Science

Idaho Ed News

Idaho students topped the national average in a 2015 standardized science test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tested fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in science — and on Thursday morning, NAEP released state results for fourth and eighth grades. NAEP tests are not given in all schools in Idaho or elsewhere, but are instead administered to a sample of U.S. schools.

The Idaho highlights:

Brad Smith / Flickr Creative Commons

Ross Winton has been spending a lot of time lately catching butterflies in south-central Idaho and putting tiny stickers on their wings. That’s so they can be identified by scientists who see them in other places. But Winton, a biologist with Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game, thinks now the last of them may have moved out of state for the season. Winton is part of a regional monarch butterfly study. He says scientists know in great detail where a monarch born in upstate New York or Michigan or Northern California will travel in its life.   

ESO/M. Kornmesser

Late last month, scientists announced they had found an Earth-like planet around a nearby star. Faraway planets, known as exoplanets, have been found before but this one is relatively close to our sun and is in what’s called the habitable zone around its own star. A researcher from Washington says that means it could be in a position to support life.

Ian Robertson / Boise State University

A small, flowering plant that grows only in southwest Idaho is about to go back on the Endangered Species List. Slickspot Peppergrass has been there before, in 2009, but its status as “threatened” was challenged by Governor Butch Otter.

After years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to put it back on the list next month.

Slickspot Peppergrass is a hairy green plant with white flowers, and is found in just a few areas of southwest Idaho.

Zoo Boise

Teenagers volunteering at Zoo Boise are helping to try and save one of the world’s most endangered mammals.

The teens are using an information booth to raise money for the Saola - a forest mammal that lives in Vietnam. The animal rocked the scientific world when, in 1992, scientists first discovered what turned out to be not just a brand new species, but a whole new genus.

These antelope-type creatures have two long curing horns on their heads and white spots on their faces. They are remarkably shy and gentle, and have never been seen alive in the wild by scientists.

Dr. Clinton Shock

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Tuesday will visit the sagebrush burned in last year’s massive Soda Fire in southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon. The Bureau of Land Management is working to recover the area, but a group of private scientists are concerned about the way the recovery is being handled. Specifically, that the agency is hurrying through the recovery without following its own concepts for adaptive management. The BLM though, says the project is being handled correctly.

Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. But as Artificial Intelligence continues to advance, we should ask ourselves: Can we coexist with computers whose intelligence dwarfs our own?

In his book, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,” James Barrat peers into the future to explore the perils of developing super intelligent machines. And he extends a heartfelt invitation to join what he calls “the most important conversation humanity can have.”

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.

Lauren Parker and John Abatzoglou / University of Idaho

You can’t grow oranges in Idaho because the winters are too cold. To get slightly more technical it’s the wrong cold-hardiness zone for citrus. Scientists have known for some time that those zones will shift with climate change. Now a new study from University of Idaho researchers predicts bigger shifts than previously thought and that could mean big changes in what crops are grown in which parts of the country.

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.

"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.

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.

Alan Krakauer / Flickr

This week, we’ve been bringing you our Saving the Sage Grouse series. These reports range across the West and take an in depth look at the bird and its future.

Last year, the University of Idaho McClure Center took a look at the role of science in how the state was working to conserve the bird. A panel of Idahoans talked about how science has not only helped, but also challenged their thinking about the bird.

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.

This interview was first broadcast in January of 2015.

Everyone knows how to gain physical strength – go the gym, lift weights, do calisthenics, or engage in other muscle-building activities. 

But what about gaining mental acuity? Is it possible to increase intelligence, and if so, how?

Dan Hurley explores this question in his book; Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power.

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