Transcript-TWIS.ORG March 17, 2009

Synopsis: Potential Purposes of Prions as inter cell glue, No Snakes In Greenland due to lack of land bridge and cold spell, Insect Memory in Caterpillars, Science Pop-Quiz, Catching The Higgs, Geo-centrism and Global Warming, Japanese Robots on the Catwalk, Dark Matters protecting some galaxies, and the Sand Worms.

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

Depending on your point of view in the life you happen to be living at the moment, the world is either a boring or interesting place. Your day is routine or full of stress. The week ahead planned out are left to chaos, the past year of joyful celebrations or mindless regret.

You have every right to be happily complacent — cannot be faulted if you are restlessly unsatisfied and may even find yourself happily unsatisfied with restless joy amidst the complacent chaos of an interesting routine. With so many ways of being in the world, it seems strange at times that the world we live in is the same one that is lived in by everybody else.

And while your life, your point of view and this moment in time, much like the following hour of our programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

If we pause here, take the snapshot of the world around us and just this moment and consider the billions of other mental still shot picture frames out there, each with their own unique view of the same universe, we may wonder if there is an actual reality beyond the subjective, a truth that is unfiltered by the perspective itself. Don’t be silly. Of course there is and we’ll share it with you here next on This Week in Science, coming up next.

Justin: Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin. How is it going?

Justin: I’m in monotone over here. I’m in mono. And all these head – it’s not the headphones. I’ve gone through three headphones.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: For some reason I’m just not in stereo. Maybe I’ve gone deaf in here I just didn’t notice. Can that happen?

Kirsten: I hope it’s not overwhelming for the entire things. That will mean that our recording for today is only in mono.

Justin: I think it’s a whole station. Maybe half of our tower is down. How it works?

Kirsten: I don’t know. I don’t think that’s how it works.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: No. Welcome everybody. You are listening to another installment, a wonderful installment, full of the luck of the Irish of This Week in Science. Yeah, I just like to give a big shout-out to my peoples.

Justin: Which peoples? I thought you are Norwegian fish something.

Kirsten: An Irish.

Justin: Okay, yeah.

Kirsten: I’m Nor-White, Nor-Irish?

Justin: Nor-Irish.

Kirsten: Nor-Irish. Yeah, my mom is Irish. She is. So anyway, Happy Saint Patty’s Day everybody! We have a great show ahead. Science news, I have stories about insect memory, deadly prions and the search for the Higgs Boson. What do you have?

Justin: Yeah. I’ve got “why Greenland doesn’t have any snakes.”

Kirsten: That’s interesting.

Justin: Why Iceland doesn’t have any snakes? I’ve got why New Zealand doesn’t have any snakes.

Kirsten: Because they’re islands, no?

Justin: That’s part of it. That’s part of it.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: That’s part of it. You have to wait for the story.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Yeah. What is it? Let’s see. More news about how smart we aren’t – Pop-Quiz version of that.

Kirsten: How smart are we? Not.

Justin: How smart aren’t we this way?

Kirsten: Fabulous. In the second half of the show, we’re also going to be announcing this month’s question of the month. So, you’ll have to stay tuned for that.

Justin: What is it?

Kirsten: I’m not telling you until later. This is, the hook that…

Justin: I can’t stand all these secrets. Man, I’m with the show.

Kirsten: If I told you, I would have to kill you.

Justin: This is another problem I’m having. This – I’m holding up a piece of paper here. The audience can’t see it, of course. But it’s – every time I print now, the filename, directory, template, subject, author, keywords, comments, like there’s a cover page, to every document I print of the file that’s just – it makes no – I don’t know why it’s doing this.

Kirsten: If anybody can answer that question.

Justin: Yeah, that’s a great question, like where to turn that off.

Kirsten: Email Justin to let him know how to turn off the cover page-ness of his printing.

Justin: Look at every page. It puts in like the filename and stuff, like all these files and when it was created. When the file was created, how many words and characters? I don’t want that.

Kirsten: Just – it’s either more paper to crumple or scratch paper.

Justin: I just fell off a tree.

Kirsten: Doodling paper.

Justin: Oh, actually that’s a good thing.

Kirsten: I read something recently and it says – that said that doodling is actually better for your concentration and therefore for memory.

Justin: That’s for memory. Yes, absolutely.

Kirsten: Yeah. So even though it seems as though when you’re doodling, you’re not paying any attention, maybe in fact it’s helping you to do better.

Justin: Yeah, as long as you’re in class.

Kirsten: As long…

Justin: Not just, just doodling.

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Justin: I mean…

Kirsten: I’m just drawing pictures of the sky. Big science news today, there is a – what’s wrong with your headphones? They’re giving you (ish), yeah.

Justin: It’s – I’m not in stereo.

Kirsten: You’re like in monotone.

Justin: I’m telling you.

Kirsten: Oh, drat! There is a purpose for the prion.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: The prion, a nice prion, nice little protein fragments that are found in everything from simple yeast to more complex humans but they get sticky and they misfold and they get all bungled up and then they…

Justin: They get all mad cow.

Kirsten: They get all mad cow on you. That’s right. So, scrapie, mad cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakobs Disease, these are all caused by prions. And people have been researching the misfolding of the prions to see, “Okay, how does this misfolding lead to the prion becoming infectious and causing disease?”

It’s a question. Because if can figure that out, then maybe we can figure out, how to stop them from misfolding, how to stop the cascade of events that leads to, neurodegenerative disorders like Creutzfeldt-Jakobs.

I mean, you don’t know when you’re eating tainted deer meat, that one day ten years down the line you’ll suddenly have brain issues.

Justin: Oh, it can be delayed like that?

Kirsten: It’s not right away. It’s usually – well, I don’t know if it’s ten years long. It takes a long time for it to actually find – to get it tough like this.

Justin: Because I know rabies can do that.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Rabies can be dormant for like 20 years and then got you.

Kirsten: Yeah. And it’s not necessarily that it’s dormant. It just takes a long time for the prions to misfold and to attract other prions and misfold them and for it to build up. So, it’s like a build up of damage. And it takes a long time for that to happen. And then it finally gets through a threshold level where your body just as like, “Wow!”

Justin: Yeah. Year one, you forget where your keys are. Year three, you forget your promise.

Kirsten: Muscle problems.

Justin: Year five, you remember where your home is because it’s written down but you can’t walk there.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: You can’t really – okay.

Kirsten: So – but prions, like I said at the very beginning of this, they are found normally in yeast to humans. Just about everything living has prions, multicellular creatures…

Justin: Creatures.

Kirsten: …of prions. Prions are proteins. Prions are not creatures. Prions are not bacteria. Prions are proteins. They are components of the machinery that make up our cells.

But what’s their normal function? Nobody really has known exactly what their real function is. All we know is what happens when they go bad. It’s when good prions go bad. That’s what we know.

We see the end result but we have never been able to take it back to what they actually do in living organisms. And they’re in everything. So, they probably have a fairly important purpose or function because they’re still around — along the evolutionary ladder.

Research out just this last week, published in the PLoS Biology, Public Library of Science Biology. It’s a free journal. You can access online. I will put this article on the website,

Researchers have actually discovered – Dr. Gonzalo Solis, member of the team at the laboratory of Professor Claudia Stuermer. They have actually taken a look at these prion proteins in zebrafish, a little tiny fish.

They were able to create zebrafish that were lacking prion proteins, able to block the gene that would create the normal prions. And then they would say, “Okay, what happens to these zebrafish during development?” Well, the zebrafish did not develop.

Justin: Oh.

Kirsten: Which goes on to say, “Okay, well, they have a pretty important function”

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Something is not going right in the way the cells are developing and organizing themselves. The tissues aren’t getting together right. Something is going madly wrong.

They discovered that the purpose is actually in cell-to-cell adhesion. So, the purpose of the…

Justin: They’re sticky stuff.

Kirsten: The sticky stuff. These prions actually helped the developing cell tissue structure stick to each other and then communicate and be able to create a solid structure.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: We have a phone call.

Justin: You’re so sing-y today.

Kirsten: I know. Sorry.

Justin: Good morning, TWIS Minion. You’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Fred: Hello. My name is Fred Stevenson. I was the person who called in on Square Root Day.

Kirsten: Yes.

Fred: And I sent you an email with my address. I don’t know if that got through though.

Kirsten: I never got it. I was wondering if I was going to hear from you.

Fred: Yeah, sure enough when I got in my truck this morning and I turned on the radio and there you were.

Justin: Did you put TWIS in the subject?

Fred: Huh?

Justin: Did you put TWIS in the subject of the email?

Fred: No. I did not.

Justin: Oh, you got spam filtered.

Fred: I couldn’t find it on the website. So, I just sent it to somebody that’s the administrator or something at the station.

Kirsten: Oh.

Justin: Oh the station. We don’t even know these people. I know no names. If I come here in any shift other than right for the radio show…

Kirsten: People look at him funny.

Justin: …like they don’t know that I belong here.

Fred: Like who are you and maybe we’re going to call security or something.

Justin: Who’s this old guy who’s dressed so unhip, who doesn’t belong in our primitive music radio station.

Fred: Yeah.

Justin: No way. Whose dad is here?

Kirsten: Okay. Email – the email address…

Fred: Oh, hold on. Let me get something to write with.

Kirsten: The email address.

Fred: Something to write on or I could just give it to you now.

Kirsten: No, no. I will…

Fred: Okay, email address.

Kirsten: Email address is

Fred: This week…

Kirsten: …

Justin: And put TWIS in the subject otherwise it goes immediately to a spam filter.

Fred: Okay.

Kirsten: Yes.

Fred: TWIS.

Kirsten: And tell me – and in the email, let me know what size shirt you wore.

Justin: Yeah. That’s a good point.

Fred: Okay. All righty.

Kirsten: Thank you, Fred.

Justin: Thanks.

Fred: Yeah. I forgot to mention what my size was in that email too in all the excitement. It was just, “Oh boy, I got carried away.”

Kirsten: Well, I’m so glad you called. We could take care of all sorts of things.

Fred: Okay. I will get that email on its way. Probably later on today you’ll receive it.

Kirsten: And I will get you a T-shirt.

Fred: I listen as often as I can too and watch out with those disclaimers man. If I’m driving and I’m hearing that disclaimer, I kid you not, I am endanger of doing something that is really unhealthy by being so dead over laughing, with tears in my eyes. You’re something, man.

Justin: Thank you.

Fred: Those disclaimers, they really – they’re a thing on to themselves.

Kirsten: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much.

Fred: That’s really been wonderful.

Kirsten: Have a great day.

Justin: Have a good day, Fred.

Fred: All right, you too.

Kirsten: Bye.

Fred: Thanks.

Kirsten: You’re welcome.

Fred: Bye-bye.

Kirsten: Bye.

Justin: It’s actually really dangerous because I actually did one disclaimer while driving.

Kirsten: That’s right. I remember. That was dangerous.

Justin: It was like the last daylight savings time a year ago.

Kirsten: I actually got one email from someone who blamed us. I mean, it was kind of tongue and cheek humor but he did get in an accident while he was listening to the show, to the disclaimer and he did blame us for causing his accident.

Justin: Oh no.

Kirsten: He said he drove into a ditch.

Justin: Oh no. We have uh-oh, we have the phone. It’s ringing again.

Kirsten: Somebody is saying, “Why are you talking about us?”

Justin: Good morning, TWIS Minion. You’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Michael: Hello. This is Michael from ( May I speak with the person in charge of your Marketing on your website?

Justin: Oh absolutely. That would be me.

Michael: Yes. Well, how are you doing today, Sir?

Justin: I’m doing absolutely great. How are you?

Michael: Same here. How…

Justin: Can I ask you a quick question, because we have a funny connection. Where are you calling from?

Michael: I’m calling from Washington.

Justin: From Washington?

Michael: Yes.

Justin: State or District of?

Michael: Well, the purpose of my call today is because…

Justin: Okay. Thank you very much caller.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Justin: It’s America. It must be Washington. That’s a place in America. I’m very sure of it. I’m very sure Washington is somewhere in America.

Kirsten: What is going on?

Justin: We got the random tone call.

Kirsten: That was amazing.

Justin: Your generic website that has no name, you must be in place of Washington. It’s…

Kirsten: That was very, very…

Justin: The future, we’re not going to be able to use phones pretty soon. Phones are going to be covered in spam.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: Very shortly.

Kirsten: I’m going to talk to the station into getting into Skype because that would just be much better.

Justin: We have so gone off the deep end. All right.

Kirsten: I know. Off the deep end. Anyway…

Justin: Are you still doing prions?

Kirsten: I’m pretty much done with prions. I just wanted to thank the researcher who actually sent me the story because he was one of the researchers, Dr. – let’s see if I can – Dr. Gonzalo Solis. He actually sent me the email about his story. So, I’m assuming that he listens to our program. So hello there Dr. Gonzalo Solis. We like prions.

Justin: We’re pro-prion now. I didn’t even know they have an opinion on…

Kirsten: Go prions!

Justin: All right. Well, it is Saint Patrick’s Day. I’ve got a quick drill down here on Saint Patrick’s missing snakes, legend of Ireland. All right, the legend of Saint Patrick drove the snakes out, put them all on the back of mini van or something and drove them out of Ireland.

Kirsten: Thank you Saint.

Justin: Sometimes back in the 5th century is the story although, unfortunately, aside from maybe the zoo, there are no snakes in Saint Patrick’s Day but they were also not there in the 5th century.

They lived just about everywhere in the world except for – very big exceptions Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, all of Antarctica, snake free.

So the thread that ties the snake to the segments of the world together, they are once – they are all surrounded by water. And the other one- they’re mostly cold, New Zealand isn’t that cold.

New Zealand though has been an island since before snakes even evolved and hasn’t had the major land bridges anywhere.

Kirsten: Which is one of the reasons why they have so many – why New Zealand is thought to have so many flightless birds like the Kiwi.

Justin: No predators.

Kirsten: No predators, yes. Snakes are major predator which is birds don’t therefore nest on the ground as often in areas where there are snakes. It makes it more dangerous.

Justin: I think birds flew there once and they were like, “Oh look, there’s nothing, no predator.”

Kirsten: Nothings going to kill me.

Justin: “I’m staying.” And then they just didn’t fly after while. We’re going to try this again.

Kirsten: Try again. I love no screening call.

Justin: Go fly, they went gone.

Kirsten: Oh God.

Justin: I think you hit the button twice.

Kirsten: I was going to say I love no call screening. I just want to apologize for everyone for that.

Justin: No, I want to apologize for not having – wait, wait, hang on. Okay, so…

Kirsten: So, snakes, New Zealand.

Justin: Yes. Okay, so no snakes in New Zealand. Ireland is a little bit trickier because Ireland has had the land bridges many time to Great Britain and therefore the mainland Europe.

So, they probably have had snakes migrate there in the past. But between ice ages – I mean between the warm periods, they have these ice ages that have had glaciers advance or retreat more than 20 times. It’s a completely which have completely blanketed an ice over Ireland.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: So that no snakes being cold blooded animals just weren’t able to survive.

Kirsten: And unable to get a foot hold in that area.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: How interesting.

Justin: And there have been no land bridges or anything for almost 15,000 years. So, it’s been – there’s actually a couple of snakes species in, according to this, in Scotland but nothing in Ireland.

And Saint Patrick though is credited with vanishing the Pagans which scholars sort of – they’re saying that snakes also symbolize Paganism in the religion, the culture of the time and the thing because they were the symbol of evil. It’s the whole of the apple, the thing, they’re part of the Pagan with the portrait of Paganism from the church’s perspective has taught.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So it could be that the concept of driving the Pagans out or driving Paganism out of Ireland has emerged into this actual snakes being driven out thing which is then celebrated by, you know. So, the celebration of driving out the heat in Pagans is now celebrated by green beer and incredible months of drinking and bad behavior.

Kirsten: It’s perfect.

Justin: Corned beef.

Kirsten: I tell you my peoples. Well, turning from snakes to caterpillars. A story from about – that I wanted to get to last week but did not have the opportunity but is still very interesting and…

Justin: Is this insect memory?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kirsten: This is just fascinating in terms of what is going on to form memories of different sorts and what kind of which organisms of – how much complexity for memories and how are they able to retain them.

And so caterpillars, we know caterpillars go through the metamorphosis, where they change into crystalis. They turn – form a crystalis and they turn into a beautiful moth or butterfly depending on what species they are.

So, these researchers took a look at these instars. So, early larval stage caterpillars and there are number of instars of development. So, these caterpillars grow up to like the fifth instar, for their sixth instar. And then they go through the metamorphosis and then they turn into the moth.

At early, early instar stages they were not able to create some kind of an odor aversion to it that was associated with an electrical shock at an early stage. But then as they got to older, older larval stages they are actually able to form a memory and retain it, past the metamorphosis stage to the stage of being a moth.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: So, even though their body is undergoing complete reorganization, I mean that everything is getting moving around and grow in wings and – I mean, they’re turning into a completely…

Justin: Hair in places they don’t have before.

Kirsten: Turning into a completely different – it looks as though it’s completely different structure.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And if you’ve ever like open up a crystalis, I mean there’s just kind of moosh inside. But it’s very interesting that there is a carry over of the aversion to an electrical shock that’s paired with a specific odor. And the adult moth remembers that specific odor a version…

Justin: From the caterpillar days.

Kirsten: … from the caterpillar stage.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: And they think – they’re pretty sure it does not result from a chemical carry over. So the actual odorant molecules being stuck somehow, stuck to the body or of the insect during the metamorphosis to the moth stage.

They actually think that it had to do with a change in behavior, because they applied odorants. They washed them and they scrub the little caterpillars down. And it didn’t result in any differences. So, it has to do with actually a retaining of memory.

And they think because of the stage, the instar stage, the early larval period in which they were exposed to the electrical shock that correlates to the level of brain development.

So, at the third instar stage, the brain is not developed enough to be able to create this odor of version memories. Whereas by the fifth instar stage, those areas of the caterpillar brain are all put together.

Justin: I’ve got to ask you. Is it catapillar or caterpillar because I kept hearing you saying caterpillar?

Kirsten: Caterpillar.

Justin: Cater?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Er?

Kirsten: Er.

Justin: Is it written that way?

Kirsten: It’s not Cata.

Justin: It’s not catapillar?

Kirsten: Not cata. It’s caterpillar.

Justin: Is it? I don’t know. I’m going to have to go Google it or something because I thought so it was “catapillar”. And I’m hearing cater for the first time. But we’re talking about brains development, memories, Pop-quiz! Pop-quiz!

Kirsten: Oh dear.

Justin: Yes. This is not a real event but an actual test meant to measure Minion’s smartness. Get rid of your number two pencils, any other sharp objects you maybe carrying, they cannot help you now. Remove all fear of failure from your forehead. Release any irrational reservations of reason from your orbital…

Kirsten: Occipital.

Justin: Occipital ridges. Open up your mind to page 17. Prepare to answer the following three questions. Number one, how long does it take for the Earth to revolve around the Sun? Go ahead and answer now out loud.

Number two, did the earliest humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time? Number three, approximately what percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered in water?

If this test seems easy to you, congratulations! You are among the American intellectual elite when it comes to scientific knowledge. The survey was conducted by telephone within United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the California Academy of Science back in December.

A thousand plus adults aged 18 and over were surveyed. While 80% of them agreed that Science education is an absolutely essential and very important, only 53% knew how long it took for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

Only 59% of the adults there knew that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Only 40% of adults can roughly approximate the percentage of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water. The approximation range was 65% to 75%. If you got anywhere in there you are fine.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Only 21% of adults answered all three of those questions correctly.

Kirsten: Say that again. How many?

Justin: Twenty-three percent, 23% could tell you how long it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun, knew that dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist at the same time and could roughly estimate approximate the amount of the earth’s surface covered by water. The numbers – these are numbers are absolutely bleak.

But the reason for the study was so that they could pinpoint the fact that we are in die or need of some basic science-y information for the people so that they aren’t so confused.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Maybe dinosaurs are still alive and maybe they’re covering 70% of the Earth.

Kirsten: There are those – maybe 70% of the Earth is covered with dinosaurs. No, okay, that was not meant to confuse people out there. Yeah, I mean this goes along with a pamphlet that I received.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: That – this is one – it goes right along with this. This pamphlet was sent to me by (Jason) and we’ve been Twittering about this back and forth. He received two. You’re a lucky, lucky person to have received two of this (Jason).

This pamphlet is from and the website in this pamphlet are regarding the fact that they believe that the Bible says that the Earth is the center of the Universe instead of helio-centrism, which is what science now supports that the Sun is the center of our solar system. And we orbit around the Sun that takes 365 ¼ days to get around the Sun. It takes 24 hours for the Earth to spin in one…

Justin: Upon its axis.

Kirsten: …one rotation upon its axis. Now this pamphlet suggests that scientists are wrong and that scientists have been lying to you and that the bible is the only source of information.

And that basically all of – astronomers have, here I quote, “have deliberately ignored fundamental experimental results of the 1870’s and 1880’s that showed the Earth to be standing still.” Now I just suggest anyone go online and…

Justin: Well the (unintelligible) early experiment absolutely can be interpreted that way. That must be what they’re talking about.

Kirsten: Right. But we go online and there were couple of spacecraft that humankind sent out to take pictures of the solar system, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts.

There is a beautiful map that’s been put together by a compilation of images taken by the Voyager spacecrafts, showing – and it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. And you see the Sun and then all the planets kind of in their formation extending outward from the Sun.

And in no way does it suggest that the Earth is the center of the solar system. And you look at it and just like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, we’re going around the Sun.” It’s photographic evidence.

Justin: I don’t know. I don’t know, Kirsten.

Kirsten: And we also have this thing called Math.

Justin: Kirsten, the thing is…

Kirsten: And Trigonometry, Calculus?

Justin: …all things are relative, all things are subjective. I mean what’s the center, what’s going around what? I mean it’s the objects’ relationship to each other.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah.

Justin: Yeah, I think I have a valid point.

Kirsten: I just have to say – I mean everyone is allowed to their own opinion. However, this kind of pamphlet-ry going around does…

Justin: It disturbs you I can tell.

Kirsten: It disturbs me a lot. it’s not scientific in nature.

Justin: Of course not.

Kirsten: It undermines scientific education.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: It makes people who might not necessarily know the difference or might be on the fence not really knowing one way or the other about the information. It will confuse people. And it’s not helpful at all.

Justin: Well, I think people are allowed to believe anything.

Kirsten: Yes. You can believe whatever you – yes.

Justin: The difference is in science we don’t care about believing, it’s all about knowing things. And there’s a very big difference between knowing and believing.

Kirsten: Evidence based, yes.

Justin: And this is a good example.

Kirsten: So, anyway on that note, we need to take a break because we’re getting into the second half of the show. So we will be back in just a few moments. Stay tuned for more This Week in Science.

Kirsten: I love that song. It’s such a fabulous song. Welcome back. This is This Week in Science and we have much more science news ahead. Fermilab has…

Justin: Fermilab is going crazy.

Kirsten: Fermilab is going crazy, yes. They’re just super excited that the LHC is gone offline and they have like more of a chance to do it.

Justin: All right. We’ve got a window of opportunity.

Kirsten: We can do some great work here people. Go! Go! Go! US Department of Energy’s Fermilab has now excluded a very significant fraction of the range of values of mass within which the infamous Higgs Boson is expected to be found.

Earlier experiments predicted that the Higgs particle would have a mass between 114 and 185 giga-electron volts.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Yes. Now the results from their two detectors, they have a CDF detector and the DZero collider detector, these are two different experiments. What’s allowing Fermilab to do some really cool stuff now is they’re taking and compiling data from multiple experiments. So it’s giving them a larger range of values to be able to use, to be able to find stuff.

So we’ve been able to carve out a little tiny section in the middle of this range. And they’ve decided that the Higgs cannot have a mass in between – wait, wait, wait – yeah, it cannot have a mass in between 160 and 170 giga-electron volts. So they’re constraining the value of the Higgs’ mass. Now it’s going to have to weigh more than 114 but no more probably than 160.

Justin: We might need a new segment.

Kirsten: What’s that?

Justin: The Justin’s “This Week in Skeptical Opinion about something science seems really sure about yet I don’t quite understand yet. And so, I’m skeptical of “ segment and needs a good name.

Kirsten: If that’s – I like – I kind of like that.

Justin: We could actually go like a lot of the segments that like something I don’t quite understand, so I’m skeptical about. But…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …I’ve boldly predicted that there was – we were not going to find the Higgs Boson or the graviton.

Kirsten: That’s what you had said.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Very bold because the LHC estimates we’re finding it were between 90%-95% chance of discovering it. Less bold actually because I don’t have any. It’s just my opinion. That’s at stake. I don’t have any scientific credibility that I’m actually way (dreaming) and claiming this.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But I think this is a point from my side. I think narrowing the range of where it could exist maybe is going to make it harder to define and harder to find.

Kirsten: Why?

Justin: I don’t know. It just seems that way.

Kirsten: Harder to find?

Justin: Harder to – yeah.

Kirsten: Well, it’s like, if you’ve got a giant library that you’re looking in, you’ve got this big library letters A through Z and, “Oh man! There are millions of books in this library. Where am I going to find this one book that I want to find?” You have no idea where to start except you think it somewhere between like A and Z.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And then you’re able to, through process of elimination, get rid of R through T.

Justin: Oh, that’s not bad.

Kirsten: Right?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, now anything above you can search now T to Z or A through R. So, it gets rid of a section.

Justin: It narrows down the persons you need to look for.

Kirsten: It narrows it down. Yeah, I mean you still have a very wide range of values in which that book can be living.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: But it makes that search a little bit easier.

Justin: Okay. So…

Kirsten: It’s all about process of elimination.

Justin: I think they’re just narrowing it down to where it’s not going to exist. But – no I see what you’re saying now. Okay, I get it. I get it.

Kirsten: There is that too. And, the Higgs is not necessarily – this graviton that some researches have talked about does not necessarily going – that might not even be a real particle.

Justin: Oh no. It’s one of the most…

Kirsten: The Higgs is one that’s more likely to be a real particle.

Justin: But they call it a field to which – I don’t know. So – what always amazes me is if I – when I go back and I’m learning about Einstein and I’m reading about his stuff, doing it obviously this layman not doing equation stuff. But still it seems as though he keep saying to me that he’s eliminated the need for these particles.

And then I go back and I see all these particles popping up explaining how they’re going to fill in for his theory. And then yeah, and then I’m like looking it LIGO, the laser radar. It’s looking for the gravity waves. Yeah, it’s still looking. Yeah.

Kirsten: It is. LIGO is still looking for gravity waves.

Justin: Yeah. So I don’t know. I think there’s something funky going on. The fact that we’ve come to a theory that seems to have two different directions that it could go in particle or no particle, field or no field, whether it’s a field or a particle or is it a thing. And some of the experimental data showing up…

Kirsten: Oh, I think it’s a combination.

Justin: Some of the experimental data – I mean they just found a top cork. They just isolated it. I think also at Fermilab like a couple of weeks ago. I mean that’s an amazing confirmation of a lot of particle theory. But then gravity waves are a big portion that should be also being shown and that’s not.

Kirsten: And that’s not being shown yet.

Justin: So there’s something – I can’t wait for the bigger Hadron Collider, the Large Hadron Collider.

Kirsten: But then they’re constantly learning about like quantum effects and how particles interact with each other. Super conducting materials have been placed into two categories depending on how they react, how their electromagnetic field reacts at certain temperatures. And so, there’s a type one and a type two.

And there’s one fairly well studied superconductor. They just recently found that, “Oh, now it’s like a middle conductor.” Like it does both type one and type – it has type one and type two properties where they didn’t expect that before. And all of a sudden they look at it in the condition that they hadn’t tried before and “Oh look! It can do both” And so now they’re calling it a type 1.5 conductor.

I think well, maybe it was just like that the whole time and maybe, they’re still working things out. There’s so much in terms of interactions between things even though we have these theories of how things work, so much experimentation yet to be done.

Justin: Yeah. And it also makes me think about superheroes and vampires a little bit.

Kirsten: Whoa!

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: We just went from like the Higgs Boson and gravity waves to superconductors and vampires and superheroes.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: Because these things get invented in popular culture because day-to-day life is looked at as being kind of boring and too pat and too (nosy) to invent these super natural things.

When I’m thinking like the real world is actually got all this unknown myths to it that’s actually way more exciting than somebody with sharp teeth or, somebody who can fly, which always bugged me about superman. But that’s a different story.

Like I understand he is from another planet, maybe could have muscle tissue, could be different, maybe gravity’s different so they’re stronger there. If you’re just was jumping up into the air and then being able to land again far away, that’ll make total sense. Flying thing, it never bothered me even as a kid. It would always bug me.

Kirsten: Speaking of other skeptical issues, researchers recently or they’re just publishing in geophysical letters. I think it was Geophysical Research Letters or something like that.

Anyway these researchers from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee have been doing some statistical analysis of climate processes over the last say 100 years.

Looking at the data, they’ve been able to find that there is a pattern of events within the climate where different facets, different parameters within the climate, say like temperature and humidity or other aspects of the climate itself. They come into alignment or synchronization and they kind of flow together. It’s like waves suddenly working together.

But then one of those forces might get off a little bit. And by shifting, because everything is in synchrony, it shifts the entire system. And so, he and his research associates are postulating that when we see – like the last 30 years of global warming has been one of these synchrony warming events.

And now, over the last say eight years, there’s been another change and another forcing factor is now possibly going to lay us into a cooling period. But people have grabbed on.

There are the climate change skeptics who have jumped on this research and they’re saying, “Look! Global warming was a big lie, it’s not happening. We’re going into global cooling blah, blah, blah, blah.”

But that’s not what they’re saying at all. And I highly suggest that if you have the chance, you take a look at – there’s a blog called “The Loom” written by Carl Zimmer. He’s a fabulous science journalist.

Justin: He’s been on the show a number of times.

Kirsten: He’s been on the show and his blog is on Discover Magazine’s website, And he has a fabulous write-up of the results of the paper. He contacted the researchers and got responses from them personally as to what they thought.

So, the reception – this kind of skeptical reception, the researchers respond. They say, “I was worried that this will happen that this is why we caution in the paper that while climate shifts maybe part of the natural variability of the climate system, they maybe super imposed on an anthropogenic warming trend.

And we also mentioned – we mentioned that also in the MSNBC story and this will be my answer to anyone who asks me. I like to report on Science only if a political organization wants to pick up on what they like in order to pass their point and ignore the real science, there is nothing we can do.”

And so he goes on again to say, “We are describing in this paper what is generally referred to as internal or natural climate variability that is super imposed upon a robust global warming trend at century time scales. If you do not light the halt in global warming is no different than an El Niño, La Niña transition, which also breaks a warming trend. What we are describing is just climate variability that occurs over longer time scales.”

And so, basically they are describing like 30, 40, maybe 20-year long climate shifts that are happening on top of a broader warming trend. So this paper does not go against the idea that climate change is occurring and the world meteorological organization says also that “The long term upper trend of global warming mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions is continuing. Global temperatures in 2008 are expected to be above the long term average.”

The decade from 1998 to 2007 has been the warmest on record and the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74 degrees Celsius since the beginning of the 20th Century.

While important uncertainties remain, the overwhelming global scientific consensus as reflected through the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is now that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming at an increasing rate. And that most of this warming is very probably due to human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning and certain agricultural practices.”

Justin: People will believe what they want. We will go on knowing…

Kirsten: Really?

Justin: …the truth. Little too much burrows in my brain this morning.

Kirsten: Me too. Burrows like sand worm burrows.

Justin: No like William as Copenhagen, Denmark had a conference on climate change recently, looking global risk challenges and things of this nature. Eighty countries, thousands of delegates, lots and lots of researchers, six from preliminary key messages — number one, climactic trends, the observations given a high rate of observed emissions. Worst case IPCC scenario trajectories are being realized and then some.

So, one is that the things are going – it’s the sea level rise, all the parameters of the original report…

Kirsten: Are continuing.

Justin: …that were at the top of that and are probably going to go above even what their popping estimates were for how bad the thing could be.

Number two, social disruption. They were focusing on what can happen, politically, socially to people, the social disruption of living in under this global warming trend. Long-term strategy, they were talking about rapid very sustained effective mitigation based on some coordinated efforts worldwide. They’re calling for serious action.

My favorite part of this though is key message number five, which I would have made number one but, I wasn’t invited to the party. There is no excuse for inaction. Inaction is excusable. That’s the key message number five. Inaction is inexcusable.

We already have many of the tools that we needed, approaches from economic to technological, to behavioral, to managing the problem and dealing effectively with climate change. And basically saying, there is – there’s no excuse not to be doing something on this.

And number six is meeting the challenge actually doing it so.

Kirsten: Yeah. And I think we are to a point where there are enough people who are convinced that it’s better for the environment – generally, it’s better for economies things are — if we move forward with trying to take action rather than waiting to see what will happen. Protect what you have for future generations. It’s such a bad idea.

This Week in World Robot Domination, Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology is making a catwalk debut with the Tokyo fashion show with its She bot. Two hundred thousand dollar robot, it’s all it cost if you want to take her home. She features 30 motors spread throughout her body with an additional eight motors in – should I say…

Justin: Don’t say it. We can’t say it. No, eight motors in it. No.

Kirsten: Should I say it or her.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Its or her face…

Justin: Oh face.

Kirsten: …for expressing general boredom and discussed with the help.

Justin: Oh great. She’s snarky.

Kirsten: This from Engadget.

Justin: She’s a snarky princess button.

Kirsten: Yeah. Its main purpose is to entertain and attract crowds. The name of the robot is HRP-4C. And in its debut, it did not function as planned. Reporters say – report say that the robot “kept looking surprised, opening its mouth and eyes in a stunned expression when the demonstrator had asked it to smile or look angry.” Engadget commented that, “Well, is that such a surprise for her a little?” I don’t know.

But anyway – yeah. Robots, there’s a video of this robot and – I mean while still very robotic in her movements, there are certain aspects of the walk that are disturbingly humanoid.

Justin: Disturbingly.

Kirsten: Disturbingly, if you were to put some clothes on her as opposed to seeing the robot frame, it might be a little disturbing.

Justin: Somebody walking with good posture?

Kirsten: Yeah, a little too human. Robots on the catwalk.

Justin: Hey, did you hear about Peking man?

Kirsten: Peking where?

Justin: Peking man.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: He’s much older than thought. The estimates of Peking man, this is 200,000 year old – it was estimated to be 230,000 to 500,000 year old Chinese mummy. It turns out the site that he was found in had been re-dated and they’ve gone back and checked again and turns out it’s more in the 680,000 to 780,000 miles.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: He got pushed back about 200,000 years.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That’s pretty awesome. Yeah.

Kirsten: There you go carbon dating. Whoa!

Justin: Knowing, knowing, knowing.

Kirsten: Dark matter might matter, might keep us protected from the devastating gravitational forces of other solar systems and galaxies around us.

Justin: Most powerful thing I ever stood still for.

Kirsten: What’s going on with the burrows? I’m not understanding this at all.

Justin: I know. So lack of coffee, it turns me to William Barrows. It just happens. His place becomes unfilterable.

Kirsten: So the Hubble telescope was focused on the nearby Perseus galaxy cluster which is located 250 million light-years away. They discovered a population of galaxies that somehow have survived the devastation of neighboring galaxies being ripped apart.

So, a bunch of galaxies around them have been shredded because they’re pulling on each other and driving through each other. And these little population had stayed intact, quite whole.

And so, they’re wondering why they’ve stayed intact. They’re hypothesizing that these dwarf galaxies have higher – have a very, very large amount of dark matter. That they are dark matter-dominated galaxies because otherwise, if they were going to be disrupted, it would have happened by now, right?

Yeah. So, the observations are in the journal monthly notices of The Royal Astronomical Society. They can’t actually say whether the dark matter content of the dwarf is higher than in the Milky Way galaxy. But they think that they have a significantly higher amount of dark matter in them than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. And that’s what has kept them intact and glued together, kind of exciting.

Justin: I wonder if – is that because we can’t look at our own galaxy quite the same way that we can look at other galaxies far away?

Kirsten: I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not sure about that question.

Justin: It’s a – yeah.

Kirsten: Giant sand worms…

Justin: Giant worms.

Kirsten: …once ruled England. Well, maybe they didn’t. But a researcher possibly has found proof of a giant – the existence of giant worms that lived 260 million years ago in Torbay, Devon, England.

Justin: Like tremor, like.

Kirsten: They’re tremor yeah like Dune. The worms which grew up to three feet long and six inches wide were thought to have lived underground before dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The Geologist Dr. Kevin Page said the discovery of the underground holes is unprecedented in science and represents “life – but not as we know it.” He says also, “It’s really quite extraordinary. Nothing like this has ever been found before. The underground area is peppered with these burrows. There is no supporting evidence to suggest that they were made by creatures we know about, so what we’re looking at is an entirely new life form. It is very, very strange.”

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah. They found the holes but they haven’t found the animals that made them.

Justin: Worms must be sort of difficult. They have seemed so tough tissuey and they won’t live a whole lot in their trails especially after million of years.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s quite an interesting idea. I was looking online. I haven’t actually – aside from a couple of web reports, I haven’t been able to actually track down a scientific presentation of this evidence or I mean it’s just – so, I’m actually still kind of skeptical about it.

Justin: Yeah. It could be something.

Kirsten: It could be. Yeah, this could be somebody trying to pull one over on everybody. It’s just great. Worms like the ones in Dune. I’m excited about it.

Justin: But worms are molls or, I mean it could be say a lot of things.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Burrowing, digging. Do we have time for the question of the month?

Kirsten: Yeah, very quickly. Okay everyone, question of the month is from Steve. Giant insects such as Meganeura, a dragonfly with more than two-foot wing span and maybe giant sand worms, appeared around 300 million years ago. Allegedly insects could grow to these sizes due to the higher oxygen content of the atmosphere at that time. I’ve heard it was around 30% instead of today’s 21%.

How did this increase in oxygen content happen? Could it happen again? And here’s the scary bit. Could anything bring about a decrease in oxygen content? Here, I’m thinking crazy stuff like cutting down all the rainforests, polluting the oceans, other stuff no sane person would ever dream of doing on their own planet.

Justin: Can you imagine if you went to Mars and terra-formed to the planet like figured out a way to make it livable and grow all the stuff there.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And then people started cutting down all the trees. It could just be – no, you don’t understand how hard that was.

Kirsten: You don’t understand. Yes. So, that’s the question of the month. To answer the question of the month, go to And in the left side bar there’s a little button that says “Forums”. Click on “Forums” and if you’re not a member you have to log in to be able to see the question of the month and answer it.

So under question of the month, answer a question, March’s question, question of March.

Justin: Good question.

Kirsten: So, yeah. Answer this question for us people. Riddle me this. And until next week, we’re going to be – I’m trying to get Neil Shubin to be involved in an actual discussion of his book, “The Inner Fish” for TWIS’s book club. And so that’s what I’m working on. And hopefully next week, we will be discussing the book.

And tell us what you think with the answer to the question of the month. And we will also be interviewing next week, Charles Langmuir. He’s a geologist and he has an interesting idea about planetary evolution and humanity’s role on that that we’re going to be talking about, very fun stuff. Thanks for everyone who emailed with questions, comments or stories.

Justin: Yes, thank you for listening to the show. We’re also available via a podcast. If interested in such format, you can visit Click on Subscribe in the TWIS Science Podcast for information on how to subscribe or you can just search for us in iTunes, look for This Week in Science.

Kirsten: For more information on anything you’ve heard here today, Show Notes with links to source articles will be available on our website, We want to hear from you. So, email us or

Justin: Well, they can’t put that in. If you put Justin or Kirsten…

Kirsten: Oh, or

Justin: And put TWIS somewhere, anywhere in the subject line so we can hear your feedback and you won’t get spam filtered.

Kirsten: Well, we will back here next week on KDVS at 8:30am Pacific Time. We hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.

Justin: And if you’ve learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: …it’s all in your head.

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