October 31, 2013

Citizen Science And The Zombie Apocalypse – Halloween Special – On Science

Could a zombie apocalypse be in our midst?

Citizen scientists are getting creepy.

Is there a storm in store for trick-or-treaters?

And what lies hidden in the woods? It’s positively sci-creepy today, On Science!

Hello and welcome to a very creepy, crawly, On Science. I am your mad scientist, Emerald Robinson.

So you think the zombie apocalypse is nothing more than stuff movies are made of. Think there’s no reason to have your zombie blasting kit on hand? Think again. RedOrbit got the exclusive from two microbiologists that a zombie virus could become reality. Ever heard of rabies? They said rabies literally turns you into the walking dead. It reprograms you to bite other people to spread the disease. Symptoms include hallucinations, paralysis, agitation, hyper salivation, difficulty swallowing—and the most common—a fear of bright lights and water. So maybe zombies aren’t totally the stuff of science fiction—but now you’re prepared—just grab a flashlight and a bucket of water.

But what will save us from ZomBees? [ scary music ] A collaboration between two San Francisco universities and the Natural History Museum in LA have created ZomBeewatch. The goal is to learn where North American bees are being parasitized by Zombie Flies. These infected honeybees exhibit “zombie-like” behavior leaving their hives at night on a “flight of the dead.” Then fly larvae eat the insides of the bee, maggots pupate, then emerge as adult flies. Citizen scientists are called to action to collect these dead bees, label them, take photos, see if the pupae emerge, and submit all your data to the ZomBee Watch site. Creepy and crawly more your treat? Explorit’s Computer Science Project wants you to take pictures of spiders in your area and submit them online for a database to find out where spiders are living to understand how climate change is impacting the creatures. Ooohhh… makes my skin crawl!

[ Bats flying out ] Ahhh… where did all these bats come from? How did they find us? They’re hunting us using echolocation like whales! A new study from Aarhus University and the University of Southern Denmark reveals that biosonar of toothed whales and bats are similar despite their obvious differences. But how? The answer is the theory of convergent evolution—when almost identical features or developments happen in different species. Despite their immense difference in size, the team found that toothed whales and bats produce echolocation frequencies in the same range. Since bats and their prey are small, the bat produces sound at a high frequency with short wavelengths; the whale must also produce high frequency sound since its emissions are slowed when traveling through water. So it balances out, giving the bat and the whale the same abilities with their echolocation.

And there’s an unearthly storm brewing this All Hallow’s Eve. The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a statement that this Halloween, Earth could experience a “G1 Minor Geomagnetic Storm.” Due to this week’s solar activity, it could disrupt radio signals, GPS, and some electronic systems. And it wouldn’t be a first for trick-or-treaters. On Halloween in 2003, a similar nightmare occurred. On that night, exactly 10 years ago, the largest geomagnetic storm in 50 years hit Earth creating green phantom “northern lights” as far south as Texas and Florida and affected systems from here to the International Space Station. [ signal strength low ] It’s happening. [ signal clears ] I think we’re safe…for now.

Let’s run for the woods! But not the Redwoods for they hold ghosts of climate change past. A study from the University of Washington is using a new method for analyzing the California redwood trees’ oxygen and carbon content to detect fog and rainfall from the past 50 years. Redwoods are not good for tree ring dating because their rings don’t develop as well as other trees. But the new method looks at molecules captured in the wood to sample the atmosphere of the past. By analyzing the proportion of different molecules in the wood from each season they can measure the contribution of fog and rain. They can then tell the particular combination of the two that occurred during a given time which reveals information about long-term ocean change, which will help better distinguish between natural and human-caused climate change. Which is scarier—humans or Mother Nature? You tell me.

And that’s all for our Halloween edition of On Science… See for all the things that go bump in the night there’s usually a scientific explanation… or is there?

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