Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week’s top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week’s Science Buzz.

This past weekend, astronaut Scott Kelly launched into space to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). His trip on the ISS will last a year, longer than anyone else has ever spent on the ship. Scott has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, who will remain on Earth. These factors will allow scientists to study the Kelly brothers and gain a better understanding of how long-term spaceflight affects vision, immune response and even individual genes.

Put another way, this could be the most exciting case of twins in space since Luke and Leia.

As populations grow, civilizations often struggle to come up with the technology to provide sufficient water for survival. A new model developed at Duke University suggests that there’s a lag between an increasing population and the technological breakthroughs that supply it with drinkable water. According to the model, we will experience this struggle firsthand in the coming decades.

Conservation methods currently allow for more efficient water usage, meaning we’re using less water per person than we were a few years ago. However, if the population continues to increase at its current rate, the Duke model predicts that efficiency measures will not keep pace and new strategies may become necessary to prevent water shortages.

Thirsty Thursdays are about to get a whole lot thirstier.

The world record time for marathon running belongs to Dennis Kimetto, who ran the race in just under two hours and three minutes. The Mars record marathon time belongs to the Opportunity rover, which has traveled the 26.2 miles on the red planet in 11 years and two months. That’s not a great time — it’s a pace of about a foot and a half per hour — but considering the rover has outlasted its original three-month mission by more than a decade and is still providing information about a planet some of us hope to one day call home, it’s quite an impressive feat.

If it finds some liquid water on Mars, maybe it’ll attempt a triathlon next.

You might be working too hard in your math class. A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that the optimal amount of math or science homework per night for adolescents is approximately one hour. In fact, time spent on homework wasn’t the leading predictor of achievement. Instead, the best predictor was prior knowledge, measured by grades in previous classes. This means that the best way to do well in algebra is to make sure you did well in pre-algebra. 

The researchers also found autonomy, or the ability for the student to do homework by oneself, to be highly predictive of success. But since this study did not distinguish between cause and effect, the most an individual can take from it is a tautology: the best way to do well at math or science is to be good at math or science. Still, in isolating the most significant factors, the research might shed light on how to improve our math and science education as a whole.

Print this study out, and show it to your calculus professor next time she assigns a problem set.

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday for more!

Matthew McConaughey attends the Texas football game Saturday evening in recognition of recent Distinguished Alumnus Awards. UT alumni recipients were awarded for their lifetime achievements and contributions.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

For the 56th year, the Texas Exes alumni association recognized the work of UT alumni through its 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Awards. 

The 2014 recipients included former football player Earl Campbell, former regent H. Scott Caven Jr., businessman John Massey, astronaut Karen Nyberg, actor Matthew McConaughey and Dealey Decherd Herndon, former executive director of the State Preservation Board of Texas. Jody Conradt, former UT women’s basketball coach, was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award.

In his acceptance speech, McConaughey said before attending the University, he decided to become a lawyer and thought about applying to Southern Methodist University. McConaughey, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in March, said his brother told him that because their oil business was going bankrupt, it would be cheaper to go to UT. 

“For that, I am happy the oil business went to pot because this was the four best years of my life,” McConaughey said. “When I tell people about this university, I tell them they will have access to a great education but also learn how to compete and engage. While I was here, I made a lot of my closest friends here and at Delta Tau Delta.”        

Remembered for his punishing style of play and becoming UT’s first Heisman winner, Campbell, who received the Heisman Trophy in 1977, said it was hard to initially understand the impact the University had on him.

“It wasn’t until I got to the NFL when I realized what UT gave me,” Campbell said. “I noticed this with teammates with the [Houston] Oilers as they talked to me more about Coach [Darrell K] Royal and the University and things that I went through.”

Caven served on the Board of Regents from 2003-09, including as chairman from 2007-09. In his speech, Caven talked about the significance of the hires he was able to make with the board, such as William Powers Jr. as president, Francisco Cigarroa as chancellor and Bruce Zimmerman as head of UT Investment Management Company.

“Having served on the Board of Regents and UTIMCO, it gave me opportunities to make a difference,” Caven said. “One of our most important duties was choosing our leaders.” 

Nyberg, who completed her doctorate in 1998, has participated in two missions and logged more than 75 million miles in space as a NASA astronaut.

“When I came to UT, I started as a graduate student,” Nyberg said. “It is because of the people I met and the opportunities I was given that I was able to accomplish my dreams.”

This year’s recipients joined a long list of well-known alumni, including Walter Cronkite, Lady Bird Johnson, Ben Crenshaw, Michael Dell and Adm. William McRaven, the next UT System chancellor. 

In this podcast, Anthony Green and Madlin Mekelburg discuss former Apollo 12 astronaut and UT alumnus Alan Bean’s visit to campus, the auction of Charles Whitman’s sniper rifle and UT's guaranteed tuition plan enrollment falling below expectations. They are joined by crime reporter Natalie Sullivan to discuss “green roofs” on campus as well as daytime residential burglaries in West Campus and North Campus. The gang is also joined by campus reporter Elly Dearman to discuss SG resolutions against city sound ordinances and increased hours at two different campus buildings. 

UT alumna Karen Nyberg (left) landed in Kazakhstan on Sunday after 166 days in space on Expedition 37.

Photo Credit: NASA

Karen Nyberg, NASA astronaut and UT mechanical engineering alumna, landed back on Earth yesterday with Expedition 37. 

Nyberg was the flight engineer for the expedition, which began as Expedition 36 on May 28. Nyberg, along with fellow crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin and Luca Parmitano, separated from the rest of their crew on Expedition 36 and departed from the International Space Station on Sept. 10 to begin Expedition 37. The capsule containing the remaining portion of the crew from Expedition 36 landed in Kazakhstan on Nov. 5. 

Although a journey in space may seem to be a fairly difficult concept to grasp for most of the general population, many believe that Nyberg has brought the journey to Earth with her unusually frequent social media usage while in space. Nyberg tweeted about her experiences while on the expedition, consistently sharing pictures illustrating her journey, which caused her to gain a significantly large social media following.

Trey Curran, Plan II and aerospace engineering freshman, said he was particularly interested by Nyberg’s success as an astronaut. 

“As an [undergraduate] in aerospace engineering, Nyberg’s story serves an inspiration,” Curran said. “She shows, through hard work and determination, that any person can reach the top of their profession, whether it be in aerospace or any other field.”

Karen Nyberg shows off her Longhorn socks on her first mission, STS-124, in 2008. It was on this mission that Nyberg became the 50th woman in space (Photo courtesy of NASA).

UT alumna Karen Nyberg is set to launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:31 p.m. CDT today. 

Nyberg attended graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering and received her master's and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering in 1996 and 1998, respectively. She is a member of the Expedition 36 crew which also includes Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano.

The Expedition 36 crew will be taking a new one-day route to the International Space Station (ISS), attempted only once before by a manned crew during Expediton 35 in March. What was once a two-day journey, will now take the crew about six hours. The crew will dock to the space station at 9:16 p.m., and they will open the hatch and enter the space station at 10:55 p.m. Both events will also be broadcast live on NASA TV.

Nyberg, Yurchikhin and Parmitano will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Aleksandr Misurkin for a six month stay aboard the ISS.

You can follow Karen Nyberg on Twitter for mission updates at @AstroKarenN.

Related Headlines

UT alumna prepares for six-month space mission

Mark Kelly, NASA astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, center, speaks at a reception after his “Endeavour to Succeed” lecture presented at the Lady Bird Johnson auditorium Monday evening. The event was hosted by UT’s Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship under chairman Michael Morton and vice chairman Jesse Hernandez, pictured to Kelly’s left and right side, respectively.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Students who want to become effective leaders need to have a drive to succeed and the ability to overcome hardship, said renowned former American astronaut and United States Navy Capt. Mark Kelly in a lecture Monday evening.

Kelly is a noted American astronaut and naval aviator who retired in June 2011. He is well known for having commanded several shuttle missions, including Space Shuttles Endeavour and Discovery, and has the distinction of being one of only two people in the world to have visited the International Space Station four times. He is the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in January 2011, leaving her in recovery for more than eight months. UT is the first University in Texas to host Kelly as a speaker.

Kelly gave a lecture titled “Endeavour to Succeed” as part of the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship, which brings prominent speakers to the University each year and is funded by students through an optional $2 donation during the registration process.

Kelly spoke about his early struggles in flight school and said he refused to let his failure to excel allow him to falter in achieving his ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut. Kelly said his drive to succeed was the key to his accomplishments later in life.

“I was not a particularly good pilot,” Kelly said. “I really, really struggled and had a hard time with learning how to fly an airplane. But I stuck with it, and later realized that how good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become. I’m a prime example of someone who was able to overcome a lack of aptitude with practice, persistence and the drive to never ever give up.”

Kelly spoke about his family’s experiences during his wife’s recovery after she was shot in Tucson, Ariz. Giffords suffered a bullet wound to the head and had to undergo several surgeries as well as months of physical therapy before being able to return to Washington, Kelly said. He said his wife’s dedication to her recovery was an enormous inspiration.

“It’s been an incredible experience for me over the last four months to see the power of the human spirit — to see someone who was first able to fight so hard to survive, and then to fight so hard to recover.” Kelly said. “She reminds me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”

Kelly’s experiences with overcoming difficulty in his own career as well as facing adversity during Giffords’ recovery made him a perfect candidate to reach out to students, said Michael Morton, chair of the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship.

“He’s a great example of leadership in America today and he’s a name that people recognize,” Morton said. “He can really speak to various levels of leadership and how to deal with different issues in your life.”

Students are more than capable of having the drive and energy necessary to becoming effective decision-makers and leaders with enough time and patience, Kelly said.

“I think that it’s possible to learn [how to be a leader],” he said, “There’s a whole field of study about decision-making and about leadership, so it takes time and it takes practice.”

Kelly’s lecture was an inspiration to those in attendance and proved that failing the first time doesn’t mean they should stop trying, said aerospace engineering freshman Madison Lasris.

“He really proved that you can overcome any obstacle, no matter how bad it is,” Lasris said. “Even if you fail, you can still achieve what you want to do.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: Astronaut gives inspiration

Space shuttle Endeavour crew members from l

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — The final crew of the space shuttle Endeavour returned home Thursday to Houston, where they thanked colleagues and reunited with families. But Mark Kelly had to wait just a bit longer for his special reunion.

The Endeavour commander delayed his planned rendezvous with his wife, wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, until later Thursday evening. He and the rest of the crew first spoke to a cheering crowd of hundreds of co-workers, family members and fans welcoming them back to Texas.

Giffords didn't attend the public event Thursday afternoon at Houston's Ellington Field, so Kelly headed to see her afterward in her Houston rehabilitation center.

It was an emotional curtain call for the next-to-last shuttle flight, with the tired crew of six providing extended autograph time for the crowd.

While the crew singled out individual workers and departments at Johnson Space Center, they emphasized the sacrifices of their loved ones, most of whom they haven't seen since May 15 — the day before Endeavour launched.

"I want to thank my family — Gabby who is not here today — Claudia and Claire who are here in the front row," Kelly said, referring to his wife and daughters. "I could not do it without their support."

Endeavour astronaut Drew Feustel added a special note to his wife, Indira: "Honey, happy anniversary today."

And the astronauts also praised the ship that will no longer be flying. After 19 years and 25 flights, "Endeavour performed as if it was brand new," Kelly said.

"It's not the end of Endeavour either," Kelly said. He said Endeavour will continue to inspire young people to study science and engineering at its new post at a Los Angeles museum.

And future spaceships will learn from the space shuttle fleet, which is retiring after the scheduled July 8 launch of Atlantis, said Endeavour astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Endeavour landed early Wednesday morning in Cape Canaveral to end a 16-day mission to the International Space Station. Kelly called Giffords almost daily via telephone, and had one video hookup during the mission, said Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin.

Giffords, who was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. in January, left rehab in Houston to be at Endeavour's May launch.

Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats, a former astronaut, praised Kelly for the way he compartmentalizes family and NASA duties, like most astronauts: "He's probably had a bigger challenge than most. He did a terrific job."