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Science News Reports

Earth's Water Is Older Than The Sun 29 September 2014, 19.17 Science
Earth's Water Is Older Than The Sun
Since water is one of the vital ingredients for life on Earth, scientists want to know how it got here. One theory is that the water in our solar system was created in the chemical afterbirth of the Sun. If that were the
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Climate Week 2014: The Wrap-Up 29 September 2014, 19.17 Science
Climate Week 2014: The Wrap-Up
As Climate Week NYC slips into the rearview mirror, what can we take away? Did anything, you know, happen? Yes ... sort of. From the sci-tech perspective, important energy and conservation agreements were announced. Now the
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How An Evangelical Christian Researcher Reconciles Science With Her Faith
Editor's note: Our profile of Bill Nye [September 2014] elicited an impassioned response from readers. We received more than 100 letters, many from readers grappling with how to reconcile scientific concepts like climate
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Science On Ice: 7 Antarctic Experiments To Keep An Eye On
Since the 1950s, a small but growing number of international scientists have spent months at a stretch on the world’s most remote continent: Antarctica. This year, 29 countries will host research programs there, meaning
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The Week In Numbers: Crabwalking Robots, Ferocious Fungi, And The Future Of Game Of Thrones
165: number of pounds Lonesome George weighed at the time of his death, before scientists stuffed and mounted him for display. 2: the number of rubber bands needed to build your own shoebox phone projector.  100,000,000:
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Enormous Butterfly Swarms, Saharan Duststorms, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week
Arthur E. Smith made took this microscopic photograph of a sheep tick 110 years ago to exhibit in London as part of a large collection. The pictures would have been the first many people of the time had ever seen.Arthur E.
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A Higgs-gravity connection may leave traces in white dwarfs
(Phys.org) —The discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012 marked an important step toward understanding the origin of the mass of fundamental particles. Since mass plays a major role in
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Scientists manipulate molecules inside living cells with temperature gradients
(Phys.org) —The ability to make measurements of the biomolecular interactions that occur inside living cells is essential for understanding complex biological processes. But probing the inside of living cells without
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Now hear this: Simple fluid waveguide performs spectral analysis in a manner similar to the cochlea
(Phys.org) —Within the mammalian inner ear, or cochlea, a remarkable but and long-debated phenomenon occurs: As they move from the base of the cochlea to its apex, traveling fluid waves – that is, surface waves, in
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The societal impacts of grid and cloud computing 29 September 2014, 19.15 Science
The societal impacts of grid and cloud computing
Monday 29 September marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN, located near Geneva, Switzerland. A new book, entitled 'From Physics to Daily Life',
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Project will broaden access to geoscience data 29 September 2014, 19.15 Science
Project will broaden access to geoscience data
Civil and environmental engineering professor Praveen Kumar, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, will lead a new project to develop a semantic framework to integrate long-tail data and models. The project
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Grid school empowers students in Africa's developing countries
The African Grid School provides science communities exceptional opportunities to learn new technolgies and improve research techniques. Read about Open Science Grid and the biennial
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Missing winds probably foiled 2014’s chance for El Niño
LUKEWARM  Warm water (red) in the Pacific Ocean sloshed eastward this spring, prompting many scientists to expect a strong 2014 El Niño.  The bottom of the image shows a vertical cross section of seawater temperatures in
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Blind cavefish got no (circadian) rhythm 29 September 2014, 19.15 Science
Blind cavefish got no (circadian) rhythm
Blind, cave-dwelling cavefish have an advantage over their sighted brethren in the form of a more efficient metabolism, a new study finds. Small, silver fish called Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) live in some Texas and
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Videos hint at why tree bats may die at wind turbines
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager Science Ticker 7:30am, September 30, 2014 Heat-sensitive cameras give hints as to why tree bats fly so close to wind turbines. Image courtesy of Paul
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Physicists design zero-friction quantum engine 20 September 2014, 19.54 Science
Physicists design zero-friction quantum engine
(Phys.org) —In real physical processes, some energy is always lost any time work is produced. The lost energy almost always occurs due to friction, especially in processes that involve mechanical motion. But in a new
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Nanocontainers for nanocargo: Delivering genes and proteins for cellular imaging, genetic medicine and cancer therapy
(Phys.org) —By loading any specific protein and nucleic acid into an icosahedral phage T4 capsid-based nanoparticle, the resulting cell delivery vehicle's ligands can bind to the surface of specific target tissues to
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Tiny scaffolds toughen ceramics 20 September 2014, 19.54 Science
Tiny scaffolds toughen ceramics
A nanostructured ceramic material that does not break when deformed has been developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology. The new material incorporates a scaffolding of nanotubes, which gives it
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Rosetta reveals its target landing site 20 September 2014, 19.54 Science
Rosetta reveals its target landing site
The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission has pinpointed the spot where its Philae landing module will touch down on the surface of a comet in November this year. The site, along with a second "back-up" location, has been
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Synchrotron X-rays track fluids in the lungs 20 September 2014, 19.54 Science
Synchrotron X-rays track fluids in the lungs
A new method of soft-tissue imaging could allow doctors to monitor respiratory treatments of cystic-fibrosis patients, reports an international research team. The technique – which measures the refraction of a grid pattern
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CERN celebrates 60 years of science 20 September 2014, 19.54 Science
CERN celebrates 60 years of science
The CERN particle-physics laboratory near Geneva is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month with a host of symposia, meetings, plays, films, concerts and other events being held at the lab and at member states across
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Gargantuan black hole found at the heart of dwarf galaxy
A supermassive black hole (SMBH) has been found lurking in an unexpected location – at the heart of an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy – according to new observations made by an international team of astronomers. Although
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New plasmonic nanolaser is cavity-free 20 September 2014, 19.54 Science
New plasmonic nanolaser is cavity-free
A new design for a cavity-free nanolaser has been proposed by physicists at Imperial College London. The design builds on a proposal from the same team earlier this year to reduce the group velocity of light of a particular
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Gallery: Snapshots from NYC's World Maker Faire 2014 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Gallery: Snapshots from NYC's World Maker Faire 2014
PREVIOUS | NEXT 1 of 20 Maker Faire Costumes Credit: Kelly Dickerson/Live Science World Maker Faire, a festival that celebrates science, technology and innovation, is being held on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21, 2014. The event
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Hello, Autumn! Why Fall Begins on Monday 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Hello, Autumn! Why Fall Begins on Monday
The autumnal equinox brings shorter, colder days and beautiful red, orange and yellow leaves to the Northern Hemisphere. Credit: Hernán Seoane On Monday (Sept. 22), the Earth will have nearly equal amounts of light and
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Actually, MSG Is Not Safe for Everyone (Op-Ed) 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Actually, MSG Is Not Safe for Everyone (Op-Ed)
Credit: Game day snacks photo via Shutterstock Kathleen Holton is a professor in the School of Education, Teaching and Health and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C. Her
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Well Water May Contain Earthquake Warning Signs 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Well Water May Contain Earthquake Warning Signs
The Húsavík-Flatey Fault in Iceland. Mineral levels in groundwater near the fault changed before two earthquakes. Credit: Alasdair Skelton Spikes in sodium and hydrogen in well water warned of mounting strain before
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The Week In Numbers: Origami Microscopes, Laser Turrets, And A Bit More Than One Texas
50: number of cameras researchers are using to study penguin populations in the Antarctic. You can help researchers identify penguins in adorable photographs, all while helping to train their artificial penguin-spotting
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How Gorilla Poop Could Help Stop Ebola 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
How Gorilla Poop Could Help Stop Ebola
Police drove through Kroo Bay this morning, past the open sewers and snuffling pigs, yelling at people to go inside—largely to no avail. All the 14,000 residents of the shanty town in Freeport, Sierra Leone, had been
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Video: Peter Thiel On How We Can Make The Future Awesome
Peter Thiel has never shied from speculating on the future—and then pouring money into technologies that match that vision. As a cofounder of Paypal, he pioneered a new form of e-commerce. As an investor, he made an early
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Next Week Is Climate Week 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Next Week Is Climate Week
Next week is Climate Week in New York City. The happenings begin on Sunday with what promises to be a massive march demanding action to curb human-propelled global warming. On Tuesday, the United Nations will hold an all-day
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Astounding Auroras, Hiding Black Holes, And More Amazing Images Of The Week
Don’t underestimate little galaxies, because they can pack one big punch. On Wednesday, a team of astronomers recently revealed that the dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 is actually home to a giant, supermassive black hole. The
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The Preservation Of Lonesome George 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
The Preservation Of Lonesome George
On the day that Lonesome George died, in June 2012, Eleanor Sterling made a panicked phone call.  “George!” she recalls saying. “What do we do now?” Lonesome George was a tortoise—the most famous one ever, in fact.
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Research Data Alliance meets in Amsterdam 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Research Data Alliance meets in Amsterdam
The Research Data Alliance (RDA) is set to hold its Fourth Plenary Meeting in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on 22-24 September. The event will showcase the first concrete outputs from several of the organization's working
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Citizen scientists tackle an ocean-sized problem 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Citizen scientists tackle an ocean-sized problem
Depending on the participatory research of community and citizen scientists, COASST, funded by the US National Science Foundation, initially focused on collecting data on beached seabird carcasses as an indicator of coastal
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Digging up value with big-data mining 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Digging up value with big-data mining
Domenico Talia will speak about big-data mining and knowledge discovery at ISC Big Data in Heidelberg, Germany, on 1-2 October. Talia, who is a professor of computer engineering at the University of Calabria in Italy, will
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Students design and assemble record-setting supercar 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Students design and assemble record-setting supercar
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‘Where Do Camels Belong?’ explores invasive species
Where Do Camels Belong? Ken Thompson Greystone Books, $17.95 Invasive species are the outlaws of the ecological world. They move in and muck up ecosystems, sap natural resources and muscle out respectable natives. The U.S.
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Crops take up drugs from recycled water 20 September 2014, 19.53 Science
Crops take up drugs from recycled water
Researchers disagree on the potential threat to human health of tiny quantities of compounds including pharmaceuticals 5:03pm, September 19, 2014 WORRISOME WATERING  Recycled water sprayed onto agricultural fields,
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Neutrino trident production may offer powerful probe of new physics
(Phys.org) —The standard model (SM) of particle physics has four types of force carrier particles: photons, W and Z bosons, and gluons. But recently there has been renewed interest in the question of whether there might
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Machine learning algorithm makes impossible screening of advanced materials possible
(Phys.org) —A fundamental part of climate change response is expected to involve the discovery of advanced materials capable of cost-effectively capturing CO2 from burning fossil fuels. One particular class of
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How did evolution optimize circadian clocks? 15 September 2014, 21.20 Science
How did evolution optimize circadian clocks?
(Phys.org) —From cyanobacteria to humans, many terrestrial species have acquired circadian rhythms that adapt to sunlight in order to increase survival rates. Studies have shown that the circadian clocks in some
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Try Kegel Exercises for Urinary Incontinence, New Guidelines Say
Credit: Woman's abdomen photo via Shutterstock Kegel exercises, bladder training and, in some cases, weight loss are effective ways to treat urinary incontinence in women, and should be tried before the use of drug
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Is Wearable Tech Changing Behavior? 15 September 2014, 21.20 Science
Is Wearable Tech Changing Behavior?
You lookin’ at me? Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. Are you being
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Are You a Supertaster? 15 September 2014, 21.20 Science
Are You a Supertaster?
If some foods weird out your taste buds, read on to see if you fall in the ‘supertaster’ quarter of the population. Credit: parkydoodles/Flickr (cropped), CC BY-NC-SA This article was originally published at The
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Watch Live! Colossal Squid Undergoes Autopsy 15 September 2014, 21.20 Science
Watch Live! Colossal Squid Undergoes Autopsy
Tonight in New Zealand one of just two intact colossal squid, housed at the New Zealand Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, is undergoing a live autopsy. The giant sea beast was recently caught in the Ross Sea. Scientists, including
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Southwest's Earthquake Spike Linked to Injection Wells
A drilling rig used for fracking. A dramatic increase in earthquakes in a small region of New Mexico and Colorado was triggered by the underground disposal of wastewater, according to a new study from the U.S. Geological
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'Global Selfie' Project Will Beam Earthling Message to Space
An illustration of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI) WAIMEA, Hawaii
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Armored Trucks, Unborn Birds Go Airborne, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week
Me And Comet 67-P, J-Chillin’ The Rosetta spacecraft beamed this to Earth on Sunday: an over-the-shoulder selfie with its intended. Visible are the comet toward which Rosetta has travelled for more than a decade, the edge
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Like Sassy Teenagers, Atoms Talk Back 15 September 2014, 21.18 Science
Like Sassy Teenagers, Atoms Talk Back
If you talk to an artificial atom, it turns out the atom will say something back to you. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to hear it. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have communicated with an
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Top Dogs: Movies May Determine Which Pups Are Most Popular
Did watching 101 Dalmatians instill you with a burning desire to fill your home with dozens of monochrome puppies? A new study suggests that may often be the case. The research suggests that all those great canine
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Is A Simulated Brain Conscious? 15 September 2014, 21.18 Science
Is A Simulated Brain Conscious?
Imagine standing in an open field with a bucket of water balloons and a couple of friends. You've decided to play a game called "Mind." Each of you has your own set of rules. Maybe Molly will throw a water balloon at Bob
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Using 'Doom' To Design A Room 15 September 2014, 21.18 Science
Using 'Doom' To Design A Room
Remember that early ‘90s horror-themed video game, Doom, where you roamed around a Martian landscape, killing everything in sight? Well, now the game isn’t just for shooting demons and zombie Marines anymore. A
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Want Your Crops To Survive Extreme Heat and Drought? Add Fungus
The global population continues to grow, and climate change is already tangibly reducing food harvests. Can agriculture adapt to be both more productive and more resilient? One answer to that question may be "add fungus.”
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New analysis rescues quantum wave-particle duality 15 September 2014, 21.18 Science
New analysis rescues quantum wave-particle duality
A basic principle of quantum mechanics has been reaffirmed. Stop the presses. (Or start the tweeting.) In 2012, experimenters in Germany had supposedly shown that you could observe both wave and particle properties of light in
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Mass EKG screening for athletes inadvisable, panel says
FROM THE HEART  The lines of an electrocardiogram like this one might help signal a danger of sudden cardiac death. But the test’s use in screening has been debated for more than a decade. T.K. Rajab et al/J. Cardiothorac.
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Evidence for new Higgs-related particle fades away 15 September 2014, 21.18 Science
Evidence for new Higgs-related particle fades away
Previous data hinted that the Higgs boson might decay into something new to physics 12:42pm, September 15, 2014 DASHED HOPES  The ATLAS detector, seen here during construction of the Large Hadron Collider in 2007,
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Why the Apple Watch Doesn't Mean 'Death' for Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers Credit: Bahar Gholipour for Live Science The Apple Watch enters fitness-tracker territory by offering ways to monitor your heart rate and daily exercise, but the device doesn't necessarily mean the end
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Fitness Tracking Wearables Compared (Infographic) 10 September 2014, 18.52 Science
Fitness Tracking Wearables Compared (Infographic)
By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist   |   September 10, 2014 03:09pm ET Embed: Paste the code below into your site. <br /> Source:<a
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US Military's New Laser Gun Zaps Drones 10 September 2014, 18.52 Science
US Military's New Laser Gun Zaps Drones
Boeing's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). Credit: Boeing The U.S. military is now one step closer to having a laser gun that can shoot down enemy drones in the blink of an eye. Boeing recently announced
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'Fat Shaming' May Actually Lead to Weight Gain 10 September 2014, 18.52 Science
'Fat Shaming' May Actually Lead to Weight Gain
Credit: © Hartphotography | Dreamstime.com Harassing obese people, a practice known as "fat shaming," does not encourage them to lose weight and can actually result in weight gain, a new study from the United Kingdom
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Did 'Deadly' Spider Eggs Really Hitch a Ride on Imported Bananas?
A species of Brazilian wandering spider belonging to the genus Phoneutria. Credit: Richard Vetter/UC Riverside It's enough to make you do a double take the next time you unpack your groceries! A recent British news
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Earth's Protective Ozone Layer Shows Signs of Recovery
The minimum concentration of ozone in the Southern Hemisphere from 1979 to 2013. Each point represents the day with the lowest concentration that year. Credit: M. Radcliff | NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Following a
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Who Owns Asteroid Rights? 10 September 2014, 18.51 Science
Who Owns Asteroid Rights?
Congress is back in session and getting right down to work on pressing science and technology issues like education funding, Net neutrality and ... oh wait. Actually, the House is holding a hearing on Wednesday to discuss a
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New Robotic Hands Let Deep-Sea Divers Grasp And Prod 10 September 2014, 18.51 Science
New Robotic Hands Let Deep-Sea Divers Grasp And Prod
A new remote-controlled robotic hand will allow deep-sea divers to handle and feel objects underwater almost as easily as they can in air. This could transform deep-water operations, from marine biology to pipeline
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Wind Turbines Learn From Warplanes To Not Block Radar
Wind turbines stand on horizons like strange colossuses. Their distinctive shape and great size make them hard to miss -- even by radar systems. The giants can obstruct signals, giving countries the uncomfortable choice of
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'Primordial Soup' Computer Model Tracks The Beginning Of Life At The Atomic Level
In the early 1950s, a chemist named Stanley Miller mixed up a bunch of gases including methane, ammonia and hydrogen. That's kind of stuff that had been on Earth before life began. Miller zapped those gases with electricity,
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Quantum Mechanics Saves Grandfathers From Time Travelers
Mention time travel at a nerd party, and other guests will immediately respond with a grim conundrum: What happens if a time traveler goes back in time and kills one of his ancestors? This is the “Grandfather
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Earth News Reports

6 awesome designs for the kitchen 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
6 awesome designs for the kitchen
Are you having problem managing things in your houses, especially in kitchen due to lack of spaces? Well considering your management issue, here we have 6 awesome designs for your kitchen that will definitely make your kitchen
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Surreal photography by Hossein Zare 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
Surreal photography by Hossein Zare
Some clever photo manipulation by illustrator and photographer Hossein Zare. In these pieces, the artist combines both of his arts to add some surreal elements. The post Surreal photography by Hossein Zare appeared first on
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Ink Drawings on Vintage Book Pages by Loui Jover 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
Ink Drawings on Vintage Book Pages by Loui Jover
Loui Jover, a self-represented full time artist from Queensland, Australia says, “I paint, I draw, and I do it every day.” Apart from arts and cartoons, Jover wanted to do something creative and he finally came up with
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Notebooks covers with amazing embroidery 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
Notebooks covers with amazing embroidery
Fabulous Cat Papers is an Etsy shop with tons of amazing notebook covers, some of which include gorgeous embroidery that enhance the drawings. The post Notebooks covers with amazing embroidery appeared first on Design daily
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Intricate drawings by François Schmidt 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
Intricate drawings by François Schmidt
François Schmidt is a French illustrator who works for local TV, editorials, and all kinds of other clients. He creates drawings that are full of surprises, richly illustrated. The post Intricate drawings by François Schmidt
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7 great free fonts for your designs 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
7 great free fonts for your designs
If you are seeking for awesome fonts that enhance the beauty and uniqueness of your design then here you go. Below given are 7 great free fonts that any designer should not miss out. Have a look! 1. Metropolis Metropolis font
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Tiny paintings by Mesut Kul 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
Tiny paintings by Mesut Kul
The Internet has made me an hard-to-impress kind of person, but the level of precision required for the making of such paintings is just amazing. Mesut Kul is a Turkish artist who choses the smallest possible surfaces to create
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Spectacular 3D Paintings Sculptures 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
Spectacular 3D Paintings Sculptures
For these 3D sculptures/paintings, Paul Louise-Julie was inspired by recent trips to West Africa. He mixed several techniques to create artworks that pop to your face. The post Spectacular 3D Paintings Sculptures appeared first
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The 20 most creative business cards ideas 29 September 2014, 19.17 Green Architecture
The 20 most creative business cards ideas
Business cards are essential for every professional life. It gives your potential clients a very good impression. Your business card speaks for your brand and hence creativity counts in order to present your brand idea in more
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BB.Suit 0.2 is a 3D-Knitted “Onesie” That Purifies the Air Around It
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: BB.Suit: A 3D-Knitted “Onesie” That Doubles as Wi-Fi Hotspot Wearable Technology BB.Suit 0.2 is a 3D-Knitted “Onesie” That Purifies the Air Around It by Jasmin Malik Chua , 09/29/14   filed
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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
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Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
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STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
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Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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Earth's Water Is Older Than The Sun PDF Print E-mail

Since water is one of the vital ingredients for life on Earth, scientists want to know how it got here. One theory is that the water in our solar system was created in the chemical afterbirth of the Sun. If that were the case, it would suggest that water might only be common around certain stars that form in certain ways. But a new study, published today in Science, suggests that at least some of Earth’s water actually existed before the Sun was born -- and that it came from interstellar space. 

That’s certainly something to ponder the next time you drink a glass of water. But the discovery is also cool because it means water -- and maybe life -- may be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy. 

“If water in the early Solar System was primarily inherited as ice from interstellar space, then it is likely that similar ices, along with the prebiotic organic matter that they contain, are abundant in most or all protoplanetary disks around forming stars," study author Conel Alexander explained in a press release

The researchers concluded that a significant portion of Earth’s water came from interstellar space by looking at the relative abundance of hydrogen and deuterium. 

Deuterium is like hydrogen’s heavier brother. Both atoms have one proton in their nuclei, but deuterium contains an extra neutron, and it mostly forms under special conditions. In interstellar space, for example, water ice contains lots of deuterium, thanks to the freezing cold temperatures and ionizing radiation. Earthly water contains some deuterium, too, but in low quantities -- up to 30 times less than interstellar water.

Looking at a water sample’s ratio of hydrogen to deuterium can tell you about what conditions were like when the water formed. But until now, scientists weren’t sure whether Earth's deuterium came from space, or whether it was cooked up in the birth of the Sun. 

To find out, researchers used mathematical models to virtually recreate the young solar system's protoplanetary disk -- the cloud around the newborn Sun. They found that, based on the temperature and radiation conditions that would have existed back then, it wasn’t possible for the young solar system to create the ratios of hydrogen and deuterium that scientists observe in Earth’s oceans and on comets. Because of that, the researchers estimate that anywhere between 7 and 50 percent of Earth’s water had to have come from the interstellar medium in which the solar system was born.

And since other solar systems would have formed in the same interstellar medium, the findings suggest that the origins of water on Earth were not unique, and that the thirst-quenching, life-supporting substance may be common on exoplanets throughout the galaxy.

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Climate Week 2014: The Wrap-Up PDF Print E-mail

As Climate Week NYC slips into the rearview mirror, what can we take away? Did anything, you know, happen?

Yes ... sort of. From the sci-tech perspective, important energy and conservation agreements were announced. Now the hard work of putting them into action begins for the pledgers and signers, as well as those watchdogging that process.

It may not sound like much, but intent must exist for action to ensue, right? So if you're into environmental conservation -- particularly, curbing climate change -- these agreements are worthy of some renewed optimism.

Here are some developments that blipped our tree-friendly radars:

New York Declaration on Forests

It's impressive: 32 national and 20 local or regional governments, 40 companies, 16 indigenous peoples groups, and 49 non-profits have all pledged cooperation to halve current rates of deforestation by 2020. Beyond that, the coalition has promised to restore hundreds of millions of acres of former forestlands and to halt global forest destruction entirely by 2030.

Razing and burning forests accounts for about 10 percent of present global carbon emissions, or 3.6 billion tons of CO2 a year. Currently eight football fields worth of forest is degraded or destroyed every ten seconds, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

So if it's successful, the plan's impact on carbon dioxide emissions could equate to taking every single car on Earth off the road. In the U.S. alone, tailpipe emissions account for one-fifth of the nation's annual 5.833 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. It would also mean an awful lot to the dozens if not hundreds of animal and plant species that call these forests home now and will need room to move as temperatures rise in coming decades.

Importantly, many corporations and indigenous groups are partnering on this effort, along with governments and conservationists. But so far, Greenpeace International is not among them, stating that the plan is neither ambitious enough nor firmly grounded in tangible action. Neither is the nation of Brazil, home to roughly 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest (although the government has stated it intends to cut deforestation roughly 25 percent by 2020).

As part of the declaration, Norway, the U.K., and Germany among others pledged $1 billion to developing countries such as Liberia and Peru for preserving forests.

Palm Oil Pledge

As Popular Science reported live from the climate summit last week, a coalition announced a new commitment to stop tropical forest and peatland loss related to the palm oil industry. A widely used ingredient in processed foods, palm oil has inspired a lucrative industry that is helping millions escape poverty. But the enormous demand also drives rampant deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia as growers clear land for palm oil plantations.

Major palm oil consumers Asian Agri, Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources, Wilmar, along with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, say they'll work with the government of Indonesia, the world's largest palm oil producer, to plant new palms and conserve forests that have been cut down as a result of the palm oil industry. They have also pledged to stop buying palm oil from suppliers that destroy forests for the creation of plantations.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it is dropping all of its investments in fossil fuels -– about $60.2 million, or 7 percent of the total $860 million endowment –– in favor of renewable energy. While the greenbacks involved are a relatively small amount compared to the trillions invested in global oil, coal, and natural gas, the symbolic splash is huge: Heirs to a major oil fortune are pulling their money out of the industry. The move will likely put wind under the wings of the fledging international fossil fuel divestment movement, which has been targeted largely at universities and cities so far.

ICYMI: A Quick Recap Of Climate Week 2014:

On September 23, several dozen heads of state, including President Barack Obama, came to the United Nations for a one-day "climate summit." Scads of business and industry leaders, scientists, and non-profit advocacy and civil society groups also took part.

It was the first time since 2009 that the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, had nestled a day full of climate change-centric programming into the yearly schedule of the U.N. General Assembly. In 2009, official climate treaty talks were scheduled with the intention of producing a strong global climate treaty later that year -- one featuring defined and legally binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the U.S. and other industrialized nations. But the Copenhagen talks were a flop, leaving negotiators and climate activists flailing. 

Five years later, many negative impacts of climate change have become even more visible worldwide, as Popular Science often reports. That fact helped get 300 to 400,000 people (including many scientists and the people who love them) from around the country and the world onto the streets of New York City just a couple days before the climate summit on Sunday, September 21. They marched to demand climate change action, and even the march's organizers claimed to be surprised by the heavy turnout.

Hundreds appeared again the next day, September 22, for "Flood Wall Street," using the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street protests to keep media attention on climate change.

The science behind climate change is well-accepted in most nations, and the urgent need for action has been well-explained to heads of state by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the U.N.'s own climate science body). So this latest unofficial climate summit was more about staking out positions on contentious issues ahead of official climate treaty negotiations that will occur over the next 14 months. That process will culminate late next year in Paris at the 21st official U.N. climate conference, where a new international climate pact is supposed to be finalized.

Climate finance is one of the most challenging issues negotiators will try to resolve in the coming year. A financial entity called the Green Climate Fund" (GCF) has been set up to take in contributions from industrialized nations. (Richer emerging economies, such as China and Mexico, may end up contributing as well.) The fund will distribute money to developing nations to help those countries pay for low- or no-carbon economic development projects, such as expanding their energy generation capacity with renewables like sun and wind, instead of fossil fuels. These types of projects fall under the buzzword "mitigation." The GCF is also intended to help pay for resilience-related projects, such as strengthening infrastructure to withstand global warming impacts like sea level rise -- efforts that are termed "adaptation."

Donor nations have been dragging their heels when it comes to putting money into the pot, however. There have been disagreements over how the funds will be managed. Many questions remain: Should donor nations have any say over how the funds are allocated? Will countries receiving funds be required to report back on how they're spent?

Disagreements over emission cuts remain equally fraught. What share of curbing present-day pollution will be taken by the world's poorer nations as well as the richest? While there were unofficial side talks on this issue last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's no-show at the summit (Modi pointedly arrived in New York afterwards, for the General Assembly and other events) underlines that India will be hard to bring around on cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, which are now the world's third-largest.

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How An Evangelical Christian Researcher Reconciles Science With Her Faith PDF Print E-mail

Editor's note: Our profile of Bill Nye [September 2014] elicited an impassioned response from readers. We received more than 100 letters, many from readers grappling with how to reconcile scientific concepts like climate change with religion. We asked climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, why science doesn't have to conflict with faith. (We wrote about Dr. Hayhoe previously in July.) Popular Science does not necessarily support or endorse the views expressed here. The text has been edited for grammar and style.

We often perceive science and faith as two opposing camps, facing off against each other across a chasm. It’s a chasm that seems to grow deeper as the number of topics over which we disagree multiplies, rather than decreases, with time. Adherents on one side dig in and point to their evidence: data, theories, and models. The other side does the same: the Bible, divine revelation, personal belief. Often it seems like these can never be reconciled.

I'm a scientist. I have a bachelor's degree in physics, and a master's degree and Ph.D. in atmospheric science. I study climate change. My work relies on those same lines of scientific evidence -- observations, physical principles, experiments and models. I’m also a Christian, though. I believe that the universe exists because of someone greater than us who -- as the Bible tells us -- spoke it into being.

I see science and faith as two sides of the same coin. They each provide us with something that we cannot get from the other. And when they disagree, it’s usually because we are interpreting one, or the other, or both of them too narrowly.

In the future, with more information -- as in the case of Galileo, where the science was true, or the "static universe" theory of the 1700s, where the theologians were closer to reality -- we may eventually be able to build a bridge across our chasm, and meet in the middle. And in the meantime, a little humility, and willingness to disagree with respect and understanding, can get us a long way.

The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that "faith is ... the evidence of things not seen." By definition, science is exactly the opposite of that. Science is the evidence of things that are seen, observed, documented, quantified, measured.

In my own area of climate change, science can tell us that we have a problem: Climate is changing. Science can tell us why it’s happening: It's us. Science can even tell us what the outcome of different choices will be: If we continue to depend on fossil fuels as our primary source of energy, the impacts will be severe and even dangerous; if we reduce our emissions and transition to non-carbon fuels, the impacts will still be serious but it will be easier to adapt.

But science can't tell us what we should do about it. That is a value judgment. How much is too much risk? How much suffering is justified in the name of short-term economic gain? For many of us, our values come from our faith, and the core value of the Christian faith is to love others as Christ loved us, and to our God with all our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. Today, when we look at the impact our energy choices are having on our neighbors here at home and around the world, it is clear from our values that doing nothing about climate change or, even worse, refusing to acknowledge the reality of this problem is 100 percent inconsistent with our faith.

My science tells me that climate change is real, that it’s affecting us here and now, and that our choices today carry tremendous consequences for our future. It's my faith, though, that keeps me going day after day -- a faith that motivates a hope for a better future, and a love for the people and the world that God has created.

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Science On Ice: 7 Antarctic Experiments To Keep An Eye On PDF Print E-mail

Since the 1950s, a small but growing number of international scientists have spent months at a stretch on the world’s most remote continent: Antarctica. This year, 29 countries will host research programs there, meaning about 800 scientists and support staff will venture south for the summer season, from October to March. The U.S. Antarctic Program alone will field more than 100 projects, many of which will be making up for lost time; sequestration kept some expeditions off the ice in 2013. The U.S.-led projects will investigate a number of critical questions, including how climate change is unfolding and what the earliest moments of the universe were like. Here are seven experiments to keep an eye on. 

 Marine Food Chain

The Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 281-foot icebreaker-equipped vessel, carries the AMLR team across the sea in search of a two-inch crustacean called krill. Penguins and whales—and humans, too—rely on krill as a food source. After three decades of study, ecologists knew little about their winter patterns. The AMLR team is in the third year of a five-year survey to map the distribution of krill—which like to hide under the sea ice—with acoustic sounding equipment. The work will help the U.S. manage the Antarctic krill fisheries.

 Global Ice Melt

GPS and seismic sensors embedded in the Antarctic ice make up PoleNet—the Polar Ice Observing Network—together with sensors in Greenland. This year, the team will add three new stations—each with about 3,000 pounds of monitoring equipment. The data help geoscientists predict how the Earth’s crust will rebound as the Western Antarctic ice sheet melts. The project might confirm whether the melting is a runaway process—as other researchers found earlier this year—and if the rebound could lead to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

 Evasive Particles

Astronomers have been trying to detect neutrinos, the elusive particles whose signatures help them understand mysteries like how supernovae work and what dark matter is, for decades. Traditional neutrino detectors, like Super-Kamiokande in Japan, are water tanks built into abandoned mines. But researchers on the IceCube team figured out how to make a detector 20,000 times bigger than Super-Kamiokande, for just twice the price. Instead of tanks, they use a cubic mile of near-perfectly-transparent ice of Antarctica, with 5,160 optical sensors drilled more than a mile deep. More than 30 neutrinos have been picked up since the detector started operation in 2010. This year, the team will be testing the computers they installed last year in an effort to make the detector more autonomous, and hope to find evidence for where in the universe neutrinos originate.

 The Infant Universe

In March, cosmologists reported a major result from the BICEP2 telescope: evidence of the once-speculative theory of inflation, the violent expansion of the universe the instant after the Big Bang. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and other astronomers have called for more research to repeat—or disprove—the experiment. This season, BICEP3 deploys. With five times more sensors than its predecessor and triple the field of view, it should help confirm or deny the BICEP2 finding. 

 Microbes In The Dark

Biologists know little about how microorganisms that rely on the sun for energy also survive dark polar winters. So the ALPS team has set up sensor stations in two ice-covered lakes, each equipped with algae detectors, phytoplankton samplers, and water chemistry analyzers for year-round data collection. This season, the team gets a first look at over-winter data. The results could help astrobiologists predict whether similar microbes might survive on other ice-covered bodies like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

 Hidden Stars

Because Antarctica sits right at the pole, Earth’s otherwise chaotic atmosphere is stable and predictable there. That means giant balloons—some are wider than a football field and as tall as the Washington Monument—can circle the continent but still land close to their launch point. This season, the Long-Duration Ballooning team’s payload is a 1,700-pound gamma-ray telescope, sent up to watch stars that the atmosphere conceals from the ground. The technique yields spacecraft-quality research trips for a fraction of the space-launch price tag. 

 Penguin Evolution

Because penguins are a key predator, they indicate how the Southern Ocean ecosystem is adapting to climate change. The Penguin Science team is using a 45,000-year record of bones and eggshells preserved in the Antarctic ice—along with data from 15 years of banding live Adélies—to decipher how the species is adapting today. This year, the team will focus on whether birds’ foraging prowess is a learned skill or inherited trait—and whether the ability will survive as sea ice melts.

Plus, McMurdo Station Gets A Makeover

The National Science Foundation is planning a multiyear upgrade to McMurdo Station, the largest and most active base on the continent. Potential overhauls include replacing many of its 100-plus structures, adding new wind turbines, increasing bandwidth, and upgrading instruments for Crary Lab, the main research facility. Technicians may even receive a DARPA-style research wing—dedicated to the development of advanced gliders, robotic field stations, and automated traverse vehicles, all purpose-built for polar expeditions.

Map data courtesy U.S. Antarctic Program; Penguin colony locations courtesy H.J. Lynch and M.A. LaRue; Sunrise data courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory.

Correction (9/22/2014, 7:30 p.m. ET): The original version of this map mislabeled the two Autonomous Lake Profiling and Sampling stations as being in Blood Falls and Lake Whillans. Both are at Lake Bonney, near McMurdo Station. The map has been corrected. We regret the error.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title "The Lab At The Bottom Of The World".

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The Week In Numbers: Crabwalking Robots, Ferocious Fungi, And The Future Of Game Of Thrones PDF Print E-mail

165: number of pounds Lonesome George weighed at the time of his death, before scientists stuffed and mounted him for display.

2: the number of rubber bands needed to build your own shoebox phone projector

100,000,000: amount of money in American dollars the President of Korea pledged at the UN Climate Summit to help developing nations undertake low-carbon economic growth.

250,000: number of seeds a tumbleweed can spread as it rolls. Scientists are researching two species of fungi that can limit the reach of these troublesome weeds. 

8: number of limbs the new cannon-carrying robot, called the Crabwalker, might scuttle around on, as designed by Chinese engineers.

1.4 million: number of people who possibly will contract the Ebola virus by January 2015, as predicted by the CDC.

980,000: number of people who might die from the disease in the next six months.

1,600: length in feet of the Snake River Canyon that daredevils are attempting to jump in homemade vehicles. Evel Knievel famously failed to jump the canyon in 1974.

25,600: frames of video the new slo-mo camera Phantom v2511 can capture in one second.

60: percentage chance that Jon Snow does not die, according to a Game of Thrones-themed mathematics paper. The paper's authors used the Bayesian method to predict plot outcomes in future Song of Ice and Fire novels.

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Enormous Butterfly Swarms, Saharan Duststorms, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week PDF Print E-mail

Arthur E. Smith made took this microscopic photograph of a sheep tick 110 years ago to exhibit in London as part of a large collection. The pictures would have been the first many people of the time had ever seen.

Arthur E. Smith/archive.org

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A Higgs-gravity connection may leave traces in white dwarfs PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —The discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012 marked an important step toward understanding the origin of the mass of fundamental particles. Since mass plays a major role in gravity, the Higgs could also reveal insights into the nature of gravity. One possibility is that the Higgs field could couple to a specific spacetime curvature, a scenario that is invoked in various extensions of the standard model.

Now, scientists have shown that dying stars called white dwarfs can be used to investigate and place limits on the coupling between the Higgs field and spacetime curvature. The study, by Roberto Onofrio at the University of Padova in Italy and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Gary A. Wegner at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

"Conceptually, I think that our work is trying to create a 'common' language between microphysics and macrophysics in the following sense," Onofrio told Phys.org. "So far, people have looked for the consequences of the Higgs field in the microworld, at the so-called Fermi scale, i.e., the attometer scale (1 am = 10-18 m), and for the consequences of gravity at the macroscopic scale, from an apple upward in terms of size and masses. Yet, both have in common the central role that plays in the of elementary particle physics and in gravitation. So by starting to talk of masses involving both the Higgs field (which is supposed to give inertial mass to all ) and gravitation (where the gravitational mass of a body is a key concept), one can check for their consistency or for the presence of possible contradictions."

A handful of high-gravity astrophysical objects, such as primordial black holes and active galactic nuclei, have been proposed to investigate crosstalk between the Higgs and gravity. However, white dwarfs have the unique advantage of showing both molecular and atomic lines in their light emission spectra. Since the Higgs-curvature coupling is expected to affect the atomic lines, but not the molecular lines, a comparison of both lines is needed.

The reason that the coupling only affects atomic lines is due to the different origins of the electron mass and the masses of protons and neutrons (nucleons). Most of the nucleons' mass arises from massless gluonic fields; being massless, they do not couple to the Higgs field. Molecular transitions that only depend on the nuclei mass, therefore, are not affected by the Higgs-curvature coupling. In contrast, the Higgs-curvature coupling does affect the mass of electrons and other fermions by adding to these particles' inertial masses.

White dwarfs contain large amounts of carbon and emit a distinct spectrum involving vibrational spectra as well as vibronic transitions between electronic states. In the presence of a Higgs-curvature coupling, the vibrational levels, which are proportional to the nucleon mass, should stay constant. However, the electronic energy levels, which are proportional to the electron mass, should be shifted.

The electron mass shift induced by the Higgs field sets an upper bound on the coupling between the Higgs field and spacetime curvature that is 10 orders of magnitude more stringent than bounds set by table-top experiments based on tests of the superposition principle for gravitational interactions. The new bounds are also the first set on this coupling by an astrophysical object.

Understanding the Higgs-curvature coupling has several implications. A variety of proposed models that invoke this coupling suggest that the Higgs may play the role of the inflaton, or that the Higgs may serve as a mechanism to suppress the dark energy contribution of quantum fields to the level compatible with observations.

In the future, the spectroscopic analysis could be improved by observing signals from additional , and perhaps extended to the case of stronger gravity neutron stars, though it is hard in this last case to detect spectroscopic features.

Explore further: Higgs boson could also explain the earliest expansion of the Universe

More information: Roberto Onofrio and Gary A Wegner. "Search for Higgs Shifts in White Dwarfs." The Astrophysical Journal. DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/791/2/125

© 2014 Phys.org



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Scientists manipulate molecules inside living cells with temperature gradients PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —The ability to make measurements of the biomolecular interactions that occur inside living cells is essential for understanding complex biological processes. But probing the inside of living cells without damaging them is a challenge. The cell membrane shields electrical fields, prohibiting the use of electrophoresis, a technique that is commonly used to analyze biological samples in a variety of areas outside living cells.

Now in a new paper, researchers have demonstrated for the first time that thermophoresis—the movement of molecules due to a rather than an electric field—can be used to measure the movement of DNA and other molecules inside living cells. The paper, by Maren R. Reichl and Dieter Braun at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, is published in a recent issue of The Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"Our work shows that the measurement of thermophoresis in living cells is possible—moreover, in parallel across the cell and not at one single point," Braun told Phys.org.

In the new technique, a temperature gradient is applied across a cell by an infrared laser. Fluorescently marked molecules inside the cell move along this temperature gradient from hotter to colder regions. A camera can record this thermophoretic movement, with every camera pixel measuring thermophoresis simultaneously and independently. The technique can be performed in the natural environment of cells in vivo.

The researchers demonstrated the use of thermophoresis measurements of DNA in the cytoplasm of living cells. Interestingly, the results revealed that DNA movement in the cytoplasm is slowed down, probably due to molecular crowding. In addition to measuring the movement of DNA, the thermophoresis technique could also measure the movement of proteins, pharmaceutical components, and other molecules in cells as long as they can move through the cytoplasm. Ribosomes, for example, are so large and bound to the endoplasmic reticulum that they cannot easily diffuse through the cytoplasm, making them poor candidates for thermophoresis.

Thermophoresis measurements of DNA and the dye molecule BCECF in the cytoplasm of living cells. Credit: Reichl and Braun. ©2014 American Chemical Society

One way that thermophoresis inside living cells can be used is to measure the binding affinities of molecules. As the scientists explain, the binding of a fluorescently marked molecule such as DNA or a protein leads to a change in the thermophoretic depletion strength. Binding affinities can reveal more detailed information about the interactions of these molecules.

"The dream would be to record binding affinities in living , i.e., translating the award-winning microscale thermophoresis (MST) technique of our startup company Nanotemper into ," Braun said. "However, the measurement protocol is not yet robust against the shape of the cell, so some more tricks to make it work will be necessary. But we are optimistic—experimental tricks are our specialty."

Explore further: Researchers model how migration of DNA molecules is affected by charge, salt species, and salt concentration

More information: Maren R. Reichl and Dieter Braun. "Thermophoretic Manipulation of Molecules inside Living Cells." Journal of the American Chemical Society. DOI: 10.1021/ja506169b

© 2014 Phys.org



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Now hear this: Simple fluid waveguide performs spectral analysis in a manner similar to the cochlea PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —Within the mammalian inner ear, or cochlea, a remarkable but and long-debated phenomenon occurs: As they move from the base of the cochlea to its apex, traveling fluid waves – that is, surface waves, in which (like waves on the sea and or in a canal) water moves both longitudinally and transversally – peak in amplitude at locations that depend on the wave's frequency. (Higher frequencies are concentrated in the base, lower frequencies in the apex.) What's critical is that these peaks allow us to identify and separate sounds. While cochlear frequency selectivity is typically explained by local resonances, this idea has two problems: resonance-based models require excessive intracochlear mass, and moreover cannot accurately represent the cochlea's production of both phase and amplitude information. Recently, however, Prof. Marcel van der Heijden at Erasmus Medical Center, University Medical Center, Rotterdam, has rejected resonance, and in its place has designed and fabricated a novel neural data-inspired approach to producing these frequency-dependent amplitude peaks in the form of a disarmingly simple waveguide that, in a manner analogous to an optical prism, carries fluid waves and performs spectral analysis. By incorporating a longitudinal gradient, the waveguide – which consists of two parallel fluid-filled chambers connected by a narrow slit spanned by two coupled elastic beams – separates frequencies and decelerates energy transport through wave dispersion, thereby focusing the peak-creating energy. Its novelty derives from its spectral analysis functionality being based not on resonance, nor on standing waves or geometric periodicity, but on mode shape swapping – an abrupt exchange of shapes between propagating wave modes – making it a new physical effect based on well-known physics.

Remarkably, although van der Heijden intentionally eschewed the creation of a complex biophysical model, the nonetheless displays strong structural and behavioral similarities to the cochlea. That said, the paper acknowledges that the current model cannot describe the multiband dynamic range compression performed by the living cochlea, which would require automatic or the ability to direct high-intensity into the nonpeaking mode. To that end, the paper also states that "refinement of optical coherence tomography techniques will undoubtedly deepen the knowledge of inner ear vibrations in unprecedented ways," and that the study's findings provide a "clear and straightforward theoretic framework that can guide the interpretation of such data." Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an optical signal acquisition and processing method that captures micrometer-resolution, three-dimensional cross-sectional images from within biological tissue and other optical scattering media in situ and in real time. OCT is analogous to ultrasound imaging, but employs light (typically near-infrared) rather than sound.

Prof. van der Heijden discussed the paper that he published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with Phys.org, noting that he faced one major challenge in designing and fabricating the simplest possible fluid waveguide that exhibits steep deceleration and peaking: determining the precise physics behind the steep wave deceleration. "Consider the peaking by imagining a duct that, like a canal, mediates water waves – but with an important difference: the waves in this system first travel some distance and then suddenly grow in amplitude, peak, and decay rapidly – and even more interestingly, the location of the peak depends on the frequency of the wave," van der Heijden tells Phys.org, with low-frequency waves travelling farther before they peak. This strange system exists: our own inner ears and those of other mammals host these peaking waves, and that is how they perform a spectral analysis of sound." The challenge – and opportunity – is that scientists still don't understand the underlying physics due primarily to a lack of data. There's a good reason for this: The inner ear is not amenable to experiment, as it is inaccessible and vulnerable, with the vibrations in the nanometer range.

"Current dogma in inner-ear mechanics states that the peaking is caused by a form of biological amplification that injects mechanical energy into the sound-evoked wave," van der Heijden continues, "but I'm skeptical about the existence of what is customarily termed a cochlear amplifier." His position makes sense, since after 35 years the evidence for amplification is still circumstantial at best, and experts disagree on the basic mechanisms. "Amplification requires phase-locked mechanical feedback to high-frequency input – as high as 100 kHz for bats and dolphins – which is physiologically very implausible." Moreover, he points out, it serves no known purpose: In order to amplify faint sounds, you need to detect them in the first place – so why not stop there if your aim is to hear the sound? "You might think that amplifying faint signals improves their detectability, but that is not the case. Amplifiers always worsen the signal-to-noise ratio."

An alternative to amplification – the one that van der Heijden has taken – is focusing available sound energy. "In a wave this is done by slowing it down, which causes a traffic jam-like congestion of the energy. In addition, from measurements we know that by the time the vibrations are converted to neural signals, the speed of the energy transport has slowed down to a mere walking pace. No amplifier needed!" In fact, in vivo experiments1 by van der Heijden and his former PhD student Corstiaen Versteegh showed that deceleration is steep, giving sharp peaking. "However," van der Heijden emphasizes, the question now becomes, What is the physics behind the steep wave deceleration?" In the paper, van der Heijden notes that he expects that these new data and ideas will help them to understand the basis of cochlear frequency selectivity and gain control in the near future.

Another aspect of his study is determining precisely how the waveguide acts to spatially separate the frequency components of a wideband input. "Once you know how to build a waveguide that shows steep deceleration for one frequency, you can turn it into a spectral analyzer by introducing a longitudinal gradient. In this graded system, every frequency component travels fast until it reaches its own region of steep deceleration, at which will its amplitude will be magnified. The subsequent decay comes from the fact that slowly propagating waves are more susceptible to damping." It is important to note that in this graded system, every frequency component delivers its energy at its proper place, making it a spectral analyzer. "Therefore," he adds, "the main challenge is to design a waveguide in which frequencies up to, say, 1000 Hz travel fast, and all frequencies above 1000 Hz travel much more slowly. If you can do that, the rest is just details."

As might be expected, van der Heijden says that his key insight was the rejection of resonance – a well-accepted but nevertheless flawed attempt to model the inner ear put forth by Hermann von Helmholtz in the 1850s. More recently, in 1980 James Lighthill analyzed the combination of resonance with traveling waves. "An authority on fluid dynamics, Lighthill found that this combination creates deceleration and peaking," van der Heijden explains. "While this appears useful, he also showed that such waves never get beyond their matching resonator – that is, they slow down indefinitely before reaching it. At the same time, our experimental data clearly showed a steep deceleration, but never a complete standstill – meaning that the wave shifts gears, but does not stop. Exit resonance."

Van der Heijden's second insight came from studying fluid waves, which he charmingly describes as a delightful 19th-century physics topic. "Waves in shallow water are simple, in that all frequencies travel equally fast. However, in deep water there's dispersion, with high frequencies propagating more slowly than low frequencies – and modifying the geometry strengthens dispersion. Imagine a deep lake covered with a layer of ice. Now cut a long, narrow slit in the ice, exposing the water," he illustrates. "When you disturb the water, the waves propagating along the slit show an extreme form of dispersion. While this geometry resembles that of the cochlear fluid-filled canals, or scalae, van der Heijden points out that the dispersion obtained in this way is still too gradual to fully explain the steep deceleration of the waves observed in the cochlea.

Interestingly, his third insight came from quantum mechanics, where bound systems have discrete energy levels. "When gradually changing the system – for instance, by applying a variable magnetic field – some energy levels may shift more than others, suggesting that you might be able to get two levels to cross by one overtaking the other," van der Heijden tells Phys.org. "However, this does not happen: Instead, the two energy curves veer away sharply where they should cross, each following the projected trajectory of the other in what is known as avoided crossing. Von Neumann and Wigner articulated the mathematical explanation in 1929, and since wave propagation in complex systems is described by the same mathematical formalism, this suggests that avoided crossing can also occur in waves." Indeed, he recounts, taking a waveguide that supports both deep and shallow waves, and manipulating only the shallow waves by installing an extra spring, he created a situation in which the dispersion curves of the shallow and deep waves were set to cross – but didn't. "The avoided crossing produces a sharp kink in both curves, and this kink corresponds to the steep deceleration in one of the modes," he explains. "Physically, the two modes exchange shape, meaning that mode shape swapping induces the sudden change of the speed of energy transport."

Fanning wave pattern of fluid motion. Colored lines are the projections on the plane of view of the circular trajectories of fluid particles in the upper chamber of the model waveguide. Wavelength, 3 mm. Line color is varied to help distinguish the individual trajectories. Credit: van der Heijden M (2014) Frequency selectivity without resonance in a fluid waveguide. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA Published online before print September 18, 2014.

The paper predicts that in the near future the waveguide model and mode shape swapping will enhance understanding of cochlear frequency selectivity and gain control. "In terms of frequency selectivity, I say this because despite the math, the waveguide itself is almost embarrassingly simple compared to typical cochlear models based on resonance and amplification, and comprises only passive, linear elements," van der Heijden notes. In other words, since its behavior depends on so few parameters, there is little opportunity to tweak the system, so it thereby makes a very specific prediction – namely, that the internal vibration mode of the cochlea changes drastically when varying the sound frequency. "The model therefore provides a clear theoretical framework to guide experiments," he adds, "and recent developments in imaging techniques2 will enable testing these predictions. Should they be confirmed, this amounts to a huge simplification of the mechanisms behind auditory tuning… basically, some water and a handful of springs and dashpots" – dampers that resist motion via viscous friction – "instead of complicated feedback loops, amplifiers and resonators."

As for gain control, van der Heijden points out that our ears mechanically compress the dynamic range of sounds, and that this is done more or less independently in different frequency bands. "Current models implement gain control by a saturation of the amplifier elements. In the mammalian ear, this role is played by outer hair cells, which act both as sensors and actuators. My waveguide model is linear, so it has no gain control – yet: When local vibrations become too large, a simple array of what can be thought of as automatic brakes will engage, with a given brake damping the waves that peak near it. Again, while outer hair cells are also suited, braking is much simpler than amplifying!" Specifically, amplification requires extreme temporal acuity and braking does not – so again, the model leads to a significant simplification of the mechanisms and, again, calls for specific experiments, such as measuring the temporal acuity of the gain control in actual ears.

One of the wider implications of spectral analysis though propagating wave mode shape exchange is that the modest structural requirements for mode shape swapping to occur in a fluid waveguide suggest its possible role in the spectral analysis by non-mammalian ears, such as birds, reptiles and amphibians. "These ears show a much larger morphological variety than the mammalian cochlea," van der Heijden says. "Furthermore, the generality of the underlying principles of wave modes and dispersion raises the possibility of realizing mode shape swapping in entirely different settings such as optics."

Because spectral analysis and multiband gain control of sounds are already implemented in silico in cochlear implants, van der Heijden sees no particular advantage in replacing them with a mechanical device. "We're currently much better in miniaturizing electronics than in miniaturizing mechanical devices such as , so I think that the electronic gain control of modern cochlear implants is hard to beat – and they may well be superior to the natural gain control of our ears, which isn't that good anyhow. However," he adds, "there's another twist to this story: If I'm right that gain control is a brake rather than an amplifier, it may change our perspective on cochlear hearing loss. This makes it crucial to understand the exact mechanisms and cochlear structures involved in gain control."

Relatedly, van der Heijden notes that the auditory neural pathway interface is the bottleneck of all implants. "Electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve through the cochlear fluid is frustratingly unselective compared to the natural situation, where each of the thousands of nerve fibers targets exactly one inner hair cell," he explains. "Therefore, even if a multi-electrode device has perfect spectral analysis and superior multiband gain control, most of that wealth is lost upon interfacing it to the nerve – which is why most implant users cannot enjoy music and have severe trouble with background noise. Theoretically, it would be better to mechanically stimulate the inner hair cells – if enough are left – but apart from building a multi-actuator micromechanical device, it would be difficult to insert it into the helical cochlear duct without ruining the soft tissues that are crucial to proper inner hair cell function."

Moving forward, van der Heijden and his research team will continue their measurements of nanometer vibrations in living inner ears of lab animals – and, not surprisingly, their focus is on gain control: "How does sound intensity affect wave propagation? When presented with rapid intensity fluctuations, what is the highest rate at which gain control can follow? We know it's rapid, but temporal limits will inform us about the underlying mechanisms."

Alternative geometries leading to fanning waves and squirting waves. Each pair of overlapping quadrangles represents the cross-section of the tunnel in which fluid is trapped. The two members of each pair depict the two extreme states of deformation and/or displacement during the cycle of the vibration. The upper row (F1–F4) shows vibration modes that preserve the tunnel cross-section and give rise to fanning waves if the tunnel is surrounded by fluid. Note that it is not necessary to have fluid chambers on both sides of the tunnel. The lower row (S1–S4) shows vibrations that change the cross-section and will give rise to squirting waves. Credit: van der Heijden M (2014) Frequency selectivity without resonance in a fluid waveguide. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA Published online before print September 18, 2014.

Regarding the waveguide model, he acknowledges that there are many questions to be answered, including:

  • Which parameters determine the tuning sharpness?
  • Once that is known, can we interpret the differences in hearing between species in terms of their different cochlear morphology?
  • Can the model be adapted to mimic highly specialized cochleae like those of echolocating bats with their sharp filtering in a narrow frequency band?
  • How can we incorporate gain control that mimics that of real ears?
  • Currently the model is highly stylized. Can it be made more physiological, leading to more detailed predictions on the internal motions of inner-ear structures, which can then be tested experimentally?

Regarding other innovations they might consider developing, van der Heijden says "I'd love to collaborate with experimental hydrodynamic experts and see if we can build a large-scale version of the fluid waveguide. It's one thing to solve equations and describe an effect; it's another to actually make it work in reality." If successful, this could also provide insight into the critical structural properties of the .

A number of other areas of research might benefit from their study, including, radio astronomy, precision sonar, and tissue analysis. "In principle, mode shape swapping could occur for any type of dispersive waves," van der Heijden tells Phys.org. "The steep nature of the transition suggests its application to situations where a sensitive control of wave propagation is desired. In particular, optical realizations could be useful for filtering, switching or beam separation, while spectral analysis based on mode shape swapping may be useful in cases where other methods are unfeasible or have undesired side effects. Ideally," he concludes, "reading the paper would help someone from another area to solve a problem I have never heard of!"

Explore further: A new model explains why we perceive sounds when they are conducted through the skull

More information: Frequency selectivity without resonance in a fluid waveguide, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Published online before print September 18, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1412412111

Related:

1The Spatial Buildup of Compression and Suppression in the Mammalian Cochlea, Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology August 2013, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 523-545, doi:10.1007/s10162-013-0393-0

2Vibration of the organ of Corti within the cochlear apex in mice, Journal of Neurophysiology 1 September 2014, Vol. 112 no. 5, 1192-1204, doi:10.1152/jn.00306.2014

© 2014 Phys.org



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The societal impacts of grid and cloud computing PDF Print E-mail

Monday 29 September marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN, located near Geneva, Switzerland. A new book, entitled 'From Physics to Daily Life', highlights some of the many ways in which technology developed at CERN has impacted upon society at large.

Bob Jones, the head CERN openlab, writes in this book about the growth of distributed computing and the vital role this technology plays across a wide range of academic fields and business sectors.

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Project will broaden access to geoscience data PDF Print E-mail

Civil and environmental engineering professor Praveen Kumar, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, will lead a new project to develop a semantic framework to integrate long-tail data and models. The project is part of Earth Cube, a larger initiative involving hundreds of geoscientists.

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More data needed to accurately predict Ebola's spread PDF Print E-mail

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Grid school empowers students in Africa's developing countries PDF Print E-mail

The African Grid School provides science communities exceptional opportunities to learn new technolgies and improve research techniques. Read about Open Science Grid and the biennial event.

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Missing winds probably foiled 2014’s chance for El Niño PDF Print E-mail

LUKEWARM  Warm water (red) in the Pacific Ocean sloshed eastward this spring, prompting many scientists to expect a strong 2014 El Niño.  The bottom of the image shows a vertical cross section of seawater temperatures in mid-April; the warm pool extends roughly 100 meters deep off South America’s coast.

Dan Pisut/Climate Prediction Center/NOAA Climate.gov

California won’t see hoped-for relief from drought this winter, scientists say, because El Niño is likely to be weak or nonexistent.

Earlier this year, many scientists anticipated a blockbuster 2014 El Niño that would rival the record-setting 1997 event. That year’s El Niño — a climate disruption generated by unusually warm seawater in the eastern Pacific Ocean — triggered severe weather worldwide, including storms and floods on the West Coast and droughts in Southeast Asia. But now the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that a strong El Niño is unlikely and the chances of even a mild one forming have dwindled to around 60 percent.

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Blind cavefish got no (circadian) rhythm PDF Print E-mail

Blind, cave-dwelling cavefish have an advantage over their sighted brethren in the form of a more efficient metabolism, a new study finds.

Small, silver fish called Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) live in some Texas and Mexican rivers. Some members of the species — eyeless and blind — can be found in nearby freshwater caves. Sometimes the sighted fish wash into a cave, but they don’t do nearly as well as their blind brethren. Any surface dweller unlucky enough to end up in the dark would have some disadvantages: It would have to adapt to the loss of light and forage for unfamiliar foods, which may be not as abundant as those found in their home waters. But the fish’s biggest disadvantage may be its metabolism.

Blind cavefish have lost their circadian rhythms and have developed more efficient metabolisms than the fish that live in the light, researchers report September 24 in PLOS ONE.

To measure tetras’ metabolism, Damian Moran and colleagues at Lund University in Sweden placed fish in a contraption that let the fish swim in place while the researchers tracked their oxygen consumption, a measure of their metabolism. Surface and cave fish were placed in the tank under constant darkness  or 12-hour light-and-dark cycles for 7 or 8 days. Then the researchers compared how the fish did under the different light regimes.

All the fish took a few days to acclimate to the laboratory conditions. In the light-and-dark conditions, surface fish showed a clear circadian pattern to their oxygen consumption. These fish ramped up their metabolism by about 20 percent during the day. That increase in metabolism would let them have more energy for their hunts and feeding, which take place in the light.

When put into all-dark conditions, the fish still displayed some of that rhythm, even though there was no sunshine to trigger it. And their metabolism increased; the fish consumed about 16 percent more energy over a 24-hour period.

The cave-dwelling fish, in contrast, didn’t display any rhythm in their metabolism in either all-dark or dark-and-light conditions. And that metabolism was far more efficient than that of the fish that normally lived in surface waters. Compared with surface fish in their natural light-and-dark condition, cave fish in their natural darkness expended 27 percent less energy in a day. And compared with a surface fish that washed into the dark, cave fish used 38 percent less energy.

So if there’s some advantage for a blind fish that loses its circadian rhythm, why haven’t they replaced the sighted ones that live in the light? The cave fish are well adapted to their dark homes. They don’t have to spend any energy on eyes or pigmentation — though the amount the surface dwellers use for that isn’t all that much. They’ve got great senses of touch and taste to help them forage on the cave floor for food. And their efficient metabolism may be the most important of their cave-living adaptions, the researchers note. But if one of these fish ends up outside its cave in surface waters, it’s incredibly vulnerable to predators (both fish and birds). And a metabolism advantage doesn’t mean much if you quickly get eaten.

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Videos hint at why tree bats may die at wind turbines PDF Print E-mail



Your daily roundup of research news

Ashley Yeager

Science Ticker

7:30am, September 30, 2014

thermal image of bat at wind turbine

Heat-sensitive cameras give hints as to why tree bats fly so close to wind turbines.

Image courtesy of Paul Cryan

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Wind turbines can be deadly for bats. Each year tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands are thought to fall victim to the tall, whirling turbines. Now, footage from heat-sensitive cameras suggests one reason why. Air currents at wind turbines appear to mimic the way air flows around tall trees. Tree bats in particular use these air flows to find food, other bats and a place to roost. Following similar air flows at wind turbines may lead more tree bats than non-tree bats to their deaths, scientists suggest September 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[embedded content]

Bats investigate wind turbines, with the bat in the second clip 
repeatedly returning after close encounters with the turbine blades.
Credit: P.M. Cryan et al/PNAS 2014.

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Physicists design zero-friction quantum engine PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —In real physical processes, some energy is always lost any time work is produced. The lost energy almost always occurs due to friction, especially in processes that involve mechanical motion. But in a new study, physicists have designed an engine that operates with zero friction while still generating power by taking advantage of some quantum shortcuts.

The laws of successfully describe the concepts of work and heat in a wide variety of systems, ranging from refrigerators to black holes, as long as the systems are macroscopic. But for on the micro- and nano-scale, that are insignificant on large scales start to become prominent. As previous research as shown, the large quantum effects call for a complete reformulation of the thermodynamics laws.

What a quantum version of thermodynamics might look like is not yet known, and neither are the limitations or possible advantages of the quantum devices that would be described by such laws. However, one intriguing question is whether it may be possible to build a reversible quantum engine—one in which the engine's operation can be reversed without energy dissipation (an "adiabatic" process).

In the new paper, the physicists have shown one example of a quantum engine that is "super-adiabatic." That is, the engine uses quantum shortcuts to achieve a state that is usually achieved only by slow adiabatic processes. This engine can achieve a state that is fully frictionless; in other words, the engine reaches its , while still generating some power.

"Shortcuts allow us to 'mimic' what would be achieved by running a cycle quasi-statically, i.e., very slowly, while performing transformations at finite time," coauthor Mauro Paternostro at Queen's University in Belfast, UK, told Phys.org. "Now, consider for instance a compression or expansion stage of a cycle run using a piston. When doing it at finite time, i.e., non-zero velocity, friction might affect the performance of the transformation. Yet, by using a shortcut to adiabaticity, friction-like effects would get quenched, the cycle performance being the same as that of a quasistatic motor."

The work marks a step toward the key engineering goal in this context, which is to find the maximum efficiency allowed at the maximum possible power. As the scientists note, this pursuit is complicated by the existence of a trade-off between the running time of the super-adiabatic process and the corresponding amount of work dissipated.

"This work is one of the first steps into the merging of quantum control and thermodynamics," Paternostro said. "We have shown that it is possible to use techniques that, to date, have only been used for other goals (population transfer, for instance) for thermodynamic tasks and the engineering of efficient cycles."

Overall, the results suggest the possibility of a frictionless quantum engine operating at maximum efficiency, which has implications in designing micro- and nano-scale motors operating at the verge of the quantum scale. In the meantime, there are still several hurdles to overcome.

"I think that the real challenge is the use of such techniques in interacting quantum many body systems, whose inherent complexity and rich phenomenology could be 'tamed' by the use of this sort of quantum control," Paternostro said. "At the end of the day, thermodynamics is a theory of many particles, and its quantum formulation should be able to cope with many-body effects, whose control could hugely benefit from the implementation of schemes similar to the one proposed in our paper. We have new and exciting results, in this context, that will come up soon and that will hopefully have an impact in the community interested in many-body physics and quantum thermodynamics."

Explore further: Nanoscale heat engine exceeds standard efficiency limit

More information: A. del Campo, et al. "More bang for your buck: Super-adiabatic quantum engines." Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep06208

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Nanocontainers for nanocargo: Delivering genes and proteins for cellular imaging, genetic medicine and cancer therapy PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —By loading any specific protein and nucleic acid into an icosahedral phage T4 capsid-based nanoparticle, the resulting cell delivery vehicle's ligands can bind to the surface of specific target tissues to deliver the protein/DNA cargo. (Icosahedral viral nanoparticles are evolutionary protein shells assembled in a hierarchical order that results in a stable protein layer and an inner space for accommodating nucleic acids and proteins; a capsid is the protein shell of a virus.) The technique has drug- and gene-delivery applications in human diseases, diagnostic and cellular imaging, and other medical areas. Recently, scientists at US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC and University of Maryland at Baltimore packaged T4 nanoparticles in vivo with active cyclic recombination, or Cre, recombinase (a genetic recombination enzyme used to manipulate genome structure and control gene expression) and in vitro with fluorescent mCherry (a fluorescent protein used as a marker when tagged to molecules and cell components) expression plasmid DNA, and delivered these nanoparticles into cancer cells: When released into cells in the presence of both DNA and protein, the recombinase enhances mCherry expression by circularization (that is, changing the packaged linear DNA into a circular loop). The researchers state that this efficient and specific packaging into capsids and the unpackaging of both DNA and protein with release of the enzymatically altered protein/DNA complexes from the nanoparticles into cells have potential in numerous downstream applications such as genetic and cancer therapeutics.

Dr. Jinny L. Liu discussed the paper that she, Prof. Lindsay W. Black and their co-authors published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. "Icosahedral viral nanoparticles are essentially 100 nm by 80 nm nanocontainers that allow exogenous genetic material to be packaged in vitro through nucleic acid machinery that generally only allows linear DNA/RNA to be packaged through a portal channel," Liu tells Phys.org. "However, in vitro protein packaging is generally impossible, because for most viral nanoparticles there is no packaging machinery comparable to nucleic acid packaging machinery." While protein may be chemically cross-linked to the capsid inner surface, this is expected to lead to protein denaturation and loss of enzymatic activity.

That being said, nature has evolved solutions to this protein packaging conundrum. During in vivo viral capsid assembly, Liu explains, some bacterial viruses, or bacteriophages, target proteins within the procapsids before the nucleic acid is packaged so as to eject the proteins with the nucleic acid, thereby facilitating infection in conjunction with the nucleic acid. (A procapsid, or prohead, is an immature viral capsid structure formed in the early stages of self-assembly of some bacteriophages. Production and assembly of stable proheads is an essential precursor to bacteriophage genome packaging.) Only a few phages have well-characterized in vivo protein packaging systems, and phage T4 is the best characterized. "Prof. Black's lab at UMB and my lab at NRL have demonstrated that not only can a specific foreign enzyme – cyclic recombination (Cre) recombinase – be packaged into the capsid in vivo, but also that it is active within the capsid." This activity was demonstrated by showing the religation (the rejoining of two DNA strands or other molecules by a phosphate ester linkage) of packaged linear DNA flanked with two Cre recombination sites.

The paper shows that the substantial space within a T4 nanocontainer accommodates the active Cre enzyme along with exogenous DNA. "For potential applications, T4 can package up to 50 kb exogenous linear DNA containing full-length desired genes along with recombinases, either Cre or λ-red proteins, for specific homologous recombination within the chromosome," Liu notes. (Homologous recombination is a type of genetic recombination in which nucleotide sequences are exchanged between two similar or identical molecules of DNA.) "We expect that the cas9 enzyme could be encapsidated in a comparable way – and in fact, at least eight different proteins have been encapsidated in this manner. Through homologous recombination, our system can allow the corrected gene to replace the mutated gene in its original location within the chromosome or by precisely knocking out the overactive genes in stem cells." Liu points out that the T4 delivery vector is safer and better controlled than other viral delivery gene therapy, such as those delivering genes using infectious animal viral vectors to randomly insert the gene within the chromosome.

In their paper, the authors report that the T4 capsid NP gene expression and protein delivery system may be complementary to or used in conjunction with gene therapy based on RNA Cas and taran nuclease. (Cas genes code for proteins related to DNA loci containing short repetitions of base sequences known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPRs.) "The T4 nanoparticle expression system can easily complement Cas9 and taran nuclease-based recombination by packaging the linear cas9, target-sgRNA plasmid DNA, and Cre recombinase – or even ligase, an enzyme that facilitates the joining of DNA strands – and deliver the resulting T4 nanoparticles into the recipient eukaryotic cells with high specificity employing SOC and HOC," Liu tells Phys.org. (SOC and HOC are dispensable T4 capsid proteins.) "By displaying the targeting ligands (binding molecules) onto the surface, the T4 capsid gene expression and protein system will be able to efficiently deliver the Cas9 and sgRNA plasmids together into the desired recipient cells. Relevant enzymatically-active proteins Cas9, lambda exonuclease, lambda beta protein and others can be delivered directly at the same time from the T4 nanoparticle."

Measurement of the inhibition by endocytosis inhibitors and colocalization with lysosomes in A546-T4–treated A549 cells. (A) Pretreatment with amantadine, specifically stabilizing the clathrin-coated pits, reduced the uptake of A546-T4 NPs by A549 cells in a concentration-dependent manner. (B) Pretreatment with the PI3 kinase inhibitor, wortmannin, also reduced the uptake of A546-T4 in a concentration-dependent manner. (C) An overlapping confocal cell image obtained with a 60× objective with the internalized A546-T4 procapsids (yellow), lysosomes stained with LysoTracker Blue (blue), and the overlapping spots (white). (Scale bar, 10 μm.) (D) A confocal image shows the broad view of treated cells containing overlapping portions (white spots) of lysosomes (blue) with A546-T4 procapsids (yellow). The image was obtained using a 20× objective. (Scale bar, 50 μm.) Credit: Liu JL, et al. (Published online before print August 26, 2014) Viral nanoparticle-encapsidated enzyme and restructured DNA for cell delivery and gene expression. Credit: Liu JL, et al. (2014) Viral nanoparticle-encapsidated enzyme and restructured DNA for cell delivery and gene expression. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA Published online before print August 26, 2014. doi:10.1073/pnas.1321940111

Liu adds that her lab has also been studying cell imaging and drug/gene delivery to eukaryotic cells using T4 tailless nanoparticles, which the researchers demonstrated can enter the eukaryotic cells without causing cell death.

A specific example of potential downstream drug and gene therapeutic applications resulting from the new approach is delivery of the toxic protein and linear plasmid that produces neutralizing peptides or antibodies into targeted cancer cells displaying specific cancer markers using high affinity SOC + HOC marker binding proteins on the surface of the capsids, while another example is to use the system for HIV gene therapy.

Liu adds that there are several pathways to use this system for gene therapy:

  • Delivering T4 nanoparticles packaged with the recombinase (or ligase) and linear plasmid DNA to produce gp120 or interferon to generate or boost the immune response in patients
  • Delivering T4 packaged with recombinase (ligase) and the linear soluble CD40 expression plasmid DNA into T lymphocytes or hematopoietic cells to block the infection of HIV-1
  • Inhibiting RNA by delivering the engineered plasmid DNA that can produce decoy RNA for binding the viral sense DNA
  • Inhibiting protein by delivering packaged anti-viral antibodies and anti-HIV antibody plasmid DNA

In addition to diagnostic and cellular imaging, the T4 nanoparticle gene-protein system can deliver repaired genes to correct human genetic diseases – for example, reversing adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency by introducing the protein-DNA complex to express ADA in stem cells. Other broad areas of research impacted by technologies, such as genetic defects, cancer, neurological diseases in adults, and aging itself, may also benefit from this study.

Moving forward, the scientists want to develop more T4 procapsids packaging exonuclease and other recombinases along with engineered target DNA to demonstrate that the resulting T4 capsids can insert the gene into a stem cell line with a genetic deficiency. "In addition," Liu concludes, "we're working on adapting our system to deliver therapeutic peptides or antibodies to cells exposed to or infected by biothreat agents, such as protein toxins or viruses, efficient neutralization of toxin effects. The treatment and cure of cells and tissues exposed to such agents are of a great interest to our biodefense research community."

Explore further: Seamless gene correction of beta-thalassemia mutations in patient-specific cells

More information: Viral nanoparticle-encapsidated enzyme and restructured DNA for cell delivery and gene expression, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Published online before print August 26, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1321940111

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