Popular Science Fall 2021

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United States
Camden Media Inc.
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4 Numeri

in questo numero

2 min
from the minds of babes

THERE’S AN APP on my iPhone called ColorScanner. It’s a tool designed to capture and copy real-world hues so you can refer to them later—perhaps to find a matching shade of paint. But I use it a little differently. I’m an achromat (that is, I see everything in tones of gray), and I open the app when I’m shopping to check the tinge of anything from shirts to rugs. It’s a workaround I figured out on my own, a way to navigate a world not designed for grayscale peepers like mine. To be fair, it’s also not a problem most people would even realize needs fixing. Unless, of course, they are the type who looks at things slightly askance. A person, perhaps, like Stacy Branham. One of the early-career scientists honored…

1 min
the childhood habits we won’t quit

Sleeping with my teddy bear. My parents got it on a trip to Chicago when I was a toddler, and it’s so comforting to wrap my arm around it when I tuck myself in.Sandra Gutierrez, associate DIY editorI got my hands on a Nintendo controller for the first time when I was 4. I turned my love of gaming into a career, and 30 years later, I still play every day.Mike Epstein, reviews editorI still love to dip Hershey chocolate bars into a jar of peanut butter, a simple and tasty pro tip I picked up from my paternal grandmother.Chuck Squatriglia, digital edition editorI’ve eaten sandwiches in a weird, specific way my entire life. I bite around the outside until I make a sandwich peninsula. Then I devour the middle…

2 min
what’s behind the baby bust?

WHEN THE COMMON ERA STARTED a little over two millennia ago, as few as 170 million Homo sapiens lived on Earth. Except for the notable dip caused by the bubonic plague pandemic of the 14th century, that number grew steadily through 1800 to about 910 million. It has since exploded to almost 8 billion. It seems logical to assume the planet will only grow more crowded. Yet global average birthrates have dropped by half since 1968, to 2.4 children per woman. Nations facing steep declines find this worrying, because dwindling populations can stymie economic growth. But demographers say the trend is neither good nor bad. It simply reflects the ongoing improvements in the lives—and livelihoods—of childbearing women and kids everywhere. Here’s a look at some factors driving the change. Costly kids mean…

2 min
evolutionary infants

WE HUMANS SPLIT FROM our hominid ancestors around half a million years ago, creating a new branch in the tree of life. Natural selection, genetic mutations, and geographic separation can create these new limbs, but just when they sprout remains widely debated. Biologists long thought it occurred when individuals from two groups could not produce fertile offspring, but hybrids like ligers throw even that basic construct into question. The changes at work in DNA are still largely unclear, so studying recent arrivals like these offers insights into budding species. Nylon-eating bacteria In 1975, Japanese scientists discovered a bacterium that digests the synthetic byproducts of nylon manufacturing—substances created just four decades earlier. They found that a few key mutations in the genetic code of Paenarthrobacter ureafaciens KI72 helped produce these plastic-eating enzymes. Short-spined sea…

2 min
the perfect playground

THE BEST PLAY AREAS offer more than recreation. They provide children with a dynamic classroom in which to hone motor skills, test boundaries, and learn conflict resolution. Yet child development experts and architects alike agree that many of the spaces we have now don’t always facilitate the kind of rich, meaningful play that provides those lessons. They say these six components are critical to creating the ideal outdoor experience—and to making recess as entertaining as possible. 1 / Inspire imagination Little ones exercise their innate creativity by working with materials and tools to craft ever-changing adventures. Things like crates, tires, sand, and water allow active minds to devise and revise all kinds of engaging activities alone or with others. 2 / Provide challenges Allowing rugrats to take age-appropriate risks builds confidence. Fast slides, big…

3 min
what secrets can baby black holes reveal?

WHEN FEIGE WANG WAS GROWING UP in Shandong province, China, he liked gazing up at the night sky to look at the stars. Now, as a NASA Hubble fellow at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, he looks much deeper into the darkness to contemplate the most distant objects ever studied. His targets, quasars, are black holes surrounded by disks of gas and stars—the nuclei of primitive galaxies. Their dark hearts suck in nearby matter and crush the absorbed material into a superhot disk, which burns bright as it shoots out immense amounts of energy. That’s the feature that allows us to spot them from so far away. But because it takes billions of years for their light to reach Earth, we see these beacons in the blackness as they existed…