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Category: Science

A fun take on the latest science news with enough data to sink your teeth into. Lagrange Point goes beyond the glossy summary and gets in depth with the research from across the world.

September 20, 2021

Episode 449 - Ig nobel ‘21 Part 2- Weaving and colliding in crowds

We celebrate the greatest scientific awards night, the 31st Ig Nobel Prizes. In this multi part special we find out about the history of the Ig Nobel prizes and some of the more well known examples from storied history. Who came home with the top prize this year in the Ig Nobel's? How can you navigate a crowd safely? What's the best way to model a busy train station? Does using a phone make it harder to navigate a crowd safely? Do people coordinate and work together to make through a rush hour crowd? Does a crowd self organise into lanes to navigate a busy intersection?


  1. Physics-based modeling and data representation of pairwise interactions among pedestrians,” Alessandro Corbetta, Jasper A. Meeusen, Chung-min Lee, Roberto Benzi, and Federico Toschi, Physical Review E, vol. 98, no. 062310, 2018.
    WHO TOOK PART IN THE CEREMONY: Alessandro Corbetta, Jasper Meeusen, Chung-min Lee, Roberto Benzi,, Federico Toschi
  2. Mutual Anticipation Can Contribute to Self-Organization in Human Crowds,” Hisashi Murakami, Claudio Feliciani, Yuta Nishiyama, and Katsuhiro Nishinari, Science Advances, vol. 7, no. 12, 2021, p. eabe7758.
August 9, 2021

Episode 443 - Strange chemistry, ice, life and moons

Moons across our solar system have rich chemistry that may harbor life. Ganymede may have more water in it's 'oceans' than Earth. The makeup of Ganymede may include layers of ice, oceans and even water vapor atmospheres. Piecing together data from Hubble, Galileo and Juno to help crack the mystery of Ganymede's atmosphere. Melting ice on Ganymede's surface could explain the odd atmosphere. Enceladus has great geysers but they contain more methane than we can explain...unless we consider biological systems. Enceladus has many mysteries beneath it's ice, but could geothermal vents help explain whats in it's geysers? Cassini did a daring flyby through Enceladus' geysers, but they were filled with many things we did not expect.

  1. Lorenz Roth, Nickolay Ivchenko, G. Randall Gladstone, Joachim Saur, Denis Grodent, Bertrand Bonfond, Philippa M. Molyneux, Kurt D. Retherford. A sublimated water atmosphere on Ganymede detected from Hubble Space Telescope observations. Nature Astronomy, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01426-9
  2. Antonin Affholder, François Guyot, Boris Sauterey, Régis Ferrière, Stéphane Mazevet. Bayesian analysis of Enceladus’s plume data to assess methanogenesis. Nature Astronomy, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01372-6
August 2, 2021

Episode 442 - Just what is a metal anyway

Just what is a metal anyway? It can be hard to classify things, no matter what you do there's always exceptions to the rules. Chemists, Physicists and Astrophysicists have wildly differing opinions on what a metal is. Although there is disagreement about what makes a metal, can you find new exceptions? What needs to happen to turn water into a metal? Can pure water be made to conduct electricity without needing a Jupiter sized planet? How do you turn water into a golden, shimmering, conducting metal? 

  1. Philip E. Mason, H. Christian Schewe, Tillmann Buttersack, Vojtech Kostal, Marco Vitek, Ryan S. McMullen, Hebatallah Ali, Florian Trinter, Chin Lee, Daniel M. Neumark, Stephan Thürmer, Robert Seidel, Bernd Winter, Stephen E. Bradforth, Pavel Jungwirth. Spectroscopic evidence for a gold-coloured metallic water solution. Nature, 2021; 595 (7869): 673 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03646-5
July 5, 2021

Episode 438 - Super fast and dense White Dwarfs and odd Supernova

What happens at the end of a star's life if it doesn't go out with a bang? White dwarfs are the end stage for 97% of stars, but can they still go 'nova? What happens if two white dwarf stars merge together? Rotating once every 7 minutes with a magnetic field billions times stronger than the Sun, super dense white dwarfs break all the records. There are many types of supernova, but which one happened at the Crab Nebula in 1054? What happens if a star isn't quite heavy enough to have an iron core supernova? Electrons are so tiny compared to a supergiant star, but if they're taken away it can lead to a supernova.

  1. Caiazzo, I., Burdge, K.B., Fuller, J. et al. A highly magnetized and rapidly rotating white dwarf as small as the MoonNature, 2021 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03615-y
  2. Daichi Hiramatsu, D. Andrew Howell, Schuyler D. Van Dyk, Jared A. Goldberg, Keiichi Maeda, Takashi J. Moriya, Nozomu Tominaga, Ken’ichi Nomoto, Griffin Hosseinzadeh, Iair Arcavi, Curtis McCully, Jamison Burke, K. Azalee Bostroem, Stefano Valenti, Yize Dong, Peter J. Brown, Jennifer E. Andrews, Christopher Bilinski, G. Grant Williams, Paul S. Smith, Nathan Smith, David J. Sand, Gagandeep S. Anand, Chengyuan Xu, Alexei V. Filippenko, Melina C. Bersten, Gastón Folatelli, Patrick L. Kelly, Toshihide Noguchi, Koichi Itagaki. The electron-capture origin of supernova 2018zdNature Astronomy, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01384-2
May 17, 2021

Episode 431 - Super stellar collisions and super computers

Space is really big, but when a collision happens it's incredibly complicated. Studying and predicting collisions between stars is hard even for super computers. How can you speed up the modelling of stellar collisions? A neutron star and a black hole colliding may not be as rare as you think. The collision of two heavyweights could give us the data we need to crack a century old question. The merger of a black hole and a neutron star gives off tremendous amounts of energy and may be more common than we thought. By 2030 we should have enough data captured on LIGO and other instruments to solve Hubble's dilema.

  1. Dominic C Marcello, Sagiv Shiber, Orsola De Marco, Juhan Frank, Geoffrey C Clayton, Patrick M Motl, Patrick Diehl, Hartmut Kaiser. Octo-Tiger: a new, 3D hydrodynamic code for stellar mergers that uses HPX parallelisationMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab937
  2. Stephen M. Feeney, Hiranya V. Peiris, Samaya M. Nissanke, and Daniel J. Mortlock. Prospects for measuring the Hubble constant with neutron-star–black-hole mergersPhys. Rev. Lett. (accepted), 2021 [abstract]
May 10, 2021

Episode 430 - Using Corn to clean water, and new wind turbine designs

Clever engineering can turn waste products into planet cleaning tools. Corn is America's biggest crop, but it's incredibly wasteful. Corn waste can be given a second life as activated carbon to help clean water. Corn waste makes for an efficient water when it's turned into activated charcoal. Wind turbines have to be carefully placed and located to maximise their efficiency. When designing a wind farm, the location and style of the turbine can greatly impact generation. Which design is better for wind turbines; vertical or horizontal? Vertical wind turbines aren't as common, but they can work together to boost efficiency.

  1. Mark Gale, Tu Nguyen, Marissa Moreno, Kandis Leslie Gilliard-AbdulAziz. Physiochemical Properties of Biochar and Activated Carbon from Biomass Residue: Influence of Process Conditions to Adsorbent PropertiesACS Omega, 2021; 6 (15): 10224 DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.1c00530
  2. Joachim Toftegaard Hansen, Mahak Mahak, Iakovos Tzanakis. Numerical modelling and optimization of vertical axis wind turbine pairs: A scale up approachRenewable Energy, 2021; 171: 1371 DOI: 10.1016/j.renene.2021.03.001
April 26, 2021

Episode 428 - Lightning and Early life on earth

What kicked off early life on earth? Organic chemistry and early life need the right minerals to be present and accessible. What helped unlock early minerals on earth like phosphorous to kick start life? Lightning strikes seem rare, but they're much more frequent than meteorites. Early life on Earth could have been helped along through lightning strikes and meteorites. DNA, RNA and Proteins are locked in a complex dance, but which came first. DNA can't replicate without the help of protein and RNA, so how did we develop DNA in the first place? Is it possible for RNA to replicate on it's own?

  1. Benjamin L. Hess, Sandra Piazolo, Jason Harvey. Lightning strikes as a major facilitator of prebiotic phosphorus reduction on early EarthNature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21849-2
  2. Alexandra Kühnlein, Simon A Lanzmich, Dieter Braun. tRNA sequences can assemble into a replicatoreLife, 2021; 10 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.63431
March 29, 2021

Episode 424 - Hunting for atmospheres on other planets

Mars was once covered with water, so where did all the water on Mars go? What happened to the water in the Martian atmosphere? Why isn't there an abundance of heavy water in the Martian atmosphere? Water can get trapped inside rocks and minerals without volcanoes to cycle them. Volcanoes and tectonics help sequester, cycle and release water, so what happens on a planet without them? How can we hunt for signs of water atmospheres on exoplanets? On hot rocky exoplanets with oceans of magma, what happens to their hydrogen rich atmospheres?  An atmosphere of of hydrogen can slowly turn and change into water with the help of a magma ocean. 

  1. E. L. Scheller, B. L. Ehlmann, Renyu Hu, D. J. Adams, Y. L. Yung. Long-term drying of Mars by sequestration of ocean-scale volumes of water in the crustScience, 2021; eabc7717 DOI: 10.1126/science.abc7717
  2. Edwin S. Kite, Laura Schaefer. Water on Hot Rocky ExoplanetsThe Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2021; 909 (2): L22 DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/abe7dc
March 22, 2021

Episode 423 - Humans vs Bacteria on earth and in space

Space is hard, things are different there which means something simple as salmonella becomes much more challenging. The rules of bacterial infection and response change once you're in space. How does your body respond to bacterial infection in microgravity environments? Getting sick in space may be worse than on earth. The human microbiome is incredible diverse and not well understood. Your gut contains 100,000s of bacteria groups, virus and other things. A large global study of gut microbiome has revealed thousands of new virus and bacteria types.

  1. Jennifer Barrila, Shameema F. Sarker, Nicole Hansmeier, Shanshan Yang, Kristina Buss, Natalia Briones, Jin Park, Richard R. Davis, Rebecca J. Forsyth, C. Mark Ott, Kevin Sato, Cristine Kosnik, Anthony Yang, Cheryl Shimoda, Nicole Rayl, Diana Ly, Aaron Landenberger, Stephanie D. Wilson, Naoko Yamazaki, Jason Steel, Camila Montano, Rolf U. Halden, Tom Cannon, Sarah L. Castro-Wallace, Cheryl A. Nickerson. Evaluating the effect of spaceflight on the host–pathogen interaction between human intestinal epithelial cells and Salmonella Typhimuriumnpj Microgravity, 2021; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41526-021-00136-w
  2. Luis F. Camarillo-Guerrero, Alexandre Almeida, Guillermo Rangel-Pineros, Robert D. Finn, Trevor D. Lawley. Massive expansion of human gut bacteriophage diversityCell, 2021; 184 (4): 1098 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.01.029
January 25, 2021

Episode 415 - Greener ways to make Hydrogen and Ammonia

You've probably heard about the wonders of a Hydrogen economy, but how can we make it better for the environment. Synthesizing Ammonia helped feed the planet, but at a huge environmental cost. How can we produce Ammonia without harming the environment? Production of ammonia (and fertilizer) has a huge carbon footprint. How can we clean it up? Hydrogen fuel cells could help decarbonize our economy, but how do we produce it cleanly? Electrolysis can separate hydrogen from water, but how can we do it more efficiently? 

December 14, 2020

Episode 409 - Stellar Weather, Life on other planets and Space Dust

What is the space around the sun like? Cold? Hot? Dusty? How does the space around the Sun change over time? Does the Sun suck up dust in the solar system, or blow it out? What can we learn about stellar weather in our neighbouring stars. Red Dwarfs are one of the most common stars in our Galaxy, but also produce lots of flares. Are rocky planets in Red Dwarf's habitable zone safe from stellar weather?

  1. Andrew Zic, Tara Murphy, Christene Lynch, George Heald, Emil Lenc, David L. Kaplan, Iver H. Cairns, David Coward, Bruce Gendre, Helen Johnston, Meredith MacGregor, Danny C. Price, Michael S. Wheatland. A Flare-type IV Burst Event from Proxima Centauri and Implications for Space WeatherThe Astrophysical Journal, 2020; 905 (1): 23 DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/abca90
  2. University of Colorado at Boulder. (2020, December 10). A look at the sun's dusty environment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 10, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201210112131.htm
November 23, 2020

Episode 406 - Lifting mountains out of the ground…with rain

Lifting mountains out of the ground with...rain? How do mountain ranges form is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Complex equations with lots of inputs are tricky to model and solve, but can help us understand the way mountains form. Rain, cosmic particles, sand and the Himalayas can help us understand how mountains form. It's hard to picture, but mountains actually float on the molten rock of the mantle. Make them lighter and they'll rise. Do rapid climate swings change mountains, or do mountains change the climate? The answer is tricky.

  1. Brandon, M. (2005, July 01). How Erosion Builds Mountains. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-erosion-builds-mountains-2005-07/
  2. B. A. Adams, K. X. Whipple, A. M. Forte, A. M. Heimsath and K. V. Hodges. Climate controls on erosion in tectonically active landscapes. Science Advances, 2020 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz3166
October 12, 2020

Episode 400 - Nobel Prizes, Collaboration, and more sustainable trees

The Nobel Prize's legacy on gender and diversity is poor, but are they turning it around? We celebrate the winners of the Nobel Prize, but look critically at the challenges of the system. How do you recognize the collaboration of 100s or 1000s of people with a single award? Is science advanced through singular genius or the collaboration of many? How can CRISPR help us create a more sustainable planet? Growing trees that are easier to process but still able to thrive is possible with CRISPR. How can making trees with less lignin help make a greener planet?

  1. Advanced information. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Sat. 10 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2020/advanced-information
  2. Barbara De Meester, Barbara Madariaga Calderón, Lisanne de Vries, Jacob Pollier, Geert Goeminne, Jan Van Doorsselaere, Mingjie Chen, John Ralph, Ruben Vanholme, Wout Boerjan. Tailoring poplar lignin without yield penalty by combining a null and haploinsufficient CINNAMOYL-CoA REDUCTASE2 alleleNature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-18822-w
September 21, 2020

Episode 397 - Ignobel Prize ‘20 - Physics

We celebrate the Ignobel Prizes once again, and this year we take a deep dive into the Physics prize for 2020. Faraday waves (standing waves in liquids or liquid filled objects) look pretty, but can anything filled with like have one? What about a worm? Can you make Faraday waves and resonant frequencies in Worms? What happens when a laser, a worm, and a speaker go into a lab? The result is an Ignobel Prize.

  1. Maksymov, I.S., Pototsky, A. Excitation of Faraday-like body waves in vibrated living earthworms. Sci Rep 10, 8564 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-65295-4
  2. 2020 Ceremony. (2020, September 18). Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.improbable.com/ig-about/the-30th-first-annual-ig-nobel-prize-ceremony/
August 31, 2020

Episode 394 - Travelling through time with telescopes

Telescopes can help us travel back in time to the early universe. We can watch galaxies form, the universe have a makeover and giant black holes appear. Using different telescopes we can learn about the cosmic dawn and the cosmic noon. The early universe was hazy and hard for light to travel far. What gave the early universe a makeover to allow starlight to travel? What fed the super hungry super massive black-holes of the early universe? Where did the early black holes find enough food to make them swell to massive sizes? What can we learn from the cosmic noon when most of the stars in the universe were formed? 

  1. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2020, January 6). Astronomers spot distant galaxy group driving ancient cosmic makeover. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 11, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200106141610.htm
  2. Emanuele Paolo Farina, Fabrizio Arrigoni-Battaia, Tiago Costa, Fabian Walter, Joseph F. Hennawi, Alyssa B. Drake, Roberto Decarli, Thales A. Gutcke, Chiara Mazzucchelli, Marcel Neeleman, Iskren Georgiev, Anna-Christina Eilers, Frederick B. Davies, Eduardo Bañados, Xiaohui Fan, Masafusa Onoue, Jan-Torge Schindler, Bram P. Venemans, Feige Wang, Jinyi Yang, Sebastian Rabien, Lorenzo Busoni. The REQUIEM Survey. I. A Search for Extended Lyα Nebular Emission Around 31 z > 5.7 Quasars. The Astrophysical Journal, 2019; 887 (2): 196 DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab5847
  3. T. Mauch et al. The 1.28 GHz MeerKAT DEEP2 Image. The Astrophysical Journal, 2019 [link]
August 10, 2020

Episode 391 - Mysteries of the sun, stellar weather and magnetic fields

The sun contains many mysteries, which are hard to unravel without special space probes. Why is the sun's corona so much hotter than the sun's surface? What helps form the biggest solar flares? When two arches of the sun's magnetic fields meet it can create some dangerous flares. Solar storms and solar flares can destroy satellites, power grids and spaceships. How can we better predict stellar weather and avoid disaster? Mapping out the Suns magnetic field can help us better predict stellar weather.

  1. European Space Agency. (2020, July 16). Solar Orbiter's first images reveal 'campfires' on the Sun: ESA/NASA mission returns first data, snaps closest pictures of the Sun. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 7, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200716120652.htm
  2. Kanya Kusano, Tomoya Iju, Yumi Bamba, Satoshi Inoue. A physics-based method that can predict imminent large solar flaresScience, 2020; 369 (6503): 587 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz2511
July 13, 2020

Episode 387 - Black holes dancing, colliding and third wheeling

Scientists have discovered the closet black hole to Earth, but relax it's 1000 Light years away. Ever felt like a third wheel, just be thankful it's not a black hole. A binary star system that can be seen with the naked eye with a lurking black hole. Super massive  black holes are hard to get your head around but can unleash tremendous energy. When two super massive black holes dance around each other, the fireworks are spectacular. Predicting when two black holes will graze past each other helps us refine our understanding of the universe.

  1. Th. Rivinius, D. Baade, P. Hadrava, M. Heida and R. Klement. A naked-eye triple system with a nonaccreting black hole in the inner binaryAstronomy & Astrophysics, 2020 DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/202038020
  2. Seppo Laine, Lankeswar Dey, Mauri Valtonen, A. Gopakumar, Stanislaw Zola, S. Komossa, Mark Kidger, Pauli Pihajoki, José L. Gómez, Daniel Caton, Stefano Ciprini, Marek Drozdz, Kosmas Gazeas, Vira Godunova, Shirin Haque, Felix Hildebrandt, Rene Hudec, Helen Jermak, Albert K. H. Kong, Harry Lehto, Alexios Liakos, Katsura Matsumoto, Markus Mugrauer, Tapio Pursimo, Daniel E. Reichart, Andrii Simon, Michal Siwak, Eda Sonbas. Spitzer Observations of the Predicted Eddington Flare from Blazar OJ 287The Astrophysical Journal, 2020; 894 (1): L1 DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab79a4
June 29, 2020

Episode 385 - Understanding what makes water stick together

What seems simple but it's deceptively complex. What makes water molecules stick together, or ice to float on top? Water has many mysteries, like ice floating on liquid. The key lies in the energy distribution. Shooting super high frequency lasers at water can help figure out what makes ice float or water stick together. Cheap and efficient ways to clean water is essential for saving lives across the globe. How can cyrstaline sponges help soak up bad chemicals like hexavalent chromium.

  1. Martina Havenith-Newen, Raffael Schwan, Chen Qu, Devendra Mani, Nitish Pal, Gerhard Schwaab, Joel M. Bowman, Gregory Tschumper. Observation of the low frequency spectrum of water trimer as a sensitive test of the water trimer potential and the dipole moment surface. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2020; DOI: 10.1002/anie.202003851
  2. Bardiya Valizadeh, Tu N. Nguyen, Stavroula Kampouri, Daniel T. Sun, Mounir D. Mensi, Kyriakos Stylianou, Berend Smit, Wendy L. Queen. A novel integrated Cr(vi) adsorption–photoreduction system using MOF@polymer composite beads. Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2020; DOI: 10.1039/d0ta01046d
June 15, 2020

Episode 383 - Pulsars and fast radio bursts

From pulsars to fast radio bursts, we look at interstellar mysteries. Just how do Pulsars work? How long does it take for a Pulsar to be fed by surrounding matter? All that accretion disk matter spillaring around a Pulsar takes a long time to get there. What are Fast Radio Bursts? mysterious signals from deep space, or wobbly highly magnetised neutron stars? Magnetars, fast radio bursts and flares. What causes a fast radio burst in space to repeat?

  1. D R Lorimer, E F Keane, A Karastergiou, M Caleb, R P Breton, C G Bassa, D Agarwal, V Morello, B W Stappers, M B Mickaliger, K M Rajwade. Possible periodic activity in the repeating FRB 121102Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2020; 495 (4): 3551 DOI: 10.1093/mnras/staa1237
  2. Brian D Metzger, Ben Margalit, Lorenzo Sironi, Fast radio bursts as synchrotron maser emission from decelerating relativistic blast waves, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 485, Issue 3, May 2019, Pages 4091–4106, https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/stz700
  3. Hall, S., & Quanta Magazine. (n.d.). A Surprise Discovery Points to the Source of Fast Radio Bursts. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-surprise-discovery-shows-magnetars-create-fast-radio-bursts-20200611/
  4. Monash University. (2020, June 3). Astronomers capture a pulsar 'powering up'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 13, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200603104549.htm
  5. A. J. Goodwin and D. M. Russell and D. K. Galloway et al, A 12 day delay between optical and X-ray activity during outburst rise in a low-mass X-ray binary, arXiv, astro-ph.HE, 2006.02872, 2020
May 4, 2020

Episode 377 - Hubble turns 30 and still takes amazing images

We celebrate the life and achievements of Hubble Space telescope and all that have worked on it over it's 30 years in space (and many more before that). We look at the challenges faced by Hubble early on, and the amazing science it is helping contribute to today. From stars being born, to comets tearing themselves apart Hubble sheds light on amazing science. The images Hubble takes are iconic and often look like science fiction. Hubble manages to celebrate it's birthday by capturing images of a comet tearing itself apart.

  1. Information@eso.org. (n.d.). Hubble Celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth. Retrieved May 02, 2020, from https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic2007/
  2. ESA/Hubble Information Centre. (2020, April 28). Hubble captures breakup of comet ATLAS. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200428142410.htm