Giant Jim Morrison lizard and climate change
June 5th, 2013
04:39 AM ET

Giant Jim Morrison lizard and climate change

By Ben Brumfield, CNN

To get through the long, tedious hours sitting in the fossil archives at the University of California-Berkeley, Jason Head would listen to the hypnotic sounds of The Doors.

So when he happened upon one of the biggest lizards that ever walked on land, he found it fitting to name it after the band's frontman, Jim Morrison - the original Lizard King.

But that's not what makes this find interesting. It's what the existence of the "Bearded King Morrison" tells us about the effects of climate change that's intriguing.

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Filed under: Climate • Discoveries • Global Warming • News • On Earth • Science Seat
Sex is doctor's life's work
June 3rd, 2013
06:35 AM ET

Sex is doctor's life's work

Dr. Irwin Goldstein isn't squeamish about describing operations on private parts. He remembers, for instance, that he performed his first penile implant on a patient in 1976. "I just did one yesterday," he added.

Goldstein, 63, director of San Diego Sexual Medicine and director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital, has had a long career providing medical help to those with sexual problems. He has worked on understanding the physiology of the male erection, and has played key roles in the development of drugs for both male and female sexual dysfunction.

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Art comes from science
May 17th, 2013
06:32 PM ET

When art comes from science

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Sometimes technical science experiments lead to amazingly beautiful imagery. Princeton University's annual Art of Science competition collects some tantalizing examples of the intersection between science and art.

Click through the gallery to see some of the contenders.

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Filed under: Science Seat
May 17th, 2013
09:53 AM ET

A Nobel Prize with help from sea slugs

By Edythe McNamee and Jacque Wilson, CNN

Neuroscientists love Aplysia. They are a type of sea slug that grows to be about a foot long. With only 20,000 nerve cells - compared with about 100 billion found in the human brain - Aplysia are the perfect lab animals for brain researchers hoping to isolate a crucial connection.

Plus, "they're just attractive to look at," says Dr. Eric Kandel, a biochemistry and biophysics professor at Columbia University.

Kandel won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with Aplysia - or more specifically, for his work on the biological mechanisms of memory storage.

For decades, Kandel has studied how we create short-term and long-term memories at the molecular level. His work has shown what genes are changed during the learning process, how these genes are altered and how the changes contribute to the growth of new connections in the brain.

CNN spoke with Kandel about his research and why he's fascinated by the human brain. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity:

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Filed under: On Earth • Science Seat
Science Seat: Saving the birds
The California condor is a rare and endangered species.
May 3rd, 2013
11:37 AM ET

Science Seat: Saving the birds

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the 10th installment.

By Matthew Rehbein, CNN

For more than 30 years, Susan Haig’s mission has been to ensure that endangered bird species don’t become extinct.

Haig’s professional achievements are beyond impressive:  She is a supervisory research wildlife ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, a full-time professor at Oregon State University and president of the American Ornithologists’ Union, the largest professional society of ornithologists in the world.

Her current work seeks to find the best methods to preserve specific bird populations — often, populations that are endangered — with a combination of lab-based genetic research and field-based behavioral study. She also examines the effects of climate change and other environmental stressors on water birds and the places they live.

Haig’s efforts to reintroduce the California condor in the Pacific Northwest are detailed in her upcoming book “The California Condor in the Pacific Northwest,” which she cowrote with Jesse D’Elia, one of her Ph.D. students. The book comes out next month.

CNN Light Years caught up with Haig last week to talk about how we protect endangered species — especially in the face of climate change — and even how we might one day bring some back from extinction. Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

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Science Seat: Living in space for 159 days
Cady Coleman poses with Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, aboard in the International Space Station in 2011.
April 26th, 2013
05:36 PM ET

Science Seat: Living in space for 159 days

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the ninth installment.

NASA astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman has logged more than 4,330 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station.

Coleman was a flight engineer on a Russian Soyuz rocket that took her to the space station in December 2010, and came back to Earth in May 2011, having spent 159 days in space. CNN followed her on this journey - called Expedition 26/27 - to get ready for the expedition, and showed segments every month of what life was like for her and her family in the year before the launch.

This month, CNN Light Years caught up with Coleman to reflect on her spaceflight experiences. Here is an edited transcript.

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Filed under: In Space • Science Seat • Voices
April 12th, 2013
12:05 PM ET

Science Seat: Where morals come from

By Kelly Murray, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the eighth installment.

Being nice to others and cooperating with them aren't uniquely human traits. Frans de Waal, director of Emory University's Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia, studies how our close primate relatives also demonstrate behaviors suggestive of a sense of morality.

De Waal recently published a book called "The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates," which synthesizes evidence that there are biological roots in human fairness, and explores what that means for the role of religion in human societies. CNN's Kelly Murray recently spoke with De Waal about the book.

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Science Seat: Another Earth called a certainty
An illustration shows a possible planet outside our solar system. The Milky Way is thought to have at least 100 billion planets.
March 22nd, 2013
02:03 PM ET

Science Seat: Another Earth called a certainty

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the seventh installment.

Sara Seager is a professor of physics and planetary science at MIT. She works on exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun.

Seager considers herself a pioneer and risk taker. She worked on exoplanets before it was considered cool, when people thought the field would go nowhere. Time magazine named Seager one of the 25 most influential in space in 2012, and she recently appeared in a CNN gallery of top women scientists.

MIT's Sara Seager studies exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun.

CNN Light Years recently chatted with Seager about her work. Here is an edited transcript:

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Filed under: In Space • Kepler • Science Seat • Voices
Science Seat: You could have been a furry beast
Humans were once covered in hair, just like chimpanzees, anthropologists say.
March 15th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Science Seat: You could have been a furry beast

By Kelly Murray, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many areas of scientific exploration. This is the sixth installment.

As primates, humans were once furry, much like the modern chimpanzee.  But when, and why, did we lose this fur and become "naked"?

Nina Jablonski, professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, studies primate evolution with an emphasis on human skin. Among numerous academic publications, she also wrote the book, "Skin: A Natural History."

CNN Light Years spoke with Jablonski about the evolution of human skin, from furry to naked.  Here is an edited transcript:

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Science Seat: How to make a planet
An artist's conception of a disk of dust and gas surrounding a young star. Such disks are the birthplaces of planets.
March 8th, 2013
07:30 AM ET

Science Seat: How to make a planet

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the fifth installment.

Sarah Dodson-Robinson is an assistant professor in the astronomy department at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a member of the American Astronomical Society and recently won the organization's Annie Jump Cannon Award for her work exploring how planets form.

Dodson-Robinson says she enjoys discovering new things and coming up with new pieces of knowledge, no matter how small. She describes it as a “wonderful feeling.”

CNN Light Years recently chatted with Dodson-Robinson about her research. Here is an edited transcript:

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