Agriculture
Vitamin D-licious Mushrooms
New Gene Fights Potato Blight
Protecting Cows—and People—from a Deadly Disease
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A Grim Future for Some Killer Whales
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Copybees
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Toxic Dirt + Avian Flu = Science Fair Success
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Electronic Paper Turns a Page
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Detecting an Eerie Sea Glow
Drilling Deep for Fuel
Rocking the House
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Shrimpy Invaders
Inspired by Nature
Power of the Wind
Finding the Past
Oldest Writing in the New World
Stonehenge Settlement
The Taming of the Cat
Fish
Marlin
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Food and Nutrition
The Color of Health
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Who vs. That vs. Which
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10 Common Mistakes When Preparing for the GSAT Math Test
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How a Venus Flytrap Snaps Shut
Human Body
Heavy Sleep
A Long Haul
Spit Power
Invertebrates
Corals
Lice
Giant Squid
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Gerbils
Jaguars
Weasels and Kin
Parents
How children learn
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The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
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Electric Backpack
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One ring around them all
Plants
Hungry bug seeks hot meal
Cactus Goo for Clean Water
Getting the dirt on carbon
Reptiles
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Sea Turtles
Garter Snakes
Space and Astronomy
Cousin Earth
An Earthlike Planet
Black Holes That Burp
Technology and Engineering
Supersuits for Superheroes
Young Scientists Take Flight
A Light Delay
The Parts of Speech
What is a Preposition?
Adjectives and Adverbs
Pronouns
Transportation
Flying the Hyper Skies
Where rivers run uphill
Reach for the Sky
Weather
A Dire Shortage of Water
Science loses out when ice caps melt
The Best Defense Is a Good Snow Fence
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Little Bits of Trouble

If you've kicked around a soccer ball, you may have noticed the pattern on the ball's surface. The ball is stitched together from 12 patches with five sides (pentagons) and 20 patches with six sides (hexagons). About 20 years ago, chemists discovered that carbon can form into molecules with the same shape. They nicknamed them buckyballs. These strong, hollow particles may someday be used to carry medicine or even block the action of certain viruses. Scientists have now found that buckyballs can harm living cells. Research by Eva Oberdörster, a biologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and her team shows that these molecules damage brain cells in fish. Buckyballs belong to a group of materials known as nanomaterials. The prefix "nano" means one-billionth. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter—roughly the width of just five carbon atoms lined up in a row. So, a buckyball is an extremely tiny particle—only a few ten-thousandths of the width of a human hair. To make a nanomaterial, scientists manipulate individual atoms to build molecules of different shapes. Groups of these molecules form materials with particular characteristics, making them suitable for different jobs. For example, some nanomaterials are already being used in makeup and sunscreens. Because buckyballs may someday be used in industry, Oberdörster and her team conducted experiments to find out if the molecules are toxic. The researchers added different quantities of buckyballs to water in a fish tank. After 48 hours, they removed the fish from the tank and checked different parts of the fishes' bodies for damage. Although none of them died, the exposed fish showed 17 times as much damage to brain cells as did fish not exposed to buckyballs. In a separate experiment, Vicki Colvin of Rice University in Houston found that buckyballs damage human cells growing in a lab. But she also found a possible solution to the problem. Coating buckyballs with other kinds of simple molecules appears to make buckyballs safer. Nanomaterial particles come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, so it's not yet known whether they all have the same harmful effects that buckyballs do. It's going to take a lot more experiments to sort out all the possible health effects of these amazing, new materials.—S. McDonagh

Little Bits of Trouble
Little Bits of Trouble








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