Penn State Harrisburg


Steve Carabello

Science News

News stories related to science that I happen to find interesting, sorted by topic, then by the date I first read them (which is not necessarily the date of publication).



Perception, Thought, etc.

Errors, Oddities, etc.


Physics Date Description
Earth's writhing magnetic field could aid fusion research July 19, 2006  
Boffins produce plasma at two billion kelvins July 19, 2006 "Scientists at the Sandia National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory have produced plasma at a sizzling two billion kelvins - hotter than a star's interior - although they're not quite sure how they did it."
Light's Most Exotic Trick Yet: So Fast it Goes ... Backwards? June 13, 2006 "Boyd recently showed how he can slow down a pulse of light to slower than an airplane, or speed it up faster than its breakneck pace, using exotic techniques and materials. But he's now taken what was once just a mathematical oddity--negative speed--and shown it working in the real world. 'It's weird stuff,' says Boyd. 'We sent a pulse through an optical fiber, and before its peak even entered the fiber, it was exiting the other end. Through experiments we were able to see that the pulse inside the fiber was actually moving backward, linking the input and output pulses.'" See the original press release here.
Invisibility cloak moves a step closer June 8, 2006 "The metamaterial approach is based on sound, old-school physics. Smith said: '[The maths is] nothing that couldn't have been done 50 or even 100 years ago. The theory has only now become relevant because we can make metamaterials with the properties we are looking for.'"
Superlens breaks optical barrier June 8, 2006 "Diffraction restricts the resolution of microscopes and other optical devices to the wavelength of light used... The near-field portion contains all of the sub-wavelength spatial details about an object, but it decays quickly as a function of distance from the object. Conventional optical devices are therefore unable to convey these finer details to an image..."
New look for "Newton's bucket" June 8, 2006 "What happens when you rapidly rotate the bottom plate of an otherwise stationary cylinder filled with water? According to new work by physicists in Denmark, you produce rotating polygons with up to six corners on the water's surface. This new and spectacular type of "instability" could be used to study a wide variety of complex systems in physics, including rotating flows on Earth, hydraulic machinery in industry, vortices and tornadoes."
Physicists create great balls of fire June 8, 2006 "Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and the Humboldt University, both in Berlin, have used underwater electrical discharges to generate luminous plasma clouds resembling ball lightning that last for nearly half a second and are up to 20 centimetres across."
Neutron Analysis Instrument Fired Up May 2, 2006 "When fully operational, the Energy Department installation will produce a pulsing neutron stream 10 times more intense than that of any other research facility in the world. That stream will let scientists look deeper into the structure and dynamics of different materials."
Towards a new test of general relativity? March 27, 2006 "Scientists funded by the European Space Agency have measured the gravitational equivalent of a magnetic field for the first time in a laboratory. Under certain special conditions the effect is much larger than expected from general relativity and could help physicists to make a significant step towards the long-sought-after quantum theory of gravity.... Although just 100 millionths of the acceleration due to the Earth's gravitational field, the measured field is a surprising one hundred million trillion times larger than Einstein's General Relativity predicts."
Science Comes to the Masses (You Want Fries With That?) March 24, 2006 "Cafe Scientifique meetings hope to make science accessible and even fun to anyone with the time to stop by." See also: And a somewhat related, interesting link is
No future for fusion power, says top scientist March 9, 2006 "... But Kennedy does not go quite as far as Parkins in rejecting the arguments for fusion research projects. While it is unlikely ever to provide practical power, he told New Scientist that "there may be some very good physics going on there"."
Three cosmic enigmas, one audacious answer March 9, 2006 "While looking for ways to avoid these physical paradoxes, Chapline and Laughlin found some answers in an unrelated phenomenon: the bizarre behaviour of superconducting crystals as they go through something called "quantum critical phase transition" (New Scientist, 28 January, p 40). During this transition, the spin of the electrons in the crystals is predicted to fluctuate wildly, but this prediction is not borne out by observation. Instead, the fluctuations appear to slow down, and even become still, as if time itself has slowed down. "That was when we had our epiphany," Chapline says. He and Laughlin realised that if a quantum critical phase transition happened on the surface of a star, it would slow down time and the surface would behave just like a black hole's event horizon.... Abramowicz says we know too little about dark energy and dark matter to judge Chapline and Laughlin's idea, but he is not dismissing it out of hand. "At the very least we can say the idea isn't impossible.""
Quantum computer works best switched off February 24, 2006 "Even for the crazy world of quantum mechanics, this one is twisted. A quantum computer program has produced an answer without actually running.... Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program's components - so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through. "It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten. This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. "A non-running computer produces fewer errors," says Hosten."
Fighting sound with sound February 23, 2006 "Rowley showed that his simulations could predict how sunroof air flow would behave under various conditions. Just as important, he figured out how to negate the noise that it produced.... He selectively picked mathematical tools from three different disciplines -- dynamical systems, control theory and fluid mechanics -- and yoked them together to come up with a computer simulation that, by solving only four equations, could approximate almost identically the answer to the problem that normally would have taken 2 million equations to figure out."
Ping-pong ball avalanches may help prevent real disasters February 5, 2004 "A series of experiments, some involving over half a million ping-pong balls and a ski slope, are helping scientists understand the complex physics underlying the most devastating type of mountain disaster - powder snow avalanches. ... The mathematical model derived from the results was in fact fairly straightforward."
Physicist to Present New Exact Solution of Einstein's Gravitational Field Equation February 20, 2006 "Felber's research shows that any mass moving faster than 57.7 percent of the speed of light will gravitationally repel other masses lying within a narrow 'antigravity beam' in front of it. The closer a mass gets to the speed of light, the stronger its 'antigravity beam' becomes." Given what I've read of relativity in the past, this seems doubtful. Perhaps this could lead to some new interesting things, but until I read more of the actual physics behind it, I'm not keeping my hopes up.
SLAC Physicists Develop Framework-Dependant Test For Critical String Theory February 13, 2006 "String theory solves many of the questions wracking the minds of physicists, but it has one major flaw -- there are currently no known methods to test it. SLAC scientists have found a way to test a particular version of this revolutionary theory."
Unified physics theory explains animals' running, flying and swimming January 3, 2006  
Snowflake Physicist's Photographs to Be Featured on 2006 Postage Stamps. January 3, 2006 Includes a link to:
Quantum well transistors December 12, 2005 Yes, Quantum Mechanics does have practical applications.
Simple Experiment Creates Surprising State of Matter December 12, 2005 "Physicists at the University of Chicago essentially dropped a marble into loosely packed sand, producing a jet of sand grains that briefly behaves like a special type of dense fluid." See also
Nanotube foams flex and rebound with super compressibility November 28, 2005 "Now a new study suggests that [carbon nanotubes] act like super-compressible springs, opening the door to foam-like materials for just about any application where strength and flexibility are needed, from disposable coffee cups to the exterior of the space shuttle."
Geologically produced antineutrinos provide a new window into the Earth's interior August 17, 2005  
First Measurement of Geoneutrinos at KamLAND July 28, 2005 "Surprising as it may seem, for all that we have learned about far distant astrophysical events like deep-space supernovae, dark energy, or even the Big Bang itself, the interior of our own planet remains a mysterious and largely unexplored frontier. Among the many questions is the source of terrestrial heat. ..."
MIT boffins make hot superfluid July 6, 2005 Scientists at MIT have created a new kind of matter: a gas of atoms that exhibits superfluidity at high temperatures. Or at least, what passes for high temperatures among researchers at the MIT Harvard Center for Ultracold atoms. The team finally spotted the vortices when the gas was cooled to 50 billionths of a degree Kelvin. Hold on, we hear you ask, didn't they say high temperature superfluidity? Well, yes they did, and we agree that 50 billionths of a degree Kelvin sounds pretty chilly to us. Fortunately, a Nobel laureate was able to clarify the situation: "It may sound strange to call superfluidity at 50 nanokelvin high-temperature superfluidity, but what matters is the temperature normalized by the density of the particles," said Wolfgang Ketterle, head of the MIT research Group.
Scientists levitate heaviest elements with help from cold oxygen February 23, 2005 Putting diamagnetic levitation together with dense liquids/gases that enhance the magnetic effects allow even very dense materials to float. ("Cryogenically enhanced magneto-Archimedes Levitation")
Shake and stir to make granular materials change phases February 23, 2005 "Physicists at Duke University have devised a controlled, measurable method to make a container of granules -- in this case plastic beads -- "freeze" into the equivalent of a solid-state crystal, or "melt" into the equivalent of a fluid, by alternating the rates that the beads are stirred or shaken."
International Year of Physics 2005 January 28, 2005 as proclaimed by the UN and others. Also useful: and Lectures at the Eberly College of Science
Bubble Fusion Results Replicated January 28, 2005 Ultrasound imploding tiny bubbles creates areas with "temperatures of about 100 million Kelvin," permitting nuclear fusion in those tiny regions.
Clusters of Aluminum Atoms Found to Have Properties of Other Elements Reveal a New Form of Chemistry January 17, 2005 "Superatoms," researched in part by PSU scientists.

Technology Date Description
Robot shopping carts follow you around August 10, 2006 "His cart, also known as B.O.S.S. for Battery Operated Smart Servant, was one of about 30 robots on display Wednesday by students at the University of Florida, who worked the past semester on the projects using their engineering backgrounds.
Jeremy Greene, 23, of Panama City, created a robot named Atlas, which balances a blue ping pong ball on a flat piece of wood as it moves across the room. He said he sees no real world application for his robot other than entertainment."
A plane you can print July 26, 2006 "About 90% of Polecat is made of composite materials with much of that material made by rapid prototyping.... The flexibility lent by 3D printing allowed Mauro's team to design and build the Polecat in only 18 months."
Invention: In-flight rearming July 26, 2006 Includes: "Atmospheric broadcasting:
Researchers at Samsung in Korea are now working on a way to turn the ionosphere into an antenna. A patent application filed by the company reveals plans to direct higher frequencies radio signals, at about 1 gigahertz, at the ionosphere, to alter its behaviour."
Cleaner combustion from Atlanta researchers July 19, 2006  
Inflatable spacecraft launches successfully July 13, 2006  
Model of inflatable space hotel set to launch July 13, 2006  
Invention: Designer Speakers July 13, 2006 Includes: "When a music signal from an amplifier is fed through the coil, it creates a pulsating magnetic field in the ferrofuid, which interacts with the static magnetic field around the bar magnet. The magnet vibrates, causing the ferrofluid to vibrate, and with it the walls of the container. As a result, the ornament radiates sound all around the room." June 27, 2006  
Bots Upstage Puny Humans at Show June 22, 2006 "The RoboGames brought out competitors ranging from tiny autonomous sumo bots that pushed each other out of very small rings, to 300-pound brutes that shot fire from their steely wedge fronts."
Blimp Company Produces 'TV in the Sky' June 22, 2006 "Imagine a drive-in movie screen that floats 1,000 feet in the air -- and travels 15 mph. An Orlando-based blimp company called The Lightship Group has effectively made one, and it could be coming to a night sky near you."
Independent robots team up for search task June 14, 2006 "A team of autonomous flying and ground-based robots have successfully cooperated to search for and locate targets in the streets of an urban warfare training ground in the US. The system could help in search and rescue efforts and military operations -- and even has the potential to include humans in the team."
A man and his microscope: IBM's quest to make atom-sized chips June 13, 2006 "When taken into the room holding the world's highest resolution microscope, we expected to witness a pristine marvel of engineering. Workers in bunny suits would be rushing around in an ultra-clean chamber, tweaking the microscope with refined instruments and unparalleled care. Instead, we found a hand-crafted oddity composed of tin foil, a maze of cables and iced tea cans. Somehow this monster can resolve the height variations of a surface down to about 1/10,000 the diameter of a typical atom, according to its creator IBM Fellow Don Eigler... Building your own instruments is a long-standing tradition of physics. It is my greatest professional strength. If you ask me what I'm strongest at, it is designing and building my own instruments."
Special forces to use strap-on 'stealth wings' June 8, 2006 "Resembling a 6ft-wide pair of aircraft wings, the devices should allow a parachutist to glide up to 120miles, carrying 200lb of equipment, the manufacturers claim."
Lasers Project the Big Picture June 8, 2006 "...newly developed miniature lasers and mirrors make it possible to build cheap projectors about the size of a thumb."
Fraud Roshambo: Paper Beats RFID June 8, 2006 "All paper, as well as plastic credit and debit cards, bears a unique "fingerprint" of microscopic surface imperfections... The detection process makes use of the optical phenomenon known as laser speckle. Light coming from a focused laser is coherent, or in phase, but when it strikes a microscopically rough surface like a piece of paper, the light is scattered, producing a pattern of light and dark "speckles." The scanner's photodetectors digitize and record this pattern. According to Cowburn's research, as published July 28 in the journal Nature, the unique speckle pattern of a sheet of paper remains recognizable even after crunching the paper into a ball, soaking it in water, baking it at 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes, scrubbing it with an abrasive cleaning pad or scribbling over it with a big black marker. A cross-correlation algorithm that assesses the degree of similarity between the base-line scan and the new scan allows the paper's identity to be verified. The odds of two pieces of paper having similar patterns are greater than 10 to the 100th power to one."
Invention: Bomb jammer May 10, 2006 A summary of patent applications, including:
"Bomb jammer: His system would use up to four radio transmitters and receivers placed around a risk area. When a wide frequency of noise is fed to one of the transmitters, all the receivers pick it up and feed the signal to their respective transmitters. Soon the feedback loop completely blankets the risk area with powerful radio energy.
"Apple gesture control: A team of eight at Apple, including famed iMac designer Jonathan Ive, recently filed a lengthy patent for a new concept called "gesture control" that could make a handheld computer, tablet PC or portable music player a whole lot easier to operate. Hard disc scanner."
US plans anti-satellite lasers May 10, 2006 "The Pentagon first tested an anti-satellite laser in October 1997, after a cold-war era Congressional ban on targeting satellites had expired. Shots from a two-million-watt test laser based at White Sands in New Mexico were fired at one of the Pentagon's own satellites, to test its vulnerability to enemy lasers. One lesson was that the atmosphere spread the powerful beam over a large area, reducing its intensity. Ongoing efforts have therefore concentrated on compensating for beam-dissipating atmospheric effects with adaptive optics. This involves using deformable mirrors or a material with variable refractive properties to compensate for atmospheric distortion. The technology was originally developed to improve the propagation of high-power laser beams but is now widely used in astronomy."
Invention: Guitar phone May 10, 2006 A summary of patent applications, including:
"Guitar phone: Motorola is patenting a cellphone that displays the layout of a guitar neck on its screen, and allows its keypad to be "plucked" or "strummed" by a user.
"Power hose: An emergency task force would carry a fire hose rolled flat, with a foot pump at one end and an air valve at the other. The hose could then be unrolled and volunteers take turns to pedal the pump until the hose is full of air. The valve would then be opened to vent the air through a small turbine acting as a generator.
"Out of infrared control: According to the patent, the infrared signals produced by plasma screens have wavelengths between 825 nanometres and 880 nanometres, while most remotes operated at 875 nanometres and above. So a filter that blocks plasma-generated frequencies but lets infrared over 900nm through should block out unwanted signals while allowing normal remotes to work."
QIT: quantum hope or quantum hype? May 10, 2006 "...despite repeated forecasts that we're on the precipice of a revolutionary base jump, even the basics of QIT [Quantum Information Technology] are poorly understood outside the research community."
Nanowires and water are a memorable mix May 2, 2006 "Researchers... discovered that water turns barium titanate (BaTiO3) nanowires into a potential form of computer memory. Barium titanate is a ferroelectric material. It maintains an electric polarisation analogous to magnetisation - a positive charge on one end and a negative charge at the other - that can be oriented by an electric field. This makes ferroelectric materials suitable for storing data, in the form of electric polarisation, on the microscale."
Invention: The TV-advert enforcer April 18, 2006 A summary of recent patents, including: "Philips suggests adding flags to commercial breaks to stop a viewer from changing channels until the adverts are over. ... Philips' patent acknowledges that this may be "greatly resented by viewers..."
"Micro electrical generator: Each micro-generator can only produce about 1 milliwatt of power but an array of several thousand could produce several watts - enough to let MEMS do plenty of useful work..
Invention: Wing-sprouting drone April 18, 2006 summary of recent patents, including: "As the tubes inflate, they will expand and take on the taught shape of aerodynamic wings. The shell casing then becomes the UAV's fuselage, the wings provide lift and an onboard motor provides thrust.
"Scientists at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory in the US have been making electronic transistors out of pure diamond. Microwaves at the standard frequency and wavelength ignore the grid of squares and can cook the food as normal. But normal heat is reflected, to help keep the food cool.".
UK gets Bond-style gadget centre April 11, 2006 "The Counter-Terrorism Science and Technology Centre will make stuff to defuse bombs and sniff out explosives."
IBM controls the atom April 3, 2006 "The process, called spin-excitation spectroscopy, moves atoms into position and then measures the interactions between their atomic spins. ." Includes a link to a more scientific story in the EE Times.
Old PCs for new uses March 24, 2006 "[Computer Aid] brings together the need for organisations in the West to safely and legally dispose of obsolete but still-working PCs, with the needs of organisations in the developing world for affordable PCs."
US and Canadian skiers get smart armour February 20, 2006 An amazing example of materials technology: "Under normal conditions the molecules within the material are weakly bound and can move past each with ease, making the material flexible. But the shock of sudden deformation causes the chemical bonds to strengthen and the moving molecules to lock, turning the material into a more solid, protective shield.... the hardening effect only last[s] as long as the impact itself."
Organised chaos gets robots going November 1, 2004 "A control system based on chaos has made a simulated, multi-legged robot walk successfully.... Remarkably, the robot performed these tricks without any conventional programming. And its behaviour emerged far more quickly than it would if it had used genetic algorithms."
Invention: Rubbery combustion February 8, 2006 A summary of some interesting patents, including: "The engine developed by SRI ... burns an ordinary fuel-air mix inside a sealed cylinder made from a tough elastic material, such as rubberised Kevlar. As the hot gases expand, the cylinder itself swells like a balloon then returns elastically to its original shape."
N.D. to Test Balloons for Cellular Service February 6, 2006 "Why put up costly cell phone towers in thinly populated areas, when a few balloons would do? In North Dakota, former Gov. Ed Schafer is backing a plan to loft wireless network repeaters on balloons high above the state to fill gaps in cellular coverage."
Pumped-Up Performance January 23, 2006 "Inflatable wings on otherwise normal airplanes would also allow engineers to double the craft's wingspan in flight."
New weapon could mean the end of collateral damage January 19, 2006 "The U.S. military has been developing a gunship that could literally obliterate enemy ground targets with a laser beam."
Topic: We could learn a few things from the Italians January 19, 2006 A bulletin board discussion, of a series of tours through Italian engineering facilities.
U. T. Dallas-Led Research Team Produces Strong, Transparent Carbon Nanotube Sheets January 19, 2006  
New nanotech armor called 5 times stronger than steel January 11, 2006  
A team of students investigates morphing wing technology January 3, 2006  
'Mighty Mouse' robot frees stuck radiation source January 3, 2006 A fascinating story of the debugging, improvising, etc. (with frequent visits to hardware stores) to get a highly radioactive source back in storage.
Paper-thin, foldable battery to attach to clothes December 12, 2005 "The 0.3-millimeter (0.012-inch) thick battery can support tens of thousands of signal transmissions on a single charge and can be recharged in less than 30 seconds."
Air guitarists' rock dreams come true December 5, 2005 A student project brings the air guitar to life as a "virtual instrument."
Guitar surfing December 5, 2005 "A new guitar allows musicians to surf the internet and send emails while playing the instrument."
Holographic-memory discs may put DVDs to shame December 5, 2005 "A computer disc about the size of a DVD that can hold 60 times more data is set to go on sale in 2006. The disc stores information through the interference of light -- a technique known as holographic memory."
Hot-air plane December 5, 2005 "A drone aircraft powered by a 200-year-old engine design is the latest concept under wraps at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, US.
The Stirling engine - invented in 1816 by clergyman Robert Stirling - uses temperature difference to activate its gas-filed pistons. The engine is efficient at generating mechanical power, although slow. But the US research lab thinks it could be ideal for use in a solar-powered aircraft that needs to fly throughout the night on stored energy.
Instead of using solar cells to convert sunlight to electricity, and storing this in rechargeable batteries, the new plane will use a thermal battery that stores heat in order to drive its Stirling engine."
US military sets laser PHASRs to stun November 10, 2005 "The US government has unveiled a "non-lethal" laser rifle designed to dazzle enemy personnel without causing them permanent harm.... The Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHASR) rifle was developed at the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico..."
Engineers Make Leap in Optical Networks October 28, 2005 A team of Stanford electrical engineers has discovered how to switch a beam of laser light on and off up to 100 billion times a second with materials that are widely used in the semiconductor industry.
The latest nanotech device: Venetian blinds October 28, 2005 Prasad Polavarapu, a chemist at Vanderbilt and part of the research team, says the shutter action might some day make the molecule useful as a nanoscale engine, part of a computer display screen, or as a component in a computer memory. The molecule might also be attached to a glass substrate and used to instantly tint a window.
Vast array of tiny antennas could talk to spacecraft October 28, 2005  
The main light source of the future will almost surely not be a bulb. It might be a table, a wall, or even a fork. October 24, 2005 When you shine a light on quantum dots or apply electricity to them, they react by producing their own light, normally a bright, vibrant color. But when Bowers shined a laser on his batch of dots, something unexpected happened. "I was surprised when a white glow covered the table," Bowers said. "The quantum dots were supposed to emit blue light, but instead they were giving off a beautiful white glow."
The World's Smallest Car October 24, 2005 Using the parts inside a single molecule, scientists have constructed the world's smallest car. It has a chassis, axles and a pivoting suspension. The wheels are buckyballs, spheres of pure carbon containing 60 atoms apiece. The whole car is no more than 4 nanometers across. That's slightly wider than a strand of DNA. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers thick.
Ambitious Google project: a digital age test of copyright law September 20, 2005 Google is scanning books from several university libraries, to make them searchable. Some copyright holders are concerned about this project.
Backpack turns hiker's energy into electricity September 9, 2005 "Pound for pound, food contains about 100-fold more energy than batteries."
Applied Minds Think Remarkably August 17, 2005 A story about a very interesting, quirky company doing some very interesting things.
Firefox Users Monkey With the Web August 17, 2005 An extension to the Firefox web browser allows users to customize the way they view and interact with assorted web sites.
You Say You Want a Web Revolution August 17, 2005 Looking toward the future of web applications.
NOVA Profile: Brothers Chudnovsky July 28, 2005 "The story of two brilliant mathematicians, a unicorn, and a homemade supercomputer."
Geeks should 'outsource themselves' - Mongolian BoFH July 6, 2005  
Zero to 76,000 mph in a Second June 8, 2005 "The ultra-tiny aluminum plates, just 850 microns thick, are accelerated at 1010 g. One g is the force of Earth's gravity. Doing so without vaporizing the plates was possible because of the finer control now achievable of the magnetic field pulse that drives the flight."
Software learns to translate by reading up February 23, 2005 Translation software that develops an understanding of languages by scanning through thousands of previously translated documents has been released by US researchers.
Robots toddle along with human efficiency February 23, 2005 Three robots that walk with a human gait have been unveiled. They use a unique system that makes them far more efficient than previous walking machines, requiring only as much energy as a person does for a stroll.
Robotic ball that chases burglars February 16, 2005  
Forget takeout, eat a print-out February 16, 2005 "The chef has also taken to printing his menus this way: diners can spice up their soup by ripping up the menu and tossing in the pieces."
An Alaskan man is building an 18ft hydraulic humanoid which can fire 20ft flames from its arms February 7, 2005 Carlos Owens Jr says his creation will also be able to shoot 9ins nails from its shoulders. He has been building the £10,000 machine, which he calls a 'mecha', at his parents' house in Wasilla since October 2003.
Using Google to search for meaning January 28, 2005  
Spray-On Solar-Power Cells Are True Breakthrough January 17, 2005 Flexible solar cells developed, with massively improved efficiency by converting infrared light into electricity.

Biology/Biotechnology Date Description
To heal a wound, turn up the voltage July 26, 2006  
Bacteria made to sprout conducting nanowires July 13, 2006  
Power Up With Magnetic Bacteria June 13, 2006 "A 16-year-old high school student has invented a new way of producing electricity by harnessing the brawny power of bacteria."
Beetle's wings inspire water-moving materials May 10, 2006 "The Namib desert beetle, which lives on the parched sands of southwest Africa, collects drinking water using its wings, which are waxed and covered with an array of raised unwaxed bumps. The bumps strongly attract water, while the waxy areas repel it."
Spiders inspire eight-legged Post-it notes April 23, 2004 "Scientists have discovered that spider on a ceiling could hold 170 times its own bodyweight before gravity would pull it from its perch. And what use is this fascinating piece of information being put to? The betterment of mankind perhaps? Not a chance: it'll be used to make Post-it notes that stick even when wet."
Jellyfish: nature's quickest on the draw May 10, 2006 "The sting of a jellyfish has been shown to be one of the fastest processes in the whole of biology. Using a super-fast camera technique German researchers have found it can fire off in just 700 nanoseconds. The team, writing in Current Biology, calculates that the acceleration is equivalent to 5,410,000 times gravity. Its impact generates a pressure of seven Gigapascals, which is in the same range as a gunshot."
New security camera has insect-like eye May 2, 2006 "Security cameras fitted with artificial compound eyes based on those of flies have been developed by scientists to improve surveillance. The synthetic eyes will enable CCTV cameras to give an unprecedented panoramic view of an area and detect movement with unprecedented speed, say researchers."
Brain Cells Fused with Computer Chip March 24, 2006 "...The proteins allowed the neuro-chip's electronic components and its living cells to communicate with each other. Electrical signals from neurons were recorded using the chip's transistors, while the chip's capacitors were used to stimulate the neurons."
Microbe and Machine Merged to Create First 'Cellborg' October, 2005 "Scientists first coated a silicon chip with a layer of live Bacillus cereus bacteria. Some of the long, rod-shaped microbes lodged between two etched electrodes on the chip's surface, forming a bridge. The chip was then washed in a solution containing tiny gold particles, each one about 30 nanometers across."
'Mental typewriter' controlled by thought alone March 9, 2006 "The device could provide a way for paralysed patients to operate computers, or for amputees to operate electronically controlled artificial limbs. But it also has non-medical applications, such as in the computer games and entertainment industries."
Stem cells help horses over injury hurdle March 9, 2006 subscription required "The new treatment ... requires bone marrow stem cells to be taken from the horse's own sternum. These cells are then multiplied up in the laboratory and injected into the damaged area, where they regenerate tissue in the clefts typically left by these injuries." Note that this is another successful use of adult stem cells, which recieve far too little attention in the press.
Microbes survived the Columbia shuttle disaster March 9, 2006 "PANSPERMIA, the idea that life on Earth was seeded by microbes from space, has had a boost from an unlikely source: the Columbia space shuttle, which broke apart on re-entry in February 2003."
High school senior discovers ironing deactivates anthrax February 21, 2006 "On Oct. 12, 2001, a former Soviet germ warfare specialist told members of a U.S. Congressional committee that people could use a hot steam iron through a moist layer of fabric to kill anthrax spores in mail.... During a CNN interview four years ago, a reporter asked Dr. Roberge [the high schooler's father] if the report was accurate. "My response was to her was that high heat could kill anthrax, but I didn't know if a household iron would work, since no studies had been done," he said." So, not an original discovery, but a good confirmation that needed to be done.
Robot moved by a slime mould's fears February 20, 2006 My first impression is that this is rather useless and not particularly challenging technologically. (Far more involved would be this story, from October 2004, of a collection of rat brain cells controlling a simulated jet.) Still, it's interesting as a proof of concept, and for using a large single-celled organism.
Bacteria Manipulated Into Snapshots November 28, 2005 As part of a contest to demonstrate innovative uses for genetically engineered organisms, graduate students in California and Texas have produced "living photographs" from sheets of bacteria growing in a petri dish.
Remote Control Device 'Controls' Humans October 28, 2005 A special headset was placed on my cranium by my hosts during a recent demonstration at an NTT research center. It sent a very low voltage electric current from the back of my ears through my head _ either from left to right or right to left, depending on which way the joystick on a remote-control was moved.
    The technology is called galvanic vestibular stimulation _ essentially, electricity messes with the delicate nerves inside the ear that help maintain balance.
    I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced _ mistakenly _ that this was the only way to maintain my balance.
    The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands.
Thin skin will help robots 'feel' August 17, 2005 Japanese researchers have developed a flexible artificial skin that could give robots a humanlike sense of touch. The team manufactured a type of "skin" capable of sensing pressure and another capable of sensing temperature.
Researchers Aim To Grow Meat In Test Tube August 17, 2005 Researchers in the U.S. say the technology now exists now to produce processed meats such as burgers and sausages, starting with cells taken from cows, chickens, pigs, fish or other animals... Industrializing the process could involve growing muscle cells on large sheets or beads suspended in a growth medium.
NOVA: RNAi Explained July 28, 2005 A breakthrough in the understanding of how cells work, that could lead to cures for many viruses and major diseases.
Monkey See, Robotics Do February 23, 2005 Monkeys have taught themselves to control a robotic arm in another room, thanks to a chip implanted in their brains, without any loss in controlling their own arms. (Here's another article with a bit more depth.)
Decoding Bees' Wild Waggle Dances February 23, 2005 Miniature radar transponders allow researchers to determine just how bee waggle dances are used.
Researchers reveal secrets of snake flight February 23, 2005 Some snakes are very effective gliders, through a very unusual technique.
Cancer could be 'switched off' February 7, 2005 A gene called Pokemon could be "switched off" by doctors to stop cancer. Geneticist Dr Pier Paolo said: "Pokemon is a main switch in the network leading to cancer. If we could turn it off in humans, it may stall the malignant process."
Sharks detect changes in magnetic fields February 7, 2005 Scientists want to understand how sharks are able to detect magnetic fields. Other animals that do it, such as trout and pigeons, possess the iron mineral magnetite in their bodies. Sharks, however, do not possess magnetite. It is possible electro-receptors in their heads are employed instead.

Perception, Thought, etc. Date Description
Eyes are fooled by spinning, curving balls March 9, 2006  
'Sleeping on it' best for complex decisions February 20, 2006 "Complex decisions are best left to your unconscious mind to work out, according to a new study, and over-thinking a problem could lead to expensive mistakes." Not really a new idea, but a rather interesting way of testing it: "In one of the tests, half of the participants were asked to ponder on the information they were given and then decide which among similar products to buy. The other half were shown the information but then made to perform a series of puzzles including anagrams and simple arithmetic. At the end of the puzzle session, the participants were asked to make a snap decision about the products."
Hand waving boosts mathematics learning February 20, 2006 "The gestures simply duplicating these directions involved the instructors pointing to the left-hand and then the right-hand sides of the equation. When using complementary gestures, however, the teachers pointed to each of the numbers on the left and then signalled the subtraction of the five on the right side by scooping their hand away from the number." I've always pictured subtraction from both sides as being the same as grabbing something, and moving it to the other side of the equation (giving it a minus sign in the process). Some of the researchers must have too, or else they wouldn't have designed this test to begin with. So it strikes me as odd that they would be surprised that showing that motion helps.
Scientists Predict What You'll Think of Next February 6, 2006 "Researchers analyzed brain scans of people as the test subjects watched pictures on a computer screen... The researchers found that the patterns of brain activity associated with each picture "reinstated" themselves seconds before the people could verbally recall the memories."
Study: Most College Students Lack Skills January 23, 2006 "Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.... The survey showed a strong relationship between analytic coursework and literacy. Students in two-year and four-year schools scored higher when they took classes that challenged them to apply theories to practical problems or weigh competing arguments."
Internet users judge Web sites in less than a blink January 19, 2006  
Doctor Bans Boy From Playstation To Stop Head Twitching January 19, 2006  
Humans Do Not Understand Mirror Reflections, Say Researchers January 3, 2006  
Email and letter writing share fundamental pattern October 28, 2005 These two icons worked in a time when scientific communication was largely by written letter -- Darwin sent at least 7591 letters in his career, and Einstein sent 14,500, writing an average of half a letter and one letter per day, respectively.
    Yet despite the differences between electronic communication and paper, the same pattern held up -- both men answered most of their mail quickly, within about 10 days. But some of the answers took months or even years to send (Nature, vol 437, p 1251). "From the scientific point of view, the interesting thing is that there is a fundamental way that we do things," Barabasi says.
Promote healthy eating: feed folks false beliefs August 17, 2005 A disturbing outlook: "The feedback told them they had become ill eating fattening foods -- strawberry ice cream and chocolate chip cookies -- as a child. The bluff led a substantial minority to believe they had felt ill after eating the ice cream - but not the cookies."
Blind teen amazes with video-game skills July 28, 2005 "Blind since birth when his optic nerve didn't connect because of Leber's disease, Mellen honed his video game skills over the years through patient and not-so-patient playing, memorizing key joystick operations and moves in certain games, asking lots of questions and paying particular attention to audio cues. He worked his way up from games such as Space Invaders and Asteroid, onto the modern combat games. ... How Mellen became so good is a mystery to his father. 'He just sat there and he tried and tried until he got it right,' Larry Mellen said. 'He didn't ever complain to me or anyone about how hard it was.' ... 'I freak people out by playing facing backwards.'"
11 steps to a better brain June 6, 2005  
Creative thinking: try lying down February 23, 2005 Study participants solved anagrams more quickly lying down than standing up.
"At the end of September, Nature published a study in which scientists made ferrets watch the movie The Matrix." February 23, 2005 A surprise for the scientists was that watching the movie made an adult ferret brain's visual system work only a bit harder than its baseline output.... "Because of the high-energy consumption of baseline neural activity in the brain," the scientists write, "it would be inefficient to maintain the observed high level of spontaneous activity unless it had an essential role in sensory processing." Perhaps it's simply easier to keep the matrix handy at all times than to ask the brain to build reality from scratch every moment.
To know science is to love it February 23, 2005 To some extent, the results confirm the belief widely held by science advocates: the more people know about science, the more favourably they tend to view it, regardless of other factors such as age, nationality and formal level of education.... His finding cannot, for example, show whether better science education will bump up general support for the field. This is because researchers have yet to figure out whether people who learn more about science then tend to like it or, conversely, whether people who already like and support science are simply inclined to learn further facts.
Why is physics so difficult? February 16, 2005 "If you struggled with physics as a teenager, it might be because your brain was clinging to misconceptions about science."
Time in the future seems to go further February 16, 2005 "People consistently over-commit because they expect to have more time in the future than they do right now."
The Plagiarism Problem February 16, 2005 A discussion from Penn State.

Astronomy/Space Date Description
Electromagnetic space travel for bugs? July 26, 2006 "Life on planets such as Earth or Mars could have been seeded by electrically charged microbes from space, suggests a new study.... Dehel calculated the effect of electric fields at various levels in the atmosphere on a bacterium that was carrying an electric charge. He showed that such bacteria could easily be ejected from the Earth's gravitational field by the same kind of electromagnetic fields that generate auroras. And these fields occur every day, unlike the extraordinarily large surface impacts needed to eject interplanetary meteorites."
Tut's gem hints at space impact July 19, 2006  
Earth's writhing magnetic field could aid fusion research July 19, 2006  
Inflatable spacecraft launches successfully
and Model of inflatable space hotel set to launch.
July 13. 2006  
Blimp-borne telescopes could rival Hubble June 22, 2006 "A 0.5-metre-wide mirror on such a telescope would provide crisper images over a large field of view than any ground-based observatory, Fesen argues. And while Hubble cost $1.5 billion to build, Fesen estimates this sort of telescope would cost just $10 million to construct."
Enigmatic object baffles supernova team June 22, 2006 "At first glance, the object discovered on 22 February in the constellation Bootes resembled an ordinary supernova. But it kept growing brighter for much too long, and its spectrum was abnormal."
Giant hot bubbles may help protect Earth June 22, 2006 "The bubbles formed when the density of the tenuous gas present in space dropped by a factor of 10, and the temperature of the gas left rose from 100,000°C to 10 million°C... Inside the density holes, solar wind particles stopped moving towards Earth and were pushed to the sides of the bubbles. 'The solar wind is somehow being deviated very, very dramatically,' Parks told New Scientist."
Gigantic fireball spotted on galactic rampage June 13, 2006 "Astronomers have identified a massive comet-like structure -- spanning a whopping three million light years -- that is tearing through a distant galaxy cluster at more than 750 kilometres a second."
Amateur astronomers prove their mettle June 8, 2006 "An international team of professional and amateur astronomers, employing a budget telescope atop a Hawaiian volcano have discovered their first extra-solar planet. This discovery demonstrates how effective amateurs can be in contributing to serious research. However, amateurs without $60,000 or a volcano need not apply."
'Cyclic universe' can explain cosmological constant May 10, 2006 "A cyclic universe, which bounces through a series of big bangs and "big crunches", could solve the puzzle of our cosmological constant, physicists suggest."
Saturn's rotation puts astronomers in a spin May 10, 2006 "The most commonly cited figure for Saturn's rotation period -- 10 hours, 39 minutes and 22.4 seconds -- was derived in 1980 from Voyager observations of radio waves generated by solar radiation hitting the planet's atmosphere. Yet Cassini has returned a result almost 8 minutes longer, a difference that defies easy explanation."
Preventing the sky falling in on Moon bases May 10, 2006 "A meteoroid blasting through a Moon base would be a bad day in space. So, with NASA now planning to return astronauts to the Moon as early as 2018, scientists are combing through 30-year-old seismic data to see exactly how big a threat impacts pose to future lunar explorers."
Dim galactic dwarves lurk around Milky Way May 10, 2006 "Astronomers have discovered two new dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way's immediate neighbourhood. ... The dim duo bring the total number of dwarves around the Milky Way to 14, though theory predicts there should be hundreds embedded in dark matter clumps. The discrepancy between observations and calculations is yet to be resolved."
NASA launches lunar lander contest May 8, 2006 "NASA is calling on private industry to build next-generation spacecraft that can land on the moon, and it's got $2 million to back up the bid."
Cassini radar discovers space Arabia May 8, 2006 "Cassini's radar imager found the Earth-like desert landscapes dominating huge swathes of the [Titan's] surface near the equator. The dunes are up to 150m high and can span hundreds of kilometres."
'Starquake' explosion rips neutron star open May 2, 2006 "Astronomers have measured the thickness of the crust of a neutron star for the first time... The starquake probably occurred when magnetic fields inside the star, which are attached to the crust, got so twisted up that they ripped the crust open. This released a fireball of particles and radiation that astronomers observed as the brightest flash of high-energy photons ever seen from beyond the solar system."
Satellites to try formation flying on space station May 2, 2006 "A soccer-ball-sized satellite will soon be floating aboard the International Space Station. Once joined by two others, it will help researchers test formation flying and autonomous rendezvous and docking manoeuvres for future orbiting satellites.... But why test formation flight and autonomous manoeuvres on the ISS rather than in space, where real future missions will take place? One reason is that on the space station, the batteries can be replaced and the carbon dioxide tanks of the SPHERES mini-satellites can be topped up, extending their life. If they were cast off into space, they would have to carry everything needed for their entire lifetime.... The ISS crew can also help if something is going wrong, for example if the satellite is about to crash blindly into the wall or another satellite."
NASA Chooses New Spacecraft to Search for Water on Moon April 11, 2006  
Using Google Earth to discover asteroid impacts March 24, 2006  
Saturn moon spewing water vapor March 9, 2006  
Bumper sunspot crop forecast for next solar cycle March 9, 2006 "We predict the next cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the last cycle," Includes links to video and images of solar cycles, storms, from NASA and others.
Space-elevator tether climbs a mile high February 20, 2006 "A slim cable for a space elevator has been built stretching a mile into the sky, enabling robots to scrabble some way up and down the line.... To make the cable, researchers sandwiched three carbon-fibre composite strings between four sheets of fibreglass tape, creating a mile-long cable about 5 centimetres wide and no thicker than about six sheets of paper."
Stardust Returns Bearing Particles from On High January 23, 2006 "Last Sunday, after seven years in space traveling nearly three billion miles, Stardust landed in the Great Salt Lake Desert with a treasure from when the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago..."
Snow on Mars Created Glaciers Near Equator January 23, 2006 "The findings are important because they tell us that Mars has experienced big climate changes in the past, the kinds of climate change that led to the Great Ice Age here on Earth," Head said. "The findings are also interesting because this precipitation pattern may have left pockets of ice scattered across Mars. This is good information for NASA as officials plan future space missions, particularly with astronauts." The New Space Race: Follow The Talent January 23, 2006 "In the 1960s, the two coolest places in America to work if you were a top scientist or engineer were NASA and Bell Labs. Ask yourself: How many MIT or Caltech grads lust to work for NASA or Lucent Technologies today?"
Space 'Slinky' Confirms Theory with a Twist January 23, 2006 "Astronomers have discovered a giant magnetic field that is coiled like a snake around a rod-shaped gas cloud in the constellation Orion."
Take a leap into hyperspace January 11, 2006 A proposed "hyperdrive" propulsion device relies on a theory that is not widely accepted or understood, but is still plausible enough to be worth a second look.
NASA To Return First Comet Samples To Earth January 11, 2006  
How the universe's first magnetic field formed January 11, 2006  
Robots aim to explore and build on other worlds December 5, 2005 "NASA is offering two new $250,000 prizes to stimulate advances in the use of robots in planetary exploration and automated construction.
[One] challenge will require robots to assemble structures out of building blocks strewn around an arena. Human controllers will only be able to see the arena using sensors on the robots and any commands they send will be subject to delays - just as they would if the robots were on the Moon.
The other competition will award funding to teams that build an uncrewed, auto-piloted plane that can follow a complex flight path using only visual cues for navigation. The vehicle must also be able to "extend and retract" a probe that can hit several targets on the ground."
Private Supply Ships Vital for Space Vision, NASA Chief Says November 17, 2005 "Commercial space station cargo ships, crew ferries and other spacecraft will prove a vital cog in NASA's engine for future space exploration, the agency's top official said Tuesday."
Lichens love life in space. November 10, 2005 "Two different species of Lichen were sent into orbit... After just over 14 and a half days in orbit, the lid was closed and the capsule returned to Earth. On their return, the space-faring lichens were all still alive, and their ability to photosynthesise had not diminished."
Star is observed moving at 1.5M mph November 10, 2005 Since stars are not born with such large velocities, its position suggests it was ejected from the Large Magellanic Cloud, perhaps by a massive black hole in the Milky Way's closest neighbor. "At such a speed, the star would go around the Earth in less than a minute,"...
NASA Revives Apollo - While Starving Space Life Science September 20, 2005 A summary of the current plan to return to the moon.
Large New World Discovered Beyond Neptune August 17, 2005 "A newfound object in our solar system's outskirts may be larger than any known world after Pluto, scientists said today. It also has a moon. Designated as 2003 EL61, the main object in the two-body system is 32 percent as massive as Pluto and is estimated to be about 70 percent of Pluto's diameter." See also a story at physorg: "We are 100 percent confident that this is the first object bigger than Pluto ever found in the outer solar system."
Water ice in crater at Martian north pole August 17, 2005 Excellent images from ESA's Mars Express spacecraft shows water ice filling a large part of a crater.
Small spaceship to fly through gravity tunnel July 12, 2005 If the second phase of the contract is awarded by both NASA and Andrews, then SpaceDev will be the one responsible for building and preparing SmallTug for its launch in 2008. The mission will result in the spacecraft resulting in a halo orbit around the Lunar Lagrange L1 point, which is approximately 85% of the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
A balloon-carried telescope is airborne, built to study star formation. June 13, 2005 "... Weighing nearly 3-tons, the telescope is to reach some 25 miles (40 kilometres) altitude in its sky-high look at stars and other objects. The telescope structure includes a 6 foot (2 meter) in diameter primary mirror. The balloon carrying BLAST is some 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter and roughly 395 feet (120 meters) tall."
Micro Spacecraft To Explore Planets June 13, 2005 6-inch long craft may first be used as "black box" recorders; eventually perhaps independently-landing sensors.
Optimism as NASA Chief Charts New Course June 13, 2005 Hope from NASA's Ames Research Center that the renewed emphasis on manned spaceflight, and a return to the Moon, will revitilize the space program.
Moon measurements might explain away dark energy February 23, 2005 Plans to trace the Moon's orbit with extraordinary new accuracy could reveal kinks in Einstein's theory of gravity and help explain the mysterious accelerating expansion of the universe, says a US researcher....The scheme to measure the Moon's orbit involves firing a laser beam at mirrors left on the surface by the Apollo 11 astronauts and measuring the time it takes for photons to return....Now, Tom Murphy, Chris Stubbs and Eric Adelberger at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, plan to use more precise laser equipment to measure the Moon's path to just a few millimetres.
Misconceptions about the Big Bang February 23, 2005 Baffled by the expansion of the universe? You're not alone. Even astronomers frequently get it wrong.
Star Wants Out of Milky Way February 16, 2005 A star three times bigger than the sun has been seen fleeing our galaxy at over 1.5 million mph...
Space tether to send satellites soaring February 16, 2005  
Lunar colony to run on moon dust and robots January 28, 2005  
Sunspot cluster ejects huge radiation storm January 28, 2005 Largest radiation storm since October 1989.
Does gravity vary during solar eclipses? January 28, 2005  
Amazon CEO gives us peek into space plans January 17, 2005 Jeff Bezos to build a spaceport in Texas.
Cassini-Huygens Homepage January 17, 2005 Includes images and news regarding the recent landing of the Huygens probe on Titan.

Earth/Environment Date Description
Note: the links relating to global warming are not intended to be comprehensive; instead, I'm offering links to interesting ideas that are, in my opinion, receiving less attention than the other side.
Kyoto promises are nothing but hot air June 22, 2006 "MANY governments, including some that claim to be leading the fight against global warming, are harbouring a dirty little secret. These countries are emitting far more greenhouse gas than they say they are... According to some estimates, methane is responsible for a third of current global warming, and reductions in methane emissions may be the quickest and cheapest way of slowing climate change..."
The gods are laughing June 14, 2006 "Scientists who work in the fields liberal arts graduate Al Gore wanders through contradict his theories about man-induced climate change."
More about An Inconvenient Truth June 14, 2006 "Professor Bob Carter of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, in Australia gives what, for many Canadians, is a surprising assessment: "Gore's circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.""
Response to "Questions and Answers about Climate Change" June 13, 2006 A brief overview of some questions, including the bandwagon effect, and the urban heat island effect.
Scientists track weather with mobile masts May 8, 2006 "New research suggests mobile 3G masts offer a cheap and accurate weather monitoring network."
Olive tree rewrites classical history May 2, 2006 "During the second millennium BC, it was the site of a massive eruption that blasted ash and rock for many miles around, burying many thriving civilisations in the Mediterranean, including Crete's famed Minoans."
The Anthropogenic Global Warming Doctrine April 18, 2006 "I remember the reaction of a Canadian scientist who dared to ask critical questions at a meeting on global warming. He was totally taken aback by the virulent reaction, "it was as if I was back in the Middle Ages and had denied the Virgin Birth"."
Climate of Fear April 13, 2006 "Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence," by Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.
Scientists blame sun for global warming February 13, 1998 "The Sun is more active than it has ever been in the last 300 years."
There IS a problem with global warming... it stopped in 1998 April 11, 2006 "... for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase (there was actually a slight decrease, though not at a rate that differs significantly from zero)."
Satellite shows Greenland's ice sheets getting thicker March 24, 2006 "All down to more snow falling, it seems."
Greenhouse theory smashed by biggest stone March 27, 2006 "According to Vladimir Shaidurov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the apparent rise in average global temperature recorded by scientists over the last hundred years or so could be due to atmospheric changes that are not connected to human emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of natural gas and oil... Shaidurov... suggests that the rise... was the massive Tunguska Event, which rocked a remote part of Siberia, northwest of Lake Baikal on the 30th June 1908."
Global warming bubbles up from the ocean March 9, 2006 subscription required "Around 15 per cent of today's global warming is down to methane, but where does all this gas come from? Some at least could be bubbling up from an unlikely source - deep-sea volcanoes."
Atmospheric 'sprites' captured in explosive detail February 20, 2006 "For decades, many scientists doubted the reports of airline pilots of strong lightning between the tops of thunderstorms and the upper atmosphere. In recent years, they've been a strong topic of study, and these images should help build our understanding of this important phenomenon."
Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century November 6, 2005 Michael Crichton speech to Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy, Washington, D.C.
Earth's Magnetic Pole Drifting Quickly December 12, 2005 "Earth's north magnetic pole is drifting away from North America and toward Siberia at such a clip that Alaska might lose its spectacular Northern Lights in the next 50 years, scientists said Thursday."
NOVA: When Compasses Point South July 28, 2005 The Earth's magnetic field has experienced many reversals in its multi-billion year history. Here's some more information about that phenomenon.
The Cooling World July 15, 2005 A Newsweek story from 1975, on the threat of global cooling.
A New Alpine Melt Theory June 8, 2005 Glaciers in the Alps may have advanced and receded many times over the past several thousand years. "Indeed, Hannibal probably never saw a single big chunk of ice when he was crossing the Alps with his army."
Iraq's marshlands show renewed signs of life February 23, 2005 Lush wetlands once covered 15,000 square kilometres of southern Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers....But more than 90% of the area was destroyed in the 1990s by the diversion of water for agricultural irrigation, as well as deliberate draining ordered by Saddam Hussein in retaliation for the Marsh Arab's uprising after the first Gulf War. Shortly after end of Saddam's regime in 2003, local Marsh Arabs returned to the area and destroyed dams in an effort to reflood the region.
High-energy particles reveal volcanic interiors February 23, 2005 Scientists have shown that muons - high-energy particles generated when cosmic rays interact with the Earth's atmosphere - can be used to probe the inner structure of volcanoes.
Earth creates powerful gamma-ray flashes February 23, 2005 The events are the most energetic phenomena produced on Earth... In this process, a lightning strike leaves behind negative charge in a thundercloud. This charge sets up an electric field in the air above the cloud up to an altitude of about 80 kilometres. The field lasts for just a fraction of a second but, in that time, it draws free electrons upward. The electrons collide with molecules of nitrogen, sparking the release of more electrons in an "avalanche" process. The resulting beams of electrons - moving at nearly the speed of light - then radiate gamma rays when they hit and are deflected by atomic nuclei. After emitting gamma rays, the electrons may loop back down to Earth along the planet's magnetic field lines, potentially producing another gamma-ray flash during their descent.

Errors, Oddities, etc. Date Description
Junk science - the oil of the new web June 8, 2006 "People are fascinated by ways in which data-mining seems to represent some sort of over-mind. But sometimes there's no deep meaning at all. Dartboards are competitive with individual money managers - but nobody talks about the 'wisdom of darts'..."
Spacecraft collision due to catalogue of errors May 18, 2006 "A failed NASA mission, in which a spacecraft crashed into a satellite instead of autonomously docking with it, suffered serious problems with its navigation systems, according to a summary report on the the official investigation, released on Monday."
Study: Research Fraud Rampant In China May 18, 2006 "Report Finds 60 Percent Of Ph.D. Candidates Admit To Plagiarism, Bribery."
People more drunk at weekends, researchers discover May 2, 2006 "The team discovered that the LiveJournal label "drunk" becomes increasingly popular each weekend... The team also noticed that on the weekend of the publication of the most recent Harry Potter book, bloggers used "words like 'Harry', 'Potter', 'shop' and 'book'," PhD student Gilad Mishne reveals. This work really should put the Nobel Prize Committee on Red Alert. Alongside the existing scientific prizes for Chemistry, Physics and Physiology and Medicine, the Laureate Committee should design a new category for the "Bleeding Obvious", or the "Dying Ridiculous"..."
Game to turn pet hamsters into people-eaters April 18, 2006 "The hamster is housed in a tank fitted with infra-red sensors that track its motion as it chases after a tasty piece of bait. Its movements are mimicked by monster hamster on a computer screen, which chases a virtual character representing a human opponent. The human player must manipulate the onscreen movements of the character to evade the hungry hamster. As they do so, actuators move the real bait around the tank to keep it away from the real rodent. The game ends when the human's onscreen persona has been caught and eaten, or when they have survived for a set period of time.... "This game will allow remote pet interaction," Cheok says. "The game can be played over the internet so an owner overseas on a business trip will still have a way of interacting with their pets through this system.""
Alaska man plans 20-ton domestic cyclotron December, 2005 Interesting.
This Essay Breaks the Law March 27, 2006 "*The Earth revolves around the Sun. * The speed of light is a constant. * Apples fall to earth because of gravity. * Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes. * Elevated uric acid is linked to gout. * Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease. * Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.
"ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent."
Red rain could prove that aliens have landed March 8, 2006 "On 25 July, 2001, blood-red rain fell over the Kerala district of western India. And these rain bursts continued for the next two months. All along the coast it rained crimson, turning local people's clothes pink, burning leaves on trees and falling as scarlet sheets at some points... one analysis showed the particles were 50 per cent carbon, 45 per cent oxygen with traces of sodium and iron: consistent with biological material. Louis also discovered that, hours before the first red rain fell, there was a loud sonic boom that shook houses in Kerala. Only an incoming meteorite could have triggered such a blast, he claims. This had broken from a passing comet and shot towards the coast, shedding microbes as it travelled. These then mixed with clouds and fell with the rain." See also Dr. Godfrey Louis's Home Page, a .pdf of the paper that will be published in Astrophysics and Space Science, a .pdf of another paper suggesting more extraordinary claims,, and this discussion board for a more well-rounded, skeptical take on things.
Engineering: Is the U.S. Really Falling? January 19, 2006 "The conclusion [of a Duke University study]: Because of fuzzy definitions of "engineering graduate," estimates of Indian and Chinese numbers can be wildly exaggerated, while America's are understated."
'Where have all the bloody teaspoons gone?' January 3, 2006 A fun story, played perfectly straight for all it's worth. (e.g. "One possible explanation for the phenomenon is resistentialism (the theory that inanimate objects have a natural aversion to humans), they write. This is demonstrated by the fact that people have little or no control over teaspoon migration.")
Science on a lighter note: offbeat tales of 2005 January 3, 2006  
Fat fingered typing costs a trader's bosses £128m December 12, 2005 Correct ratios, decimal places, etc. are important: "The trader at Mizuho Securities... wanted to sell one share in a new telecoms company... for 600,000 yen (about £3,000). Unfortunately, the order went through as a sale of 600,000 shares at 1 yen each. Despite Mizuho's attempts to rectify the mistake, some estimates put the possible financial damage to the firm at about 60 billion yen -- a figure that may be big enough to destabilise the securities arm of what is one of the four largest financial groups in the world."
Have a look at the other errors as well, such as: "November 2002: A market maker confused the price of Ryanair shares in euros and sterling, sending the London quote up more than 61 per cent, from 404.5p to 653.7p."
"May 2001: A trader at Lehman Brothers mistyped a trade and wiped £30 billion off the stock market. He wanted to sell £3 million of stock but typed too many zeros and sold £300 million. The bank suffered a £20,000 fine for his clumsiness."
Most scientific papers are probably wrong September 21, 2005 It is important to be able to decide for yourself whether or not a result makes sense: "Most published scientific research papers are wrong, according to a new analysis. Assuming that the new paper is itself correct, problems with experimental and statistical methods mean that there is less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true."
Power-dressing man leaves trail of destruction September 20, 2005 "An Australian man built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, leaving a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic and forcing firefighters to evacuate a building. Frank Clewer, who was wearing a woolen shirt and a synthetic nylon jacket, was oblivious to the growing electrical current that was building up as his clothes rubbed together..."
Dumb things teachers told me Friday, September 9, 2005 A humorous newsgroup story about calculation errors in a physics class.
Laundry goes cyber August 23, 2005 A company has created washers and dryers that can be monitored via the web, or can alert via email or cell phone when a cycle is complete.
Promote healthy eating: feed folks false beliefs August 17, 2005 A disturbing outlook: "The feedback told them they had become ill eating fattening foods -- strawberry ice cream and chocolate chip cookies -- as a child. The bluff led a substantial minority to believe they had felt ill after eating the ice cream - but not the cookies."
One in three medical studies is dodgy July 15, 2005 "A major review of medical research has revealed that in nearly one-third of cases, research results were found to be potentially exaggerated, or were totally contradicted by later studies."
Fishermen catch, eat record-sized catfish July 6, 2005 646.2-pound Mekong giant catfish, netted in Thailand, may be the largest freshwater fish ever found. The fish was documented as part of a World Wildlife Fund-National Geographic project to identify and study and conserve freshwater fish around the world that exceed 6 feet in length and 200 pounds in weight.
"At the end of September, Nature published a study in which scientists made ferrets watch the movie The Matrix." February 23, 2005 A surprise for the scientists was that watching the movie made an adult ferret brain's visual system work only a bit harder than its baseline output.... "Because of the high-energy consumption of baseline neural activity in the brain," the scientists write, "it would be inefficient to maintain the observed high level of spontaneous activity unless it had an essential role in sensory processing." Perhaps it's simply easier to keep the matrix handy at all times than to ask the brain to build reality from scratch every moment.
Why is physics so difficult? February 16, 2005 "If you struggled with physics as a teenager, it might be because your brain was clinging to misconceptions about science."

Page last modified: Wednesday, 20-Jun-2007 15:36:33 EDT