01 Jun

Scientists are fascinated by a 2013 find in South Africa. Discovered among a collection of 1,500 human fossils gathered in the area was Homo naledi, a primitive human estimated to have lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago. This puts this species in South Africa not long before Homo sapiens made its first appearance.

Although Homo naledi appears to have had a small brain, it is otherwise human in appearance, including long legs. From their research, scientists were able to determine that Homo naledi likely was a toolmaker, as well as being a good climber. They also found that this particular species likely buried its dead, something that was previously associated with a more modern development. The combination of Homo sapiens-like traits has some experts wondering if man evolved more gradually than previously assumed. Some researchers believe there was a species called Homo helmei that transitioned to the earliest Homo sapiens.

30 May

When a tunnel at the Hanford nuclear finishing facility in Washington state recently collapsed, workers were advised to shelter in place or evacuate. They also were told not to drink or eat anything. The cave-in happened at a plant that is reputed to store nuclear waste -- including uranium and plutonium.

No one knew at the time of the incident whether workers had been exposed to radioactive material. Had they been, however, what would be the likely health hazards?

According to LiveScience, plutonium can hang around the environment, and peoples' bodies, for a very long time. Its half life is 24,000 years, which means that it takes that amount of time for 50% of the substance to decay into something more stable.

28 May

The About This Map pop-up page introduces the Vision Zero Los Angeles project this way: "Every dot on this map represents a person who passed away in a traffic crash — and a person whose family and friends were deeply affected by their tragedy. The City of Los Angeles is committed to working with loved ones who wish to share their story."

The goal of the project, announced by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in January 2017, is to reduce traffic deaths by 20 percent by the end of this year and to eliminate them entirely by the year 2025.

To that end, representatives from Vision Zero have taken to visiting various city neighborhoods. In one case, the stated goal of the Vision Zero visit was "to redefine the norms of public safety to build shared definitions of community safety for South L.A."

26 May

In recent years, wearable fitness trackers have surged in popularity, making it the fastest-growing segment in the running gear market. But the devices have their limitations, starting with the fact that they can only estimate the pace of a person’s activity based on steps and GPS tracking. Added to that is the fact that some consumers have complained about allergic reactions to the materials in the tracker bands themselves.

A team of researchers is currently working on a device called a WiGait, which can monitor the stride of a person using wireless signals. Walking speed is important because studies have shown that those who walk at slower paces are more likely to have poor health, including an increased risk of pulmonary and cardiac diseases.

24 May

The friendly skies may get a little rougher. New research is increasingly connecting climate change to the jet stream, which could have a direct impact on airline travel by the last half of the century. Scientists believe that warmer climates could mean more turbulence for passengers and flight crews, especially along transatlantic routes in the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, those flying from North America to Europe may be in for a bumpy ride.

Experts explain that the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations could directly impact the jet stream that crosses the flight corridor, which would not only mean bumpy rides but an overall increase in the cost of fuel and airplane maintenance. But most concerning is the possibility of an increase in severe turbulence, which goes beyond making passengers uncomfortable or nauseous. Severe turbulence has the power to put its victims in the hospital.

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