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Science News Reports

Acting Out Dreams Is Often Early Sign of Parkinson's Disease
Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com A rare sleep disorder that makes people act out their dreams may be an early warning of a deadly neurological illness, a new review of previous research suggests. About half of
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Playing with Fire: AI Makers Must Be Careful 13 April 2015, 23.29 Science
Playing with Fire: AI Makers Must Be Careful
Credit: jimmi | Shutterstock From smartphone apps like Siri to features like facial recognition of photos, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a part of everyday life. But humanity should take more care in
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Man Tears Tendon After Playing 'Candy Crush' for Weeks
Credit: Authentic Creations / Shutterstock.com A California man tore a tendon in his thumb after playing a puzzle game on his smartphone too much, according to a new report of the case. The case is interesting because
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Marijuana Extract May Help Reduce Epilepsy Seizures
Credit: Atomazul | Shutterstock.com A medicine made from marijuana may provide some relief to people with severe epilepsy who don't get better after trying other treatments, according to a new study. In the study,
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How to Avoid a Shark Attack 13 April 2015, 23.29 Science
How to Avoid a Shark Attack
A great white shark. Credit: Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com The seventh fatal shark attack in four years struck this past weekend at a surfer's paradise in the Indian Ocean. Yet teaching people when and where to swim
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Dog Family: Facts About Canines & Their Cousins
A pack of grey wolves in Slovenia. Credit: Miha Krofel, Slovenia Dogs and humans have been best friends for thousands of years. Researchers know that dogs regularly lived with humans by about 10,000 years ago, and dogs
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Physicists propose method to measure variations in the speed of light
A relation between the angular diameter distance (DA), the Hubble function (H), and the speed of light c at a specific point called the maximum redshift (zM) may allow researchers to detect
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Maze-solving automatons can repair broken circuits (w/ video)
This screenshot from the video below shows the self-healing of an open circuit fault. When a fault occurs, an electric field develops in the gap, which polarizes the conductive particles in the
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Unparticles may provide a new path to superconductivity
Unparticles may emerge when, at high energies, the particle sector couples to the unparticle sector. Physicists plan to look for the signatures of unparticles in future experiments, possibly by
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Focus on disability: Reaching patients with smartphones
Hannah Kuper, co-director of the International Centre for Evidence in Disability at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK, explains how cheap smartphone adapters can be used to diagnose ear and eye
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Drawn to the sound: Supercomputers reveal phonon magnetism
Using the Oakley supercomputer and a very small, frozen tuning fork, Joseph Heremans is rewriting our science textbooks. His computational research team has discovered that phonons — sound and heat particles —
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Tiny GEMs, big insights 13 April 2015, 23.27 Science
Tiny GEMs, big insights
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Citizen scientists earn their stripes with tiger-tagging app
Researchers from the University of Surrey, UK, have developed an iPad app that could change the way wildlife is monitored in the future. The Wildsense app loads photos of tigers from the web for analysis by players in return
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Afterglow alerts astronomers to gamma-ray burst
STARBURST  These images from the Samuel Oschin telescope show the sudden appearance of a bright flash (middle frame, in crosshairs) that gradually faded (right). All three photos were taken within several hours on Feb. 26,
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Marijuana component fights epilepsy 13 April 2015, 23.27 Science
Marijuana component fights epilepsy
GREEN OPTION  A no-buzz component of marijuana can reduce severe epileptic seizures, a study suggests. A buzz-free component of marijuana can benefit epilepsy patients who have particularly severe seizures, a new study
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Rubidium atoms used to record coldest temperature — ever
CLUMPED AND COLD  Stanford University physicists used images like this one, which depicts the concentration of rubidium atoms, to determine that they had cooled the atoms to a record-low temperature. T. Kovachy et
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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
(Phys.org)—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
(Phys.org) —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
(Phys.org)—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/Shutterstock.com 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 | Shutterstock.com 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/Shutterstock.com 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
(Phys.org)—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
(Phys.org) —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
(Phys.org)—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/Shutterstock.com 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
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Acting Out Dreams Is Often Early Sign of Parkinson's Disease PDF Print E-mail

an artistic image of a flying woman.
Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com

A rare sleep disorder that makes people act out their dreams may be an early warning of a deadly neurological illness, a new review of previous research suggests.

About half of people who have a condition known as rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder will develop Parkinson's disease or a related disorder within a decade of being diagnosed with RBD.

Eventually, nearly everyone with RBD will ultimately develop a neurological disorder, the study found. [Top 10 Spooky Sleep Disorders]

"If you get this disorder and live long enough, you will almost certainly get Parkinson's disease or a condition similar to it — it's an early warning sign," said Dr. Michael Howell, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and co-author of the study, published today (April 13) in the journal JAMA Neurology.

The main symptom of RBD is moving around during the rapid eye movement (REM) period of sleep, when most dreaming occurs and the muscles are usually paralyzed by the brain stem. People with RBD are thought to have a brain-stem malfunction that allows them to move during REM sleep, and thus act out their dreams, according to the study.

People with RBD describe having vivid dreams, and their enactments range from small hand movements to violent actions such as punching, kicking or leaping out of bed. The disorder poses a risk of injury to the patient or their bed partner, Howell said. Scientists first described the disorder in the 1980s. It is distinct from sleepwalking, and affects about 0.5 percent of the population, or 35 million people worldwide, he said.

To find out whether RBD was, in fact, an early sign of Parkinson's disease and similar brain disorders, Howell and his colleagues sifted through more than 500 studies on the subject published between 1986 and 2014.

Strikingly, they found that between 81 and 90 percent of patients with RBD developed a degenerative brain disorder during their lifetimes, the studies showed.

Parkinson's disease is caused by the breakdown of certain proteins, called alpha-synuclein proteins, in neurons in the brain that produce dopamine, a chemical that produces pleasurable feelings in response to rewarding activities. It could be that RBD results from the early stages of alpha-synuclein breakdown in the brain, so it could be a useful warning sign of Parkinson's, Howell said. Not everyone who develops Parkinson's disease will have RBD first, however.

The findings could help doctors find a way to treat Parkinson's while it's still in its early stages, Howell said.

RBD is not curable, but it can be treated with high doses of the sleep aid melatonin or low doses of the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam. Patients with RBD should also take steps to prevent possible sources of injury.

"It's very important to make the bedroom environment [as] safe as possible" by removing objects that can be picked up or used as a weapon, such as guns, Howell said.

Parkinson's disease is not curable, either, but it can be managed with drugs. In addition, an experimental therapy known as deep-brain stimulation has shown promise in some patients.

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

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Playing with Fire: AI Makers Must Be Careful PDF Print E-mail

Credit: jimmi | Shutterstock

From smartphone apps like Siri to features like facial recognition of photos, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a part of everyday life. But humanity should take more care in developing AI than with other technologies, experts say.

Science and tech heavyweights Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have warned that intelligent machines could be one of humanity's biggest existential threats. But throughout history, human inventions, such as fire, have also posed dangers. Why should people treat AI any differently? 

"With fire, it was OK that we screwed up a bunch of times," Max Tegmark, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said April 10 on the radio show Science Friday. But in developing artificial intelligence, as with nuclear weapons, "we really want to get it right the first time, because it might be the only chance we have," he said. [5 Reasons to Fear Robots]

On the one hand, AI has the potential to achieve enormous good in society, experts say. "This technology could save thousands of lives," whether by preventing car accidents or avoiding errors in medicine, Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research lab in Seattle, said on the show. The downside is the possibility of creating a computer program capable of continually improving itself that "we might lose control of," he added.

For a long time, society has believed that things that are smarter must be better, Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said on the show. But just like the Greek myth of King Midas, who transformed everything he touched into gold, ever-smarter machines may not turn out to be what society wished for. In fact, the goal of making machines smarter may not be aligned with the goals of the human race, Russell said.

For example, nuclear power gave us access to the almost unlimited energy stored in an atom, but "unfortunately, the first thing we did was create an atom bomb," Russell said. Today, "99 percent of fusion research is containment," he said, and "AI is going to go the same way."

Tegmark called the development of AI "a race between the growing power of technology and humanity's growing wisdom" in handling that technology. Rather than try to slow down the former, humanity should invest more in the latter, he said.

At a conference in Puerto Rico in January organized by the nonprofit Future of Life Institute (which Tegmark co-founded), AI leaders from academia and industry (including Elon Musk) agreed that it's time to redefine the goal of making machines as smart and as fast as possible. The goal should now be to make machines beneficial for society. Musk donated $10 million to the institute in order to further that goal.

After the January conference, hundreds of scientists, including Musk, signed an open letter describing the potential benefits of AI, yet warned of its pitfalls.

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

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Man Tears Tendon After Playing 'Candy Crush' for Weeks PDF Print E-mail

A person playing Candy Crush Saga on a smartphone
Credit: Authentic Creations / Shutterstock.com

A California man tore a tendon in his thumb after playing a puzzle game on his smartphone too much, according to a new report of the case.

The case is interesting because such injuries are usually quite painful, but the man appeared to not notice any pain while he played, according to the doctors who treated him. The case shows that, in a sense, video games may numb people's pain and contribute to video game addiction, they said.

"We need to be aware that certain video games can act like digital painkillers," said Dr. Andrew Doan, a co-author of the case report and head of addictions research at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. "We have to be very cognizant that that can be abused," Doan said.

The 29-year-old went to the doctor because his left thumb hurt and he was having trouble moving it. He told doctors that he had played the puzzle game "Candy Crush Saga" on his smartphone all day for six to eight weeks. The man had played the game with his left hand while he used his right hand for other things, the report said.

"Playing was a kind of secondary thing, but it was constantly on," the man was quoted as saying in the case report. 

After examining the man and performing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on his hand, doctors determined that the man had ruptured a tendon involved in moving the thumb, and they said he needed surgery to repair the tendon. [9 Odd Ways Your Tech Devices May Injure You]

Typically, when people rupture this tendon, the tear occurs at the point where the tendon is thinnest, or where it attaches to the bone, Doan told Live Science. But in this man's case, the rupture occurred at the point where the tendon was thickest, which would usually cause pain prior to the rupture, Doan said.

But the man said he didn't feel pain while he played the smartphone game. This may be because, when people play video games, they can feel pleasure and excitement that are tied to the release of natural painkillers in the body — the same thing that happens when a person feels a "runner's high," Doan said.

This may lead to reduced perceptions of pain, but it may also play a role in the addictive nature of video games, Doan said.

" In this particular case, the man was not addicted to "Candy Crush." Rather, he was playing the game as a way to pass time, Doan said. (The man had recently left the military and was between jobs.) But video game addictions can occur, and they sometimes cause problems in people's relationships, finances and work, Doan said.

People should try to limit gaming to about 30 minutes a day, Doan said. Studies show that about one hour or less of video game play a day can have social and emotional benefits, but too much gaming can have the opposite effect, Doan said.

People who experience problems in their lives as a result of too much video-game play should seek help, and can visit the support group On-Line Gamers Anonymous, Doan said.

It's well-known that smartphones and other devices can cause injuries — the phrase "BlackBerry thumb" refers to repetitive strain injuries that result from the overuse of thumbs to press buttons on mobile devices. And a recent review of Nintendo injuries found that the video games have been linked with a number of injuries over the last three decades, including muscle injuries, and cuts and black eyes linked with playing Nintendo Wii.

But despite the potential for video games to be abused and lead to injuries, their "painkiller" effect might have benefits in the right circumstances, such as for people in pain, the researchers said.

"Although this is only a single case report, research might consider whether video games have a role in clinical pain management and as nonpharmacologic alternatives during uncomfortable or painful medical procedures," the researchers wrote in the April 13 issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. "It may be interesting to ascertain whether various games differ in their ability to reduce the perception of pain," they said.

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

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Marijuana Extract May Help Reduce Epilepsy Seizures PDF Print E-mail

Marijuana plant
Credit: Atomazul | Shutterstock.com

A medicine made from marijuana may provide some relief to people with severe epilepsy who don't get better after trying other treatments, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers examined 137 people, ranging in age from toddlers to adults, who all had severe epilepsy, a condition that causes seizures. The participants took an extract made from cannabis plants daily for 12 weeks, and during that time, the number of seizures they experienced fell by an average of 54 percent.

The researchers noted that the participants knew they were receiving the extract, and that the study did not include a comparison group of people with severe epilepsy who were not given the marijuana drug or who were given a placebo instead.

"While the findings are promising, more research is needed, such as randomized-controlled trials to help eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect," said study author Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of New York University Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

The main ingredient in the drug the participants took was cannabidiol, a marijuana compound that does not have psychoactive properties. (The "high" feeling that marijuana produces comes from another compound in the plant, called THC.)

The people in the study had previously tried other treatments for their epilepsy, such as anti-epileptic drugs, diet changes, surgery and neurostimulation therapies, Devinsky said. In fact, "about one-third of patients with epilepsy do not respond to medications," he told Live Science. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

There were 213 participants at the beginning of the study, but some dropped out of the study before reaching the 12-week mark, including 6 percent (12 people) who stopped taking the marijuana extract because of the drug's side effects. Overall, more than 10 percent of people in the study experienced side effects. Sleepiness occurred in 21 percent of the people, 17 percent experienced diarrhea and fatigue and 16 percent said their appetites decreased.

Formal studies on this marijuana extract have been scarce so far, Devinsky said. The new results add to the previous findings related to the extract, which were presented at the American Epilepsy Society meeting in October 2014, he said. However, that study was smaller; it involved only 23 participants with epilepsy for whom other treatments had not worked. After the participants took the drug for three months, their seizures decreased by an average of 32 percent, the researchers found.

It is not clear exactly how the extract works in patients with epilepsy. One of the potential mechanisms involved could be related to a receptor called GPR55, which could be triggered by cannabidiol and may affect nerve cells' activities, Devinsky said.

The study was funded by GW Pharmaceuticals, a United Kingdom-based company that specializes in developing cannabinoid prescription medicines.

The new findings will be presented April 22 at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

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

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How to Avoid a Shark Attack PDF Print E-mail

A great white shark.
A great white shark.
Credit: Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com

The seventh fatal shark attack in four years struck this past weekend at a surfer's paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Yet teaching people when and where to swim to avoid sharks, and improving the emergency response to shark bites, can significantly reduce the number of deaths due to shark attacks, according to shark-attack statistics.

The 13-year-old boy killed this past weekend was surfing in an off-limits area at La Reunion Island, located east of Madagascar, according to news reports. The shark tore off both of his legs and bit through his stomach. In an attempt to get rid of the deadly shark, officials caught and killed an 11.4-foot-long (3.5 meters) tiger shark later that day, but it turned out not to be the same shark, the reports said.

The La Reunion government has banned swimming, surfing and other water sports in the ocean there, except in protected areas, to prevent shark attacks. There have been 16 shark attacks and seven deaths since 2011 off La Reunion Island. The ban was enacted after a shark killed a 15-year-old girl in 2013. [See Stunning Photos of Great White Sharks]

Despite shrinking shark populations, the number of shark attacks on humans worldwide continues to grow each decade, according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida (UF). More people are enjoying the beach every year, and globalization means formerly isolated islands — such as La Reunion — are welcoming new visitors who don't know where sharks congregate. The lush tropical island, an overseas department of France, has seen a sharp increase in shark attacks following a tourism boom that started in the 1990s.

"One of the problems at places like La Reunion, and any number of insular places that are opening to tourism, is that tourists are not getting the information that the locals have about where the dangerous places are," said shark biologist George Burgess, curator of the world shark attack data at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. "Either they're not asking, or they're not being told."

For example, an investment in outreach and medical infrastructure has paid off in the United States, home to two-thirds of all shark attacks every year. On average, just one person dies from a shark bite every year in the United States, compared with the worldwide average of six shark-attack deaths each year. And there were no shark-related fatalities in the United States during 2014, though there were 52 shark attacks in the country, according to the International Shark Attack File. Worldwide, there were 72 unprovoked shark attacks on humans, three of which ended in human deaths. (This includes the U.S. numbers.) Examples of provoked attacks include a fisherman wearing his bloody catch or someone harassing a shark.

In the United States, lifeguards stop swimmers and surfers from entering the water when sharks are present. Lifeguards also receive medical training to help stop bleeding linked to shark bites, and people who are injured can be quickly transported to a nearby hospital.

"We [in the United States] do seem to do a better job of keeping people alive and keeping people away from where sharks are known to be present," Burgess said.

But the same techniques may be hard to recreate in a remote tropical paradise. So here's how to avoid sharks.

Watch out for sharks

  • The most important tip is to use your common sense, Burgess said. Avoid swimming near fish. "Where there are fish, there are predators," he told Live Science. Stay away from fishing boats and areas with diving seabirds; both indicate fish are in the water. 
  • Avoid deep channels, troughs between sandbars and underwater drop-offs. Fish also congregate in these areas, attracting sharks.
  • Stay out of murky water that makes it hard for you to see sharks, and for sharks to see you're a human, not a fish or a seal.
  • Don't swim alone. Sharks are less likely to go after groups of swimmers or divers.
  • Don't swim at dawn or dusk, when sharks are more likely to be actively feeding close to shore. "A nighttime swim may be very romantic, but it's certainly not the smartest thing to do," Burgess said.
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry or watches in the water. They gleam like fish scales.
sharks, animal behavior, bull shark companions

Two male bull sharks traveling together. Nose-to-tail swimming is common among sharks — with males and juveniles, as well as females.
Credit: Ila France Porcher

Power respects power

The species that tend to attack humans are the same worldwide: tiger sharks, bull sharks and great white sharks. [On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks]

Their attacks come in three forms:

The hit and run: In shallow water, a shark grabs a human like it grabs for fish. This often happens in rough surf, strong currents or murky water. The shark grabs, realizes its mistake, lets go and leaves. People are usually bitten only once, on the legs or feet, but even one bite can inflict terrible blood loss.

The bump and bite: A shark bumps a swimmer or surfer with its head or body before biting. This kind of attack often involves more than one bite, causing serious injuries or death.

The sneak attack: Sharks hunt by stealth and surprise because seals and fish are fast and nimble, able to outswim a shark. They rush toward their prey, grab hold and injure the creature before it can escape. If the prey is human, this grab-and-smash attack can be deadly.

If a shark actually bites you, hit it on the nose, or claw at its eyes or gills, Burgess advises. This is one predator that respects a powerful counterattack. For more on what to do during a shark attack, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History.

And remember, every year, jellyfish kill more people than sharks. So does lightning. And humans kill many, many more sharks than the other way around. About 100 million sharks die at human hands each year, about 70 percent of them for their fins, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. More than 180 species of sharks and rays are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened with extinction.

"Sharks have had 400 million years of practice in becoming good predators, but the real story isn't shark bites man. It's man bites shark," Burgess said.

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

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Dog Family: Facts About Canines & Their Cousins PDF Print E-mail
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A pack of grey wolves in Slovenia.
A pack of grey wolves in Slovenia.
Credit: Miha Krofel, Slovenia

Dogs and humans have been best friends for thousands of years. Researchers know that dogs regularly lived with humans by about 10,000 years ago, and dogs and people are found buried together as early as 14,000 years ago. And for even longer, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, humans walked alongside the domestic dog's ancestor, an extinct species of wolf.

Domestic dogs and wolves are part of a large taxonomic family called Canidae, which also includes coyotes, foxes and jackals, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). Members of this family are called canids. Domestic dogs are a subspecies called Canis lupus familiaris. [Related: How Did Dogs Get to Be Dogs?]

Size

The Canidae family includes 14 genera and 34 species, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. With such variety, it is easy to see why there are so many different sizes of dogs. According to the University of Edinburgh, the smallest canid is the Fennec fox. It is only 9.4 inches (24 centimeters) high and weights only 2.2 lbs. (1 kilogram). The largest canid is the gray wolf, at 6.5 feet (200 cm) high and around 60 lbs. (27 kg). 

Habitat

Canids are found all over the world. Coyotes roam North America's forests and mountains. Red foxes live in grasslands, forests, mountains and deserts in the Northern Hemisphere, according to National Geographic. Jackals are found in the savannas, deserts, and arid grasslands of Africa. Wolves live on every continent in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Habits

Canids are typically social and travel in groups called packs. They are very territorial, though, and mark their territory with scent marking. Even domesticated dogs will mark their yards by leaving their scent on trees, bushes and objects. 

Jackals are a little less social and usually travel in pairs, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. Males and females mate for life, which is very rare for mammals. 

Wolves, foxes and other dogs don't howl at the moon. They are actually howling at each other as a form of communication. Dogs also yelp, whine, bark and growl to communicate. 

Diet

Though dogs are omnivores, they eat mostly meat and are born killers. They have non-retractable claws, long legs for speed and teeth that are sharp, pointed and perfect for tearing at meat. Wolves, for example, eat deer, domestic livestock, caribou, beaver, moose and hares. Jackals eat smaller fare such as rodents, young gazelle, lagomorphs and monkeys.

Dogs also have well-developed carnassial molars, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. These teeth are used to crush vegetation such as fruits and grasses.

Offspring

All of the members of the Canidae family have live births after a gestation period of around 45 to 55 days. Canids typically have many babies at once. Domestic dogs can have as many as 15 young, called pups, at the same time. Other genus types are less prolific. For example, the genus Urocyon has only one to seven young per year, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. The Biological Sciences Department of Smith College reports that there is a correlation between the weight of a canid and reproduction; the larger the female, the larger the litter size.

Fennec fox, dogs, dog facts

The fennec fox is the smallest member of the Canidae family.
Credit: nattanan726 | Shutterstock

Classification/Taxonomy 

The taxonomy of dogs, according to ITIS, is:

Kingdom: Animalia
Subkingdom: Bilateria
Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclass: Tetrapoda
Class: Mammalia
Subclass: Theria
Infraclass: Eutheria
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Family: Canidae

Genera

Atelocynus
Species: Atelocynus microtis — short-eared dog, small-eared dog, small eared zorro

Canis
Species: Canis adustus — side-striped Jackal; Canis aureus — golden jackal; Canis latrans —coyote; Canis lupus — wolf, gray wolf; Canis mesomelas — black-backed jackal; Canis simensis— simian jackal, simien fox, Ethiopian wolf
Subspecies: Canis lupus familiaris — domestic dog

Cerdocyon
Species: Cerdocyon thous — crab-eating fox

Chrysocyon
Species: Cerdocyon thous — maned wolf

Cuon
Species: Cuon alpinus — dhole, Indian dhole, Asiatic wild dog, red dog

Dusicyon
Species: Dusicyon australis — Falkland Island wolf, Falkland Islands wolf

Lycalopex
Species: Lycalopex culpaeus — culpeo; Lycalopex fulvipes — Darwin's fox; Lycalopex griseus — South American gray fox; Lycalopex gymnocercus — pampas fox; Lycalopex sechurae — Sechuran fox; Lycalopex vetulus — hoary fox

Lycaon
Species: Lycaon pictus — African hunting dog, African wild dog

Nyctereutes
Species: Nyctereutes procyonoides — raccoon dog

Otocyon
Species: Otocyon megalotis — bat-eared fox, big-eared fox

Speothos
Species: Speothos venaticus — bush dog

Urocyon
Species: Urocyon cinereoargenteus — gray fox, common gray fox; Urocyon littoralis — island fox, island gray fox, Channel Islands gray fox

Vulpes
Species: Vulpes bengalensis — bengal fox; Vulpes cana — Blanford's fox; Vulpes chama — cape fox; Vulpes corsac — corsac fox; Vulpes ferrilata — Tibetan fox, Tibetan sand fox; Vulpes lagopus — blue fox, ice fox, polar fox, white fox, Arctic fox; Vulpes macrotis — kit fox; Vulpes pallida — pale fox; Vulpes rueppellii — Rüppell's fox; Vulpes velox — swift fox; Vulpes vulpes— red fox; Vulpes zerda — fennec, fennec fox

Conservation status

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), many of the Canidae family are threatened or near threatened. For example, the short-eared dog and dhole are near threatened. The African wild dog and Ethiopian wolf are endangered, while the red wolf and Darwin's fox are critically endangered. The Falkland Island wolf is the only dog listed as extinct by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Other facts

The lifespan of a dog varies, depending on what type it is. Wolves, coyotes, jackals and domestic dogs live around 10 years. Vulpes, or true foxes, live around five years.

Coyotes are scavengers that will eat almost anything. Their diet includes bugs, trash, deer, rodents and snakes. They are also very fast runners and can run up to 40 mph (64 kph), according to National Geographic.

The lead male and female are the only two that typically breed in a wolf pack. Their hierarchy is very strict. A pack is usually lead by a dominate male.

Additional resources

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Physicists propose method to measure variations in the speed of light PDF Print E-mail

A relation between the angular diameter distance (DA), the Hubble function (H), and the speed of light c at a specific point called the maximum redshift (zM) may allow researchers to detect variations in the speed of light. Credit: Salzano, et al. ©2015 American Physical Society

(Phys.org)—The speed of light, c, is one of the best-known constants, having a value of just under 300,000,000 meters per second in a vacuum. But in some alternative theories of cosmology, the speed of light is not actually constant, but varies throughout time and space. Observational data in support of variations in the speed of light are lacking, but in a new paper, physicists have proposed a way to constrain possible speed-of-light variations and show that future experiments might be able to detect these variations, if large enough.

The , Vincenzo Salzano, Mariusz P. Dąbrowski, and Ruth Lazkoz, at universities in Poland and Spain, have published their paper on measuring variations in the speed of in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

"When the data collected by future missions become available, our model will be able to detect a variation of 1% in c in the more pessimistic case, and down to 0.1% in a more optimistic scenario," Salzano, at the University of Szczecin in Poland, told Phys.org. "We want to stress that the main novelty of our method is that it relies on a direct measurement of the speed of light at the cosmological level, with a very minimal number of assumptions about the dynamics of the universe. Other probes, even if giving slightly better constraints, can only test indirect probes and assume c as one of the many cosmological parameters to be determined."

The new method relies on observations of baryon acoustic oscillations, along with a mathematical relationship. Baryonic acoustic oscillations refer to the clustering of baryonic matter in the universe that led to large-scale structures, such as galaxies. To measure how far away a distant object is in space, scientists must account for the object's redshift since the universe is expanding. They do this by using the angular diameter distance, which increases as redshift increases, but only up to a point, which the authors call the maximum redshift, when it starts to diminish. The exact value of the maximum redshift is not known because it depends on the cosmological model used, but it is somewhere between 1.4 and 1.8.

The new method also relies on a mathematical relationship: when evaluated at the maximum redshift, the angular diameter distance (DA) and the Hubble function (H) give the value of the speed of light c through the relation DA(zM)H(zM) = c(zM).

"Here, the distance DA plays the role of a ruler, while the inverse of the Hubble function plays the role of a clock, and their ratio gives the speed of light at the maximum redshift," Salzano explained.

Using the of the angular diameter distance and Hubble function, the physicists were able to calculate a value for the maximum redshift of just under 1.6. This value can then be used to evaluate the above relation and estimate any possible variation in the value of c, should it exist.

The physicists also investigated whether it may be possible to detect variations in the speed of light using future experiments, such as Euclid, a spacecraft to be launched in 2020. They predict that Euclid will be able to detect variations that are 1% or greater with reasonable accuracy, but smaller variations will be more difficult to detect. At this point, observations indicate that any variation in the speed of light would most likely be smaller than 1%. However, Euclid and other surveys may still have a chance of detecting smaller variations if observational errors are sufficiently small.

"Our method is almost perfectly fit for Euclid: it would give its best with an experiment entirely designed on it, but even so, it will be possible to apply it to Euclid data in a very straightforward way," Salzano said. "Therefore, some result will surely be obtained: if positive (detection of a variation of c) or not (constancy of c confirmed), it will be equally important for the understanding of our universe and the validity of Einstein's relativity."

Detecting variations in the speed of light over time could have several interesting consequences.

"If the speed of light was different in the remote past, then this would have some consequences for the future of life in our universe," Salzano said. "Perhaps, it could also prove that some other pieces of the universe or even other universes with different physical properties could exist—ones in which, for example, the radio, television or mobile phone transmission signals would be slower than on the Earth. If the was larger, we would see more of the universe; if it was smaller, we would see less of the ."

Explore further: How fast is the universe expanding?

More information: Vincenzo Salzano, et al. "Measuring the Speed of Light with Baryon Acoustic Oscillations." Physical Review Letters. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.101304

© 2015 Phys.org



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Maze-solving automatons can repair broken circuits (w/ video) PDF Print E-mail

This screenshot from the video below shows the self-healing of an open circuit fault. When a fault occurs, an electric field develops in the gap, which polarizes the conductive particles in the fluid. The positively charged end of each polarized particle aligns with the negatively charged end of another particle due to dipole interactions, causing the particles to form a bridge between the two electrodes. Credit: Nair, et al. ©2015 AIP Publishing

(Phys.org)—Modern electronic circuits may provide unprecedented flexibility and robustness, but even the best-made circuits are subject to open circuit faults—breaks caused by thermal, mechanical and electrical stress. In a new study, scientists have developed an intelligent self-healing mechanism that can locate open circuit faults—even when not in the line of sight—and then repair them by building bridges of tiny conductive particles to close the gap. The real-time repair mechanism could be especially useful for space technology, allowing open faults on satellites to be repaired without the need for expensive operations.

The researchers, led by Sanjiv Sambandan at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center in Trivandrum, India, have published a paper on the new in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters.

"The immediate short-term significance of this work lies in the towards repairing open faults present in vias, solder joins, and interconnects on electronic boards subjected to harsh environments," Sambandan told Phys.org. "The fact that the board reliability can be improved by an 'add-on sticker' is a great bonus."

The "add-on" repair mechanism consists of a drop of insulating silicon oil containing conductive particles—either spherical copper particles or metallic carbon nanotubes. When the circuit is functioning correctly, this dispersion remains stationary and inert. But when a fault occurs somewhere in the circuit, an electric field develops in the gap, which polarizes the conductive particles and triggers the dispersion to move to repair the fault. The polarized particles, which have a positively charged end and a negatively charged end, line up across the open fault, bridging the gap and repairing the connection.

Even though the repair mechanism consists simply of particles dispersed in oil, the researchers also describe the dispersion as a "maze-solving thermodynamic automaton." Its ability to solve mazes arises from the fact that the strength of the electric field is highest along the circuit path through the fault, so that the basically pulls the automaton in the correct direction. This mechanism can also be understood thermodynamically, as the conductive path is created in order to maximize the entropy production rate.

Polarized particles dispersed in fluid line up to bridge a 200-µm gap between two electrodes, repairing the open circuit fault. Credit: Nair, et al. ©2015 AIP Publishing

Although the repair mechanism can heal an open fault so that current can again flow through the circuit, it still has some shortcomings in terms of resistance and current capacity. The mechanism works best when the circuit does not carry much current; because the repair bridge is much thinner than the original line, it is not as robust as the original.

Still, the method has the advantages that it works quickly and autonomously, which could make it useful for repairing open faults on satellites and other difficult-to-reach locations. The technique could also have applications for weight assignment in neural networks—biological-inspired systems that learn by adapting the weights of the links between nodes/neurons.

The dispersion can solve a maze by diffusing in response to the strength of the electric field along the solution path. Here, the maze has multiple paths to the exit. Credit: Nair, et al. ©2015 AIP Publishing

"This technology provides options for the engineering of printed circuit boards meant to operate in harsh conditions, such as space or battlefields," Sambandan said. "However, the ability to form structures in fluids has applications in several areas of engineering."

The researchers plan to investigate these applications and more in the future.

"Immediate plans are to make the repair more robust by improving current capacities," Sambandan said. "With some imagination with regards to materials used and the modulation of the dynamics, we are investigating novel sensing and actuation devices for applications in areas such as health care, device fabrication, etc."

Explore further: Electronic circuits with reconfigurable pathways closer to reality

More information: Aswathi Nair, et al. "Maze solving automatons for self-healing of open interconnects: Modular add-on for circuit boards." Applied Physics Letters. DOI: 10.1063/1.4916513

© 2015 Phys.org



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Unparticles may provide a new path to superconductivity PDF Print E-mail

Unparticles may emerge when, at high energies, the particle sector couples to the unparticle sector. Physicists plan to look for the signatures of unparticles in future experiments, possibly by looking for strange superconducting behavior. Credit: LeBlanc and Grushin. CC-BY-3.0

(Phys.org)—Physicists have proposed that a hypothetical form of matter called "unparticles" may play a key role in mediating superconductivity—the ability of certain materials to conduct electricity with zero resistance.

Physicists James LeBlanc and Adolfo Grushin at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden (LeBlanc is now with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor) have published a paper on their proposal of unparticle-mediated superconductivity in a recent issue of the New Journal of Physics.

"Understanding all forms of superconductivity remains one of the holy grails of modern physics," Grushin told Phys.org. "Proposing new ways of how this astonishing phenomena can emerge is of key importance to push the frontier of knowledge that deals with how materials can superconduct. By identifying how unparticles contribute to superconductivity, we open a new path to possibly finding unparticles, by looking for strange superconducting behavior. Moreover, the novelty and broadness of our approach can inspire other researchers to look for this new type of superconductivity in nature."

The basic theory of superconductivity involves forming Cooper pairs due to a very small attraction between electrons in a metal. In some , the electrons are thought to be bound together by phonons. However, in many materials, the underlying mechanisms that cause this pairing are still not well understood: what is the "glue" that holds these pairs together? One thing that is clear is that, in order for electrons to form pairs and move with zero resistance, they must behave in a very complex way.

Here, LeBlanc and Grushin have investigated the possibility that this complex electronic behavior arises from the presence of unparticles. As their name suggests, unparticles do not behave like particles. While a particle's mass always stays the same, even though its energy and momentum may change, unparticles are different. In an unparticle, all three of these properties—mass, energy, and momentum—must scale up or down equally. Photons, because they are massless, are actually considered scale-invariant, but are not unparticles. Unparticles are a hypothetical form of matter that also have scale-invariance but not zero mass. Instead, this strange "unparticle stuff" is a collection of massive particles, which together appear scale-invariant and behave, at least in a sense, as if they have zero mass.

In their paper, LeBlanc and Grushin show that, if unparticles were present in superconductors, then they would assist the normal electrons in pairing, acting as the glue that holds them together in Cooper pairs. As a result, the material can become superconducting.

The physicists explain that this unparticle-mediated superconductivity would be very different than conventional phonon-mediated superconductivity. It's also different than proposals in which a particle acts as the glue, since all of the particles in these proposals have mass.

"We have proposed a very weird glue, which does not have a mass," LeBlanc explained. "As a result, both the glue and the resulting binding strength (the strength of the superconductivity) are different. So we could get superconductivity with an 'unparticle glue' in cases where a 'particle glue' would never superconduct. To top things off, high-temperature superconductors might be one of those places. But this remains to be seen."

Although unparticles have never been experimentally observed, physicists plan to look for their signatures at future LHC experiments.

"Unparticles are hard to observe directly, due to having no density," LeBlanc said. "Therefore, one needs to look at the other particles nearby and see how they react to the presence of unparticles."

If unparticles do play a role in superconductivity, knowing this may help in their search.

"If one can find materials in the lab where these unparticle effects are strong, then this will motivate a lot of work in understanding the subtle interplay of unparticles with particle matter," LeBlanc said.

In the future, the physicists plan to further explore the connections between unparticles and in all possible forms.

"So far, we've tackled how the superconducting glue could be of an unparticle nature," Grushin said. "Other researchers have addressed the situation where electrons, and not their glue, behave as unparticles. But what happens if both glue and electrons are of unparticle nature? Along the way, it is important to explore all of the things that unparticles could do, so that we know where to look and know when we find them. This is where we intend to go."

Explore further: Physicists unlock nature of high-temperature superconductivity

More information: James P. F. LeBlanc and Adolfo G. Grushin. "Unparticle mediated superconductivity." New Journal of Physics. DOI: 10.1088/1367-2630/17/3/033039

© 2015 Phys.org



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Focus on disability: Reaching patients with smartphones PDF Print E-mail

Hannah Kuper, co-director of the International Centre for Evidence in Disability at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK, explains how cheap smartphone adapters can be used to diagnose ear and eye conditions. Since over half of the world's population has a mobile phone, this technology, she argues, can ensure patients in all areas get appropriate treatment.  

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Drawn to the sound: Supercomputers reveal phonon magnetism PDF Print E-mail

Using the Oakley supercomputer and a very small, frozen tuning fork, Joseph Heremans is rewriting our science textbooks. His computational research team has discovered that phonons — sound and heat particles — yield to magnetic fields.

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Tiny GEMs, big insights PDF Print E-mail

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Citizen scientists earn their stripes with tiger-tagging app PDF Print E-mail

Researchers from the University of Surrey, UK, have developed an iPad app that could change the way wildlife is monitored in the future. The Wildsense app loads photos of tigers from the web for analysis by players in return for points. These ‘citizen scientists’ examine these photos and provide further behavioral context that does not typically exist with the image alone. For example, how many tigers are in the image, what are the tigers doing, and what is their environment?

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Afterglow alerts astronomers to gamma-ray burst PDF Print E-mail

STARBURST  These images from the Samuel Oschin telescope show the sudden appearance of a bright flash (middle frame, in crosshairs) that gradually faded (right). All three photos were taken within several hours on Feb. 26, 2014.

BALTIMORE — An incredibly energetic explosion in the cosmos has been discovered via its not-so-energetic afterglow. Each year, astronomers observe several hundred of these explosions, known as gamma-ray bursts, but this marks the first time they spotted a burst’s remnant radiance before detecting the burst itself. The finding, reported April 12 at a meeting of the American Physical Society, could enable the detection of other bursts whose high-energy signatures elude space telescopes.

A small fraction of gargantuan stars end their lives in spectacular explosions that send a narrow beam of gamma rays, the universe’s highest energy radiation, darting through space. Specialized space telescopes typically identify these bursts by detecting sudden flashes of gamma rays. But in February 2014, a 1.2-meter telescope in southern California spotted a visible-light flash that brightened dramatically within about an hour, which fits the profile of a burst’s afterglow. Sure enough, the next day astronomers looked back at data collected from three satellites and found a surge of gamma rays consistent with a burst.

Study coauthor Brad Cenko of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., says the next step is detecting “orphan” afterglows of bursts whose gamma-ray beams are not quite pointed toward Earth. Routinely detecting these orphans would increase the annual inventory of gamma-ray bursts by up to 100 times, giving astronomers more opportunities explore details about how these ultrabright explosions occur.

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Marijuana component fights epilepsy PDF Print E-mail

GREEN OPTION  A no-buzz component of marijuana can reduce severe epileptic seizures, a study suggests.

A buzz-free component of marijuana can benefit epilepsy patients who have particularly severe seizures, a new study suggests. Taking an extract of the cannabis compound cannabidiol substantially cut the patients’ number of seizures over nearly three months.

Cannabidiol seems to mitigate the psychoactive effect of THC, the main euphoria-inducing chemical in cannabis. But cannabidiol also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that earlier work suggested could benefit people with multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease (SN: 6/19/2010, p. 16).

The new study followed 137 epilepsy patients, with a median age of 11, who had seizures that had resisted treatment. Each received cannabidiol daily in liquid form. After 12 weeks, the average number of seizures dropped by about half.

Up to one-fifth of patients reported some diarrhea, drowsiness, fatigue or loss of appetite, and 12 people stopped taking the compound because of side effects. The full findings will be reported April 22 at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology by neurologist Orrin Devinsky of New York University Langone Medical Center.

Devinsky says cannabidiol now needs to be tested against a placebo in epilepsy patients with these debilitating seizures. The study was supported by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company that is investigating the medicinal qualities of cannabis components.

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Rubidium atoms used to record coldest temperature — ever PDF Print E-mail

CLUMPED AND COLD  Stanford University physicists used images like this one, which depicts the concentration of rubidium atoms, to determine that they had cooled the atoms to a record-low temperature.

T. Kovachy et al/Physical Review Letters 2015

A swarm of atoms in a Stanford lab has become the coldest stuff on Earth. At about 50 trillionths of a kelvin, the atoms’ temperature was about a tenth of the previous record.

The temperature of a sample depends on how fast its constituent components move relative to each other. Quantum physicist Mark Kasevich and his team started with a cold gas made up of about 100,000 tightly packed rubidium atoms. Within a few seconds, the atoms spread apart, because some were moving faster than others. But then Kasevich’s team zapped the sample with a laser that countered the  motion. The farther an atom had roamed (and thus the faster it was moving), the more of a decelerating nudge it received. All the atoms slowed to a crawl, the researchers report in the April 10 Physical Review Letters, corresponding to the new record-low temperature.

Ultracold atoms should lead to increasingly sensitive interferometers, devices that can measure gravity and test the limits of quantum theory. Kasevich hopes to improve the technique and cool atomic gases to quadrillionths of a kelvin.

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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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