Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rise Of Sea Levels Is 'The Greatest Lie Ever Told'

From The Telegraph:

The uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story, writes Christopher Booker.

If one thing more than any other is used to justify proposals that the world must spend tens of trillions of dollars on combating global warming, it is the belief that we face a disastrous rise in sea levels. The Antarctic and Greenland ice caps will melt, we are told, warming oceans will expand, and the result will be catastrophe.

Although the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) only predicts a sea level rise of 59cm (17 inches) by 2100, Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth went much further, talking of 20 feet, and showing computer graphics of cities such as Shanghai and San Francisco half under water. We all know the graphic showing central London in similar plight. As for tiny island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, as Prince Charles likes to tell us and the Archbishop of Canterbury was again parroting last week, they are due to vanish.

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20 Years Later: Exxon Valdez Spill Lingers

Exxon Valdez

From ScienCentral:

Just after midnight on this day in 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez crashed against a reef off the coast of Alaska. Within six or so hours of the incident, nearly 10.8 million gallons of crude oil had spilled into the surrounding waters of the Prince Island Sound. Within a few days, that oil had spread 90 miles from the accident site. And now, two decades later, the after effects of the Valdez spill linger.

Oil and Water

In 1989, America consumed over 252 billion gallons of oil. Compared to that number, the 10.8 million gallons that was dumped from the Valdez and into Prince Island Sound seems insignificant. In fact, the Exxon Valdez spill was by no means the largest spill in history. It wasn’t even the tenth largest.

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Airborne Dust Reduction Plays Larger Than Expected Role In Determining Atlantic Temperature

A dust storm off the coast of Morocco was imaged by NASA's MODIS Aqua meteorological satellite on March 12, 2009. A new study by UW-Madison researcher Amato Evan shows that variability of African dust storms and tropical volcanic eruptions can account for 70 percent of the warming North Atlantic Ocean temperatures observed during the past three decades. Since warmer water is a key ingredient in hurricane formation and intensity, dust and other airborne particles will play a critical role in developing a better understanding of these storms in a changing climate. (Credit: Photo: courtesy Amato Evan)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 28, 2009) — The recent warming trend in the Atlantic Ocean is largely due to reductions in airborne dust and volcanic emissions during the past 30 years, according to a new study.

Since 1980, the tropical North Atlantic has been warming by an average of a quarter-degree Celsius (a half-degree Fahrenheit) per decade. Though this number sounds small, it can translate to big impacts on hurricanes, which thrive on warmer water, says Amato Evan, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies and lead author of the new study. For example, the ocean temperature difference between 1994, a quiet hurricane year, and 2005's record-breaking year of storms, was just one degree Fahrenheit.

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The World's Biggest Laser Powers Up

Fusion central: 192 lasers will shoot through openings in this spherical chamber, focusing near the tip of the cone projecting from the right. A worker in a service module can be seen at the left. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy

From Technology Review:

Now complete, the National Ignition Facility could soon create controlled fusion using lasers.

The most energetic laser system in the world, designed to produce nuclear fusion--the same reaction that powers the sun--is up and running. Within two to three years, scientists expect to be creating fusion reactions that release more energy than it takes to produce them. If they're successful, it will be the first time this has been done in a controlled way--in a lab rather than a nuclear bomb, that is--and could eventually lead to fusion power plants.

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How Cell Towers Work

From Gizmodo:

I recently visited a cell site shared by Clearwire and two other unnamed carriers—without frying my nuts. We've all driven past them so many times, but have you ever actually wondered how they work?

How They Work
Whether it's handling simple phone calls or 12Mbps WiMax data, cell sites are organized with more or less the same flow:

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British Engineer Blows Away Land Speed Record For Wind-Powered Vehicles After 10-Year Quest

Record-breaker: The Greenbird clocked up 126.1mph

From The Daily Mail:

A British engineer has smashed the land speed record for wind powered vehicles, becoming the fastest naturally powered human on the planet.

Richard Jenkins clocked 126.1mph in his Ecotricity 'Greenbird' powered only by 30mph winds. He eclipsed the previous record of 116 mph, set by American Bob Schumacher ten years ago.

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Archaeologist: Oldest Cyprus Temple Discovered

From The International Herald Tribune:

NICOSIA, Cyprus: An Italian archaeologist claimed Friday to have discovered Cyprus' oldest religious site, which she said echoes descriptions in the Bible of temples in ancient Palestine.

Maria Rosaria Belgiorno said the 4,000-year-old triangular temple predates any other found on the east Mediterranean island by a millennium.

"For sure it's the most ancient religious site on the island," she told The Associated Press from her home in Rome. "This confirms that religious worship in Cyprus began much earlier than previously believed."

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Do Animals Enjoy Sex?

From Live Science:

Animals obviously hook up, at least during mating season. But do they like it? According to experts, there are two answers: "yes" and "it is impossible to know."

"Mosquitoes, I don’t know," hedged Mark Bekoff, a University of Colorado biologist and author of "The Emotional Lives of Animals" (New World Library), "but across mammals, they enjoy sex."

In fact the enjoyment of sex among humans and among animals may be similar in that it's all experienced in very primitive parts of the brain.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Erratic Black Hole Regulates Itself

This optical and infrared image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows the crowded field around the micro-quasar GRS 1915+105 (GRS 1915 for short) located near the plane of our Galaxy. The inset shows a close-up of the Chandra image of GRS 1915, one of the brightest X-ray sources in the Milky Way galaxy. (Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/Harvard/J.Neilsen); Optical & IR (Palomar DSS2))

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 26, 2009) — New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have made a major advance in explaining how a special class of black holes may shut off the high-speed jets they produce. These results suggest that these black holes have a mechanism for regulating the rate at which they grow.

Black holes come in many sizes: the supermassive ones, including those in quasars, which weigh in at millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun, and the much smaller stellar-mass black holes which have measured masses in the range of about 7 to 25 times the Sun's mass. Some stellar-mass black holes launch powerful jets of particles and radiation, like seen in quasars, and are called "micro-quasars".

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How to Prevent the Next Pandemic

DANGER: Wild animals can carry pathogens capable of jumping into humans—the first step toward becoming a major infectious killer—so a new plan for avoiding pandemics begins with them. Oxford Scientific Getty Images; JEN CHRISTIANSEN (photoillustration)

From Scientific American:

* Most human infectious diseases originated in animals.
* Historically, epidemiologists have focused on domestic animals as the source of these scourges. But wild animals, too, have transmitted many diseases to us, including HIV.
* To address the threat posed by wild animals, researchers are studying the microbes of these creatures and the people who come into frequent contact with them.
* Such monitoring may enable scientists to spot emerging infectious diseases early enough to prevent them from becoming pandemics.

Sweat streamed down my back, thorny shrubs cut my arms, and we were losing them again. The wild chimpanzees my colleagues and I had been following for nearly five hours had stopped their grunting, hooting and screeching. Usually these calls helped us follow the animals through Uganda's Kibale Forest. For three large males to quiet abruptly surely meant trouble. Suddenly, as we approached a small clearing, we spotted them standing below a massive fig tree and looking up at a troop of red colobus monkeys eating and playing in the treetop.

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Space Smells Funny, Astronauts Say

Astronaut Richard Arnold, STS-119 mission specialist, participates in the mission's first scheduled session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the ISS on March 19, 2009. Credit: NASA.

From Live Science:

The smell of space will linger for the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery long after they return to Earth on Saturday.

"One thing I've heard people say before, but it wasn't so obvious, was the smell right when you open up that hatch," Discovery pilot Dominic "Tony" Antonelli said after a March 21 spacewalk. "Space definitely has a smell that's different than anything else."

The odor, Antonelli said, could be smelled once spacewalkers locked the station airlock's outer hatch and reopened the inner door.

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Why Certain Fishes Went Extinct 65 Million Years Ago

Fossil herrings from the Eocene Green River Formation of the western United States where Colorado, Utah and Nevada meet. Herrings are one of the small-bodied groups of bony fishes that survived the end-Cretaceous extinction and persist to this day in marine environments. (Credit: Photo by Matt Friedman)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 27, 2009) — Large size and a fast bite spelled doom for bony fishes during the last mass extinction 65 million years ago, according to a new study.

Today, those same features characterize large predatory bony fishes, such as tuna and billfishes, that are currently in decline and at risk of extinction themselves, said Matt Friedman, author of the study and a graduate student in evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago.

"The same thing is happening today to ecologically similar fishes," he said. "The hardest hit species are consistently big predators."

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Women Talk Three Times As Much As Men, Says Study

Photo: Women talk almost three times as much as men, according to the research.

From The Daily Mail:

It is something one half of the population has long suspected - and the other half always vocally denied. Women really do talk more than men.

In fact, women talk almost three times as much as men, with the average woman chalking up 20,000 words in a day - 13,000 more than the average man.

Women also speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to chit-chat - and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices, a new book suggests.

The book - written by a female psychiatrist - says that inherent differences between the male and female brain explain why women are naturally more talkative than men.

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Smart People Really Do Think Faster

This colorful brain image is like a map of mental speed. The bright spaghetti structures represent the pathways connecting different brain cells. David Shattuck/Arthur Toga/Paul Thompson/UCLA

From NPR:

The smarter the person, the faster information zips around the brain, a UCLA study finds. And this ability to think quickly apparently is inherited.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, looked at the brains and intelligence of 92 people. All the participants took standard IQ tests. Then the researchers studied their brains using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging, or DTI.

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Thousands Of 'Cold Cases' Could Be Reopened Thanks To New DNA Technique

From The Telegraph:

Thousands of "cold cases" could be reopened thanks to a new technique to analyse DNA from crime scenes.

The Forensic Science Service (FSS) hailed the breakthrough as the most significant advancement in the science "in a decade".

Scientists will now be able to use the technique in all serious crimes, after it proved successful in a series of pilots.

Police forces and forensic scientists are also combing the archives of thousands of so-called "cold cases", in which no-one has been convicted of the crime, for DNA samples which could be reassessed.

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The Brilliant Scientist Who Rejects Global Warming As A Problem

The Whimsical Gaze Dyson still travels widely, giving talks at churches and colleges, reminding people how dangerous nuclear weapons are. Eugene Richards for The New York Times.

The Civil Heretic -- The New York Times

FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince­ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country’s most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.” Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred “carbon-eating trees,” whereupon the University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner looked through the thick grove of honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded — there are 21 from universities like Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford — and suggested that “perhaps trees can also be designed so that they can give directions to lost hikers.” Dyson’s son, George, a technology historian, says his father’s views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone — out of his beautiful mind.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Personal Supercomputer Is Coming

From PC World:

Within the next three to four years, most PC users will see their machines morph into personal supercomputers. This change will be enabled by the emergence of multicore CPUs and, perhaps more importantly, the arrival of massively parallel cores in the graphical processing units.

In fact, ATI (a division of Advanced Micro Devices) and Nvidia are already offering multiple programmable cores in their high-end discreet graphics processing platforms. These cores can be programmed to do many parallel processing tasks, resulting in dramatically better display features and functions for video, especially for gaming. But these platforms currently come at a hefty price and often require significant amounts of power, making them impractical in many laptop designs.

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Safe Water In Paradise


Honeymooning in the developing world? There are a lot of reasons why a SteriPEN should be at the top of your packing list.

When you’re getting ready to honeymoon in Thailand, issues like water purity suddenly become more relevant. So, my fiancé and I got ridiculously excited about the latest purification technology from Hyrdro-Photon. The SteriPEN Journey LCD uses ultraviolet light to kill 99.9999% of bacteria, 99.99% of viruses and (only?) 99.9% of protozoa. Just stick the wand into a water bottle, push the button, wait a minute or so, and drink.

In the frequently asked question portion of the SteriPEN website, there’s one question that easily justifies its $99.99 cost: Will the SteriPEN be effective in water from ______ (insert country or destination name here!)?

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Venice To Convert Invading Chinese Seaweed Into Electricity In £200m Eco-Project

From The Telegraph:

Venice is to convert invading Chinese seaweed that has been clogging the city's canals into electricity in a £200 million eco-project.

The Chinese seaweed, along with its native Italian counterpart, has been growing at a phenomenal rate along the canals and in the outlying lagoon, but officials have said that green algae will be converted to produce as much as half of the city's energy in a biomass fermentation plant on the outskirts of the city, the Port of Venice Authority said.

"The plant would have zero emissions and would produce half of the electricity needed for the city. If the go ahead is given the plant could be up and running within two years," Paolo Costa, president of the Port of Venice Authority, said Japanese researchers developed a system which uses microorganisms to break down the seaweed. The methane gas that results from this process is used as fuel for a gas engine that produces electricity.

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Space Storm Alert: 90 Seconds From Catastrophe

From New Scientist:

IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation's infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event - a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

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Super-sized Supernova: Scientists Observe Largest Exploding Star Yet Seen

Scientists have managed to observe a super-sized supernova explosion from start to finish, including the black hole ending. (Credit: Image courtesy of Weizmann Institute of Science)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2009) — In the first observation if its kind, scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science and San Diego State University were able to watch what happens when a star the size of 50 suns explodes. As they continued to track the spectacular event, they found that most of the star’s mass collapsed in on itself, resulting in a large black hole.

While exploding stars – supernovae – have been viewed with everything from the naked eye to high-tech research satellites, no one had directly observed what happens when a really huge star blows up. Dr. Avishay Gal-Yam of the Weizmann Institute’s Faculty of Physics and Prof. Douglas Leonard of San Diego State University recently located and calculated the mass of a gigantic star on the verge of exploding, following through with observations of the blast and its aftermath. Their findings, reported in the journal Nature, have lent support to the reigning theory that stars ranging from tens to hundreds of times the mass of our sun all end up as black holes.

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Space 'Rosetta Stone' Unlike Anything Seen Before

Asteroids - Visions of the Universe, p.34 by Kazuaki Iwasaki

From The Live Science:

Meteorite fragments of the first asteroid ever spotted in space before it slammed into Earth's atmosphere last year were recovered by scientists from the deserts of Sudan.

These precious pieces of space rock, described in a study detailed in the March 26 issue of the journal Nature, could be an important key to classifying meteorites and asteroids and determining exactly how they formed.

The asteroid was detected by the automated Catalina Sky Survey telescope at Mount Lemmon , Ariz., on Oct. 6, 2008. Just 19 hours after it was spotted, it collided with Earth's atmosphere and exploded 23 miles (37 kilometers) above the Nubian Desert of northern Sudan.

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DARPA At Phase 2 On Human 'Regeneration' Tech

Image from It's Just Cool

From The Register:

Famed US military mad-professor bureau DARPA has inked a second deal with Massachusetts researchers to develop ways of "regenerating" human body tissues cut, shot or blown off in combat. The new biotech therapies would employ the same methods used by newts in growing replacement limbs.

News of the award comes courtesy of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which announced the $570,000 agreement between DARPA and WPI-spawned company CellThera yesterday. CellThera is expected to work with the university's bioengineering department in delivering Phase II of DARPA's "restorative injury repair" programme.

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Study: Brain Switches Off Rationality When Given 'Expert Advice'

From Times Online:

Financial advice can make us take leave of our senses, according to research that shows how the brain sets aside rationality when it gets the benefit of supposedly expert opinion.

When a bank manager or investment adviser recommends a financial decision, the brain tends to abdicate responsibility and defer to their authority with little independent thought, a study has suggested.

Such expert advice suppresses activity in a neural circuit that is critical to sound decision-making and value judgments, scientists in the US have found.

Their results may explain why people are so apt to follow experts’ recommendations blindly, when a little reflection might be sufficient to suggest an alternative course of action.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quantum Leap For Quantum Dots

Photo: Silicon nanoparticles are engineered to glow red under ultraviolet light with quantum dots or organic chemicals. (Photo courtesy of UCSD)

From North County Times:

Nanoparticles may wind up in your medicine chest, on your money.

Specks of semiconductors called quantum dots, could soon spread around the world, around us, and perhaps, even inside of us.

A few billionths of a meter in diameter, or 5,000 to the width of a human hair, quantum dots glow fluorescently in a variety of colors. Once strictly a lab curiosity, they can reveal molecular processes inside cells, detect dangerous chemicals and improve the efficiency of solar power systems.

Pioneering work on quantum dots is being performed at Carlsbad-based Life Technologies, at UC San Diego and other local biotech companies and non-profit research institutes.

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Pentagon Plan to Regrow Limbs: Phase One, Complete

(Click the Image to Enlarge)

From Danger Room:

The first phase of the Pentagon's plan to regrow soldiers' limbs is complete; scientists managed to turn human skin into the equivalent of a blastema — a mass of undifferentiated cells that can develop into new body parts. Now, researchers are on to phase two: turning that cellular glop into a square inch of honest-to-goodness muscle tissue.

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) just got a one-year, $570,000 grant from Darpa, the Pentagon's blue-sky research arm, to grow the new tissues. "The goal is to genuinely replace a muscle that's lost," biotechnology professor Raymond Page tells Danger Room. "I appreciate that's a very aggressive goal." And it's only one part in a larger, even more ambitious Darpa program, Restorative Injury Repair, that aims to "fully restore the function of complex tissue (muscle, nerves, skin, etc.) after traumatic injury on the battlefield."

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Why Toddlers Don't Do What They're Told

From Live Science:

Are you listening to me? Didn't I just tell you to get your coat? Helloooo! It's cold out there...

So goes many a conversation between parent and toddler. It seems everything you tell them either falls on deaf ears or goes in one ear and out the other. But that's not how it works.

Toddlers listen, they just store the information for later use, a new study finds.

"I went into this study expecting a completely different set of findings," said psychology professor Yuko Munakata at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "There is a lot of work in the field of cognitive development that focuses on how kids are basically little versions of adults trying to do the same things adults do, but they're just not as good at it yet. What we show here is they are doing something completely different."

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'Ice That Burns' May Yield Clean, Sustainable Bridge To Global Energy Future

Gas hydrates, known as "ice that burns," may provide a clean, sustainable fuel source in the future. (Credit: J. Pinkston and L. Stern/US Geological Survey)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 24, 2009) — In the future, natural gas derived from chunks of ice that workers collect from beneath the ocean floor and beneath the arctic permafrost may fuel cars, heat homes, and power factories. Government researchers are reporting that these so-called "gas hydrates," a frozen form of natural gas that bursts into flames at the touch of a match, show increasing promise as an abundant, untapped source of clean, sustainable energy.

The icy chunks could supplement traditional energy sources that are in short supply and which produce large amounts of carbon dioxide linked to global warming, the scientists say.*

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Inside The Hottest Place On Earth

Erta Ale, the most active volcano in Ethiopia, is located in the Afar Region

From The BBC:

Earth scientist Dr Dougal Jerram, from Durham University, joined a BBC team to investigate the geology of the Danakil desert in northern Ethiopia - officially the hottest place on Earth. Here is his account of mapping an active volcano from inside the crater.

Like a true journey to the centre of the Earth, volcanoes provide a unique window into our planet's interior.

They provide a direct means by which our Earth cools itself, form a vital link with the developing atmosphere and can be an awesome yet terrible hazard to the people and animals that live around them.

But just how do we get into the guts of a volcano?

This is exactly what I set out to do as part of a scientific expedition into the Danakil desert.

As part of a team headed by Kate Humble, with vet Steve Leonard, medic Mukal Agarwal and biologist Richard Wiese, and a full expedition crew, we explored the region's legendary Afar tribes people, saw how the animals and man live in the extreme environment and came face to face with one of the Earth's most geologically active areas.

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Physicist Counters Climate-Change Models

Atmospheric physicist Ed Berry poses for a portrait Friday outside his home near Somers. "We are talking about something as complicated as the human body," Berry said in reference to climate change and global warming. Berry has been studying climate physics since the late 1960s. Allison Money/Daily Inter Lake

From Daily Inter Lake:

The global warming hypothesis is dead, scientifically'.

Ed Berry is making some noise about climate change, and he's singing a different tune than former Vice President Al Gore and his "Inconvenient Truth."

Berry, 73, an accomplished atmospheric physicist who recently moved to the Flathead Valley from Sacramento, Calif., was among about 700 scientists who attended the International Conference on Climate Change in New York City March 7-10.

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Rise Of The Robots--The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

Photo: PYTAK

From Scientific American:

By 2050 robot "brains" based on computers that execute 100 trillion instructions per second will start rivaling human intelligence

Editor's Note: This article was originally printed in the 2008 Scientific American Special Report on Robots. It is being published on the Web as part of's In-Depth Report on Robots.

In recent years the mushrooming power, functionality and ubiquity of computers and the Internet have outstripped early forecasts about technology’s rate of advancement and usefulness in everyday life. Alert pundits now foresee a world saturated with powerful computer chips, which will increasingly insinuate themselves into our gadgets, dwellings, apparel and even our bodies.

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British Scientists To Create 'Synthetic' Blood

From The Independent:

Human embryos will be used to make an unlimited supply for infection-free transfusions.

Scientists in Britain plan to become the first in the world to produce unlimited amounts of synthetic human blood from embryonic stem cells for emergency infection-free transfusions.

A major research project is to be announced this week that will culminate in three years with the first transfusions into human volunteers of "synthetic" blood made from the stem cells of spare IVF embryos. It could help to save the lives of anyone from victims of traffic accidents to soldiers on a battlefield by revolutionising the vital blood transfusion services, which have to rely on a network of human donors to provide a constant supply of fresh blood.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mt. Redoubt In Alaska Erupts

Video of the sixth eruption, from the Alaska Volcano observatory webcam system. (h/t to Ron De Haan)

From The Volcanism Blog:

Redoubt-watchers will be aware that the Alaska Volcano Observatory’s Hut webcam went offline during the eruption yesterday, but came back again towards the end of the afternoon. As a result images were captured of the eruptive activity - the sixth explosive event - that took place from 19:41 local time onwards yesterday.

From these webcam images Akira Shirakawa has compiled a video, with synchronized sound, that shows activity between 19:19 and 20:43, available at YouTube. Large-scale ash emission makes everything very dark around 19:50 (at video time 0:24), and a big ash eruption can be clearly seen at 20:01 (video time 0:34).

There is also a page of Hut webcam images and a time-lapse movie here (h/t Chris Rowan, via comment at Eruptions).

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Cancer Breakthrough: Tales Of 'Trojan Horse Drug' And 'Miracle Dogs'

Oscar, who scientists dubbed the "miracle dog," survived an aggressive form of cancer thanks a drug known as NO-Cbl. The drug may lead to a powerful new cancer treatment for humans. (Credit: Crandall B. Huckins)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 24, 2009) — Diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer called anal sac adenocarcinoma, Oscar's future seemed bleak. Bedridden and unresponsive to chemotherapy or radiation, he would be lucky to survive three months. But thanks to an innovative new drug treatment, Oscar's cancer receded and he was walking again within two weeks.

Oscar's recovery was extraordinary enough, but his case was unusual for another reason. Oscar is a Bichon Frise, who scientists reporting in Salt Lake City, Utah at the 237th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 23 call "the Miracle Dog." Joseph A. Bauer, Ph.D., and colleagues described promising results with a drug called nitrosylcobalamin (NO-Cbl) in battling cancer in Oscar and three other canines without any negative side effects. While it gives profound hope to dog owners, NO-Cbl also points to a powerful new cancer treatment for humans — one that infiltrates cancer cells like a biological Trojan horse.

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Oldest Sea Creatures Have Been Alive 4,000 Years

Radiocarbon dating results show deep-sea "corals" with proteinaceous skeletons such as the pictured Gerardia sp. on basalt outcrop, Hawai'ian Islands, are feeding on recently exported young and fresh particulate organic matter and that individual colony longevities are on the order of thousands of years. Credit: NOAA's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL)

From Live Science:

Deep-sea corals are the oldest living animals with a skeleton in the seas, claims new research that found a 4,265-year-old coral species off the coast of Hawaii.

Deep-sea corals, which are threatened by climate change and pollution like shallow water corals are, grow on seamounts (mountains rising from the seafloor that don't reach the ocean's surface) and continental margins at depths of about 1,000 to 10,000 feet (300 to 3,000 meters).

These corals play host to many other marine organisms, and are hotspots of ocean biodiversity. The largest coral reef system in the world is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Big reefs are also found in the Red Sea, along the coast of Mexico and Belize, the Bahamas and the Maldives.

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Laser Weapon Design Hits 100-Kilowatt Target

A Northrop Grumman Space Technology engineer in Redondo Beach, Calif., monitors a solid-state laser, in a photo from January 2007. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

From CNET:

From the week gone by on the directed-energy weapons front: defense contractor Northrop Grumman reported that it got a solid-state laser to fire a beam with a potency of 105.5 kilowatts.

For the ray-gun wing of the military-industrial complex, the 100-kilowatt threshold is a major milestone, marking the entry point to weapons-grade laser weapons. Adding to the appeal is that solid-state lasers are much more compact, and less noxious, than chemical laser systems such as the one in the works for the 747-centric Airborne Laser.

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Dogs Show A Fetching Communication Savvy

GO FETCHFETCHING. In a re-enactment of an experiment on dogs' ability to understand human communication, a border collie watches its owner present a miniature replica of a rope toy (1), searches among the toys in an adjoining room (2) and brings the actual rope toy back to the owner (3).J. Kaminski

From Science News:

Border collies know to retrieve toys when owners present replicas or, in some cases, photos of those toys.

Dogs are lousy conversationalists and can’t write worth a lick. But don’t sell the family pooch short when it comes to grasping subtle references in human communication, a new study suggests.

Border collies quickly realize that their owners want them to fetch a toy from another room when shown a full-size or miniature replica of the desired item and given a command to “bring it here,” say biological psychologist Juliane Kaminski of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and her colleagues. Even a photograph of a toy works with some dogs as a signal to fetch that toy from an unseen location, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of Developmental Science.

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How (And Why) Athletes Go Broke

From Sports Illustrated:

Recession or no recession, many NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball players have a penchant for losing most or all of their money. It doesn't matter how much they make. And the ways they blow it are strikingly similar.

What the hell happened here? Seven floors above the iced-over Dallas North Tollway, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail is revisiting the question. It's December, and Ismail is sitting in the boardroom of Chapwood Investments, a wealth management firm, his white Notre Dame snow hat pulled down to his furrowed brow.

In 1991 Ismail, a junior wide receiver for the Fighting Irish, was the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Instead he signed with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts for a guaranteed $18.2 million over four years, then the richest contract in football history. But today, at a private session on financial planning attended by eight other current or onetime pro athletes, Ismail, 39, indulges in a luxury he didn't enjoy as a young VIP: hindsight.

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New Hope For Controversial 'Cold Fusion' Power Source

An experimental "cold fusion" device produced this pattern of "triple tracks" (shown at right), which scientists say is caused by high-energy nuclear particles resulting from a nuclear reaction. Credit: Pamela Mosier-Boss, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR)

From Live Science:

If cold fusion can be made to work, it could power the world cheaply on a virtually limitless supply of seawater. But scientists don't even know if it's possible.

Now a new study has produced evidence for the existence of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR), the new name for the controversial process labeled "cold fusion" two decades ago.

Fusion is the energy source of the sun and other stars. It occurs when atomic nuclei are combined. Today's nuclear plants employ fission, the splitting of nuclei. Scientists have been striving for decades to tap fusion to produce electricity from an abundant fuel called deuterium that can be extracted from seawater. Fusion would not come with the radioactive byproducts of fission.

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Curious Pair Of Galaxies: Best Image Ever Of Strange And Chaotic Duo

This colour composite image of Arp 261 was created from images obtained using the FORS2 instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Located 2600 m above sea level, in the mountains of the Atacama Desert, the Paranal Observatory enjoys some of the clearest and darkest skies on the whole planet. (Credit: Image courtesy of ESO)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2009) — The ESO Very Large Telescope has taken the best image ever of a strange and chaotic duo of interwoven galaxies. The images also contain some surprises — interlopers both far and near.

Sometimes objects in the sky that appear strange, or different from normal, have a story to tell and prove scientifically very rewarding. This was the idea behind Halton Arp’s catalogue of Peculiar Galaxies that appeared in the 1960s. One of the oddballs listed there is Arp 261, which has now been imaged in more detail than ever before using the FORS2 instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The image proves to contain several surprises.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Drink Up: Taking the Salt Out of Seawater

FREE FROM SALT: Special membranes help desalinize 25 million gallons of water a day at the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant in Florida. COURTESY OF DOW

From Scientific American:

Removing the salt from briny water is becoming more affordable.

Almost three quarters of Earth's surface is covered with water, but most of it is too salty to drink. And the 2.5 percent that is freshwater is locked up either in soil, remote snowpacks and glaciers or in deep aquifers. That leaves less than 1 percent of all freshwater for humans and animals to drink and for farmers to use to raise crops—and that remnant is shrinking as rising global temperatures trigger more droughts. The upshot: it's becoming increasingly difficult to slake the world's thirst as the population grows and water supplies dwindle. Analysts at the investment bank Goldman Sachs estimate that worldwide water use doubles every 20 years.

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The Physicists Killed Wall Street

From Discover Magazine:

A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting opinion piece in the NYTimes about how physicists are the harbingers of doom, and are responsible for the end times. Or, more specifically, it’s because of physicists that the financial markets are in tatters all around us.

The basic idea is that greedy physicists have gone to Wall Street, cooked up all sorts of arcane derivative products, and subsequently unleashed these weapons of mass destruction on the financial markets. This sentiment is best epitomized by a statement from none other than Warren Buffett (perhaps the world’s most successful investor, and certainly the world’s richest): “beware of geeks bearing formulas”

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Can Science Reveal The Truth?

From First Science:

In St John's gospel, Jesus Christ tells Pilate that he has come into the world to bear witness to the truth. To which, Pilate famously responds: "What is truth?" - a question that, for me at least, makes Pontius Pilate leap off the page as one of the most human of Biblical characters.

Perhaps the single greatest strength of science is that doesn't have to face up to the meaning of truth: Science's very methodology allows it to sidestep the whole issue of truth. The scientific method is a way of translating our individual responses to the world into something that's collective.

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A Machine That Speeds Up Evolution

Photo: Better bugs: Using a specially designed machine (shown here), scientists can rapidly engineer up to 50 genetic changes in bacteria, dramatically speeding the quest to design bacterial factories capable of efficiently producing drugs, biofuels, and other chemical products. Credit: George Church

From Technology Review:

A genome-wide approach to genetic engineering greatly speeds the manufacture of bacteria for making drugs and biofuels.

Rather than changing the genome letter by letter, as most genetic engineering is done, George Church and his colleagues have developed a new technology that can make 50 changes to a bacterial genome nearly simultaneously--an advance that could be used to greatly speed the creation of bacteria that are better at producing drugs, nutrients, or biofuels.

"What once took months now takes days," says Stephen del Cardayré, vice president of research and development at LS9, a biofuels company based in South San Francisco of which Church is a founder. LS9 soon plans to use the technology--called multiplex-automated genomic engineering, or MAGE--to accelerate development of bacterial cells that can produce low-cost renewable fuels and chemicals.

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Physics In The Oil Sands Of Alberta

Figure 1. Crushed oil-sands ore. (Photograph from Suncor Energy Inc image bank.)

From Physics Today:

Alberta’s petroleum reserves are comparable to Saudi Arabia’s, but accessing that oil poses challenges in the physics of fluids and particulates.

The recent spike in the price of oil to over US$140 per barrel focused worldwide attention on the need for more diverse supplies of fuel from unconventional sources and renewable resources. The oil sands of Alberta, the largest source of unconventional fuel for North America, are also the largest petroleum deposit on Earth. Sometimes called tar sands, they contain an estimated 2.5 trillion barrels of crude oil over an area of more than 140 000 square kilometers, but that oil, called bitumen, is too viscous to be extracted by conventional drilling. Large oil-sands deposits also exist in Venezuela, and smaller ones are found in Utah, western Africa, and Russia, but production from the Canadian deposits is the largest.

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Alaska's Mt. Redoubt Volcano Is Erupting; Large Explosions Recorded

Alaska's Mt. Redoubt Volcano, which had been in a tempestuous mood for two months,
began erupting early this morning.

From the L.A. Times:

Alaska's Mt. Redoubt Volcano, which had been in a tempestuous mood for two months, began erupting early this morning.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory recorded four large explosions at Redoubt volcano in the predawn darkness Monday, and at 7 a.m. the website anounced, "Another large explosion has just occurred."

The height of the eruption cloud is estimated to be 50,000 feet above sea level, but it remains unclear what direction the enormous plume will travel.

Two calls to the AVO/U.S. Geological Survey operations center went unanswered.

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More News On Alaska's Mt. Redoubt Volcano

Mount Redoubt Volcano Erupts Five Times, So Far -- Live Science
Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupts after weeks of waiting -- McClatchy
Alaska's Mount Redoubt has 5th eruption -- UPI
Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupts -- Examiner
Mount Redoubt blows its top -- CBS 12

Carbon Nanotube Muscles Strong As Diamond, Flexible As Rubber

From Wired News:

For the next installment of the Terminator franchise, Hollywood might skip the polymimetic liquid alloys — they're so 2003 — and turn to the laboratory of Ray Baughman, who has created a next-generation muscle from carbon nanotubes.

Baughman and his colleagues have produced a formulation that's stronger than steel, as light as air and more flexible than rubber — a truly 21st century muscle. It could be used to make artificial limbs, "smart" skins, shape-changing structures, ultra-strong robots and — in the immediate future — highly-efficient solar cells.

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Language Of Music Really Is Universal, Study Finds

A saxophonist. Native African people who have never even listened to the radio before can nonetheless pick up on happy, sad, and fearful emotions in Western music. (Credit: iStockphoto/Richard Clarke)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Native African people who have never even listened to the radio before can nonetheless pick up on happy, sad, and fearful emotions in Western music, according to a new report published online on March 19th in Current Biology. The result shows that the expression of those three basic emotions in music can be universally recognized, the researchers said.

"These findings could explain why Western music has been so successful in global music distribution, even in music cultures that do not as strongly emphasize the role of emotional expression in their music," said Thomas Fritz of the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Living Model Of Basic Units Of Human Brain Created

An isolated astrocyte shown with confocal microscopy. (Credit: Image created by Nathan S. Ivey at TNPRC / courtesy of Wikipedia)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 22, 2009) — Researchers in the School of Life & Health Sciences at Aston University in Birmingham, UK are developing a novel new way to model how the human brain works by creating a living representation of the brain.

They are using cells originally from a tumour which have been ‘reprogrammed’ to stop multiplying. Using the same natural molecule the body does to stimulate cellular development, the cells are turned into a co-culture of nerve cells and astrocytes - the most basic units of the human brain.

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Star Explodes, And So Might Theory

This artist's illustration provided by NASA shows what the brightest supernova ever recorded, known as SN 2006gy, may have looked like when it exploded. Photo: AP/NASA

From Live Science:

A massive star a million times brighter than our sun exploded way too early in its life, suggesting scientists don't understand stellar evolution as well as they thought.

"This might mean that we are fundamentally wrong about the evolution of massive stars, and that theories need revising," said Avishay Gal-Yam of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

According to theory, the doomed star, about 100 times our sun's mass, was not mature enough to have evolved a massive iron core of nuclear fusion ash, considered a prerequisite for a core implosion that triggers the sort of supernova blast that was seen.

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'Star Wars' Scientists Create Laser Gun To Kill Mosquitoes

From CNN:

LONDON, England -- Scientists in the U.S. are developing a laser gun that could kill millions of mosquitoes in minutes.

The laser, which has been dubbed a "weapon of mosquito destruction" fires at mosquitoes once it detects the audio frequency created by the beating of its wings.

The laser beam then destroys the mosquito, burning it on the spot.

Developed by some of the astrophysicists involved in what was known as the "Star Wars" anti-missile programs during the Cold War, the project is meant to prevent the spread of malaria.

Lead scientist on the project, Dr. Jordin Kare, told CNN that the laser would be able to sweep an area and "toast millions of mosquitoes in a few minutes."

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