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Survey Shows Some Americans Lack Basic Science Knowledge – On Science

February 17, 2014

What too many Americans don’t know about science

Can earwax tell your ethnic history?

An unorthodox cure for norovirus.

And look who’s awake! Coming up today…On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Well, this is just sad. A new survey from the National Science Foundation revealed that, while most Americans like learning about recent scientific advancements, only 74% knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun. But 90% of all US residents see the need for scientific research and think scientists are “helping to solve challenging problems” and are “dedicated people who work for the good of humanity. Researchers that helped with study said that it was “important for Americans to maintain a high regard for science and scientists” because these positive attitudes help to ensure future funding and scientists. I want to know where they found this 26% that didn’t know the Earth revolved around the Sun.

But thanks to public interest in science and continued funding, we get innovations like this. Chemists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that your earwax can tell a lot about you—for instance…where you came from. Their research showed that earwax substances varied between individuals of East Asian origin and Caucasians. Their previous work found that underarm body odors convey a lot of info about a person, like identity and health issues, and now they think earwax can too. They analyzed the release of volatile organic compounds from earwax samples taken from males of both East Asian and Caucasian descent. They found that 12 VOCs were present in all of the men, but that the Caucasians possessed greater amounts of 11 of 12 VOCs than East Asians. They said, “In essence, we could obtain information about a person’s ethnicity simply by looking in his ears.”

And food is probably the last thing you want to hear about after a good earwax story, but here you go. New research from the University of Arizona found that pizza can fight the norovirus, which is marked by vomiting and diarrhea. Yep, there goes my appetite. Carvacrol, the substance found in oregano oil that gives pizza its distinctive smell, breaks down the tough, protective exterior of the norovirus. Researchers think that possibly this weapon carvacrol could be used as a food sanitizer and maybe a surface sanitizer to combat the mostly food-borne virus. And it’s safe, non-corrosive, and won’t produce any dangerous by-products. And because of how it attacks the virus, it’s unlucky that the norovirus will ever build up a resistance to the substance. Oregano oil! Who knew!

And when it comes to scientific innovations, insects seem to be providing a lot of inspiration these days. Engineers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed robots that mimic the behavior of termites. And here I thought termites were just a nuisance. They’re calling their new system TERMES. And like little termite construction workers, the system requires no blueprints or detailed instructions, no crew boss, and no centralized communications director. These autonomous mechanical crew members take cues from each other to know where to place materials. The way the termites use the information around them is a process called stigmergy, which engineers simulated through algorithms for the robots. And what’s the long-term vision for TERMES? Possibly one day constructing structures on Mars.

And space enthusiasts in China are rejoicing today. Like a story right out of a drama, China’s lunar rover came back to life after a threatening problem forced it into hibernation. Immediately before the rover went to sleep, it delivered its own eulogy via China’s version of Twitter saying, “I thought I could hop around here for three months, but if this trip ends prematurely, I’m not afraid.” And ending with “Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans.” Scientists didn’t know if Jade Rabbit would make it through the cold lunar night but low-and-behold the rover awoke from its slumber and posted a simple message saying “Hi, anybody there?” The rover was released onto the moon’s surface on December 15 from China’s Change’e-3 probe. Such a cute story.

And that’s what’s up today On Science. See you tomorrow!



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