Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thrill Seekers Lack Brakes In The Brain

From ScienCentral:

New research gives a possible explanation for why some of us are thrill seekers and others like to play it safe. The study found that some of us can’t control the release of a certain brain chemical.

"Adrenaline Junkies" Actually Prefer Dopamine

Wouldn’t it be amazing if researchers could scan our brains and see whether we have thrill seeking personality traits? Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald has come pretty close. He has conducted a study that links thrill seeking behavior with a difference in specific part of the dopamine system in the brain.

“Dopamine does a number of different things. Probably most importantly though it’s involved in motivation and reward,” explains Zald. “And it’s the critical chemical in terms of people really wanting to do things.”

Read more ....

Technique Disables Plutonium's Use in Bombs

Keeping Nuke Fuel Safe: Scientists report that adding the element Americium, a synthetic compound used in commercial smoke detectors and industrial gauges, to nuclear power plant fuel generates higher-than-normal concentrations of a particular type of plutonium, rendering it useless for armaments without additional processing. iStockPhoto

From Discover Magazine:

Israeli scientists have devised a technique to keep plutonium produced in nuclear power plants from being used in nuclear bombs.

Adding the element Americium, a synthetic compound used in commercial smoke detectors and industrial gauges, to nuclear power plant fuel generates higher-than-normal concentrations of a particular type of plutonium, rendering it useless for armaments without additional processing.

Read more ....

My Comment: One small step to insure such materials do not fall into the hands of those who may harbor ill will.

Global Hurricane Activity Has Decreased To The Lowest Level In 30 Years.

(Click the Above Image to Enlarge)
Figure: Global 24-month running sum time-series of
Accumulated Cyclone Energy updated through March 12, 2009.

From Watts Up With That?

Very important: global hurricane activity includes the 80-90 tropical cyclones that develop around the world during a given calendar year, including the 12-15 that occur in the North Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean included). The heightened activity in the North Atlantic since 1995 is included in the data used to create this figure.

As previously reported here and here at Climate Audit, and chronicled at my Florida State Global Hurricane Update page, both Northern Hemisphere and overall Global hurricane activity has continued to sink to levels not seen since the 1970s. Even more astounding, when the Southern Hemisphere hurricane data is analyzed to create a global value, we see that Global Hurricane Energy has sunk to 30-year lows, at the least. Since hurricane intensity and detection data is problematic as one goes back in time, when reporting and observing practices were different than today, it is possible that we underestimated global hurricane energy during the 1970s. See notes at bottom to avoid terminology discombobulation.

Read more ....

Why Is Obama Going Gray?

Barack Obama in January 2008, a few days after he became president. Credit: White House

From Live Science:

News reports today point out that President Obama is going a little gray at the temples. Is it the stress of the job, or is he due to go gray about now anyway?

We saw it happen to George Bush, and in dramatic fashion with Bill Clinton. Obama saw his own grayer self coming.

"Seniors, listen up. I'm getting gray hair myself," Obama said at a campaign stop in Indiana last spring, according to The Washington Post. "The gray is coming quick," he said a few months later. "By the time I'm sworn in, I will look the part."

Read more ....

Solar Panels In The Sahara 'Could Power The Whole Of Europe'

A solar power plant in the Mojave Desert. (Solar Systems/AP)

From Times Online:

All of Europe’s energy needs could be supplied by building an array of solar panels in the Sahara, the climate change conference has been told.

Technological advances combined with falling costs have made it realistic to consider North Africa as Europe’s main source of imported energy. By harnessing the power of the Sun, possibly in tandem with wind farms along the North African coastline, Europe could easily meet its 2020 target of generating at least 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.

Read more ....

Old Age Begins At 27: Scientists Reveal New Research Into Ageing

Photo: Getting old already? 27-year-old singer Beyonce Knowles is already past her mental peak according to new research

From The Daily Mail:

Old age is often blamed for causing us to misplace car keys, forget a word or lose our train of thought.

But new research shows that many well-known effects of ageing may start decades before our twilight years.

According to scientists, our mental abilities begin to decline from the age of 27 after reaching a peak at 22.

The researchers studied 2,000 men and women aged 18 to 60 over seven years. The people involved – who were mostly in good health and well-educated – had to solve visual puzzles, recall words and story details and spot patterns in letters and symbols.

Similar tests are often used to diagnose mental disabilities and declines, including dementia.

Read more ....

'Peking Man' Older Than Thought; Somehow Adapted To Cold

Darryl Granger, a Purdue professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, stands with the accelerator mass spectrometer used in a study that determined the age of "Peking Man" was around 200,000 years older than previously thought. Purdue is the only university in the nation with an accelerator mass spectrometer powerful enough to perform the type of testing used in this study. (Credit: Purdue News Service photo/Andrew Hancock)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 13, 2009) — A new dating method has found that "Peking Man" is around 200,000 years older than previously thought, suggesting he somehow adapted to the cold of a mild glacial period.

A dating method developed by a Purdue University researcher allowed a more accurate determination of the age of the Zhoukoudian, China, site of remains of Homo erectus, commonly known as "Peking Man." The site was found to be 680,000-780,000 years old. Earlier estimates put the age at 230,000-500,000 years old.

Read more ....

Brain Scans Can Read Memories

From Live Science:

Humans create memories of locations in physical or virtual space as they move around – and it all shows up on brain scans.

Researchers tracked brain activity related to "spatial memory" as volunteers moved about inside a virtual reality setup. Their new study challenges previous scientific thinking by showing that memories are recorded in regular patterns.

Read more ....

Friday, March 13, 2009

Physicists Get Closer To Finding The 'God Particle'

Photo: Emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, British Peter Higgs, seen here on April 7, 2008, smiles during a press conference in Geneva. Physicists have come closer to finding the elusive "God Particle," which they hope could one day explain why particles have mass, the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced Friday. (AFP/File/Fabrice Coffrini)

From Yahoo News/AFP:

CHICAGO (AFP) – Physicists have come closer to finding the elusive "God Particle," which they hope could one day explain why particles have mass, the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced Friday.

Researchers at the Fermilab have managed to shrink the territory where the elusive Higgs Boson particle is expected to be found -- a discovery placing the American research institute ahead of its European rival in the race to discover one of the biggest prizes in physics.

Physicists have long puzzled over how particles acquire mass.

Read more ....

Scientist: Warming Could Cut Population to 1 Billion

Photo: Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, spoke several times at the climate conference in Copenhagen. Lizette Kabré. Climate congress, Copenhagen 2009.

From York Times:

[UPDATE, 1:45 p.m.: A roundup of economists' and scientists' views at the Copenhagen climate meeting and a reaction from Mike Hulme, a participating scientist.]

COPENHAGEN — A scientist known for his aggressive stance on climate policy made an apocalyptic prediction on Thursay.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said that if the buildup of greenhouse gases and its consequences pushed global temperatures 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today — well below the upper temperature range that scientists project could occur from global warming — Earth’s population would be devastated. [UPDATED, 6:10 p.m: The preceding line was adjusted to reflect that Dr. Schellnhuber was not describing a worst-case warming projection. h/t to Joe Romm.]
“In a very cynical way, it’s a triumph for science because at last we have stabilized something –- namely the estimates for the carrying capacity of the planet, namely below 1 billion people,” said Dr. Schellnhuber, who has advised German Chancellor Angela Merkel on climate policy and is a visiting professor at Oxford.

Read more ....

Physicist Develops Battery Using New Source Of Energy

The top is a graphic representation of the overall device structure. The diameter is roughly that of a human hair. The bottom is a magnified image of the central part. The white spots are atoms and the white circles are the nano-magnets, the "working part" of the device. Credit: Pham Nam Hai


Researchers at the University of Miami and at the Universities of Tokyo and Tohoku, Japan, have been able to prove the existence of a "spin battery," a battery that is "charged" by applying a large magnetic field to nano-magnets in a device called a magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ). The new technology is a step towards the creation of computer hard drives with no moving parts, which would be much faster, less expensive and use less energy than current ones. In the future, the new battery could be developed to power cars.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Nature and is available in an online advance publication of the journal.

The device created by University of Miami Physicist Stewart E. Barnes, of the College of Arts and Sciences and his collaborators can store energy in magnets rather than through chemical reactions. Like a winding up toy car, the spin battery is "wound up" by applying a large magnetic field --no chemistry involved. The device is potentially better than anything found so far, said Barnes.

Read more ....

Want To Rewire Your Brain? Study Music

Studying music can change the way a brain is wired, new research finds.
(ABC News Photo Illustration)

From ABC News:

All Those Hours at the Piano Paid Off: A Musician's Brain Recognizes Sound That Carries Emotion.

All those hours practicing the piano pay off big time by biologically enhancing a person's ability to quickly recognize and mentally process sounds that carry emotion, according to a new study.

The study, from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., offers a new line of evidence that the brain we end up with is not necessarily the same brain we started out with.

"We are measuring what the nervous system has become, based on an individual's experience with sound," Nina Kraus, director of the university's groundbreaking Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, said in a telephone interview.

Read more ....

Happy 20th Birthday, World Wide Web


The Mind Behind The Web -- Scientific American

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and continues to shape its frantic evolution. He's neither rich nor famous, which is fine by him.

It is a cool morning in April 1999, and 1,500 computer scientists, university faculty, and industry CEOs are streaming into a vast fieldhouse at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, outside Boston. They grab coffee and seat themselves for a keynote speech that will cap the 35th anniversary celebration of M.I.T.'s Laboratory for Computer Science, the fount of so many creations that have driven the computer revolution.

From a makeshift stage, lab director Michael Dertouzos calls out, "We've had a great party! Now the man you've been waiting for: Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web." The crowd hushes and arches forward, for they know the name but not the man. Out from the shadows strides a sprightly 43-year-old Briton, smiling beneath a short crop of blond hair.

Read more ....

More News On The Web's Birthday

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: The man who invented the world wide web -- The Telegraph
Facts about the Web's Creation -- Scientific American
Remembering the Day the World Wide Web Was Born -- Scientific American
Cern celebrates 20 years of the web -- ZDNet
World wide web turns 20 -- The Telegraph
Web is 20 today; anyone for cake? -- Computer World
20 years ago, the World Wide Web was born -- Mercury News
Web founder fears 'snooping' on the Internet -- AFP

Friday The 13th Strikes Again -- Two Months In A Row

Traditionally an omen of ill fortune, a black cat crosses a Palermo, Italy, street in an undated photo. Unlike its feline fellow resident of the bad luck hall of fame, Friday the 13th doesn't have nine lives—it can't even exist more than three times a year, thanks to the eccentricities of the calendar. Photograph by William Albert Allard/NGS

From The National Geographic:

You're not having a nightmare. It really is Friday the 13th again.

For the first time in 11 years, Friday the 13th is falling in two consecutive months. This double threat can only occur in certain non-leap years and only in a February-March combination. Look for it—or avoid it—again in 2015.

The double whammy isn't the only Friday the 13th claim to infamy for 2009, a particularly tough year for superstitious minds.

The ominous date falls on three Fridays this year: February 13; this Friday, March 13; and again on November 13.

But three Friday the 13ths is the yearly maximum, as long as societies continue to mark time with the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII ordered the Catholic Church to adopt in 1582.

Read more ....

Unlocking The Secrets And Powers Of The Brain

From Discover:

Last November, DISCOVER and the National Science Foundation launched a series of events to explore the biggest questions in science today.

In the first event, “Unlocking the Secrets and Powers of the Brain,” four leading psychologists and neuroscientists discussed the hottest issues in brain research, from predicting human behavior to manipulating memory to pinpointing consciousness. Hosted by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the panel was moderated by the award-winning author (and DISCOVER blogger and columnist) Carl Zimmer.

Read more .....

Brain Scans Can Read Memories

From Live Science:

Humans create memories of locations in physical or virtual space as they move around – and it all shows up on brain scans.

Researchers tracked brain activity related to "spatial memory" as volunteers moved about inside a virtual reality setup. Their new study challenges previous scientific thinking by showing that memories are recorded in regular patterns.

Read more ....

International Space Station Evacuated for Debris: The Law of Space Collisions

The International Space Station (Photo by NASA/National Geographic/Getty Images)

From Popular mechanics:

This morning, the three astronaut residents of the International Space Station scurried for safety in a Soyuz module, preparing for a possible impact with a piece of space junk—the motor of a satellite-carrying rocket. If struck, the station could experience a drop in air pressure that could kill all inhabitants. The event raises a thorny legal question: who is responsible for damages caused by space junk? Glenn Reynolds, a contributing Editor to Popular Mechanics and professor of space law at the University of Tennessee, outlines the complexities of orbital tort.

This morning, the three astronaut residents of the International Space Station scurried for safety in a Soyuz module, preparing for a possible impact with a piece of space junk—a 1/3-in.-wide part of a motor of a satellite-carrying rocket. If struck, the station could experience a drop in air pressure that could kill all inhabitants. NASA usually moves the ISS out of the orbit of debris, but some junk with erratic orbits can defeat tracking and surprise mission control, as happened during this incident. The debris missed the ISS and the astronauts exited the Soyuz “life raft,” but the junk is believed to have come within the station’s safety zone of 2.8 miles. The event raises a thorny legal question: Who is responsible for damages caused by space junk?

Read more ....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Artificial Photosynthesis: Turning Sunlight Into Liquid Fuels Moves A Step Closer

Under the fuel through artificial photosynthesis scenario, nanotubes embedded within a membrane would act like green leaves, using incident solar radiation (H³) to split water molecules (H2O), freeing up electrons and oxygen (O2) that then react with carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce a fuel, shown here as methanol (CH3OH). The result is a renewable green energy source that also helps scrub the atmosphere of excessive carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. (Credit: Illustration by Flavio Robles, Berkeley Lab Public Affairs)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2009) — For millions of years, green plants have employed photosynthesis to capture energy from sunlight and convert it into electrochemical energy. A goal of scientists has been to develop an artificial version of photosynthesis that can be used to produce liquid fuels from carbon dioxide and water.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have now taken a critical step towards this goal with the discovery that nano-sized crystals of cobalt oxide can effectively carry out the critical photosynthetic reaction of splitting water molecules.

Read more ....

Humans Respond to Scent of Fear

From Live Science:

Moviegoers might want to scoff a bit less when characters talk about the scent of fear. Women exposed to fear chemicals in male sweat tended to see ambiguous faces as being more fearful, according to a new study.

Such research shows for the first time how even the smell of fear can affect how people interpret what they see right in front of them. That fits with previous studies showing that visual and facial cues can affect human emotion and interpretation – but mainly when the situation seems uncertain.

Read more ....

Artificial Life 'Could Be Created Within Five Years'

Prof David Dreamer believes building a new lifeform from scratch is a daunting task but is confident it could happen in five to 10 years Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Artificial life could be created "within five years", researchers from the USA have claimed.

Laboratories across the world are closing in on a "second genesis" - an achievement that would be one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time.

Prof David Deamer, from California University, said although building a new lifeform from scratch is a daunting task he is confident it can happen in five to 10 years.

Read more ....

Solar Cycle 24 Has Ended According To NASA

Watts Up With That?:

Solar Cycle 24 has ended according to NASA. Yes you read that right. Somebody at NASA can’t even figure out which solar cycle they are talking about. Or, as commenters to the thread have pointed out, perhaps they see that cycle 24 has been skipped. We’ll be watching this one to see the outcome. - Anthony

Read more ....

Apple Launches 'World's Smallest' MP3 Player... Which Can Even Talk To You

A new feature on the iPod shuffle announces songs to its user. It will carry up to 1,000 tunes

From The Daily Mail:

If you like your gadgets mini then you're sure to love the new iPod Shuffle,
launched by Apple today.

The 4GB shuffle is touted as the world's smallest music player and measures 1,8"x0.3", about the same size as an AA battery.

Users can control their songs and playlists from an earphone cord using a new VoiceOver feature, which announces the songs to users in 14 different languages.

Read more ....

Our Noble Attempts To 'Feed The World' Are Simply Not Working

Food aid fills stomachs but does not provide an enduring solution to hunger and poverty. Photograph: AFP/Getty

From The Guardian:

There are 109 million more hungry people in poor countries now than there were just five years ago. But the answer is not more food aid, writes Pedro A. Sanchez

In recent decades, it seemed the struggle against world hunger was finally meeting with some success. But the number of undernourished people is growing again. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the number of hungry people in poor countries has increased by 109 million to 963 million since 2004. Unicef estimates that each day 300 million children go to bed hungry.

Read more ....

Lithium Batteries Charge Ahead

Photo: Coated electrodes allow lithium-ion cells to charge up in seconds. Getty

From Nature News:

Two researchers have developed battery cells that can charge up in less time than it takes to read the first two sentences of this article. The work could eventually produce ultra-fast power packs for everything from laptop computers to electric vehicles.

Byoungwoo Kang and Gerbrand Ceder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have found a way to get a common lithium compound to release and take up lithium ions in a matter of seconds. The compound, which is already used in the electrodes of some commercial lithium-ion batteries, might lead to laptop batteries capable of charging themselves in about a minute. The work appears in Nature1 this week.

Read more ....

Intelligence Mapped In The Brain

From Live Science:

A new map of the brain shows that most key aspects of intelligence are handled in specific spots, while processing speed is distributed throughout the noggin.

Researchers used brain scans to map the mental regions involved in the cognitive work done while taking IQ tests, which remain the most widely-used intelligence tests in the world.

The scans helped examine each of four cognitive indexes of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) in 241 neurological patients who had suffered from strokes, tumor, resection and trauma. The study found some overlap in brain regions that might suggest future revisions for the IQ test, and suggested that brain scans could even help predict IQ scores.

Read more ....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dead Gene Comes Back To Life In Humans

FISH analysis of IRGM. The figure shows examples of FISH experiments on Hs (Homo sapiens), Rh (Macaca mulatta), Cja (Callithrix jacchus) and Lca (Lemur catta), with the use of human fosmid clone WIBR2-3607H18 (A, B, C) and lemur species-specific BAC clone LB2-77B23 (D). (Credit: Bekpen et al. Death and Resurrection of the Human IRGM Gene. PLoS Genet, 5(3): e1000403 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000403)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 11, 2009) — Researchers have discovered that a long-defunct gene was resurrected during the course of human evolution. This is believed to be the first evidence of a doomed gene – infection-fighting human IRGM – making a comeback in the human/great ape lineage. The study, led by Evan Eichler's genome science laboratory at the University of Washington and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is published March 6 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

The truncated IRGM gene is one of only two genes of its type remaining in humans. The genes are Immune-Related GTPases, a kind of gene that helps mammals resist germs like tuberculosis and salmonella that try to invade cells. Unlike humans, most other mammals have several genes of this type. Mice, for example, have 21 Immune-Related GTPases. Medical interest in this gene ignited recently, when scientists associated specific IRGM mutations with the risk of Crohn's disease, an inflammatory digestive disorder.

Read more ....

Scientists Harness Anti-Matter, Ordinary Matter's 'Evil Twin'

Antimatter worker Jeff Larson checks out a huge magnetic ring at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory/MCT

From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — Tom Hanks' new movie, ``Angels and Demons,'' tells of a secret plot to blow up the Vatican and everyone inside it by using ``the most terrible weapon ever made'': anti-matter.

As "Star Trek" fans know, anti-matter is the mirror image of ordinary matter, identical except that its electrical charge is reversed, like the opposite ends of a battery.

Discovered in 1932, anti-matter is sometimes called the ``evil twin'' of the familiar matter that makes up rocks, chairs, earth, air, water and living bodies.

Read more ....

Space Shuttle News Updates -- March 11, 2009

Gas Leak Postpones Space Shuttle Discovery Launch -- AP

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery just hours before it was to head to the international space station Wednesday because of a hydrogen gas leak that could have been catastrophic at liftoff. The leak was in a different part of the system that already has caused a vexing one-month delay.

Shuttle managers put off the launch until Monday but left open the possibility that the repair work might allow for an attempt Sunday.

The latest delay means Discovery's two-week flight must be shortened and some spacewalks cut out of the mission. That's because Discovery needs to be gone from the space station before a Russian Soyuz rocket blasts off March 26 with a fresh station crew.

If Discovery isn't flying by Monday — possibly Tuesday, stretching it — then it will have to wait until April.

Read more ....

More News On The Space Shuttle

Shuttle Discovery Launch Postponed Over Gas Leak -- Daily Tech
Nasa space shuttle launch delayed -- BBC
Shuttle Mission Delayed by Leak; Thursday Night Launch Possible -- CBS
NASA: No shuttle launch before Sunday --
Space Shuttle Launch Delayed to March 15 --

Saltwater Power Could Supply Energy for Most Dutch Homes

From Ecoworldly:

A new proposal to improve a 75-year-old dike, the Afsluitdijk, in The Netherlands could make it the world’s leading site for generating saltwater power— a clean, renewable energy source which is 30-40% more efficient than burning coal.

The breakthrough process, which is called reverse electrodialysis, captures the energy created when freshwater becomes saltier by mixing with seawater. Although scientists in the 1950s discovered that electricity could be generated this way, no one knew just how efficient the process could be until a recent study proved that a remarkable 80% of the energy could be recovered.

Read more ....

High Speed Trains In California

Illustration by Paul Holland

From On Earth:

The rest of the developed world has high-speed rail. We don't. That's finally about to change.

With its soaring, arched ceilings, 20-story bell tower, and gilded frescoes, the Gare de Lyon rail station in Paris feels like a kind of church. This cathedral of transport was built for the World Exposition of 1900, a Belle Époque celebration of the achievements in science and technology that had given birth to the Industrial Revolution a century earlier. Coal soot and dark halos of steam billowed in the rafters, symbols of the original builders' faith in eternal progress.

Read more ....

Why People Often Get Sicker When They Are Stressed

Escherichia coli

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 10, 2009) — A newly discovered receptor in a strain of Escherichia coli might help explain why people often get sicker when they're stressed.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center are the first to identify the receptor, known as QseE, which resides in a diarrhea-causing strain of E coli. The receptor senses stress cues from the bacterium's host and helps the pathogen make the host ill. A receptor is a molecule on the surface of a cell that docks with other molecules, often signaling the cell to carry out a specific function.

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Recycling Mystery: Styrofoam

From Live Science:

It's the eternal question: Can I recycle Styrofoam®?

It's everywhere: It holds your food, secures items in packages, provides insulation in homes and it's even in your bike helmet. Also known as expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, it's a version of plastic #6 (polystyrene), which you've seen used in plastic cups and CD and DVD cases.

Fun fact: In 2006, the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers reported that 56 million pounds of EPS were recycled that year alone. That's an astonishing amount considering that EPS is 98 percent air.

Here's the thing: Even if your community recycles plastic #6, it may not accept EPS. It's a similar case to the plastic bag conundrum, where different versions of plastics require separate recycling streams.

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Computers Have A Lot To Learn From The Human Brain, Engineers Say

From Scientific American:

The year that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) first formed (as the American Institute of Electrical Engineers or AIEE), Chester Arthur was in the White House, the Oxford English Dictionary published its first edition, and construction began on the Statue of Liberty on what was then known as Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor.

During a meeting today commemorating the organization's 125th anniversary, scientists (all IEEE members, of course) looked to the future, describing advances in artificial intelligence, brain-machine interfaces and energy transfer.

Read more ....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pictured: The Moment An Awe-Inspiring Desert Storm Engulfed The Saudi Capital

A huge sand storm engulfs the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday.
The storm, which was still raging hours after it started

From The Daily Mail:

With terrifying majesty, a giant dust storm swept in from the desert and enveloped large parts of the Saudi capital Riyadh today.

The vast, whirling clouds cast an apocalyptic yellowish hue over the city's sprawling surburbs, choking residents with a blanket of grit and sand.

The awe-inspiring storm engulfed buildings and caused huge traffic jams as it enveloped the city of 4million people in a layer of impenetrable gloom.

Read more ....

Why People Don't Heed Tornado Warnings

A house damaged by a tornado that swept through Montgomery Country, Ala. on Feb. 5, 2008, part of the "Super Tuesday" tornado outbreak. Credit: National Weather Service

From Live Science:

When weather alarms go off and tornado sirens begin their baleful wail, some people run for shelter, while others try to ride out the storm. A new report from the National Weather Service sheds light on the reasons why some people don't heed the warnings.

The report focuses on the "Super Tuesday" winter tornado outbreak of Feb. 5-6, 2008, so named because of the presidential primaries held on that Tuesday. During the outbreak, 82 tornadoes tore through nine states across the South, killing 57 people, injuring 350 others and causing $400 million in property damage.

Read more ....

Life Could Have Survived Earth's Early Pounding

Image: A new study suggests that heat-loving microbes living more than 300 m underground could have survived a massive barrage of impacts 3.9 billion years ago (Image: Don Davis)

From New Scientist:

Microbes living deep underground could have survived the massive barrage of impacts that blasted the Earth 3.9 billion years ago, according to a new analysis. That means that today's life might be descended from microbes that arose as far back as 4.4 billion years ago, when the oceans formed.

Around 3.9 billion years ago, shifts in the orbits of the gas giant planets are thought to have disrupted other objects in the solar system, sending many hurtling into the inner planets. Geologists call that time the Hadean Eon, and thought its fiery hell of impacts would have sterilised the Earth.

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UFO Myths: A Special Investigation Into Stephenville And Other Major Sightings

From Popular Mechanics:

What were the speed-shifting, color-morphing UFOs that mystified hundreds of eyewitnesses around Stephenville, Texas, last January? Optical Illusions? Secret Military Operations? Alien Spaceships? PM spent months investigating UFO conspiracy theories, looking for straightforward explanations. A special report.

"It was the most beautiful sunset I'd ever seen," says Steve Allen, who has seen 50 years of sunsets in central Texas. “That’s what I first thought.”

It was Jan. 8, 2008, and the trucking entrepreneur was sitting around a fire outside the Selden, Texas, home of Mike Odom, his friend since first grade. Then he saw the lights—orbs that glowed at first, then began to flash. “There was no regular pattern to the flashing,” he says. “They lined up horizontally, seven of them, then changed into an arch. They lined up vertically, and I saw two rectangles of bright flame.That’s when I knew it was a life-changing experience.” He watched the lights drift north toward Stephenville, the seat of Erath County. “They came back a few minutes later,” Allen says, “this time followed by two jets—F-16s, I think.” Allen, who owns and flies a Cessna, has seen plenty of military planes over the years. “The jets looked like they were chasing the lights, and the lights seemed to be toying with them. It was like a 100-hp car trying to keep up with a 1000-hp one.”

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Humans No Match for Go Bot Overlords

From Wired News:

For the last two decades, human cognitive superiority had a distinctive sound: the soft click of stones placed on a wooden Go board. But once again, artificial intelligence is asserting its domination over gray matter.

Just a few years ago, the best Go programs were routinely beaten by skilled children, even when given a head start. Artificial intelligence researchers routinely said that computers capable of beating our best were literally unthinkable. And so it was. Until now.

Read more ....

What Is Aortic Valve Replacement Surgery?

Robin Williams: The comedian is scheduled to have aortic valve replacement surgery.

From Scientific American:

Comedian and actor Robin Williams, 57, last week postponed a planned 80-city tour of his one-man show, "Weapons of Self-Destruction" to undergo aortic valve replacement surgery. His announcement came just days after 83-year-old former first lady Barbara Bush left a Houston hospital after undergoing the same procedure.

The aortic valve is what keeps oxygenated blood flowing from our heart into the aorta, the largest artery in our body, and prevents it from washing back into the heart with each pump cycle. But as we age, the tricuspid (three-leafed) valve tends harden and thicken, forcing the heart work harder to keep blood flowing smoothly. Open-heart surgery is typically required to replace the valve if it thickens so much that it causes aortic stenosis, an abnormal narrowing and stiffening of the valve.

Read more ....

Sea Levels To Surge 'At Least A Metre' By Century End

Sunset is seen over the sea. Months before make-or-break climate negotiations, a conclave of scientists warned Tuesday that the impact of global warming was accelerating beyond a forecast made by UN experts two years ago. (AFP/File/Adek Berry)

From Yahoo News/AFP:

COPENHAGEN (AFP) – Months before make-or-break climate negotiations, a conclave of scientists warned Tuesday that the impact of global warming was accelerating beyond a forecast made by UN experts two years ago.

Sea levels this century may rise several times higher than predictions made in 2007 that form the scientific foundation for policymakers today, the meeting heard.

In March 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that global warming, if unchecked, would lead to a devastating amalgam of floods, drought, disease and extreme weather by the century end.

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Phoenix Mars Lander Found Liquid Water, Some Scientists Think

This color image was acquired by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager on the 20th day of the mission, or Sol 19 (June 13, 2008), after the May 25, 2008, landing. This image shows one trench informally called "Dodo-Goldilocks" after two digs. White material, possibly ice, is located only at the upper portion of the trench. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

From Science Daily:

During its more than five-month stint on Mars last year, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander found evidence that liquid water existed at the spacecraft's landing site, some Phoenix team members say.

Water is key to all forms of life as we know it and the discovery of liquid water would suggest a greater opportunity for biology on the red planet.

The new but controversial conclusion comes from observations of a set of "little globules" attached to struts on the lander's legs that were photographed by Phoenix's robotic arm camera over the course of the mission, as first reported at Spaceflight Now.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Why Dreams Are So Difficult To Remember: Precise Communication Discovered Across Brain Areas During Sleep

New research points to how memories are formed, transferred, and ultimately stored in the brain--and how that process varies throughout the various stages of sleep. (Credit: iStockphoto/Diane Diederich)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 9, 2009) — By listening in on the chatter between neurons in various parts of the brain, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have taken steps toward fully understanding just how memories are formed, transferred, and ultimately stored in the brain--and how that process varies throughout the various stages of sleep.

Their findings may someday even help scientists understand why dreams are so difficult to remember.

Scientists have long known that memories are formed in the brain's hippocampus, but are stored elsewhere--most likely in the neocortex, the outer layer of the brain. Transferring memories from one part of the brain to the other requires changing the strength of the connections between neurons and is thought to depend on the precise timing of the firing of brain cells.

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Hot Weather 'Can Trigger A Migraine'

Many migraine sufferers find that their pain can be triggered
by changes in the weather Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Hot weather can trigger migraines and other debilitating types of head pain, a new study suggests.

Researchers have also found that changes in air pressure can increase the chance of developing a painful headache.

Many migraine sufferers find that their pain can be triggered by changes in the weather, but previously there was little scientific evidence that that was the case.

The study looked at 7,054 patients who went to their hospital's casualty department complaining of severe head pain over a period of seven years.

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Not So Sweet: Over-Consumption Of Sugar Linked To Aging

Three-dimensional model of a glucose molecule.
(Credit: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 9, 2009) — We know that lifespan can be extended in animals by restricting calories such as sugar intake. Now, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Genetics, Université de Montréal scientists have discovered that it's not sugar itself that is important in this process but the ability of cells to sense its presence.

Aging is a complex phenomenon and the mechanisms underlying aging are yet to be explained. What researchers do know is that there is a clear relationship between aging and calorie intake. For example, mice fed with half the calories they usually eat can live 40 percent longer. How does this work?

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The 300-Year History of Internet Dating

From Live Science:

Almost everyone these days can name a couple they know that met on the Internet, though it wasn't so long ago that skimming the online personals for love was considered strange, even a bit desperate.

Taboo or not, the practice certainly isn't new. Personal ads have a history going back at least 300 years, according to a new book on the subject entitled "Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column" (Random House Books, 2009).

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Man Who Co-Discovered HIV Virus Accused Of Stealing Rights To Aids Cure

From The Telegraph:

A Nobel prize-winning French researcher who co-discovered the virus that leads to Aids but sparked controversy after his colleague said he had claimed all the glory, has now been accused of stealing the rights to a revolutionary invention that may provide a cure to the disease, it emerged yesterday.

Prof Luc Montagnier is locked in a legal battle with inventor Bruno Robert over the intellectual property rights to a technique whereby the Aids virus and other serious ailments, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, can be pinpointed by their electromagnetic "signatures".

The hope is that once identified, the diseases can be blocked or neutralised with an opposite electromagnetic signal.

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The Secret Of Long Life? It's All Down To How Fast You React

Live long and prosper - if you have a speedy response time

From The Daily Mail:

People's reaction times are a far better indicator of their chances of living a long life than their blood pressure, exercise levels or weight, researchers have discovered.

Men and women with the most sluggish response times are more than twice as likely to die prematurely.

Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Glasgow tracked 7,414 people nationwide over 20 years in a study which appears to confirm the adage that a healthy mind means a healthy body.

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How Scientifically Accurate Is Watchmen?

WHY SO BLUE? Dr. Manhattan's color and (some of) his powers can be explained by quantum mechanics, thanks to your (self-proclaimed) "friendly neighborhood physics professor," Jim Kakalios. WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT

From Scientific American:

The anticipated film Watchmen, based on the 1980s DC Comics 12-part comic book series (later adapted as a graphic novel), hits theaters tomorrow. Die-hard fans of the original publication may fret over its faithfulness to the series, but studio execs also worried about their movie's faithfulness to science. To set their minds at ease, they placed a call to Jim Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota.

Kakalios, 50, began advising the film's makers in the summer of 2007 on everything from the quantum mechanics of Dr. Manhattan (one of the superheroes of the story) down to the details in the laboratories. "They wanted to know what was around the corner at the end of the long corridor, even if the audience wasn't going to see it," he says.

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Could Technology Repair Earth’s Climate?

Color dark-field micrograph of green algae, which absorbs carbon dioxide.
(RoLand Birke/NEWSCOM)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

EarthTalk: Scientists study ways to pull greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere, but the idea is controversial.

Q: What are some of the leading proposed technological fixes for staving off global warming, and how feasible are they?
– James Harris, Columbus, Ohio

A: While most of the world fixates on how to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere, scientists and engineers worldwide are working on various geoengineering technologies – many of which are highly theoretical – to mitigate global warming and its effects. Many scientists oppose using new technology to fix problems created by old technology, but others view it as a quick and relatively inexpensive way to help solve our most vexing environmental problem.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Boston Globe Asks: Where’s The Global Warming?

From Watts Up With That?

For those too young to remember (such as Jim Hansen’s coal protesters in Washington this past week), Clara Peller, pictured above, started a national catchphrase with “Where’s the beef?” that even made it into the 1984 presidential campaign. Today, the Boston Globe asks: where’s the global warming?

Watch the original commercial that started the catchphrase. It seems applicable today. - Anthony

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Geeks May Be Chic, But Negative Nerd Stereotype Still Exists, Professor Says

Lori Kendall, a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, says despite the increased popularity of geek culture and the ubiquity of computers, the geek’s close cousin, the nerd, still suffers from a negative stereotype in popular culture. Kendall holds a familiar tool of the nerd: a slide rule. (Credit: Photo by L. Brian Stauffer)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 8, 2009) — Despite the increased popularity of geek culture – movies based on comic books, videogames, virtual worlds – and the ubiquity of computers, the geek’s close cousin, the nerd, still suffers from a negative stereotype in popular culture.

This may help explain why women and minorities are increasingly shying away from careers in information technology, says Lori Kendall, a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The popular stereotype of the nerd as the sartorially challenged, anti-social white male hasn’t faded from our collective cultural consciousness, and is more prevalent than ever as a stock character in television shows, movies and advertisements.

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NASA: Wednesday Night Shuttle Launch Is Official

The STS-119 Shuttle Discovery crew members gather on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in January 2009 before beginning their emergency egress training. After four launch delays, NASA says it now believes the space shuttle Discovery could be sent on a mission to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) by mid-March. (AFP/NASA-HO)

From Yahoo News/AP:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – It's official: NASA has finally settled on a Wednesday night launch for space shuttle Discovery.

The flight to the international space station was originally set for mid-February, but was delayed four times because of concern over critical shuttle valves. On Friday, senior NASA managers meeting at Kennedy Space Center put the valve issue to rest for Discovery and cleared the shuttle for flight.

Seven astronauts will ride Discovery into orbit, taking with them one final set of solar wings for the space station.

Launch director Mike Leinbach said spirits are much higher now than they were when the flight kept being put off.

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