• Putting statistics into forensic firearms identification

    When a gun is fired, and the bullet blasts down the barrel, it encounters ridges and grooves that cause it to spin, increasing the accuracy of the shot. Those ridges dig into the soft metal of the bullet, leaving striations. At the same time that the bullet explodes forward, the cartridge case explodes backward with equal force against the mechanism that absorbs the recoil, called the breech face. This stamps an impression of the breech face into the soft metal at the base of the cartridge case, which is then ejected from the gun. Researchers have developed a statistical approach for ballistic comparisons that may enable numerical testimony – similar to a DNA expert expressing the strength of the evidence numerically when testifying about genetic evidence.

  • Keeping the lights on if the world turns to 100% clean, renewable energy

    Researchers propose three separate ways to avoid blackouts if the world transitions all its energy to electricity or direct heat and provides the energy with 100 percent wind, water, and sunlight. The solutions reduce energy requirements, health damage, and climate damage. “Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” says one researcher.

  • Massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost hold significant implications for human health

    Researchers have discovered permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury, a finding with significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide. The scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age. Their study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.

  • Salvage yard as a source for rare-earth elements

    As the United States seeks a stable domestic supply of rare-earth elements – essential to high-tech instruments and electronics – researchers are looking to the salvage yard to see what might be lurking under the hoods and in the doors of light-duty cars and trucks. Rare-earth elements (REEs) are not scarce but scattered, meaning they typically can’t be found in economically exploitable concentrations. They have become increasingly sought after, however, since they are used in high-strength magnets, electric motors, and consumer goods like laptops, tablets and cellphones. A single smartphone can contain nine rare-earth elements alone.

  • Cape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

    Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • U.S. mines produced an estimated $75.2 billion in minerals in 2017

    U.S. mines produced an estimated $75.2 billion of raw mineral materials in 2017 – a 6 percent increase over 2016 – the U.S. Geological Survey announced last week in its annual Mineral Commodity Summaries. The report from the USGS National Minerals Information Center is the earliest comprehensive source of 2017 mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on more than 90 mineral commodities that are important to the U.S. economy and national security. It also identifies events, trends and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries. This report covers the full range of nonfuel minerals monitored by the center, not just critical minerals.

  • Sea level rise will make Oregon’s existing flooding problems worse

    The hot spots of sea level rise in the United States tend to be located on the East and Gulf Coasts, where sinking land and changes in ocean circulation are amplifying the global sea level rise rate. But when we take a deeper dive into our interactive maps of chronic flooding due to sea level rise, it’s clear that small but significant areas within many of Oregon’s idyllic coastal towns–Coos Bay and Tillamook, for example–are also at risk of chronic inundation in the coming decades. Because it will take decades for the benefits of emissions reductions to be felt, today’s business owners may not benefit from such reductions themselves. But for the towns of coastal Oregon to continue to be dynamic, thriving places for the next generation of entrepreneurs and residents, the case for building resilience to flooding and reducing carbon emissions is clear.

  • Hazard mitigation, recovery plans for coastal cities

    The field of urban planning is gaining interest as cities around the world are facing increased exposure to weather-related risks and hazards ranging from sea level rise and flooding to temperature build-up and urban heat island effect. A recently completed five-year research project examined 175 hazard mitigation plans adopted by counties and municipalities along the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Northwest coastlines. These local governments are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to adopt such plans to be eligible for pre-disaster and post-disaster mitigation funds. The National Research Council concluded that land use strategies that guide growth away from hazard areas are the most promising long-term solution to reducing risk; yet, land use strategies are rarely used. Instead, mitigation plans emphasize other mitigation approaches like levees, elevation of buildings and emergency management.

  • Alarming increase in white supremacist propaganda on U.S. college campuses

    New data released Thursday by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows an alarming increase in white supremacist propaganda on U.S. college campuses during the 2017 fall semester. Since 1 September 2016, ADL’s Center on Extremism has recorded 346 incidents where white supremacists have used fliers, stickers, banners, and posters to spread their message. These incidents targeted 216 college campuses — from Ivy League schools to local community colleges — in 44 states and Washington, D.C. During the fall semester of 2017 (1 September through 31 December), there were 147 such incidents, a staggering 258 percent increase over the 41 incidents that took place during the fall semester of 2016.

  • Misinformation campaigns, social media, and science

    In some key domains of public life there appear to be coordinated efforts to undermine the reputation of science and innovation. Scientists now protest in the streets just to get governments to base policy on scientific evidence. Long-held scientific consensus on issues like the causes and consequences of climate change or the importance of vaccines for public health is increasingly contested. A new initiative will examine the interplay between systematic misinformation campaigns, news coverage, and increasingly important social media platforms for public understanding of science and technological innovation.

  • Q&A with Seth Mnookin on the fallacy of “both sides” journalism

    Seth Mnookin is a professor of science writing, director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing, and director of the MIT Communications Forum. In his most recent book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, which won the Science in Society Award, Mnookin tackles a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? Mnookin recently spoke about the state of journalism in an era when public trust is threatened by cries of “fake news” from political partisans aiming to discredit unflattering stories and to diminish the efficacy of the free press. “We’ve seen too many journalists confuse not taking sides with not calling out liars and frauds,” Mnookin says.

  • Humans need to learn to co-exist with wildfires. Here’s how we can do it.

    As housing developments creep into wild and natural areas, proactive planning can reduce the risk of harm in the face of fire. Urban planning for wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas now centers on creating and maintaining development and building codes that incorporate the home ignition zone (HIZ) principles. These codes promote practices such as using fire-resistant building materials for siding and rooftops; maintaining “defensible space” by clearing dead leaves from rooftops, gutters and decks; trimming trees and removing vegetation that can fuel fires during the dry season; and governing subdivision design to include multiple routes by which residents can flee and fire-fighting equipment can enter. Collectively, these types of policies are loosely referred to as WUI codes.

  • Climate change-related risks to 50% of U.S. military infrastructure: Pentagon

    Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics released a comprehensive new survey of climate change-related risks to military infrastructure worldwide. The vulnerability assessment does not offer any specific cost estimates related to these vulnerabilities, but it does paint a concerning picture of current climate change-related risks to military installations both at home and abroad, with around 50 percent of 1,684 sites reporting damage from six key categories of those risks: Flooding due to storm surge; flooding due to non-storm surge events (e.g., rain, snow, sleet, ice, river overflow); extreme temperatures (both hot and cold); wind; drought; and wildfire. Given that rapid climate change is projected to exacerbate most of the above categories of risks throughout this century (its effect on wind is less certain), the reasonable expectation is that vulnerabilities to military sites will only increase.

  • Be prepared: Society saves $6 for every $1 spent preparing for natural disasters

    A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, examines the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change. The report builds on, and updates, the Institute’s groundbreaking 2005 analysis of the same name. The original analysis found that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation there is a $4 savings to society. The new report makes an even stronger case for advanced planning, finding that for every $1 invested in federally funded pre-disaster mitigation grants society saves $6, and for every $1 spent on building codes society saves $4.

  • Vaccine attitude rises and falls with ideology

    Political views and a person’s trust in government play a role in whether or not they get vaccinated, according to a new study. The results suggest a person’s ideology directly impacts who they trust, allowing the person to selectively credit information related to vaccine risks and benefits in ways that reflect their ideology. A person with strong conservative political views is less likely to vaccinate than a person with strong liberal political views, according to the study, as is someone who holds lower levels of trust in government medical experts.