New Element Discovered! 113 Gets it’s Claim to Fame!


Japanese researchers are looking to add their mark in scientific history & to the periodic table. The past couple of years have made incredible advances in the world of chemistry, growing the periodic table more & more. 

For the last nine years, a team of researchers at RIKEN’s Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science in Saitama, Japan, have been bombarding things with particle beams in an attempt to create one of the heaviest elements on the periodic table, Element 113.  While other elements around 113 have been discovered and named, including 114 and 116, as well as newly discovered 117, 113 has been eluding scientists for nearly a decade.  No longer, say a group of Japanese scientists.Researcher Kosuke Morita says his team has discovered and successfully created Element 113.

The discovery still has to be officially ratified by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP).  The element is currently called ununtrium, but is expected to either be named “rikenium” or “japonium,” with japonium leading the way.  That’s assuming the Japanese actually created the element first; US and Russian scientists have claimed that they have synthesized Element 113 some 56 times previously.


Read more about this new element on

October E-News: Woolly Worm Weatherman


Image Source:

Halloween is the time for dressing up & pretending to be something or someone else, right? In that case, we feel that October seems to be the perfect month to celebrate the incredible Woolly Worm! Each fall, this friendly caterpillar steps into the shoes of a meteorologist to provide his take on the upcoming winter forecast! Discover how this creepy, crawly critter has been predicting the weather for Western North Carolinafor generations! 

For many, many years, legend has held that woolly worms can predict whether the coming winter will be mild or harsh. This legend is especially popular across the mountains of Western North Carolina. But we wondered if there was any scientific truth behind this saying or if it was just an old wives’ tale? 

Woolly worms are actually the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella) They are known by various names, including “woolly bear caterpillars,” “banded woolly bears,” “fuzzy bears” and “black-ended bears.” Each autumn, woolly worms take shelter under leaves and other low-lying vegetation. In the spring, they complete their transformation into Isabella tiger moths. Woolly worms get their name from their fuzzy appearance. They have black bands at each end with a red-brown band in the middle.

If you are a Western North Carolina Native, you know that the woolly worm is a common site during the Fall. Legend has it that Native Americans taught the pioneers how to “read” a woolly worm to predict how bad the coming winter would be. After doing a little research, we found out you can read them a few different ways. First and most commonly known, you can read the patches of colored fur or hair. Woolly worms have black bands and reddish-brown bands. According to legend, the thinner the brown bands, the harsher the winter. Or basically, if there is more black, then the winter will be more rough; more brown, then winter will be more mild. People have taken this a few steps further and looked at each individual stripe on the worm-one for each week of winter. So, if the worm has 4 black stripes at the front followed by 4 brown stripes, we will have a cold, rough December, then a milder January-in theory. Some also say the thickness of the hair on the worm is a predictor. If the hair is thicker, then the winter will be worse. And finally, some check out the direction it is traveling! If the woolly worm is headed north, then the winter will be milder. If the worm is going south, then prepare for a longer, cold winter. In the past few decades, Woolly worm enthusiasts claim that the critters’ winter predictions have been on target about 85% of the time.   

You may have seen this common caterpillar lying around & not even known of its incredible weather prediction skills. The stripes of the woolly worm, read from head to rear, correspond to various weather conditions throughout the upcoming winter season. People who believe that woolly worms can predict the weather say that a narrow red-ban means a harsh winter lies in the months ahead while the wider the red-brown band is, the milder the coming winter is supposed to be. However, not all woolly worms are created equal – each woolly worm is unique & has its own differences displaying slight differences in its stripe patterns.  So how do you know which woolly worm knows his weather?

One local town in Western North Carolinasolves this problem by hosting its own Woolly Worm Festival each year. The Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival hosts the official NC woolly worm races & predicts the forecast forNorth Carolina’s upcoming 13 week winter!  Each year, hundreds of caterpillars race by traveling up a string (something that woolly worms love to do if given the opportunity). Apparently, worms are completely right almost 3/5th of the time and half right 4/5th of the time. Who needs when you have nature’s own meteorologist weatherman woolly!

But how accurate are woolly worms at predicting the weather? As it turns out, Scientists say that the Woolly Worm forecasting method is not very accurate. Their independent tests have found no correlation between woolly worms’ bands and winter weather. Instead, they note that the color and size of a woolly worm’s bands are likely affected by several factors, including availability of food, conditions during development, age and species.

Click here to check out the site for the Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this year’s prediction to see how the forecast pans out! 

October E-News: The Science of Fear


As the leaves begin to fall & the temperatures begin to drop, creatures of the night will begin to emerge as we near one of the most anticipated holidays of the year, Halloween! Why do so many people like horror movies? Or rollercoaster’s? Or haunted houses? Or a good ghost story? Fear is typically deemed a negative emotion, yet we go looking for it — particularly this time of year — in bite-sized bursts. We pay for it; we line up for it. Our heart races, our palms sweat, we scream in surprise and cringe in revulsion. And we say, let’s do it again!

Fear is the result of our brain’s evolution, the mechanism that emerged to protect our ancestors from leaping off cliffs or playing with pythons. We are here because of fear. It’s our species’ safety blanket from life’s sharp corners. It’s not a pleasant experience, really, even though it keeps us breathing. And yet, in the context of a dark movie theater or wandering the halls of an abandoned mansion, fear can be pretty fun. Haunted houses & scary movies allow us to experience the tonic of a good fright but what is fear, exactly? We wanted to go beyond the ghosts & ghouls this Halloween & see how much science lies  behind the scream.

For some, the feeling of fright brings along an exhilarating rush when we’re in a threatening situation. Those who enjoy horror movies, roller coasters, and extreme sports often seek that rush without the physical harm that can accompany spontaneous fear. Research suggests the enjoyment these people find is directly related to their dopamine production & receptors. The more dopamine produced in a scary situation means the more that person will enjoy being scared. Dopamine is basically like a natural drug high, it makes us feel euphoric and happy, so it can be quite a rush. But for some, feeling scared is a traumatic experience and can be completely debilitating.

For humans, fear is a full body experience. In order to stay safe, our entire system has to react quickly to process & respond to the information it is receiving. Once the brain jump starts the fear response, it doesn’t take long for the physiological changes to affect our entire body. First, the sensory organs – our eyes, ears, tongue nose and skin – pick up cues from our surroundings and feed them to our brain. Our brain’s threat center, is an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala. The amygdala acts as a ‘watch tower’ of sorts for the brain by processing all of initial emotional responses from external stimuli. Science suggests that without the amygdala, we would lack the capacity to feel fear all together.

If the amygdala identifies a threat, it sounds the alarm, immediately kicking the fight or fight response into gear. Before we know it, our heart’s beating like crazy, we’re taking quick, shallow breaths and sweating in case we have to defend ourselves or make a quick get away.

These changes are controlled by a part of the peripheral nervous system called the autonomic nervous system which regulates automatic changes to the body’s vital functions. While the brains does the brunt of the processing and coordination work, the entire body quickly gets involved to create the fear response. That’s because the fear response is biologically first, and the psychological second. Anytime we feel that a familiar jolt of fear, our brains are going through the same process. When we perceive something as a threat, the amygdala triggers a rush of chemicals and hormones that result in all the various physical responses to fear your heart starts pounding, and a chill shudders its way down your spine while all those little hairs on the back of your neck are standing right up. In the meantime, though, the information your senses pick up (the distant footsteps or animal behind you) get passed along to the pre-frontal cortex which takes a deep breath and locally assesses the risk factor.

When you see something scary your body’s stress response is going to be the same. Our brain detects a change of environment and releases dopamine to make us more alert. Think of the last time you were scared, do you remember the hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach and the sudden snap to attention of all your senses? No matter what’s causing it, to our brain, all fear feels the same. The reasoning behind this is because the body’s response to fear is biological first, and psychological second. Anytime we feel that familiar jolt of fear, our brains are going through the same process.

Our brains are unable to distinguish a difference between truly frightening experiences and those that people have purposefully designed to make us feel fearful. This opens the door for scary activities, such as horror movies, haunted houses and roller coasters, which allow us to experience fear without (hopefully) ever risking true physical danger. For every person who seeks fear in the real or personal sense, millions seek it vicariously, especially for the Halloween holiday. In darkened hallways of haunted houses people identify themselves with fictitious storylines or characters that have experienced fear, and therefore, put themselves in the same frightful situations & experience the fearful sensations for themselves – the quickened pulse, the alternately dry and damp palm, etc., but without paying the price of real danger.

Whether a rabid dog jumps at you in real life or a rabid dog jumps at you on a movie screen, your brain’s initial response is the same. Even if you’re in a safe context, the potentially harmful stimulus sends your amygdala buzzing, releasing energizing hormones in the brain and body. But as this happens, your prefrontal cortex interprets the information, reminding you that it’s only a movie and you’re not in real danger. The threat is artificial, but you still trick your body into having real physiological reactions. The fun fear we feel watching a scary movie stems from a sort of tango between the primitive part of our brain (amygdala) and the logical part (prefrontal cortex). And as they dance, your body has a party.

So, what is it about our nature that makes us enjoy Halloween? horror movies? bungee jumping? These things scare us, and we like it – why? Well, as it turns out, the parts of our brain that process fear overlap quite a bit with those that process pleasure. We are wired to experience a rush of chemicals when something startles us, and those chemicals, can be remarkably similar to the one we get when we’re enjoying something. (Like ice cream)! So far, neuroscientists have had a hard time coming up with a consistent answer for why our brains have evolved that way. For now, though, we can just be glad they did – otherwise, what fun would Halloween be?

 Learn More about the Science of Fear with these great resources:

GooseBumps: The Science of Fear Teacher Resources

Fear on Exhibit

NBC Learn: The Chemistry of Fear

Pirates Need Science, Too!

Image Source:

Arrrrr. Today, September 19th, is international talk like a pirate day. No, seriously, yo ho ho, check the web. Ya know, matey, anyone could be a pirate, all ya needed was a proper disrespect for authority and a willingness to be seasick months at a time. But to be a truly successful pirate and not just the son of a biscuit eater, well, ya had to know a bit of science, too. 

A good pirate captain had to know the astronomy to navigate by the stars. He had to be acquainted with meteorology and know enough fluid dynamics to make sure he didn’t overload his ship with booty. And he needed the psychological skills to manage his literally motley crew.

Your average pirate ship required a buccaneer surgeon to treat stab wounds and cat o’ nine tails slashes, and a swashbucklin’ general practitioner to make sure the men had the right diet to ward off scurvy with foods rich in vitamin C. Plus, your pirate optometrist supplied the men with eye patches. And of course, advanced veterinary practice kept your pirate parrots in fine fettle. So ya see, me hearty, no matter what your chosen path, science is sure to give you a hand. Or at least a hook! 

Discover more Pirate FUN on the official International Talk Like a Pirate Day website!