October 27, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Bright teenagers are a disappearing breed, an alarming new study has revealed.
The intellectual ability of the country’s cleverest youngsters has declined radically, almost certainly due to the rise of TV and computer games and over-testing in schools. Read more
October 27, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
The brains of people who commit suicide are chemically different to those who die from other causes, a Canadian study has suggested.
Researchers analysed brain tissue from 20 dead people and, in those who killed themselves, they found a higher rate of a process that affects behaviour. Read more
October 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
By this point, you should fully understand that “Dubai” and “world’s largest” go hand-in-hand, so it’s quite fitting that said city is receiving the planet’s most humongous LED screen. Designed by UAE development company Tameer Holding, the 33-story high display will reportedly be “embedded on an intended commercial tower in the Majan district of Dubailand,” where it will stand tall and blast out advertisements to onlookers some 1.5-kilometers away.
Dubbed Podium, the building will also house 33 levels of “premium commercial office space, two floors dedicated to retail and four floors for parking.” There’s no word on when the project will be completed, but we don’t suspect Tameer will be dragging its feet in getting this up.
October 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Picture this: you’re sat down for the Football World Cup final, or a long-awaited sequel to the “Sex and the City” movie and you’re watching all the action unfold in 3-D on your coffee table.
It sounds a lot like a wacky dream, but don’t be surprised if within our lifetime you find yourself discarding your plasma and LCD sets in exchange for a holographic 3-D television that can put Cristiano Ronaldo in your living room or bring you face-to-face with life-sized versions of your gaming heroes.
The reason for renewed optimism in three-dimensional technology is a breakthrough in rewritable and erasable holographic systems made earlier this year by researchers at the University of Arizona.
Dr Nasser Peyghambarian, chair of photonics and lasers at the university’s Optical Sciences department, told CNN that scientists have broken a barrier by making the first updatable three-dimensional displays with memory.
“This is a prerequisite for any type of moving holographic technology. The way it works presently is not suitable for 3-D images,” he said.
The researchers produced displays that can be erased and rewritten in a matter of minutes.
To create television sets the images would need to be changing multiple times each second — but Peyghambarian is very optimistic this can happen.
He said the University of Arizona team, which is now ten-strong, has been working on advancing hologram technology since 1990 — so this is a major step forward. He believes that much of the difficulty in creating a holographic set has now been overcome.
“It took us a while to make that first breakthrough, but as soon as you have the first element of it working the rest often comes more rapidly,” he said. “What we are doing now is trying to make the model better. What we showed is just one color, what we are doing now is trying to use three colors. The original display was four inches by four inches and now we’re going for something at least as big as a computer screen.”
There are no more great barriers to overcome now, he said.
The breakthrough has made some long-time researchers of the technology believe that it could now come to fruition.
Tung H. Jeong, a retired physics professor at Lake Forest College outside Chicago who had studied holography since the 1960s told NJ.com; “When we start talking about erasable and rewritable holograms, we are moving toward the possibility of holographic TV … It has now been shown that physically, it’s possible.”
And what might these holographic televisions look like?
According to Peyghambarian, they could be constructed as a screen on the wall (like flat panel displays) that shows 3-D images, with all the image writing lasers behind the wall; or it could be like a horizontal panel on a table with holographic writing apparatus underneath.
So, if this project is realized, you really could have a football match on your coffee table, or horror-movie villains jumping out of your wall.
Peyghambarian is also optimistic that the technology could reach the market within five to ten years. He said progress towards a final product should be made much more quickly now that a rewriting method had been found.
However, it is fair to say not everyone is as positive about this prospect as Peyghambarian.
Justin Lawrence, a lecturer in Electronic Engineering at Bangor University in Wales, told CNN that small steps are being made on technology like 3-D holograms, but, he can’t see it being ready for the market in the next ten years.
“It’s one thing to demonstrate something in a lab but it’s another thing to be able to produce it cheaply and efficiently enough to distribute it to the mass market,” Lawrence said.
Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic that more resources will be channeled into developing this technology more quickly.
The Japanese Government is pushing huge financial and technical weight into the development of three-dimensional, virtual-reality television, and the country’s Communications Ministry is aiming at having such technology available by 2020.
Peyghambarian said there are no major sponsors of the technology at present, but as the breakthroughs continued, he hopes that will change.
Even if no major electronics company commit themselves, there is hope that backers could come from outside of the consumer electronics industry, he said.
“It could have some other applications. In training it’s useful to show people three-dimensional displays. Also it would be good to show things in 3-D for defense command and control and for surgery,” he said.Source:CNN.COM
September 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Developed by Dr. Klaus Lackner these synthetic trees could be used as CO2 scrubbers cleaning our air. Using a chemical reaction to pull carbon dioxide from the air this technology could buy the world time to development and implement alternative energy sources.
The idea is that air would flow through the vanes of these structures. Flowing through sodium hydroxide (NaOH) which is inside the synthetic tree CO2 would chemically react to create sodium carbonate liquid which condenses and collects at the bottom of the synthetic tree. This would be the storage mechanism for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.
Then what? Well the condensed liquid would be pumped into porous rock below the sea bed using oil drilling technology. There the carbon would be stored for millions of years.
Lackner states that one tree could scrub 90,000 tons of C02 from the air per year. Unlike a real tree no oxygen is released from the synthetic tree but the carbon sink principle is comparable to real trees. This technology is a band aid on the problem of fossil fuel use but as Lackner intends it could buy time and reduce existing carbon levels in our atmosphere.
As for now it is a sketch and a prototype but the synthetic tree is a potential remedy for our carbon problems.
September 12, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Sharing a bed with someone could reduce your brain power - at least temporarily and if you are a man - Austrian scientists suggest.
When men spend the night with a bed mate their sleep is disturbed and this impairs their mental ability the next day. In addition, the resulting lack of sleep also increases a man’s stress hormone levels. Women who share a bed, on the other hand, tend to fare better because they sleep more deeply.
Professor Gerhard Kloesch and colleagues at the University of Vienna studied eight unmarried, childless couples in their 20s. Each couple was asked to spend 10 nights sleeping together and 10 apart while the scientists assessed their rest patterns with questionnaires and wrist activity monitors. The next day the couples were asked to perform simple cognitive tests and had their stress hormone levels checked. Although the men reported they had slept better with a partner, they fared worse in the tests, with their results suggesting they actually had more disturbed sleep.
Both sexes had a more disturbed night’s sleep when they shared their bed. But women apparently managed to sleep more deeply when they did eventually drop off, since they claimed to be more refreshed than their sleep time suggested. Their stress hormone levels and mental scores did not suffer to the same extent as the men. Nevertheless, the women still reported that they had the best sleep when they were alone in bed.
Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at the University of Surrey, said: “It’s not surprising that people are disturbed by sleeping together. Historically, we have never been meant to sleep in the same bed as each other. It is a bizarre thing to do. Sleep is the most selfish thing you can do and it’s vital for good physical and mental health. Sharing the bed space with someone who is making noises and who you have to fight with for the duvet is not sensible. If you are happy sleeping together that’s great, but if not there is no shame in separate beds.”
September 12, 2008 by · 1 Comment
The scientists behind the £4.4bn atom smasher had already received threatening emails and been besieged by telephone calls from worried members of the public concerned by speculation that the machine could trigger a black hole to swallow the earth, or earthquakes and tsunamis, despite endless reassurances to the contrary from the likes of Prof Stephen Hawking.
Now it has emerged that, as the first particles were circulating in the machine near Geneva, a Greek group had hacked into the facility and displayed a page with the headline “GST: Greek Security Team.”
The people responsible signed off: “We are 2600 - dont mess with us. (sic)”
The website - cmsmon.cern.ch - can no longer be accessed by the public as a result of the attack.
Scientists working at Cern, the organisation that runs the vast smasher, were worried about what the hackers could do because they were “one step away” from the computer control system of one of the huge detectors of the machine, a vast magnet that weighs 12,500 tons, measuring around 21 metres in length and 15 metres wide/high.
If they had hacked into a second computer network, they could have turned off parts of the vast detector and, said the insider, “it is hard enough to make these things work if no one is messing with it.”
Fortunately, only one file was damaged but one of the scientists firing off emails as the CMS team fought off the hackers said it was a “scary experience”.
The hackers targeted the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment, or CMS, one of the four “eyes” of the facility that will be analysing the fallout of the Big Bang.
The CMS team of around 2,000 scientists is racing with another team that runs the Atlas detector, also at Cern, to find the Higgs particle, one that is responsible for mass.
“There seems to be no harm done. From what they can tell, it was someone making the point that CMS was hackable,” said James Gillies, spokesman for Cern. “It was quickly detected.”
“We have several levels of network, a general access network and a much tighter network for sensitive things that operate the LHC,” said Gillies.
“We are a very visible site,” he said, adding that of the 1.4 million emails sent to Cern yesterday, 98 per cent was spam.
The hacking attempt started around the time that the giant machine was about to circulate its first particles, under the spotlight of the world’s media.
On Wednesday afternoon, as the world held its breath as the machine sparked up, CMS team members were scouring computers at the machine for half a dozen files uploaded by the hackers on September 9 and 10.
“We think that someone from Fermilab’s Tevatron (the competing atom smasher in America) had their access details compromised,” said one of the scientists working on the machine. “What happened wasn’t a big deal, just goes to show people are out there always on the prowl.”
The CMS team studied the files inserted by the hackers carefully before deleting, in case a “backdoor” had been installed, a means of access to the computer that bypasses security.
The system the hackers managed to access was CMSMON, which monitors the CMS software system as the vast detector takes data, during collisions between particles to study the energies and physics in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, which created the universe.
Cern relies on a ‘defence-in-depth’ strategy, separating control networks and using firewalls and complex passwords, to protect its control systems from malicious software, such as denial-of-service attacks, botnets and zombie machines, which can strike with a synchronised attack from hundreds of machines around the world.
However, there have been growing concerns about security as remote or wireless access, notebooks and USB sticks offer new possibilities for a virus or worms to enter the network, not to mention hackers and terrorists who might be interested in targeting computers to shutdown the system.
More than 110 different control systems are used at Cern. These systems monitor, supervise and safeguard Cern’s accelerators, experiments and infrastructure - from buildings, electricity and heating to access control, radiation protection and safety.
To refine security methods Cern set up a working group called Computing and Network Infrastructure for Controls. One document written by the group said: “Recent events show that computer security issues are becoming a serious problem also at Cern.”
However, the team said yesterday that it did not want to comment on security at the international facility.
A few years ago, Stanford University in California announced that a number of high-performance academic computer centres had been attacked by hackers lured by the phenomenal power of the grid - pools of computing power linked by dedicated high-speed networks. Beyond shutting down the machines or stealing or deleting data, one likely malicious use of such power is to crack passwords.
In 2003, hackers broke into ScotGrid, a network of 150 machines based at the University of Glasgow. They intercepted the password of a remote user based in Geneva and used it to gain access to ScotGrid. They ran scripts that tried to reconfigure the machine to steal more passwords.
The commissioning of the giant machine is making extraordinary progress.
Now that the team has managed to get beams of particles circulating stably, they must be “captured” so that the particles stay in bunches.
This has now been done with the anticlockwise beam, circulating a beam for full half an hour. Commissioning, said Gillies, “is going incredibly fast.” They now hope to capture the second clockwise beam. “To give you a feel for how well these guys are doing, what happened on Wednesday was days one to four of main commissioning.”
This latest step “is really a more significant achievement than Wednesday’s fun and games,” comments Dr David Sankey of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire.Source:Telegraph.co.uk
September 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
From the flagellants of the Middle Ages to the doomsayers of Y2K, humanity has always been prone to good old-fashioned the-end-is-nigh hysteria. The latest cause for concern: that the earth will be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever-increasing black hole next week.
On Sept. 10, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, will switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a $6 billion particle accelerator that will send beams of protons careening around a 17-mile underground ring, crash them into each other to re-create the immediate aftereffects of the Big Bang, and then monitor the debris in the hope of learning more about the origins and workings of the universe. Next week marks a low-power run of the circuit, and scientists hope to start smashing atoms at full power by the end of the month.
Critics of the LHC say the high-energy experiment might create a mini black hole that could expand to dangerous, Earth-eating proportions. On Aug. 26, Professor Otto Rossler, a German chemist at the Eberhard Karis University of Tubingen, filed a lawsuit against CERN with the European Court of Human Rights that argued, with no understatement, that such a scenario would violate the right to life of European citizens and pose a threat to the rule of law. Last March, two American environmentalists filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Honolulu seeking to force the U.S. government to withdraw its participation in the experiment. The lawsuits have in turn spawned several websites, chat rooms and petitions — and led to alarming headlines around the world (Britain’s Sun newspaper on Sept. 1: “End of the World Due in 9 Days”).
Should we be scared? No. In June, CERN published a safety report, reviewed by a group of external scientists, ruling out the possibility of dangerous black holes. It said that even if tiny black holes were to be formed at CERN — a big if — they would evaporate almost instantaneously due to Hawking Radiation, a phenomenon named for the British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose theories show that black holes not only swallow up the light, energy and matter around them, but also leak it all back out at an accelerating pace. According to Hawking, if tiny black holes occurred at CERN, they would evaporate before they got a chance to do any damage. (Even if Hawking’s theories prove to be wrong — no one has yet witnessed black-hole evaporation — scientists at CERN say the LHC’s collisions are already known to be harmless: an equivalent amount of energy is produced hundreds of thousands of times a day by cosmic rays colliding with the earth and other objects in the cosmos — always without incident.)
After taking in the results of CERN’s report, the European Court rejected Rossler’s request last week for an emergency injunction that would have stopped the LHC (it will still hear his lawsuit). The U.S. suit is pending, but CERN spokesman James Gillies said that even if it is successful the experiment will go ahead without U.S. participation.
“The U.S. court has no jurisdiction over our equipment. It could pull American scientists out of the experiment, but that would just be a great shame for them. The LHC presents no risk. What it does do is hold the promise of substantially enriching humanity by providing insight into the mysteries of the universe. It’s a tremendously exciting time for physicists here and around the world,” he said.
Scientists believe the LHC’s results will help fill in gaps in the Standard Model, the far-reaching set of equations on the interaction of subatomic particles that is the closest that modern physics comes to a testable “theory of everything.” For example, scientists believe the LHC will produce a particle, the Higgs Boson, that will end debate over how matter in the universe acquires mass. Or, it could even provide evidence for more ambitious theories of the universe, such as string theory, which unites quantum mechanics and general relativity, the previously known laws of the small and large that are currently incompatible in the Standard Model.
Despite these exciting prospects, however, physicists studying the cosmos at CERN and other accelerators still face a fundamental dilemma: to explain the awesome scale of their work while calming the public’s inevitable trepidation. There remains a credibility gap surrounding high-profile physics, after all: The most tangible results of atomic research in the last 50 years have been bombs capable of ending all life on earth. CERN officials refer to the laboratory as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics because they feel “nuclear” in the literal translation carries negative implications, and tour guides at the LHC are quick to point out that the accelerator has no weapons applications.
But it’s not just physicists whose work provokes strong and often irrational fear, according to Professor Robin Williams, director of the Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation at the University of Edinburgh. He points out that the millennial anxiety about scientific and technological breakthroughs predates particle physics. When the locomotive was first conceived, for example, even some engineers predicted catastrophe resulting from the human body’s inability to withstand the strains of high-speed travel. The word “vaccine” comes from the Latin word for cow, “vacca” — the first vaccinations, against smallpox, used bovine ingredients, leading to widespread fear that the injections would turn humans into cows.
But Williams also believes that the flip side of such fear is faith in the redemptive potential of science (there are equally irrational websites about CERN, for example, that predict the LHC will create wormholes to distant corners of the universe where humanity can escape to other inhabitable planets). Williams wrote in an e-mail: “I have come to see that in their early days, new technology and scientific breakthroughs often serve as Rorschach tests — a phenomenon about which we have little concrete understanding, onto which contemporary social anxieties (and dreams) can readily be projected. As a result we find (often polarized) utopian and dystopian visions being articulated.” Humanity will certainly survive the LHC’s experiment, Williams added, but so too will its darkest fears about its own destructive potential, and hope for its future.Source: Time.com
September 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
A team of biologists and chemists is closing in on bringing non-living matter to life.
It’s not as Frankensteinian as it sounds. Instead, a lab led by Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building simple cell models that can almost be called life.
Szostak’s protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system that satisfies the conditions of life, but isn’t anything like life on earth now, but might represent life as it began or could exist elsewhere in the universe.
While his latest work remains unpublished, Szostak described preliminary new success in getting protocells with genetic information inside them to replicate at the XV International Conference on the Origin of Life in Florence, Italy, last week. The replication isn’t wholly autonomous, so it’s not quite artificial life yet, but it is as close as anyone has ever come to turning chemicals into biological organisms.
“We’ve made more progress on how the membrane of a protocell could grow and divide,” Szostak said in a phone interview. “What we can do now is copy a limited set of simple [genetic] sequences, but we need to be able to copy arbitrary sequences so that sequences could evolve that do something useful.”
By doing “something useful” for the cell, these genes would launch the new form of life down the Darwinian evolutionary path similar to the one that our oldest living ancestors must have traveled. Though where selective pressure will lead the new form of life is impossible to know.
“Once we can get a replicating environment, we’re hoping to experimentally determine what can evolve under those conditions,” said Sheref Mansy, a former member of Szostak’s lab and now a chemist at Denver University.
Protocellular work is even more radical than the other field trying to create artifical life: synthetic biology. Even J. Craig Venter’s work to build an artificial bacterium with the smallest number of genes necessary to live takes current life forms as a template. Protocell researchers are trying to design a completely novel form of life that humans have never seen and that may never have existed.
Over the summer, Szostak’s team published major papers in the journals Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that go a long way towards showing that this isn’t just an idea and that his lab will be the first to create artificial life — and that it will happen soon.
“His hope is that he’ll have a complete self-replicating system in his lab in the near future,” said Jeffrey Bada, a University of California San Diego chemist who helped organize the Origin of Life conference.
Modern life is far more complex than the simple systems that Szostak and others are working on, so the protocells don’t look anything like the cells that we have in our bodies or Venter’s genetically-modified E. coli.
“What we’re looking at is the origin of life in one aspect, and the other aspect is life as a small nanomachine on a single cell level,” said Hans Ziock, a protocellular researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Life’s function, as a simple nanomachine, is just to use energy to marshal chemicals into making more copies of itself.
“You need to organize yourself in a specific way to be useful,” Ziock said. “You take energy from one place and move it to a place where it usually doesn’t want to go, so you can actually organize things.”
Modern cells accomplish this feat with an immense amount of molecular machinery. In fact, some of the chemical syntheses that simple plants and algae can accomplish far outstrip human technologies. Even the most primitive forms of life possess protein machines that allow them to import nutrients across their complex cell membranes and build the molecules that then carry out the cell’s bidding.
Those specialized components would have taken many, many generations to evolve, said Ziock, so the first life would have been much simpler.
What form that simplicity would have taken has been a subject of intense debate among origin of life scientists stretching back to the pioneering work of David Deamer, a professor emeritus at UC-Santa Cruz.
What most researchers agree on is that the very first functioning life would have had three basic components: a container, a way to harvest energy and an information carrier like RNA or another nucleic acid.
Szostak’s earlier work has shown that the container probably took the form of a layer of fatty acids that could self-assemble based on their reaction to water (see video). One tip of the acid is hydrophilic, meaning it’s attracted to water, while the other tip is hydrophobic. When researchers put a lot of these molecules together, they circle the wagons against the water and create a closed loop.
These membranes, with the right mix of chemicals, can allow nucleic acids in under some conditions and keep them trapped inside in others.
That opens the possibility that one day, in the distant past, an RNA-like molecule wandered into a fatty acid and started replicating. That random event, through billions of evolutionary iterations, researchers believe, created life as we know it.
In a paper released this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mansy and Szostak showed that the special membranes, fat bubbles essentially, were stable under a variety of temperatures and could have manipulated molecules like DNA through simple thermal cycling, just like scientists do in PCR machines.
The entire line of research, though, begs the question: where would DNA, or any other material carrying instructions for replication, have come from?
Many researchers have tried to tackle this problem of how RNA- or DNA-like molecules could have developed from the amino acids present on the early Earth. John Sutherland, a chemist at the University of Manchester, published a paper last year demonstrating one plausible way that RNA could have spontaneously been created in the prebiotic world.
Once such molecules existed, Szostak’s lab’s demonstrated in a Nature paper earlier this summer that nucleic acids could replicate inside a protocell (pdf).
But while many scientists agree the protocell work is impressive, not every scientist is convinced that it contributes to a reasonable explanation for the origin of life.
“Their work is wonderful inasmuch as what they are doing can be,” said Mike Russell, a geochemist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It’s just that I’m uneasy about the significance of it to the origin of life.”
Russell argues that the very first life-like molecules on Earth would have been based on inorganic compounds. Instead of a fatty acid membrane, Russell argues that iron sulfide could have provided the necessary container for early cells.
But UCSD’s Bada pointed out that it as unlikely we will ever know how life actually began.
“[Szostak's] point, and how we all view it, is that it’s a nice model, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it happened that way,” he said.
Szostak suggested that even if life could theoretically or did begin some other way, his lab’s hypothesis was (at least) experimentally plausible.
“We’re now pretty much convinced that growth and division could occur under perfectly reasonable prebiotic conditions in a way that is not some artificial laboratory construction,” he said.
And actually, the most intriguing possibility of all may be that the protocells in Szostak’s lab do not closely model earthly life’s origins. If that’s true, human beings, ourselves the product of evolution from the most primitive organisms, would have created an alternative path to imbuing matter with the properties of life.
“What we have in biology is just one of many, many possibilities,” Szostack said. “One of the things that always comes up when people talk about life and universal qualities is water. But is water really necessary? What if we could design a system that works in something else?”Source: Wired.com
August 27, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
A baby boy, named Kiron, was born with two heads by Cesarean section in Bangladesh on Monday.
An estimated 150,000 people from the region descended on the clinic to try to catch sight of the boy so he was moved to a larger hospital and placed under police protection.
Dr Mohamad Abdul Bari, the mother’s gynaecologist, said: “He has one stomach and he is eating normally with his two mouths. He has one genital organ and a full set of limbs. He was born from one embryo but there was a developmental anomaly.”
The clinic had been unable to determine whether the baby had one or two sets of vital organs, Dr Bari said.
Kiron’s life was not in immediate danger but he and his 22-year-old mother were moved to the hospital in the nearby city of Jessore city because of the large crowds that had gathered at the clinic, the doctor said.
According to a local newspaper, many well-wishers had left money for the baby’s family.