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Science News Reports

Armed with Phones, Amateurs Can Beat Pollution-Tracking Satellites
Scanning the sky with iSPEX. Credit: iSPEX Citizen scientists already use their phones to report road kill, light pollution and invasive plants, using free apps. But in 2013, Dutch researchers went a step further,
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1 Million US Eye Infections Yearly, Most Due to Contacts
Acanthamoeba keratitis, an infection of the eyeball's outer layer, can be caused by using contact lenses that were washed with tap water. Credit: Image via Shutterstock Nearly a million Americans visit the doctor each
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Global Warming Will Bring More US Lightning Strikes 12 November 2014, 21.04 Science
Global Warming Will Bring More US Lightning Strikes
Credit: Fesus Robert/Shutterstock.com A 50 percent increase in the number of lightning strikes within the United States can be expected by 2100 if temperatures continue to rise due to greenhouse gas emissions, a new
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Whoosh: ‘Salmon Cannon’ Shoots Fish Upstream to Spawn
A fish exits the so called "fish cannon" that gently shot it upstream. Credit: Whooshh Innovations The long tube wiggled and then violently wobbled, shaking as a salmon came blasting out the end and belly-flopped into
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U.S. Lightning Strikes Map: August-September 2011 | Video
Researchers from UC Berkeley, who are studying the effect global warming is having on lightning strikes, used data from the National Lightning Detection Network at SUNY-Albany to create a time-lapse of "cloud-to-ground"
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One More Poliovirus Strain Now Eradicated 12 November 2014, 21.04 Science
One More Poliovirus Strain Now Eradicated
The trivalent oral polio vaccine produces immunity in the gut. Credit: RIBI Image Library. One strain of the virus that causes polio has likely been eradicated worldwide, according to a new report. For two years now,
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Robot that moves like an inchworm could go places other robots can't
The peculiar way that an inchworm inches along a surface may not be fast compared to using legs, wings, or wheels, but it does have advantages when it comes to maneuvering in small spaces. This is one of the reasons why
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Carbon nanotube film restores light sensitivity to blind retinas
(Phys.org) —Light striking the retina in the back of the eye is the first major step in the vision process. But when the photoreceptors in the retina degenerate, as occurs in macular degeneration, the retina no longer
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Modeling capitalism in the 21st century 12 November 2014, 21.02 Science
Modeling capitalism in the 21st century
The shock financial crisis that started in 2007 provided a vivid demonstration of the unstable nature of our global financial system. Yet, academics from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland argue that a
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Brown Dog software sniffs out and transforms inaccessible data
After serving its original purpose, data is often set aside to live out the rest of its days in obscurity. It's lying around in all sorts of formats — hand-written notes, scanned images, unstructured databases —
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UNOSAT joins the fight against Ebola 12 November 2014, 21.02 Science
UNOSAT joins the fight against Ebola
Hosted at CERN, UNITAR’s UNOSAT program examines global satellite imagery for humanitarian use. Whether they're providing maps for disaster response teams or assessing conflict damage to help reconstruction, their
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Philae lander image raises questions about probe’s health
UP CLOSE  Philae’s first image of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows stunning detail of the space rock, but it also raises questions about where and how the probe landed on the comet. DARMSTADT, GERMANY
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Rare mutations may protect against heart disease 12 November 2014, 21.02 Science
Rare mutations may protect against heart disease
Genetic mutations that inhibit production of a protein involved in cholesterol absorption show up in about 1 in 650 people, a study finds. These lucky few have lower levels of LDL, also known as the bad cholesterol, and
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Few humans were needed to wipe out New Zealand’s moa
An illustration from the 1896 book Hunting Monsters depicts a Maori hunting a tall species of moa. A new study finds that it didn’t take all that many humans to wipe out the flightless birds. Joseph Smit/Wikimedia
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47-Million-Year-Old Pregnant Mare Sheds Light on Ancient Horses
A 47-million-year-old pregnant mare from Messel, Germany, tells researchers how early horses carried their foals. Credit: Sven Tränkner | Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt When a thirsty pregnant horse drank from
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New Ebola Protective Gear Added to CDC Stockpile 08 November 2014, 16.57 Science
New Ebola Protective Gear Added to CDC Stockpile
Health care workers put on protective gear before entering an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Credit: CDC/Sally Ezra/Athalia Christie (Public Domain) The Centers for Disease Control and
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Cyber-Roach! Mic-Equipped Bugs Could Aid Disaster Rescue
Researchers are testing "cyborg cockroaches" equipped with microphones to see if they could be used to hunt for disaster survivors. Credit: Eric Whitmire Remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches could one day be among the
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Giant Armored Dinosaurs Breathed Through 'Krazy Straw' Airways
Credit: leonello calvetti | Shutterstock.com Carrying around an exoskeleton of bony armor is hard work. But armored ankylosaurs figured out a way to shoulder the load and stay cool. These Cretaceous dinosaurs had "Krazy
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'Social Impact Design' Merges Style With Mission (Gallery)
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) contributed these images as part of a partnership between NEA and Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.  For people who face medical emergencies or lose a limb while
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Study reveals missing boundary in PZT phase diagram 08 November 2014, 16.57 Science
Study reveals missing boundary in PZT phase diagram
(Phys.org) —Piezoelectric materials, which produce electricity in response to mechanical stress, account for a $12 billion global industry that is projected to grow at a rate of 13.2% per year, according to a recent
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Mathematicians settle 30-year-old resonance controversy
In the early '80s, several researchers were working to determine the location of atomic and molecular resonances, which are the frequencies at which atoms and molecules prefer to oscillate. Two groups of researchers
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Deceptive behavior may (deceivingly) promote cooperation
(Phys.org) —Tricking someone into trusting you in order to gain something from them is common behavior in both the animal and human worlds. From cuckoo birds that trick other bird species into raising their young, to
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Neil deGrasse Tyson challenges science community to set a new trend
Science ambassador and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson mixes science with pop-culture, comedy, politics, and even throws in an appeal for the US to improve its science programs. Throughout, his goal is constant: Mainstream
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Improving cyclone prediction, saving lives 08 November 2014, 16.55 Science
Improving cyclone prediction, saving lives
Based on a study led by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington, US, weather forecasters may someday be able to reliably predict the intensity of tropical cyclones as well as their
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Working with PRACE: an insider’s perspective 08 November 2014, 16.55 Science
Working with PRACE: an insider’s perspective
Professor Stephan Roche of the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Spain is one of the early adopters of high-performance computing in Europe’s Graphene Flagship initiative. His latest project has
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Rosetta prepares to let go of its comet lander 08 November 2014, 16.55 Science
Rosetta prepares to let go of its comet lander
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager Science Ticker 5:23pm, November 7, 2014 A recent image from the Rosetta spacecraft gives a rare look at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's dark side, the side
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Comet delivered a showy meteor shower — on Mars 08 November 2014, 16.55 Science
Comet delivered a showy meteor shower — on Mars
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager Science Ticker 3:58pm, November 7, 2014 Comet Siding Spring heads toward Mars as several spacecraft take cover and watch from the other side of the planet in
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Brain regions linking odors to words pinpointed 08 November 2014, 16.55 Science
Brain regions linking odors to words pinpointed
BRAIN BRIDGE  The right orbitofrontal cortex (circled in two different views of the brain) is one of two brain regions that serve as an interface between odor and language networks, new experiments show. The nose may know,
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Flying qubits make for a highly resilient quantum memory
(Phys.org) —In a quantum memory, the basic unit of data storage is the qubit. Because a qubit can exist in a superposition state of both "1" and "0" at the same time, it can process much more information than a
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Spontaneous wave function collapse can suppress acoustic Schrodinger cat states
(Phys.org) —Schrödinger's famous thought experiment in which a cat hidden in a box can be both dead and alive at the same time demonstrates the concept of superposition on the macroscopic scale. However, the existence
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There and back again: Extending optical storage lifetime by retrieving photon echoes from semiconductor spin excitations
(Phys.org) —For all of their differences, classical and quantum communication have at least one thing in common: the importance of being able to store optical information. That being said, optical storage is a complex
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Forecasting the future 01 November 2014, 15.35 Science
Forecasting the future
Physicists can tell the future — or at least foresee multiple possible versions of it. They do this through computer simulations. Simulations can help scientists predict what will happen when a particular kind of
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Drug discovery: Balancing accuracy and computational expense
Knowing exactly which drugs or compounds will bind tightly to which receptors is key to drug discovery and development, and high-throughput computing is commonly used to virtually screen millions of compounds for binding
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Next gen art: The making of Unnumbered Sparks 01 November 2014, 15.35 Science
Next gen art: The making of Unnumbered Sparks
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Protecting the rainforest with upcycled phones and cloud computing
Rainforest Connection uses simple devices created from discarded cellphones to listen out for illegal logging activities and provide rangers with real-time alerts. The organization was founded in 2012 by Topher White, who
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Melting ice forces walrus detour 01 November 2014, 15.34 Science
Melting ice forces walrus detour
ALL TOGETHER  A gigantic group of walruses has gathered near Point Lay, Alaska, on the shore of the Chukchi Sea. Corey Accardo, NMML/AFSC/NMFS/NOAA A gigantic group of Pacific walruses, foiled from reaching prime feeding
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Water arrived on Earth earlier than thought 01 November 2014, 15.34 Science
Water arrived on Earth earlier than thought
TEST THE WATERS  Eucrites, chunks of rock from the asteroid Vesta, indicate that Earth received its first shipment of water as the planet was forming. This eucrite was found in northern Africa in 2005. James St.
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Rip-off victims prefer compensation to retribution 01 November 2014, 15.34 Science
Rip-off victims prefer compensation to retribution
JUSTICE REPAID  People value compensation over punishment after being personally wronged but endorse retribution when acting on behalf of others cheated in the same way. People who have been bilked or cheated view justice
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Quantum test strengthens support for EPR steering 19 October 2014, 22.25 Science
Quantum test strengthens support for EPR steering
Although the concept of "steering" in quantum mechanics was proposed back in 1935, it is still not completely understood today. Steering refers to the ability of one system to nonlocally affect, or steer, another system's
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Living cyberinfrastructure: Accelerating discovery
For scientists looking to complete large, complex, data-driven research projects quickly, living cyberinfrastructure can be a powerful solution. This is a different way of working for most scientists; applying for time on a
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Journeying from data to knowledge at ISC Big Data ‘14
Last week, decision makers and technical experts from the world of IT met in Heidelberg, Germany, for the second ISC Big Data conference. The event focused on a wide range of big data applications and featured discussion of
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Visualizing urban expansion, shaping urbanization 19 October 2014, 22.24 Science
Visualizing urban expansion, shaping urbanization
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The rain in Spain stays mainly in the ... hydrometeorological models
Last month, the Distributed Research Infrastructure for Hydro-Meteorology project (DRIHM) held its second summer school. The event brought together hydrometeorologists from 23 different countries, who learned about the latest
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‘Mars Rover Curiosity’ chronicles robot's journey
Mars Rover Curiosity Rob Manning and William L. Simon Smithsonian, $29.95  During its first two years on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered that the Red Planet was once hospitable to life. For Manning, the rover’s
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'The Theory of Everything' reveals Stephen Hawking's personal side
LOVE AND SCIENCE  The challenging but rewarding relationship between Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) Hawking plays a central role in The Theory of Everything. Liam Daniel/Focus Features When Stephen
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Tiny human intestine grown inside mouse 19 October 2014, 22.24 Science
Tiny human intestine grown inside mouse
LOOKS LIKE A GUT  Transplanted into mice, tiny specks of human intestinal tissue (stained pink) develop into working organs surrounded by a muscular sheath (stained green), just like real intestines. Slimy chunks of human
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Chemistry Nobel awarded for super-resolution microscopy
The 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has gone to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner for developing super-resolution microscopy techniques based on the fluorescence of molecules. The prize is worth SEK 8m (£690,000)
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Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura win 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics
The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for their development of blue LEDs. The prize is worth SEK 8m (£690,000) and will be shared by the three winners who will
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Majorana quasiparticles glimpsed in magnetic chains
The strongest evidence yet that Majorana quasiparticles (MQPs) can be found lurking in some solids has been unveiled by physicists in the US. The team used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to locate MQPs at the ends of
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Nobel laureate Martin Perl dies at 87 08 October 2014, 23.46 Science
Nobel laureate Martin Perl dies at 87
The US particle physicist Martin Perl has died at the age of 87. Perl was instrumental in discovering the tau lepton – an elementary particle similar to the electron but 3477 times heavier. The work led him to share the
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Megatelescope snaps up former fusion boss 08 October 2014, 23.46 Science
Megatelescope snaps up former fusion boss
Edward Moses joins the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) today as its first president, after stepping down as a scientific manager at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Moses had spent the past 15 years
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Are 'weak values' quantum after all? 08 October 2014, 23.46 Science
Are 'weak values' quantum after all?
A technique known as a "weak measurement", which allows physicists to measure certain properties of a quantum system without disturbing it, is being called into question by two physicists based in Canada and the US. The
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Dolphin-inspired sonar overcomes size-wavelength limitation
(Phys.org) —In a typical man-made sonar system, pulses of sound emitted by the projector bounce off hidden objects underwater. The echoes are then detected by the receiver to infer the location and size of the hidden
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Superposition revisited: Proposed resolution of double-slit experiment paradox using Feynman path integral formalism
(Phys.org) —The Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, published in 1926 by Erwin Schrödinger, may be the most widely-known metaphorical explanation of quantum superposition and collapse. (Superposition is a
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Self-powered smart window also functions as a self-rechargeable transparent battery
(Phys.org) —Smart windows have the ability to become darker or lighter in response to the brightness and heat of sunlight, offering the potential to greatly reduce heating and cooling costs, among other benefits.
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Snake Robots! Slithering Machines Could Aid Search-and-Rescue Efforts
One snake's ability to shimmy up slippery sand dunes could inspire new technologies for robots that could perform search and rescue missions, carry out inspections of hazardous wastes and even explore ancient pyramids. A
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Sidewinder Rattlesnake's Sand Motion Studied For Robotics | Video
Rattlesnakes move across desert sand with ease. Researchers at Georgia Tech have been studying that movement to make robots that can move more efficiently across that type of terrain. Credit: Maxwell Guberman / Georgia
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NASA Crashes Helicopter Body For Impact Test | Video
NASA's Transport Rotorcraft Airframe Crash Testbed (TRACT 2) dropped a 45-foot-long fmr. Marine helicopter 30 feet to test. The test was done to improve helicopter systems and safety. Credit: NASA Langley Research
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Gassy Blob: Biggest US Methane Source Spotted from Space
A map of U.S. methane emissions that vary from background levels. Yellow and red are higher than average; purple and blue are below average. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan A remote, coal-rich patch of
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Bionic Technology Offers Hope for Paralyzed  08 October 2014, 23.44 Science
Bionic Technology Offers Hope for Paralyzed 
An experimental spinal cord therapy allowed Rob Summers, 25, a paraplegic, to stand on his own for the first time in four years. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Rob Summers. Technologies to help paralyzed people move again
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Where Is El Nino? And Why Do We Care? 08 October 2014, 23.44 Science
Where Is El Nino? And Why Do We Care?
The climate impacts typically associated with an El Niño during the months of December, January, and February. Credit: NOAA That El Niño we’ve been tracking for months on end — the one that is taking its sweet time
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Visionary Ideas From The South by Southwest Eco Awards
The annual South by Southwest Eco conference held its climactic event Tuesday night, announcing the winners of its Startup Showcase competition and Place by Design awards. Now in its fourth year, SXSW Eco has entered a sweet
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The Brilliant Ten: Michael Habib Uncovers The Secrets Of Pterosaurs
The fossil record on its own does little to explain how long-gone animals actually lived. For example, how could pterosaurs—some of which had a wingspan almost the length of a schoolbus—be so much bigger than modern-day
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Watch This Morning's Eclipse Happen In One Minute 08 October 2014, 23.44 Science
Watch This Morning's Eclipse Happen In One Minute
Early this morning, Americas time, the moon underwent a total eclipse. The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles trained its telescope on the moon for the event, then made this wonderful one-minute video out of five and a half
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The Brilliant Ten: Katharina Ribbeck Makes Antibiotic Alternatives Out Of Mucus
The human body pumps out more than a gallon of mucus each day. People tend to dismiss this slippery stuff as waste, but Katharina Ribbeck, a biochemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discovered that mucus is
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Giant Clams Are Greenhouses For Algae 08 October 2014, 23.44 Science
Giant Clams Are Greenhouses For Algae
Giant clams loom large on coral reefs, their gaping maws filled with bright lights. On other mollusks, this iridescence is a camouflage, guiding the eye away from the creature’s body. Recent research published in the Royal
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Throwback Thursday: Digital Dogs, The B-2 Stealth Bomber, And Innovations Against Climate Change
On this Throwback Thursday, we go back 25 years to the Popular Science of September 1989. In the waning months of the 80s, Popular Science asked what the most important concerns of Americans from that time were, and it
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Earth News Reports

Green Car Reports: Tesla Superchargers, New Hybrids, and Toyota’s First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle
Share on TumblrEmail What defines a “green car” can be the source of much discussion among environmentalists, advocates, and actual buyers. Every week Green Car Reports shines a light on the industry with
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Swiss Man Breaks Bicycle Speed Record with Insane 207-MPH Rocket Bike
Share on TumblrEmail Imagine reaching 207 mph in just 4.8 seconds – that’s a pretty impressive feat for any vehicle. Now imagine traveling that fast on a bicycle with a rocket strapped to it. Daredevil
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NASA Tests New Shape-Shifting Flaps to Make Airplanes Greener 12 November 2014, 21.04 Transportation
NASA Tests New Shape-Shifting Flaps to Make Airplanes Greener
Share on TumblrEmail Air travel produces roughly 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, edging us closer to an era of runaway climate change. As part of an ongoing effort to develop greener planes and
Read More 155 Hits 5 Ratings
Classic works of literature turned into beautiful book sculptures 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
Classic works of literature turned into beautiful book sculptures
Impressive art made of carved books. The chosen books are classics and each carving is related to the topic of the book. The series is titles “Fragments of story” and was designed by Tokyo-based artist Tomoko
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A 3D-printed lamp that will turn your room into a wonderland 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
A 3D-printed lamp that will turn your room into a wonderland
Created by Linlin and Pierre-Yves Jacques, a Paris-based arist couple, this lamp was designed to project some patterns on your wall and turn any room into a beautiful wonderland. The post A 3D-printed lamp that will turn your
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30 beautiful digital artworks for your inspiration 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
30 beautiful digital artworks for your inspiration
In this today’s blog post, we have the collection of 30 beautiful digital artworks for your inspiration. All these artworks are the mixture of stunning photo manipulations, digital illustrations and other amazing digital art
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15 gorgeous free all caps fonts 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
15 gorgeous free all caps fonts
With so much of compelling fonts available in the web, it’s sometimes very difficult to make a decision on which font to choose for your design. Despite of other fancy fonts, capital fonts are also very competent to use for
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Surreal illustrations by Matthias Leutwyler 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
Surreal illustrations by Matthias Leutwyler
Matthias Leutwyler‘s illustrations look like a mix of drawing, collage and painting. He doesn’t say much about himself, but his work speaks for itself. The post Surreal illustrations by Matthias Leutwyler appeared
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20 well-designed packaging designs 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
20 well-designed packaging designs
Looking for some packaging design inspiration? Then here we introduce you 20 well designed packaging designs that are amazing and high quality artworks from great designers around the globe. Have a look! 1. Pringles packaging
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Art that goes against the frame 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
Art that goes against the frame
A cool art project by Steven Guermeur, who decided to break the conventional frame and to make it a part of the artwork. In a fun way, the artist changes the way art is traditionally presented to the world. The post Art that
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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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Armed with Phones, Amateurs Can Beat Pollution-Tracking Satellites PDF Print E-mail

iSPEX
Scanning the sky with iSPEX.
Credit: iSPEX

Citizen scientists already use their phones to report road kill, light pollution and invasive plants, using free apps. But in 2013, Dutch researchers went a step further, transforming smartphones into scientific instruments.

With an inexpensive camera add-on and an app to direct volunteers, the scientists proved they could match, and, in some cases, even exceed the pollution-tracking skill of current satellites and ground-based instruments, according to a new study.

"The accuracy of the crowdsourced measurements is as good as any professional instrument," said project leader Frans Snik, an astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands. [In Photos: World's Most Polluted Places]

iSPEX optical device

The iSPEX add-on mounts in front of a smartphone camera, turning the camera into an optical device that measures aerosol pollution.
Credit: iSPEX

The snap-on optical device, called iSPEX, turns a smartphone camera into a spectropolarimeter, an instrument that measures how tiny, airborne pollution particles called aerosols scatter sunlight. The technology was modified from the SPEX instrument, a larger version intended for space missions that will orbit Earth and Mars.

A single iSPEX shot is far from accurate. But 6,007 images, all snapped on the same day, can hit 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) accuracy or better, which is good enough to track down pollution sources, the researchers reported in a study published Oct. 27 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The iSPEX team was motivated to move from satellites to smartphones by a request from the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Snik said. The institute had asked for ground-based instruments that could provide more information about the size and chemical composition of aerosols.

High levels of aerosols in lower layers of the atmosphere, where people live and breathe, can directly affect health, because the fine particles may damage the lungs and worsen conditions such as asthma. Aerosols higher up in the atmosphere may also play a role in climate change — different types of aerosols help to either cool or heat the planet.

Because there are still many uncertainties about the aerosols and their effects, researchers are keen to improve techniques for measuring the microscopic droplets and dust.

"The Netherlands is a hot spot for aerosol pollution within Europe," Snik told Live Science. "But these aerosol effects are so complicated that a lot of the processes are not very well-known."

Once they had a prototype camera filter in hand, Snik and his colleagues entered the Netherlands' annual Academic Year Prize competition in 2012. A $130,000 (100,000 euros) prize was offered for projects that communicated science to a wide audience.

The iSPEX widget beat out a traveling exhibition on the science of love and sex, and some polar explorers.

The prize money funded the app and factory run of 10,000 filters, also triggering a media blitz that garnered more than 8,000 volunteers.

By 2013, the only hurdle was waiting for a cloud-free day in the notoriously rainy Netherlands. Finally, on July 8, the weather was all clear.

iSPEX

A map of the 6,007 iSPEX measurements taken in the Netherlands on July 8, 2013, between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. Each blue dot represents one measurement.
Credit: iSPEX/GRL

More than 3,000 people snapped pictures with the iSPEX filter on the sunny July day. Aerosol levels were relatively high, thanks to smoke drifting across the Atlantic Ocean from forest fires in North America, Snik said. Two more tests, with fewer participants, were conducted later in July and in September.

The app directs people to stand with the sun at their backs and take photos from just above the horizon to the zenith. The greater the quantity of aerosols in the air, the less blue and polarized the sky will appear. The photos provide information on the total amount of aerosols, the particles' sizes and the types of particles. A color code provides immediate feedback, with the results ranging from blue for low aerosols to brown for high aerosols

The results were more accurate than the team had hoped, but Snik said he doesn't expect the phone filter to replace more expensive instruments. Instead, volunteers could fill in blind spots missed by current measurement networks, or help improve the accuracy of pollution tracking in urban areas, where the aerosol mix is complex, he said.  

"It's really meant to add information to everything that's already out there," he said.

The iSPEX team is planning to expand the project into other countries with a grant that supports public activities in Europe during the 2015 International Year of Light.  

Follow Becky Oskin @beckyoskin. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

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1 Million US Eye Infections Yearly, Most Due to Contacts PDF Print E-mail

Acanthamoeba keratitis, an infection of the eyeball's outer layer, can be caused by using contact lenses that were washed with tap water.
Acanthamoeba keratitis, an infection of the eyeball's outer layer, can be caused by using contact lenses that were washed with tap water.
Credit: Image via Shutterstock

Nearly a million Americans visit the doctor each year for eye infections, which are often related to wearing contact lenses, according to a new report.

In 2010, people made 930,000 doctor's visits plus 58,000 emergency department visits in the United States for microbial keratitis, according to the report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Microbial keratitis is an infection of the eye's transparent outer covering caused by bacteria, fungi, amebae or viruses.

The biggest risk factor for microbial keratitis is improperly wearing contact lens — for example, wearing the lenses overnight, not keeping contact lens cases clean and not replacing cases frequently, the CDC said.

In more than three-fourths (76.5 percent) of the visits, the person was given a prescription for antibiotics, the report found. The researchers estimated that visits for these eye infections result in $175 million in direct health care costs yearly. [7 Absolutely Horrible Head Infections]

Keratitis can cause eye pain, redness, blurred vision and even blindness in severe cases.

In July, a woman in Taiwan reportedly went blind because she left her contact lenses in for six months, and developed an infection from an amoeba.

"Contact lenses can provide many benefits, but they are not risk-free — especially if contact lens wearers take shortcuts and don't take care of their contact lenses and supplies," Dr. Jennifer Cope, a CDC medical epidemiologist, said in a statement.

It's estimated that 38 million Americans wear contact lenses. To prevent eye infections, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Wash hands before touching contact lenses.
  • Remove contact lenses before bed, showering or swimming.
  • Rub and rinse contact lenses with disinfecting solution every time they are removed.
  • Replace old contact-solution with fresh solution every time you store your contact lenses in a case.
  • Clean contact lens cases after each use.
  • Replace contact lens cases at least once every three months.

Keratitis can also be caused by factors not related to infection, such as injury to the cornea or chemical exposure, the researchers said, so some of the 1 million doctor's visits may have been for eye problems not caused by infection. published this week in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Global Warming Will Bring More US Lightning Strikes PDF Print E-mail

lightning
Credit: Fesus Robert/Shutterstock.com

A 50 percent increase in the number of lightning strikes within the United States can be expected by 2100 if temperatures continue to rise due to greenhouse gas emissions, a new study claims.

Researchers found a 12 percent increase in lightning activity for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) of warming in the atmosphere, according to the study, published today (Nov. 13) in the journal Science. Without emissions cuts, scientists expect this century to end with global temperatures that are about 7 F (4 C) higher than current global temps.

Because lightning often triggers wildfires, the onslaught could mean more fire damage in the future, the study authors said.

"This is yet another noticeable change to climate and weather in the U.S. if we stay on our current [emissions] trajectory," said lead study author David Romps, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. "It's certainly reasonable that a 50 percent increase will lead to an increase in wildfires." About 25 million lightning flashes are recorded yearly in the United States. [Video: Watch U.S. Lightning Strikes  ]

The study's biggest drawback is that the results can't forecast when or where lightning activity will intensify.

"At this point, we don't know where the increase will take place, or when it will take place," Romps said. Figuring this out would require a more detailed analysis of the data, he said.

Romps and his co-authors aren't the first to forecast new weather risks that will come with climate change. Earlier studies also warned of more lightning activity, in part because storms may become more violent and powerful as the atmosphere warms.

In every case — including Romps' new study — the set of tools the researchers forecast future lightning patterns by first looking for factors that control the timing and location of lightning in the present day. Then, with help from climate models, the teams estimated how these factors would change as global warming altered climate and weather.

Romps and his colleagues discovered a new combination of two factors that they say predicts 77 percent of the geographic and time patterns seen in U.S. lightning strikes. The first factor was precipitation, which relates to how much water vapor is available to fuel growing storms. The second factor was what storm experts call CAPE, or convective available potential energy, which is a measure of the atmosphere's potential for creating towering clouds.

The researchers were surprised by how well these factors predicted current lightning strikes, Romps said. "This success gave us confidence to say this is a metric for what lightning would be doing in the future," he told Live Science.

The team calculated the changes in yearly precipitation and CAPE that are expected to happen with global warming using 11 climate models, all of which assume there are no major cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. The average of all the models resulted in a 50 percent increase in lightning activity by 2100.

That means for every two lightning strikes in 2000, there will be three lightning strikes in 2100, Romps said.

One drawback of the researchers' approach is that the factors that control lightning activity today, such as CAPE, may have different roles in storms in the future precisely because the climate will change. "Their approach does a reasonable job of reproducing current patterns and time variations of lightning in the U.S.," said Anthony Del Genio, a research physical scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, who was not involved in the study. "The question is whether something that works in the current climate is also applicable to a climate change."

It's possible that the country's lightning-prone regions could become less hospitable to storms in future decades, while other areas could see an uptick in thunderstorms. Climate studies disagree on whether storms will become more powerful but less frequent, or if the United States will be pounded by storm after severe storm. The Southeast is most prone to lightning in today's climate.

"The bottom line is that this is a plausible metric to propose for lightning, but it remains to be seen whether it gives realistic projections for the future," Del Genio said. "Other proposed metrics are equally likely to do a good job."

Follow Becky Oskin @beckyoskin. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

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Whoosh: ‘Salmon Cannon’ Shoots Fish Upstream to Spawn PDF Print E-mail

fish shooting out of salmon cannon
A fish exits the so called "fish cannon" that gently shot it upstream.
Credit: Whooshh Innovations

The long tube wiggled and then violently wobbled, shaking as a salmon came blasting out the end and belly-flopped into the water.

Still in its pilot phase, the cannon-type device, "o'fish'ally" known as the Whooshh Transport Conduit, can zip fish between 16 and 33 feet per second (5 and 10 meters per second) above obstacles, such as dams, and toward their destination.

The device is designed to help salmon reach their spawning grounds, but late-night talk-show host and comedian John Oliver launched the so-called salmon cannon into the spotlight by giving his audience a preview of how it works, and pretending to use it to launch fake salmon at A-list celebrities, including Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon and Anderson Cooper. [Video: 'Salmon Cannon' To Migrate Fish Upstream]

But all jokes aside, the salmon cannon could play an important role in helping fish journey upstream. The tube's speed and flexibility may provide a more affordable and sustainable solution than other manmade waterways around dams that are currently used by migrating fish, said Vince Bryan III, CEO of Whooshh Innovations, based in Bellevue, Washington, and the creator of the salmon cannon.

The great migration

Typically, dams have manmade fish ladders to help fish swim upstream. Water flows over a series of steps, and the determined fish leap up repeatedly, climbing up the steps until it exits into the river at the top of the dam.

But sometimes fish will turn around if the water in a fish ladder is too warm. Other times, the ladder may disorient fish, causing them to turn around and go up and down the steps repeatedly, instead of straight toward the exit, said Dave Fast, a senior research manager at Yakima Nation Fisheries, which is conducting a pilot project on the cannon.  

"This [conduit] is a much more rapid way to get [salmon] upstream," Fast said.

But how long can a fish survive out of water? Long enough, it seems, for a 120-foot (37 meters) tube to vacuum up the fish and shoot it upriver, closer to the salmon's spawning grounds, research shows.

"In a lot of the fish-handling facilities and hatcheries, fish are out of the water for a minute or two," Bryan told Live Science. "We were surprised how long that was. We just had in mind a few seconds."

Though the name "cannon" is catchy, the device doesn't actually operate like one. Instead, it acts a little like a vacuum cleaner. As a fish enters the tube, it is sprayed with a mist that keeps its gills moist and the inside of the tube wet. The fish immediately whizzes up the tube because the pressure in front of it is lower than the pressure behind it.

This differential pressure creates a seal around the fish's middle, holding it steady as the fish speeds along. As the seal lets go of the fish toward the tube's end, the fish slows down — friction, gravity and increased water help it decelerate too — as it is released into the water, far from the hungry eyes of predators. [Photos: The Freakiest-Looking Fish]

"When you look at most fish, they're doing a belly-flop when they land," Bryan said. "We're trying to replicate that as if they were jumping out of the water in the wild."

How 'bout them apples?

The concept for the fish cannon began in a fruit field. Bryan's family owns an apple orchard in eastern Washington, but his father noticed that the workers spent only about half of their time picking apples. The other half of the time was spent carrying the picked apples to a collection point in the middle of the road.

"We set up to solve the problem, how do you get a piece of fruit from the tree into the bin softly?" Bryan said. "If you bruise the fruit, it's lost its value."

They developed a harvester that allowed pickers to stay in their ladders and drop the apples into tubes that gently transported the fruit to the bins.

Fish near salmon cannon

A worker prepares to load a fish into the salmon cannon at Roza Dam in Washington state.
Credit: Whooshh Innovations

Eventually, Bryan's family set out to repurpose the technology for other products. "The lowest hanging fruit seem[ed] to be in the arena of fish, whether it be in the processing plants or in the wild," Bryan said.

Still, fish are slippery, heavy and difficult to move. It's unclear whether the tube will stress out the fish, or even if the cannon will remove the slimy coating that protects the fish from parasites and pathogens, though tests have shown that the tube leaves the slime intact, Bryan said.

The tube doesn't appear to increase short-term stress on rainbow trout, according to a 2013 U.S. Geological Survey study, published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, that examined the fishes' cortisol levels. Now, Yakima Nation Fisheries is studying the salmon cannon's effects on long-term stress, Fast said.

Spring swim

In the spring, salmon swim around the Roza Dam on the Yakima River on their journey back to their spawning grounds. Some of the salmon are taken to the Cle Elum Hatchery in a special truck, where workers spawn the fish for the next season.

About 120 Chinook, also known as king salmon, traveled through a 40-foot (12 m) cannon during their migration in the spring. Experts are studying whether the fish that were shot through the tube have a higher death rate than fish transported by hand into the truck, Fast said.

"They shoot through this tube rather painlessly for 5 seconds," he said. "We don't expect any long-term impact, but we're checking."

The study is ongoing, but so far the researchers have not found any statistical difference in the mortality of the fish, Bryan said. [Photos of the Largest Fish on Earth]

Improving the technology

The company is also working on a tube that will accommodate all sizes of fish, from young jacks to mature adults. Whooshh currently has two cannon sizes, one that accommodates fish between 8 and 12 pounds (3.6 and 5.4 kilograms) and another one for fish larger than 12 pounds.

"It can handle over a range of sizes, but it can't handle all of the sizes of a salmon coming back," Fast said. "We're working on it so we don't have some great big fish come along and stick his head in and plug the whole thing up."

The portable 120-foot (37 m) tube costs roughly $148,000, about half as much as a pesculator, a large corkscrew-type device that brings fish to the surface, said Eric Kinne, a hatchery reform coordinator at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Pesculators can reach up to 30 feet (9.1 meters) tall, but are typically used at hatcheries, not dams, Bryan said.

The department used the 120-foot tube to transport fish from the Washougal River in southern Washington to a truck that took them to the Washougal hatchery, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) away, Kinne said.

Elsewhere, the salmon cannon is also catching on. A fish-processing plant in Norway is using a 500-foot (152 m) tube for commercial purposes for fish that are already dead, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy's national labs, just tested a 40-foot and 250-foot (12 m and 76 m) section of the tube in October, comparing it to the traditional "trap and haul" process that trucks fish upriver.

In 2015, Whooshh expects to have its first full-time operational cannon at a river in Washington, Bryan said. The cannon will likely speed up the fish's journey and save them energy, he said. "That should translate to a higher return rate of the fish at the spawning grounds."

Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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U.S. Lightning Strikes Map: August-September 2011 | Video PDF Print E-mail

Researchers from UC Berkeley, who are studying the effect global warming is having on lightning strikes, used data from the National Lightning Detection Network at SUNY-Albany to create a time-lapse of "cloud-to-ground" lightning strikes that occurred over 2 months in 2011.
 

Credit: UC Berkeley

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One More Poliovirus Strain Now Eradicated PDF Print E-mail

trivalent oral polio vaccine
The trivalent oral polio vaccine produces immunity in the gut.
Credit: RIBI Image Library.

One strain of the virus that causes polio has likely been eradicated worldwide, according to a new report.

For two years now, there have been no new reports of polio caused by this strain, called poliovirus type 3, according to researchers from World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The possible eradication of the poliovirus type 3 would be a "historic milestone" for global polio eradication efforts, the researchers said in their report released today (Nov. 13).

The world is not yet rid of polio. There are three strains of the virus, and type 1 is still actively being transmitted in three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Transmission of poliovirus type 2 has been stopped since 1999. [5 Scariest Disease Outbreaks of the Past Century]

Poliovirus causes polio, or poliomyelitis, as the condition is properly called. The disease is a highly contagious and incurable infection of the nervous system, but can be prevented by vaccination. In the 1980s, the virus killed or paralyzed about 350,000 people worldwide each year. But since the WHO's Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, the number of cases has fallen by over 99 percent.

Still, because the type 1 poliovirus is spreading in three countries, the disease continues to pose a threat to any polio-free region in the world where vaccination levels are not sufficiently high, according to the World Health Organization.

Poliovirus type 1 is the most virulent of all strains of this virus, causing illness in 1 out of every 200 people it infects. Type 3 sickens about 1 in 2,000 people it infects.

The last case of polio caused by the type 3 strain of the virus was an 11-month-old infant in Nigeria, who became paralyzed on Nov. 10, 2012, according to WHO. Since then, no other cases have been reported, and the virus hasn't shown up in lab tests conducted by the organization's polio surveillance team. Still, continued surveillance will look at whether poliovirus type 3 is in fact fully stopped.

If confirmed, the successful eradication of poliovirus type 3 shows that implementing WHO's vaccination plans in the three remaining countries will also stop the spread of poliovirus type 1, the researchers said. 

Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her @alterwired. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

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Robot that moves like an inchworm could go places other robots can't PDF Print E-mail

The peculiar way that an inchworm inches along a surface may not be fast compared to using legs, wings, or wheels, but it does have advantages when it comes to maneuvering in small spaces. This is one of the reasons why researchers have designed and built a soft, worm-like robot that moves with a typical inchworm gait, pulling its body up and extending it forward to navigate its environment. The robots could one day be used in rescue and reconnaissance missions in places that are inaccessible to humans or larger robots.

The researchers, Wei Wang, et al., at Seoul National University in South Korea, have published their paper on the inchworm-inspired in a recent issue of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

In nature, the inchworm is the larvae phase of the geometer moth and measures about an inch or two long. The small green worm has two or three near its front, and two or three foot-like structures called "prolegs" at its rear end. Although they don't have bones, inchworms have complex muscle systems that allow them to perform a variety of , including standing up vertically on their back prolegs.

To mimic the inchworm, the researchers used the soft, highly flexible silicone material PDMS for the robot's body. The researchers built an inchworm mold using a 3D printer, and then poured PDMS solution into the mold. Then they glued small pieces of polyimide film to make feet at the front and rear ends. To play the role of muscle fibers, the researchers used eight longitudinal shape memory alloy (SMA) wires that extend throughout the inchworm robot's body.

By actuating the SMA wires with electric currents, the researchers could cause the inchworm robot's body to move with a natural inchworm gait. Actuating the SMA wires symmetrically causes the robot's body to contract symmetrically, resulting in linear motion. Asymmetrical actuation results in asymmetric deformation and a turning locomotion using one foot as an anchor. In the inchworm gait, the feet must continually change from being used as anchors to sliding in order to generate the push-pull motion. The researchers used alternating low-friction and high-friction foot segments to replicate these foot changes.

Locomotion of the inchworm-inspired robot. The back and front views show the configuration of the feet at each step throughout the stride. Credit: Wang, et al. ©2014 IOP Publishing

Tests showed that the inchworm robot achieves a stride length of 54 mm (about 2 inches), which is about one-third of its body length, at a speed of about 3.6 mm/s. Turning is slower and more complicated, requiring 21 strides to complete a 90-degree turn. Still, this performance marks an improvement, both in stride length and turning angle, compared to previous similar robots.

In addition, the inchworm robot is simple, lightweight, and quiet. These features make the robot useful not only for rescue and reconnaissance missions, but also as a potential material for smart structures and wearable devices. In the future, the researchers plan to focus on improving the robot's mobility using an independent control system.

"We want to apply the locomotion and control algorithm of the inchworm-inspired robot to other motor-based robots in order to make quiet, flexible, yet load-carrying machines," coauthor Sung-Hoon Ahn, Professor at Seoul National University, told Phys.org. "We also want to extend our smart soft composite technology to other types of mechanisms, such as soft artificial limbs, soft electronic appliances, transforming automobiles, etc."

Explore further: Tiny scallop-like robotic swimmers could deliver drugs to treat diseases

More information: Wei Wang, et al. "Locomotion of inchworm-inspired robot made of smart soft composite (SSC)." Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. DOI: 10.1088/1748-3182/9/4/046006

© 2014 TechXplore



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Carbon nanotube film restores light sensitivity to blind retinas PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —Light striking the retina in the back of the eye is the first major step in the vision process. But when the photoreceptors in the retina degenerate, as occurs in macular degeneration, the retina no longer responds to light, and the person loses some or all of their sight. However, if the retina can be made sensitive to light with the help of some type of optoelectronic implant, then vision may be restored.

The development of artificial retinas still faces many challenges: the implants should provide long-term sensitivity, should have , should not contain wires, and should be made of materials that are biocompatible and mechanically flexible. Candidate materials include conducting polymers and quantum dot films, with each having its own advantages and disadvantages in these areas.

Another approach to restoring involves optogenetics, in which light-sensitive proteins (bacterial opsins) are introduced into neurons in the retina. However, this method still requires an electrode to assist in light-induced stimulation of these neurons.

In a new paper published in Nano Letters, researchers at Tel Aviv University, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Newcastle University have found that a film containing carbon nanotubes and nanorods is particularly effective for wire-free retinal photostimulation.

"The greatest significance of our work is in demonstrating how new materials (quantum rods combined with carbon nanotubes) can yield a new system suitable for efficient stimulation of a neuronal system," coauthor Yael Hanein, Professor at Tel Aviv University, told Phys.org.

The researchers showed that, when the film is attached to a chick retina at 14 days of development (at a time when the retinas are not yet light-sensitive, and so completely blind), the retinas produce a photogenerated current—a neuronal signal that can then be interpreted by the brain.

In the new film structure, the nanorods are interspersed throughout a 3D porous matrix, and the resulting film is then patterned onto a flexible substrate for implantation. The researchers explain that the 3D structure of the new film provides several advantages, which include high light absorbance, strong binding to neurons, and efficient charge transfer. While other candidate materials for artificial retinas, such as silicon, are rigid, nontransparent, and require an external power source, the new material does not have these problems.

With these advantages, the new films look very promising for use in future artificial retina applications. The researchers also expect that the films could be improved even more with further research.

"At the present, we study the new implants in vivo, attempting to demonstrate their performances over long-term implantation," Hanein said. "We teamed up with a surgeon to develop an implantation and testing procedures compatible with conventional surgical practices towards attempting human trials in the future."

Explore further: Photoelectric dye-coupled thin film as a novel type of retinal prosthesis

More information: Lilach Bareket, et al. "Semiconductor Nanorod-Carbon Nanotube Biomimetic Films for Wire-Free Photostimulation of Blind Retinas." Nano Letters. DOI: 10.1021/nl5034304

© 2014 Phys.org



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Modeling capitalism in the 21st century PDF Print E-mail

The shock financial crisis that started in 2007 provided a vivid demonstration of the unstable nature of our global financial system. Yet, academics from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland argue that a lack of globally-agreed standards for modeling financial contracts means that accurate comparison of risk exposures between banks is still almost impossible today.

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Brown Dog software sniffs out and transforms inaccessible data PDF Print E-mail

After serving its original purpose, data is often set aside to live out the rest of its days in obscurity. It's lying around in all sorts of formats — hand-written notes, scanned images, unstructured databases — up to 90% of which are inaccessible, according to International Data Corporation research. Modern scientists can take advantage of this valuable data if they can get it in a usable format. That’s where Brown Dog software comes into play.

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Light, computer, action! New algorithm goes to Hollywood PDF Print E-mail

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UNOSAT joins the fight against Ebola PDF Print E-mail

Hosted at CERN, UNITAR’s UNOSAT program examines global satellite imagery for humanitarian use. Whether they're providing maps for disaster response teams or assessing conflict damage to help reconstruction, their detailed reports are vital tools for aid workers. But how can satellite imagery help during a health crisis like the Ebola outbreak? 

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Philae lander image raises questions about probe’s health PDF Print E-mail

UP CLOSE  Philae’s first image of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows stunning detail of the space rock, but it also raises questions about where and how the probe landed on the comet.

DARMSTADT, GERMANY — The comet lander Philae is definitely on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The probe actually landed three times with two bounces in between, mission scientists reported early on November 13. The first image from the probe came out a little bit later, and while incredible, immediately raised questions about Philae’s landing site and the probe’s ability to study the new world around it. Concerns about the lander’s solar panels and just how much sunlight they will get, and consequently how much power they can provide the lander, are also being discussed.

More details will be available soon.
 

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Rare mutations may protect against heart disease PDF Print E-mail

Genetic mutations that inhibit production of a protein involved in cholesterol absorption show up in about 1 in 650 people, a study finds. These lucky few have lower levels of LDL, also known as the bad cholesterol, and substantial protection against heart disease, scientists report November 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The protein, called Niemann-Pick C1-Like 1, facilitates movement of cholesterol from the small intestine into the bloodstream. People with one of the newly discovered mutations in the gene encoding this protein have lower levels of low-density lipoprotein. LDL delivers cholesterol to cells in the body, but excess LDL can contribute to plaque formation in coronary arteries, the hallmark of heart disease.

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues looked for mutations in the Niemann-Pick gene in more than 113,000 people, some with heart disease and some without. The search turned up 82 people carrying one of 15 mutations that switched off the gene’s protein production. These people carried only one functional copy of the gene instead of the usual two and their likelihood of heart disease was roughly halved. The carriers’ LDL cholesterol levels also averaged 12 points lower than non-carriers’ levels, but their scores for triglycerides and HDL, the good cholesterol, were similar.

A drug called ezetimibe, marketed as Zetia, lowers LDL by inhibiting the activity of the same Niemann-Pick protein. 

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Few humans were needed to wipe out New Zealand’s moa PDF Print E-mail

An illustration from the 1896 book Hunting Monsters depicts a Maori hunting a tall species of moa. A new study finds that it didn’t take all that many humans to wipe out the flightless birds.

Joseph Smit/Wikimedia Commons

When Polynesians in the early 14th century arrived on the islands that would later be called New Zealand, they found a land rich with wildlife. That was great for the humans but not so much for several species of large, flightless birds called moa. The Polynesians’ arrival spelled their doom — within 120 years, the birds were gone.

The moa never really had a chance. These were large, long-lived species that produced few offspring, and they had no experience with a predator as efficient as a human. It didn’t take many of those human predators to wipe out the birds, it turns out. By the time the moa went extinct, the Polynesian population (known as Maori today) numbered at most 2,000 individuals, Richard Holdaway of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, and colleagues reportNovember 7 in Nature Communications.

Prior to the arrival of the Polynesians, the moa populations had been thriving, Holdaway and a different set of scientists reported earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But what exactly happened when the humans got to New Zealand has been a bit of a mystery. In their new study, Holdaway and colleagues used a combination of archaeological, paleontological and genetic data to determine the sequence of events that led to the moa’s demise.

The eruption of Mount Tarawera on New Zealand’s North Island in 1314 left a distinct layer of ash. The earliest signs of humans — at Wairau Bar on South Island — can be found just above that layer and date to the early 14th century. Based on a genetic analysis of present-day Maori, the researchers estimate that about 400 Polynesians settled New Zealand at that time. This estimate “accords with oral traditions on the number and carrying capacity of voyaging canoes that reached New Zealand,” the researchers note.

With the knowledge that the Maori population consisted of about 100,000 people in the mid-18th century when Europeans arrived, the researchers simulated the population’s growth after the Polynesians’ arrival. They then matched that to evidence that the moa species declined and eventually disappeared within, at most, 120 years.

By 1400, the Maori population probably numbered less than 2,000 individuals, the researchers calculated, and at the height of moa hunting there were only about 1,500 people. That’s only about 1 person per 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles) — an incredibly sparse population density. “The extinction across the entire South Island took at most five moa generations,” the researchers note, “and was substantially complete within four human generations, insufficient time for the birds to develop anti-predation strategies.”

One of the arguments against the idea that humans wiped out megafauna, such as mammoths, in the past has been that such extinctions would have required larger numbers of humans. But this study shows that may not have been necessary. “A small population of humans with a basic toolkit of stone tools and fire could… rapidly eliminate a megafauna by hunting and habitat destruction,” the researchers conclude.

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47-Million-Year-Old Pregnant Mare Sheds Light on Ancient Horses PDF Print E-mail

Ancient mare fossil
A 47-million-year-old pregnant mare from Messel, Germany, tells researchers how early horses carried their foals.
Credit: Sven Tränkner | Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt

When a thirsty pregnant horse drank from a freshwater lake 47 million years ago, she was unaware that poisonous volcanic gases might lead to her sudden demise. Now, the fossilized remains of the mare and her tiny, unborn foal are revealing new insights into reproduction in ancient horses, including surprising reproductive similarities with today's horses, according to a new study.

Researchers found the ancient horse (Eurohippus messelensis) in the Messel Pit fossil site in Germany, a location renowned for its well-preserved fossils that date back to the Eocene Epoch, between about 57 million and 36 million years ago, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The reproductive similarities between ancient and modern-day horses might seem surprising, given the differences in the animals' size and anatomy. The ancient mare was small — about the size of a modern fox terrier — and had four toes on her front feet and three on her rear feet. [Beasts of Burden: Amazing Horse Photos]

A team from the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt found the fossil in 2000. But in 2009, Jens Lorenz Franzen, a researcher at the Senckenberg Research Institute, and his colleagues studied the specimen with a micro X-ray, and found exquisite details covering the fossil's surface.

"It's magnificently preserved," Franzen told Live Science. "It turned out this was an almost complete and articulated skeleton with a fetus."

The X-ray analysis showed the broad ligament, a structure that connects the horse's uterus to the backbone, and helps support the developing foal, Franzen said.

The X-ray also showed traces of the animal's crumpled outer uterine wall, a feature that still exists in modern horses.

It's "exceptional" to find a pregnant fossilized horse in such good condition, said Bruce MacFadden, a distinguished professor and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Florida, who was not involved in the study.

"Completely preserved skeletons of fossil horses are rare," MacFadden told Live Science. "Usually, they're fragmented and the bones are all dissociated. If you find a skeleton with a preserved foal inside, that indicates exceptional preservation, which is normally not found in the fossil record."

The mare's skeleton is one of many fossils that researchers have uncovered in the oil shales at Messel Pit. Since about 1900, researchers have found dozens of fossils in the quarry, including those of mating turtles, moths and lizards.

It's possible that poisonous volcanic gases killed some of these animals, which sank to the bottom of the lake and became embedded in its muddy sediments. These bodies then decayed as anaerobic bacteria decomposed their skin, muscles and other soft tissues.

However, this process also helped preserve these animals. The bacteria produced carbon dioxide, which precipitated iron that was present in the lake's water, Franzen said. The bacteria slowly petrified, creating a thin bacterial residue that depicted the soft tissue. Now, researchers can see these soft-tissue remains as images on top of the fossilized bone.

"The bacteria helped a lot and in a very wonderful way," Franzen said. When they looked at the mare with the high-resolution X-ray, the scientists can see the "tips of hairs of the outer ears — even the interior, like blood vessels, become visible in some cases," he said.

The fetus was likely close to term when its mother died, as it had fully developed milk, or baby, teeth, the researchers said. But the foal's position — upside down, instead of right side up — suggests that it and its mother did not die during labor.  

The findings were presented Thursday (Nov. 6) at the 2014 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Berlin.

Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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New Ebola Protective Gear Added to CDC Stockpile PDF Print E-mail

Health care workers put on protective gear before entering an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak..
Health care workers put on protective gear before entering an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Credit: CDC/Sally Ezra/Athalia Christie (Public Domain)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has bought more personal protective equipment for health care workers to wear while treating Ebola patients, the agency said today (Nov. 7).

The equipment cost $2.7 million, and will be added to the CDC's Strategic National Stockpile, which keeps large quantities of medical supplies for public health emergencies such as terrorist attacks, disease outbreaks or natural disasters that may cause injuries or other health problems.

Now, the equipment — which includes coveralls, aprons, boot covers, face shields, hoods and respirators — is being put into 50 kits that could be rapidly delivered to hospitals if they were to receive a patient with Ebola and need additional protective equipment. [2014 Ebola Outbreak: Full Coverage of the Viral Epidemic]

"We are making certain to not disrupt the orders submitted by states and hospitals, but we are building our stocks so that we can assist when needed," said Greg Burel, director of the CDC's Strategic National Stockpile. "Some of these products are not normally used by hospitals for regular patient care."

Each kit will provide the protective suits needed by a medical team to care for one Ebola patient for up to five days.

Although the number of kits is limited, they will help address short-term needs, the CDC said.

CDC's guidelines for health care workers who treat Ebola patients recommend the use of personal protective equipment, including fluid-resistant gloves and gowns, and face masks. They also provide information about how to properly put on and remove the protective suits and lower the risk of contamination. The guidelines also discuss alternatives that can be used in the event that certain products are unavailable.

The current Ebola outbreak has been the worst in history. More than 4,800 people have died of Ebola in the hardest-hit countries — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In the United States, four people have been diagnosed with Ebola. However, several U.S. health care workers who contracted Ebola when caring for patients in affected countries were also treated in the United States.

Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her @alterwired. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

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Cyber-Roach! Mic-Equipped Bugs Could Aid Disaster Rescue PDF Print E-mail

Researchers are testing "cyborg cockroaches" equipped with microphones to see if they could be used to hunt for disaster survivors.
Researchers are testing "cyborg cockroaches" equipped with microphones to see if they could be used to hunt for disaster survivors.
Credit: Eric Whitmire

Remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches could one day be among the first responders at disaster scenes to help locate survivors.

A team of researchers at North Carolina State University has created a swarm of cyborg cockroaches, nicknamed "biobots," that are equipped with microphones to pick up sounds and trace them to their sources. The researchers hope the biobots could one day be used in disaster-relief situations to locate survivors.

Each cockroach has a tiny circuit board "backpack" attached to it that researchers can use to control the bug's movement. Some of the biobots have a single microphone that can capture sounds at a disaster scene and send them back to personnel. Others have a series of microphones that can pinpoint the source of a sound and then steer the bug toward it. [5 Crazy Technologies That Are Revolutionizing Biotech]

"The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter — like people calling for help — and sounds that don't matter — like a leaking pipe," Alder Bozkurt, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University who worked on the project, said in a statement. "Once we've identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from."

The researchers have already used the cockroach army to map disaster areas, but are now testing to see if the biobots could help find survivors.

Bozkurt and the team have also developed an invisible "fence" designed to keep the biobots within the boundaries of the disaster site. The fence is made of a series of sensors that redirect the cockroaches when they get too close. It also helps the biobots stick close together so they can maintain wireless communication with each other.

Early tests in the lab went well, the researchers said, but field testing is still needed to see how effective the bugs would be at a real disaster scene.

The idea of turning cockroaches into remote-controlled robots is not new. One company even sells DIY "RoboRoach" kits that enable people to create their own smartphone-controlled cockroaches. The assembler must first glue a backpack circuit board onto the roach's shell and then trim the roach's antennae and stick small electrodes in them that connect to the circuit.

But this kind of technology has stirred up an ethics debate. Allowing people, especially untrained individuals, to attach the backpacks and electrodes to the cockroaches has raised concerns about animal cruelty among some advocates and experts.

But when it comes to navigating disaster scenes, the cyborg roaches do have benefits.

"Insect biobots, with a natural ability to crawl through small spaces, offer unique advantages over traditional synthetic robots," the researchers wrote in a paper detailing the experiment.

The research was presented Nov. 5 at the IEEE Sensors conference in Valencia, Spain.

Follow Kelly Dickerson on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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