News stories related to science that I happen to find interesting. Sorted by the date I first read them (which is not necessarily the date of publication).
Friday, June 15, 2007:
- The grind's almost over to forge two perfect balls. "They will be the earth's roundest spheres, crafted by Australian scientists as part of an international hunt to find a new global standard kilogram. Using a single crystal of silicon-28 grown by Russian and German scientists over three years, a team of Sydney scientists and engineers will grind and polish two silvery balls, each weighing precisely one kilogram, with imperfections of less than 35 millionths of a millimeter."
- First-Ever 5,000-Year Record of Hurricanes Compiled. "The 5,000-year record the researchers lifted from the dirt showed large and dramatic fluctuations in hurricane activity, with long stretches of both intense storm activity and quiet periods. The research was detailed in the May 24 issue of the journal Nature. ... The team also compared their data to existing records of El Niño and other global and regional climate influences and found that the number of intense hurricanes (those with wind speeds above 111 mph) increased during years when El Niño was weak."
Thursday, June 7, 2007:
- Wireless power could have cellphone users beaming. [Seems to be precisely what Tesla had done, long ago...] "Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the US, report that they can now send substantial amounts of power -- enough to light a 60-watt bulb -- across a room by magnetic induction between two devices tuned to resonate with each other. ... The coil generates a strong electromagnetic field, but most of the electric component of that field is trapped inside the coil, while an oscillating magnetic field surrounds it. The oscillating magnetic field efficiently transmits power across the lab to a receiver tuned to the same frequency."
- Self-assembly could simplify nanotech construction. ""Molecular origami" could become the latest nanotech construction technique, thanks to the first detailed study of how sheets fold."
- Plastic sheets perform auto-origami. "Sheets of plastic that fold into tiny pyramids, boxes and spheres when water is added have been created by French researchers. They think the technique could one day be used to mass-produce the microscopic 3D components used in found inside many different devices from printers to medical sensors."
- Self-folding circuits allow electronics in 3D. "The way proteins fold is the inspiration behind a novel way to make 3D electronic components that assemble themselves. ... The team has already used the technique to make an omni-directional light sensor that could not be made using normal 2D techniques. "A flat surface can't detect light in 360 degrees," explains Derek Bruzewicz, part of the research team."
Friday, June 1, 2007:
- Dwarf-flinging void is larger than thought. "Astronomers have previously noticed that the Milky Way sits in a large, flat array of galaxies called the Local Sheet, which bounds a dark region called the Local Void. But how far this void extends has not been known... The void is growing, according to the study. The Local Sheet, which makes up one wall of the void, is rushing away from the void's centre at 260 kilometres per second..."
- MACHO matter is running out of places to hide. "At least 80% of the Milky Way's mass is dark matter. Most of that takes an exotic, as-yet-unknown form, but some is thought to be made up of relatively familiar objects - such as stars and black holes - that are simply too faint to see. Scattered in the outer reaches of the galaxy, they are called massive compact halo objects (MACHOs)... A 1.3-metre telescope in Chile called OGLE discovered the telltale brightening of a background star in 2005. Astronomers then commanded the Spitzer Space Telescope, then 30 million kilometres from Earth, to turn its eye towards the event. Spitzer saw the same star brightening slowly, but with a slight time delay. The delay is just the length that astronomers would expect if the two events were caused by an object in our galactic halo - which typically move at a few hundred kilometres per second - crossing over the two separate lines of sight."
- Lab study indicates Mars has a molten core. "Using chambers made of diamond, they compressed mixtures of iron, nickel and sulphur up to the maximum pressure expected in Mars' core, which is 40 gigapascals - 400,000 times the pressure of Earth's atmosphere at sea level. The researchers found that, at the temperatures expected in the Martian core (upwards of 1500 Kelvin), the mixture should stay in liquid form... If they are right, it could explain why Mars' magnetic field turned off four billion years ago, whereas Earth's field is still strong... The team's results also hint that the field could turn on again one day."
- Neptune News. "Incredibly, an article has appeared in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters showing a stunning relationship between the solar output, Neptune's brightness, and heaven forbid, the temperature of the Earth... they find that the correlation coefficient between solar irradiance and Neptune's brightness is near 0.90 (1.00 is perfect). The same relationship is found between the Earth's temperature anomalies and the solar output. Hammel and Lockwood note "In other words, the Earth temperature values are as well correlated with solar irradiance (r = 0.89) as they are with Neptune's blue brightness (|r| > 0.90), assuming a 10-year lag of the Neptune values." The temporal lag is needed to account for the large mass of Neptune that would require years to adjust to any changes in solar output."
Monday, May 28, 2007:
- Elon Musk Is Betting His Fortune on a Mission Beyond Earth's Orbit. A long, fascinating story about the attempts for the Falcon 1 rocket.
- NASA looks to private sector to help it go lunar. "We're trying to help some commercial entities demonstrate that they can do low Earth orbit resupply to say the space station and once they can do that we can contract with them and then we don't have to do it ourselves anymore."
- Diamonds tell tale of comet that killed off the cavemen. "Fireballs set half the planet ablaze, wiping out the mammoth and America's Stone Age hunters... 'The magnitude of this discovery is so important,' team member James Kennett, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the journal. 'It explains three of the highest-debated controversies of recent decades.' ... These are the sudden disappearance of the first Stone Age people of America, the disappearance of mammoths throughout much of Europe and America and the sudden cooling of the planet, an event known as the Younger-Dryas period. Various theories have been put forward to explain these occurrences, but now scientists believe they have found a common cause in a comet crash. However, the idea is still controversial and the theory is bedevilled by problems in obtaining accurate dates for the different events." (See also http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/05/dryas_dustup.html.)"
Tuesday, May 15, 2007:
- Clothing Created to Block Flu, Colds. "Nanotech Fabric Grabs Airborne Bugs -- and You Don't Even Have to Wash It."
- GLOBAL WARMING: Not the End of the World as We Know It. "How bad is climate change really? Are catastrophic floods and terrible droughts headed our way? Despite widespread fears of a greenhouse hell, the latest computer simulations are delivering far less dramatic predictions about tomorrow's climate."
- Research team records images inside Mt. Asama. "A research team has succeeded in taking images of the inside of a volcano using cosmic rays, the first time visual images of the structure inside of a volcano have been obtained using this method."
Friday, May 11, 2007:
- Top tech movies: Creepy-crawly climbing bots and more. Video well worth watching.
- Tsunami-like blast wave rips across the Sun. Another remarkable, though very short, video.
- Sounds like cooking. "Here's a project with real vision: UK researchers are trying to build a three-in-one cooker, generator and refrigerator that runs on biomass fuel, like wood. ... The heat from the fuel will be used to create sound using specially shaped piping -- like a whistle. The sound will be converted into electricity by a microphone-like device to supply the fridge and power sockets. The sound will be at 50 Hertz to produce alternating current like that from the mains. Fifty Hz sounds like a low-hum to human ears -- but the pipe should contain most of the noise. ... The 'thermoacoustic' engine is based on pioneering work at Los Alamos Laboratories in the US. This feature is about their research."
- Sound waves reverberate through solar 'pipes'.
"The observations revealed that the waves are triggered by explosions called microflares in the Sun's lower atmosphere. 'We can now say that these are acoustic waves and these waves are excited by explosions at the foot points of these loops,' Taroyan told New Scientist."
- Reverberation chamber music. "This weekend, sound scientist Richard Lord let them into the reverberation chamber at the UK's National Physical Laboratory to create a some unique pieces of "sonic art". The chamber is normally used to calibrate microphones and measure the acoustic characteristics of architectural materials. It's big, bare and no two surfaces are parallel, meaning sound bounces around for ages before disappearing."
Monday, May 7, 2007:
- Music made to measure from nature's proteins. "Beethoven it is not. But it does sound mellow and jazzy. It is music designed to enliven the sometimes dry subject of molecular biology by translating nature's millions of proteins into a musical form... The "notes" available are the 20 natural amino acids from which all proteins are constructed. The basic concept is simple: assign each amino acid to a different musical note, so leucine could be middle C on the piano, for example, serine could be D, and so on till all 20 have their own note."
- Electric fields could give subs 'fish-like' sense. "Many marine and freshwater fish can sense electric fields, but some also generate their own weak fields over short ranges to help navigate, identify objects, and even communicate with other fish. ... Malcolm MacIver and colleagues at Northwestern University in Chicago, US, studying the biomechanics of these "weakly electric fish", have now come up with an artificial electric-field sensing system. They say it could ultimately give robot submersibles the same additional sensory capabilities. ... "Currently, no vehicle is manoeuvrable enough to do work in tight quarters, such as coral reef monitoring, underwater structural inspection, or searching a submerged vessel," MacIver told New Scientist. "To do so requires not only a high amount of agility, but also being able to sense in all directions, so that you do not collide with nearby obstacles. Electro-location is perfect for this.""
- New spacesuit glove beats NASA's, hands down. "The Astronaut Glove Challenge was part of a series of NASA-funded contests called Centennial Challenges. NASA promised $200,000 in prize money for anyone who could design a glove capable of outperforming the existing gloves used by NASA astronauts, as well as beating those of other entrants in the competition. ... Peter Homer's winning design uses humble materials. Off-the-shelf flexible gloves -- the kind a doctor might use -- were used for the inner bladder, says Hayes. The outside is "a cloth material he got off eBay", he says. Homer's careful work stitching the cloth together paid off in the strength test. "His sewing job held very well," Hayes says. "We were very impressed." Hayes tried on the glove, which he says was "very comfortable.""
- The Faithful Heretic: A Wisconsin Icon Pursues Tough Questions. "Almost 40 years ago, Bryson stood before the American Association for the Advancement of Science and presented a paper saying human activity could alter climate. "I was laughed off the platform for saying that," he told Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News... And once again, Bryson is challenging the conventional wisdom. "Climate's always been changing and it's been changing rapidly at various times, and so something was making it change in the past," he told us in an interview this past winter. "Before there were enough people to make any difference at all, two million years ago, nobody was changing the climate, yet the climate was changing, okay?" "All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it's absurd," Bryson continues. "Of course it's going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we're coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we're putting more carbon dioxide into the air."
Monday, April 30, 2007:
- Single stars may finally admit their ages. "Single stars are notoriously reluctant to reveal their ages. But a clever new way of studying how their spins slow over time may pry the information out of them. Stars are born spinning but slow down over time because the particles that blow from them in stellar winds carry away rotational energy."
- Plasma shield may stun and disorientate enemies. "The US Army hopes, within a few years, to deploy a plasma shield -- a machine that generates a protective screen of dazzling mid-air explosions -- to stun and disorient an enemy. ... The device uses a technology known as dynamic pulse detonation (DPD). A short but intense laser pulse creates a ball of plasma, and a second laser pulse generates a supersonic shockwave within the plasma to generate a bright flash and a loud bang. ... The Plasma Acoustic Shield System will eventually combine a dynamic pulse detonation laser with a high power speaker for hailing or warning, and a dazzler light source. PASS has already been demonstrated by the system's makers, Stellar Photonics."
- Affordable solar power brings light to India. "Household solar systems work by storing up energy in a battery which is then connected, for example, to a few light bulbs, a small radio or a small black-and-white television. But the system costs between $300 and $500, making them prohibitive for many of India's rural poor. ... 'The banks decided that we should subsidise lower interest rates for loans to buy solar systems,' says Painuly."
- JP Aerospace: America's OTHER Space Program. Not actually a news story, but includes some interesting information riding balloons to near orbit. Includes information about "PongSats", free-to-students ping-pong ball items lifted to that high altitude.
Monday, April 16, 2007:
- Private Launches, New Tech ... This Isn't Your Parents' Space Age. "This week an estimated 7,000 government officials, corporate representatives and space enthusiasts will converge at the annual National Space Symposium here to hash out the technological, cultural and political issues surrounding the next decade's push for manned exploration of space."
- New Experiment Probes Weird Zone Between Quantum and Classical. "Scientists have created a minute cantilever arm on the surface of a silicon chip that they hope will leave the world of classical physics and enter the quantum realm when cooled to near absolute zero. The experiment will be the first time scientists have ever scaled an object in the observable world down into the slippery world of quantum mechanics. ... "Either you have a real, macroscopic object in a quantum state -- or you find out that quantum mechanics doesn't work for the macroscopic world," he said. "In either case, it would be quite fascinating.""
- Private Launches, New Tech ... This Isn't Your Parents' Space Age. "This week an estimated 7,000 government officials, corporate representatives and space enthusiasts will converge at the annual National Space Symposium here to hash out the technological, cultural and political issues surrounding the next decade's push for manned exploration of space."
- And that's renaissance magic .... "After lying almost untouched in the vaults of an Italian university for 500 years, a book on the magic arts written by Leonardo da Vinci's best friend and teacher has been translated into English for the first time."
- Ponder the Maunder. "Welcome to Ponder the Maunder, an extra credit assignment for Honors Earth Science, Portland High School, by Kristen Byrnes of Portland Maine."
Tuesday, April 10, 2007:
- Solar-powered cell phones are on the horizon. ***** "TI has developed an ultra-low-voltage DC/DC booster chip that could lead to mobile phones and other electronic devices that never need recharging. The TPS61200 step-up chip can work with input voltages as low as 0.3v at over 90 percent efficiency, TI claimed. That means it can run directly off low power energy sources such as fuel cells and solar panels, while still putting out a usable 3v to 5v. It can also work the other way around if the input voltage goes too high -- for example, during a start-up surge -- by dropping it to the desired output level."
- Mystery of Greek Amphitheater's Amazing Sound Finally Solved. "The theater, dating to the 4th century B.C. and arranged in 55 semi-circular rows, remains the great masterwork of Polykleitos the Younger. Audiences of up to an estimated 14,000 have long been able to hear actors and musicians--unamplified--from even the back row of the architectural masterpiece."
Thursday, March 15, 2007:
- The universe is a string-net liquid. **** "In the experiment, electrons moving in the interface between two semiconductors behaved as though they were made up of particles with only a fraction of the electron's charge. This so-called fractional quantum hall effect (FQHE) suggested that electrons may not be elementary particles after all. However, it soon became clear that electrons under certain conditions can congregate in a way that gives them the illusion of having fractional charge -- an explanation that earned Laughlin, Horst Störmer and Daniel Tsui the Nobel prize (New Scientist, 31 January 1998, p 36).
... The pair ran simulations to see if their string-nets could give rise to conventional particles and fractionally charged quasi-particles. They did. They also found something even more surprising. As the net of strings vibrated, it produced a wave that behaved according to a very familiar set of laws -- Maxwell's equations, which describe the behaviour of light. "A hundred and fifty years after Maxwell wrote them down, here they emerged by accident," says Wen.
That wasn't all. They found that their model naturally gave rise to other elementary particles, such as quarks, which make up protons and neutrons, and the particles responsible for some of the fundamental forces, such as gluons and the W and Z bosons.."
- Photon's life cycle 'watched' in full. *** "To observe the photon, the researchers passed rubidium atoms across the cavity one at a time. A single rubidium atom is unable to absorb a single photon, because the photon is not the correct package of energy to boost the rubidium atom to a different energy state.
However, the photon's electric field slightly shifts the atom's energy levels by a measurable amount (once the atom has emerged), which the team used to determine whether there were any trapped photons.
"This is not performed at the expense of the photon energy, so if one is detected, it is still there afterwards for successive rubidium atoms, allowing us to track it," says Haroche. "A typical signal has a sequence of atoms at one energy level, meaning an empty cavity, suddenly interrupted by atoms at another energy level, signalling the photon birth. Later, a jump in the opposite direction signals the photon annihilation."
"This is a very important fundamental achievement as no one has ever seen a photon a second time," says Ferdinand Schmidt-Kaler at the University of Ulm in Germany."
- Spacecraft may surf the solar system on magnetic fields. "Future spacecraft may surf the magnetic fields of Earth and other planets, taking previously unfeasible routes around the solar system, according to a proposal funded by NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts. The electrically charged craft would not need rockets or propellant of any kind."
- Saturn moon's mysterious heat traced to early 'fever'. "The watery plumes observed spewing from Saturn's moon Enceladus owe their existence to a flash of radioactivity that melted the icy moon right after it formed, a new study says.
... Enceladus could have accumulated a high proportion of the short-lived isotopes aluminium-26 and iron-60 by sweeping up tiny rocky objects rich in the two isotopes. Called calcium aluminium-rich inclusions (CAIs), these centimetre-sized objects are found embedded in some meteorites. They were among the first solids to form in the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago, suggesting Enceladus also coalesced early on."
- Invention: The 'suits you' cellphone. Patent summary, including: "Molten metal bomb
The Navy's new torpedo has an outer shell of titanium which houses a payload of aluminium metal chunks. The heat from the rocket motor melts the aluminium en route, so by the time the torpedo reaches its target, the titanium shell is full of liquid metal.
On impact, a small charge ruptures the shell allowing the molten metal escape into and instantly vaporize the surrounding water. This creates an underwater vapour explosion with shock waves carrying molten metal shrapnel."
- Diode propulsion could power microbots. "Velev and Vesselin Paunov from the University of Hull, UK, floated a diode in a tank of salt water and zapped the set-up with an alternating electric field.
The field induced a current within the diode, much in the same way that a radio signal induces a current in an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip. This in turn set up an electric field between the diode's electrical contacts and created the propulsive force."
Tuesday, March 13, 2007:
- Be More Than You Can Be. "Heat-resistant. Cold-proof. Tireless. Tomorrow's soldiers are just like today's -- only better. Inside the Pentagon's human enhancement project."
Monday, March 12, 2007:
- Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says. "Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet's recent climate changes have a natural--and not a human-induced--cause, according to one scientist's controversial theory."
- Numerical Models, Integrated Circuits and Global Warming Theory. A view of climate modeling, from the point of view of one who knows modeling for vapor deposition on integrated circuits (chips) -- they often fail, and fail badly, for even the most well-understood systems.
Sunday, March 11, 2007:
- Scientists threatened for 'climate denial'. "Scientists who questioned mankind's impact on climate change have received death threats and claim to have been shunned by the scientific community.
They say the debate on global warming has been "hijacked" by a powerful alliance of politicians, scientists and environmentalists who have stifled all questioning about the true environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions.
... Richard Lindzen, the professor of Atmospheric Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology - who also appeared on the documentary - recently claimed: "Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves labelled as industry stooges. "Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science." ."
- Sunshine puts asteroids in a spin. "A subtle force from sunlight that changes the spin rate of space rocks has been measured directly for the first time. The feat will help astronomers fine-tune long-term predictions of asteroid orbits and could also explain why some asteroids have a little moonlet in tow."
- Algae skeletons made into silicon components. "Diatom shells are about 10 micrometres across and come in a variety of shapes -- resembling barrels, donuts, triangles, and stars -- with regularly sized features of 10 nanometres or smaller. The new procedure replicates all of these features accurately.
"Since there are more than 100,000 species of diatoms, "some shapes might be better than others" for various electronic applications, Sandhage says.
"The process also leaves behind nanometre-sized holes in the silicon, meaning the shells may be particular well suited to certain applications, Sandhage says. For example, the study showed that they could work as microscopic gas sensors, capable of detecting minute amounts of gas."
Thursday, February 22, 2007:
- Scientists develop portable generator that turns trash into electricity. "The "tactical biorefinery" processes several kinds of waste at once, which it converts into fuel via two parallel processes. The system then burns the different fuels in a diesel engine to power a generator. Ladisch said the machine's ability to burn multiple fuels at once, along with its mobility, make it unique."
Thursday, February 15, 2007:
- Slushy volcanoes might support life on Titan.
- Mini helicopter masters insect navigation trick. "As insects fly forwards the ground beneath them sweeps backwards through their field of view. This "optical flow" is thought to provide crucial cues about speed and height. For example, the higher an insect's altitude, the slower the optical flow; the faster it flies, the faster the optical flow.
""It explains about 70 years of experiments," Franceschini says. For example, it explains why bees sometimes drown when flying over still water. Without any features on the surface of water, a bee detects no optical flow and instinctively descends, eventually landing in the water."
- Salamander trumps toad as Mr Universe. "At 18,000 watts of power per kilogram of muscle, the salamander, from the forest floors of Central America, is nearly twice as strong as the previous champ, the Colorado river toad Bufo alvarius."
- Sleep well before learning something new. "The experiment showed that people who fail to get a good night's sleep before studying new information remember roughly 10% less than their well-rested counterparts."
- Invention: Edible RFID.
- Haptic glove to touch on virtual fabrics. "Detailed measurements of a fabric's stress, strain and deformation properties are fed into a computer, recreating it virtually. Two new physical interfaces then allow users to interact with these virtual fabrics -- an exoskeleton glove with a powered mechanical control system attached to the back and an array of moving pins under each finger. The "haptic" glove exerts a force on the wearer's fingers to provide the sensation of manipulating the fabric, while the "touching" pins convey a tactile sense of the material's texture."
- Atom Smasher May Give Birth to Black Saturns. "According to a new theory, any black hole that pops out of the Large Hadron Collider under construction in Switzerland might be surrounded by a black ring -- forming a microscopic "black Saturn."
- Bubble-powered 'computer' may improve chemical testing. "The "microfluidic" computer performs calculation by squeezing bubbles through tiny channels etched into a chip. It can perform all of the logical operations needed to make a general-purpose computer."
Thursday, January 9, 2007:
- Speeding dwarfs upset galactic family picture. "The Milky Way's two best-known companions may be nothing more than strangers passing by. Recent observations of the Magellanic Clouds, a pair of nearby dwarf galaxies, reveal that they are moving too fast to be satellites of the Milky Way -- unless our galaxy contains twice as much dark matter as thought." [Why I find this interesting: this seems to be related to the surprisingly high rate of rotation of the stars that are in the Milky Way itself. (See, for example, Interstellar Medium and the Milky Way.) Currently, people explain this through dark matter, but perhaps some new physics is also at work.]
- Top tech movies: Creepy-crawly climbing bots and more. A better than average invention column.
- 'Brainy' chickpeas conquered the world. "Wild chickpeas are rare and difficult to cultivate, so there must have been a good reason why our ancestors persevered with growing them around 11,000 years ago. That reason, says Kerem, is the amino acid tryptophan -- a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Increased amounts in the diet may improve performance when under stress."
Saturday, January 6, 2007:
- Leaky pipe? Call in the clots. "Squishy blobs introduced upstream of a leak are carried along to the leak and clog it up as a temporary fix. The "scab" also shows where the leak is. Made by Brinker Technology of Aberdeen, UK, they have been tested in oil pipes owned by Shell and BP. The tests used polymer cubes between 0.3 and 50 millimetres across."
- Nanotube coating promises ice-free windscreens. "The lacquer can be sprayed onto any surface and consists of a liquid base containing a mixture of nanotubes that conduct electricity. As the liquid dries, the nanotubes form a conducting network inside the lacquer. Passing a current through this network causes the layer to heat up."
Monday, December 18, 2006:
- Study: Samples of Comet Dust Show a Mix. "Scientists expected the minute grains retrieved from a comet Wild 2 to be made up mostly of interstellar dust -- tiny particles that flow through the solar system thought to be from ancient stars that exploded and died.
Instead, they found an unusual mix of primordial material as if the solar system had turned itself inside out. Hot particles from the inner solar system migrated out to the cold, outer fringes beyond Pluto where they intermingled and congealed to form a comet."
- Say Hello to the Goodbye Weapon. "The ADS shoots a beam of millimeters waves, which are longer in wavelength than x-rays but shorter than microwaves -- 94 GHz (= 3 mm wavelength) compared to 2.45 GHz (= 12 cm wavelength) in a standard microwave oven.
"Documents acquired for Wired News using the Freedom of Information Act claim that most of the radiation (83 percent) is instantly absorbed by the top layer of the skin, heating it rapidly.
"The beam produces what experimenters call the "Goodbye effect," or "prompt and highly motivated escape behavior." In human tests, most subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none of the subjects could endure more than 5 seconds.
"'It will repel you,' one test subject said. 'If hit by the beam, you will move out of it -- reflexively and quickly. You for sure will not be eager to experience it again.'"
- Race to the Moon for Nuclear Fuel. "NASA's planned moon base announced last week could pave the way for deeper space exploration to Mars, but one of the biggest beneficiaries may be the terrestrial energy industry. ...
"At the Fusion Technology Institute, Kulcinski's team has produced small-scale helium-3 fusion reactions in the basketball-sized fusion device. The reactor produced one milliwatt of power on a continuous basis."
- Google Launches Patent Search.
- Google Plants Solar Trees. "...But now these asphalt acres are getting their day in the sun, with search giant Google joining other companies in planting groves of pole-mounted solar panels between the rows of Saabs and SUVs, generating clean power and providing a little shade at the same time."
- Red light debut for exotic 'metamaterial'. "The race to build an exotic material with a negative refractive index for visible light has been won by a team of researchers in Germany. The demonstration could open the door to a new generation of optical devices such as superlenses able to see details finer then the wavelength of visible light."
- Unleash your inner bloodhound -- start sniffing. "Humans can follow scent trails across a field in the same way that dogs can -- and they improve with practice -- a intriguing new field study has revealed."
- NASA overwhelmed by climate data. "Now it has hit on a simple way to make that data accessible: software that superimposes it on the global 3D maps provided by Google Earth... The iEarth system will be available for anyone to use in April, NASA says."
- Nano-cables convert light into electricity. "The cables are 16 nanometres in diameter and several micrometres long. They resemble the light-harvesting antennae used by some bacteria and transform light into electricity in a similar way to the semiconductors in solar panels, albeit on a much smaller scale... Their similarity in size and function to the antennae used by bacteria for photosynthesis means it might also be possible to connect them to such organisms, creating hybrid devices, he says."
- A method for growing organic semiconducting crystals onto a surface could lead to better flexible electronic devices and video displays, researchers claim."
- Invention: Body-wired headphones. "Body-wired headphones: Sony's Tokyo research lab has found a way to connect headphones to portable music and video players without the need for fiddly wiring. They simply feed an audio signal straight through the listener's body... Landmine antenna: The device fires a tightly-focused beam of very loud sound at the ground, causing it to vibrate. This vibration is then measured using a reflected laser beam, and the signal reveals the telltale disturbances caused by any subsurface mines."
Thursday, December 7, 2006:
- Legendary Swords' Sharpness, Strength From Nanotubes, Study Says. "New studies of Damascus swords are revealing that the legendary blades contain nanowires, carbon nanotubes, and other extremely small, intricate structures that might explain their unique features."
- Theory in particle physics: Theological speculation versus practical knowledge. "To me, some of what passes for the most advanced theory in particle physics these days is not really science. When I found myself on a panel recently with three distinguished theorists, I could not resist the opportunity to discuss what I see as major problems in the philosophy behind theory, which seems to have gone off into a kind of metaphysical wonderland. Simply put, much of what currently passes as the most advanced theory looks to be more theological speculation, the development of models with no testable consequences, than it is the development of practical knowledge, the development of models with testable and falsifiable consequences (Karl Popper's definition of science). You don't need to be a practicing theorist to discuss what physics means, what it has been doing, and what it should be doing."
Friday, November 24, 2006:
- Edible cotton breakthrough may help feed the world. "Cotton that has been genetically engineered so its seed is no longer toxic could provide protein-rich food for poor countries."
- Robot with 'human soul' explores remotely. "Force-feedback gives the operator a sense of the robot's physical interactions with its surroundings -- by providing resistance to the user if the robot is pushing up against or grasping something, for example. Meanwhile, microphones relay surrounding noises to a pair of headphones..."
- Recycled rubber tyres could clean water. "Rubber tyres, the kind that lie at the bottom of rivers and at the back of junkyards the world over, could be ideal water filters says an environmental engineer at Penn State university in the US."
- Emissions of key greenhouse gas stabilise. "Levels of the second most important greenhouse gas in the Earth's atmosphere have levelled off, report atmospheric chemists. ... The results are unexpected 'because there isn't much in the way of programmes to reduce methane emissions'...."
- Ultrashort laser pulses turn metals pitch black. "Blasts of light lasting a few millionth billionths of a second can turn the polished surface of any metal ultra-black, by covering it with nanoscale ridges and crevices. US researchers say the trick could one day be used to make better solar panels and more efficient fuel cells. After just a few pulses, "we found femtosecond pulses can reshape the metal's surface into a range of different nanostructures," says Guo. The resulting nanoscale pattern of cavities and protuberances traps light so efficiently that a shiny surface turns jet black. "The new surface can absorb very close to 100% of light," says Guo."
Tuesday, November 21, 2006:
- Introducing the nano battery, as thick as a strand of hair. "A team of university scientists developed the technology for fast charge/discharge batteries that eliminates fire hazards of lithium-based batteries and could mark an alternative source of power for mobile devices."
- TEEN GOES NUCLEAR. "In the basement of his parents' Oakland Township home, tucked away in an area most aren't privy to see, Thiago is exhausting his love of physics on a project that has taken him more than two years and 1,000 hours to research and build -- a large, intricate machine that , on a small scale, creates nuclear fusion."
- Fly Silent, Fly Cheap. "Researchers have unveiled design plans for a passenger plane they claim will be no louder than a washing machine and will use 25 percent less fuel than current jetliners.
"Unlike the tube-shaped fuselage found in today's passenger jets, the SAX-40 features a radically different wedge-shaped airframe that acts as a single flying wing, creating extra lift. Its engines are mounted on top of the aircraft rather than under the wings, and are made with variable jet nozzles, which allows for slower propulsion during takeoff and climb. The plane is smooth and streamlined, with a drooped leading edge, a simplified undercarriage, and no slats or flaps."
Wednesday, November 1, 2006:
- A boost for solar cells with photon fusion. "This is what happens in detail: first the antenna molecule absorbs a green low-energy photon and passes it to the emitter molecule as a package of energy. Both molecules store the energy one after the other in 'excited' states. Then, two of the energy-loaded emitter molecules react with each other - one molecule passes its energy package to the other. This returns one molecule to its low-energy state. The other, conversely, achieves a very high-energy state that stores the double energy package. This state rapidly collapses when the large energy package is sent out in the form of a blue photon. Although this light particle is of a shorter wave length and higher in energy than the green light emitted initially, the end effect is that no energy is generated, but the energy from two photons is combined into one."
- British scientists grow human liver in a laboratory. "British scientists have grown the world's first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant. ... Described as a 'Eureka moment' by the Newcastle University researchers, the tissue was created from blood taken from babies' umbilical cords just a few minutes after birth."
Monday, October 30, 2006:
- Brand new substance created from water. "Mao's team subjected water to a pressure 170,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure at sea level. Then they bombarded it with X-rays, causing the water molecules to split and reform into a previously unknown crystalline solid made of H2 molecules and 02 molecules."
- Moon and rain could mean quakes. "...They found that major quakes were 86 per cent more likely around new and full moons, when tides are at their greatest. ... They found that water from a heavy rainstorm can reach spots underground where masses of rock are trying to move past each other but are stuck together by friction. The water can ease the friction, releasing pent-up tension so that the rocks jerk past each other and initiate tremors as deep as 4 kilometres underground."
- When is a supersolid not quite so super?. " A deceptively simple experiment, recently published in the journal Science, has moved physics one step closer to explaining the odd behavior of supersolid helium. The unusual state of matter -- in which a portion of the atoms are able to flow through a solid crystal with no resistance -- was predicted as early as 1969 but not observed until recently."
Tuesday, October 24, 2006:
- Hitch hike to Mars inside an asteroid. "Burrowing inside an asteroid whose orbit carries it past both the Earth and Mars could protect astronauts from radiation on their way to the Red Planet. The idea is being investigated with funding from NASA."
- Invention: Microwave-oven gun. A summary of recent patents, including: "Microwave-oven gun: ... You can do a lot of damage with a directed beam of microwave energy. It can destroy electronics by inducing high voltages in chips and wires (just as metal objects spark if left in a microwave oven). Such a beam could also burn a person's skin, or even detonate improvised explosive devices by exciting unstable chemicals." and "Aircraft fire-quenching: ... Military aircraft keep their fuel tanks topped up with pure nitrogen to prevent fire. But these systems have to pump gas at high speeds to keep pace with the rapid pressure changes that occur with climbs and dives... Inventor Philip Jones from Florida, US, claims to have come up with a compact, low cost alternative that simply siphons off nitrogen from waste air drawn from an aircraft's engines."
Tuesday, October 3, 2006:
- Huge 'launch ring' to fling satellites into orbit. "An enormous ring of superconducting magnets similar to a particle accelerator could fling satellites into space, or perhaps weapons around the world, suggest the findings of a new study funded by the US air force."
- 'Airblade' hand dryer could improve hygiene. "'The Airblade scrapes your hands clean with a high speed sheet of air,' Dyson says: 'It's a bit like a windscreen wiper.' The process also takes just 10 seconds, instead of the 30 to 40 seconds needed when using a normal dryer."
- Dinosaurs suffered climate change too. "DINOSAURS had to cope with dramatic swings in the climate around 120 million years ago, with ocean surface temperatures changing by as much as 6 °C. The finding suggests that natural climate variations are much more complex than previously thought.... 'The changes appear step-like, as if the climate is switching from one mode to another,' Brassell says."
- Invention: Invisible drones. A summary of recent patents, including: "The so-called Phantom Sentinel aircraft is Y-shaped, consisting of a single long wing attached to two short aerodynamic extensions which each end in a propeller. And the weight is carefully balanced so that the centre of mass is positioned between the two extensions. When the motors are running, the solid part of the aircraft spins around this centre of mass, and the longer wing generates lift. The whole thing moves so fast that persistence of vision turns it into a single blur."
And: "So, moving each foot can correspond to movements of a cursor on the head-mounted display. Foot-twisting can be used for right or left mouse clicks and sliding one foot over the ground can be translated into dragging and dropping. This would allow someone to use a wearable computer while keeping their hands free for other tasks."
Friday, September 29, 2006:
- Anatomy of a Discovery. "... One day last summer, Mankidy placed the disc-shaped membrane he was using for the experiments under a scanning electron microscope and saw something unexpected. Patterns of nanofibers had sprouted on his membrane in places that he had touched. The fibers were hundreds of microns in length with a typical diameter of 200 to 250 nanometers, which is comparable to the size of fibers produced industrially. "Usually to create nanofibers like these you would need to use high voltage and ultrahigh vacuum. We were getting amazing reactions in room conditions without having to treat the air," Mankidy says. ..."
- Single-particle interference observed for macroscopic objects. " With a variation on the famous double-slit experiment of quantum mechanics, scientists Yves Couder and Emmanuel Fort from the University of Paris 7 are rewriting the textbooks. Their accomplishment, however, has less to do with quantum mechanics than with an observation once considered experimentally impossible: the wave-particle double nature of a macroscopic object (an oil droplet and its associated surface wave)." While I think this catch line overplays it, the article and ensuing discussion board topic are interesting, and thought-provoking.
- From zero to a billion electron volts in 3.3 centimeters. " In a precedent-shattering demonstration of the potential of laser-wakefield acceleration, scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, working with colleagues at the University of Oxford, have accelerated electron beams to energies exceeding a billion electron volts (1 GeV) in a distance of just 3.3 centimeters. The researchers report their results in the October issue of Nature Physics."
Thursday, September 28, 2006:
- Uncrewed aircraft swarm together indoors. "In the indoor tests, up to five radio-controlled helicopters are being used to collaboratively track small ground vehicles and land on the back of small moving platforms."
- Swarm of subs set to uncover the ocean's mysteries. "A fleet of 100 robotic submarines could in five years' time be roaming the vast unexplored stretches of the world's seafloors and helping unlock their mysteries."
- Invention: Ultimate body armour. "A lightweight bulletproof vest that protects against armour-piercing rounds is being developed by the US government's Army Soldiers System Command."
- MIT researchers create visionary optic fibers. "In a radical departure from conventional lens-based optics, MIT scientists have developed a sophisticated optical system made of mesh-like webs of light-detecting fibers. The fiber constructs, which have a number of advantages over their lens-based predecessors, are currently capable of measuring the direction, intensity and phase of light (a property used to describe a light wave) without the lenses, filters or detector arrays that are the classic elements of optical systems such as eyes or cameras."
Friday, September 22, 2006:
- UK uni rocket payload test hits 105,600ft. "Students from the University of Cambridge 'Spaceflight' project last week pulled off quite a coup when they successfully dispatched an experimental electronics package into the upper atmosphere strapped to a weather balloon, in the process capturing some impressive images of planet Earth from a peak altitude of 32.2km (105,600ft)
"The main objectives of the "Nova 1" test were "to gain experience operating balloon payloads, to test the hardware and firmware of the latest generation tracking device flight", as part of a programme aiming to ultimately build a sub-£1,000 rocket.
"The team had been tracking the flight while giving chase in a car. Despite the loss of the data radio signal, 'believed to be due to low temperature affecting the frequency of the crystal oscillator' and the failure of the antenna connection on the morse code receiver, the proto-von Brauns were able to eventually recover the payload after a post-touchdown text message from the onboard mobile phone revealed its precise location."
See the links to http://www.srcf.ucam.org/~cuspaceflight/nova1launch.html
Thursday, September 21, 2006:
- Study: Oceans have cooled in recent years. "Scientists say that despite temperature change, sea levels continue to rise."
- Despite Rumors, Black Hole Factory Will Not Destroy Earth. "CERN spokesman and former research physicist James Gillies also pointed out that Earth is bathed with cosmic rays powerful enough to create black holes all the time, and the planet hasn't been destroyed yet."
- Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth. An older list, linked from the story above. Includes:
"Current Earth-destruction Status
- Number of times the Earth has been destroyed: 0
- Number of plans currently in progress with the final aim of bringing about the Earth's destruction: 0
- Number of scientific experiments currently underway with the potential to bring about the Earth's destruction: 0
- Minimum amount of time until the Earth is destroyed by natural means (discounting total existence failure): 25 years
- Minimum amount of time until the Earth is destroyed by artificial means: 50 years"
Tuesday, August 29, 2006:
- Zapped crude oil flows faster through pipes. "Zapping thick crude oil with a magnetic or electric field could make it flow more smoothly through pipes. The technique, which reduces the viscosity of the liquid, could make transporting crude through cold underwater pipes easier and cheaper, researchers claim."
- Touch alone makes stem cells differentiate. "Researchers have managed to specify the type of cell an adult stem cell will become by altering the stiffness of the material they are grown on. Bone, nerve and muscle cell lines have been selectively initiated from human bone marrow cells by changing the physical consistency of the growth medium."
- Cool clothing. "Research funded by NASA could make life much more comfortable for anyone who has to wear bulky protective clothing. This means not just astronauts, but also fire-fighters, soldiers, and deep sea divers.
"Protective suits can easily get too hot or too cold, but the new NASA- backed design promises to regulate a person's body temperature more efficiently. It would do so by targeting those areas that most effectively exchange heat.
"The new suit would resemble a surfer's wet suit and contain pipes filled with conductive fluid linked to heat exchange coils. However, these exchange coils would only be positioned over those areas of their body best at transferring heat. The heat exchangers could then draw heat away from the body, or warm it up, more effectively, and the suit should be lighter and more comfortable to wear."
Friday, August 25, 2006:
- Hacking the Hybrid Vehicle. "Richard Smith, Maxwell's executive vice president, said ultracapacitors -- which store energy by separating negative and positive charges along plates -- should eventually be included in all hybrids because they are 10 times more powerful than batteries at providing the bursts of energy needed to accelerate a vehicle. Ultracapacitors are 98 percent efficient when receiving energy from the regenerative braking systems used in hybrids, while batteries are 60 just percent efficient, according to Smith.
"But ultracapacitors aren't nearly as efficient at storing energy, so cars traveling more than a few miles will need batteries as well, Smith said. Ultracapacitors haven't been practical until recent improvements were made in the technology."
Wednesday, August 23, 2006:
- Russian: 'Nyet' to Math Prize. "Saying he feels disconnected from his mathematics colleagues and has no desire to be anybody's "figurehead," a reclusive Russian turns down math's equivalent of the Nobel Prize."
- 3-D TV That Actually Works. "With a new line of LCD and plasma monitors from Philips, viewers see three-dimensional objects without having to wear glasses."
- DIY Nuke Detector Patrols SF Bay. "The Department of Homeland Security announced plans last month to bolster U.S. port defenses with radiation scanners. The program, primarily aimed at detecting nukes smuggled by terrorists in shipping containers, will cost an estimated $1.15 billion, but won't be completed until 2011.
"Here on the San Francisco Bay, a group of do-it-yourself volunteer researchers is not waiting for the mushroom cloud. They say they are close to perfecting a portable device that could do much the same thing right now, for total out-of-pocket costs of about $12,000."
- Perpetual Motion Claim Probed. "Sean McCarthy believes his small Irish high-tech company has overturned one of physics' most fundamental laws.
"It happened by accident, he says. His company Steorn was looking for an efficient way to power closed-circuit TVs that spy on ATMs, and instead stumbled on a technique they think produces more energy than it consumes.
"McCarthy, an affable former energy company engineer, knows just how preposterous his claims sound. So, he advertised in this week's Economist for a panel of the "most cynical possible" physicists to help validate them.."
- Blimp Cell Service Idea Floated. "Bob Jones has a lofty idea for improving communications around the world: Strategically float robotic airships above the Earth as an alternative to unsightly telecom towers on the ground and expensive satellites in space."
Tuesday, August 22, 2006:
- Venom Runs Thick in Fish Families, Researchers Learn. "Of the 102 species he examined, previous research had suggested that 26 were venomous. But the new analysis predicted that 61 would be venomous -- and the dissections bore that out.
"In a way, it's a call for the biologists interested in the biological properties of animal toxins to go out there and start exploring this," Dr. Lopez said. There are huge information gaps in ichthyology, Dr. Smith noted, and every year biologists find 200 to 300 species that had not been known before.
""We really don't know anything about fish," Dr. Smith said."
- . . . but plan to promote physics fails. "MOVES to halt the decline in the study of physics [in the UK] appear to have failed and may even have made matters worse."
- Scientists See Cooling Pumps as Way to Tame Hurricanes. Please, people, start putting some thought into proposals: "Two New Jersey scientists believe they may have found a way to tame hurricanes. ...
"They suggest deploying an array of 1.6 million wave- or wind-powered pumps. The pumps would be placed 200 miles offshore in the path of a storm and spread over an area twice the size of New Jersey. The pumps, comprised of tubes perhaps 3 feet wide and 400 feet long, would be put in position just 24 hours before landfall, when the storm's direction is somewhat established."
Wednesday, August 16, 2006:
- Device uses waves to "print" on water surface. "The device, called AMOEBA (Advanced Multiple Organized Experimental Basin), consists of 50 water wave generators encircling a cylindrical tank 1.6 meters in diameter and 30 cm deep (about the size of a backyard kiddie pool). The wave generators move up and down in controlled motions to simultaneously produce a number of cylindrical waves that act as pixels. The pixels, which measure 10 cm in diameter and 4 cm in height, are combined to form lines and shapes. AMOEBA is capable of spelling out the entire roman alphabet, as well as some simple kanji characters. Each letter or picture remains on the water surface only for a moment, but they can be produced in succession on the surface every 3 seconds.
"Researchers at Akishima Laboratories have developed similar devices in the past that used waves to draw pictures on the surface of water, but those devices had trouble producing letters with straight lines (such as the letter K). Additionally, it took the previous devices up to 15 minutes of data input time to produce each letter.
"The newly developed technology uses improved calculation methods for controlling the wave generators, relying on formulas known as Bessel functions. In addition to being able to draw letters consisting of straight lines, the input time has been drastically reduced to between 15 and 30 seconds for each letter."
- JR passengers to generate electricity at train stations "The East Japan Railway Company (JR-East), as part of research aimed at developing more environmentally friendly train stations, is testing an experimental system that produces electricity as people pass through ticket gates. JR claims that this sort of human-powered electricity generation system may provide a portion of the electricity consumed at train stations in the future."
- Through the (zero-reflection)looking glass"When light passes through material such as glass, a portion of its energy is lost as it reflects off the material's surface. Researchers at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken) have come up with a theoretical design for preventing this phenomenon from occurring.
"The researchers have designed a prism of engineered material -- metamaterial comprised of an arrangement of nano-coils of precious metals such as gold or silver -- embedded in a solid glass-like material. The prism structure has a negative refractive index, which makes it truly transparent to light, allowing it to pass freely through with no reflection."
Thursday, August 10, 2006:
- Robot shopping carts follow you around. "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."
Wednesday, July 26, 2006:
- To heal a wound, turn up the voltage.
- Invention: In-flight rearming. 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."
- A plane you can print. "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."
- Electromagnetic space travel for bugs?. "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."
Thursday, June 22, 2006:
- Blimp-borne telescopes could rival Hubble. "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. "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. "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."
- Kyoto promises are nothing but hot air. "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..."
- Blimp Company Produces 'TV in the Sky'. "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."
- Bots Upstage Puny Humans at Show. "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."
Wednesday, June 14, 2006:
- Independent robots team up for search task. "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."
- The gods are laughing. "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. "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.""
Tuesday, June 13, 2006:
- Power Up With Magnetic Bacteria. "A 16-year-old high school student has invented a new way of producing electricity by harnessing the brawny power of bacteria."
- Response to "Questions and Answers about Climate Change". A brief overview of some questions, including the bandwagon effect, and the urban heat island effect.
- Light's Most Exotic Trick Yet: So Fast it Goes ... Backwards?. "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.
- A man and his microscope: IBM's quest to make atom-sized chips. "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."
- Gigantic fireball spotted on galactic rampage. "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."
- Spiders inspire eight-legged Post-it notes. (Published Friday 23rd April 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."
Thursday, June 8, 2006:
- Special forces to use strap-on 'stealth wings'. "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."
- Junk science - the oil of the new web. "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'..."
- Invisibility cloak moves a step closer. "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. "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..."
- Amateur astronomers prove their mettle. "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."
- New look for "Newton's bucket". "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. "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."
- Lasers Project the Big Picture. "...newly developed miniature lasers and mirrors make it possible to build cheap projectors about the size of a thumb."
- Fraud Roshambo: Paper Beats RFID. "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. "
Thursday, May 18, 2006:
- Spacecraft collision due to catalogue of errors. "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. "Report Finds 60 Percent Of Ph.D. Candidates Admit To Plagiarism, Bribery."
Wednesday, May 10, 2006:
- Beetle's wings inspire water-moving materials. "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."
- Invention: Bomb jammer. 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."
- 'Cyclic universe' can explain cosmological constant. "A cyclic universe, which bounces through a series of big bangs and "big crunches", could solve the puzzle of our cosmological constant, physicists suggest."
- US plans anti-satellite lasers. "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."
- Saturn's rotation puts astronomers in a spin. "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. "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."
- Invention: Guitar phone. 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."
- Jellyfish: nature's quickest on the draw. "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."
- Dim galactic dwarves lurk around Milky Way. "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."
- QIT: quantum hope or quantum hype?. "...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."
Monday, May 8, 2006:
- NASA launches lunar lander contest. "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."
- Scientists track weather with mobile masts. "New research suggests mobile 3G masts offer a cheap and accurate weather monitoring network."
- Cassini radar discovers space Arabia. "Cassini's radar imager found the Earth-like desert landscapes dominating huge swathes of the moon's surface near the equator. The dunes are up to 150m high and can span hundreds of kilometres."
Tuesday, May 2, 2006:
- 'Starquake' explosion rips neutron star open. "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."
- Nanowires and water are a memorable mix. "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."
- Satellites to try formation flying on space station. "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."
- Neutron Analysis Instrument Fired Up. "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."
- Olive tree rewrites classical history. "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."
- New security camera has insect-like eye. "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."
- People more drunk at weekends, researchers discover. "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"..."
Tuesday, April 18, 2006:
- Game to turn pet hamsters into people-eaters. "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.""
- Invention: The TV-advert enforcer. 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..
- The Anthropogenic Global Warming Doctrine. "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"."
- Invention: Wing-sprouting drone. A 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.".
Thursday, April 13, 2006:
- Climate of Fear. "Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence," by Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.
Monday, March 27, 2006:
- Towards a new test of general relativity?. "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."
- This Essay Breaks the Law. "*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."
- Greenhouse theory smashed by biggest stone. "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."
Thursday, March 9, 2006:
- Saturn moon spewing water vapor.
- No future for fusion power, says top scientist. "... 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. "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.""
- 'Mental typewriter' controlled by thought alone. "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."
- Bumper sunspot crop forecast for next solar cycle. "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.
- Stem cells help horses over injury hurdle. 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. "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."
- Global warming bubbles up from the ocean. 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."
- Eyes are fooled by spinning, curving balls.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006:
- Red rain could prove that aliens have landed. "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.
Friday, February 24, 2006:
- Quantum computer works best switched off. "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."
Thursday, February 23, 2006:
- Fighting sound with sound. "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."
Tuesday, February 21, 2006:
- High school senior discovers ironing deactivates anthrax. "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.
Monday, February 20, 2006:
- Atmospheric 'sprites' captured in explosive detail. 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.
- US and Canadian skiers get smart armour. 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."
- Space-elevator tether climbs a mile high. "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."
- Ping-pong ball avalanches may help prevent real disasters (Originally Published 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. "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.
- 'Sleeping on it' best for complex decisions. "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. "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.
- Robot moved by a slime mould's fears. 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.
- Organised chaos gets robots going. (Originally published 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."
Wednesday, February 8, 2006:
- Invention: Rubbery combustion. 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."
Monday, February 6, 2006:
- Scientists Predict What You'll Think of Next. "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."
- N.D. to Test Balloons for Cellular Service. "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."
- Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century. Michael Crichton speech to Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy, Washington, D.C., November 6, 2005
Monday, January 23, 2006:
- Study: Most College Students Lack Skills. "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."
- Stardust Returns Bearing Particles from On High. "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. "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."
- Forbes.com: The New Space Race: Follow The Talent. "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?"
- Pumped-Up Performance. "Inflatable wings on otherwise normal airplanes would also allow engineers to double the craft's wingspan in flight."
- Space 'Slinky' Confirms Theory with a Twist. "Astronomers have discovered a giant magnetic field that is coiled like a snake around a rod-shaped gas cloud in the constellation Orion."
Monday, December 12, 2005:
- Quantum well transistors Yes, Quantum Mechanics does have practical applications.
- Paper-thin, foldable battery to attach to clothes "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."
- Earth's Magnetic Pole Drifting Quickly "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."
- Fat fingered typing costs a trader's bosses £128m 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."
- Simple Experiment Creates Surprising State of Matter "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 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v432/n7018/full/432689a.html
Monday, December 5, 2005:
- Air guitarists' rock dreams come true A student project brings the air guitar to life as a "virtual instrument."
- Guitar surfing "A new guitar allows musicians to surf the internet and send emails while playing the instrument."
- Holographic-memory discs may put DVDs to shame "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."
- Robots aim to explore and build on other worlds "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."
- Hot-air plane "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."
Monday, November 28, 2005:
- Bacteria Manipulated Into Snapshots 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.
- Nanotube foams flex and rebound with super compressibility "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."
Thursday, November 10, 2005:
- Lichens love life in space. "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 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,"...
- US military sets laser PHASRs to stun 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...
Friday, 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.
- Vast array of tiny antennas could talk to spacecraft
- Email and letter writing share fundamental pattern 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.
- The latest nanotech device: Venetian blinds 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.
- Remote Control Device 'Controls' Humans 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.
Monday, October 24, 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. 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."
- Bringing a Little Sunshine into Our Lives. "Hybrid solar lighting (HSL) is different than traditional solar power, which converts sunlight into electricity. HSL captures sunlight and channels it directly into a room, using optical fibers... This is far more efficient than photovoltaic cells, which convert about 15 percent of sunlight into electricity and then have to change this electricity back into light. Since light bulbs lose a lot of energy in the form of heat, the end-result is only about 2 percent of the sunlight gets used... Besides the more direct use of sunlight, HSL light fixtures generate less heat than conventional bulbs, which can mean less energy spent on air conditioning. HSL also provides a full spectrum of light - as compared to fluorescent bulbs that only emit at certain frequencies."
- The World's Smallest Car 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.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005:
- Most scientific papers are probably wrong 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."
Tuesday, August 23, 2005:
- Laundry goes cyber 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.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005:
- Large New World Discovered Beyond Neptune "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 Excellent images from ESA's Mars Express spacecraft shows water ice filling a large part of a crater.
- Geologically produced antineutrinos provide a new window into the Earth's interior
- Applied Minds Think Remarkably A story about a very interesting, quirky company doing some very interesting things.
- Firefox Users Monkey With the Web 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 Looking toward the future of web applications
- Promote healthy eating: feed folks false beliefs 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."
- Thin skin will help robots 'feel' 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 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.
Thursday, July 28, 2005:
- Blind teen amazes with video-game skills "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.'"
- First Measurement of Geoneutrinos at KamLAND "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. ..."
- NOVA Profile: Brothers Chudnovsky "The story of two brilliant mathematicians, a unicorn, and a homemade supercomputer"
Friday, July 15, 2005:
- One in three medical studies is dodgy "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."
- The Cooling World A Newsweek story from 1975, on the threat of global cooling.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005:
- Small spaceship to fly through gravity tunnel 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.
Wednesday, July 6, 2005:
- MIT boffins make hot superfluid 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.
- Geeks should 'outsource themselves' - Mongolian BoFH
- Fishermen catch, eat record-sized catfish 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.
Monday, June 13, 2005:
- "A balloon-carried telescope is airborne, built to study star formation. ... 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 6-inch long craft may first be used as "black box" recorders; eventually perhaps independently-landing sensors.
- Optimism as NASA Chief Charts New Course 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.
Wednesday, June 8, 2005:
- Zero to 76,000 mph in a Second "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."
- A New Alpine Melt Theory 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."
Wednesday, February 23, 2005:
- Software learns to translate by reading up Translation software that develops an understanding of languages by scanning through thousands of previously translated documents has been released by US researchers.
- Iraq's marshlands show renewed signs of life 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 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.
- Moon measurements might explain away dark energy 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.
- Earth creates powerful gamma-ray flashes 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.
- To know science is to love it 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.
- Robots toddle along with human efficiency 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.
- "At the end of September, Nature published a study in which scientists made ferrets watch the movie The Matrix." 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.
- Misconceptions about the Big Bang Baffled by the expansion of the universe? You're not alone. Even astronomers frequently get it wrong.
Monday, February 7, 2005:
- Cancer could be 'switched off': 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."
- An Alaskan man is building an 18ft hydraulic humanoid which can fire 20ft flames from its arms: 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.
- Sharks detect changes in magnetic fields: 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.
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