Science & Innovation

News about science and innovation

Searching For Savings, Drivers Turn To Natural Gas

Jul 5, 2012

Whether it's men­tal, writ­ten on an enve­lope or metic­u­lously doc­u­mented in a spread­sheet, a list of pros and cons often plays a role in the pur­chase of a new car.

What's the mileage like? How safe is it? How's it look?

If a shop­per was weigh­ing whether or not to buy a nat­ural gas-fueled car, the top item on the "pro" side would with­out a doubt be the cost of fuel: right now the gallon-equivalent of com­pressed nat­ural gas costs less than half as much as a gal­lon of gasoline.

The Sounds of Science

Jul 3, 2012

For over a century, scientists have known that gases in the atmosphere can trap heat, making the planet warmer. To illustrate this Greenhouse Effect, we recorded a pair of singers, David Jennings-Smith, a singer with the Pittsburgh Opera, and Pittsburgh vocalist Angela Morelli.

Summer Gas Bill Moves To Governor's Desk

Jul 2, 2012

With summer now in full swing, the State Senate has agreed to amendments made by the House to the Federal Clean Air Act in relation to compliance with requirements for low Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) gasoline, more commonly known as "summer gas." The legislation aims to make gasoline cheaper for motorists in western Pennsylvania.

Michael Rader, Executive Director to the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said the original goal was to do away with the high-cost gasoline.

The Future of Energy

Jun 29, 2012

Nathan Hultman, a scientist at the University of Maryland, has thought a lot about shale gas, climate change, and energy policy. It's not so much the emissions he's worried about with shale gas, but the impact it will have on a cleaner type of energy.

This story is part of "Gas Planet," a special presentation of the Allegheny Front.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wants Pennsylvania homes to be a bit safer and more energy efficient. It is trying to get out the word through a series of webinars. The online events will be offered every quarter starting Wednesday, June 27 at 7:00 PM.

Amanda Witman, spokeswoman for the DEP, said the webinars are a part of the Department's new initiative to promote better living. The first webinar, titled "Summertime Advisories," will run a little longer than one hour. Witman said several more will follow focusing on a variety of topics.

Find Historical Markers on Smartphones

Jun 26, 2012

History buffs and travelers alike may find the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's newly updated mobile website useful for finding interesting sites while on the go in the state. Smartphone users can go to on their mobile web browser, click "Find What's Nearby," and locate historical markers and museums in close proximity.

Translating The Web While Learning A New Language

Jun 25, 2012

Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists have spun off a new, free website called Duolingo, where language learners translate real-world texts from the Internet while they're building vocabulary and grammar skills.

Methane the Potent

Jun 22, 2012

Methane comes from a lot of things, not just a gas well. It bubbles out of swamps, landfills, and rice paddies. Believe it or not, cows are a major source of methane. A recent study said it was up to 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. To explain why, the story begins not on earth, but in space.

All energy on earth comes from the sun, mainly in the form of light.

A Biography of Methane

Jun 22, 2012

Coal, oil, and natural gas are all fossil fuels, but they have different origins. Coal mainly comes from plants that grew on land and died long ago. The source for oil and methane — the main ingredient of natural gas — is something else.

"But they all more or less have a fairly common origin in that they were once some sort of algae or some other form of sea life, like plankton for instance, that died off long ago," said Dave Yoxtheimer, a geologist at Penn State who studies the Marcellus shale, the largest shale gas deposit in the U.S.

Support For Shell Tax Break In Monaca, But Skepticism Over Job Claims

Jun 19, 2012

How much should a state pay to create jobs? Many people are asking that question, as Governor Corbett calls on legislators to pass a $1.65 billion tax break aimed at Royal Dutch Shell.

StateImpact Pennsylvania traveled to Beaver County, to find out how the proposal is playing in the community where Shell is considering building a major chemical processing plant.

Carnegie Mellon University will host the Nature Gigablitz event from June 20-26, where anyone and everyone can submit documentation of biodiversity in their neighborhoods. Photos are shared and made available for analysis from participants all over the world.

Corbett Administration Defends Tax Credit

Jun 15, 2012

When Governor Tom Corbett praised a deal with a major energy giant to set up shop in Beaver County, he didn't mention a $1.7 billion tax break was needed, too, but now the administration says that was part of the original deal.

Royal Dutch Shell made that request of the Corbett administration when it said it was considering building a natural gas processing plant in western Pennsylvania.

“In the Classroom, Not A Landfill"

Jun 15, 2012

An estimated two and a half million tons of computers and other electronic waste, or "e-waste," is tossed out each year in the United States. Only about 25% is recycled. The rest takes up space in landfills, and sometimes seeps lead and other hazardous chemicals into the ground and water supply. One local nonprofit's found a way to reduce that toxic load, and help people, too.

A few students are gathered in the computer lab of an after-school program south of Pittsburgh in Dormont. It's almost the last day before summer vacation, so it's a little quieter than usual.

The Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District is holding a public comment meeting on a nuclear waste removal project halted in September. Work was stopped after a safety breech and the discovery of "complex" materials which are more difficult to remove, prompted a policy review.

"We don't have any new information, but we want to get their voice and collect their comments so we can forward them up to the people reviewing this policy," said Corps public affairs officer Jeff Hawk.

Pittsburgh City Council heard public testimony Wednesday about a federal Environmental Protection Agency proposal to curb carbon pollution from new coal-fired power plants.

All of the speakers at the hearing supported the EPA's proposed rule, which would cap carbon emissions from future coal-fired plants at 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. The unprecedented regulation would not cover existing plants, or those built within a year of the rule's adoption.

Republicans are speaking out in protest of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulations on the energy industry across the nation and in Pennsylvania. U.S Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA-18), Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan, and U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith describe the regulations as a declaration of war on coal.

Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio Competing for Shell's Cracker

Jun 13, 2012

In March, Governor Corbett announced Royal Dutch Shell was entering into negotiations with Pennsylvania on a deal that would give the company $1.7 billion in tax breaks, but this week, he acknowledged Ohio and West Virginia are still making offers to the company. That uncertainty has critics wary of this tax benefit, especially since the commonwealth has already offered Shell a 15-year tax exemption.

5k Walk to Promote Prostate Cancer Awareness

Jun 13, 2012

A local foundation is promoting awareness of prostate cancer by hosting its tenth annual "5k/10k run/walk" in the North Side on Sunday morning.

The Obediah Cole Foundation for Prostate Cancer said it expected about 3,000 people to show up at River Front Park for the races this year, which would set a record for the Father's Day event.

A team of researchers from Penn State University has made precise measurements of a binary star system 200 light-years away.

The Kepler-16 system was discovered in 2011 by a team from NASA, but the Penn State study is the first to discern the light output from each of the two small stars using a spectrograph.

Panel Discusses Tapping Into Marcellus Shale

Jun 7, 2012

Businesses from the Pittsburgh region looking to break into the Marcellus Shale industry today received some advice from a panel featuring a keynote speaker from Shell Oil Company. Hosted by the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh, the presentation served as an informational session on how non-drilling companies can take advantage of the natural gas trapped in the rock formation underneath much of Pennsylvania's surface.

Jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are growing at a much faster pace than the overall job market, but many people balk at the mention of math or science. Others think there's a "math gene." To combat negative attitudes toward STEM and the notion that you're born mathematically or scientifically inclined, the Carnegie Science Center, the Math and Science Collaborative, FedEx Ground, and WTAE TV have launched a community awareness campaign called "Math + Science = Success."

The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have purchased steam from Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal (PACT) for nearly three decades. The latest 10 year lease is up this summer, so in the interest of making sure the city and county are getting the best deal, County Controller Chelsa Wagner and City Controller Michael Lamb want to do a review of how PACT operates.

An Allegheny County Councilman would like to know how much natural gas lies beneath the county's park system, and exactly how much money that gas is worth.

Councilman Matt Drozd (R-District 1) has introduced legislation calling for an inventory of the county's mineral resources, especially regarding the Marcellus Shale gas formation.

Corbett Offers Tax Break to Shell

Jun 5, 2012

In March, Shell Oil announced it was considering building a multi-billion dollar processing plant in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Corbett wants to give Shell a $1.7 billion tax break to convince the energy giant to build an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County that would be used to convert natural gas compounds into chemicals used to make plastic.

Rare Phenomenon to Occur as Venus Passes Before Sun

Jun 4, 2012

There's only one way humans can see a planet moving in the sky, according to Dan Malerbo, education coordinator at Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Digital Planetarium & Observatory, and that's if the planet happens to pass directly in front of the sun. Venus will be doing just that during a rare phenomenon Tuesday, June 5, at 6:04 PM.

"It's one of the astronomical highlights of the century," Malerbo said, "and what it shows us is the workings of the inner solar system."

Pittsburgh Chosen for Science Pilot Program

May 31, 2012

Pittsburgh was chosen over about ten other cities in a search for a pilot program organized by two departments of the National Academies. The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering are teaming up on the project and will begin the "Science and Engineering Ambassador Program" in the fall.

Asthma Summit Highlights Regional Problems

May 16, 2012

Pollution and high obesity rates help to make Pittsburgh fourth highest in the nation for asthma rates, according to experts at an asthma summit on the North Side on Wednesday.

Speakers at "The Air We Breathe" summit highlighted links between asthma and obesity in children, as well as the role played by air pollution and viral infections.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University used a popular social network called Foursquare to get a better understanding of the city. Foursquare allows users to "check in" at a location, and it posts the information online.

Carnegie Mellon University is offering free sightseeing visits to the roof of the U.S. Steel Tower.

Well, sort of.

Students and staff at CMU's Entertainment Technology Center have constructed a virtual world in which the one-acre space atop the skyscraper becomes an entertainment destination.

David Bear of CMU's STUDIO for Creative Inquiry said visitors to the "High Point Pittsburgh" website can wander through a three-story glass enclosure that includes a stage, a gallery, a restaurant, and even a green space.

Washington & Jefferson College hopes to elevate the debate over America's energy policy with a new index of annual data from the federal government.

The college's Center for Energy Policy and Management will oversee the new Energy Index. CEPM Director Diana Stares said the database will provide lawmakers with unbiased information.