technological progress, has been increasing inexorably for the past several decades.

Category: Social Awareness

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How Cults Exploit Psychological Urges

The new Hulu TV series “The Path” – described by Time as the streaming service’s “best show yet” – centers on a cult-like faith, Meyerism, whose adherents seek fulfillment under the guidance of their leader, Cal.

Category: Social Awareness

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How to Capture the Violent Tumult of Our Universe

We now know that the night sky is a seething, bubbling tableau. Look up, and unseen by your eye a vast number of stars are erupting, exploding or being torn apart. How can the universe be so tumultuous, when it seems so peaceful?

Category: Science

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Octopuses Are Super-Smart: Are They Conscious?

Inky the wild octopus has escaped from the New Zealand National Aquarium. Apparently, he made it out of a small opening in his tank, and suction cup prints indicate he found his way to a drain pipe that emptied to the ocean.

Category: Nature

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Can We Feed the World and Stop Deforestation?

We deforest an area the size of Panama every single year. Across the world, food is the number one cause of deforestation, especially our taste for meat.

Category: Lifestyle

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What Protects Study Subjects in Genetic Research?

On February 25, the White House hosted a forum on the National Institute of Health’s Precision Medicine Initiative. This is an ambitious research study that aims to develop targeted drugs and treatments that would vary from individual to individual.

Category: Science

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The Biomechanics of Riding a Bicycle

Humans have been riding bicycle-like machines for close to 200 years, beginning with the Draisine or “velocipede” in 1817.
While riding and balancing a bicycle can seem simple and effortless, the actual control process used by a human rider is still somewhat of a mystery. Using mathematical equations, researchers have explained how a bicycle without a rider can balance itself and have identified the bicycle design features critical for that to happen.

Category: Science

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Can Apple Meet The FBI’s Demand Without Creating A ‘Backdoor’?

The San Bernardino terrorist suspect Syed Rizwan Farook used an iPhone 5c, which is now in the possession of the FBI. The iPhone is locked. The FBI wants Apple to help unlock it, presumably so they can glean additional evidence or information about other possible attacks. Apple has declined, and appears to ready to defy a court order. Its response is due February 26. So what’s the technology they’re fighting over?

Category: Social Awareness

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Pi Pops Up Where You Don’t Expect It

Pi Day - the day we celebrate the famous number: π.. Why do we care? π. crops up in all sorts of places - take a look at some of them here!
The Conversation, (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Category: Science

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Building A Mirror For The World’s Biggest Telescopes

When astronomers point their telescopes up at the sky to see distant supernovae or quasars, they’re collecting light that’s traveled millions or even billions of light-years through space. Even huge and powerful energy sources in the cosmos are unimaginably tiny and faint when we view them from such a distance. In order to learn about galaxies as they were forming soon after the Big Bang, and about nearby but much smaller and fainter objects, astronomers need more powerful telescopes.

Category: Science

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Solving the Digital Economy’s Biggest Problem

At a time of global economic insecurity, an insightful commentator identified the existential threat that technology poses to work.

Category: Business

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The Internet Still Depends on Undersea Cables

Recently a New York Times article on Russian submarine activity near undersea communications cables dredged up Cold War politics and generated widespread recognition of the submerged systems we all depend upon.
Not many people realize that undersea cables transport nearly 100% of transoceanic data traffic. These lines are laid on the very bottom of the ocean floor. They’re about as thick as a garden hose and carry the world’s internet, phone calls and even TV transmissions between continents at the speed of light. A single cable can carry tens of terabits of information per second.

Category: Social Awareness

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Five Things Climate Scientists Disagree About

With the Paris climate conference taking place, we should be prepared for dissenters to pull out a few hoary old chestnuts to try to undermine the process. “Climate science isn’t settled” is a particular favourite, still repeated by various Republican presidential candidates as an excuse for inaction on global warming.

Category: Social Awareness

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US and Europe: Different Laws on GMO

There is a myth that circulates on both sides of the Atlantic: Americans accepted genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food supply without question, while the more precautionary Europeans rejected them. But GMOs went through a period of significant controversy in the US during the early years starting in the 1980s.

Category: Social Awareness

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What Happens To Your Brain When Pregnant?

It’s a common claim that pregnancy makes you forgetful. But does “pregnancy brain” actually exist? There’s no doubt that many changes happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy, but how do these changes affect – or originate in – the brain?

Category: Science

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Teaching How To Think Is Important

A new paper on teaching critical thinking skills in science has pointed out, yet again, the value of giving students experiences that go beyond simple recall or learned procedures.

Category: For Teachers

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How To Support Kids In Learning More Than 1 Language

There is little doubt that knowing more than one language carries tremendous advantages.
Young bilinguals are known to be flexible thinkers and better problem solvers. They have a competitive edge in the labor market, with those fluent in English along with another language showing higher earnings.

Category: For Teachers

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How Volkswagen Got Caught Cheating Emissions Tests by a Clean Air NGO

Volkswagen has set aside €6.5 billion to cover the costs of the growing scandal over cheating on emissions tests in the US. Putting a number on the cost further down the line will be far harder, however, as it is a crisis which calls into question the ethical credentials of the company and the industry, as well as posing tough questions about the regulators and authorities who were duped.

Category: Social Awareness

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If You Think Your Emails are Private, Think Again

When you type up a racy email to a loved one, do you consider the details private? Most of us would probably say yes, even though such messages often end up filtered through intelligence agencies and service providers. On the other hand, as the digital world becomes more personalized, consumers have begun to accept, appreciate and apparently request relevant connections between their online behavior and displayed advertisements.

Category: Business

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Life’s Not Fair! Why Do We Assume it is?

Income inequality in America has been growing rapidly, and is expected to increase. While the widening wealth gap is a hot topic in the media and on the campaign trail, there’s quite a disconnect between the perceptions of economists and those of the general public.

Category: Social Awareness

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Why Americans Obsess With Pumpkin Spice Everything

It was a humid, sticky 32°C when I made a quick trip to the grocery store in shorts and a tank top earlier this week. Despite the heat, however, the store clearly wanted me to think it was the fall season – and for us Americans, that means pumpkin spice.

Category: Science

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Migrant or Refugee? Why the Word Matters

Across Europe, a debate is raging about how to describe the thousands of people escaping war and turmoil in their own countries and making the journey to safer places. Are they refugees or migrants?

Category: Social Awareness

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Do Sex and Violence Actually Sell?

Conventional wisdom has long held that sex sells in advertising. Advertisers often use sexual ads under the assumption that they attract attention and, therefore, are an effective way to promote products and services. Many continue to pursue this strategy for brands ranging from intimate wear (Victoria’s Secret) to fast food (such as Carl’s Jr).

Category: Business

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Fossil Suggests Plant Bloomed Underwater was Among First Flowering Plants

A recent discovery and analysis of fossilized plants has opened up the discussion of the nature and relationships of these early plants. First found in the lithographic limestone being mined in the Pyrenees Mountains over 100 years ago, these fossils, with their strange sprawling stems, were little understood. Some thought they were mosses, some considered them to be conifers, but few recognized the fossils as flowering plants.

Category: Science

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The Most Influential Scientist You Never Heard Of

Gaze at Alexander Von Humboldt’s 1814 self-portrait and you peer into the eyes of a man who sought to see and understand everything. By this point in his life, at age 45, Humboldt had tutored himself in every branch of science, spent more than five years on a 6,000 mile scientific trek through South America, pioneered new methods for the graphical display of information, set a world mountain climbing record that stood for 30 years and established himself as one of the world’s most famous scientists, having helped to define many of today’s natural sciences.

Category: Science

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Why Volcanoes Erupt

Some people believe volcanic eruptions are caused by fate. Others believe a volcanic eruption is a sign that a mountain is upset because residents living nearby have sinned. But science has another explanation. Volcanoes are channels that transfer underground molten rock called magma from Earth’s crust up to Earth’s surface. These channels have shapes like cones, shields or calderas. Beneath a volcano lies a magma chamber, a reservoir of a single large body of molten rock. It is increased magma movement within a volcano that causes an eruption. These movements are triggered by different processes that happen below, inside, and above the magma chamber.

Category: Science

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What is Behind the Magic of Sesame Street?

What is it about the long-time favorite television show, Sesame Street that has allowed it to influence generations of viewers? A recent study by economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip B Levine concluded that children who watched Sesame Street in the 1970s fared better in school than peers who did not tune in to the iconic program.

Category: Science

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Mathematics, Spaghetti Alla Carbonara & You

I’ve come to believe that mathematics, as an investigative science, as a practical discipline and as a creative art, shares many characteristics with cookery. It’s not just spaghetti alla carbonara, it’s the whole business of inventing dishes and preparing them. It’s an analogy with many parts, and it has consequences. To introduce myself: I’m a professional mathematician, an amateur cook and an enthusiastic eater. The ideas in this essay are distilled from years of formal reasoning, mad culinary experiments and adventurous meals.

Category: Science

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The Science Of Fireworks

While large firework displays have become even more more popular over the past ten years or so, most of the chemistry behind these exuberant displays has been known for centuries. Marrying this with modern digital technology provides the fiery choreography of our celebrations.
The school chemistry lesson of “flame colours” provides the clue to how fireworks can provide a range of hues!

Category: Science

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Don’t Freak if You Can’t Solve a Viral Math Problem

It’s been quite a year for mathematics problems on the internet. In the last few months, three questions have been online everywhere, causing consternation and head-scratching and blowing the minds of adults worldwide as examples of what kids are expected to know these days. As a mathematician, I suppose I should subscribe to the “no such thing as bad publicity” theory, except that problems of this ilk a) usually aren’t that difficult once you get the trick, b) sometimes aren’t even math problems and c) fuel the defeatist “I’m not good at math” fire that pervades American culture. The inability to solve such a problem quickly is certainly not indicative of a person’s overall math skill, nor should it prompt a crisis of confidence about the state of American math aptitude.

Category: Science

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Does Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Show How Memory Works?

Disney/Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, tells the story of 11-year-old Riley and her difficulty dealing with a family move to San Francisco. The film is getting a lot of attention for its depiction of emotion and memory.

Category: Science

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Mt St Helens: Where Were You When It Blew?

Without checking your calendar, can you remember where you were at 8:30 a.m. April 24, 2015? Some of you might, but more will likely have to think hard to remember. In contrast, if you ask someone who lived in the Pacific Northwest 35 years ago where they were at 8:32 am on May 18, 1980, they will tell you exactly what they were doing without hesitation. Momentous events like the massive explosive eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington state live in the memory of those who experience them forever. The volcano and its surrounding landscape were forever changed, as was our understanding of how volcanoes work and the hazards associated with explosive eruptions. The eruption claimed 57 human lives and caused $2.7 billion in damages.

Category: Science

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John Nash: Beautiful Mind & Exquisite Mathematics

John Nash, mathematician and Nobel laureate in economics, died in a taxi accident on May 23; he was 86. His wife, Alicia, was with him and also did not survive the crash. The Nashes were on their way home to Princeton from Norway, where John was honored as a recipient (along with Louis Nirenberg) of this year’s Abel Prize in mathematics. Thanks to A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar’s chronicle of Nash’s life, and its film adaptation starring Russell Crowe, Nash was one of the few mathematicians well known outside the halls of academia. The general public may remember the story of Nash’s mental illness and eventual recovery from paranoid schizophrenia. But Nash’s influence goes far beyond the Hollywood version of his biography. His colleagues count his mathematical innovations, particularly on noncooperative games (the work that would earn him his Nobel Prize), among the great economic ideas of the 20th century.

Category: Science

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CA’s Water Paradox: Why Enough Isn't

These days, it seems everyone is looking for a silver bullet solution to California’s drought. Some advocate increasing supply through more storage, desalination or water reuse. Others propose controlling demand through conservation or restriction of water use by urban and agricultural users. Rarely do proponents of these single solutions seem to fully appreciate the complexity of California’s water situation. The fact is that in this large and semi-arid state, water is intimately tied to every aspect of life. Over time, we have consistently increased supplies while reducing demands to support a growing population and higher levels of agricultural commodity production.

Category: Nature

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Brain & Music: Evidence for Musical Dyslexia

Music education in the western world often emphasizes musical literacy, the ability to read musical notation fluently. But this is not always an easy task – even for professional musicians. Which raises the question: Is there such a thing as musical dyslexia? Dyslexia is a learning disability that occurs when the brain is unable to process written words, even when the person has had proper training in reading. Researchers debate the underlying causes and treatments, but the predominant theory is that people with dyslexia have a problem with phonological processing – the ability to see a symbol (a letter or a phoneme) and relate it to speech sounds. Dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, but it is thought to occur in up to 10% of the population.

Category: Music

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Flashbulb Memories: Why So Vivid?

It isn’t surprising that many Bostonians have vivid memories of the 2013 Marathon bombing, or that many New Yorkers have very clear memories about where they were and what they were doing on 9/11. But many individuals who were not onsite for these attacks, or not even in Boston on April 15, 2013 or in New York on September 1,1 2001 also have vivid memories of how they learned about these events. Why would people who were not immediately or directly affected have such a long-lasting sense of knowing exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news?

Category: Science

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How Do You Measure Sea Level, Anyway?

There are about 330 million cubic miles of water in the world oceans today, 97% of all the water on the planet. Early in our planet’s 4.5 billion year history, water from the atmosphere and from the interior of the Earth gradually collected in the low areas on the planet’s surface to form the ocean basins, accumulating salts along the way.
The level of the ocean around the Earth, and therefore the location of the shoreline, are directly related to the total amount of water in the oceans, and also closely tied to climate. As climate changes, so does sea level.

Category: Science

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What It Took To Launch The Hubble Telescope

Iconic images of astronomical pillars of gas and dust, views of galaxies soon after they were formed, an accelerating universe driven by Dark Energy… “give us more!” say the public and the taxpayers. The Hubble Space Telescope is undoubtedly one of the most popular science projects today. It was not always thus. With its origins dating back to a time when almost all astronomers used photographic plates to record images at ground-based telescopes, the idea of an ambitious and expensive observatory in space was not a popular one.

Category: Science

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Hubble Ringside At The Death Of A Star

During its impressive 25 years the Hubble Space Telescopehas captured numerous remarkable views of the universe, providing astronomers with a wealth of data for making astounding discoveries. Of all the beautiful astronomical objects observed by Hubble one of the most awe-inspiring is the massive, dying star V838 Moncerotis.

Category: Science

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Security and the Internet of Things

An ever-increasing number of our consumer electronics are internet-connected. We’re living at the dawn of the age of the Internet of Things. Appliances ranging from light switches and door locks, to cars and medical devices boast connectivity in addition to basic functionality. The convenience can’t be beat. But what are the security and privacy implications?

Category: Science

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