It Didn’t Look a Day Over 7 Million
“The Grand Canyon is as much as three times as old as geologists had previously believed, at least 17 million years old, researchers reported Friday in the journal Science. … Not everyone agrees with the new estimate. Geologist Joel Pederson of Utah State University, for example, argues that there are no traces of erosion-caused sediment older than 6 million years.”
(Los Angeles Times, 03/08/2008)

Snake Wins Evolutionary Fight with Newt
“In a world where Nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ as Tennyson wrote, a handful of predatory garter snakes have won an evolutionary arms race against a tribe of rough-skinned newts so poisonous that the toxin in just one newt could kill thousands of mice or a dozen humans.

… Charles T. Hanifin’s colleagues are Edmund D. Brodie Jr. of Utah State University and his son, Edmund D. Brodie III of the University of Virginia, who have pioneered in studying the evolution of both newts and snakes. Hanifin was a graduate student at Utah State before he moved to Stanford as a postdoctoral fellow.”
(San Francisco Chronicle, 03/10/2008)

The End of Civilization
“The Roman empire was also a hierarchy, but with a difference: it had a huge urban population – not equalled in Europe until modern times – which depended on peasants for grain, taxes and soldiers. ‘Population decline affected agriculture, which affected the empire’s ability to pay for the military, which made the empire less able to keep invaders out,’ says anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter at Utah State University in Logan. ‘Invaders in turn further weakened peasants and agriculture.’ A high-mortality pandemic could trigger a similar result now, Tainter says. ‘Fewer consumers mean the economy would contract, meaning fewer jobs, meaning even fewer consumers. Loss of personnel in key industries would hurt too.’”
(New Scientist, 04/05/ 2008)

Peace Out
“Peace, brother. Keep the peace. Peace and quiet. Peace, baby. Peace be with you. Let there be peace on earth. There are two, count ‘em, two books out now to mark the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol: Peace: 50 Years of Protest by Barry Miles (Reader’s Digest, 250 pages, $29.95) and Peace: The Biography of a Symbol by Ken Kolsbun with Michael S. Sweeney (National Geographic, 176 pages, $25). … Kolsbun is a jack of many trades that include longtime and enthusiastic peace activism, a propensity that shows through. Sweeney is a professor of journalism at Utah State University.”
(Chicago Sun Times, Illinois, 04/20/2008)

Counting Monkeys Tick Off yet another ‘Human’ Ability
“At this rate a monkey might prove the Riemann hypothesis. Rhesus macaques have been shown to possess yet another numerical talent once thought unique to humans —they can simultaneously count audible beeps and dots on a computer screen. Their ability to comprehend numbers not as just discrete images or sounds, but as abstract representations that can be combined suggests that such math skills aren’t unique to humans, says Kerry Jordan, a psychologist at Utah State University, Logan, U.S., who led the new study.”
(New Scientist, 07/01/2008)

Arctic Warming At Faster Pace Than Projected
“Across the tundra and coast of the Arctic Ocean, land is caving in. Soils loosed by freshly thawed earth set off a new era of rot, and of bloom—dumping a bonanza of nutrients into a top-of-the-world environment that swirls from months of midnight sun to deep-freeze dark. Will nature channel the nourishment of this soil into a great flowering of plant life that soaks up greenhouse gas and tamps down the causes of climate change? Or will a microbial awakening of decomposition simply belch out more planet-heating carbon dioxide? Scientists flock here to find out and to guess at the planet’s future. ‘I’m really glad it’s getting warm and not cold. An ice age would be really bad,’ said Chris Luecke, a fish biologist from Utah State University. ‘But the rate of change is alarming,’ he said. ‘Species can’t adapt or keep up in an evolutionary sense because everything is happening so fast.’”
(Houston Chronicle, Texas, 08/02/2008)

A Geek’s Guide to Colleges
USU ranked with Berkeley, Cornell and Stanford as one of the top 10 schools for scientific research: “In 2003, scientists at Utah State were the first in the world to clone a hybrid animal—a mule, the typically sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse. The research ultimately spawned commercial equine-cloning labs. Now students and faculty churn out up to 600 cloned embryos a week, primarily for genetics research.
(Popular Science, 09/12/2008)