Saturday, June 27, 2009

China’s Manufacturing Boom Has Brought Widespread Pollution And Unexpected Changes To The Bodies, Minds, And Souls Of The Chinese People

A River Runs Through It -- Search Magazine

China’s manufacturing boom has brought widespread pollution—and unexpected changes to the bodies, minds, and souls of the Chinese people.

The cancer ward of Shenqiu County Hospital is busy on this weekday morning. Bicycles and motorbikes are scattered around the dusty brick courtyard and a white doctor’s jacket hangs from a tree to dry. A line of people stand outside a small one-story concrete building, patiently waiting their turn for a few minutes with Dr. Wang Yong Zeng, the chief oncologist. Most carry their life’s medical records with them, clutching the thick folders full of X-rays and documents tightly to their chest.

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Black Holes On A Desktop

From The Economist:

Sound may offer a better way than light to test Stephen Hawking’s prediction that black holes emit radiation.

WHEN the Large Hadron Collider, a giant particle accelerator near Geneva, was switched on last September, the press was full of scare stories about the risk of it producing a tiny black hole that would, despite its minuscule size, quickly swallow the Earth. In fact, the first test runs could never have made such an object. And, just over a week later, the LHC broke and has not yet been repaired. But it is true that one of the things its operators would like to create, if and when they get it going again, are miniature versions of those fabled astronomical objects whose intense gravity means no light can escape them.

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One In 25 Deaths Worldwide Attributable To Alcohol

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (June 27, 2009) — Research from Canada's own Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) featured in this week's edition of the Lancet shows that worldwide, 1 in 25 deaths are directly attributable to alcohol consumption. This rise since 2000 is mainly due to increases in the number of women drinking.

CAMH's Dr Jürgen Rehm and his colleagues found that alcohol-attributable disorders are among the most disabling disease categories within the global burden of disease, especially for men. And in contrast to other traditional risk factors for disease, the burden attributable to alcohol lies more with younger people than with the older population.

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Study Dispels Myth of Post-Workout Fat Burn

Yes, you burn calories while weightlifting, running or doing other exercise. No, the calorie burn does not continue as you pig out later. Image credit: stockxpert

From Live Science:

After an intense hour of sweating on the treadmill or pumping iron, most of us look forward to the extra post-exercise "afterburn" of fat cells that has been promised to us by fitness pundits. This 24-hour period of altered metabolism is supposed to help with our overall weight loss.

Unfortunately, a recent study found this to be a myth for moderate exercisers.

The new research clarifies a misunderstanding that exercisers can ignore their diet after a workout because their metabolism is in this super active state.

"It's not that exercise doesn't burn fat," said Edward Melanson, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, "It's just that we replace the calories. People think they have a license to eat whatever they want, and our research shows that is definitely not the case. You can easily undo what you set out to do.”

The findings were detailed in the April edition of Exercise and Sport Sciences Review.

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Vatican’s Celestial Eye, Seeking Not Angels But Data

From The New York Times:

MOUNT GRAHAM, Ariz. — Fauré’s “Requiem” is playing in the background, followed by the Kronos Quartet. Every so often the music is interrupted by an electromechanical arpeggio — like a jazz riff on a clarinet — as the motors guiding the telescope spin up and down. A night of galaxy gazing is about to begin at the Vatican’s observatory on Mount Graham.

“Got it. O.K., it’s happy,” says Christopher J. Corbally, the Jesuit priest who is vice director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group, as he sits in the control room making adjustments. The idea is not to watch for omens or angels but to do workmanlike astronomy that fights the perception that science and Catholicism necessarily conflict.

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Brains Replay Memories While We Sleep And Store The Highlights, Claim Scientists

From The Telegraph:

We may think we are asleep - but deep in the recesses of our mind a "memory editor" is working overtime, replaying the experiences of the day and storing the highlights on our brain's version of a video recorder, claim scientists.

Researchers have discovered that the mind keeps most memories for just a day but then at night acts like a film editor sifting through the "video clips" before transferring the best bits to long term storage in our own movie archive.

The research has "profound implications" for the importance of sleep and its link with long term memory, they said.

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Sun Leaves Earth Wide Open To cCsmic Rays

The sun protects the earth from cosmic rays and dust from the solar system but squeezing of various stars could leave us unprotected (Image: NASA/HST collection)

From New Scientist:

THE sun provides ideal conditions for life to thrive, right? In fact, it periodically leaves Earth open to assaults from interstellar nasties in a way that most stars do not.

The sun protects us from cosmic rays and dust from beyond the solar system by enveloping us in the heliosphere - a bubble of solar wind that extends past Pluto. These cosmic rays would damage the ozone layer, and interstellar dust could dim sunlight and trigger an ice age. However, when the solar system passes through very dense gas and dust clouds, the heliosphere can shrink until its edge is inside Earth's orbit.

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Light Goes Out On Solar Mission

From The BBC:

After more than 18 years studying the Sun, the plug is finally being pulled on the ailing spacecraft Ulysses.

Final communication with the joint European-US satellite will take place on 30 June.

The long-serving craft, launched in October 1990, has already served four times its expected design life.

The Esa-Nasa mission was the first to survey the environment in space above and below the poles of the Sun.

Data from the craft, published last year, also suggested that the solar wind - the stream of charged particles billowing away from the Sun - is at its weakest for 50 years.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Ancient Climate Change: When Palm Trees Gave Way To Spruce Trees

New research reveals the demise of an ancient forest. These are dawn redwood stumps on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut. (Credit: Copyright David Greenwood / Used with permission)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (June 25, 2009) — For climatologists, part of the challenge in predicting the future is figuring out exactly what happened during previous periods of global climate change.

One long-standing climate puzzle relates to a sequence of events 33.5 million years ago in the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene. Profound changes were underway. Globally, carbon dioxide levels were falling and the hothouse warmth of the dinosaur age and Eocene Period was waning. In Antarctica, ice sheets had formed and covered much of the southern polar continent.

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Nanoparticles Explored for Preventing Cell Damage

Sudipta Seal, materials scientist and engineer at the University of Central Florida, holds a bottle containing billions of ultrasmall, engineered nanoceria. In the background, are jars filled with different types of nanoceria. Credit: Sudipta Seal, University of Central Florida

From Live Science:

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Sudipta Seal is enthralled by nanoparticles, particularly those of a rare earth metal called cerium. The particles are showing potential for a wide range of applications, from medicine to energy.

Seal is a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Central Florida (UCF), and several years ago he and his colleagues engineered nanoparticles of cerium oxide (CeO2), a material long used in ceramics, catalysts and fuel cells. The novel nanocrystalline form is non-toxic and biocompatible — ideal for medical applications.

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Dreaming Of Nonsense: The Evolutionary Enigma Of Dream Content

From Scientific American:

Friday, June 19, 2:12 a.m.: Loading up the trunk of my car with clothes hangers when approached by two transients… try to engage them in good-natured conversation about the benefits of wooden clothes hangers over metal ones, but they make me uneasy, say they want to go out to get a drink but I’ve got to go. In a city somewhere… looks like a post-apocalyptic Saint Louis.

Saturday, June 20, 4:47 a.m.: Was just now trying to return my dead grandmother’s cane to her. Took elevator to her apartment… meant to go to the 8th floor, but elevator lurched up to the 18th floor, swung around violently then shot back down. Could hear voices in the corridors outside elevator shaft…. a mother yelling at her child. Grandma then became my other grandma, also decesased, yet in a nursing home; doctors say she’s doing fine.

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FYI: Why Does My Voice Sound Different When I Hear it On A Recording?

Tone Deaf: Your voice makes
 vibrations that only you can hear iStock


It sounds different because it is different. "When you speak, the vocal folds in your throat vibrate, which causes your skin, skull and oral cavities to also vibrate, and we perceive this as sound," explains Ben Hornsby, a professor of audiology at Vanderbilt University. The vibrations mix with the sound waves traveling from your mouth to your eardrum, giving your voice a quality — generally a deeper, more dignified sound — that no one else hears.

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How Michael Jackson's Death Shut Down Twitter, Brought Chaos To Google... And 'Killed Off' Jeff Goldblum was the first to break the story that Michael Jackson had had a cardiac arrest.

From The Daily Mail:

The internet came alive like never before as people around the world logged on to follow the stunning news of Michael Jackson's death.

The story created such a surge in online traffic last night that Google returned an 'error message' for searches of the singer's name as it assumed it was under attack.

And just seconds after the story broke on the American entertainment website, messages or 'Tweets' about the singer on the micro-blogging site Twitter doubled, leading to a temporary shutdown of the site.

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Magnetic 'Superatoms' Promise Tuneable Materials

Designer clusters of atoms that can mimic other elements have for the first time been devised with magnetic properties (Image: Ulises Reveles, VCU)

From The New Scientist:

New "superatoms" – clusters of atoms that share electrons and can mimic the behaviour of other elements – have been devised with magnetic properties for the first time. The breakthrough provides a way to design novel nano-scale building blocks with controllable magnetic properties that could be used to make faster computer processors and denser memory storage.

Superatoms were discovered in the 1980s when Walter Knight and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, found that groups of sodium atoms can share electrons amongst themselves.

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The Milk Myth: What a Body Really Needs

Photo: Milk is dandy, but yogurt has more calcium and is easier to digest. Collards and other greens also have about as much or more calcium than milk by the cup. Greens, unlike milk, have the added benefit of vitamin K, also necessary for strong bones. Tofu and sesame are also very high in calcium. Image credit: stockxpert

From Live Science:

Young adults are not drinking enough milk, according to a study published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior by researchers from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Well, at least that's according to the press release about the study, along with a few press reports on the matter. But according to lead author Nicole Larson, the focus on the study was on calcium.

Once again, we see the words "milk" and "calcium" used interchangeably in the popular press. Milk is a calcium source, but by no standard other than that of the National Dairy Council is it the best calcium source.

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Space Shuttle Science Shows How 1908 Tunguska Explosion Was Caused By A Comet

In 1927 Professor Leonid Kulik took the first photographs of the massive destruction of the taiga forest after the Tunguska catastrophe. (Credit: Professor Leonid Kulik)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (June 25, 2009) — The mysterious 1908 Tunguska explosion that leveled 830 square miles of Siberian forest was almost certainly caused by a comet entering the Earth's atmosphere, says new Cornell University research. The conclusion is supported by an unlikely source: the exhaust plume from the NASA space shuttle launched a century later.

The research, accepted for publication (June 24, 2009) by the journal Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union, connects the two events by what followed each about a day later: brilliant, night-visible clouds, or noctilucent clouds, that are made up of ice particles and only form at very high altitudes and in extremely cold temperatures.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Evolutionary Origins Of Your Right And Left Brain

Photoillustration by TWIST CREATIVE; Corbis (brain); Medioimages Getty Images (calculator); Joerg Steffens Corbis (faces); Westend61 Corbis (woman smiling); Dougal Waters Getty Images (ballerina); Mike Kemp Getty Images (rattlesnake); C Squared Studios Getty Images (palette); Vladimir Godnik Getty Images (paintbrushes); Carrie Boretz Corbis (girls whispering); Robert Llewellyn Corbis (calipers)

From Scientific American:

The division of labor by the two cerebral hemispheres—once thought to be uniquely human—predates us by half a billion years. Speech, right-handedness, facial recognition and the processing of spatial relations can be traced to brain asymmetries in early vertebrates.

The left hemisphere of the human brain controls language, arguably our greatest mental attribute. It also controls the remarkable dexterity of the human right hand. The right hemisphere is dominant in the control of, among other things, our sense of how objects interrelate in space. Forty years ago the broad scientific consensus held that, in addition to language, right-handedness and the specialization of just one side of the brain for processing spatial relations occur in humans alone. Other animals, it was thought, have no hemispheric specializations of any kind.

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Cloud Computing: Just Another Online Fad--or the Biggest Revolution Since the Internet?

Credit: James Gulliver Hancock

From Technology Review:

According to its advocates, cloud computing is poised to succeed where so many other attempts to deliver on-demand computing to anyone with a network connection have failed. Some skepticism is warranted. The history of the computer industry is littered with the remains of previous aspirants to this holy grail, from the time-sharing utilities envisioned in the 1960s and 1970s to the network computers of the 1990s (simple computers acting as graphical clients for software running on central servers) to the commercial grid systems of more recent years (aimed at turning clusters of servers into high-­performance computers). But cloud computing draws strength from forces that could propel it beyond the ranks of the also-rans.

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Stuck on Mars, Spirit Rover Does Science

From Yahoo News/Space:

The Mars rover Spirit is keeping scientists' spirits up by doing some science while it is stuck in soft soil on the red planet.

The rover has been immobile, trapped hub-deep since May 6. Engineers have replicated the landscape in lab back home and, using an identical rover model, tried to figure out what to do, so far to no avail.

A rock seen beneath Spirit in images from the camera on the end of the rover's arm may be touching Spirit's belly, NASA said in a statement today. It appears to be a loose rock not bearing the rover's weight.

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Buzz Aldrin To NASA: U.S. Space Policy Is On The Wrong Track

Platon photographed Buzz Aldrin for PM in Los Angeles, May 2009. “It’s mankind’s destiny to walk on another planet,” Aldrin says. “We can achieve it, but we’ve got to have the right plan.” (Photograph by Platon)

From Popular Mechanics:

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin has a problem with NASA’s current manned space plan: Namely, the five-year gap between the shuttle’s scheduled retirement next year and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the Orion spacecraft, which will take us no further than the moon—a place we’ve already been. Aldrin thinks NASA can do better. His plan is to scrap Ares I, stretch out the remaining six shuttle flights and fast-track the Orion to fly on a Delta IV or Atlas V. Then, set our sites on colonizing Mars. Here, Buzz challenges NASA to take on his bolder mission.

I had a splendid career at NASA as an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs. The capstone, of course, was my moonwalk on the Sea of Tranquility 40 years ago. I have only two regrets from my NASA days, and both were my own fault: I failed to speak out when I saw bad decisions being made. The first came in 1966, when NASA, in a fit of excessive caution, canceled the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (AMU), the Buck Rogers–style jet backpack I was scheduled to try out on Gemini 12. Despite difficulties with the AMU on Gemini 9, I was very confident I could make it work. But like a good astronaut, I kept my mouth shut, and I’ve regretted it ever since. As it turned out, it took 18 years for NASA to develop another jet pack, the Manned Maneuvering Unit, used on three space shuttle missions in 1984.

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Oldest Musical Instrument Found

Flute: The earliest modern humans in Europe carved this 8.5-inch flute from a vulture bone more than 35,000 years ago.


Bird-bone flute hints that Paleolithic humans banded together to the demise of Neanderthals

How’s this for classic rock? German scientists have unearthed the oldest-known musical instrument fashioned by human hands. It’s a delicate flute made from the wing bone of a vulture that dates to at least 35,000 years old—just after the first modern humans entered Europe. The team discovered the flute littered among a trove of early-human loot at a mountain cave in southwest Germany. It included a few other flute fragments and a female figurine carved from the ivory tusks of a mammoth with body proportions that are beyond Rubenesque.

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Ice On Fire: The Next Fossil Fuel

From The New Scientist:

DEEP in the Arctic Circle, in the Messoyakha gas field of western Siberia, lies a mystery. Back in 1970, Russian engineers began pumping natural gas from beneath the permafrost and piping it east across the tundra to the Norilsk metal smelter, the biggest industrial enterprise in the Arctic.

By the late 70s, they were on the brink of winding down the operation. According to their surveys, they had sapped nearly all the methane from the deposit. But despite their estimates, the gas just kept on coming. The field continues to power Norilsk today.

Where is this methane coming from? The Soviet geologists initially thought it was leaking from another deposit hidden beneath the first. But their experiments revealed the opposite - the mystery methane is seeping into the well from the icy permafrost above.

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Longer Life Linked To Specific Foods In Mediterranean Diet

Eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and olive oil, and drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, while not consuming a lot of meat or excessive amounts of alcohol is linked to people living longer. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (June 24, 2009) — Some food groups in the Mediterranean diet are more important than others in promoting health and longer life according to new research published on the British Medical Journal website.

Eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and olive oil, and drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, while not consuming a lot of meat or excessive amounts of alcohol is linked to people living longer.

However, the study also claims, that following a Mediterranean diet high in fish, seafood and cereals and low in dairy products were not indicators of longevity.

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Ancient Mummy's Face Recreated

Chicago artist Joshua Harker used traditional forensic methods to build layers of fat, muscle and flesh upon the skull images of a mummy made with CT scans at the University of Chicago. Credit: Joshua Harker for the University of Chicago

From Live Science:

The face of a long-dead mummy has been brought back to life through forensic science.

Based on CT-scans of the skull of the ancient Egyptian mummy Meresamun, two artists independently reconstructed her appearance and arrived at similar images of the woman.

Meresamun, a temple singer in Thebes (ancient Luxor) at about 800 B.C., died of unknown causes at about age 30. Until recently, modern viewers of the University of Chicago-owned mummy have had to guess about the woman behind the mask.

Now scientists think they have a pretty good idea of what she looked like.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Life On Saturn? Caverns Of Salt Water May Lie Beneath Frozen Surface Of Planet's Moon

Evidence: This picture shows water vapour jets
erupting from Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus

From The Daily Mail:

Alien life could have evolved on one of Saturn's moons, scientists say.

They have found evidence that seas may lie beneath the frozen surface of Enceladus - the planet's sixth biggest moon.

It follows the discovery of a giant plume of salt water and ice spurting hundreds of miles into space from the moon's surface.

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Evolution Faster When It's Warmer

The results could help explain why the warm tropics are so species-rich

From The BBC:

Climate could have a direct effect on the speed of "molecular evolution" in mammals, according to a study.

Researchers have found that, among pairs of mammals of the same species, the DNA of those living in warmer climates changes at a faster rate.

These mutations - where one letter of the DNA code is substituted for another - are a first step in evolution.

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Can Wind Power Get Up to Speed?

The Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm in Liverpool Bay, England
Christopher Furlong / Getty

From Time Magazine:

Pop quiz: what source of power doesn't come out of the ground, doesn't burn and isn't radioactive? Hint: it contributed the most new electricity generation to the U.S. grid in 2008.

The answer is wind power, the technology that has become synonymous with going green. Companies that started out small, like Denmark's Vestas and India's Suzlon Energy, have become multinational giants selling steel and fiberglass wind turbines; even blue chippers like General Electric have identified wind power as a major revenue source for the future, while the construction and installation of wind turbines will employ workers here in the U.S. Investing in wind power, said President Barack Obama at a turbine factory in Iowa on Earth Day, "is a win-win. It's good for the environment; it's great for the economy."

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The First Europeans Were Cannibals: Archaeologists

Photo: Skull named Miguelon, estimated to be 400,000 years old and the most complete skull of an Homo heidelbergensis ever found, is seen at the Atapuerca archaeological site, in the Atapuerca mountains in northern Spain. In 2007 a historic discovery of the fossilised remains of the 'first european' human was made at the site. (AFP/File/Philippe Desmazes)

From Yahoo News/AP:

ATAPUERCA, Spain (AFP) – The remains of the "first Europeans" discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain have revealed that these prehistoric men were cannibals who particularly liked the flesh of children.

"We know that they practiced cannibalism," said Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, one of the co-directors of the Atapuerca project, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A study of the remains revealed that they turned to cannibalism to feed themselves and not as part of a ritual, that they ate their rivals after killing them, mostly children and adolescents.

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Giant Prehistoric Kangaroos Wiped Out By Hungry Ice Age Hunters

Artist's illustration of the extinct Procoptodon goliah which roamed around Australia 45,000 years ago. (Artist Peter Trusler/Australian Postal Corporation)

From Times Online:

It stood tall at 6’5, weighed over 500lbs, had the face of a koala and the body of a sturdy kangaroo. And apparently it was delicious.

Scientists think they have discovered the reason behind the demise of the prehistoric Australian marsupial Procoptodon goliah – better known as the giant, short-snouted kangaroo. They say it was not climate change, as has always been assumed, but hungry Ice Age hunters.

The animal – about three times bigger than a modern-day kangaroo and with slightly different features - was one of many Ice-Age megafauna whose demise has long been debated among experts, but usually put down to the changing environment.

However an international team of scientists, led by Gavin Prideaux from Flinders University in South Australia, has discovered a different theory behind the reason the animal became extinct 45,000 years ago.

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My Comment: I am hungry.

The New Nuclear Revolution -- A Commentary

From The Wall Street Journal:

Safe fission power is our future -- if regulators allow it.

After the Internet, the next big thing will be cheap and clean energy. Coal, oil and gas pollute and are increasingly expensive: We need alternatives. Because nuclear energy (stored among particles inside atoms) is millions of times more dense than chemical energy (stored among atoms in molecules), nuclear reactors belong high on our long list of energy alternatives.

Nuclear energy is released during fission and fusion. During fission, large elements like uranium are split into smaller elements. During fusion, small elements like hydrogen are combined into larger elements. These two processes have occurred naturally since the beginning of time -- 13.7 billion years. The Earth is warmed naturally by its own nuclear fission reactors within and also by the sun, that big nuclear fusion reactor.

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Not Space Junk Yet: Mars Rovers Carry On Despite Age, Ailments

From McClatchy News:

WASHINGTON — In one of the most remarkable engineering feats of our time, the aging Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still taking orders and sending home pictures more than five years after they were supposed to turn into slabs of space junk.

Opportunity is still rolling along, but Spirit is hung up on a rock and may be reaching the end of its travels. The rovers' masters at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., hope they can nurse either or both of them through another harsh Martian winter.

"I'm very attached to them," said John Callas, the rover project manager. "They exhibit human-like qualities. They have trials and tribulations. Like aging humans, they've got arthritic joints, they forget things, their vision is not what it used to be. When something's not right, you get that sinking feeing in your stomach.''

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Girl Who Doesn't Age Baffles Doctors

Photo: Brooke Greenberg is 16 years old, but looks like a 16-month-old. (ABC America)

From Ninemsm:

A 16-year-old girl who is the size of an infant and has the mental capacity of a toddler continues to baffle doctors in the US.

Medical experts believe Brooke Greenberg suffers from some kind of genetic mutation that shapes the way she ages, leaving her with the perpetual appearance of a baby.

The exact cause of the phenomenon has not been pinpointed.

Doctors say Brooke is not growing in a coordinated way, with her body parts out of synchronisation, as if each has a mind of its own.

"Why doesn't she age?" her father, Howard Greenberg, asked on US network ABC.

"Is she the fountain of youth?"

Brooke's mother Melanie Greenberg, 48, said she was so used to people asking how old her daughter is she did not even try to explain.

"My system always has been to turn years into months," Mrs Greenberg said.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When Wild Animals Attack: An Encounter With A Rabid Skunk

(Photograph by Tom Brakefield/Getty Images)

From Popular Mechanics:

Animal encounters on our turf are on the rise—and it's not just big animals like mountain lions, bears and alligators. Here,'s Brian Clark Howard revisits the time a rabid skunk attacked him while he camped in a friend's yard, just 1 hour away from New York City.

I was jerked awake in my sleeping bag by a sharp, pinching pain centered on my nose. My eyes failed me, and I teetered on the edge of consciousness. I felt viscous liquid streaming down my neck. The only tangible thought I could muster was fear that my nose must have become stuck in a zipper. As a strained throat would later attest, I screamed hysterically.

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A Magnetic Machine Plucks Pathogens From Blood

Nonfatal Attraction: An electromagnet pulls out 80 percent
of an infectious pathogen Medi-mation


A new treatment could save some of the hundreds of thousands of Americans dying sepsis-related deaths every year.

If your uncle says he's getting magnetic therapy, you might feel the urge to tell him to save his money instead for that tinfoil hat to keep the CIA from reading his mind. But if he's being hooked up to Don Ingber's magnet machine, it just might save his life.

Ingber's device magnetizes microbes and draws them out of the blood. It could save some of the 210,000 Americans—mostly newborns and the elderly—who die sepsis-related deaths every year. Sepsis sets in when bacteria or fungi invade the blood, which can cause organ failure before drugs have time to take effect. "Traditionally, you prescribe antibiotics and pray," says Ingber, a vascular biologist at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital. His machine operates more quickly.

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Work Begins On World's Deepest Underground Lab

From Yahoo News/AP:

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Far below the Black Hills of South Dakota, crews are building the world's deepest underground science lab at a depth equivalent to more than six Empire State buildings — a place uniquely suited to scientists' quest for mysterious particles known as dark matter.

Scientists, politicians and other officials gathered Monday for a groundbreaking of sorts at a lab 4,850 foot below the surface of an old gold mine that was once the site of Nobel Prize-winning physics research.

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Language May Be Key To Theory Of Mind

From New Scientist:

How blind and deaf people approach a cognitive test regarded as a milestone in human development has provided clues to how we deduce what others are thinking.

Understanding another person's perspective, and realising that it can differ from our own, is known as theory of mind. It underpins empathy, communication and the ability to deceiveMovie Camera – all of which we take for granted. Although our theory of mind is more developed than it is in other animals, we don't acquire it until around age four, and how it develops is a mystery.

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Huge Pre-Stonehenge Complex Found via "Crop Circles"

Etched into crops, the outlines of Bronze Age burial mounds surround a roughly 190-foot (57-meter) circular Stone Age temple site about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Stonehenge in southern England in an undated aerial photo.Discovered during a routine aerial survey by English Heritage, the U.K. government's historic-preservation agency, the "crop circles" are the results of buried archaeological structures interfering with plant growth. True crop circles are vast designs created by flattening crops. The features are part of a newfound 500-acre (200-hectare) prehistoric ceremonial site which was unknown until the aerial survey, rchaeologists announced in June 2009. Photograph by Damian Grady/English Heritage

From National Geographic:

Given away by strange, crop circle-like formations seen from the air, a huge prehistoric ceremonial complex discovered in southern England has taken archaeologists by surprise.

A thousand years older than nearby Stonehenge, the site includes the remains of wooden temples and two massive, 6,000-year-old tombs that are among "Britain's first architecture," according to archaeologist Helen Wickstead, leader of the Damerham Archaeology Project.

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Social Competition May Be Reason For Bigger Brain

Professor David Geary finds that competitive ancestors may be blamed for today's big brain. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Missouri-Columbia)

From Science Digest:

ScienceDaily (June 23, 2009) — For the past 2 million years, the size of the human brain has tripled, growing much faster than other mammals. Examining the reasons for human brain expansion, University of Missouri researchers studied three common hypotheses for brain growth: climate change, ecological demands and social competition. The team found that social competition is the major cause of increased cranial capacity.

To test the three hypotheses, MU researchers collected data from 153 hominid (humans and our ancestors) skulls from the past 2 million years. Examining the locations and global climate changes at the time the fossil was dated, the number of parasites in the region and estimated population density in the areas where the skulls were found, the researchers discovered that population density had the biggest effect on skull size and thus cranial capacity.

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Amazing Volcano Photo Reveals Shock Wave

Sarychev Peak on Matua Island is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain, northeast of Japan. Astronauts took this photo of an eruption on June 12. The plume appears to be a combination of brown ash and white steam. The vigorously rising plume gives the steam a bubble-like appearance; the surrounding atmosphere has been shoved up by the shock wave of the eruption. Credit: NASA/ISS/Earth Observatory

From Live Science:

An amazing new picture from space reveals a volcanic eruption in its earliest stage, with a huge plume of ash and steam billowing skyward and creating a shock wave in the atmosphere.

Sarychev Peak on Matua Island is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain, northeast of Japan.

The new photo was taken June 12 from the International Space Station. NASA says volcano researchers are excited about the picture "because it captures several phenomena that occur during the earliest stages of an explosive volcanic eruption."

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Amazing Footage Of Lunar Probe's Final Moments Before It Crashes Into Moon

From The Daily Mail:

Footage showing the dramatic descent of a probe minutes before it crashes into the surface of the Moon has been released by the Japanese space agency.

The final moments of the Kaguya lunar probe were caught by its on-board high-definition camera as it hurtled downwards on June 11 and as it fell the images were beamed back to Earth

As it sinks lower and lower the desolate and pockmarked landscape is seen looming ever larger as the spacecraft tumbles toward its final resting place.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Mind-Enhancing Drugs: Are They A No-Brainer?

Scientists are debating whether stimulants are an acceptable means for people to boost their brain's performance. Alamy

From The Independent:

Advocates say they are an irresistible way of improving students' performance. Critics argue they are a dangerous fad. Jeremy Laurance explores the debate

In the middle of the exam season, the offer of a drug that could improve results might excite students but would be likely to terrify their parents. Now, a distinguished professor of bioethics says it is time to embrace the possibilities of "brain boosters" – chemical cognitive enhancement. The provocative suggestion comes from John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

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World's First Controllable Molecular Gear At Nanoscale Created

Researchers in Singapore have invented a molecular gear of the size of 1.2nm whose rotation can be deliberately controlled. (Credit: A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), Singapore)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (June 22, 2009) — Scientists from A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), led by Professor Christian Joachim,* have scored a breakthrough in nanotechnology by becoming the first in the world to invent a molecular gear of the size of 1.2nm whose rotation can be deliberately controlled. This achievement marks a radical shift in the scientific progress of molecular machines and is published on 14 June 20009 in Nature Materials.

Said Prof Joachim, “Making a gear the size of a few atoms is one thing, but being able to deliberately control its motions and actions is something else altogether. What we’ve done at IMRE is to create a truly complete working gear that will be the fundamental piece in creating more complex molecular machines that are no bigger than a grain of sand.”

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The Most Lifeless Place in the Ocean Found

Oceanographers David C. Smith, Robert Pockalny and Franciszek Hasiuk prepare to remove a sediment core from the coring device. Credit: Stephanie Forschner

From Live Science:

Scientists have discovered what may be the least inhabited place in the ocean.

The seafloor sediments in the middle of the South Pacific have fewer living cells than anywhere else measured, a new study found.

Oceanographer Steven D’Hondt of the University of Rhode Island and colleagues took a boat out to the middle of the ocean and collected cores, or cylindrical samples of sediment, from the bottom of the sea about 2.5 to 3.7 miles (4 to 6 km) deep.

They found about 1,000 living cells in each cubic centimeter of sediment — a tally that is roughly 1,000 times less than in other seafloor sediments.

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Top 25 Green Energy Leaders

From Scientific American:

Forward-thinking companies, universities and municipalities are finding creative ways to run on renewable power.

It is no longer enough to just conserve energy. More and more corporations, government agencies and entire cities are making large, long-term commitments to ensure that the power they do use comes from renewable sources. To recognize these trendsetters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes a quarterly list of the top American users of green power: organizations that generate their own renewable energy, buy it from suppliers, or purchase offset credits to compensate for their traditional energy use. To put things in perspective, the average U.S. home consumes about 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a year. That means number 25 on the list buys enough green energy to power more than 14,000 homes.

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Iceland's Geothermal Bailout Feature

The Kuwait of the North: Engineers at the Tyr drilling rig in Krafla’s snow-covered caldera hope to use a supercritical-water source two miles underground to produce 10 times as much geothermal electricity as a normal well Courtesy Sveinbjorn Holmgeirsson/Landsvirkjun Power


October, Iceland's economy tanked. Its bailout? A two-mile geothermal well drilled into a volcano that could generate an endless supply of clean energy. Or, as Icelanders will calmly explain, it could all blow up in their faces

It's spring in Iceland, and three feet of snow covers the ground. The sky is gray and the temperature hovers just below freezing, yet Gudmundur Omar Fridleifsson is wearing only a windbreaker. Icelanders say they can spot the tourists because they wear too many clothes, but Fridleifsson seems particularly impervious. He's out here every few days to check on the Tyr geothermal drilling rig, the largest in Iceland. The rig's engines are barely audible over the cold wind, and the sole sign of activity is the slow dance of a crane as it grabs another 30-foot segment of steel pipe, attaches it to the top of the drill shaft, and slides it into the well.

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How Apple, AT&T Are Closing the Mobile Web

A growing chorus claims that Apple’s questionable approval policy for its iPhone application store raises issues with net neutrality.

From Epicenter/Wired News:

Free Press, a group that advocates the idea of an open internet — that is, one in which consumers have the right to browse the web and run internet applications without restrictions — is the latest of several organizations to call out Apple for its inconsistencies. Free Press alleges that Apple crippled SlingPlayer, a TV-streaming application for iPhone, so that it would only work on a Wi-Fi connection; the initial version worked with a 3G cellular network connection as well as Wi-Fi. The SlingPlayer restriction is inconsistent with Apple’s approval of the Major League Baseball application, which provides live-streaming of sports events on both Wi-Fi and 3G connections, the group said.

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Sunspots Revealed In Striking Detail By Supercomputers

The interface between a sunspot's umbra (dark center) and penumbra (lighter outer region) shows a complex structure with narrow, almost horizontal (lighter to white) filaments embedded in a background having a more vertical (darker to black) magnetic field. (Credit: Copyright UCAR, image courtesy Matthias Rempel, NCAR)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (June 21, 2009) — In a breakthrough that will help scientists unlock mysteries of the Sun and its impacts on Earth, an international team of scientists led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has created the first-ever comprehensive computer model of sunspots. The resulting visuals capture both scientific detail and remarkable beauty.

The high-resolution simulations of sunspot pairs open the way for researchers to learn more about the vast mysterious dark patches on the Sun's surface. Sunspots are associated with massive ejections of charged plasma that can cause geomagnetic storms and disrupt communications and navigational systems. They also contribute to variations in overall solar output, which can affect weather on Earth and exert a subtle influence on climate patterns.

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Vinegar Might Fight Fat

From Live Science:

Ordinary vinegar used to make salad dressings and pickles just might live up to its age-old reputation in folk medicine as a promoter of health, a new study suggests.

Nobody should start guzzling vinegar, but Japanese scientists found new evidence that vinegar can help prevent accumulation of body fat and weight gain, at least in mice.

Tomoo Kondo and colleagues note that vinegar has been used as a folk medicine since ancient times. People have used it for a range of ills. Modern scientific research suggests that acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, may help control blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat accumulation.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grey Hair May Be Protecting Us From Cancer

From New Scientist:

GREY hair may be unwelcome, but the processes that produce it are now better understood and could be protecting us from cancer.

Cells called melanocytes produce the pigments that colour hair and their numbers are kept topped up by stem cells. Hair goes grey when the number of stem cells in hair follicles declines. Now Emi Nishimura of Tokyo Medical and Dental University in Japan and colleagues have found what causes this decline in mice.

When the researchers exposed mice to radiation and chemicals that harm DNA, damaged stem cells transformed permanently into melanocytes. This ultimately led to fewer melanocytes, as it meant there were fewer stem cells capable of topping up the melanocyte pool. The mice also went grey (Cell, vol 137, p 1088). Nishimura's team proposes that the same process leads to the reduction in stem cells in the follicles of older people, especially as DNA damage accumulates as we age.

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Great White Sharks Hunt Just Like Hannibal Lecter

In this undated photo released by The University of Miami, a white shark is seen successfully lunging for and capturing a juvenile fur seal at the surface in False Bay, South Africa in 2004. (AP Photo/University of Miami, Neil Hammerschlag)

From Yahoo News/AP:

WASHINGTON – Great white sharks have some things in common with human serial killers, a new study says: They don't attack at random, but stalk specific victims, lurking out of sight.

The sharks hang back and observe from a not-too-close, not-too-far base, hunt strategically, and learn from previous attempts, according to a study being published online Monday in the Journal of Zoology. Researchers used a serial killer profiling method to figure out just how the fearsome ocean predator hunts, something that's been hard to observe beneath the surface.

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Sexy Maths: When It Pays To Play The Odds

From Times Online:

Mathematicians, and the laws of probability, can tell you whether to have a flutter, or keep hold of your money.

Let’s start by playing a game. I roll a dice and pay you in pounds the number that appears on it. How much would you be prepared to pay to play? If you pay £1 you cannot lose, and if you pay £6 you cannot win but at what point do the odds tip from my advantage to yours?

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