Ozone Layer on the mend, due to the chemical ban

Since it’s discovery in 1985, the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic has been a testament to humankind’s detrimental effects on the environment. Now however, there is cause to be hopeful. Atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Susan Solomon is surprised to report the gap is shrinking, “I didn’t think it would be this early.”

The study led by Solomon was published online by Science, it explains the deterioration of the ozone is original due to the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): chlorine contacting chemicals that built up in the atmosphere through aerosol cans and various other human made products. Scientists identifying the problem lobbied for the Montreal Protocol of 1987, an international agreement to phase out the use of the harmful chemicals.

With the combined use of satellite measurements, ground based instruments and weather balloons Solomon and her team determined that since 2000 the hole has shrunk by 4 million square kilometres.

Paul Newman, who runs NASA’s Arctic Ozone Watch website is sceptical of Solomon’s findings.  Attributing the reduction of chlorine and bromine as the only factor in the ozone layer mending does not seem plausible to him. Instead citing the shifting climate as a major factor contributing to at least 50% of why the hole is shrinking.

Solomon has some vested interest in the studies outcome as she led the initial study in 1986 that identified the stratospheric clouds as chlorine reaction sites and the status reports following the Montreal Protocol. She remains optimistic, “The fact that we’ve made a global choice to do something different and the planet has responded to out choice can’t help but be uplifting,” she says.

According to Solomon’s predictions the hole in the ozone will not close completely until 2050 at the earliest.

Video cameras give insight into tool use among New Calendonian crows

Ecologists from the University of St Andrews in the UK were able to observe and record the tool-assisted foraging behaviour among New Caledonian (NC) crows in the wild.

NC crows are the only non-human species known to create hooked tools to extract embedded prey in the wild. Little is known on how the tools are made and used due to the shy nature of these species. This study was the first to help obtain the amount of time NC crows spend foraging with and without tools.

Miniature video cameras were attached to 19 wild crows. The footage of 10 birds was recovered and analyzed after about a week.

The study published in the journal Biology Letters states: “across all 10 birds, it was estimated that tool-related behaviour occurred in 3% of total observation time, and accounted for 19% of all foraging behaviour,”

Footage from the University of St Andrews on the New Caledonian crow’s Behaviour.

The recordings revealed the birds made the hooked tool by snapping off the twig just above and below a branching node. The crow then stripped the bark and leaves from the longer, thinner branch and created a hook at the node.

This research will further help ecologists determine the reason behind this little understood behaviour of NC crows.

However, due to short recording periods, the study cannot determine if individual crows are similar in their reliance on tool-assisted foraging.

Previously observed tool use behaviour of the New Caledonian Crow in lab setting.

Pluto’s frozen wonderland like never seen before

NASA has released its sharpest images of Pluto’s frozen wonderland to date. The photos taken from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured resolutions between 250 to 280 feet per pixel – meaning the images reveal areas smaller than half a city block.

The super high-resolution images of the dwarf planet were taken during New Horizons July flyby.

The above video is composed of the images captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its July flyby.

The photos captured an 80 kilometre wide strip starting at Pluto’s horizon as seen from the spacecraft, to the shoreline of an icy plain known as Sputnik.

“These close-up images, showing the diversity of terrain on Pluto, demonstrate the power of our robotic planetary explorers to return intriguing data to scientists back here on planet Earth,” said John Grunsfeld in a statement, former astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Image: Pluto’s ‘Badlands’ showing how erosion and faulting have sculpted this icy crust into rugged badlands on Pluto’s surface. Courtesy of: NASA.

The images were captured with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.

Image: Pluto’s Layered Craters and Icy Plains. Courtesy of: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

It took previous spacecrafts decades to capture images at this resolution of Venus and Mars, but took New Horizons only less than five months to capture images at this sharpness of Pluto.

Scientists expect more images of the icy terrain over the next several days.

A new study says use of high-potency cannabis damages a key part of the brain – causing psychosis

A study published online in Psychological Medicine looked at the effects of skunk – a potent form of cannabis with stronger smell and containing higher levels of the main active ingredient in marijuana, delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – on the brain.

Various sources such as Forbes however, have pointed out this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Which condition exists first, the psychotic symptoms or the marijuana smoking?

A team at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London in the UK, found the use of skunk to correlate with damage to the– an important part of the brain responsible for communication between the left and right hemisphere.

The study says the use of this potent form of pot is linked to psychotic symptoms. A previous study from King’s College linked the use of skunk to a fivefold increased risk of psychosis – a term which describes hallucinations and delusions from mental disorders, such as schizophrenia.

The team looked at about 100 individuals, about half with psychotic symptoms and the other half with no symptoms of psychosis. They gathered information regarding their past use of cannabis and other recreational drugs.

Image: cannabis leaf. Courtesy of: www.morguefile.com

Those with a history of frequent use of high-potency cannabis showed signs of white matter damage in their corpus callosum – an area of the brain with greater cannabinoid receptors, which targets THC.

The study states :  “Frequent use of high-potency cannabis is associated with disturbed callosal microstructural organization in individuals with and without psychosis. Since high-potency preparations are now replacing traditional herbal drugs in many European countries, raising awareness about the risks of high-potency cannabis is crucial.”

Register for the 2016 Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair!

Image: Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair Logo

Are you a student or have a child in Grade 7 to 12?

Students are encouraged to apply and present their projects in their school-run science fair where teachers will select students to represent their school at the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair in April, 2016.

About 350 students will present their projects at the GVRSF. Projects will include areas of discovery, health, energy, innovation, environment and resources.

Top cash prices are valued at over $30,000, other awards will include travel awards, scholarships and trophies – 17 students will also earn spots to the 2016 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

Three types of projects will be accepted: experiment – an investigation to test a scientific hypothesis; innovation – the development and evaluation of innovative technology, models or techniques; study: a collection and analysis of data revealing evidence of a situation or fact, or a study of cause and effect relationships or theoretical investigation.

Application deadline is at 3:00pm March 8, 2016.

For more information on registration and application guidelines click here.

Light therapy effective for depression: study

A new study from the University of British Columbia has found light therapy to be effective in treating non-seasonal depression.

“These results are very exciting because light therapy is inexpensive, easy to access and use and comes with few side effects,” says Dr. Raymond Lam in a statement, a UBC professor and psychiatrist at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

It is the first placebo-controlled trial that shows light therapy to treat depression not brought on by seasonal affective disorder – a type of depression associated with late autumn and winter caused by a lack of light.

Lam and his colleagues followed 122 patients and evaluated whether light therapy improved their mood when it was used both with and without the commonly prescribed antidepressant fluoxetine.

The research involved light therapy exposure with a fluorescent light box for 30 minutes soon after waking up every day for two months.

A group of participants were given placebo pills and devices instead of real therapies. Researchers found those taking light therapy had improved mood and provided the most benefits taken alongside antidepressants.

Depression is one of the leading causes of disability with one in 20 people suffering from the ailment worldwide. Medications alone are effective but only in about 60 per cent of cases, according to researchers.

Lam says, “it’s important to find new treatments because our current therapies don’t work for everyone. Our findings should help to improve the lives of people with depression.”

The debate over a “mini ice age” in 2030

Warnings of a “mini ice age” have circulated the media. The news came after researcher Valentina Zharkova, a professor of mathematics at Northumbria University in England, looked further into variations in solar radiations predicting a significant drop of 60% in solar activity between 2030 and 2040.

It was first noticed by scientists about 170 years ago that the Sun’s activity varies over a cycle lasting around 10 to 12 years. Cycles do vary, but researches have yet to create a model that fully explains these fluctuations.

“The waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that out predictions showed an accuracy of 97%,” said Zharkova in a statement.

During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030 to 2040, the two waves will become out of sync – causing a significant reduction in solar activity.

Image: Yohkoh/ISAS/Lockheed-Martin/NAOJ/U. Tokyo/NASA.

“When they are out of phase, we have solar minimums. When there is a full phase separation, we have conditions last seen during the Maunder minimum, 370 years ago,” explains Zharkova.

The Maunder minimum was a period in the 1600’s and early 1700’s of the “Little Ice Age” – a period that coincided with Europe and North America experiencing cooler than average temperatures.

Professor at the University of British Columbia Dr. John Innes, doesn’t think we should be jumping to any conclusions, “the direct link between the minimum in sunspot activity and the temperature cooling is not quite so definite.”

Innes explains in an email statement that there may have been other factors at work during the Maunder minimum, such as increased volcanic activity, which would have generated ash that reduced the amount of energy reaching the Earth’s surface.

“They are virtually all based on models, and models are often wrong …  the idea is interesting, and worth looking at more carefully,” says Innes.

Our favourite YouTube channels for nerdy entertainment

We have compiled a list of our favourite YouTube channels and playlists filled with educational, nerdy and thought provoking content. These channels will leave you wanting for more – so just let them talk nerdy to you.

1) DNews

DNews produces videos covering thought provoking subjects and research on new scientific findings. They also answer questions you may have asked yourself, but never had the nerve to ask – such as why do dogs spin before they poop?

2) Stuff Mom Never Told You

Cristen Conger talks about the history, science, psychology and culture of women. Covering topics such as the history of wardrobe, makeup and dating culture. She shatters gender stereotypes and attempts to solve today’s gender-based misunderstandings.


AsapSCIENCE produces weekly videos that touch on various subjects including the brain and mental health, space and exploration, the effects of drugs on the body, pets, romance and sexuality and more. You name it!

4) TestTube News


The Art of War looks at hypothetical scenarios of countries with tensions going to war. What would happen if two rivalring nations had a war against each other? Who would win?

The Strength of Nations looks at the military and economic strength of nations at a worldwide level.

Can’t we all Just Get Along? discusses why nations are in conflict with each other. Whether there are borders cutting cultural or tribal territory, or just a violent history – this series takes a close look of those stories.

5) Laci Green

Laci Green hosts Sex +, covering all sorts of topics about gender, feminism and sexuality. Talking about important topics – from consent, body image, to the problems with the objectification of women, Laci has all the sex related education you’ve been looking for!

6) Vice

Vice focuses on documentary-style investigative journalism – covering world news, politics, sex and travel among others.

7) Motherboard

Motherboard travels the world to uncover stories of the future – examining the intersection of technology, science and humans.

8) Numberphile

Numberphile is a series by mathematicians and physicists teaching you all about numbers. Do you want to know how you can win at rock paper scissors by using math?

9) It’s Okay to be Smart

It’s Okay to be Smart is hosted by Ph.D Biologists and Science Writer Joe Hanson. He also covers a variety of topics and states on his website his mission is to teach science as more than facts – science is for everyone and it impacts every part of our lives.

10) Crash Course

Crash Course is a YouTube channel teaching different subjects including: world history, chemistry, psychology, anatomy and physiology, government and politics, astronomy and economics.

11) Minute Physics

Minute Physics is a series explaining psychics-related topics. From the theory of gravity to examining the hollow earth theory, minute physics will tickle your learning senses. Our favourite: Is it better to Walk or Run in the Rain? (Good to know if you live in Vancouver, like we do!)

12) Top 6

Top 6 is a quirky, educational and comedic YouTube series – part of the YouTube channel =3 – it is sure to give you a laugh! Kelly Landry brings you a facts count down on various topics: Top 6 Facts About Kissing, Top 6 Smartest People Alive, Top 6 Real Life Super Powers, Top 6 Things Science Got Wrong, well, you get the point.

Most videos have a section titled, “You’re About to Learn Some Shit,” – for being both nerdy and funny, we had to include it in this list.

Teen’s invention converts ocean current into energy – at a low cost

Hannah Herbst, 15, from Boca Raton, Florida, might just be one of North America’s top young scientists.

She won first place in the 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientists Challenge along with a $25,000 prize – for creating an energy prototype probe that converts ocean currents into energy for just $12 – placing first out of nine other finalists.

Herbst’s probe is made up of low-cost recycle materials creating a hydroelectric generator with a propeller – able to power a small LED light system.

“I really want to end the energy poverty crisis and really help the other methods of renewable energy collection to generate more power and to make our world a better place for everyone,” Herbst says.

She made the probe seeking to create a stable power source to developing countries by using ocean currents. It was inspired by Herbst’s desire to help her 9-year-old pen pal living in Ethiopia who lacks a reliable energy source.

Marine current power is not widely used at the moment, but it has potential for electricity generation in the future. Marine currents are more predicable that solar and wind power.

A 2006 report by the United States Department of the Interior estimated that capturing that 1/1000th of the available energy in the Gulf Stream would supply Florida with 35% of its electrical needs.

Grow your own rainforest with the world’s first Smart Microhabitat

You can now grow your own organic vegetables, herbs and even rainforest in your own home.

BioPod is the world’s first Smart Microhabitat – just tap the environment you wish to have on the BioPod App and it will produce the conditions necessary to create it.

The tank comes with an IOS and Android app – through your phone you can regulate lighting, humidity, temperature and rainfall. The BioPod also comes with a high definition camera allowing users to check in on what’s happening while they’re away.

Currently, three versions of the tank are in development: The Biopod One is suitable for vegetables, herbs and small animals; the BioPod Terra is the same, but of a larger size; and finally, the BioPod Aqua, which works like an ecosystem designed for plants and fish – it uses fish and fish waste in combination with plants to grown food.

The BioPod was created by Canadian biologist and BioPod Founder Jared Wolfe, with the purpose of mimicking a rainforest environment to help save endangered frogs from extinction.

The company states their vision on their website: “to bring a community of plant and animals lovers together in order to solve some of earth’s conservation and sustainability issues.”