Scientific Social



New Target Discovered for HIV Vaccine

Earlier this week a team led by scientists at the Vaccine Research Center, a part of the  National Institutes of Health (NIH), discovered an area on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for a vaccine to target!

HIV works by attacking and killing vital cells within our immune system known as T-helper cells. These cells play an important role in the immune system by supporting other immune system cells that help suppress or regulate immune system responses. T-helper cells also kill cells that have been infected with germs.

Without T-helper cells, many other immune system cells cannot work properly, including B-cells that are responsible for making antibodies. Over time, the number of T-helper cells drops so low that the risk of infection and disease greatly increases, and the symptoms of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) appear.

The new target, called the fusion peptide, is part of HIV that helps the virus fuse with a cell. The fusion peptide has a much simpler structure than other sites on the virus that HIV vaccine scientists have studied.

 The research team first examined the blood of an HIV-infected person to explore its ability to stop the virus from infecting other cells. The blood was good at neutralizing HIV but did not target any of the vulnerable spots on the virus where broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies were known to bind.

The researchers isolated a powerful broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies in the blood that they named VRC34.01, and found that it binds to the fusion peptide and a sugar molecule. The scientists then crystallized the antibody while it was bound to the virus. This allowed them to characterize in atomic-level detail how VRC34.01 attaches to HIV and revealed that the antibody stops the virus from infecting a cell by binding to a key cell-surface molecule!

Researchers also screened the blood of 24 other HIV-infected volunteers and found that blood samples from 10 people targeted a similar binding site as VRC34.01.

The scientists and research team at the Vaccine Research Center are now working to create a vaccine designed to elicit antibodies similar to the VRC34.01 antibody.

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Credit:LA Johnson/NPR

Let’s Get Real With Climate Change – Part 1

Peru's Quelccaya ice cap is the largest in the tropics. If it continues to melt at its current rate—contracting more than 600 feet (182.8 meters) a year in some places—it will be gone by 2100, leaving thousands who rely on its water for drinking and electricity high, dry, and in the dark. Photograph by Peter Essick (Source: National Geographic)

“Peru’s Quelccaya ice cap is the largest in the tropics. If it continues to melt at its current rate—contracting more than 600 feet (182.8 meters) a year in some places—it will be gone by 2100, leaving thousands who rely on its water for drinking and electricity high, dry, and in the dark.”
Photograph by: Peter Essick | Source: National Geographic

Now more than ever it is paramount that we understand the facts about climate change. Without realizing it, most of us have seen the effects climate change has already had on our environment. Many glaciers have started to shrink. The ice on rivers and lakes are breaking up earlier in the year. Plant and animal ranges have shifted. And some areas are starting to experience unusually extreme high and low temperatures. Unfortunately, 97% of all climate scientists agree that this trend will continue. But what can we do? GOOGLE IT!

If you search for climate change, Google finds 143,000,000 results on the topic. Unfortunately, many of these articles, websites, communities, and social media outlets are riddled with misconceptions and misinformation. As great as the Internet can be, one of its downsides is how rapidly misinformation can spread, further complicating the issue. Adding insult to injury, we see some of the highest ranking (and influential) elected officials dismissing many of the truths that surround climate change. (A classic example is Senator Jim Inhofe’s snowball “experiment.”)

Our goal is not to change your opinion on climate change. But to present the facts that surround climate change in a way that’s easy to understand, clearing up some of the most common misconceptions. By having a well-informed, global conversation about climate change we can come together and solve this problem! (more…)

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Why Do We Cook?

We differ from animals in a lot of ways, but what is it about us that got us to where we are? Most might say it is the utilization of tools, but a lot of animals use tools. So what is it then?

It’s our brains. This may be unsurprising, but how did our brains grow to be much bigger than our closest relatives? According to Richard Wrangham, a primatologist, it was cooking our food!

Cooking our food granted us access to a greater amount of energy than raw food would. This freed up more time for other activities such as language development, social interaction/cooperation, and tool making.

Watch Richard Wrangham’s lecture on this topic below

Read more at the Smithsonian – Fire makes us human.

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Honey is Better For You Than Other Sweeteners… Right? Well, Not So Fast.

Nutrition research is complicated. One study doesn’t overturn all previous studies. Most studies concerning nutrition have small sample sizes so their conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt.

That isn’t to say that making scientific statements about nutrition is impossible! It’s just that grandiose, click-baity headlines like “Honey is Better for You Than Other Sweeteners” (pot, meet kettle?) are probably misrepresenting or overstating the actual findings of the research and don’t consider how robust (large enough sample size, proper and meaningful statistics, etc.) the study is.

Aaron Carroll explains the pitfalls and difficulties of nutritional research in the above video!

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Sitting To Death: The Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle

In the next segment of our health and fitness series, we again look to Dr. Aaron Carroll of Healthcare Triage to find out how we can use science to our advantage to easily improve our health, adding years to our lives.

We’ve seen it in the news for a while that spending the majority of your time sitting could negatively impact your health. Is it it worse than smoking cigarettes? Can a well balanced diet and solid regiment of exercise negate the effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

Cutting To The Chase – What Can We Do?

The University of Missouri Health recently reported that “…blood flow in the popliteal — an artery in the lower leg — was greatly reduced after sitting at a desk for six hours. Researchers then had the participants take a short walk, and found that 10 minutes of self-paced walking could restore the impaired vascular function and improve blood flow.” The article went on stating ““When you have decreased blood flow, the friction of the flowing blood on the artery wall, called shear stress, is also reduced. […] Moderate levels of shear stress are good for arterial health, whereas low levels of shear stress appear to be detrimental and reduce the ability of the artery to dilate. Dilation is a sign of vascular health. The more the artery can dilate and respond to stimuli, the healthier it is.” So what are we to do?

Become more active and move !

Even if your job requires you to be at a desk for eight hours a day, there is so much you can do to help off-set the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Below you’ll find some ideas to help get you started on becoming more active without dramatically changing your routine:

  • During work (if possible) get up every hour or two and walk around for a few minutes.
  • Park towards the back of parking lots.
  • Go for a walk instead of watching TV.
  • When possible, take public transportation, ride a bike, or walk to your destinations.
  • If talking on the phone, walk around instead of sitting.

Have a recommendation? Let us know in the comments below!

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Excercise is NOT The Key To Weight Loss

Exercise is great as it helps strengthen muscles, promotes positive posture, and can help alleviate a wide variety of common issues and ailments common among many adults. But if weight loss is the ultimate goal, exercise alone won’t do the trick!

Continuing our health and fitness series, we look another video by Dr. Aaron Carroll of Healthcare Triage to find out how making some simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can easily allow us to reach our weight loss goals.

The Secret To Weight Loss

Well, it’s not really a secret. The following has been known by scientists for a very long time. Unfortunately, many of us are fixated on quick fixes and the next new thing. Time and time again, it’s proven there is no such thing as a quick fix. So, how do you reach your weight loss goals? Consider the following:

“…anytime one consumes fewer Calories than one burns, there will be weight loss.” (Brooks, Fahey, & Baldwin, 2005, p. 22)

When we eat more calories than needed, our bodies store this excess for later, usually as fat. If you continue this trend, you’ll start to notice you have a whole lot of stored energy! By simply consuming fewer calories than you burn, your body will start to use its stored energy to make up for the deficit.

Not sure how many calories you’re consuming? Unsure of how many calories you need? We found using calorie counting/weight loss apps such as Lose It! or, if you have an android, S-Health can give you great insight into your daily habits and reveal areas of opportunity. These apps will tell you how many calories you should be consuming based on gender, age, and current weight loss goals.

For Sustained Health, Don’t Go On A Diet

Generally, diets do not work because they fail to deal with the underlying issues of being overweight nor do they teach better life long eating habits. Most people are looking for quick, easy solutions to their problems. While some diets may work initially, old habits quickly take over again.

Even the ever popular low-carbohydrate diets, while producing quick weight-loss results, are not sustainable in the long term and can lead to serious health issues. Perhaps best stated by the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine:

Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets are very popular, but the recommendations of many of these diets are diametrically opposed to those put forth by the US Department of Agriculture, the American Heart Association, and other national organizations. Their focus on foods high in protein, fat, and cholesterol has potentially serious health implications.

So what should you be eating? Below is an incomplete list to get you started on the right path of eating better, losing weight, and maintaining overall health for the long term:

  • Proteins: Turkey, white meat chicken, ground beef (90%+ lean), round steak, top loin, top sirloin, pork tenderloin, lamb tenderloin, eggs, tuna, salmon, bean/lentils, almonds, walnuts
  • Fats: Olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, flaxseed, walnuts, butternuts, sunflower seeds, olives, whole grain wheat, avocados, salmon, tuna, mackerel
  • Carbs: Strawberries, apples, sweet potato, rye bread, chickpeas, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, parsnips , seven-grain (Ezekiel) bread, rolled oats.


Why Diets Fail — Expert Diet Advice as a Cause of Diet Failure

Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications, McGraw-Hill Education; 4 edition

Physician’s Guide to Popular Low-Carbohydrate Weight-Loss Diets

United States Department of Agriculture

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Into The Canyons: Where Art Meets Geology | September 20th – October 26th

Over the past couple of months, Booty and I haven’t made nearly as many posts on Scientific Social as we had previously. Since July, our efforts were re-directed to a huge project that as of this weekend has finally come to life.

We are proud to announce the opening of our first solo art exhibition – Into The Canyons: Where Art Meets Geology!

Join us for our opening reception on Sunday, September 20th from 4-6PM at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences. We hope everyone of our fans and followers are able to join us! To get the latest updates, RSVP, and more, visit our official event page here.

All of the work featured in the show comes from our first exploratory trip we made to the Southwest United States in June 2014 covering Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. Accompanying many of the images will be an informational card, explaining the geology and science behind each photograph, helping create a deeper understanding of what the viewer sees.

The objective of Into The Canyons is to demonstrate how fine art can be used as a means of explaining complex scientific ideas in an entertaining, engaging, and enlightening way. While many view the arts and sciences as two separate entities, we believe the combination of the two creates an extremely powerful tool that both artists and science enthusiasts can get excited about.

With our first show in January and the creation of this science blog, Into The Canyons: Where Art Meets Geology is the next step to our ultimate goal: the creation of a children’s pop-up book that applies the same principals that we are utilizing in this show.

We also want to extend a huge thanks out to the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences for helping make this show happen. From start to finish, The Foundation provided us with the support and feedback we needed to make this show a success. With their almost 70 year long commitment to helping promote the arts and sciences, we couldn’t of found a better fit.

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Pluto via New Horizons; NASA

New Horizons Finally Reaches Pluto!

If you haven’t already heard the news, NASA’s interplanetary space probe New Horizons has reached Pluto. Nine and a half years and 3 billion miles after it’s launch back in January 2006, New Horizons is the first spacecraft to explore Pluto.

While nine years may seem like a long time to us, New Horizons is the fastest human-made craft ever launched from Earth, traveling about 16.26 kilometers per second (58,536 km/h; 36,373 mph).

Although scientists will be receiving much more data around 9 PM EST tonight about Pluto and its moons, below is one of the closest images sent back of Pluto from New Horizons:

Pluto via New Horizons; NASA

Pluto via New Horizons – NASA

Never heard of New Horizons before today?

As part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, New Horizons was built by in collaboration with the Southwest Research Institute and the Applied Physics Laboratory to study Pluto, its moons as well as the Kuiper Belt – the region of the Solar System beyond the planets. By studying Pluto and the Kuiper belt, scientists hope to have a better understanding of how our Solar System formed.

So why is this a big deal? We’re glad you asked:

  1. Pluto is one of the only major objects in our solar system that we haven’t seen yet. Until today, the best image we had was from the Hubble Space Telescope:hubble-pluto.0
  2. New Horizons is a huge technological accomplishment. Using decade old technology, scientists were able to get this grand piano-sized probe over 3 billion miles with virtually no issues. Not to mention the amount of data the probe gathers in such a small window of time; there’s no slowing down when your traveling at 16.26 kilometers per second!
  3.  New Horizons will provide mankind with a better understanding of our Solar System, including Earth. By studying the data provide by New Horizons on the geology, atmosphere, moons, and more, scientists will gain a better insight into the early stages of planet formation.
  4. This will most likely be the last mission of its kind for a while. Due to major cut backs and budget cuts, it’s hard to fund amazing missions such as this. As David W. Brown writes in his article “The Dark Future of American Space Exploration”: “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”

For the latest on the New Horizons mission, visit If you’re reading this now (July 14th), check out NASA Television for their “New Horizons ‘Phone Home’ Countdown!

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Solar Freakin’ Roadways: The Future of Travel Surfaces or Titanic Waste of Money?

You have probably noticed this video making its rounds on social media.  In the video you are introduced to the Julie and Scott Brusaw, the creators of Solar Roadways. It goes through how beneficial they could be for the economy and the environment and is a very entertaining video to boot. When I first watched this video, I was all about this idea. How cool would it be to jump start the economy with a huge infrastructure project like this?!

However, as Dave from EEVblog and Thunderf00t explain, many of the claims in the Solar Freakin’ Roadways video are unsubstantiated, untested, or even implausible.  For example, Scott Brusaw claims we will run out of asphalt in 50 years because it comes from fossil fuels.  Except asphalt is the most reused material with over 99% of removed asphalt getting reused.

The Brusaw’s have not produced any stop tests on this surface with vehicles traveling at real-world speeds and conditions. How will wet conditions affect the stopping distance on these solar roadways?  No one knows because no one has performed real-world tests.

Roads are dirty. There’s no avoiding that.  But what is going to happen to the glass surface when relatively hard dirt (usually small quartz grains) is driven on top of over and over again? It’s going to scratch the glass, making it less transparent (therefore allowing less light through, lowering the efficiency of the solar panels), wearing away the textured surface.  Check out the pictures of their proposed that surface:

Solar Roadway Surface

Solar Roadway Surface

It looks knobby, almost like bubble wrap.  Imagine what driving over that at 50 miles per hour would sound like!  It would be loud – kind of like driving in a Jeep Wrangler with knobby tires or driving in the rumble strip of a highway.  The sound alone, I think, is enough to keep this idea on the drawing board.

Thick glass will lower the solar panel output and make the LEDs really hard to see in broad daylight, especially when you consider the low angle at which they’ll be viewed.  Speaking of angles, a solar roadway would be lying flat on the ground, not facing toward the sun. This lowers the efficiency of the panels by up to 18%.

According to one calculation, the cost for replacing all of the roads in the lower 48 states would be $56 trillion, that’s over 3 times the United States’ GDP.

A different company, SolaRoad, has installed a 230-foot prototype solar pathway in the Netherlands. This solar pathway was featured in numerous mainstream media sources, including Popular Mechanics.  It has been active for six months and the data are in: it produced more energy than originally thought! But wait… what does that mean, exactly?

As EEVblog’s video explains, not that much.  As it turns out the pathway did not produce any more electricity than a similarly sized rooftop solar array. In fact, a rooftop solar array would have TWICE the output per area of a solar pathway at a fraction of the cost and inconvenience.

So what should we be putting our time and resources toward?

The short answer: above us, not below us.  There are many advantages to putting solar panels on top of parking lots like some stadiums and colleges are doing.  South Korea put solar panels above a bike lane that is located in the median of a major highway as shown below:

Korean Solar Highway

Korean Solar Highway

The Bottom Line

Putting solar panels under the road makes no sense at all and will never be more efficient than putting panels on a roof.  There are just too many disadvantages – both physical and financial – in building roadways (or bike paths) out of solar panels. Back to the drawing board with this one.

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What Should You Be Eating?

Dr. Aaron Carroll does a lot of debunking of medical myths over on Healthcare Triage, fad diets being among them. In this video he explains what you should be eating, or more accurately, what he eats and why you should too! The aim of this advice is to make you more conscience of what you eat and how you eat it. Don’t try to demonize a particular food group as the evidence for doing so is often controversial at best.

This advice won’t work for everyone, however.  If you have certain conditions that limit the foods available to you, follow those restrictions.

Everyone is different. Listen to your bodies. You should experiment and find what works for you!

Here is a handy infographic his team produced!

Graphic summarizing Aaron's recommended diet for healthy people

Graphic summarizing Aaron’s recommended diet for healthy people.

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