A North Texas Family Has Sent Roses for Every NASA Space Flight Since 1988

Categories: Science

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NASA
It took more than two years following the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 for NASA to launch its next manned space flight. Shortly before it returned to earth, a bouquet of roses arrived at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"I didn't actually decide to do it until the day the STS-26 mission was to land, and I didn't know that I even could get it done in time," Mark Shelton, who sent the flowers on behalf of his Dallas-area family, later told NASA. "I called information to find a florist near the space center, and then I asked the florist if they could deliver roses to Mission Control. At first they said they couldn't do it ... but then they said they would try. But I had no idea if they actually made it or not."

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Texas A&M Scientists Want the World's Largest Hadron Collider to Encircle Dallas

Categories: Science

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The Higgs boson might have been discovered in Texas, if only.
It's been two decades since Congress killed the Superconducting Super Collider. Had the $11 billion project been completed, it would have become -- and would still be -- the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, and Waxahachie of all places would be the global epicenter of particle physics research.

Instead, the federal government wound up spending $2 billion to build a 14-mile hole beneath Ellis County, and the Higgs boson was discovered several hundred feet below Switzerland.

Scientists, though, have never quite abandoned the ambition that led them to envision the SSC, which explains why a group of them at Texas A&M (plus one from Michigan State University), are suggesting reviving the project as "Higgs Factory," which would be complemented by a 270-kilometer (167.8-mile) hadron collider.

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UT Southwestern Researcher Identifies Gene That Tricks the Body into Healing Like a Fetus

Categories: Science

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UTSW
Somewhere along the way, the purifying imperatives of evolution decided to dial back our bodies' ability to rapidly regenerate tissue. Nobody knows exactly why. It could be because cancer in mammals would grow like wildfire if it didn't. But this ancient property remains in fetuses and infants and diminishes significantly as we age.

Researchers say it may not have to. Dr. Hao Zhu of the Children's Medical Research Institute at UT Southwestern believes the gene Lin28a can be reactivated to enhance tissue regeneration after surgery, serious injury and to combat degenerative disease. "As we age, our tissues get worse and worse at regenerating. They get worse at coming back from injury," Zhu tells Unfair Park. "The curious thing is that the genetics behind this, the biology underlying that principle, is poorly understood. We believe some genes being turned off or on are responsible for that phenomenon."

By triggering Lin28a and the enhanced metabolic state of youth, we may be able to "trick adult tissue into thinking it's younger."

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Report: Conflicts of Interest in UT Study Finding Significantly Lower Fracking Emissions [Updated]

Categories: Biz, Science

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Joshua Doubek
Public Accountability Initiative accuses UT of weaving yet another tangled, conflict-ridden web.
Last time the Public Accountability Initiative put out a report on conflicts of interest it uncovered in a University of Texas fracking study, an independent review panel concluded the school should withdraw it.

Now the nonprofit research group, which explores the nexus of business and government, is back with another report claiming to have identified yet another undisclosed conflict in a UT study that significantly lowers the overall methane leakage from fracking calculated by other researchers.

Just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the paper out of UT's Cockrell School of Engineering said new equipment has reduced methane emissions during completion (when water, fracking fluid and gas rush back to the surface) by some 99 percent. It calculates that the overall methane leakage rate during production is .42 percent -- comparable to recent EPA estimates but far below those found by researchers at Cornell.

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UTA Survey of Barnett Shale Water Wells Finds Contaminant Levels Highest Near Fracking

Categories: Science

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UTA
UTA researchers, from left to right, Brian Fontenot and Kevin Schug.
The question Dr. Kevin Schug set out to answer was refreshingly simple: Does drilling activity in the Barnett Shale contribute to groundwater contamination? There is no shortage of assurances of safety from industry, or claims of mysterious illness from aggrieved landowners and environmental types. So, Schug and a fellow researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington, Dr. Brian Fontenot, decided to let science sort it out in 2011. In a study that is the first of its kind in the Barnett, the researchers tested 100 private water wells in a 13-county area. Some were located at various distances from natural gas wells. Others were completely outside of the Barnett Shale.

They analyzed the groundwater for arsenic, heavy metals and compounds commonly found in the concoction of chemicals, fine sand and water blasted thousands of feet beneath the surface at enormous pressures. Many of these contaminants occur naturally in the Barnett Shale. But on average, they were found in high concentrations in the water wells nearest drilling activity. In the study's active drilling-area, arsenic was detected in 29 water wells at levels exceeding federal limits. "It was clear in times where we found really high arsenic levels, you're up close to a wellhead," Schug tells Unfair Park.

Though the study, published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, identified a correlation, Schug is quick to point out that they haven't singled out a mechanism for what could be causing the contamination. It could be a failure in the casing designed to protect groundwater. Mechanical vibrations might be disturbing particles in neglected water well equipment. Perhaps it's the lowering of the water table by the fracking process.

"I think our biggest conclusion is that more work needs to be done," Schug says.

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Texas Right to Life Pushes More Bunk Science on "Preborn Pain," Calls Observer "Anti-Life"

Categories: Politics, Science

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Elizabeth Graham, Director of Texas Right to Life
Over the past couple months, we've brought you periodic updates on Texas Right to Life's quest to help pass a bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks. They've finally found a sponsor to carry that bill: State Representative Jodie Laubenberg filed the "Preborn Pain Act" this time last week. Texas Right to Life and the bill's other supporters -- including Governor Rick Perry -- make the assertion that fetuses are able to feel pain at 20 weeks.

The thing about that claim is that it's not true (we'll get into the voluminous evidence for that again in a moment). The second thing about that claim is that "fetal pain" legislation --- much like "personhood" legislation that tries to claim that life begins at fertilization -- is part of an ongoing attempt to ban abortion by inches. Which, as Perry keeps saying publicly, is exactly the point: to make abortion "a thing of the past."

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A Texas Geneticist Apparently Invented a Science Journal to Publish Her DNA Proof of Bigfoot

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Melba Ketchum has by now established herself as a voice in the scientific wilderness, proclaiming, loudly and often, that Bigfoot is real.

That role was cemented in November when Dr. Ketchum -- she's a Nacodoches veterinarian-turned DNA researcher -- announced that her "Sasquatch genome study" had found conclusive evidence that the holy grail of cryptozoology not only exists but is actually part human.

The evidence, she claimed, came from a sample of purported Sasquatch hair samples her team put through "extensive" DNA sequencing. The results suggested the creature "is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species."

She immediately called for public officials and law enforcement to acknowledge the "unambiguously modern human maternal ancestry" of the Sasquatch and begin treating it as such. "Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a 'license' to hunt, trap, or kill them."

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UT-Arlington Researchers Have Created the World's Tiniest Wrench, and Think it Can Lead to Deep Space Travel

Categories: Science

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UTA
A smooth human muscle cell, being rotated by a fiber optic wrench.
Samarendra Mohanty has spent the past decade looking for ways to better hold and rotate microscopic objects. It seems the existing techniques are just too big a pain, requiring objects to be visible under a microscope in order to hold or rotate them. That was fine, but was little help to, say, a surgeon or researcher trying to work with a cancer cell inside the human body.

Using a single strand optical fiber, Mohanty was able to develop tweezers that use light to hold a cell in place. It was a useful step, but one that had its limits, since it could only move a microscopic object along a single axis, so Mohanty began brainstorming how it could be improved.

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It's Official: Midlothian is Still Hazardous to Your Health

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Midlothian is not likely to make a list of places you want to move, even one of those made-up Forbes lists. If the hulking smokestacks and the fact that there is a Cement Valley there don't scare you off, then the reports of abnormally high rates of cancer, stillbirths, respiratory problems, and birth defects will. Residents have been complaining about those things for years.

In response, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry set out to see whether the reported health problems might have some connection to the emissions bellowing from the smokestacks.

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Watch Dallas Astronomer's Video of Something Exploding On Jupiter

Categories: Science

George Hall's 10-year-old, high-powered telescope was trained on Jupiter at 6:35 a.m. on Monday when it caught a brief flash of something lighting up Jupiter's surface. Hall didn't actually see the flash -- possibly a meteor impact -- but another amateur astronomer named Don Peterson did, and when Hall checked his telescope, there it was: the first video confirmation of the event. The clip has been making the rounds ever since, even getting a plug from Brian Williams on NBC.

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