Saturday, April 4, 2009

Muslim Students Weigh In On Evolution

Photo: The data could help teachers and students from diverse backgrounds work together better. Punchstock

From Nature News:

In Indonesia and Pakistan, questions about how science and faith can be reconciled.

In the first large study of its kind, a survey of 3,800 high-school students in Indonesia and Pakistan has found that teachers are delivering conflicting messages about evolution.

The Can$250,000 Islam and Evolution research project is the first large study of students, teachers and scientists in countries with significant Muslim populations to examine their understanding and acceptance of evolution. Some results from the three-year project were presented at a symposium at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, this week.

Read more ....

Gamma-Ray Burst Caused Mass Extinction?

Gamma-ray bursts are thought to be streams of high-energy radiation produced when the core of a very massive star collapses, as seen in the above artist's rendering. An April 2009 paper suggests that a gamma-ray burst aimed at Earth may have caused a mass extinction event 440 million years ago, and that a similar celestial catastrophe could happen again. Illustration courtesy NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

From National Geographic:

A brilliant burst of gamma rays may have caused a mass extinction event on Earth 440 million years ago—and a similar celestial catastrophe could happen again, according to a new study.

Most gamma-ray bursts are thought to be streams of high-energy radiation produced when the core of a very massive star collapses.

The new computer model shows that a gamma-ray burst aimed at Earth could deplete the ozone layer, cause acid rain, and initiate a round of global cooling from as far as 6,500 light-years away.

Read more ....

'Eureka Machine' Puts Scientists In The Shade By Working Out Laws Of Nature

From The Gaurdian:

The machine, which took only a few hours to come up with Newton's laws of motion, marks a turning point in the way science is done

Scientists have created a "Eureka machine" that can work out the laws of nature by observing the world around it – a development that could dramatically speed up the discovery of new scientific truths.

The machine took only hours to come up with the basic laws of motion, a task that occupied Sir Isaac Newton for years after he was inspired by an apple falling from a tree.

Scientists at Cornell University in New York have already pointed the machine at baffling problems in biology and plan to use it to tackle questions in cosmology and social behaviour.

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Wind Turbines Could More Than Meet U.S. Electricity Needs, Report Says

From The L.A. Times:

The Interior Department report, which looks at the potential of wind turbines off the U.S. coast, is part of the government's process to chart a course for offshore energy development.

Reporting from Arlington, Va. -- Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current demand, the Interior Department reported Thursday.

Simply harnessing the wind in relatively shallow waters -- the most accessible and technically feasible sites for offshore turbines -- could produce at least 20% of the power demand for most coastal states, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, unveiling a report by the Minerals Management Service that details the potential for oil, gas and renewable development on the outer continental shelf.

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How Herpes Re-Rears Its Ugly Head

Activity of the VP16 gene (light blue) and the presence of other viral proteins (light purple) in these mouse nerve cells are signs of the herpes virus waking from its latent form. The cells appear dark purple where both markers overlap. Credit: N. Sawtell

From Science News:

Researchers identify key protein that reactivates virus under stress.

A single viral protein enables dormant herpes virus to wake up, suggests a study appearing online March 26 in PLoS Pathogens. The protein, called VP16, acts as the gatekeeper for the damaging, infective activity of the virus, new results in mice show.

Figuring out what causes an inactive, latent state to become a highly infectious state is “very, very important for understanding this virus,” says study coauthor Nancy Sawtell of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. The results may lead to a better way to control herpes simplex virus type 1, a virus carried by more than 70 percent of the human population, Sawtell says.

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Sleep May Help Clear Brain For New Learning

Washington University scientists used genetically modified fruit flies to track the creation of new brain synapses, junctures where two brain cells communicate. They found that two scenarios that give the fruit fly's brain a workout caused new synapses to arise. To their surprise, all of the new synapses originated from a group of 16 cells in the fly brain's internal timekeeping mechanism. The cells are highlighted in the encircled area above. (Credit: Image courtesy of Washington University School of Medicine)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 3, 2009) — A new theory about sleep's benefits for the brain gets a boost from fruit flies in the journal Science. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found evidence that sleep, already recognized as a promoter of long-term memories, also helps clear room in the brain for new learning.

The critical question: How many synapses, or junctures where nerve cells communicate with each other, are modified by sleep? Neurologists believe creation of new synapses is one key way the brain encodes memories and learning, but this cannot continue unabated and may be where sleep comes in.

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Chocolate Helps With ... Math?

From Live Science:

Chocolate, which we write about a lot here, is no cure-all. But in small amounts, dark chocolate has many benefits: It can help keep the heart healthy and even provide some anti-cancer benefits. It can also, in moderation, work like aspirin.

Now scientists say it helps with math. Sort of.

In the new study reported in the British media, participants given large amounts of flavanols, which are compounds found in chocolate, did better when asked to count backwards in groups of three from a random number between 800 and 999. Flavanols increase blood flow to the brain, scientists say.

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Murdoch Calls Google, Yahoo Copyright Thieves — Is He Right?

From Wired News:

Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corp. and The Wall Street Journal, says Google and Yahoo are giant copyright scofflaws that steal the news.

"The question is, should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyright ... not steal, but take," Murdoch says. "Not just them, but Yahoo."

But whether search-engine news aggregation is theft or a protected fair use under copyright law is unclear, even as Google and Yahoo profit tremendously from linking to news. So maybe Murdoch is right.

Murdoch made his comments late Thursday during an address at the Cable Show, an industry event held in Washington. He seemingly was blaming the web, and search engines, for the news media's ills.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

How Long Would it Take Piranhas To Eat A Person?

Feeding Frenzy: A school of piranhas could strip your flesh in five minutes.
Adek Berry/Getty Images


Is the fish's deadly rep justified?

After a trip to the Amazon jungle, President Teddy Roosevelt famously reported seeing a pack of piranhas devour a cow in a few minutes. It must have been a very large school of fish—-or a very small cow. According to Ray Owczarzak, assistant curator of fishes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, it would probably take 300 to 500 piranhas five minutes to strip the flesh off a 180-pound human. But would this attack even happen?

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New Cosmic Map Reveals Colossal Structures

The new survey mapped the positions of more than 100,000 galaxies. The black strips are areas the survey did not cover because matter in our own galaxy blocked the view (Illustration: Chris Fluke/Swinburne University of Technology)

From The New Scientist:

Enormous cosmic voids and giant concentrations of matter have been observed in a new galaxy survey, one of the biggest completed so far. One of the voids is so large that it is difficult to explain where it came from.

Called the Six Degree Field Galaxy Survey (6dFGS), the project scanned 41% of the sky, measuring positions and distances for 110,000 galaxies within 2 billion light years of Earth.

No previous survey has covered as much of the sky at such a distance. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which is based in the northern hemisphere, has probed about twice as far but covers only 23% of the sky.

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Virus-Built Battery Could Power Cars, Electronic Devices

Angela Belcher holds a display of the virus-built battery she helped engineer. The battery -- the silver-colored disc -- is being used to power an LED. (Credit: Photo by Donna Coveney)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 3, 2009) — For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The new virus-produced batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

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Beverage Consumption A Bigger Factor In Weight, Study Shows

When it comes to weight loss, what you drink may be more important
than what you eat. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2009) — When it comes to weight loss, what you drink may be more important than what you eat, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers examined the relationship between beverage consumption among adults and weight change and found that weight loss was positively associated with a reduction in liquid calorie consumption and liquid calorie intake had a stronger impact on weight than solid calorie intake.

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Dogs Do Look Like Owners

From Live Science:

People can guess pretty successfully what breed of dog a person might own just by looking at the owner, a new study finds.

A group of 70 people who do not own dogs were asked to match photos of 41 dog owners to three possible breeds — Labrador, poodle or Staffordshire bull terrier. They matched the owners to the dogs more than half the time. Yet given three choices, they should have been right only about a third of the time.

"This suggests that certain breeds of dogs are associated with particular kinds of people," said study leader Lance Workman, a psychologist at Bath Spa University in the UK.

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Building A Brain On A Silicon Chip

Image: A smart chip: Scientists in Europe are using conventional chip production techniques to create circuits that mimic the structure and function of the human brain. This early prototype has just 384 neurons and 100,000 synapses, but the latest version contains 200,000 neurons and 50 million synapses. Credit: Karlheinz Meier

From Technology Review:

A chip developed by European scientists simulates the learning capabilities of the human brain.

An international team of scientists in Europe has created a silicon chip designed to function like a human brain. With 200,000 neurons linked up by 50 million synaptic connections, the chip is able to mimic the brain's ability to learn more closely than any other machine.

Although the chip has a fraction of the number of neurons or connections found in a brain, its design allows it to be scaled up, says Karlheinz Meier, a physicist at Heidelberg University, in Germany, who has coordinated the Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States project, or FACETS.

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Plan B For Energy: 8 Revolutionary Energy Sources

From Scientific American:

If efficiency improvements and incremental advances in today's technologies fail to halt global warming, could revolutionary new carbon-free energy sources save the day? Don't count on it—but don't count it out, either

To keep this world tolerable for life as we like it, humanity must complete a marathon of technological change whose finish line lies far over the horizon. Robert H. Socolow and Stephen W. Pacala of Princeton University have compared the feat to a multigenerational relay race. They outline a strategy to win the first 50-year leg by reining back carbon dioxide emissions from a century of unbridled acceleration. Existing technologies, applied both wisely and promptly, should carry us to this first milestone without trampling the global economy. That is a sound plan A.

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Robot Achieves Scientific First

A robot called ADAM can hypothesize, conduct experiments, and plan next steps without human input, researcher Ross King (left) and colleagues announced in April 2009. ADAM is the first—but maybe not the last—robot to make a new scientific discovery. Photograph courtesy Arthur Dafis, Aberystwyth University

From Financial Post:

A laboratory robot called Adam has been hailed as the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators.

Adam formed a hypothesis on the genetics of bakers’ yeast and carried out experiments to test its predictions, without intervention from its makers at Aberystwyth University.

The result was a series of “simple but useful” discoveries, confirmed by human scientists, about the gene coding for yeast enzymes. The research is published in the journal Science.

Professor Ross King, the chief creator of Adam, said robots would not supplant human researchers but make their work more productive and interesting.

Read more ....

More News On This Robot First

Robot scientist 'Adam' solves genetic problems -- Times Online
First Robot Scientist Makes Gene Discovery -- National Geographic
Self-directed robot scientist makes discovery -- MSNBC
Robot Scientist Becomes First Machine To Discover New Scientific Knowledge -- Science Daily
Robot Makes Scientific Discovery All by Itself -- Wired Science
Robot scientist makes discoveries with no human help -- New Scientist
Job Swap: This Robot Is the Scientist -- Live Science

Thursday, April 2, 2009

UFO Hoax Was A Social Experiment

Joe Rudy releases a burning flare along side the smoke trail left by a vanished balloon while Chris Russo kneels down to get the next flare ready. Credit: Chris Russo & Joe Rudy via

From Live Science:

Strange lights appeared over Morris County, New Jersey, on Jan. 5 this year. The bright red lights were first noticed in the night sky by an eleven-year-old girl, who pointed out three lights grouped together, and another pair some distance away.

The lights moved silently and slowly, then disappeared one by one.

The girl's father, a pilot, said he was baffled: "I've been in aviation for 20 years and never seen anything like it." Police fielded calls from alarmed residents, and the supposed UFO made national news.

Read more ....

Source Of Major Health Benefits In Olive Oil Revealed

Scientists have pinned down the constituent of olive oil that gives greatest protection from heart attack and stroke. (Credit: iStockphoto/Leslie Banks)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2009) — Scientists have pinned down the constituent of olive oil that gives greatest protection from heart attack and stroke. In a study of the major antioxidants in olive oil, Portuguese researchers showed that one, DHPEA-EDA, protects red blood cells from damage more than any other part of olive oil.

"These findings provide the scientific basis for the clear health benefits that have been seen in people who have olive oil in their diet," says lead researcher Fatima Paiva-Martins, who works at the University of Porto.

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Who Gets The Girl? Funny Men Have The Last Laugh...

Photo: Who gets the girl? Funny men like David Walliams, seen with model Lauren Budd, are luckier in love

From The Daily Mail:

It has long been noted that women love a man who can make them laugh - just look at 'sex thimble' Dudley Moore or serial dater David Walliams.

And now scientists believe they know why.

Being funny apparently makes men seem more intelligent, trustworthy - and a better bet for a relationship.

Psychologist Kristofor McCarty said: 'A quick browse of lonely hearts ads will confirm that women look for a good sense of humour in a potential partner - our research may explain why this is the case.'

Mr McCarty drew his conclusions after a study where he asked 45 women to rate the personalities behind a selection of 'lonely hearts' adverts.

Some of these were funny, others were entirely factual.

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Fruit Flies Earn No Respect, Except Among Scientists

These humble fruit flies, clinging to a matchstick, may be kitchenpests, but they contribute enormously to biological and medical science. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries/MCT

From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — That annoying kitchen pest, the fruit fly, occupies an honored place in science and medicine, despite slurs from politicians such as Sen. John McCain and his 2008 sidekick, Sarah Palin.

Scientists have been studying these dinky insects for more than a century, but they say that they're still turning up valuable new information in more than 1,000 laboratories all over the world.

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Astronomers Find Hidden Exoplanet in Hubble's Dustbin

From Wired Science:

An exoplanet hidden in the Hubble Space Telescope's archival images has been revealed by data miners using a new technique for spotting the satellites of distant stars.

In search of more information about a known exoplanet orbiting the star HR8799 about 130 light-years from Earth, astronomers turned to the catalog of images Hubble has been amassing for more than 15 years. Using an algorithm that can block the bright light of observed stars allowing the much fainter exoplanets circling them to be seen, the team spotted the planet in an image from 1998.

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The Five Ages Of The Brain:

From The New Scientist:

Throughout life our brains undergo more changes than any other part of the body. These can be broadly divided into five stages, each profoundly affecting our abilities and behaviour.

But we are not just passengers in this process, so how can we get the best out of our brains at every stage and pass the best possible organ on to the next? New Scientist investigates

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Early Galaxies Surprise With Size


From Nature News:

Astronomers revise galaxy-formation models with the discovery that early galaxies could have grown fat — fast.

Slurping up cold streams of star fuel, some of the Universe's first galaxies got fat quickly, new observations suggest. The findings could overturn existing models for the formation and evolution of galaxies that predict their slow and steady growth through mergers.

Researchers using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii have identified five distant galaxy clusters that formed five billion years after the Big Bang. They calculated the mass of the biggest galaxy in each of the clusters and found, to their surprise, that the ancient galaxies were roughly as big as the biggest galaxies in equivalent clusters in today's Universe.

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Cracking The Crusts Of Neutron Stars

NSCL professor Bill Lynch inspects the mini-ball, a detector at the MSU laboratory used to analyze fragments produced when nuclei collide at high velocities. (Credit: Harley Seeley, MSU)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2009) — Research by Michigan State University scientists is helping shed light on neutron stars, city-sized globs of ultra-dense matter that occasionally collapse into black holes.

A team led by Betty Tsang, a professor at MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, has had some success in measuring a key nuclear quality that may make it easier to describe the outer crusts of such stars.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Humans Losing Touch With Nature

From Live Science:

With so much of life based on electronic representations of reality, humans risk losing touch with nature, says University of Washington psychologist Peter Kahn.

From web cams that offer views of wildlife to virtual tours of the Grand Canyon to robotic pets, modern technology increasingly is encroaching into human connections with the natural world. Kahn and his colleagues believe this intrusion may emerge as one of the central psychological problems of our times.

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Sounds Good: The Flat Loudspeaker That Is As Thin As A Sheet Of Foil

The speaker is so thin it resembles a sheet of tin foil

From The Daily Mail:

A groundbreaking new loudspeaker that can be printed on and used as a wall poster has been developed by British engineers.

The lightweight and flexible speakers are less than 0.25mm thick and could also be concealed in car interiors or ceiling tiles.

They were developed by the University of Warwick spin-out company, Warwick Audio Technologies, who plan to start selling them later this year.

Read more ....

Giza Pyramids Align Toward City of Sun God

The Giza Pyramids of ancient Egypt, pictured here, were built along an invisible diagonal in orientation toward Heliopolis, the center of worship for the sun god in ancient Egypt, suggests new research.

From Discovery:

March 24, 2009 -- Some of Egypt's most magnificent pyramids were deliberately designed to follow a pattern of invisible diagonal lines, an Italian study has concluded.

According to Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, these invisible lines would connect most of the funerary complexes raised by the kings of the Old Kingdom between 2630 and 2323 B.C.

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Airport Body Scans Reveal All

Millimeter wave technology produces whole body images (woman at left, man at right) that reveal what's under your clothes, including Metallic or non-metallic devices and objects are displayed, including weapons, explosives and other items that a passenger is carrying on his/her person. The images are viewed by a Transportation Security Officer in a remote location. According to the TSA: To ensure privacy, the setup "has zero storage capability and images will not be printed stored or transmitted. Once the transportation security officer has viewed the image and resolved anomalies, the image is erased from the screen permanently. The officer is unable to print, export, store or transmit the image." Credit: TSA

From Live Science:

New airport security scanners could become a popular alternative to body searches, but have also prompted some privacy concerns.

Whole-body imaging technologies can see through clothing to reveal metallic and non-metallic objects, including weapons or plastic explosives. They also reveal a person's silhouette and the outlines of underwear.

That hasn't stopped security officials from implementing them. The U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) started using whole-body imaging at six airports this year, and plans are in the works to expand it to airports in several more U.S. cities later this year.

Read more ....

NASA Headline: Deep Solar Minimum

Above: The sunspot cycle from 1995 to the present. The jagged curve traces actual sunspot counts. Smooth curves are fits to the data and one forecaster’s predictions of future activity. Credit: David Hathaway, NASA/MSFC. [more]

From Watts Up With That?

The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower.

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year’s 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days: plot. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year’s 90 days (87%).

Read more ....

'First Economical Process' For Making Biodiesel Fuel From Algae

This is the feedstock transferring system for algae biodiesel.
(Credit: United Environment & Energy LLC)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2009) — Chemists reported development of what they termed the first economical, eco-friendly process to convert algae oil into biodiesel fuel — a discovery they predict could one day lead to U.S. independence from petroleum as a fuel.

The study was presented recently at the 237th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

One of the problems with current methods for producing biodiesel from algae oil is the processing cost, and the New York researchers say their innovative process is at least 40 percent cheaper than that of others now being used. Supply will not be a problem: There is a limitless amount of algae growing in oceans, lakes, and rivers, throughout the world.

Read more ....

Deformed Skull Suggests Human Ancestors Had Compassion

A newly reconstructed deformed fossil skull suggests our human ancestors probably cared for deformed offspring for years.

From Wired Science:

The skull indicates that the child who lived about 530,000 years ago would have been severely handicapped — and yet survived at least five years and possibly several years longer. That suggests the parents or community provided the child with care, despite his or her obvious deformities.

"Her/his pathological condition was not an impediment to receiv[ing] the same attention as any other Middle Pleistocene Homo child," the the team of Spanish researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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When Did April Fool's Day Begin?

From Live Science:

Though pranksters and joke-lovers in many countries now gleefully prepare to dupe friends and loved ones on April Fool's Day, no one knows exactly when or why, or even where, this tradition began.

A giddy spurt of practical joking seems to have coincided with the coming of spring since the time of the Ancient Romans and Celts, who celebrated a festival of mischief-making. The first mentions of an All Fool's Day (as it was formerly called) came in Europe in the Middle Ages.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tipping Point In The Media: Global Warming

From Watts Up With That?

Over the last year or so I have been taking an informal survey of a key news metric - Google news searches for the term “global warming.” A year ago, the ratio of alarmist/skeptical articles was close to 100/1. About six months ago, the ratio was 90/10, Two months ago it was 80/20, and today it hit 50/50 for the first time - including the lead skeptical story “A Cooling Trend Toward Global Warming“. One thing that has changed is the rise of blogs written by informed citizens, complemented by the demise of corporate newspapers which make money from keeping people continually alarmed about one thing or another.

Read more ....

What Is Norovirus? How Contagious Is It? Can It Be Fatal?

NASTY NOROVIRUS: Virus particles like these are responsible for sickening 23 million people in the U.S. every year. GrahamColm via Wikimedia Commons

From Scientific American:

A Massachusetts college closes down after over 100 students fall ill with norovirus infections.

An outbreak of stomach flu believed to be caused by norovirus has prompted a temporary shutdown of Babson College, a small business college and graduate school in Babson Park, Mass. School officials announced that classes, meetings, athletic events and all other activities would be canceled until Wednesday, when the school is expected to have the outbreak under control.

Dennis Hanno, Babson's undergraduate dean, says that 131 students have visited the school's health services clinic since Wednesday complaining of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea—all symptoms associated with norovirus, a group of viruses formerly known as Norwalk-like viruses. "We saw a high of 40 reported cases on Friday," Hanno told, noting that the numbers have dropped significantly since then with only four cases reported today. The main concern with this stomach virus, Hanno says, is that it may cause severe dehydration; 12 of the students received fluids intravenously to replenish those lost.

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New Theory On Largest Known Mass Extinction In Earth's History

Hypothetically speaking, large areas of the hyper saline Zechstein Sea and its direct environment could have looked like this, which in the Permian Age was situated about where present day Central Europe is. At the end of the Permian Age the Zechstein Sea was irrevocably disconnected from the open sea and the remaining sections of sea soon dried out after that. As a result the microbial-limited halogenated gases from the Zechstein Sea stopped and vegetation was able to regenerate again. The pink colour of the Zechstein Sea was probably brought about by microbes with an extreme preference for salt, as is the case with salt lakes today. In the background sand dunes can be recognised from a landscape with hardly any water. (Credit: Dr. Karsten Kotte/Universit├Ąt Heidelberg)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2009) — The largest mass extinction in the history of the earth could have been triggered off by giant salt lakes, whose emissions of halogenated gases changed the atmospheric composition so dramatically that vegetation was irretrievably damaged.

At least that is what an international team of scientists has reported in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Dokladi Earth Sciences). At the Permian/Triassic boundary, 250 million years ago, about 90 percent of the animal and plant species ashore became extinct. Previously it was thought that volcanic eruptions, the impacts of asteroids, or methane hydrate were instigating causes.

Read more ....

Coffee Lessens The Pain Of Exercise

Former competitive cyclist Robert Motl, now a professor of kinesiology and community health, is studying the effects of caffeine on pain during exercise. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

From Live Science:

That cup of coffee that many gym rats, bikers and runners swill before a workout does more than energize them. It kills some of the pain of athletic exertion, a new study suggests. And it works regardless of whether a person already had a coffee habit or not.

Caffeine works on a system in the brain and spinal cord (the adenosine neuromodulatory system) that is heavily involved in pain processing, says University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Robert Motl. And since caffeine blocks adenosine, the biochemical that plays an important role in energy transfer and thus exercise, he speculated that it could reduce pain.

Read more ....

Women Excluded From 'Mars Mission' Crew To Prevent Sexual Tension Ruining 105-Day Voyage

Five of the crew during survival training near Star City, Russia.
They will live together for 105 days in cramped conditions.

From The Daily Mail:

Today an all-male crew of six space enthusiasts were shut inside the Mars-500 'spaceship' in Moscow, for a simulated 105-day mission.

The purpose of the reality TV-like mission is to study the psychological and physiological effects of isolation on stress levels, sleep quality, mood and immunity levels.

The experiment paves the way for a 500 day mission which will completely replicate the conditions of a real mission to Mars.

Read more ....

Cosmonaut: Russians Can't Use American Toilet in Space

Which bathroom do I use? The International Space Station as seen from the departing space shuttle Discovery on March 25. NASA

From FOX News:

MOSCOW — Squabbles on Earth over how cosmonauts and astronauts divide up the space station's food, water, toilets and other facilities are hurting the crew's morale and complicating work in space, a veteran Russian cosmonaut said, according to an interview published Monday.

Gennady Padalka told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper as saying space officials from Russia, the United States and other countries require cosmonauts and astronauts to eat their own food and follow stringent rules on access to other facilities, like toilets.

Read more ....

My Comment: This news is getting better everyday.

Hobbit Skeleton Replica Goes On Display

Image: Artist's rendition of Homo floresiensis. Credit: National Geographic Society/ Peter Schouten

From Live Science:

A cast of a "hobbit" skeleton will go on public display for the first time as part of a human evolution symposium April 21 on Long Island, New York.

The hobbit fossils (and near fossils) were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Some scientists think the discovery represents a new species of human. Others argue it was human like us, only with a disorder called microcephaly which gave it an unusually small head.

The skeleton is set to go on display at Stony Brook University's Staller Center for the Arts as part of the 7th Human Evolution Symposium there.

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Why Some People Shake Off The Flu In A Couple Of Days, While Others Suffer Longer, Or Die

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2009) — For some people it is a certainty: as soon as the annual flu season gets underway, they are sure to go down with it. It is little comfort to know that there are other people who are apparently resistant to flu or overcome the illness after just a couple of days. It is this phenomenon that is now being investigated by researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, using various strains of mice.

"Where there are many scientific works dealing solely with the flu virus, we have investigated how the host reacts to an infection," says Klaus Schughart, head of the Experimental Mouse Genetics research group. In infection experiments the researchers have now discovered that an excessive immune response is responsible for the fatal outcome of the disease in mice. This overreaction has genetic roots.

Read more ....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Discover Interview The Man Who Found Quarks And Made Sense Of The Universe

From The Discover Magazine:

Murray Gell-Mann had a smash success with particles, notorious dustups with Feynman, and a missed opportunity with Einstein.

It is no accident that the quark—the building block of protons and neutrons and, by extension, of you and everything around you—has such a strange and charming name. The physicist who discovered it, Murray Gell-Mann, loves words as much as he loves physics. He is known to correct a stranger’s pronunciation of his or her own last name (which doesn’t always go over well) and is more than happy to give names to objects or ideas that do not have one yet. Thus came the word quark for his most famous discovery. It sounds like “kwork” and got its spelling from a whimsical poem in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. This highly scientific term is clever and jokey and gruff all at once, much like the man who coined it.

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How Enormous Batteries Could Safeguard The Power Grid

Big battery: Wind turbines charge these large-scale batteries in Luverne, Minn., while the wind blows. If the breeze calms, the batteries keep power flowing into the utility grid. (Courtesy of XCel Energy)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Since sunlight and wind can be unreliable, renewable utilities install big backups.

One evening in late February 2008, the famously steady winds of west Texas began to wane until, at last, hundreds of giant wind turbines were becalmed – their enormous blades slowed or stilled.

In just three hours, grid operators at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas watched wind power output fall by 1,400 megawatts – power needed to supply roughly 600,000 homes. Following emergency procedures, a blackout was avoided by quickly cutting power to several industrial customers.

Read more ....

Giant Laser Experiment Powers Up

From BBC:

The US has finished constructing a huge physics experiment aimed at recreating conditions at the heart of our Sun.

The US National Ignition Facility is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear fusion, a process that could offer abundant clean energy.

The lab will kick-start the reaction by focusing 192 giant laser beams on a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel.

To work, it must show that more energy can be extracted from the process than is required to initiate it.

Professor Mike Dunne, who leads a European venture that is also pursuing nuclear fusion with lasers, told BBC News that if NIF was successful, it would be a "seismic event".

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Volcanoes Spawn Mini-Cyclones, Then Lightning "Sheaths"

A waterspout forms offshore from an erupting Kilauea volcano vent in Kilauea, Hawaii. A March 2009 study revealed a newfound link between two of nature's most violent phenomena that could explain how volcanic ash clouds can generate lightning and tornado-like dust devils and waterspouts. Photograph by Steve and Donna O'Meara

From National Geographic:

A newfound link between two of nature's most violent phenomena could explain how volcanic ash clouds can generate bolts of lightning and tornado-like dust devils and waterspouts.

Scientists have long known that tornadoes are the products of colossal columns of spinning air—mesocyclones—inside large storm clouds.

A new study suggests mesocyclones can also form in the ash plumes of volcanic eruptions.

Under certain circumstances, these volcanic mesocyclones can aid in lightning production and create tornado-like structures that corkscrew toward the Earth, said study team member Pinaki Chakraborty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Cosmonaut Grumbles About Space Bureaucracy

Image top: The International Space Station, the largest scientific
cooperative program in history Credit: NASA

From Yahoo News/AP:

MOSCOW – Squabbles on Earth over how cosmonauts and astronauts divide up the space station's food, water, toilets and other facilities are hurting the crew's morale and complicating work in space, a veteran Russian cosmonaut said, according to an interview published Monday.

Gennady Padalka told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper as saying space officials from Russia, the United States and other countries require cosmonauts and astronauts to eat their own food and follow stringent rules on access to other facilities, like toilets.

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New Portable Energy Source Utilizes Microbes To Turn Electricity Directly To Methane

This photo shows Bruce E. Logan, Shaoan Cheng and Defeng Xing with a microbial cell that produces methane directly from electricity. (Credit: Bruce Logan's Lab, Penn State)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2009) — A tiny microbe can take electricity and directly convert carbon dioxide and water to methane, producing a portable energy source with a potentially neutral carbon footprint, according to a team of Penn State engineers.

"We were studying making hydrogen in microbial electrolysis cells and we kept getting all this methane," said Bruce E. Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, Penn State. "We may now understand why."

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Mysterious East Coast Boom Was Falling Russian Rocket

A look at Russia's Soyuz rocket stages. Credit: Graphic.

From Live Science:

The mysterious boom and flash of light seen over parts of Virginia Sunday night was not a meteor, but actually exploding space junk from the second stage of a Russian Soyuz rocket falling back to Earth, according to an official with the U.S. Naval Observatory.

"I'm pretty convinced that what these folks saw was the second stage of the Soyuz rocket that launched the crew up to the space station," said Geoff Chester of the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.

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Nathan Wolfe: Did We Mention This Guy Was Brilliant?


PopSci "Brilliant 10" alum takes the TED stage to talk about his groundbreaking work as a virus hunter; see the video!

When it comes to viruses, especially the serious kind that can make you bleed from your eye sockets and wipe out entire villages, most people naturally prefer to keep their distance. Not Nathan Wolfe. The 39-year-old epidemiologist has spent the past 10 years hunting them down in the jungles of Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. By collecting thousands of blood samples from wild animals and the people who live in close contact with them, Wolfe and his team have uncovered new viruses related to HIV and smallpox. He's even documented how these animal-borne killers leap to humans, with blood serving as a vector in transmitting viruses from slaughtered animals to hunters.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

A (Radioactive) Cut in the Earth That Will Not Stay Closed

DANGEROUS ELEMENT: The uranium for the original atomic bombs came from a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Shinkolobwe. ©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/DAVID FREUND

From Scientific American:

Tom Zoellner's book Uranium explores how a historic mine in Africa poses an existential threat in this excerpt.

One of the most potentially dangerous places in the world is called Shinkolobwe, the name of a now-destroyed village in central Africa which took its name from a thorny fruit resembling an apple. After boiling, the outside of the fruit cools quickly but the inside is like a sponge. It retains hot water for a long time. Squeezing it results in a burn.

The word is also local slang for a man who is easygoing on the surface but becomes angry when provoked.

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The Tech Behind 3D's Big Revival

Left: James Cameron on the set of his 3D epic Avatar. Right: An NFL Films cameraman captures last season’s San Diego—Oakland game using a stereo­scopic camera rig built by 3ality. (Photograph by Associated Press)

From Popular Mechanics:

3D has been around for a century, but only now are we seeing 3D in Super Bowl ads and in big Hollywood 3D releases like Coraline and Monsters vs. Aliens. So what has convinced Hollywood that 3D is finally ready for its closeup? The short answer is that technology has finally caught up with the concept.

Hollywood is buzzing about 3D. Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has compared it to the introduction of color. Director James Cameron delayed the release of his stereoscopic epic Avatar in part to give theaters more time to convert to 3D capability. A dozen or more stereoscopic films will be released in 2009, and more than 30 movies are in production. But stereoscopic films are not a revolutionary concept; in fact, audiences have been paying for them since The Power of Love in 1922. The golden age of 3D was in the 1950s, with a brief resurgence in the 1980s. Each time experts heralded the format as the next big thing in filmmaking, and each time, the surge quietly subsided.

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Solar Activity And Climate Change: New Sun-Watching Satellite To Monitor Sunlight Fluctuations

During periods of peak activity (front three images) sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections are more common, and the sun emits slightly more energy than during periods of low activity (back images). The amount of energy that strikes Earth's atmosphere -- called total solar irradiance (TSI) -- fluctuates by about 0.1 percent over the course of the sun's 11-year cycle, even though the soft X-ray wavelengths shown in this image vary by much greater amounts. (Credit: Steele Hill, SOHO, NASA/ESA)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 29, 2009) — During the Maunder Minimum, a period of diminished solar activity between 1645 and 1715, sunspots were rare on the face of the sun, sometimes disappearing entirely for months to years. At the same time, Earth experienced a bitter cold period known as the "Little Ice Age."

Were the events connected? Scientists cannot say for sure, but it's quite likely. Slowdowns in solar activity -- evidenced by reductions in sunspot numbers -- are known to coincide with decreases in the amount of energy discharged by the sun. During the Little Ice Age, though, few would have thought to track total solar irradiance (TSI), the amount of solar energy striking Earth's upper atmosphere. In fact, the scientific instrument needed to make such measurements -- a spaceborne radiometer -- was still three centuries into the future.

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Perfect Running Pace Revealed

The kinematics of walking (left) and running are quite different. © Nature

From Live Science:

Most regular runners can tell you when they reach that perfect equilibrium of speed and comfort. The legs are loose, the heart is pumping and it feels like you could run at this pace forever.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison now have an explanation for this state of running nirvana, and we can thank our ancestors and some evolutionary biology for it.

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