BRITTANY STEFF | Science Writer

Soaking Up the Sun: Artificial photosynthesis promises a clean, sustainable source of energy

Humans can do lots of things that plants can’t do. But plants have one major advantage over humans: They can make energy directly from the sun. That process of turning sunlight directly into usable energy – called photosynthesis – may soon be a feat humans are able to mimic to harness the sun’s energy for clean, storable, efficient fuel. If so, it could open a whole new frontier of clean energy.

A Sticky Subject: Studying shellfish for advanced adhesives

Humans have been trying to stick things to other things for millennia. But shellfish have been doing it for eons longer. And they are far better at it than humans. Which is why Purdue chemists got to wondering: Why don’t we just use whatever they’re using? Anyone who has ever tried to unstick a barnacle from a rock knows that it’s nearly impossible. That success is something Jonathan Wilker, a Purdue professor of chemistry and materials engineering, and his lab are hoping to learn from – and build on.

17-year Cicadas: Bird buffet or a big disturbance?

As the emergence of 17-year cicadas, commonly referred to as Brood X, approaches, animal keepers are gearing up to keep an extra close eye on their charges, especially those that eat insects, to make sure they don't over-indulge. But of course, zoo animals aren't the only ones that eat cicadas. Local songbirds, including chickadees, bluebirds and cardinals, will take advantage of their abundance too, something Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists are eager to study.

Cicada Snacks: The wild (and tasty) side of Brood X at the zoo

They slumber underground for 16 summers, nestled near tree roots, sipping xylem — the nutrient-poor water inside tree tissues. Then, as ground temperatures rise on the 17th summer, they emerge and begin blindly burrowing their way toward the surface, bursting forth to a summer of song, flight and love. It sounds like a spooky fairy tale but in fact, it’s the actual true story of the 17-year Brood X cicadas and for some Zoo animals, the beginning of a tasty bug buffet.

Invasive Hedgehogs and Ferrets Habituate to and Categorize Smells

To catch a thief, the saying goes, you have to think like a thief. The same is true for invasive predators: to foil their depredations on native wildlife, scientists have to understand how they think. A new study published in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications examines how invasive mammalian predators both habituate to and generalize avian prey cues.

Lost Harlequin Toads

Our top “most wanted” lost harlequin toads include species that have been lost to science for at least a decade (and often for much longer!) and, like our top 25 “most wanted” species, may be lost for a variety of reasons. We worked with the Atelopus Survival Initiative to determine this list of lost harlequin toads. In some cases, biologists may be actively out searching—or interested in going out to search—for these species. In other cases, these species represent the kinds of compelling stories that can help raise their group’s public profile, even if nobody is out actively looking.
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Spe·cies rich·ness  (noun)

  1. A technical term from the field of ecology. The number of different species present in an ecological community, landscape, or region.
  2. More philosophically, a lovely and poetic phrase that conveys the value and wonder inherent in the range of species on the planet and in all the amazing detail of the living world.
  3. A freelance science writer's call sign (see above).

I am a science writer, editor, blogger, and creative communicator who is passionate about innovative, informative and inspiring storytelling. Email me

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