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Google Science Fair 2011

Google is holding a science fair online! If you're from 13-18 years old, and work either alone or in a team or two or three, you can enter. The prizes include scholarships, visits to major research institutions, Scientific American subscriptions, and LEGO products. The deadline is in April of this year, and I'm sure we'll see some doozies -- but none can compare to my elementary school masterwork of May 1987: "How Soil Affects Growth" shown below. (I did not win. You might argue that my attitude was not sufficiently winning, but I would argue that IT WAS RIGGED. I proved that plants in crappy soil don't grow...much...or something...which was definitely groundbreaking science in 1987. Monsanto, feel free to send me a check anytime.)

Google has put up a Rube Goldberg Machine video to promote the science fair, shown below. They've also posted an impressive sample project by Tesca, a high school senior from Oregon. The sample project deals with robots, health care, and artificial intelligence -- so there's no way I'm going to make a Soylent Green, The Matrix, Silent Running, Moon, or Coma joke here. None.

Find out more at Google's Science Fair site.

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Buckingham Palace Was Built With Jurassic Fossils, Scientists Find
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The UK's Buckingham Palace is a vestige from another era, and not just because it was built in the early 18th century. According to a new study, the limestone used to construct it is filled with the fossilized remains of microbes from the Jurassic period of 200 million years ago, as The Telegraph reports.

The palace is made of oolitic limestone, which consists of individual balls of carbonate sediment called ooids. The material is strong but lightweight, and is found worldwide. Jurassic oolite has been used to construct numerous famous buildings, from those in the British city of Bath to the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

A new study from Australian National University published in Scientific Reports found that the spherical ooids in Buckingham Palace's walls are made up of layers and layers of mineralized microbes. Inspired by a mathematical model from the 1970s for predicting the growth of brain tumors, the researchers created a model that explains how ooids are created and predicts the factors that limit their ultimate size.

A hand holding a chunk of oolite limestone
Australian National University

They found that the mineralization of the microbes forms the central core of the ooid, and the layers of sediment that gather around that core feed those microbes until the nutrients can no longer reach the core from the outermost layer.

This contrasts with previous research on how ooids form, which hypothesized that they are the result of sediment gathered from rolling on the ocean floor. It also reshapes how we think about the buildings made out of oolitic limestone from this period. Next time you look up at the Empire State Building or Buckingham Palace, thank the ancient microbes.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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