Science and Technology

Under the Microscope: Missouri Researchers Push for Beetle Rollout

May 7, 2015
Jacob Grace

Wearing latex gloves and digging through a sloppy patch of cow poop on his farm in central Missouri, farmer Ralph Voss spotted his target.

“Okay, here we go!” he said excitedly, plucking out a shiny insect the size of a sunflower seed – a dung beetle.

Despite their disgusting homes, dung beetles are worth searching for – it has been estimated that they save U.S. farmers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Some researchers suggest that they could be worth even more, and are searching for new species meant to maximize that value.

 


In an ambitious bid to move beyond the electric car market, Tesla has announced that it will start selling large batteries to let homeowners store electricity. The Powerwall home battery starts at $3,000.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the new batteries Thursday night, in a move that had been both highly anticipated and the subject of much speculation. With a sleek surface and a depth of only about 7 inches, the Powerwall can be mounted on a garage wall or another surface, indoors or outside. It's roughly 4 feet high and 3 feet wide.

The Pillars of Creation are arguably the most iconic image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Here's what they look like — in images captured in 1995 and 2014.

At hundreds of libraries across the U.S., 3-D printers can sometimes be heard whirring in the background, part of an effort to encourage interest in the new technology and foster DIY "maker spaces."

In some libraries, officials have begun to set restrictions on the 3-D printers amid concerns about how they'll be used.

At the University City Public Library in St. Louis, Patrick Wall recently printed a green plastic sword from the game Minecraft.

The Apple Watch is making quite a splash with its launch Friday, but most of us have never thought about this new gadget, the "smart watch." Is it a luxury item, or is the smart watch destined to be the next great essential, something we don't know we'll need but will.

Under the Microscope: MU Researcher Experiments with Switchgrass for Biofuel

Apr 2, 2015
Brianna Schroer

Veterinarian Lynn Steele grows switchgrass on his farm to feed his hundred head of cattle.  He favors the wild-growing grass over other commercial feeds because it’s cheap.

“Even when the price is high [for switchgrass], it’s 4, 5, 6 dollars a pound for seed,” Steele said. “Indian grass and Big Blue Stem 12 and 15 dollars a pound. You get quite a bit of investment there.”

Daniel Swann is exactly the type of person the National Security Agency would love to have working for it. The 22-year-old is a fourth-year concurrent bachelor's-master's student at Johns Hopkins University with a bright future in cybersecurity.

And growing up in Annapolis, Md., not far from the NSA's headquarters, Swann thought he might work at the agency, which intercepts phone calls, emails and other so-called "signals intelligence" from U.S. adversaries.

Under The Microscope: Frank Booth and the 'Exercise Apex.'

Mar 30, 2015
Rachel Zamzow

MU Exercise Physiology Professor Frank Booth doesn’t just talk the talk on exercise. He runs the run. His regiment, when it allows, is to jump on treadmill in his office — yes, in his office — twice a day for high-intensity interval training.   

Booth also regularly runs the 1.3-mile route from his home to his office, using his car only for big errands like trips to the grocery store.

And sometimes, his dog –  a lab-boxer mix named Run — yes, Run — comes along for the jog.

But Booth’s hobby is indiscernible from his work life. His main goal through his research is to inform people of the true danger of not getting enough exercise. And in the early 2000's he coined a term in for this very risk: sedentary death syndrome.  


As you’ve probably heard, a well-respected group of World Health Organization scientists said glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s wildly popular Roundup herbicide and its generic cousins, is probably capable of causing cancer in humans.

People who struggle with suicidal thoughts will often reach out to friends and family first. But when our social circle lives online these days, the biggest social media networks grapple with how to intervene and with getting users the right kind of help.

Facebook is the latest social media network to roll out support resources for suicide prevention. The company is now trying to combat suicide by doing what it does best — connecting friends.

Véronique LaCapra / St. Louis Public Radio

  Throughout 2015, the City of Columbia has made strident efforts to overhaul its trash services. While most of the focus has been put on the potential “what if’s” of switching from the city’s current curbside pick-up system to an automated roll-cart service, there has also been discussion about how to raise the city’s diversion rate, or the amount of trash that the city throws away that doesn’t end up in landfills. However, some citizens are still asking for more  — to move to a more seamless single-stream recycling system like they have in Saint Louis.


Dan / FLICKR

MU will install a dual-polarization Doppler radar as part of the five-year Missouri Transect project, which is funded by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The new radar will improve the precision of weather forecasts for mid-Missouri residents.

John Walker, MU curators’ professor of biological sciences, is the principal investigator of the project. He said the project’s original goal was to answer the question of how climate change affects plant productivity, both in native ecosystems and agricultural systems. Walker said the dual-polarization radar will help answer this question by providing more complete data, closer to the ground. Unlike traditional Doppler radars, dual-polarization scans vertically as well as horizontally, proving a three-dimensional image of weather systems. 

George Dante fell in love with taxidermy as a young child. His parents took him to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and he couldn't tear his eyes away from the dioramas in the Hall of African Mammals.

Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Pippa Hull sits on her mother’s lap across the kitchen table in their Parkville home. She is an outgoing and talkative seven-year-old girl, who just happens to have a rare and severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Pippa’s mother, Megan, said this form of epilepsy is characterized by its lack of response to treatments.

Hull said they have tried different medications, they have had a VNS or Vagus Nerve Stimulation device implanted in Pippa’s chest, and they have even tried a special diet to try and reduce the number of seizures Pippa experiences.

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed its long-awaited rules for commercial drone flights in US airspace. If approved, they could open up the sky in the St. Louis area for a variety of unmanned aircraft.

This week, the photo editing software Adobe Photoshop turned 25 years old. The program is an industry juggernaut — so famous that the word "Photoshop" has come to be synonymous with image manipulation.

But when the software started, says co-creator Thomas Knoll, it was a personal project. He and his brother John started working on the program in the late 1980s.

Drone above a field
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

On this week's edition of Under the Microscope, we'll be taking a look at the new drone flight regulations proposed by  The Federal Aviation Administration. While the rules may limit some commercial potential for drones to be used in package delivery and pipeline inspection, many other industries are finding the new technology to be extremely lucrative, especially agricultural ones.  Harvest Public Media's Luke Runyon explores how the potential guidelines could "usher in a new era of farm machinery."


Drone above a field
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A highly anticipated batch of federal laws governing the use of drones could change the regulatory landscape and lead to an explosion in drone use by farmers.

Farmers see drones as a way to get a birds-eye view of their fields to find problem patches with crops. That information can allow farmers to be more precise with fertilizers and pesticides and, ultimately, save them money. But getting them in the sky without running afoul of federal regulation is proving to be a challenge.


Restaurant servers are three times more likely to receive below-poverty-line pay than the rest of the U.S. workforce. Yet in a world where shoppers fret over cage-free eggs and organic vegetables, how many are also asking how much their favorite restaurant pays its staff?

A couple of listeners wrote to Morning Edition on Thursday with the same idea.

"Did anyone notice that shortly after reporting on the difficulty of tracking airliners in flight, you aired a story about a gentleman in West Virginia who was able to work with Google to track fishing boats in real time?" wrote Paul Douglas from Simsbury, Conn.

Conservation agents finish up overseeding a plot at the Prairie Fork Conservation Area outside of Williamsburg, Missouri.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Landscape diversity in Missouri has changed since its settlement in the 18th century. Where there was once prairies, forests and savannahs, in many cases there are now towns, cities and farms.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is working to remedy this problem by restoring prairies to “pre-settlement standards.” These standards include no non-native plant species and plants from within a 50 mile radius of the prairie.


On a mountaintop in Chile, excavators have just started work on a construction site. It will soon be home to a powerful new telescope that will have a good shot at finding the mysterious Planet X, if it exists.

"Planet X is kind of a catchall name given to any speculation about an unseen companion orbiting the sun," says Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State University.

Waze, the popular navigation app boasting more than 50 million users worldwide, has a new critic: police officers. Over the past few weeks, law enforcement officials have been urging the app and its owner, Google, to disable a feature that allows users to report when they've spotted a police officer, in real time, for all other Waze users to see.

Sergio Kopelev, a reserve sheriff in Orange County, Calif., is one of the law enforcement officials behind the push to remove Waze's police tracker. He says he first discovered the feature through his family.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) has moved the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to disaster. It now stands at three minutes before midnight.

The BAS was created in 1945 by the scientists who had participated in the Manhattan Project, developing the atomic bomb. They came up with the Doomsday Clock in 1947, after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, to alert the public to the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Midnight represents a global catastrophe.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. 

There’s evidence that different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine and hope that its chemical compounds could hold keys to treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy. 

 


Lonesome George was a celebrity tortoise. Millions of humans made the pilgrimage to see him while he lived, and his death was international news.

Why?

Outer space
Sweetie187 / Flickr

  What if we could design a camera that could take a hundred billion pictures a second ― enough to record the fastest phenomena in the universe.

Sam Lin / KBIA

Missouri and Kansas transportation officials have suspended installations of a guardrail system over concerns about its safety. 

Missouri Department of Transportation

The Missouri Department of Transportation is using a nearly $1 million federal grant to apply a surface treatment that is designed to reduce stopping distance and loss of control.

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