Science & Innovation

News about science and innovation

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.

Act 13 is the recently-passed law that regulates oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania. There are many provisions within it, including impact fees for counties, chemical disclosure regulations, and where energy development can take place. But, it's a legislative document and is therefore long and sometimes hard to understand. That's where Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) comes in. The non-profit environmental advocacy group has released a plain-language guide and analysis.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Pittsburgh Friday, praising one of the largest pipeline modernization projects in the nation's history. Hundreds of thousands of pipes run under communities in the U.S., transporting natural gas, but many are very old and some are starting to crumble.

A year ago, Secretary LaHood called upon pipeline operators to take a hard look at their infrastructure and make needed improvements. He says companies such as NiSource, which includes Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, took that call and ran with it.

A report issued by the RAND Corporation finds that using abandoned mine drainage for hydraulic fracturing gas wells could be employed more frequently in future development, thereby lessening the burden on fresh water supplies. The report, funded by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, concludes that drainage from closed mines is plentiful, and the technology to use it is feasible.

The Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park is the subject of a new film to be debuted Wednesday night. Undaunted looks at the history of the University of Pittsburgh owned and operated facility, first opened in 1867, and the people that brought it to life. The film goes so far as to call it the true birthplace of aviation and the field of astrophysics.

Somerset County Latest to Enact Marcellus Impact Fee

Apr 11, 2012

The Somerset County Commission has voted to enact an impact fee on Marcellus drilling operations, though at this point, they're not sure how much money that will mean for the county. At a meeting Tuesday Commissioners John Vatavuk and Joe Betta approved the fee. Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes was absent from the meeting, though Betta said she does support the move.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in collaboration with engineers at MIT have demonstrated that a substance known as BZ gel can sense and respond to stimuli, similar to human skin.

When placed in an environment with certain agents, the gel, with a chemically-attached catalyst, will begin to pulse as it expands and contracts. Few materials can mimic this autonomous oscillation. The gel can, with the potential to restart pulses by sensing touch.

Zero Waste Pittsburgh Expands Certification Efforts

Mar 29, 2012

Zero Waste Pittsburgh is introducing ZIP certification for businesses and institutions that set and achieve greater waste reduction goals.

Zero Waste Pittsburgh is a project of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, and offers waste program evaluations, studies, technical assistance, and employee training. Since 2007, Zero Waste Pittsburgh has certified events such as the Annual Strawberry Festival, the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and the 2011 Blues Festival.

57,000 People Could Be Without Heat & Electricity

Mar 28, 2012

In a few days, a winter ban will end that's kept power companies from shutting off the heat and electricity for low-income families that haven't paid their bills.

But a legal aid non-profit is asking utilities companies to show some clemency to Pennsylvanians who need help paying those bills.

Michael Froehlich, a lawyer with the Community Legal Services based in Philadelphia, said it's an issue because more than 57,000 applications for heating assistance are still pending.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced it will approve grant funding for the design and licensing of two small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) to bring nuclear energy to a condensed area.

Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) and Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) introduced legislation last year calling for a public-private partnership. Murphy explained that the approval from the DOE is for competitive grants, and the companies must have a 50 percent cost-sharing through private investment.

Pennsylvania state Representatives and Senators received an overall failing grade on recent Marcellus Shale gas drilling votes, according to a new score card released today.

Environmental groups— PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, and Sierra Club— graded all 253 Pennsylvania state lawmakers on how they voted on HB 1950.

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