About Chris Riley

I'm a middle school science teacher in New Jersey.

Driving rats?!

Yes, rats have been trained to drive.

Not actual cars, but small vehicles in a lab. They can control left, right, and forward. The rats learned to drive to get food. And scientists found that learning to drive seemed to reduce stress.

The ability of rats to drive these cars demonstrates the “neuroplasticity” of their brains, says Lambert. This refers to their ability to respond flexibly to novel challenges. “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think,” she says.

And there are neat videos of rats driving their “cars”.

Here’s another article that includes information on the two groups of rats involved, including that they seemed to enjoy just driving their cars even if there were no treats involved, but only if they lived with many other rats in an enriching environment.

Why is the news always so bad? Because that’s what we pay attention to.

If you’ve noticed that the news system likes to report on things going wrong instead of the nice things that happen, you now have evidence for the reason behind it. Humans pay more attention to bad things than good things. This study is about a world-wide 17 country study on how people react to negative news.

For example, while statistically, we are safer now than in the past, people are more and more afraid of it because the news concentrates on the bad things, not the good things that happen. That just isn’t “news”.

Water on habitable exoplanet?

From Wikipedia:

K2-18b, also known as EPIC 201912552 b, is an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf star K2-18, located 124 light-years (38 pc) away from Earth. The planet, initially discovered through the Kepler Space Observatory, is about eight times the mass of Earth, thus is classified as a super Earth. It has a 33-day orbit within the star’s habitable zone, but it is unlikely to be habitable.

In 2019, two independent research studies, combining data from the Kepler space telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope, concluded that there are significant amounts of water vapour in its atmosphere, a first for a planet in the habitable zone.

So, first exoplanet in a habitable zone with water vapor in the atmosphere! Neat! But it’s around a red dwarf star, and tidally locked. So it’s not likely to be actually habitable by humans. Red dwarfs are small stars that last much longer than our sun. They tend to have too much radiation to let life as we know it evolve. Being tidally locked means the same side of the planet always faces the star, so one side is hot and the other is cold. Life as we know it could probably only live on the circular edge where the star is near the horizon.

Environmental change changing grasslands

Since the first Homo sapiens emerged in Africa 300,000 years ago, grasslands have sustained humans and thousands of other species. Today, those grasslands are shifting. Global change — including climate change, pollution and other widespread environmental alterations — is transforming plant species in grasslands, and not always in the way scientists expected, a new study reveals.

National Science Foundation

Read more here.

Robots with blood?

You have blood. Your dog has blood. Heck, spiders have blood (hint: it’s clear). And now so do robots.

Would you believe that a robotic fish has blood that is used for both hydraulics and energy? Well there is one. It looks like a lion-fish. And using this special blood instead of batteries let it last up to 8 times longer.

You can read lots more about it here, at Nature.

A new human species

Recently, archaeologists in the Philippines found new kinds of human bones. They looked like humans, and were about 67,000 years old. When they compared these bones to the bones of other human species and close relatives, they found that they were similar, but there were some marked differences. Enough differences to call them a different species: homo luzonensis.