USC News

Menu Search

USC 2014: The year in weird science

One in a series showcasing a year of university highlights

Sometimes research is so unexpected that it grabs our imagination and leaves us wanting to know more. Here are some of our favorite highlights in surprising and innovative science at USC in 2014.

Explaining the universe

quantum mechanics string theory

Two USC researchers used string field theory to try to validate quantum mechanics. (Photo/

String theory explains some of the ways the world behaves, and the rules of quantum mechanics dominate the subatomic world of quarks and leptons. But these two theories come with completely different playbooks. This year, physicist Itzhak Bars and doctoral student Dmitry Rychkov used string theory to explain quantum mechanics. “This could solve the mystery of where quantum mechanics comes from,” Bars said. Might a unified theory of physics be far behind?

Whale bones

Matthew Dean and Jim Dines

Matthew Dean, left, and Jim Dines searched through more than 10,000 boxes of unsorted cetacean bones in search of pelvic bones. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Whales and dolphins have pelvic bones that we’ve long thought served no purpose. Au contraire. Scientists Matthew Dean and Jim Dines dug through thousands of boxes of whale bones in museums and studied bones with laser scanners. Four years later, they released their surprising findings: The bones actually help male whales control their penis, providing a competitive advantage in sexual selection.

Longevity secrets from Ecuador

Longevity researchers

Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, left, and Valter Longo at the USC Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

About a third of the world’s people with Laron syndrome — notable for causing dwarfism — live in isolated villages in Ecuador. People with Laron are not only short in stature; most also avoid diabetes and cancer. Longevity expert Valter Longo and endocrinologist Jaime Guevara-Aguirre are studying a special group of Ecuadoreans to understand the science behind their longevity.

Eat all you want


C. elegans, a 1-millimeter-long worm that scientists have used as a model organism since the 1970s (Photo/Courtesy of the Curran Laboratory)

Imagine swallowing a pill that lets you eat all the ice cream and cake you want — without gaining weight. Scientists led by USC’s Sean Curran found a way to suppress the obesity that’s linked to a high-sugar diet. And it’s all because of a discovery from a tiny worm.

Rebuild your body

Stem cells in a mouse nail

Stem cells in a mouse nail (Courtesy of the Krzysztof Kobielak lab)

Lizards can regrow their tails if they lose them. Why can’t humans regrow a body part? Researchers are making discoveries in the world of stem cell science that might come close. USC stem cell scientists showed that stem cells could help regrow ribs or might even help regrow severely injured skin or amputations.

Flying dinosaur

Flying Dinosaur

Changyuraptor yangi is considered the biggest of the four-winged dinosaurs. (Illustration by S. Abramowicz/courtesy of the Dinosaur Institute, Natural History Museum)

Evidence is mounting that dinosaurs flew before birds did. Scientists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, USC and other institutions found a fossil of the 125-million-year-old dinosaur Changyuraptor yangi in China. It had a full set of feathers cloaking its entire body, including tail feathers so long they eclipse those of any other flying dino.

More stories about:

USC 2014: The year in weird science

Top stories on USC News