Hate to do laundry? Check out this new dress shirt that can go 100 days without getting smelly or wrinkled. It’s the brainchild of Mac Bishop, 24, pictured here wearing his new threads. The secret is in the fibers: They’re wool . . . but not the itchy, scratchy, Grandma’s sweater kind. Bishop and his partners spent six months researching and developing wool fibers that are softer and more durable than cotton. Wool also regulates body temperature, making you feel cooler in summer and warmer in winter. What’s more, wool is better than other textiles at wicking away sweat so it evaporates, preventing bacteria from causing stinky body odors. To prove his point, Bishop wore one of his prototype button-downs for 100 days straight—playing basketball, diving into a lake, and more—without washing or dry cleaning. Afterward, the shirt still looked—and smelled—like new. Bishop and two friends have founded a company called Wool&Prince to make and sell the shirts. A fundraising campaign on Kickstarter went viral and Bishop raised more than $310,000 to get his new company off the ground. At $98 each, the wool shirts have already sold out their first run of pre-orders. Not baaad!
What a wonderful, energetic, and insightful group of 3rd graders at the school I visited last week! On Day 1, we compared fiction and non-fiction and learned about the different ways to READ fiction vs. non-fiction. Often when we read non-fiction, such as newspapers, magazines, and many kinds of non-fiction books, we can skip around on the page and choose the articles or chapters we want to read first. Using Scholastic News, we identified headlines, deks, captions, and body copy. On Day 2, we explored how authors and reporters WRITE non-fiction. We started by asking lots of questions about a sea turtle. Then we discussed the many ways that non-fiction writers do research. We followed up with methods of spicing up our writing (e.g., using “powerful verbs” and the five senses to be more descriptive). Finally, we read one of my favorite articles, “The Great Hawaiian Sea Turtle Rescue,” published in National Geographic Kids. Thanks to the principal, faculty, and terrific moms from the PTO who invited me, and a special thanks to all of the budding writers in the 3rd grade for the warm welcome! To learn more about my author visits, please click here.
Some shocking stats are in from the space rock that struck Siberia suddenly on Friday morning, February 15. According to NASA, when the asteroid entered earth’s atmosphere over Alaska, it had a mass of about 10,000 tons and stretched about 50 feet in diameter. As it streaked across the sky, it traveled at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour. “The fireball was brighter than the sun,” said NASA officials. It exploded with the force of nearly 500 kilotons of TNT, releasing about 30 times the energy of the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima. The shock wave caused windows to shatter 54 miles away in the city of Chelyabinsk. A total of 1,158 people were injured. It was the largest space rock to strike since 1908, when a meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia and flattened an area the size of Tokyo. Apparently, astronomers could not spot the latest space rock before it crash-landed because it came from the same direction as the rising sun. The good news: A rock that size hits earth only once every 100 years (or so NASA says). Fortunately, an even larger, well-tracked asteroid—named 2012 DA14—zipped by 17,200 miles away from earth’s surface just hours after the Russian asteroid hit. So close, but yet so far.
Space Object Glossary: Asteroid: a “small” space rock that orbits the Sun, ranging in size from 33 feet to less than 620 miles; Bolide: Large bright meteor that enters earth’s atmosphere (the Russian meteor was definitely a bolide); Meteor: Bright streak of light caused when a meteoroid enters earth’s atmosphere; Meteorite: The remains of a meteoroid that plunges to earth’s surface; Meteoroid: A small object moving through space, which produces a meteor when it enters earth’s atmosphere. (Source: Amazing-space.stsci.edu; NASA)
When dung beetles spot a pile of poo, they make a small, round ball, climb on top of it, do a little dance, and then roll the yummy morsel away. Now scientists have made a startling discovery: The doo-doo dance isn’t just a random jig. The beetles are moving in circles while looking toward the stars to get their bearings. “This is the first time where we see animals using the Milky Way for orientation,” says biologist and lead researcher Marie Dacke at Lund University in Sweden. The upper part of the beetles’ eyes is specialized to analyze the direction of light polarization (the direction from which light vibrates), Dacke explains. The insects gaze at the sun, moon, and stars to navigate in a straight line away from the poo pile where other beetles may try to steal their meal. The beetles were tested is South Africa under a moonlit sky, a moonless sky, and a cloudy sky. In some trials, they were fitted with cardboard hats that blocked their skyward view. Results: With an obstructed view, the beetles rolled their dung balls around in circles instead of a straight line. Tests were repeated inside a planetarium, presumably without the stomping sneakers of young children. Sure enough, the beetles rolled their dung balls across the arena only when they could track the Milky Way or a star-studded sky. Simply de-lightful!
Based on unusual face markings, primatologists have recently discovered a new species of primate—a slow loris from Borneo called Nycticebus kayan. Slow lorises are good at eluding scientists because they move through forests slowly at night. By comparing photos and museum specimens, scientists found that N. Kayan has unique eye patches that extend below its chin. “None of the other species exhibit that trait in Borneo,” says study co-author Rachel Munds of the University of Missouri in Columbia. But don’t let this cute ball of fluff deceive you: It has a venomous bite! To retrieve its poison, the loris rubs its hands under the glands near its armpits. Then it dabs the poison on its teeth. The loris’s bite could put a person into anaphylactic shock. The loris also may use the poison to catch prey or protect its babies by spreading venom on them before it leaves to forage. Predators might be kept at bay, but the poison isn’t enough to keep away poachers. The illegal pet trade in Borneo has led to the loris’s listing as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The question is: Who would want to own a poisonous primate?
Sue Sperber is a grandmother of eight from Sacramento, CA. Last week, Sue’s rabbi gave a speech about Hurricane Sandy and mentioned a disaster relief organization call Nechama (which means “comfort” in Hebrew). After a stirring speech, most grandmothers might open their checkbooks. Sue went farther, much farther. She hopped on a plane and flew cross-country to New Jersey to volunteer with Nechama’s clean-up effort. My friend Freeda and I met Sue at a Sandy-soaked family health center in Hoboken, NJ. Sue told us that for the past few nights she’s been sleeping on the floor of the JCC in Tenafly, NJ, along with other Nechama volunteers. They came from all over the country—Illinois, West Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, and Massachusetts—to lend a helping hand. There was even a woman named Sandy from New Jersey! Meeting the group in Hoboken, we all worked together, clearing debris, dismantling office equipment, sweeping the floors, ripping up sodden, stinky carpets, and hauling piles of trash to the curb. A group of 11th grade girls from Central High School in Queens, NY, joined in the effort. We tried to salvage waterlogged files and records from Hoboken’s Vital Statistics Office, but in many cases we were too late. Greenish grey, fuzzy mold had enveloped volumes of books marked “Births,” “Marriages,” and “Deaths,” from the early 1900s. Who knows if these precious records can ever be restored? Two weeks and two days after Sandy, there is still so much work to be done. Thanksgiving is just one week away. As we take stock of all of our blessings, please remember to give generously to those who lost so much. The rewards are far greater than the investment. To learn more, visit www.nechama.org. If you can give your time, volunteer. Remember, if Sue can do it, so can you!
Botanists at Duke University are so gaga over Lady Gaga that they named a new genus of ferns—along with 19 species in that genus—for the flamboyant pop star. Kathleen Pryer, professor of biology at Duke and director of the herbarium, said, “We wanted to name this genus for Lady Gaga because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression.” Getting to the root of the matter, Pryer explained that the genus, which grows in Arizona, Texas, Mexico, and Central and South America, “has somewhat fluid definitions of gender.” The plants reproduce by spreading spores that may grow into male, female, or bisexual plants. But the real kicker, a grad student analyzing the plants apparently found the sequence GAGA in the ferns’ DNA. Two sample plant names: Gaga germanotta (Lady Gaga was born Stefani Germanotta) and Gaga monstra-parva (or “little monster,” as Gaga calls her fans). The ferns had no comment.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Vladimir Putin! Earlier this month, the Russian president donned a white bird disguise and piloted an ultra-light aircraft over the Arctic wilderness to lead a small flock of Siberian cranes toward their winter feeding grounds. The stunt was meant to draw attention not only to the publicity-hungry Putin, but also to the plight of the critically endangered cranes. Due to hunting along their migration routes, as well as habitat degradation, Siberian cranes are in rapid decline. An estimated 2,900 to 3,000 live in the wild. Appearing like a rather odd bird himself, Putin demonstrated for the international media the behavioral phenomenon known as imprinting. As very young chicks, the cranes imprint (or bond) with the first figures they see. Raised in captivity, these cranes regard people—dressed in white suits with a beak hood—as “parents” who provide food, shelter, and comfort. Normally, adult cranes teach their young to migrate south to escape Arctic winters. However, when populations are in decline, the inherited knowledge of migration may be lost. That’s where a head of state in a bird suit comes in handy. When Papa Putin took to the skies, six young cranes happily followed him south. (Photo Alexei Druzhinin)
Marine biologists working off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington, have enlisted the help of Tucker, a black Lab mix, to sniff out orca scat and help them track the health of a group of endangered killer whales. Tucker can pick up the scent of whale scat (or poop) in the open ocean up to a mile away. When Tucker catches a whiff of whale scat, he becomes excited and signals where the boat should go. Apparently, whale poop—which floats, smells fishy, and looks like a small, white fluffy plume instead of a large log (in case you were wondering)—can pack a lot of information. For example, it can tell scientists whether the whales are chomping enough of their favorite prey, Chinook salmon, which have been threatened by overfishing. The scat may also contain contaminants such as PCBs and DDT, which washes into rivers and streams and passes through the food chain into the whales’ diet. Stress hormones found in the scat might also indicate if heavy boat traffic from whale-watching cruises is affecting the orcas. Interestingly, schools of salmon have begun hiding under whale-watch boats while the whales are hunting. So it may not be the boats that stress-out the whales, but rather the lack of lunch. This research can help scientists focus their efforts to help the whales. As for Tucker, he’s more focused on his reward: a game of fetch with an orange rubber ball. (Photo: Fred Fellman)
Twelve feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Cancún stands an army of nearly 500 figures. Brains spill out of their skulls. A scaly white crust of barnacles and slimy green algae covers their bodies. Tube-like organisms protrude from their torsos like oozing intestines. What are these monsters? Undersea zombies? Relax and take a deep breath—through your snorkel, that is. These sculptures are part of a deep-sea installation and conservation effort by the artist Jason deCaires Taylor. He hopes to draw divers away from the natural and protected Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest barrier reef system in the world. Sculpted in marine-grade concrete (which won’t cause harm to the fragile ecosystem), many of Taylor’s figures have been modeled after people from the local fishing village. Since Taylor began sinking the statues in 2009, they’ve become overgrown with coral, seaweed, and algae, giving them a macabre appearance. With a chilling twist, fish and sea turtles feed off the people. Purists may argue against altering the undersea environment, but Taylor hopes to raise awareness about protecting our coral reefs—even if it means giving some divers the creeps.