Category Archives: Scientific American

Spanish High-Speed Train Crash Offers Safety-System Lessons

The driver of the high-speed train that derailed July 25 at a sharp curve in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, killing at least 80 passengers and injuring 130 more, told controllers he took the curve at around 190 kilometers per hour, despite an 80 kph speed limit. He survived the crash and is now under investigation by local authorities. Even if the driver turns out to have been responsible for speeding, rail passengers might wonder what else had to fail in the safety system to allow one man’s error to harm so many people. Continue reading Spanish High-Speed Train Crash Offers Safety-System Lessons

Faux Fossils

cover_2013-06On its way from flight to fossil, an ancient beetle’s wings lost their color and then their form. Slow-baked and squished by sand, the glittering green wings darkened and turned blue, then indigo, then black.

That tale of an insect’s life, death and fossilization sounds simple enough, but it took paleobiologist Maria McNamara years of painstaking work to piece together. The University of Bristol researcher wanted to know how ancient insects’ warning signals, camouflage and mating displays evolved. Studying ordinary fossils tells only part of the story, since most fossilized insects are black today, probably because they lost their colors while buried underground. Continue reading Faux Fossils

App’d to Fail: Mobile Health Treatments Fail First Full Checkup

Health care via mobile technology is still in its infancy. Of 75 trials in which patients used mobile tech, such as text messaging and downloadable apps, to manage a disease or adopt healthier behaviors, only three showed reliable signs of success, according to a systematic survey. In an accompanying survey of medical personnel who used smart phones and other devices, to help deliver care, the same team found more success: 11 of 42 trials had positive, reliable results. Continue reading App’d to Fail: Mobile Health Treatments Fail First Full Checkup

Blue Bacteria in Bloom

On their own, cyanobacteria are tiny photosynthetic organisms floating in the sea. But when they join forces, linking together into chains and then mats by the millions, they can become a threat. Before long, the bacteria change the color of the sea’s surface and even soften the wind-tossed chop. One study of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, although they are not algae, predicted that rising sea temperatures could help the already widespread creatures expand their territory by more than 10 percent. Now researchers are asking whether mats of cyanobacteria might themselves affect local sea temperatures, thus creating a powerful feedback loop. Continue reading Blue Bacteria in Bloom