Science & Research

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

A group of Boise State University students got glowing reviews after the tool they built for NASA was put through its paces last month.

The tool, known as the Zero Operable Interplanetary Delivery Based Ergonomics Grabber, is called Zoidberg 2.0 for short. Zoidberg is a character on the cartoon Futurama.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Mercury is passing between the Earth and the sun Monday, an event known as a planet transit. It’s an event important to scientists that anyone with a special telescope can watch.

The Physics department at Boise State University is setting up filtered telescopes to watch the event.

Professor Brian Jackson says during the transit, the Earth will be in Mercury’s shadow.

McClure Center / Data U.S. Census

Idaho is becoming more diverse because of its increasing Hispanic population. The state has a smaller proportion of Hispanics than the nation as a whole, but that gap is closing.  Most Hispanics in Idaho were born in the U.S. Those are some of the findings of a recent report from the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy.

Dan and Dennis Robbins / via Boise National Weather Service Facebook page

In the world of crazy awesome natural phenomenon, snow doughnuts rank up there.

Also called "snow rollers," the cylindrical snow shapes form when conditions are just right. According to the National Weather Service in Boise, the elements came together just right a couple weeks ago in central Idaho. The frosty shapes stand out on the landscape.

USGS

The Environmental Protection Agency says when sediment gets into waterways, it can be a big problem. The deposits can be contaminated with pollutants we put in the environment, and then those pollutants get in rivers and streams.

Molly Wood hopes to figure out better ways to deal with that issue. Wood is a soil scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Boise. She was recently promoted to oversee the direction of sediment science on a national level.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Even though the Obama administration decided not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act in September, University of Idaho professor Karen Launchbaugh knows the issue is not going away.

"Idaho Microbes"

They’re in craft beer made in McCall, mountain streams in the Idaho back country and dairy farms near Twin Falls. Microbes are all over the state of Idaho and they’re the focus of a new book on the tiny, single-celled organisms.

The book “Idaho Microbes” takes readers on a journey around the state to learn how different microbes affect day-to-day life in Idaho.

Idaho author Steve Stuebner teamed up with Boise State University scientists to write the book. He says it looks at microbes that everyone in Idaho needs to know about.

Curtesy of Ann Kennedy / USDA

Ann Kennedy’s bacterial compound is called ACK55, and it has been shown to cut the amount of cheatgrass in half in just a few years.

The Department of Agriculture soil scientist is getting closer to seeing her discovery registered with the EPA, and is giving state and federal land managers hope in the battle against the invasive weed. Once it gets approved, farmers can begin using it to treat cheatgrass on their land.

Jeremy Brooks / Flickr

AAA Idaho says check your trunk – you may not have a spare tire. A relatively new trend by car manufacturers leaves the spare and the jack by the roadside, as it were, in an effort to get better gas mileage.

Over the last ten years, car makers have been getting rid of the 30-pound spare tire to help meet tougher federal fuel standards. A new study by AAA says more than one in three cars being made today simply don't have a spare.

The Meeting Place North / Flickr

A Boise State professor is looking into whether an organic diet makes people healthier, and she’s crowdfunding to help pay for her research.

“This is a pretty new way, as far as I can tell, to raise research dollars,” says Cynthia Curl, an Assistant Professor of Community and Environmental Health at the university. She wants to find out if eating organic food has measurable health effects.

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

A local astronomer has made his crowdfunding goal and Boise will soon have an observatory again.

Gail Patricelli / University of California Davis

When it comes to understanding the biology of greater sage grouse, the male birds get most of the attention.

Boise State Public Radio

A man was severely burned and his two dogs were killed last week in a hot spring in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Normally, Panther Creek hot spring is very hot, but comfortable enough for outdoor soaking enthusiasts. But now, forest managers say the water has gotten much hotter (possibly at or near boiling) and they are urging users to be cautious.

Inciweb

Forest Service researchers are taking a closer look at how wildfire smoke impacts the people most exposed to it. A five-year study will monitor the carbon monoxide levels of firefighters around the country.

Wikimedia commons

 The eastern Idaho resident who wasn’t sure anyone would even bid on his 1988 Nobel Prize medal has seen his prize sell for $765,000.

Wikimedia commons

Renowned physicist and Idaho resident Leon Lederman is selling his Nobel Prize medal. Lederman has contributed significantly to science’s understanding of subatomic particles, including neutrinos and quarks.

Lederman jokes he's selling his medal to buy an airplane. 

Barry Crabtree / Flickr Creative Commons

During a talk he gave in Oxford, England in 2013, environmentalist and writer Mark Lynas apologized to the very audience he used to demonize: companies and scientists that work with genetically modified foods.

"As an environmentalist and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a health and nutritious diet of their choosing," Lynas told the crowd, "I could not have chosen a more counterproductive path and I now regret it completely."

Idaho National Laboratory

Idaho is one step closer to being a leader in geothermal energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced five states that will have the chance to compete for the opportunity to build a geothermal research lab, including Oregon and Nevada. In this first research phase out of three, Idaho will split $2 million with the four other states.

MaurizioPesce / Flickr Creative Commons

People standing above the epicenter of a large earthquake will feel the ground shaking before people on the periphery of the quake. The same can be said of their smartphones.

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey are trying to figure out whether smartphones might be used to give earthquake warnings.

Ben Brooks, with the USGS, says if a computer was checking for simultaneous movement of a large number of smartphones, it could give people on the periphery of a quake a 10-or-20-second warning.
He says that's enough time to stop a surgeon from starting an operation.

Jeffrey Johnson / Boise State University

Jeffrey Johnson got quite a wakeup call this week. The assistant professor of geosciences at Boise State University is working in Pucon, Chile on a Fulbright grant to study volcanoes. He was just ten miles away when the Villarrica volcano had a large eruption Tuesday morning.

Johnson's work includes listening to low frequency sounds that volcanoes make. Here’s the low-frequency sound his sensors recorded during this week's eruption; the sound is normally too low for us to hear, so it's been sped up:

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