Spooky Science Stories from the University of Oregon, Just in Time for Halloween

Gather around the eerie glow of your smartphones, friends, and make sure your doors are tightly locked. We’ve got all the geeky Halloween stories you’ll need this year to entertain your friends with tales of creepy crawlers, ghosts, and chilling scientific studies from the laboratories of the University of Oregon’s mad scientists.

Night of the living microbes

We are not alone.

It turns out that nearly 90% of your body is made up of microbes and only 10% is “you,” the skin cells, tissues, and blood cells that make up your body. And all these microbes might be controlling your mind (gasp)! A team of UO researchers received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to see if microorganisms in the gut influence brain development and behavior.

Attack of the killer sperm

These worms have the worst first date stories, ever.

It turns out that living in New York really is bad for your health, particularly if you’re a female Caenorhabditis remanei, a type of nematode (worm). In the battle of the sexes, male C. remanei developed sperm that can kill their partners after 24 hours to prevent them from mating with other partners.

Watch this video of flesh-eating beetles cleaning skeletons.

Om nom nom.

These tiny beetles are actually important for the work of scientists at the UO’s Museum of Cultural and Natural History (MNCH). These little guys can clean an entire 35-pound beaver skeleton in just two weeks. The museum uses them to clean the flesh off of specimens so the skeletons can be stored safely, but that doesn’t stop them from being super creepy.

Ever wondered how the creepy crawlies do their creeping?

It’s actually kind of beautiful, if slithering is your thing.

A recent study by UO’s Chris Doe has revealed how a special network of neurons in fruit fly larvae helps carry out essential motor functions. The discovery could eventually lead to treatments for motor-system disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and to the construction of robotic devices that compensate rapidly to changes in terrain.

Speaking of robots, the UO is developing a cyborg.

Move over, Terminator.

UO’s Richard Taylor recently received a broad U.S. patent for using artificial fractal-based implants to restore sight to the blind—part of a far-reaching concept that won an innovation award this year from the White House. Fractals are objects with irregular shapes and curves, and, according to Taylor, they could help neurons bind to the electronics to exchange information.

A craving for brains

Did you know that neuroscientists are actually zombies?

UO’s Cris Neill is fascinated by brains. In particular, he has dedicated his career to understanding how the brain makes sense of the visual world. Neill is unique, however, in that he studies a famously-blind rodent: the mouse. Now, several years into his research, brain researchers are increasingly following his lead.

These scientists are preparing for killer cars.

And no, they’re not transformers.

What if your car decided that it was better for you to die than to cause an accident that might kill two other people? UO’s Azim Shariff was recently featured in a story by the Washington Post about his new study examining ethics in self-driving cars.

What’s that eerie glow?

Is it you, Great Pumpkin?

Here’s a bit of cool science from the laboratories of Michael Haley and Darren Johnson: glow-in-the dark molecules. It turns out these pretty colors are actually incredibly useful. By activating nitrate and making it glow, Haley and Johnson can measure how much of it is in the soil. Their research helped launch SupraSensor, a company that creates nitrate sensors to help farmers save billions each year on Fertilizer costs.

These zebrafish can regrow their fins

Fortunately, unlike vampires, these little guys are pretty cute.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Oregon isolated two molecules in zebrafish that let them regrow the bones and tissues when they loose their tails, potentially paving the way for better treatments for people who have bone fractures.

Yeah, there might be GHOST particles

“BOO,” said the stealth neutron, and no one was scared.

Here’s some spooky science about what scientists have coined “stealth dark matter.” Apparently something we can’t see or observe can, in fact, be even stranger than we first thought. These particles combine with nice, friendly, everyday matter to form mysterious, nearly invisible particles that carry a small electric charge. Right now, the team is preparing for the next run of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to look for evidence of—or rule out—their theory.

Happy Halloween.

-Andrew Stiefel, Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI)