Here’s the science you loved in 2018

Diamonds and smartphones and chocolate, oh my!


What were you all reading this year? Read on!

Nancy Moulding/SNS

What’s the most popular news? It’s news you can use. The most-read stories on Science News for Students were about subjects close to home, such as smartphones, e-cigarettes, shark movies and chocolate. Why? Those are subjects people encounter in their everyday lives. Here’s what you were reading in 2018:           

10. How the phone in your pocket is telling your secrets

Smartphones have become essential companions. But they can reveal important data about you without your knowledge, and often without your permission.bokan76/iStockphoto

Some people depend on their smartphones so much they walk, run, eat and sleep with the devices nearby. But these handy assistants are full of sensors collecting data on where you are, how fast you’re going and much more. But that means your phone could tell a bad app a lot about you — without your being aware of it. Here’s how

9. Editing our way out of extinction

This kiwi is among the native species in New Zealand preyed upon by invasive rodents. Scientists think a new twist on “gene drive” technology could control the pests and save the birds.

We bring lots of baggage when we travel to new places — and not just the suitcase kind. Our travels can spread invasive species that can drive native residents to the brink of extinction. Now, scientists are thinking about ways to edit our way out of the problem. The key is a technology called a gene drive. But just because we can, does that mean we should?

8. Chocolate: The most delicious science of all

Chocolate is one of the most prized treats. But ensuring there will be enough of the raw ingredients to satisfy our hunger for it has candy-makers and farmers consulting scientists around the globe.

Chocolate is so popular that people spend more than $90 billion on it every year! Here’s how scientists are helping farmers protect this precious crop from nasty diseases. They’re also making chemical strides to boost chocolate’s health benefits. 

7. Why we should care about dirty air

Mexico City is one major urban area frequently plagued by heavy air pollution. Studies conducted there and elsewhere show now link such pollution with lesions in the brains of adults and even children.

Very dirty city air can make it hard for people with diseases such as asthma to breathe. But it also can do much more. Scientists are now finding that exposure to dirty air — and the many particles in it — can cause memory problems and even lesions in the brain. It also can boost chemicals in the body associated with stress — another excuse to get out of the city.

6. Spend a lot of time on the phone? Forget about it

A new study finds that teens who get more exposure to cell-phone radiation — and hold their phones on the right — do worse on one type of memory test.

People who spend a lot of time on the phone with it pressed against their ear may be harming more than their data plans. Teens who talked on their phones a lot, holding their phones against their right ears, were exposed to more cell-phone radiation. They also scored lower on certain memory tests compared with teens who didn’t gab so much.

And that’s not all for smartphone science. Another study showed that college students who were allowed phones in class didn’t retain information as well as those where smartphones weren’t allowed. That was true even if the students didn’t check their phones; just having them around was distracting.

5. Packing for Mars

This artist’s illustration depicts what a possible mission to Mars might look like. To make it reality, though, scientists must first solve a lot of problems.e71lena/iStockphoto

Going to Mars is much more challenging than simply sending a rocket there. Mars colonists will have to grow food and make objects, such as tools and spare parts. They’ll have to be creative — and might even have to use their own poop. After all, they can’t just go to the corner store for more supplies. But science is tackling the technology that will help us survive on the Red Planet.

4. Blue diamonds are born deep

A blue diamond gets its color from the element boron. Tiny bits of minerals inside the gem suggest that diamonds of this hue form at very great depths.

Blue diamonds are stunning, expensive and rare. They get their color from the element boron. But there’s not a lot of that element in the Earth’s mantle, where diamonds are born. Where do they get it from? Shifting pieces of the Earth’s crust send boron deep into the planet.

3. Here’s what happens when animal species mix

If a zoo keeps a male lion and a female tiger in the same enclosure, a liger can result. It has a mix of its parents’ traits.

Алексей Шилин/Wikimedia Commons

Two different species don’t always stay separate. Sometimes, when one species moves into new territory, or can’t find a date, it might mate with a very similar species. A hybrid can then result. Scientists are studying hybrids to find out what happens when two sets of different DNA unite. 

2. A nicotine-free e-cigarette can still cause harm

Liquids for electronic cigarettes come in a variety of flavors — with and without nicotine. A new study finds that vapors from even those without nicotine can still poison cells.MakcouD/iStockphoto

E-cigarettes don’t need the addictive chemical nicotine. Some vape liquids are just flavors. Being nicotine-free, though, doesn’t make these e-cigs harmless. The flavors that are safe when they come in food or drink form may have very different effects when they are inhaled. 

1. The real science behind “The Meg”

In this image from The Meg, a megalodon shark swims past a polycarbonate “cage” containing a biological oceanographer, played by Li Bingbing.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Science went to the movies this year with a film about a huge, long-dead shark called Megalodon. But was “The Meg” really that big? And could it really have survived for millions of years in the ocean deeps? Well, we hate to tell you this…but here are all the things wrong with “The Meg.”

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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