TED Science worth knowing newsletter

Image: Flickr / Jessie Hodge (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Killing robots

It's hard to turn off a robot if it begs. That's the finding of a new study from Sweden, where people confronted by a tiny humanoid robot called Nao, who begs not to be switched off, found it difficult to turn the robot off, even when they were done working with it. In fact, of 43 people who heard the robot beg not to be switched off, 13 refused to do so. And the rest hesitated for significant periods of time. Now perhaps we can build similar sympathy into our future robot overlords?

TED Talk: Dance, tiny robots!
smoke stacks

Image: Flickr / Nathan Rupert ((CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hot, hot heat

People's pollution may be tipping the earth into a hothouse climate not unlike the one the planet endured millions of years ago -- and now a new study suggests we may be entering a naturally warmer period that could exacerbate global warming. Already, earth is experiencing hotter conditions and weird weather, and if the heat keeps up, it may trigger events -- such as thawing the world's permafrost -- that would then push temperatures higher still. The Anthropocene may prove to be a hot time in the planet's history.

TED Talk: Can clouds buy us more time to solve climate change?
genetic sequencing

Image: Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft / OetziTheIceman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

First drug to silence genes approved

Some RNA delivers messages for DNA. By blocking the message using yet more RNA, bad genetic instructions can be avoided, thus blocking certain diseases. That fact won a Nobel Prize for two scientists in 2006, and RNA interference is now hitting the market in drug form. A new drug will help some people with a rare genetic disease called ATTR head off the progression of their disease. Similar drugs may prove effective for a range of genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia.  

Playlist: Jaw-dropping science breakthroughs

Recently discovered

What NASA's epic solar probe launch felt like
NASA's $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission was on its way into the heavens in a whole lot of style after an early morning launch on Tuesday. If all goes according to plan, the probe will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, 24 times over the next seven years, collecting data that could help scientists solve some long-standing solar mysteries. (

This alga may be seeding the world’s skies with clouds
An algae-killing virus may be helping seed the skies with clouds. That’s the implication of a new study, which finds that -- after it dies -- one of the ocean’s most abundant microorganisms provides the kernel on which water vapor can condense to form droplets, which in turn become clouds. (Science)

How Burning Man is improving archaeology
Archaeologist Carolyn White is using Burning Man -- the world's biggest pop-up community -- to learn about humanity's past settlements. The decade-long project has entailed close observation of the temporary settlement from construction to dismantling, as well as the analysis of any artifacts that get left behind by accident. It's even shedding light on possible “unknown unknowns” in the ancient archaeological record. (Discover)

Scientists sequence wheat genome in breakthrough once thought impossible
Sequencing the wheat genome -- once considered by scientists to be an insurmountable task -- has been achieved through a worldwide collaboration of researchers spanning 13 years. Now that scientists and farmers know the genes and factors responsible for traits such as wheat's yield, grain quality, resistance to fungal diseases and tolerance to environmental stress, they will be able to produce hardier wheat varieties. (The Guardian)

On this day in science

On August 17 ... in 1977, the Soviet icebreaker Arktika became the first ship to reach the North Pole directly, and Pierre Fermat -- a noted early scientist and mathematician, who collaborated with Blaise Pascal to invent the field of probability, among many other achievements -- was born in 1607.

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