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Science News Reports

Rosetta data deluge reveals dynamic comet with sand dunes and jets
Last November the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission made history when its Philae lander touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Now, mission researchers have studied new data from a host of
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Structured photons slow down in a vacuum 24 January 2015, 00.26 Science
Structured photons slow down in a vacuum
The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 m s–1, right? Not necessarily, according to a team of physicists in the UK, which has found that the speed of an individual photon decreases by a tiny amount if it is
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Cellular model of tissue growth could shed light on metastasis
A simple yet potentially very useful model of how living cells interact to create tissue has been created by Anatolij Gelimson and Ramin Golestanian of the University of Oxford in the UK. The simulation considers how
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Magnetic levitation spins up waxy 'tektites' in the lab
Solid wax models of "splash-form tektites" – tiny pieces of natural glass that are created when asteroids or comets impact the Earth – have been created in the lab for the first time by researchers in the UK. Using
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Women shun fields that are perceived to require 'innate ability'
The notion that natural ability or brilliance are required to excel in certain fields could explain the lack of women in those subjects, according to a survey of US academics. The survey, carried out by researchers also in
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Lost Beagle 2 spacecraft found intact on Martian surface
The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars lander, thought lost on the red planet since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the Martian surface. New images show that it successfully touched down on the planet's surface in 2003 but
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Water-soluble silicon leads to dissolvable electronics
(—Researchers working in a materials science lab are literally watching their work disappear before their eyes—but intentionally so. They're developing water-soluble integrated circuits that dissolve in water
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Reversible solid-to-liquid phase transition offers new way to synthesize crystals
( —The simple acts of heating and cooling affect different substances in different ways: some substances may change phase from solid to liquid to gas, while others may irreversibly break down when heat is
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First-of-its-kind tube laser created for on-chip optical communications
(—Nanophotonics, which takes advantage of the much faster speed of light compared with electrons, could potentially lead to future optical computers that transmit large amounts of data at very high speeds.
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Velociraptor: Facts About the 'Speedy Thief' 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Velociraptor: Facts About the 'Speedy Thief'
Velociraptor is one of the most bird-like dinosaurs ever discovered. It was small and fast, and the sickle-shaped claw on the second toe of each foot made it a formidable predator. A special bone in its wrist allowed it to
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A Good Night's Rest: The Best Sleep Apps 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
A Good Night's Rest: The Best Sleep Apps
Credit: Andrey_Popov/ Sleep is crucial to brain functioning, memory formation and to life itself (look up fatal familial insomnia). But all too often, sleep is elusive. The Centers for Disease Control and
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How To Save Dying Coral Reefs | Video 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
How To Save Dying Coral Reefs | Video
Hot Crocodile Problem Video - Under Antarctic Ice Recreating an Ancient Tsunami An Earth Day Message from a Personal Submersible See the great storm spin, shrink, grow and intensi ... Video - Wave
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Zigzag Physics: Loophole Makes Light Particles Act Drunk
Credit: Iscatel | A universal rule of thumb may need to be rewritten: Light moving freely through empty space does not necessarily travel at the speed of light. As physicists have come to know, light
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Here's What to Eat to Lower Inflammation 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Here's What to Eat to Lower Inflammation
Credit: Milleflore Images/ Ginger, nuts, fatty fish and whole grains are just some of the many foods that have been touted to have anti-inflammatory properties. But do they work? It turns out that experts
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5 Cool Things We Just Learned About Rosetta’s Rubber Ducky Comet
The Rosetta mission made history last year, by being the first manmade spacecraft to ever orbit or land on a comet. Things didn't go exactly as planned, though. The lander Philae bounced around and got lost somewhere on the
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Flying animals can teach drones a thing or two 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Flying animals can teach drones a thing or two
Small drones will soon be zipping between trees and dodging buildings, just like swallows, bees and moths BIOMIMICRY  Scientists are turning to the animal kingdom to inspire the next wave of small drones. View the video Ty
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Decoding sommeliers’ brains, one squirt of wine at a time
TASTE TEST  A gustometer drips precise quantities of colored liquids into the mouth of a woman lying in a brain scanner. Gustometer \guhs-TOH-meh-ter\ n. A device used to squirt measured amounts of liquids into the mouth of
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See Iceland's Lava Field From Space 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
See Iceland's Lava Field From Space
Sometimes Iceland really lives up to its name. For instance, in the picture above, the entire country is basically covered in snow and ice. With one notable exception. See that big black dot in the middle? No, not in the
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Scientists Figure Out How To Unboil Eggs 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Scientists Figure Out How To Unboil Eggs
It has often been said that you can't unscramble an egg. But you might be able to unboil one. When you boil an egg, the heat causes the proteins inside the egg white to tangle and clump together, solidifying it. New research
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Upside-Down Icebergs, Living Fossil Sharks, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week
Lapka, a company that makes sensors to monitor your home and your health, is trying to take Google’s not-yet-released Project Ara smartphone to the next level. This is how the modular smartphone might look with Lapka’s
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Scientists Slow Down The Speed Of Light As It Travels Through Air
Light passes through air at about 299,000,000 meters per second, an accepted constant that hasn’t been challenged—until now. By manipulating a single particle of light as it passed through free space, researchers have
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Football Physics And The Science Of Deflategate 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Football Physics And The Science Of Deflategate
News reports say that 11 of the 12 game balls used by the New England Patriots in their AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts were deflated, showing about 2 pounds per square inch (psi) less pressure than the
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Fast and furious: The real lives of swallows 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Fast and furious: The real lives of swallows
FANCY FLIERS  Biophysicist Douglas Warrick tracks radiotagged barns swallows near an Oregon farm. Bret Tobalske, University of Montana For more on small drones inspired by birds and other flying animals, see SN's feature
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PLANTOID: Robotic solutions inspired by plants 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
PLANTOID: Robotic solutions inspired by plants
Humans tend to see plants as passive organisms that don’t ‘do’ much of anything, but plants do move, and they sense, and they do so in extremely efficient ways. Barbara Mazzolai, coordinator of the PLANTOID
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Exploring the universe with supercomputing 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Exploring the universe with supercomputing
The Center for Computational Astrophysics in Japan recently upgraded its ATERUI supercomputer, doubling the machine’s theoretical peak performance to 1.058 petaFLOPS. Eiichiro Kokubo, director of the center, tells iSGTW
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Unlocking the secrets of vertebrate evolution 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
Unlocking the secrets of vertebrate evolution
As high-performance computers reshape the future, scientists gain the next-generation tools enabling them to see deeper into the past. Paleobiologists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Indiana University look to these
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How's the weather up there? 24 January 2015, 00.24 Science
How's the weather up there?
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Nanostructure puts the gloss on avian eggshells 08 January 2015, 00.14 Science
Nanostructure puts the gloss on avian eggshells
The family of chicken-sized birds native to South America called tinamous lay brightly coloured eggs that are some of the glossiest in nature. Now, an international team of scientists has discovered the secret to the eggs'
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Fast-moving glaciers slide more easily 08 January 2015, 00.14 Science
Fast-moving glaciers slide more easily
As glaciers move faster, they experience less friction between the ice and the ground below. This is the conclusion of Lucas Zoet and Neal Iverson of Iowa State University in the US, who used a new experimental tool to
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Physicists get set for UNESCO's Year of Light 08 January 2015, 00.14 Science
Physicists get set for UNESCO's Year of Light
Physicists around the world are gearing up for the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL), which kicks off later this month at an official opening ceremony at the headquarters of the United Nations
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Indian Neutrino Observatory set for construction 08 January 2015, 00.14 Science
Indian Neutrino Observatory set for construction
The Indian government has given the go-ahead for a huge underground observatory that researchers hope will provide crucial insights into neutrino physics. Construction will now begin on the Rs15bn ($236m) Indian Neutrino
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Thermal memory thrives at extremely high temperatures
(—While the performance of electronic memory devices degrades at high temperatures, a newly proposed memory actually requires temperatures in excess of 600 K to operate. Called NanoThermoMechanical memory, the
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Nanoscale neighbors: First use of transformation optics to accurately analyze nonlocality in 3D plasmonic systems
( —The ubiquitous van der Waals interaction – a consequence of quantum charge fluctuations – includes intermolecular forces such as attraction and repulsion between atoms, molecules and surfaces. The most
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Super-insulated clothing could eliminate need for indoor heating
(—By wearing clothes that have been dip-coated in a silver nanowire (AgNW) solution that is highly radiation-insulating, a person may stay so warm in the winter that they can greatly reduce or even eliminate
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This Computer Program Can Beat Anyone at Poker 08 January 2015, 00.13 Science
This Computer Program Can Beat Anyone at Poker
Researchers developed a computer program that can outplay humans at the game of poker. Credit: John Ulan, University of Alberta Computers have figured out how to win at chess, checkers and tic-tac-toe, and now, a
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New Implant Lets Paralyzed Rats Walk Again 08 January 2015, 00.13 Science
New Implant Lets Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
The e-Dura implant Credit: © EPFL 2015 An experimental flexible implant that connects directly to the spinal cord might someday lead to a treatment for people with spinal cord injuries, and could possibly help people
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10,000 Steps? New Trackers Go Beyond the Data Dump
Credit: PathDoc/ LAS VEGAS — You earned 3,000 Fuel points! You walked 8,755 steps. Your heartbeat was 65. Your sleep efficiency was 60 percent. As fitness trackers and other wearable devices have
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Bionic Legs Help Spinal Cord Patient Walk | Video 08 January 2015, 00.13 Science
Bionic Legs Help Spinal Cord Patient Walk | Video
A powered exoskeleton from Ekso allows stroke victims and partial spinal cord injury patients, like Shane Mosko, to walk farther, aiding
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So Long, Ugly Fitness Trackers: Fashionable Devices Debut
Fitness trackers are getting their fashionable on. Credit: Misfit, Mira, Wellograph, Withings (edited by Live Science) LAS VEGAS — The era of ugly fitness trackers appears to be coming to an end. A number of the
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'Pop-Up' 3D Structures Can Mimic Brain Circuits 08 January 2015, 00.13 Science
'Pop-Up' 3D Structures Can Mimic Brain Circuits
A 3D silicon microstructure. Credit: J. Rogers, University of Illinois By mimicking children's pop-up books, scientists can now make complex microscopic 3D shapes that model brain circuitry and blood vessels, researchers
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Scientists Spend Arctic Winter Adrift On An Ice Floe
When it comes to travel, the Arctic is not a typical destination, especially in the depths of winter. And even the most hardy travelers will tend to stick to the land. But for two Norwegians, home for the next several months
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Balloons And Airships Aren't Just Steampunk, They're Doing Cutting-Edge Science
When you think NASA, you think of space, rockets, and maybe budget overruns. But NASA stands for more than just Space. That first A in the acronym is often ignored, but NASA devotes a considerable amount of time and money
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Ask Anything: Can Plants Get STDs? 08 January 2015, 00.13 Science
Ask Anything: Can Plants Get STDs?
Researchers have long known that certain fungal parasites can spread from one flower to another through their pollen. And like most animal STDs, plant STDs aren’t usually fatal for the individual host plant. Still, the
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Scientists Will Monitor Seahawks Stadium For Fan-Induced Earthquakes
On Saturday, the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks will meet for a NFC divisional playoff game at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle. But while football fans across the country watch the showdown, a team of scientists
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New Levitator Lofts Styrofoam Bits *And* Moves Them Around
So this is a new acoustic levitator. It's able to float those little blebs that make up Styrofoam—which, I know, you can levitate basically by blowing on, but this machine does it with sound waves, okay? In addition, the
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What To Expect In 2015: General Relativity Gets Put To The Test
Over the course of four Thursdays in November 1915, Albert Einstein stood before the Prussian Academy in Berlin and unveiled a set of equations that upended our ideas about space and time. A century later, his grand project
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New computer algorithm plays poker almost perfectly
POKER DOMINANCE  A human player would probably win with this Texas Hold’em poker hand because of luck of the draw. But in the long run, a person would always lose to a new algorithm that has mastered heads-up limit
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‘Bag of chips effect’ helps bats find a meal 08 January 2015, 00.13 Science
‘Bag of chips effect’ helps bats find a meal
ALL EARS  The greater mouse-tailed bat listens for other bats to deduce where prey cluster. Bag of chips effect \BAG uhv CHIHPS ih-fekt\ n. A circumstance in which the sounds of one individual eating alerts others to the
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Allergy-related Google searches follow pollen season ups and downs
I’M FEELING LUCKY  Peak pollen outpourings from ragweed, oaks and pines (one shown) coincide with spikes in allergy-related Google searches, new research finds. Paul Appleton/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) PHOENIX — Web searches
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Thermoelectric power plants could offer economically competitive renewable energy
(—A new study predicts that large-scale power plants based on thermoelectric effects, such as small temperature differences in ocean water, could generate electricity at a lower cost than photovoltaic power
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'Fibonacci quasiparticle' could form basis of future quantum computers
(—Topological quantum computing (TQC) is a newer type of quantum computing that uses "braids" of particle tracks, rather than actual particles such as ions and electrons, as the qubits to implement
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Going places: Microtubule-mediated transport of inhibitory signals critical in stabilizing cell migration polarity
(—Microtubules – tubular polymers of tubulin (a globular protein) that are a component of the cytoskeleton found throughout cell cytoplasm – are involved in a range of cellular functions, including the
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Mono: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options 26 December 2014, 02.50 Science
Mono: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Credit: Afrociaal, Shutterstock Infectious mononucleosis, colloquially referred to as "mono," is a benign infection characterized by fever, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue that may continue for weeks or months. Mono is
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Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 26 December 2014, 02.50 Science
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014
This colorful mosaic, showing Persephone's abduction by Hades, was uncovered at the Amphipolis tomb in Greek Macedonia. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture Thanks to the careful work of archaeologists, we learned more in
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Birthplace of Winter Holiday Traditions Seen from Space (Photo)
This photo from the Internal Space Station was taken over Turkey. The astronaut who took it was looking east toward Cyprus and the Mediterranean Sea. Credit: NASA The world's problems — and even major political and
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Did Microbes Shape the Human Life Span? 26 December 2014, 02.50 Science
Did Microbes Shape the Human Life Span?
An illustration of Helicobacter pylori bacteria Credit: The microbes that live in and on humans may have evolved to preferentially take down the elderly in the population, a new
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Daddy Longlegs: Spiders & Other Critters 26 December 2014, 02.50 Science
Daddy Longlegs: Spiders & Other Critters
by Jessie Szalay, Live Science Contributor   |   December 24, 2014 11:33pm ET A group of daddy long-legs of the order Opiliones. Credit: Creative Commons | Luis Fernández García Daddy longlegs is a term used to
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The world of physics in 2015 26 December 2014, 02.49 Science
The world of physics in 2015
The science story of 2014, which Physics World picked as its Breakthrough of the Year, simply had to be the successful landing of a man-made probe onto a comet, for the first time. Philae dropped on to comet
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Our favourite pictures of 2014 26 December 2014, 02.49 Science
Our favourite pictures of 2014
Pictures have a way of making the most complex science seem simpler, and here at Physics World we come across some very fascinating images each year. Below are 10 of our favourite images from this year, in no particular order.
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Physics World's 2014 Book of the Year honours materials that matter
Physics World's Book of the Year for 2014 is Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik In the world of popular-science books and TV documentaries, physics is
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Multimedia highlights of 2014 26 December 2014, 02.49 Science
Multimedia highlights of 2014
Many of the most compelling physics stories emerge when physicists have a direct impact on the everyday world. In fact, physicists are increasingly applying their skills and knowledge in fields not traditionally associated with
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Comet landing named Physics World 2014 Breakthrough of the Year
The Physics World 2014 Breakthrough of the Year goes to ESA's Rosetta mission for being the first to land a spacecraft on a comet. Nine other achievements are highly commended and cover topics ranging from nuclear physics to
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European Science Foundation survives elimination vote
Members of the European Science Foundation (ESF) have voted to keep the 40-year-old research organization alive, but with a very different and much-reduced scope. The vote, which took place during the ESF's annual general
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Howling Heat Wolves, Sex Weevils, And Other Amazing Images Of The Week
Amateur fungi collector Rodham Tulloss, of New Jersey, has assembled perhaps the largest set of mushrooms and their cousins in the world. From Scientific American: His climate-controlled Herbarium Rooseveltensis Amanitarum
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6 Amazing Videos From The Olympus Microscopy Competition
We love it when science and art intersect. Sometimes that happens in the form of a stunning infographic, a colorful map, or a well-timed photograph. Microscopic imaging in particular provides some of the most remarkable
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Moon Rover 'Andy' Takes Home Two XPrize Milestone Awards, Totaling $750,000
In the Google Lunar XPrize competition, three-dozen teams are racing to become the first private enterprises to land a rover on the moon. The winner takes home $30 million. But getting there will take time, hard work, and a
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World Population Mapped As Peaks And Valleys 26 December 2014, 02.49 Science
World Population Mapped As Peaks And Valleys
James Cheshire mapped the world’s population in a new way. Omitting any shorelines or country boundaries, he drew horizontal latitude lines that zigzag upward in black according to the population at that spot, with spikes at
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The ALMA telescope: Illuminating astronomical discovery
ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is the most complex observatory ever built. With the unique ability to see and create detailed imagery of the parts of space that are difficult to see, ALMA can see star
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Making cycling safer with HPC and 3D printing 26 December 2014, 02.49 Science
Making cycling safer with HPC and 3D printing
Between 2005 and 2013, over 26,000 cyclists were either killed or seriously injured in the UK. Researchers from Cardiff University are using supercomputing resources provided by HPC Wales to examine how 3D-printed materials
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Earth News Reports

Adidas, Nau, REI, Timberland Commit to Responsible Down Standard
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: The North Face Creates Responsible Down Standard for Industry Use Adidas, Nau, REI, Timberland Commit to Responsible Down Standard by Jasmin Malik Chua , 01/22/15   filed under: Eco-Fashion Brands,
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Reality Show Sends Fashion Bloggers to Work in Cambodian Sweatshop
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Cambodian Garment Workers Are Working Themselves to Death Reality Show Sends Fashion Bloggers to Work in Cambodian Sweatshop by Jasmin Malik Chua , 01/23/15   filed under: Worker Rights
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Vivienne Westwood Likes Prince Charles’s Ancient, Moth-Eaten Jackets
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Vivienne Westwood’s Tips for Living Sustainably in Style Quotes Vivienne Westwood Likes Prince Charles’s Ancient, Moth-Eaten Jackets by Jasmin Malik Chua , 01/23/15   filed under: Green
Read More 236 Hits 0 Ratings
Nissan and NASA team up to build autonomous cars for use in space
Share on TumblrEmail Nissan and NASA have inked a new partnership to further research autonomous vehicles that could be used not only here on Earth, but also in space. The five-year research and development
Read More 238 Hits 0 Ratings
Solar Impulse unveils route for first round-the-world flight powered by the sun
Share on TumblrEmail Slated for take off in either late February or early March 2015, the Solar Impulse 2 flight is expected to span approximately 25 flight days
Read More 212 Hits 0 Ratings
This cleverly designed bamboo bike charges mobile devices 24 January 2015, 00.26 Transportation
This cleverly designed bamboo bike charges mobile devices
Share on TumblrEmail Bambootec, a consortium from Yucatán, Mexico, has created a bamboo bicycle that turns pedaling into electricity for charging mobile devices. The bike also has a navigation dashboard in
Read More 242 Hits 0 Ratings
10 most creative scarves for winter 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
10 most creative scarves for winter
I hate to quote dead Game of Thrones characters, but upon finally seeing some snow this morning, I thought: “Winter is coming”. This post shares some cool, creative, cute, funny, or geeky scarves that you’ll
Read More 239 Hits 0 Ratings
15 websites that use white space the right way 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
15 websites that use white space the right way
Whenever anyone says white space, then we literally visualize white blank/empty spaces in our mind (white space can be of any color though). Well, that is true and is applicable even while designing. White space is actually the
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Get Adagio Sans Family for only 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
Get Adagio Sans Family for only $20
If you are looking for a great sans-serif font family but don’t have the budget for Helvetica or Futura, then you should definitly consider this deal for Adagio Sans. Adagio Sans is very versatile and can be used for
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Spectacular surreal self-portraits by Joel Robison 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
Spectacular surreal self-portraits by Joel Robison
Joel Robison likes to take self-portraits, but he doesn’t do it the way selfies-takers do. Not only Robison is a good photographer, he is also an excellent user of Photoshop. More than portraits, his series is made of
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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 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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Latest Published Articles



Rosetta data deluge reveals dynamic comet with sand dunes and jets PDF Print E-mail

Last November the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission made history when its Philae lander touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Now, mission researchers have studied new data from a host of sensors and devices on board the main Rosetta craft that is in orbit around comet 67P. The latest data provide the closest and most detailed look at the Jupiter family comet (JFC) and tell us about its coma, shape, composition, temperature, nucleus, surface features and more. The researchers found that, in some instances, the comet differs from other JFCs encountered so far, thereby improving our knowledge of comet formation and the origin of our solar system.

The new work has been published in a special issue of the journal Science this week and includes seven new reports based on data from the orbiter.

Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern and colleagues scrutinize data from the Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) on board Rosetta. Their images, which cover nearly 70% of the total surface, show a variety of different structures and textures including dune and ripple-like structures, wind tails, and many active processes such as dust transport that have carved out of the comet's features. They also see a surface riddled with fractures at different length scales, especially at the comet's nucleus (solid centre) and surface erosion via the loss of large chunks of material. This, they conclude, means that the nucleus may have lost a large amount of matter in this way.

The researchers also identified 19 distinct regions on the comet that are separated by distinct boundaries and are grouped according to the type of terrain dominant within. The terrain itself is made up of five basic categories: dust-covered; brittle materials with pits and circular structures; large-scale depressions; smooth terrains; and exposed, more consolidated (or "rock-like") surfaces.

Fluffy insides

Holger Sierks at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, and colleagues also used OSIRIS to study the nucleus of 67P, which is made of dust, rock and frozen gas, Surprisingly, they found that the nucleus seems to be rather porous and fluffy, and has a bulk density less than half that of water. They also note that 67P's unique "rubber-duck" shape posits an interesting question regarding the comet's origin – whether its two lobes formed from two objects as a "contact binary" nearly 4.5 billion years ago, or it is a single body with a gap that evolved thanks to it losing mass. While the researchers do not have a definitive answer just yet, they point out that as both lobes have a very similar composition, a single eroded body seems more likely. However, they cannot yet rule out the possibility that 67P is the result of two similar comets forming in the same part of the solar system and then merging sometime later.

Using Rosetta's Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS), Fabrizio Capaccioni at Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) in Rome, Italy, and colleagues found that the nucleus is covered with opaque, organic compounds – but very little water ice. This indicates that the sunlit surface of 67P is quite dehydrated. Indeed, the researchers say that this extremely dark, dry and rich comet is very different from the other JFCs studied to date, and that thanks to the presence of organic compounds on the nucleus, 67P "represents a different species in the cometary zoo".

Samuel Gulkis at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and colleagues measured the temperature of 67P using the Microwave Instrument on the Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO). Their data identify the daily and seasonal patterns in the temperatures beneath 67P's surface. They claim to have seen "fluxes of heat transport" and ice sublimation, and they suggest that most water ice is lost as it sublimates to a gas from the "neck" of the 67P comet, where plumes of gas have often been seen. The dusty covering of the comet may be several metres thick in places, and MIRO's measurements of the surface and subsurface temperature suggest that the dust plays a key role in insulating the comet interior, helping to protect the ices thought to exist below the surface. This, according to the researchers, may play an important role in the "longevity of 67P, and probably of comets in general. The importance of measuring the temperatures below the surface of a comet – and particularly below its diurnal layer – is illustrated by these data", they write.

Varying coma

Myrtha Hässig at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and colleagues took many measurements of the composition of the comet's coma – the fuzzy envelope surrounding 67P's nucleus – using the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) over many rotational periods (it takes 12.4043 h for the comet to rotate once). They saw large compositional fluctuations in the "heterogeneous coma that has diurnal and possibly seasonal variations", and they saw that, along with water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide were outgassed from the surface, revealing a complex relationship between the comet's nucleus and its coma.

Alessandra Rotundi at INAF in Rome and colleagues put together data from all of the Rosetta instruments, including the Grain Impact Analyser and Dust Accumulator (GIADA), to capture and analyse dust grains from the comet and study the dust grains' speed, momentum and mass. Combined with data from OSIRIS, ROSINA and MIRO taken between July and September last year, the team has made a first estimate of the comet's dust-to-gas ratio, with around four times as much mass in dust being emitted than in gas, averaged over the sunlit nucleus surface.

Hans Nilsson at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and colleagues have used the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) instruments and scrutinized the water ions in 67P's atmosphere to try and decipher how a magnetosphere may form around the comet. As the comet approaches the Sun, its gas-dust coma will continue to grow, and interactions with charged particles of the solar wind and ultraviolet light from the Sun will lead to the development of the comet's ionosphere and, ultimately, the magnetosphere.

"Rosetta is essentially living with the comet as it moves towards the Sun along its orbit, learning how its behaviour changes on a daily basis and, over longer timescales, how its activity increases, how its surface may evolve, and how it interacts with the solar wind," says Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist. In the coming months, Rosetta will keep pace with 67P as it looms ever closer to the Sun – its closest approach will be in August – and the comet becomes much more active.

The research is published in Science.

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Structured photons slow down in a vacuum PDF Print E-mail

The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 m s–1, right? Not necessarily, according to a team of physicists in the UK, which has found that the speed of an individual photon decreases by a tiny amount if it is initially sent through a patterned mask. The phenomenon – which is different to other observations of slow light – should also occur for sound waves, the researchers say.

The speed of light has been measured since as far back as the 17th century, but it was not until the 1970s that physicists settled on a value that was accurate in a vacuum to just a few parts per billion. In 1983 that value became the official value, fixed against a new definition of the metre in the International System of Units. And an important value it is, for according to Einstein's special theory of relativity, the speed of light in a vacuum, c, is the maximum speed obtainable by any entity – no matter what inertial frame of reference it is measured in.

Of course, light can appear to slow down if it travels through a dense medium – a result of the photons having to interact with the medium and take an indirect route through it. In water, the speed of light is roughly 225,000,000 m s–1, while in glass it is roughly 200,000,000 m s–1. The change can be even more drastic – particularly in highly "nonlinear" materials, in which light's speed can be reduced to just a few metres per second. Strange effects can also occur in a vacuum, including the Gouy phase shift, which happens when a beam of light is focused to a point and results in a tiny increase in its "phase velocity".

Structured photons

Now it seems that physicists have come up with a new way of changing the speed of light in a vacuum. Over two years, Miles Padgett and colleagues at the University of Glasgow, together with Daniele Faccio of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, designed an experiment that can determine whether light with a certain "spatial structure" travels substantially slower than regular light in a vacuum. The researchers created a source that emitted pairs of photons simultaneously. One of the photons went straight to a highly precise photon counter, while the other went via two liquid-crystal masks, which imparted their profile onto the passing particle of light.

Across a propagation distance of 1 m, the team found that the spatially structured photon lagged behind its partner by between 10 and 20 wavelengths. That equated to a drop in speed of about 0.001%, says team member Jacquiline Romero.

There are many ways of defining the speed of light: phase velocity, peak velocity, information velocity – definitions abound. Padgett and colleagues stick to the group velocity, which is a measure of how fast the envelope of an electromagnetic wave moves. When a beam of light passes through a mask, some of its constituent rays will continue to propagate at a slight angle to the beam's axis. These rays have to travel farther, therefore the group velocity of the entire envelope falls – and this is what the researchers observed.

No ambiguities?

The reliance on group velocity might seem like an important footnote, but the researchers believe that the use of single photons in their experiment should remove any ambiguities in interpretation. "One of the nice things about our work is that we have taken the simple case of single photons, which when observed make a detector go 'click'," says Padgett.

Padgett does not know what, if any, applications could result from the findings. The effect is biggest, he explains, when the diameter of the optics used is large and the distances are short, so it is unlikely to have any impact in astronomy. Nonetheless, he believes the phenomenon should exist in any wave, including sound. "We did this experiment really to satisfy our own curiosity," he explains. "We have always been interested in structured beams."

Goëry Genty, a physicist at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland says that the experiment is interesting because it measures the group velocity of photons. "In that sense, the results are not in contradiction with anything we know from textbooks, and certainly not with special relativity," he adds. "There have been couple of experiments in the past to show this effect, but perhaps here the novelty lies in the fact that the researchers are dealing with single photons."

The research is published in Science.

  • Check out our free-to-read digital edition of Physics World magazine containing 10 of our best-ever features on the science and applications of light, which we have put together to mark the International Year of Light
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Cellular model of tissue growth could shed light on metastasis PDF Print E-mail

A simple yet potentially very useful model of how living cells interact to create tissue has been created by Anatolij Gelimson and Ramin Golestanian of the University of Oxford in the UK. The simulation considers how individual cells in a colony are simultaneously drawn together by chemical signalling and driven apart by cell division and death. The research suggests that below a certain rate of division and death, the colony tends towards a compact and tissue-like steady state. Above this optimum rate, however, the cells spread increasingly far apart. Although the researchers stress that the model is highly schematic, they hope it could one day provide insights into what causes cancer cells to spread around the body.

As they grow, living cells communicate with each other by excreting chemicals that attract or repel neighbouring cells – a process called chemotaxis. While some bacteria and other single-celled organisms can respond to these chemicals by swimming, the cells that make up the tissues in our bodies move by complex mechanisms that are not well understood. The rate at which the cells move depends on the concentration of the chemical signal in the surrounding environment. Cell movement is also affected by the local density of cells, with cells moving from regions containing lots of cells – such as the bulk of a tissue – to regions with fewer cells, such as the surface of a tissue. This means that the faster the cells divide and die, the faster the cells will expand outwards from the surface of the tissue.

Opposing attraction

Gelimson and Golestanian set out to understand how these two phenomena work together to control the density of tissue. They considered cases in which chemotaxis is attractive – that is, it draws cells together. In this scenario, the amount of chemical attractant increases as the density of cells increases, and this encourages cells to stick together. This also counteracts the tendency of cell division and death to push the cells apart. By calculating the equation of motion for a particular cell, the researchers found that when the rate of cell division and death is below a certain threshold value, these opposing tendencies keep each other in check, and the density of the tissue remains constant as the tissue grows. This is analogous to the situation seen in healthy organs, the researchers suggest, and also in benign tumours.

Above a specific rate of cell division and death, however, the cells move away from each other so rapidly that chemotaxis cannot draw the colony back together. In this regime, the area occupied by the tissue diverges, causing the cells to spread all over the body. The researchers suggest that this discrete cut-off between a stable tissue and the cells spreading apart might provide insight into how a previously benign tumour can suddenly become metastatic and spread throughout the body.

Unexpected competition

The nature of the interplay between density and chemotaxis surprised Gelimson and Golestanian. "Population density is a local effect, whereas chemotaxis is non-local – cells send and receive these signals as chemicals that will travel all the way across the system," says Golestanian. "But in our equations they appeared in very similar ways and thus they could actually compete with each other, which was not something we expected."

The biophysicist Herbert Levine of Rice University in the US told that "There is a new idea here, and there is a methodology to try to figure out what that new idea might lead to." However, he adds that "The open issue is: is there really a match between these assumptions and some actual experimental realization right now? That's less clear to me." In particular, he is sceptical about any direct connection with cancer, as he says cancer cells often stick to each other because of interactions between their protein coats, and the cancers where cells stick to each other are often more likely to spread effectively because they survive transport through the bloodstream better. "To me, that's an important part of the problem, and I think the work needs to be extended in that direction," he concludes.

The research is published in Physical Review Letters.

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Magnetic levitation spins up waxy 'tektites' in the lab PDF Print E-mail

Solid wax models of "splash-form tektites" – tiny pieces of natural glass that are created when asteroids or comets impact the Earth – have been created in the lab for the first time by researchers in the UK. Using magnetic levitation to produce a state of weightlessness, the team created its own wax models of tektites that come in a variety of shapes – from spheres and elongated dumbbell-like shapes to doughnut formations. Geologists have long been keen to understand exactly how and when tektites form, but until now the shapes of the tektites have been derived solely from numerical simulations. The new experimental technique shows, for the first time, that the models are indeed correct.

When an asteroid or comet smashes into the Earth, a large, very hot, quantity of impact material is created and molten rock is ejected from the Earth's surface. Tiny drops of this liquid spin and cool to form a natural glass before dropping back to the planet's surface. Tektites are found mainly in Australasia, Central Europe, North America and the Ivory Coast – in areas associated with extraterrestrial impacts.

Spinning shapes

These droplets of splashed rock often have rotation imparted by the impact, and the shape of such spinning droplets as they fly through free space depends on the rate of spin. Rotation first deforms a droplet to create a flattened sphere. If it is spinning fast enough, the droplet assumes a more elongated shape, and as it becomes unstable it begins to pull apart and look like a dumbbell. Most importantly though, the tektites cool as they travel through the atmosphere, and so completely solidify into their final shapes before they fall to the ground. A fraction of those that survive the trip are studied by geologists to determine the type and age of the rock that was impacted. They are also used to correlate known impact sites and prehistoric extinction events, or to find impact sites that have not yet been discovered.

We could gain even more information from tektites if we understood exactly how they form in the air, but recreating such shapes in the lab is a daunting task. "There aren't many materials that can hold molten rock, and even then you need to spin and cool a single droplet of it simultaneously," says Kyle Baldwin of the University of Nottingham in the UK. Baldwin, together with Richard Hill, also from Nottingham, and Samuel Butler of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, have come up with a way to do just that.

Levitated drops

The trio uses a superconducting magnet that has a strong enough field strength and field gradient to levitate diamagnetic materials – water, alcohols and wax – which are weakly repelled by magnetic fields. The researchers create their tektites by first melting wax on a hot plate, pipetting it into the magnetic field and spinning it up using carefully directed air flow. The floating wax is then allowed to cool and solidify into whatever shape it forms because of its rotation, thereby recreating some of the conditions that tektites experience as they form in the air.

Baldwin told that the highly deformed shapes had only been calculated numerically using sophisticated computing and had never been measured directly by experiment. Indeed, others had tried to recreate tektites in the lab before, but in previous cases the liquid drops were either imaged while still in rotation (they never solidified) or were in contact with some kind of surface before they solidified, which affects their final shape.

"This is the major contribution of our work, to recreate the shapes of equilibrium and confirm, for the first time, that the shapes predicted by simulations are in agreement with the shapes made though experiment," says Baldwin, pointing out that "computer simulations are only effective if they begin from an initial agreement with experiment and extrapolate forward into more complicated systems. Until now, this validation had been lacking." Butler, who has carried out previous research on simulating tektite formation, provided supporting simulation evidence that the shapes created by the Nottingham researchers were indeed the actual equilibrium shapes of spinning liquid droplets. The team also found that above a certain droplet size (∼0.5 ml), the tektites wrinkled as they solidify – this may be similar to the surface wrinkling seen in natural tektites.

Ketchup or wax?

Thanks to the obvious difficulty of using actual molten rock in a lab, there exist a variety of analogues used by geophysicists who study the fluid mechanics of lava/magma flows. These include ketchup, honey and paraffin wax. Baldwin and colleagues chose the latter, for the simple reason that wax is solid at room temperature, and by heating it to a temperature of only about 55 °C, they could easily melt it and inject it as a liquid into the magnet bore without too much difficulty, while also giving them ample time to perform the experiment.

Splash-form tektites are one of four types that have been found. Because they are distinguished primarily by the idea that their shape is dominated by their rate of rotation, they can be perfectly recreated in the team's experiments. "That, however, is not to say that this technique could not be extended to recreate the conditions found in the other types of tektites, such as aerodynamics," says Baldwin. "One might imagine experimenting with, for example, the influence of air flow, bubbles, impact speed, etc to further examine the variety of conditions tektites are under as they form, but this is speculation at the moment."

In the future, the team also plans on applying its experimental method to investigate rubble-pile asteroids, which are spun up by solar winds and deform into various shapes. These are so small that gravitational effects alone cannot explain how they hold together, but they are also too large for molecular cohesion to be sufficient.

The research is published in Scientific Reports.

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Women shun fields that are perceived to require 'innate ability' PDF Print E-mail

The notion that natural ability or brilliance are required to excel in certain fields could explain the lack of women in those subjects, according to a survey of US academics. The survey, carried out by researchers also in the US, found that the more academics associate innate talent with success in their discipline, the more likely that women will be under-represented in that field.

Led by Sarah-Jane Leslie of Princeton University and Andrei Cimpian of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the team surveyed more than 1800 academics across 30 disciplines, including 104 physicists. Using an online, anonymous questionnaire, individuals were asked – on a scale of one to seven – to score how important they believed natural ability and hard work applied to being successful in their fields. The survey also asked participants to rate the importance they thought their colleagues attached to the same qualities. Physics scored an average of 4.41 – the fifth highest of the 30 subjects. "Disciplines that emphasized the need for a special and unteachable brilliance tended to see much larger gender gaps," says Leslie. Indeed, the proportion of female PhD graduates in physics in the US stands at 18% compared with 49.5% in neuroscience, where researchers gave it a score of 3.83.

Stereotypical subjects?

The researchers hypothesize that the under-representation of women is down to the stereotype that women have less natural ability in subjects such as physics, and that they are more likely to succeed by hard work. How academics judge women in their field and whether women see themselves as suited to work in a particular field could then be influenced by such stereotypes. The researchers also looked at several other explanations for the effect, but found no support for them. For example, they tested whether the same fields that valued natural talent demand longer hours that women may be less willing or able to work, resulting in lower female participation. However, no link was found.

Leslie recommends that physicists seeking to improve diversity should avoid using terms like brilliance and genius when teaching and supervising students, and instead emphasize the need for hard work and dedication. "I would also strongly encourage people to consider sharing personal anecdotes of how they've overcome challenges and struggles to get where they are," says Leslie. Indeed, in a follow-up study, which is currently undergoing peer review, the researchers say they have found "very promising" evidence that a field that values brilliance reduces womens' motivation to pursue a career in that area.

Provocative hypothesis

"It's a very promising, provocative hypothesis," says Andrew Penner, a specialist in gender studies at the University of California, Irvine. "My hope is that it will encourage new research looking further into how people think about ability, for example, looking at when students become aware of differences in how different fields conceptualize ability." Penner agrees that the strategy of playing down innate ability and focusing more on hard work when teaching is "promising". "Not only does it have the promise of helping redress the issue of gender inequality, but even if it isn't successful in creating a better gender balance, it will likely make life better for women and men, and that would be a good thing," he adds.

The research is published in the journal Science.

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Lost Beagle 2 spacecraft found intact on Martian surface PDF Print E-mail

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars lander, thought lost on the red planet since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the Martian surface. New images show that it successfully touched down on the planet's surface in 2003 but failed to deploy all four of its solar panels, thereby allowing no communication with scientists on Earth. The discovery was made possible thanks to new images from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which show that Beagle 2 landed within 5 km of its target area in the Isidis Planitia region of Mars.

Beagle 2 separated from the Mars Express orbiter on 19 December 2003 and was due to land on the morning of 25 December after it plunged into the Martian atmosphere. Indeed, the last image of the plucky spacecraft was of it pulling away from Mars Express, but nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown. It remained unclear whether Beagle 2's landing had been successful, and subsequent searches carried out by Mars Express and NASA's Mars Odyssey mission could not locate it.

First glance

Last year Michael Croon, a former member of the European Space Agency's Mars Express operations team in Germany, was examining images of the landing ellipse when he saw something that he believed was the lost craft. Further work by Mark Sims and colleagues at the University of Leicester in the UK and the team of the HiRISE instrument has now led the researchers to conclude that the images are indeed of the lost lander.

The team from the University of Leicester and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was very careful in its interpretation of the images – the researchers set several criteria, all of which were met, before they concluded that it was indeed Beagle 2 that they were seeing. These included a specific size, shape and location. The most crucial criterion was the spatial distribution of the various spacecraft components – the parachutes, the drogue, the heat shield and the lander itself – all of which had to be in the correct order and at about the predicted distances from each other.

Martian detectives

John Zarnecki of the Open University, who is also the principal investigator of the Huygens Titan probe that landed successfully 10 years ago this month, told that the researchers involved in finding Beagle 2 "have done a fantastic bit of detective work. I think the evidence is absolutely compelling. And to have found it in the first place, among all those images when it is right at the limit of resolution, is a fabulous job."

From the images, the researchers have concluded that, at most, only three of the lander's four solar panels unfurled. This meant that Beagle 2's antenna was not exposed and could not receive commands or send back data. The team is still gathering more information to understand why this occurred, but an early hypothesis is that one of the airbags punctured on impact, meaning that the craft landed heavily and deformed the chassis, hence preventing proper opening of the solar panels.

Looking ahead

Asked at a press conference held by the UK Space Agency this morning whether he would design Beagle 2 again the same way, Sims said "no", adding that the team would make sure that the transmitter was on the outside and the deployment of the solar panels was not mission critical.

Beagle 2 was pioneered by Colin Pillinger of the Open University, who played a key role to publicize and finance the mission. Sadly, Pilinger died last year, as did two other main contributors – George Fraser of the University of Leicester and David Barnes of Aberystwyth University.

Zarnecki and his team contributed the Environmental Science Subsystem – a miniature but highly complex weather station weighing less than 100 gms – on Beagle 2. "I had always assumed that it burned up on impact," says Zarnecki, ruefully adding that "to think that it is sitting there 5 km from where it was supposed to land after a journey of millions of kilometres is incredibly frustrating." His sentiments echo those of Sims and the other researchers involved. The lessons learned from Beagle 2 will undoubtedly be used on the European Space Agency's upcoming ExoMars mission, which launches next year.

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Water-soluble silicon leads to dissolvable electronics PDF Print E-mail

(—Researchers working in a materials science lab are literally watching their work disappear before their eyes—but intentionally so. They're developing water-soluble integrated circuits that dissolve in water or biofluids in months, weeks, or even a few days. This technology, called transient electronics, could have applications for biomedical implants, zero-waste sensors, and many other semiconductor devices.

The researchers, led by John A. Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Fiorenzo Omenetto at Tufts University, have published a study in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters in which they analyzed the performance and dissolution times of various semiconductor materials.

The work builds on previous research, by the authors and others, which demonstrated that silicon—the most commonly used semiconductor material in today's —can dissolve in water. Although it would take centuries to dissolve bulk silicon, thin layers of silicon can dissolve in more reasonable times at low but significant rates of 5-90 nm/day. The silicon dissolves due to hydrolysis, in which water and silicon react to form silicic acid. Silicic acid is environmentally and biologically benign.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed the dissolution characteristics of and tungsten, which they used to fabricate two electronics devices: field-effect transistors and ring oscillators.

Under biocompatible conditions (37 °C, 7.4 pH), dissolution rates ranged from 1 week for the tungsten components, to between 3 months and 3 years for the silicon dioxide components. The dissolution rates can be controlled by several factors, such as the thickness of the materials, the concentration and type of ions in the solution, and the method used to deposit the silicon dioxide on the original substrate.

As shown in the microscope images, the circuits do not dissolve in a uniform, layer-by-layer mode, but instead some places dissolve more rapidly than others. This is due to mechanical fractures in the fragile circuits, which cause the solution to penetrate through the layers more in some locations than in others.

Although organic electronic materials are also often biodegradable, silicon-based electronics have the advantages of an overall higher performance and the use of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) fabrication processes that allow for mass-production.

"The most significant finding is that there exist choices in materials, device designs and processing sequences that allow to be produced in conventional silicon fabrication facilities," Rogers told "The immediate consequence is a cost-effective, high-volume route to manufacturing."

Transient electronics could have a very wide range of novel applications, particular in the medical field. For example, they could be used to make catheters that dissolve; biodegradable sensors that monitor the kidney, heart, and lungs; and water-soluble electronics that monitor bacterial infections after surgery.

As for environmental applications, transient electronics could be used as sensors that transmit data from remote locations, and then degrade into the soil to eliminate waste.

The researchers plan to work toward these applications in the near future.

"We are working on building more advanced circuits, and doing so with commercial foundries, and on back-end assembly techniques that will allow these circuits to be deployed on a range of biodegradable polymer substrates," Rogers said.

Explore further: Dissolvable silicon circuits and sensors

More information: Lan Yin, et al. "Materials and fabrication sequences for water soluble silicon integrated circuits at the 90 nm node." Applied Physics Letters. DOI: 10.1063/1.4905321

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Reversible solid-to-liquid phase transition offers new way to synthesize crystals PDF Print E-mail

( —The simple acts of heating and cooling affect different substances in different ways: some substances may change phase from solid to liquid to gas, while others may irreversibly break down when heat is applied. In a new study, scientists have investigated how changes in temperature affect a class of inorganic-organic hybrid crystals called coordination polymers (CPs), and show that, for some of them, the reversible solid-to-liquid phase transition can serve as an alternative way to synthesize and process these valuable materials.

The researchers, led by Satoshi Horike at Kyoto University and PRESTO (the Japan Science and Technology Agency) and Susumu Kitagawa at Kyoto University, have published their paper on reversible phase transitions in CP crystals in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The general molecular structure of CPs consists of a central metal ion surrounded by organic molecules called ligands. These units are then bonded together by the ligands to form large networks. This arrangement leads to a variety of interesting magnetic, optical, and electrical properties. As a result, CPs have many diverse applications, such as in dyes, lighting, gas storage, and catalysis.

So far, however, not much is known about the reversible solid-to-liquid phase transition of these materials, which is partly due to the fact that most CPs do not melt but irreversibly decompose when heated. When a substance melts, the bonds between molecules break, whereas when a substance decomposes, the bonds within each individual molecule break. These intramolecular bonds are not usually reformed by lowering the temperature, and so the decomposed substance does not re-solidify.

"Inorganic-organic hybrid CPs (including metal organic frameworks, MOFs) have been studied intensively from the early 1990s, and so far over 20,000 compounds have been reported," Horike told "However, there are few reports on 'melting" behavior' – a fundamental thermal process. In this work, we demonstrated the synthesis of melting CPs and how they melt by various characterizations. The significant points of this work are, first, the discovery of a stable liquid state in some CPs. Most researchers in CPs and MOFs have worked only on solid states. And second, we suggest a new approach of material design of CPs by use of their liquid state."

As he explained, CPs that can melt are unusual because of their stability.

"There is always competition between 'structure decomposition' and 'formation of a stable liquid state' for CPs at high temperature," Horike said. "Usually, CPs start to decompose as temperature increases because, once coordination bonds break, then immediately organic ligands start to decompose or vaporize. The melting CPs have stable liquid states below the decomposition temperature."

In their study, the researchers performed experiments in which they melted a few of the CPs that do actually melt instead of decompose. The researchers found that, even though the polymers' bonds are not fully preserved in the liquid state, they are fully reformed in the solid state, causing the liquid to recrystallize as a glass. The scientists explain that reforming of the bonds is possible partly due to the materials' high viscosity, along with a fine balance of their other properties.

Using this melting behavior, the scientists showed how selected CP crystals can be fabricated with a melt-growth technique. They demonstrated that a melted CP could slowly recrystallize into a crack-free crystal. Such a crystal can form even in a narrow space, which is not possible with conventional crystallization methods. This new fabrication technique has the potential for use in the many diverse applications of CPs.

"We can expect many things," Horike said. "For example, CPs have gas separation or catalysis properties, and these functions require morphology control or shaping of solids such as fabrication of films, fibers, and composites. We can fabricate them through their melting behavior and it is very easy, homogenous, and on a large scale. Conventionally, researchers need to control the kinetics of crystal growth in solution, or use a top-down approach (such as ball milling) to downsize the particles of CPs.

"We also expect that the liquid CPs could be regarded as a new class of functional liquid (though it is related to ionic liquids), and the CPs could be available for catalysis, ion conduction/dielectricity, magnetic fluids, and other uses."

Explore further: Too many kids with asthma, food allergies lack school emergency plans

More information: Daiki Umeyama, et al. "Reversible Solid-to-Liquid Phase Transition of Coordination Polymer Crystals." Journal of the American Chemical Society. DOI: 10.1021/ja511019u

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First-of-its-kind tube laser created for on-chip optical communications PDF Print E-mail

(—Nanophotonics, which takes advantage of the much faster speed of light compared with electrons, could potentially lead to future optical computers that transmit large amounts of data at very high speeds. Working toward this goal, researchers in a new study have developed a tiny laser 100 micrometers long and 5 micrometers in diameter—right at the limit of what the unaided human eye can see. As the first rolled-up semiconductor tube laser that is electrically powered, it can fit on an optical chip and serve as the light source for future optical communications technology.

A team of engineers, M. H. T. Dastjerdi, et al., at McGill University in Montreal have reported their development of the tiny laser in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters.

Future optical chips will require many vital components, such as modulators (which convert electrical signals into optical ones), photodetectors (which do the reverse), and waveguides (which control the path of ). Another essential requirement is, of course, the light itself, which may come from a micro- or nano-scale laser that can be integrated with the other components onto a silicon (Si) platform.

Although many different types of micro-sized lasers have been studied over the past several years, one promising candidate is a laser made from rolled-up semiconductor tubes. These lasers are fabricated by straining 2D nanomembranes on a substrate, and then selectively releasing parts of the nanomembranes so that they roll up into tiny tubes that act as optical cavities. The rolled-up tube lasers have an advantage over most other types of small lasers in that their optical emission characteristics can be precisely tailored using standard photolithography processes. They can also be easily transferred onto a Si platform, allowing for seamless integration with other chip components.

So far, the only rolled-up tube lasers that have been demonstrated have been powered optically, not electrically, which have certain disadvantages.

Schematic of the electrically injected free-standing rolled-up tube laser, showing light emission from the center of the laser. Credit: M. H. T. Dastjerdi, et al. ©2015 AIP Publishing

"In contrast to electrically injected devices, optically pumped devices require additional light sources (lasers, LEDs) to operate that take additional space on the chip and add a significant level of complexity," Zetian Mi, Associate Professor at McGill University, told "Therefore, optically pumped light sources are not practical for integrated chip-level optical communication systems."

As the researchers explain, fabricating electrically powered rolled-up tube lasers is difficult because the very thin nanomembranes make the process of injecting into the laser very inefficient. To overcome this problem, the researchers designed the laser to lie horizontally on top of two supporting pieces connected to the electrodes in a U-shaped mesa design. In this formation, charge carriers are injected into the laser cavity from the sides. By circumventing the thin membrane walls, this lateral carrier injection scheme emits light from the center of the tube laser, significantly increasing injection efficiency.

"The U-shaped mesa design allows the efficient injection of charge carriers into the center region of the tube, and thereby light emission from this region," Mi said. "However, to achieve lasing, optical confinement in both the axial direction (along the tube) and azimuthal direction are required. The azimuthal confinement is achieved by the free-standing tube itself. The axial confinement is offered by the surface corrugations. The surface corrugations are introduced by modulating the inner edge of the U-shaped mesa during the device fabrication process. It leads to an effective change of the refractive index along the tube direction, which can strongly confine light."

The new rolled-up tube laser is made of the commonly used semiconductor material InGaAsP (indium gallium arsenide phosphide), interspersed with two InGaAs quantum well layers. At just 7 nm thick, the quantum wells confine light in very small areas, contributing to efficient photoluminescence. The laser's light emission peaks in the telecom wavelength range at about 1.5 micrometers. The laser also operates with very low threshold current, which improves efficiency and is essential for chip-scale applications.

"Practical light sources for chip-level communication systems require electrically-injected light sources," Mi said. "To date, the most efficient light sources are made of III-V semiconductors (GaAs, InP, etc.). The monolithic integration of such III-V light sources onto a Si platform has been fundamentally limited by the large lattice mismatch, large thermal coefficient difference, and polar/nonpolar incompatibility between III-V materials and Si, leading to poor performance and extremely short lifetime. The greatest significance of our work is that the electrically injected free-standing semiconductor tube lasers can be transferred directly onto a Si platform, and the device performance is no longer limited by these [three] fundamental issues."

In the future, the researchers plan to integrate the lasers onto chips, taking an important step toward applications.

"Future plans include the achievement of electrically injected semiconductor tube lasers at room-temperature and direct integration with waveguides and other components on a Si-chip," Mi said. "It is worth mentioning that we have previously demonstrated the integration of such devices with Si-waveguides on a Si platform under optical pumping. Therefore we do not foresee any fundamental roadblocks for semiconductor tube lasers to emerge as a viable for Si photonics."

Explore further: Researchers develop powerful, silicon-based laser

More information: M. H. T. Dastjerdi, et al. "An electrically injected rolled-up semiconductor tube laser." Applied Physics Letters. DOI: 10.1063/1.4906238

© 2015

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Velociraptor: Facts About the 'Speedy Thief' PDF Print E-mail

Velociraptor is one of the most bird-like dinosaurs ever discovered. It was small and fast, and the sickle-shaped claw on the second toe of each foot made it a formidable predator. A special bone in its wrist allowed it to swivel its wrist sideways in a flapping motion and to fold its arm against its body like a bird. This motion allowed it to snap its arms forward to grab fleeing prey and is an important part of the flight stroke in modern birds.
Credit: Todd Marshall

Velociraptor roamed the Earth about 85.8 million to 70.6 million years ago during the end of the Cretaceous Period. 

In 1924, Henry Fairfield Osborn, then-president of the American Museum of Natural History, named Velociraptor. He bestowed the name on this dinosaur, which is derived from the Latin words "velox" (swift) and "raptor" (robber or plunderer), as an apt description of its agility and carnivorous diet. 

Earlier that year, Osborn had called the dinosaur Ovoraptor djadochtari in an article in the popular press, but the creature wasn't formally described in the article and the name "Ovoraptor" wasn't mentioned in a scientific journal, making Velociraptor the accepted name.

There are two Velociraptor species, V. mongoliensis and V. osmolskae, the second of which was only identified in 2008.

A member of the Dromaeosauridae family of small- to medium-sized birdlike dinosaurs, Velociraptor was roughly the size of a small turkey and smaller than others in this family of dinosaurs, which included Deinonychus and Achillobator. Adult Velociraptors grew up to 6.8 feet (2 meters) long, 1.6 feet (0.5 meter) tall at the hip and weighed up to 33 pounds (15 kilograms).

Like Tyrannosaurus rexVelociraptor had a prominent role in the "Jurassic Park" movies, but scientists do not believe it resembled anything close to its Hollywood depiction in terms of size or appearance. In fact, the movies' Velociraptor was actually modeled after Deinonychus, and sported a similar size and snout.

While the Velociraptor was featherless in the movies, paleontologists discovered quill knobs (places where the flight-related feathers of birds are anchored to the bone) on a well-preserved Velociraptor forearm from Mongolia in 2007, indicating the dinosaur had feathers

Despite having feathers, however, the arms of Velociraptors were too short to allow them to fly or even glide. The find suggests that the dinosaurs' dromaeosaurid ancestors could fly at one point, but lost that ability, according to the study published in the journal Science

Artwork by Scott Hartman reveals the bone structure of Velociraptor.

Artwork by Scott Hartman reveals the bone structure of Velociraptor.
Credit: © Scott Hartman / All rights reserved

Velociraptor retained its feathers, and possibly used them to attract mates, regulate body temperature, protect eggs from the environment or generate thrust and speed while running up inclines.

Velociraptor had a relatively large skull , which was about 9.1 inches (23 centimeters) long, concave on the upper surface and convex on the lower surface, according to a 1999 description of a Velociraptor skull, published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. Additionally, its snout was long, narrow and shallow, and made up about 60 percent of the dinosaur's entire skull length.

Velociraptor had 13 to 15 teeth in its upper jaw and 14 to 15 teeth in its lower jaw. These teeth were widely spaced and serrated, though more strongly on the back edge than the front.

Velociraptor's tail of hard, fused bones was inflexible, but likely kept it balanced as it ran, hunted and jumped. 

Velociraptor, like other dromaeosaurids, had two large hand-like appendages with three curved claws. They also had a sickle-shaped talon on the second toe of each foot. They normally kept these talons off the ground like folded switchblades, and used them as hooks to keep their prey from escaping (similar to modern birds of prey), according to a study published in 2011 in the journal PLOS ONE.

What did Velociraptor eat?

Velociraptor was a carnivore that hunted and scavenged for food. "It spent the vast majority of the time eating small things," which likely included reptiles, amphibians, insects, small dinosaurs and mammals, said David Hone, a paleontologist at Queen Mary University of London. 

Velociraptor, which means “speedy thief,” had a sharp, deadly, sickle-shaped, retractable, 3.5-inch (9 cm) claw on each foot (located on each second toe). The Velociraptor may have been able to run up to roughly 40 mph (60 km/hr) for short bursts. This predator may have hunted in packs.
Credit: Courtesy American Museum of Natural History

The fast predator also appears to have had a complicated relationship with Protoceratops, a sheep-sized herbivore and ancestor to Triceratops. In 1971, a Polish-Mongolian team discovered the famous "Fighting Dinosaurs" specimen — fossils of a Velociraptor and Protoceratops locked in a death grip, in which the Velociraptor embedded one of its foot claws into the neck of the Protoceratops while the Protoceratops bit down on (and probably broke) one of the Velociraptor's arms.

Preserved in sand deposits after being buried from a collapsing sand dune or sudden sandstorm, the pair proved that Velociraptors hunted for food, but an attack on such a large animal probably wasn't common. "Few predators ever take on prey bigger than 50 percent of their body mass," Hone told Live Science, adding that the Velociraptor could have been starving or simply "young and dumb."

But that's not to say Velociraptor didn't frequently eat Protoceratops carcasses. In 2008, researchers unearthed Protoceratops fossils marred with marks and grooves matching raptor teeth, as well as two teeth that belonged either to Velociraptor or another dromaeosaurid. 

After analyzing the remains, Hone and his colleagues determined that the raptor didn't kill the plant-eater. Instead, it fed on the Protoceratops, which likely had little meat left on it (hence the bite marks on the herbivore's jaws and raptor's knocked-out teeth), according to the study, published 2010 in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

In 2012, Hone and his colleagues also discovered that Velociraptors sometimes ate pterosaurs, when the team found a large pterosaur bone in the guts of a Velociraptor. The pterosaur had a wingspan of about 6.5 feet (2 meters) and may have been a formable foe even if it were sick and injured, suggesting the Velociraptor most likely scavenged the pterosaur bone, Hone said. 

Learn about the horns, bones, habitat and other secrets of Velociraptor.

Learn about the horns, bones, habitat and other secrets of Velociraptor.
Credit: Ross Toro, Livescience contributor

Fossil discoveries

The first Velociraptor fossil was discovered by Peter Kaisen on the first American Museum of Natural History expedition to the Outer Mongolian Gobi Desert in August 1923. The fossil consisted of a skull that was crushed but complete and a toe claw.

Velociraptor fossils have been found in the Gobi Desert, which covers southern Mongolia and parts of northern China. Velociraptor mongoliensis have only been discovered in the Djadochta (Djadokhta) Formation, which is in the Mongolian province of Ömnögovi. 

Velociraptor osmolskae was discovered at the Bayan Mandahu Formation in Inner Mongolia, China. The species was described based on a partial adult skull. [Image Gallery: Dinosaur Fossils]

Like the "Fighting Dinosaurs," other Velociraptor fossils were found in arid sand dune environments.

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A Good Night's Rest: The Best Sleep Apps PDF Print E-mail

A man sleeps with his smartphone next to his bed.
Credit: Andrey_Popov/

Sleep is crucial to brain functioning, memory formation and to life itself (look up fatal familial insomnia). But all too often, sleep is elusive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in a 2009 survey of nearly 75,000 adults in 14 states that 35 percent reported sleeping fewer than 7 hours a night.

The amount of time an adult needs to sleep each night varies from person to person, and probably has to do with genetics. But the National Institutes of Health suggests that adults get between 7 and 8 hours of Zzzs each night. To keep you from falling short, a number of smartphone apps on the market claim to track your sleep. The apps aim to not only provide solid numbers on how many winks you're getting, but also to help you understand what might lead to a bad night's rest, so these triggers can be avoided.

Before we get to our reviews of these apps, a warning: Sleep experts are highly skeptical that any consumer gadgets can accurately measure how well a person sleeps. Generally, there are two types of sleep gadgets on the market. The first are the fitness trackers that have sleep-tracking capabilities. Most of these gadgets involve a wearable wristband or sensor that tracks your body movements as you sleep. The second category is smartphone apps, which use the accelerometer that is built into your phone to capture your movements. In this review, we focus on the smartphone apps, which don't involve wearing another device.

Even the gadgets that have wearable sensors, however, are unlikely to accurately measure how long people spend in the various stages of sleep, experts told Live Science in January 2014. Your body movement does not necessarily correspond to sleep stage, said West Virginia State University sleep scientist Hawley Montgomery-Downs. As you might imagine, a smartphone set next to you on the mattress introduces even more room for error, as its measurement of your movements will vary depending on factors like mattress firmness and whether you sleep with a partner.

Sadly, our Live Science office is not equipped with a research-quality sleep lab — like the ones where scientists use electroencephalography to measure brain waves, electrooculography to measure eye movements, and other tests — so we can't vouch for the accuracy of any of the smartphone apps we reviewed. Indeed, when we ran the apps concurrently, they often returned different results, and we can't always tell which is correct.

The home screen of the Sleepbot app

The home screen of the Sleepbot app
Credit: Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

However, most of these sleep-tracking apps have additional features such as "smart" alarms and white noise that may make them worth your while anyway. If you don't mind taking the data you get from these apps with a large grain of salt, our favorite is Sleepbot (iOS, Android). Happily, this app is free.

The graphs within the Sleepbot app show your body movements and sounds over the course of the night.

The graphs within the Sleepbot app show your body movements and sounds over the course of the night.
Credit: Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

Sleepbot has three major features: a motion-tracker, a sound-recorder and a smart alarm. You can choose to activate one, all or any combination of these features simply by tapping a checkmark next to each — making this app one of the easiest to navigate of all the apps we reviewed. To track your nighttime motion, plug in the phone (all of these sleep apps are battery hogs), start the app and place the phone face-down on your bed near your body. The sound-recording feature will automatically detect sleep-talking, snoring and bumps in the night and record clips so you can get a better idea of nighttime disturbances in the morning.

Sleepbot has a soothing blue-light display, but what sets it apart are the easy-to-read interactive graphs. These purport to show you whether you were awake, in light sleep or in deep sleep at each point during the night. The accuracy of these measurements is anyone's guess, but unlike several other apps tested, Sleepbot's motion sensor actually did capture the times a user knew she was awake, like middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. The sound sensor detected such midnight ramblings, too.

For data geeks, Sleepbot provides trend graphs going back 6 months that include your sleep times, wake times, sleep length and sleep patterns. There is an option to log in to a website to back up this data. Finally, Sleepbot offers a "smart" alarm that aims to detect when you're in light sleep to wake you at the best possible time within a 30-minute window before a time of your choosing. One downside to Sleepbot is that it doesn't let you customize this time frame (for example, choosing a 10-minute window), though you can set multiple alarms with a variety of pleasant ringtones. You can also pick a song from your own music library to wake you.


The home screen of the MotionX 24/7 app.

The home screen of the MotionX 24/7 app.
Credit: Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

Another good option that tracks sleep is MotionX 24/7 ($0.99 iOS). The advantage of MotionX 24/7 is that it's not just a sleep tracker — the app also includes a pedometer and a heart-rate monitor. There is a "timed activity" log for recording workouts and one for tracking body weight, as well as an option to set goals for the number of steps you want to take each day and the number of hours to sleep nightly. MotionX 24/7 also integrates with Apple's Health app.

The sleep-tracking portion of the app includes a movement monitor and a noise-activated sound recorder. The sound clips are conveniently embedded in the graph of each night's sleep. This app also has a test mode, so you can be sure your tossing and turning gets picked up by the motion monitor. However, compared with other apps tested, the motion monitor seemed less sensitive. The sound recorder picked up late-night wakeups, but the app did not necessarily record these as "awake" times, so the graph is an estimate of sleep, at best. MotionX 24/7 keeps sleep records for the last 30 days, which can be exported as a .CSV file or shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Like other sleep trackers, MotionX 24/7 has a smart alarm that aims to wake you during a phase of light sleep. The wake-up window can be customized between 1 minute and 60 minutes, with a default of 30 minutes. A similar smart alarm can be set in "powernap" mode for short snoozes.

Although MotionX 24/7's sleep graphs aren't as detailed as those of some other apps, the multifunctionality of this app more than makes up for it.

Other good apps

The Sleep Cycle app offers a customizable alarm.

The Sleep Cycle app offers a customizable alarm.
Credit: Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

Easy to navigate and personalize, Sleep Cycle ($0.99 iOS, Android) has a smart alarm with a customizable window and a library of soothing wake-up music. You can also choose an alarm from your own music library. The alarm can be snoozed with a simple tap on the phone, and the length of a snooze can be set at predetermined intervals or, in "intelligent" mode, will adjust automatically to wake you by the end of your wake-up window. Conveniently, Sleep Cycle lets you set your weekends to automatically turn off the alarm on days when it's not needed.

Sleep Cycle doesn't record nighttime sounds, but uses the phone's accelerometer to detect motion. There is a test function to ensure the phone is positioned well on the mattress. The resulting sleep graph is a bit harder to read than the graphs of other apps. The app includes white noise and a heart rate monitor, and has sections to record notes on sleep quality and mood upon wake-up. There's even a weather feature that displays the forecast each morning.

Smart Alarm Clock ($1.99 iOS, Android) offers multiple modes for combinations of motion-tracking and noise-recording, and includes a smart alarm. There is also a powernap mode for naps under 45 minutes. Along with a library of wake-up music for alarms, Smart Alarm Clock has a series of "chill-out" tracks, mostly white noise, for those who need a little help falling asleep. These can be set to play for up to 90 minutes.

Smart Alarm Clock offers nightly and monthly sleep graphs, though we found that the motion tracker did not capture every middle-of-the-night wakeup. There is a test mode for optimal phone positioning in bed, and the smart alarm window is customizable. A clear, illustrated tutorial introduces you to the app and explains how to change the settings. 

Offering similar features, Sleep Time+ ($1.99 iOS; free Android) is another good option, though without the noise-recording option. The app includes white noise and nature sounds to help you fall asleep and a smart alarm for wake-ups. Unfortunately, the wake-up window is not customizable and there is no test mode to ensure that your phone is properly placed in bed. The color-coded daily, weekly and monthly graphs will appeal to data-lovers, and the percentage breakdowns of sleep and wake time are easy to read. The app includes a section where you can make your own notes on your sleep quality, plus there's a heart-rate monitor.

The Pillow app records both your motion and sound and has a smart alarm, that aims to wait you up when you are sleeping lightly.

The Pillow app records both your motion and sound and has a smart alarm, that aims to wait you up when you are sleeping lightly.
Credit: Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

Designed with a pretty purple color scheme, Pillow (Free iOS) is a simple no-cost option for iPhone users. The smart alarm setting is easy to use and the wake-up window is customizable. The alarm ringtone options are extensive and pleasant. Pillow records both your motion and sound. The free version offers daily graphs, but for long-term trends, you'll have to upgrade to premium for $4.99. The cost of the full app pushes it down our list, as most of its premium features are offered at lower cost in other apps.

Like Pillow, Sleep Better (Free iOS, Android) requires an upgrade to premium ($1.99) to unlock the full features. The basic app offers a smart alarm with a 30-minute wake-up window and a 10-minute snooze interval. There are five free alarm sound options and free daily sleep statistics. The colorful graphs are easy to interpret, and unlike other apps, Sleep Better offers a dream journal section. With the upgraded version, you get more alarm customization options, weekly, monthly and yearly statistics and even insights on how the phase of the moon might affect your sleep. A nice feature in the free version is the ability to record specific triggers that might affect sleep, such as alcohol consumption, daily exercise and stress.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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How To Save Dying Coral Reefs | Video PDF Print E-mail

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Zigzag Physics: Loophole Makes Light Particles Act Drunk PDF Print E-mail

Abstract Lights
Credit: Iscatel |

A universal rule of thumb may need to be rewritten: Light moving freely through empty space does not necessarily travel at the speed of light.

As physicists have come to know, light particles traveling through empty space should zip along at exactly 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second). This velocity is what's usually referred to as "the speed of light".

Light naturally travels more slowly when it passes through a medium like water or glass, or artificial structures called waveguides. But once the light exits through the other side of the medium, it should immediately ramp back up to its maximum clip. But now, new research suggests there is an exception to this rule: Light will not travel at top speed in empty space if the "structure" of the light is first changed. [Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Blowing Findings]

Something as simple as a magnifying glass can change the structure of light, according to the authors of the new study. The lens collects the diffuse light and brings it together into a single, bright point. In their experiments, the researchers were able to isolate this slowing effect by sending the light through specially designed "masks" that are similar to certain types of lenses.

The researchers emphasize that although the results seem strange at first, they do not defy the laws of physics.

"It makes perfect sense — it's perfectly consistent with our understanding of how light works, and how waves work and how quantum mechanics works," said Daniel Giovannini, a research assistant at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and co-author of the new paper.

While hints of this phenomenon have been reported previously, the researchers said their work is the first to demonstrate it directly and offer a full explanation for why it happens.

"It's like a bar bet," Giovannini said. "You say, 'I'm betting you that I can slow down light in free space.' And everyone else is going to be like, 'No, you can't do that.' And when you actually do it, everyone is like, 'Oh, that was obvious.'"

A crooked path

For photons, or particles of light, getting out of a glass of water is like trying to leave a crowded party: The photon keeps bumping into other "partygoers" (the water molecules), preventing the little light ray from taking a straight path to the door. The photon moves quickly between each water molecule, but a zigzag path between two points is slower than a straight one, so ultimately, the photon is delayed.  

While traveling through the medium, the photons are always moving at their maximum velocity (the speed of light), but are slowed down by the altered path. So, once the photon escapes into open space and resumes a straight path, it should also jump back up to its maximum speed. But according to the new study, changing the structure of the light can effectively keep the photon traveling on a zigzag path, and slow it down. [9 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics]

A special type of lens can create what's known as a Bessel beam, which is a beam of light shaped into a bull's-eye pattern. Scientists doing experiments with these Bessel beams — as well as something called a Gaussian beam, which is a point of light that is densest in the middle and gradually thins-out toward the edges — have noted that the light seemed to move more slowly than it should in free space.

Lenses can affect light rays in different ways, so to remove those extra effects, the researchers used specialized "masks" — basically a very thin film made up of crystal structures — that can shape the path of individual photons.

A photon is a unit of light that cannot be broken up into smaller pieces. However, a light wave technically has multiple components, the researchers said. It's similar to how a geographic location can have a latitude, a longitude and even an altitude: The three different numbers all describe a single location. Similarly, a single photon can be described by multiple wave components.

When the wave of light passes through the mask, its components are sent on different paths; some travel straight ahead, while others are sent on slower, angled paths that slow them down. The speed of the photon is the average speed of all the wave components, so the entire photon gets slowed down by those diverted components.

Structures called waveguides can create this same slowing effect, but normally, the light must be passing through the waveguide to be slowed down.

"If you send light down a waveguide, it will be bouncing off the walls and traveling in a zigzag," Giovannini told Live Science. "What we're doing here is creating more or less the same structure, except in free space and not in a waveguide. We remove the walls, and we just let light propagate in free space after we've structured it." 

Racing photons

The researchers set up an experiment that pitted one photon that had been sent through the mask against another photon that had not. The researchers then clocked the photons, to see which one crossed the finish line first. The photons that passed through the mask arrived with a measurable delay.

"The delay we've introduced to the structured beam is small, measured at several micrometers [a millionth of a meter] over a propagation distance of 1 meter, but it is significant," Giovannini said in a statement. The researchers said this delay can be seen in both groups of photons and individual photons.

Previously, researchers toying around with some special types of lenses found that light exiting these lenses appeared to travel a little more slowly than the speed of light. However, this is the first time this effect has been isolated and studied directly, the researchers said. The researcher's explanation involving the "zig-zag" path and the structure of the light is the first complete theoretical explanation for this phenomenon.

"What we did was a really clear experiment that removes any ambiguity," said Jacquiline Romero, a research assistant at the University of Glasgow and co-lead author of the study. "While some people will say 'Oh, that's obvious,' maybe some people will also say 'Oh, that's very cool!'"

The results don't have any immediate applications, the researchers said, but the findings may be important in precision measurements involving light.

"It's just a really neat effect that basically no one had paid much attention to before," Giovannini said.

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Here's What to Eat to Lower Inflammation PDF Print E-mail

Healthy foods include nuts, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and bananas.
Credit: Milleflore Images/

Ginger, nuts, fatty fish and whole grains are just some of the many foods that have been touted to have anti-inflammatory properties. But do they work?

It turns out that experts agree that eating a diet rich in such foods may in fact help lower the levels of inflammation in the body. But they stress that adding or increasing the consumption of any one food is likely not going to have a profound effect on one's health.

In a new, small study, published this month in the Nutrition Journal, researchers found that men who consumed flaxseed for 42 days experienced a significant decrease in inflammatory markers compared with men who didn't consume flaxseed. In another study, published in October 2011 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, the authors found that taking ginger root extract appeared to reduce markers of colon inflammation. And, according to the results of a study published in August 2011 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, curcumin (the main compound in the spice turmeric, which is used in curry) could help suppress biological mechanisms that lead to the inflammation in diseases of the tendons.

"There is abundant evidence [that foods can help lower inflammation], and it is not as if this is something we are not sure about in science," said Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. "I think what we are still learning is the mechanism in which it occurs."

Rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are some of the conditions that have been linked with higher levels of inflammation.

However, Kirkpatrick stressed that adding just one specific food to your diet is unlikely to work wonders for lowering inflammation, or for improving health in general.

"If you follow a very sound diet that has plenty of produce, plenty of plant-based foods like nuts and whole grains — that really helps in general to reduce overall inflammation throughout the entire body," Kirkpatrick told Live Science. And the reduction in inflammation that can come from a changing your diet can be very significant, but it only works if you eat such foods across the board.

Kirkpatrick also stressed that people who take dietary supplements don't get the same results as those who consume real foods that have anti-inflammatory properties.

Moreover, in order to lower inflammation through diet, it is also important to stay away from foods that can promote inflammation, such as sugar, she said. [7 Foods You Can Overdose On]

"So it is not just about adding these things in, it is also about taking pro-inflammatory foods out," Kirkpatrick said.

Dr. Monica Aggarwal, a cardiologist and a member of the Heart Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, agreed. "There is a lot of data that suggests that we are eating too many inflammatory foods," such as meat, eggs, dairy and processed foods that are high in preservatives, she told Live Science.

Aggarwal recommended that people eat less of such foods and eat more of such foods as fruits and vegetables that are full of lycopene and other carotenoids, which can help decrease inflammation. (Tomatoes and guavas are rich in lycopene; peppers, carrots and spinach are good sources of carotenoids, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

So, if you start eating a diet full of foods with possible anti-inflammatory compounds, and low in those with pro-inflammatory effects, can you expect to see a general improvement in your inflammation levels?

"I think it depends on what you were eating before — if you were eating the DASH diet, possibly not, but if you were eating the typical American diet before, which is so low in fruit and vegetables, definitely," said Julie Wylie-Rosett, a professor in the department of epidemiology and population health and the department of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.

It is still not clear, however, how an actual anti-inflammatory diet compares with taking an anti-inflammatory medication regularly, she said."I don't think there has ever been a head-to-head comparison of an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern versus the use of drugs," Wylie-Rosett told Live Science.

"Food is medicine, but it is hard to compare medicine that is created in a lab with something that is grown in the ground to determine what is going to be beneficial," Kirkpatrick said. Depending on a person's condition, and the reasons for their inflammation, medication may be necessary, while food can be still be a nice add-on.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

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5 Cool Things We Just Learned About Rosetta’s Rubber Ducky Comet PDF Print E-mail

The Rosetta mission made history last year, by being the first manmade spacecraft to ever orbit or land on a comet. Things didn't go exactly as planned, though. The lander Philae bounced around and got lost somewhere on the comet's surface. Wherever it is, it's not getting enough sunlight on its solar panels to keep it fully charged, so ESA has shut it down until the springtime, when the comet will be closer to the Sun. Meanwhile, the orbiter has been busy collecting data. The journal Science just published a boatload of new findings from the duck-shaped Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Here are some of our favorites.

1. It’s like a candy bar. That’s what NBC says anyway, referring to the comet’s “dry, crunchy surface" and "soft, fluffy interior.” Radio waves reveal the comet's inner structure is probably very porous—it's less dense than water—while the outside is coated with dust. Yum.

2. Things are already heating up. As the comet's orbit brings it closer to the Sun, the rising heat will cause dust and gas to fly off the comet's surface. Rosetta will use various sensors analyze this comet debris, to figure out what the comet is made of. Already, “jets are sprouting up everywhere," said astronomer Dennis Bodewits in a press release. "We've been surprised to see how active it is. It already has more jets than many other comets do at perihelion." So far, it looks like most of the debris is coming off of the ‘neck’ of the comet, where the comet's 'head' and 'body' join together, as well as the side facing the Sun.

3. Its odd shape is becoming more mysterious. Scientists don’t know whether the “rubber ducky” shape of the comet comes from two large rocks that fused together, or one large rock that eroded in a strange fashion. The vast amounts of dust spewing out from the ‘neck’ suggest it could be either, which isn’t particularly helpful. Scientists will need to compare the composition of both lobes to get a better idea.

4. The stuff of life is in short supply. Comets are like the fossil record of the solar system. Since many haven’t changed a whole lot since our planet was born, analyzing them can tell us what conditions were like way back then. Scientists are particularly interested in finding out whether organic molecules—the stuff that makes up living organisms—were scattered all over the solar system, thus increasing the chances that life could evolve on other planets. Or is Earth somewhat unique in that regard? An earlier study hinted at the possibility that complex organic molecules exist on the surface of 67P. Another team hunted for carboxylic acids, alcohols, and nitrogen-containing amines, but turned up mostly simple hydrocarbons.

5. Comet 67P may eventually split in two. As gas heats up inside the comet, it can vent out with explosive force, spewing dust and rocks and boulders everywhere. It can also cause cracks to form, like the one in the neck of the comet (photo below). Science News reports that the crack may expand over time and some day split the comet in two.

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Flying animals can teach drones a thing or two PDF Print E-mail

Small drones will soon be zipping between trees and dodging buildings, just like swallows, bees and moths

BIOMIMICRY  Scientists are turning to the animal kingdom to inspire the next wave of small drones.

View the video

Ty Hedrick stands on a riverbank watching an aerial clash between two foes.

An intruder has ventured into restricted airspace and must flee as quickly as it came. The wind shifts as the pursuer dips when the invader dips, curls when it curls. They match each other step for step, or more accurately, wingbeat for wingbeat.

The battle pits two cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) against each other, midnight blue on their backs and pumpkin orange on their throats.

Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.
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Decoding sommeliers’ brains, one squirt of wine at a time PDF Print E-mail

TASTE TEST  A gustometer drips precise quantities of colored liquids into the mouth of a woman lying in a brain scanner.

\guhs-TOH-meh-ter\ n.

A device used to squirt measured amounts of liquids into the mouth of a person in a taste study. Researchers often pair the instrument with brain scanning technology.

Recently, a study of wine tasting pitted 10 of the top sommeliers from France and Switzerland against 10 novices. Researchers led by Lionel Pazart of Besançon University Hospital in France custom-built a gustometer to conduct the blind taste test. The scientists compared how brain activity changed when people tasted chardonnay, pinot noir or water.

When sipping wine, the experts had greater activity in several parts of their brains, including regions involved in memory, than novices did, the researchers report in October in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Sommeliers’ expertise may allow them to process sensory input about a wine — its taste and bouquet — while simultaneously recalling other information, such as the reputation of the winery that produced the beverage.

Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.
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See Iceland's Lava Field From Space PDF Print E-mail

Sometimes Iceland really lives up to its name. For instance, in the picture above, the entire country is basically covered in snow and ice. With one notable exception. See that big black dot in the middle? No, not in the lower left--that's the largest natural lake in Iceland, Lake Þingvallavatn, which is a favorite for snorkelers and scuba divers. We're talking about the beauty mark in the center-right, which is an absolutely massive lava flow originating from a fissure of the volcano Bárðarbunga.

It might not look like much from that angle, but there's a lot going on in there. Here it is in an image taken by NASA on January 3, where you can see the lava lakes and steam rising from the eruption:

As of January 18, when the picture at the top was taken by NASA's MODIS instrument, the lava field measured 84.6 square kilometers in size, or about the area of Manhattan. It has already eclipsed the size of Lake Þingvallavatn. Just so you can make a full comparison, here is an image of Iceland taken in the winter of 2004:

Erik Klemetti over at Wired notes that the lava field, which has been referred to as Holuhraun, will probably be getting a new name soon. Holuhraun is technically the name of the older lava field that this one is superseding. By law, the local community in Iceland gets to decide what the name of the new feature will be.

And just because it's great, here's a picture of the eruption from September 2014, just a month after Holuhraun Part 2 began erupting:

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