White House Honors Two Techies for Making Programming Cool

Bay Area residents Carlos Bueno and Kimberly Bryant are helping to prepare kids to use programming concepts in daily life and work.

Tech Titans Join Forces on Internet Surveillance

More than 60 technology firms and other groups are urging the federal government to let companies disclose Patriot Act data requests.

Is Your Smartphone Hurting Your Love Life?

In a new study, 70 percent of women in serious relationships reported that technology encroaches on their love lives, which correlated with increased conflict and lower relationship satisfaction. But other studies have found minimal impact of technology on relationships. Do you look at your smartphone more than you are gazing into the eyes of your sweetheart? Does Siri tag along on date nights?

Crashes Cast Doubt on Future of Commercial Space Industry

Two recent crashes, including a fatal one involving a Virgin Galactic shuttle, raise new questions about the future of the commercial space industry. Twenty people who had purchased seats to fly to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic have reportedly asked for their money back. The second crash, with a company that carries cargo to space for NASA, happened late last month. We'll discuss the state of the $300 billion global space economy.

PBS NewsHour

Reinventing the way chemicals are made to make them cheaper and cleaner

Whether its a new drug, a new fertilizer or a new solar panel, chemists have been stuck using the same methods to make their inventions. Now, the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, run by Emory University organic chemist Huw Davies, is breaking the mold.

“It is an entirely different way of putting molecules together,” Davies said. “And that means it allows you ready access to compounds that have either never been made before, or that were impractical to be made by the conventional methods.”

This international collaboration of scientists is redesigning how organic chemicals are made. Every organic chemical has a basic framework made up of carbon and hydrogen. When chemists make new drugs, for example, they build on those existing frameworks.

But what if you could break open that framework? You could build new chemical structures into the framework, Davies said, opening up new possibilities for drugs and other organic chemicals.

It will also make some chemicals cleaner and cheaper to make, said Daniel Morton, managing director of the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. By changing how chemicals are made, scientists can eliminate toxic byproducts and waste.

“I think in every field of science one of the biggest drives in the last 20 years has been how to do things in a cleaner, more effective and efficient fashion,” he said. “And that’s what this center is all about.”

Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation series “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.

The post Reinventing the way chemicals are made to make them cheaper and cleaner appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Arctic warming twice as fast as rest of the world

Data by NOAA

A new NOAA-led report shows the continuing trend of Arctic temperatures rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the globe. Data by NOAA

Arctic air temperatures are rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, a new report says.

The Arctic Report Card 2014, a NOAA-led report released Wednesday, features the work and research of 63 authors from 13 countries and breaks down the changing conditions in the Arctic region. One of the main factors the report card tackles is “Arctic amplification,” where the Arctic warms quicker than the rest of the world.

Image by NOAA

October through January Arctic temperature anomalies for the years 2009 to 2014. Image by NOAA

“Arctic warming is setting off changes that affect people and the environment in this fragile region, and has broader effects beyond the Arctic on global security, trade, and climate,” Craig McLean, acting assistant administrator for the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, said. “This year’s Arctic Report Card shows the importance of international collaboration on long-term observing programs that can provide vital information to inform decisions by citizens, policymakers and industry.”

In addition to the increasing temperatures of the air and sea surface, the report also highlights several other changes, including the decline of polar bear populations, a browning tundra, a record low for the Greenland ice sheet’s reflectivity and shrinking snow cover.

The post Arctic warming twice as fast as rest of the world appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

GIF: Christmas tree to blazing inferno in less than a minute

Isaac Leventon, graduate student at the University of Maryland, sets fire to a Christmas tree for a program on fire
         dynamics for high school students. The tree was purchased free when it was fresh and left to dry in normal room temperature
         and humidity conditions for two weeks. Video by PBS NewsHour

Isaac Leventon, graduate student at the University of Maryland, sets fire to a Christmas tree for a program on fire dynamics for high school students. The tree was purchased free two weeks before when it was fresh and left to dry in normal room temperature and humidity conditions. Video by PBS NewsHour

A dried-out, eight-foot Christmas tree can light, blaze and burn to ash in less than a minute, causing considerable damage in the process, according to research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

‘Tis the season for gigantic fire hazards in family homes. The National Fire Prevention Association reports that an average of 230 fires start with Christmas trees every year. Sure, that’s a small number, representing only .1 percent of all annual home fires . But a Christmas tree is a large fuel source, and once it starts burning, it burns fast and mean. According to the NFPA, Christmas tree fires kill six civilians a year, and cost an estimated $18.3 million in property damage.

Courtesy: NIST

“What makes them dangerous is they’re very large, and they’re very easy to heat up,” said Isaac Leventon, fire protection engineering graduate student at the University of Maryland. “The tree’s shape is almost optimized for burning, and then you leave it inside your home and let it dry out over weeks.”

Leventon runs An Introduction to Math and Physics through Fire Dynamics, a program for high-school students through the University of Maryland.


All fires need three things, Leventon said: fuel, an oxidizer and heat or an ignition source. Both natural and artificial trees provide a generous source of fuel. While natural trees are responsible for more fires every year, plastic trees made from PVC can release toxic hydrochloric acid as they burn — not something you want to breathe in, Leventon said. Plastic is a petroleum product, and thin plastic needles can burn just as quickly as a natural tree, he said. Plus, in a blaze, plastic trees can melt, raining liquid plastic onto the floor and forming a pool of fire at the base of the tree.

Real or artificial, the large surface area of the leaves makes them super flammable. Think about burning a book, Leventon said. Toss a closed, hardcover book on a flame, and it will take longer to burn. But if you laid the book open and lit several pages, the volume will burn much more quickly. Burning a tree works the same way, he explained. The widespread needles are thin and as flammable as tissue paper. They also allow air to flow through the tree, feeding the flames and accelerating the burn over the surface.


Once the needles catch fire, the wood begins releasing water vapor and other gases that promote the burning process, said Anthony Hamins, chief of fire research at NIST. The wood ignites and the flames typically spread upward and laterally to other branches. Temperature in the room rises quickly. Within seconds, flames are lapping the ceiling.

There are several factors that affect how fast and how hot the tree will burn. A well-watered tree takes a larger flame to ignite. In NIST’s study, a tree with 36 percent moisture content could not be ignited with a single match; it needed a propane torch to get going. When the torch was removed, the flames went out. Drier trees caught fire with just a few matches. At the zenith of the burn, the trees released between 1.6 and 5.2 megawatts of energy.


Here are some safety tips from the experts: If you’re getting an artificial tree, make sure it is certified as flame retardant by the manufacturer, said Lorraine Carli, a spokesperson for the NFPA. If you’re getting a natural Christmas tree, pick one with green needles that don’t fall off when you touch them. Before putting the tree in its stand, cut at least two inches off its base; make sure you water it daily. Keep the tree at least three feet from heat sources such as space heaters, candles, fireplaces, heat vents and lights. Throw out old Christmas lights with frayed cords, and don’t connect more than three strings of lights to one outlet. Turn off the lights on the tree before going to bed.

And once the tree dries out, throw it out, Leventon added. Dried Christmas trees can’t be rehydrated, no matter how much water you add, and shouldn’t be kept inside or even next to the house.

Understanding how a tree will burn in your living room helps engineers build models to predict how fires will behave on a much larger scale. But even knowing a tree’s mass and moisture content, these fires are exceptionally tough to model.

“It’s a very difficult problem – there’s fluid mechanics, solid and gas phase chemistry, heat transfer…Do we understand the physics of burning? Yes, but trying to model a tree burning is very difficult,” Hamins said, adding, “It’s shocking to see how fast a tree can burn and can cause fatalities. We need to inform the public.”

The post GIF: Christmas tree to blazing inferno in less than a minute appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

News Wrap: Computer failure shuts down London airspace


Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street sank into a week-ending swoon today, overwhelmed again by the plunging price of oil. In New York trading, oil fell below $58 a barrel, down 12 percent just this week. In turn, the Dow Jones industrial average slumped 315 points to close below 17,281, its worst week in three years. The S&P 500 dropped 33 points to close at 2,002, its worst week in well over two years. The Nasdaq fell 54 to close at 4,653.

Financial expert Hugh Johnson says it underscores that lower oil prices present a trade-off.

HUGH JOHNSON, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer, Johnson Illington Advisors: A decline in the price of gas at the pump is going to free up a lot of money for consumption in the U.S. That’s good news. We see it show up in an increase in consumer confidence. We see it show up in an increase in November retail sales. So there’s a trade-off

But, believe me, the decline in the price of oil does reflect a decline or a slowdown in the global economy. That’s a worry and that’s not going away any time soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stocks were also hurt today by fresh concerns over economic growth in China.

A new look at how the economic recovery is affecting individual Americans finds a growing wealth gap between whites and minorities in the U.S. The Pew Research Center reported today that, in 2010, white households had a net worth eight times greater than black households. By last year, it had grown to 13 times greater. The gap between whites and Hispanics is slightly less, but still the largest it’s been since 2001.

The Senate moved this evening to consider a giant spending bill that funds most of the government through September. It scraped through the House last night, after President Obama lobbied Democrats for support. Many were angered by provisions that weaken rules on financial derivatives, and let wealthy donors pour more money into political parties.

Today, the president argued it’s the best deal available.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This, by definition, was a compromise bill. This is what’s produced when you have the divided government that the American people voted for.

Had I been able to draft my own legislation and get it passed without any Republican votes, I suspect it’d be slightly different. That is not the circumstance we find ourselves in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: While the Senate works, the House passed another short-term extension of government funding through next Wednesday.

A major Pacific storm lashed Southern California today after roaring across the northern part of the state. Downpours of two inches an hour triggered floods, downed trees, and cut power to some 80,000 customers. The rain also set off a mudslide in Camarillo Springs, north of Los Angeles, where hillsides had been stripped bare by wildfires; 124 homes were ordered to evacuate, as debris was piled up to the rooftops in some places.

BILL GOLUBICS, California: I came out on my little front porch here to see how much water might be going down the street. Then, after about five minutes, the door slammed shut behind me, and I knew what had happened, that the mud had entered the house and was up against the door from the inside. So there I was kind of stuck on the front porch. And soon the mud was flowing around both sides of the house, going into the street, and I knew I was — I was in trouble at that point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Officials say the powerful storm is not nearly enough to end California’s record drought.

British officials demanded an investigation today, after a computer failure shut down airspace over London for a time. The incident brought Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest, to a standstill. In turn, hundreds of flights had to be canceled or delayed. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said the disruption didn’t delay any flights departing from the U.S. for Britain.

The people of Japan prepared today to go the polls for nationwide parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called Sunday’s vote in a bid for fresh support for efforts to rejuvenate a faltering economy. His party’s victory is all but guaranteed. This will be Japan’s third national election since the end of 2012.

And new research today underscored the health costs of osteoporosis in older women. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reported that the bone-weakening disease leads to more hospitalization and greater health costs than heart attack, breast cancer or stroke. The study looked at American women over the age of 55.

The post News Wrap: Computer failure shuts down London airspace appeared first on PBS NewsHour.