Wed, 04/25/2018 - 6:05pm

NC Science Now Reporter's blog

The Big C

The Big 'C.'

The 'C' word. 

These code words for cancer are enough to send a chill up your spine. Utter the entire word 'cancer' and you will likely make someone stop in his or her tracks.

A Big Byte

Bits and bytes are terms that are used constantly when talking about computers. And there’s good reason, because the words describe data and disc space, or disc storage space, as well as the memory in a computer system. But just what do they describe? Here’s a quick lesson, but hold on — your brain might explode.

Driving the Fight or Flight Response

There’s no doubt that human behavior has evolved over time. What worked for humans as hunter-gatherers or nomads tens of thousands of years ago may not be quite as helpful trying to navigate city life today. But while behaviors may be adapted to changing times, scientists say the psychological, biological and physiological roots of those behaviors never completely go away.

It is the close connection between movement and hearing that Duke researchers are studying. That connection helps drive the behavior response system known as “fight or flight.” 

The Great Bird Count

North Carolina plays a vital role in the life of dozens of species of migratory waterfowl in North America. But to find out just how well we are playing that important role, researchers have to count the birds.

Take, for example, the eastern population of tundra swans.

The birds get their name — tundra swan — from their home. Amazingly, the birds fly across the continent, from the tundras of Alaska and Western Canada, to spend the winter in North Carolina. The birds begin arriving in late October and stay through the middle of February.

Salamanders and Climate Change

I think it’s safe to say we all got a good chuckle when researchers reported that flatulent cattle were a problem in terms of climate change.

The image of gassy cows stuck in everybody’s mind, even though the smelly number is real (the livestock industry emits about 14.5% of human-associated greenhouse gases).

But now it’s time to turn our climate change spotlight from large cows to tiny salamanders. That’s because it turns out that salamanders also play a role in the global carbon cycle — but in a good way.

Cherokee 101

Cherokee has been spoken for thousands of years. However, during most of that time, it was never written down. There simply wasn’t a need to do it.

The Cherokee syllabary, with symbols based on letters from the Latin alphabet, was developed between 1808 and 1824. Unlike the traditional languages and alphabets to which we are accustomed, those symbols represent syllables, not just letters.

This is hello written in the Cherokee syllabary:

Training Cadaver Dogs

It turns out that students in the forensic sciences aren’t alone using Western Carolina University’s Forensic Osteology Research Station. The outdoor human decomposition research facility is also used to train cadaver dogs and their handlers.

That may sound unusual at first, because it would seem that a search dog simply follows its nose to do its job. But it turns out a search dog needs to be taught what it is searching for and human remains contain a wide variety of volatile compounds that the canine nose can detect.

Watershed Woes

What’s a watershed anyway?

Watersheds come in many shapes and sizes. That’s because Mother Nature doesn’t recognize city, county, state or national boundaries. It’s the geography and the contours of the land that determine where the water drains.

And that’s the key to understanding the concept of a watershed. A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that is above ground and even below ground drains into the same place.

Putting The Blue in Blue Ridge Mountains

What makes the Blue Ridge Mountains blue?

Before we even talk about the color, let’s first talk about the name, the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Technically, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a segment of the Appalachian Mountains. The Blue Ridge runs about 615 miles, from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, through parts of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia. 

Hard Truth About Impervious Surfaces

Here’s a little science observation for you.

Look out the window the next time it rains. Spend a few minutes looking at the streets and the parking lots. Watch all the water flowing into the storm drain.

Now look at the grass. You’ll have a tough time spotting any water flowing out of there. Now you can understand the challenges facing scientists as they study the health of tidal creeks in North Carolina. The amount of stormwater runoff has a tremendous effect on water quality. 

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