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The Edge of Space

HI-C Rocket Mission has the Finest Mirrors Ever Made

July 6th 2012

the sun

On July 11, NASA scientists will launch into space the highest resolution solar telescope ever to observe the solar corona, the million degree outer solar atmosphere. The instrument, called HI-C for High Resolution Coronal Imager, will fly aboard a Black Brant sounding rocket to be launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The mission will have just 620 seconds for its flight, spending about half of that time high enough that Earth's atmosphere will not block ultraviolet rays from the sun. By looking at a specific range of UV light, HI-C scientists hope to observe fundamental structures on the sun, as narrow as 100 miles across.

"Other instruments in space can't resolve things that small, but they do suggest – after detailed computer analysis of the amount of light in any given pixel – that structures in the sun's atmosphere are about 100 miles across," says Jonathan Cirtain, a solar scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. who is the project scientist for HI-C. "And we also have theories about the shapes of structures in the atmosphere, or corona, that expect that size. HI-C will be the first chance we have to see them." Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

The New Particle Discovery—Could It Really Be the Higgs Boson?

July 5th 2012

cern-atlas nov 2006

The long and complicated journey to detect the Higgs boson, which started with one small step about 25 years ago, might finally have reached its goal. This was reported by Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator scientists on July 4 at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) near Geneva.

Named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson is the final building block that has been missing from the “Standard Model,” which describes the structure of matter in the universe. The Higgs boson combines two forces of nature and shows that they are, in fact, different aspects of a more fundamental force. The particle is also responsible for the existence of mass in the elementary particles.

Weizmann Institute scientists have been prominent participants in this research from its onset. Prof. Giora Mikenberg was for many years head of the research group that searched for the Higgs boson in CERN’s OPAL experiment. He was then leader of the ATLAS Muon Project—one of the two experiments that eventually revealed the particle. Prof. Ehud Duchovni heads the Weizmann group that examines other key questions at CERN. Prof. Eilam Gross is currently the ATLAS Higgs physics group convener. Three scientific “generations” are represented in the Weizmann team: Prof. Mikenberg was Prof. Duchovni’s supervisor, who was, in turn, Prof. Gross’s supervisor.

Prof. Gross says, “This is the biggest day of my life. I have been searching for the Higgs since I was a student in the 1980s. Even after 25 years, it still came as a surprise. No matter what you call it—we are no longer searching for the Higgs but measuring its properties. Though I believed it would be found, I never dreamed it would happen while I was holding a senior position in the global research team.” Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Israeli Ice Device Freezes Out Breast Tumors

July 5th 2012

IceSense3 cryoablation probes

For the past year, a novel Israeli medical device has been changing the way American doctors remove fibro-adenoma tumors – benign breast lumps. Now an internationally renowned Japanese surgeon is testing IceSense3, made in Israel by IceCure Medical, to destroy small malignant tumors as well. “This is the future,” declares CEO Hezi Himelfarb.

During an ultrasound-guided procedure, the IceSense3 probe penetrates the tumor and destroys it by engulfing it with ice. Needing only local anesthetic, the cryoablation process takes five or 10 minutes in a doctor’s office, clinic, or breast center, and the patient can get up and leave afterward. No recovery period or post-care is necessary.

Before the Israeli device received US Food and Drug Administration approval in December 2010, many women preferred to simply monitor harmless growths instead of having an expensive, time-consuming, and painful surgical procedure. The new solution, which is quick and virtually painless with no scarring, offers a more attractive option. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Data Abuse Spreads in Smart Phone Apps

July 4th 2012

HTC thunderbold droid phone

Increasingly often, mobile applications on web-enabled mobile phones and tablet computers do more than they appear to.

In secrecy, the "apps" forward private data to a third party. Computer scientists from Saarbrücken have developed a new approach to prevent this data abuse. They can put a stop to the data theft through the app "SRT AppGuard". The chief attraction: For the protection to work, it is not necessary to identify the suspicious programs in advance, nor must the operating system be changed. Instead, the freely available app attacks the program code of the digital spies.

"My smartphone knows everything about me, starting with my name, my phone number, my e-mail address, my interests, up to my current location," explains computer science professor Michael Backes, who manages the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability at Saarland University. "It even knows my friends quite well, as it saves their contact details, too," says Backes. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

On Mars, Life’s Molecules Could Lie within Reach of Curiosity

July 3rd 2012

Curiosity Rover at work
Artist’s conception of Curiosity Rover at work on Mars
(credit: NASA JPL-Caltech)

Stick a shovel in the ground and scoop. That’s about how deep scientists need to go in order to find evidence for ancient life on Mars, if there is any to be found, a new study suggests. That’s within reach of Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover expected to land on the Red Planet in August.

The new findings, which suggest optimal depths and locations to probe for organic molecules like those that compose living organisms as we know them, could help the newest Mars rover scout for evidence of life beneath the surface and within rocks. The results suggest that, should Mars harbor simple organic molecules, NASA’s prospects for discovering them during Curiosity’s explorations are better than previously thought, said Alexander Pavlov of NASA GSFC in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of the study.

While these simple molecules could provide evidence of ancient Martian life, they could also stem from other sources like meteorites and volcanoes. Complex organic molecules could hint more strongly at the possibility of past life on the planet. These molecules, made up of 10 or more carbon atoms, could resemble known building blocks of life such as the amino acids that make up proteins. Read more ..

Edge of Environment

North Atlantic Algae Blooms and Uptakes Humanity's Carbon Output

July 1st 2012

North America sat image

On the extended July 4th week, U.S. beachgoers have thronged their way to seaside resorts and parks to celebrate with holiday fireworks. Across the horizon and miles out to sea toward the north, the Atlantic Ocean's own spring and summer ritual is unfolding: the blooming of countless microscopic plant plankton, or phytoplankton. In what's known as the North Atlantic Bloom, an immense number of phytoplankton burst into color, first "greening" then "whitening" the sea as one species follows another.

In research results published in this week's issue of the journal Science, scientists report evidence of what triggers this huge bloom. Whirlpools, or eddies, swirl across the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean sustaining phytoplankton in the ocean's shallower waters where they can get plenty of sunlight to fuel their growth, keeping them from being pushed downward by the ocean's rough surface. The result is a burst of spring and summer color atop the ocean's waters.

How important is the bloom to the North Atlantic Ocean and beyond--to the global carbon cycle? Much like forests, springtime blooms of microscopic plants in the ocean absorb enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, emitting oxygen via photosynthesis. Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide humans put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Israeli Company Grows New Bones from Fat

June 30th 2012

Docs and Tech

Bonus Biogroup’s major breakthrough generates new healthy bone from stem cells harvested from the patient’s own fat.

Make no bones about this technology: Bonus Biogroup, a regenerative medicine company in Israel, has found a way to grow human bone from a patient’s own fat, culled during liposuction. Following successful pre-clinical testing, clinical trials will begin within the next year in Europe or in Israel on applications ranging from growing bones for dental surgery to replacing bone tissue lost through trauma or illness.

“The standard of care today is autologous bone grafting — taking bone from other parts of the body, breaking it and putting it in where needed,” Bonus founder and CEO Shai Meretzki states. “Two operations are needed for the treatment of harvesting bone from another part of the body,” he says. Obviously, this solution isn’t optimal. “Our advantage is that the healing process is much faster, and patients of course don’t have to suffer the harvesting procedure,” he adds. Read more ..

Edge of Nanotechnology

Nano-Diamonds Make Laundry Detergents Eco-Friendly

June 28th 2012

Nanodiamond and human blood
Nanodiamond and human blood.

Nanodiamonds, pieces of carbon less than ten-thousandths the diameter of a human hair, have been found to help loosen crystallized fat from surfaces in a project led by research chemists at the University of Warwick that transforms the ability of washing powders to shift dirt in eco friendly low temperature laundry cycles.

These new findings tackle a problem that forces consumers to wash some of their laundry at between 60 and 90 degrees centigrade more than 80 times a year.

Even with modern biological washing powders, some fats and dirt cannot be removed at the lower temperatures many prefer to use for their weekly wash.

A desire to reduce the significant energy burden of regular high temperature washes, and understand the behaviour of these new materials, brought University of Warwick scientists and colleagues at Aston University together in a project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and P&G plc.

This “Cold Water Cleaning Initiative” funded a group of chemists, physicists and engineers led by Dr. Andrew Marsh in the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry to explore how new forms of carbon might work together with detergents in everyday household products. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Hubble Spots Rare Gravitational Arc from Distant Galaxy Cluster

June 26th 2012

Gravitational Arc from Distant Galaxy Cluster
Distant, massive galaxy cluster IDCS J1426.5+3508
(credit: NASA, ESA, A. Gonzalez, M. Brodwin, and A. Stanford)

Seeing is believing—except when you don’t believe what you see.

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found a puzzling arc of light behind an extremely massive cluster of galaxies residing 10 billion light-years away. The galactic grouping, discovered by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, was observed when the universe was roughly a quarter of its current age of 13.7 billion years. The giant arc is the stretched shape of a more distant galaxy whose light is distorted by the monster cluster’s powerful gravity, an effect called gravitational lensing.

The trouble is, the arc shouldn’t exist.

“When I first saw it, I kept staring at it, thinking it would go away,” said study leader Anthony Gonzalez of the University of Florida in Gainesville. “According to a statistical analysis, arcs should be extremely rare at that distance. At that early epoch, the expectation is that there are not enough galaxies behind the cluster bright enough to be seen, even if they were ‘lensed’ or distorted by the cluster. The other problem is that galaxy clusters become less massive the farther back in time you go. So it’s more difficult to find a cluster with enough mass to be a good lens for gravitationally bending the light from a distant galaxy.” Read more ..

The Aviation Edge

New Air Safety Guidelines

June 26th 2012

Thunder Storm

Aircraft turbulence guidelines should be completely rewritten after new research revealed thunderstorms could produce unexpected turbulence more than 100km away from storm cells.

The research by University of Melbourne and the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science researcher Dr Todd Lane has highlighted the impact of atmospheric gravity waves caused by thunderstorms and how air safety guidelines have not taken them into account.

“It is likely that many reports of encounters with turbulence are caused by thunderstorm generated gravity waves, making them far more important for turbulence than had previously been recognised,” Dr Lane said.

“Previously it was thought turbulence outside of clouds was mostly caused by jet streams and changes in wind speed at differing altitudes, known as wind shear, but this research reveals thunderstorms play a more critical role,” he said. Dr Lane said it is now recognised that thunderstorms have far reaching effects, modifying airflow, strengthening the jet stream and enhancing wind shear at a significant distance from the storm cell itself. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Planetrise: Alien Planet Looms Large in its Neighbor’s Sky

June 26th 2012

Kepler 36-c from Kepler 36-b
Artist’s conception of Kepler-36c rising over Kepler-36b’s horizon
(credit: David A. Aguilar, CfA)

Few nighttime sights offer more drama than the full Moon rising over the horizon. Now imagine that instead of the Moon, a gas giant planet spanning three times more sky loomed over the molten landscape of a lava world. This alien vista exists in the newly discovered two-planet system of Kepler-36.

“These two worlds are having close encounters,” said Josh Carter, a Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “They are the closest to each other of any planetary system we've found,” added co-author Eric Agol of the University of Washington.

Carter, Agol, and their colleagues report their discovery in June in Science Express. They spotted the planets in data from NASA's Kepler satellite, which can detect a planet when it passes in front of, and briefly reduces the light coming from, its parent star.

The newly discovered system contains two planets circling a subgiant star much like the Sun except several billion years older. The inner world, Kepler-36b, is a rocky planet 1.5 times the size of Earth and weighing 4.5 times as much. It orbits about every 14 days at an average distance of less than 11 million miles. The outer world, Kepler-36c, is a gaseous planet 3.7 times the size of Earth and weighing 8 times as much. This “hot Neptune” orbits once each 16 days at a distance of 12 million miles. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Scientists Find Protein in Limb-Nerve Repair

June 23rd 2012

Docs and Tech

Researchers have identified a protein that's essential for the regrowth of nerves responsible for movement and sensation in injured limbs. They hope the finding might some day make it possible to repair crippling damage to other parts of the central nervous system.

Scientists have long known that severed nerves in the arms and legs have the ability to regenerate after they have been been surgically reattached. But until now, the mechanisms underlying that regrowth have been poorly understood.

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, discovered that a protein, called dual-leucine zipper kinase (DLK), plays a key role in repairing the long, thin nerve fibers, or axons, that extend several meters from the nerve cell body within the spinal cord to so-called peripheral nerves in the limbs. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Little-studied Star Cluster Sheds Light on Search for Earth-like Planets

June 23rd 2012

Ruprecht 147 aka NGC 6774
Ruprecht 147 aka NGC 6774 (credit: Chris Beckett and Stefano Meneguolo,
Royal Astronomical Society of Canada)

A loose group of stars, known for over 180 years but never before studied in detail, has been revealed to be an important new tool in the quest to understand the evolution of stars like the Sun, and in the search for planets like Earth. "We have discovered that a previously unappreciated open star cluster, which is a little younger than our Sun, holds great promise for use as a standard gauge in fundamental stellar astrophysics," said Jason T. Wright, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, who conceived and initiated the research.

Wright’s research team’s first paper on the cluster, known as Ruprecht 147 and NGC 6774, has been submitted to the Astronomical Journal for publication. Team member Jason Curtis, a graduate student in Wright’s lab, led the work for this paper and will present the team’s project in Barcelona later this month at the 17th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun.

When searching for planets with an Earth-like mass and an orbit that allows liquid water to exist on the surface, astronomers often search around stars the mass of the Sun and smaller. Read more ..

The Environment Edge

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is an 'Ecological Time Bomb'

June 22nd 2012

Dead Zone Gulf of Mexico

A dry spring in portions of the Midwest is expected to result in the second-smallest Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" on record in 2012, according to a University of Michigan forecast. The prediction from the Ann Arbor-based instituted calls for a 2012 Gulf of Mexico dead zone of about 1,200 square miles, an area the size of Rhode Island. If the forecast is correct, 2012 would replace 2000 (1,696 square miles) as the year with the second-smallest Gulf dead zone. The smallest Gulf oxygen-starved, or hypoxic, zone was recorded in 1988 (15 square miles).

"While it's encouraging to see that this year's Gulf forecast calls for a significant drop in the extent of the dead zone, we must keep in mind that the anticipated reduction is due mainly to decreased precipitation in the upper Midwest and a subsequent reduced water flow into the Gulf," said aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. "The predicted 2012 dead-zone decline does not result from cutbacks in nitrogen use, which remains one of the key drivers of hypoxia in the Gulf."

The U-M prediction is one of two Gulf dead zone forecasts released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which funds the research. The other NOAA-supported team, from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Louisiana State University, predicts a 2012 Gulf dead zone of 6,213 square miles. Read more ..

The Robitic Edge

Robotic Fish Attracts the Real Thing

June 20th 2012

Robotic fish

Robotic fish could one day play an important role in steering schools of real fish away from aquatic dangers, such as invasive species, pollution and other hazards, according to experimental evidence released in a new study.

Mechanical engineer Maurizio Porfiri works with zebrafish, the so-called lab rats of the aquatic world. He and his colleagues at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute designed a remote controlled, motorized zebrafish robot. Painted blue with bright yellow stripes, the robotic fish was shaped to resemble a female which was ready to mate.

It was then put into a 65-liter tank, separated from the school by a transparent piece of Plexiglas. Real fish like look of 'robo-fish'. And, says, Porfiri, "It worked!" The zebrafish were attracted to the shape and color of the robot as well as the movement of its tail. Although the real fish preferred each other to the robot, they preferred spending time beside the robot to staying next to an empty space. Both individual and groups of fish preferred the company of the robot.  Read more ..

The Edge of Pyschology

Losing Money, Emotions, and Evolution

June 20th 2012

roulette bet

Financial loss can lead to irrational behavior. Now, research by Weizmann Institute scientists reveals that the effects of loss go even deeper: Loss can compromise our early perception and interfere with our grasp of the true situation. The findings, which recently appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, may also have implications for our understanding of the neurological mechanisms underlying post-traumatic stress disorder.

The experiment was conducted by Dr. Rony Paz and research student Offir Laufer of the Neurobiology Department. Subjects underwent a learning process based on classic conditioning and involving money. They were asked to listen to a series of tones composed of three different notes. After hearing one note, they were told they had earned a certain sum; after a second note, they were informed that they had lost some of their money; and a third note was followed by the message that their bankroll would remain the same. According to the findings, when a note was tied to gain, or at least to no loss, the subjects improved over time in a learned task—distinguishing that note from other, similar notes. But when they heard the “lose money” note, they actually got worse at telling one from the other. Read more ..

The Edge of Science

The U.S. Scientific Community Benefits from Globalization

June 19th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

Globalization is a benefit to U.S. scientific achievement, not a threat. That's the conclusion of a new book that weighs the evidence from a number of recent surveys to answer its title question: "Is American Science in Decline?" American science is in good health, according to the book's authors, sociologists Yu Xie of the University of Michigan and Alexandra Achen Killewald of Harvard University.

Although there are areas of concern, they maintain that traditional American values will help the nation maintain its strength in science for the foreseeable future, and that globalization will promote efficiency in science through knowledge sharing. "In an age when other countries are catching up, American science will inevitably become less dominant but it will not decline relative to its own past," Xie said. "As technology continues to change the American economy, better-educated workers with a range of scientific skills will be in high demand." Read more ..

Health Edge

Killing Bats does not Reduce Rabies Exposure in Bat Colonies

June 18th 2012

vampire bat

A new study of rabies in vampire bats in Peru has found that culling bats—a common rabies control strategy—does not reduce rates of rabies exposure in bat colonies, and may even be counterproductive. The findings may eventually help public health and agriculture officials in Peru develop more effective methods for preventing rabies infections in humans and livestock, according to a team of scientists from the United States and Peru led by Daniel Streicker, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology.

The study was published online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The research team includes University of Michigan population ecologist Pejman Rohani.

"Our paper represents a significant move forward in the study of an important class of infectious diseases in a setting where the economic impact on livestock and the burden on humans is substantial," said Rohani, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a professor of complex systems and a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Nanoparticles May improve Blood Cancer Treatments

June 18th 2012

Multiple myeloma cells internalizing nanoparticles

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame have engineered nanoparticles that show great promise for the treatment of multiple myeloma (MM), an incurable cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow.

One of the difficulties doctors face in treating MM comes from the fact that cancer cells of this type start to develop resistance to the leading chemotherapeutic treatment, doxorubicin, when they adhere to tissue in bone marrow.

"The nanoparticles we have designed accomplish many things at once," says Başar Bilgiçer, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry and biochemistry, and an investigator in Notre Dame's Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics (AD&T) initiative.

"First, they reduce the development of resistance to doxorubicin. Second, they actually get the cancer cells to actively consume the drug-loaded nanoparticles. Third, they reduce the toxic effect the drug has on healthy organs." Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Cancer’s Next Magic Bullet May Be Magic Shotgun

June 17th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

A new approach to drug design, pioneered by a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Mt. Sinai, New York, promises to help identify future drugs to fight cancer and other diseases that will be more effective and have fewer side effects.

Rather than seeking to find magic bullets — chemicals that specifically attack one gene or protein involved in one particular part of a disease process — the new approach looks to find “magic shotguns” by sifting through the known universe of chemicals to find the few special molecules that broadly disrupt the whole diseases process.

“We’ve always been looking for magic bullets,” said Kevan Shokat, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF. “This is a magic shotgun — it doesn’t inhibit one target but a set of targets — and that gives us a much, much better ability to stop the cancer without causing as many side effects.” Read more ..

The Edge of Invention

Nature Inspires New Submarine Design

June 17th 2012

Click to select Image

Superhydrophobicity is one of most important interfacial properties between solids and liquids. SHI Yanlong and his group from the College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Key laboratory of Hexi Corridor Resources Utilization of Gansu Universities, Hexi University investigated the superhydrophobicity of the water boatman's hind wings. The study showed that superhydrophobicity plays a crucial role in the water boatman's swimming, balance, and breathing in water, and in its escape ability from water area under unfavorable conditions. Their work, entitled "Investigation of superhydrophobicity on water boatman's hind wings", was published in the Chinese Science Bulletin 2012, Vol 57 (14).

Recently, studies of superhydrophobicity have attracted much interest because of its potential practical applications. In nature, lotus leaves, water-striders' legs, and some insects' wings exhibit perfect superhydrophobicity. Inspired by these superhydrophobic characteristics within living organisms, scientists have invented many ways to fabricate artificial superhydrophobic materials. Superhydrophobic surfaces are commonly constructed either by creating micro/nanostructures on hydrophobic substrates or by chemically modifying micro/nanostructured surfaces with materials of low surface free energy. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Apple Takes Position For 3D Indoor Mapping

June 17th 2012

Apple announced its own mapping solution at its worldwide developer's conference, ending its partnership with Google.

The focus has been on the 3D maps in Apple and Google’s recent mapping-related announcements, however, the indoors is also likely to emerge as key in future developments. A recent report from IMS Research covering the area of indoor positioning, including mapping, forecasts that almost 120,000 indoor venue maps will be available to the consumer in 2016.

“The announcement of Apple providing its own mapping solution comes as no surprise, with rumors of this circulating for some time, as a result of the firm’s previous acquisitions in the area,” said Alex West, research director of IMS Research’s Connectivity and Location group. “Apple has been trying to wean itself off of its dependence on Google, the release of Siri with the iPhone 4S represented a different way to search the internet, bypassing Google entirely, and its recent iPhoto application used OpenStreetMap data.” Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Artificial Pancreas Shows Promise in Humans

June 16th 2012

Docs and Tech

Human clinical trials of an advanced artificial pancreas look promising, according to researchers, who hope the device will help insulin-dependent diabetics avoid some of the devastating complications that go along with the disease.

For years, researchers have worked to develop a computerized, artificial pancreas, one that continuously measures blood sugar levels and transmits that information electronically to an insulin pump which automatically delivers the correct dose of the hormone.

A large, landmark study by the National Institutes of Health showed that keeping blood glucose levels in a very narrow range can minimize or delay diabetic complications. But constant blood sugar monitoring is exhausting, and even the most diligent diabetics are at risk for serious and life-threatening complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and limb amputations.  Read more ..

The Edge of Space

China Prepares for First Manual Space Docking Mission

June 15th 2012

Chinese astronauts

China is preparing to launch three astronauts into space, as part of efforts to become the third country to have a permanent base orbiting the Earth. The astronauts, including China's first female in space, will live and work on a space station for more than a week.  Workers at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's western Gansu province put the finishing touches on the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft, which is due to launch Saturday.

The program's spokeswoman, Wu Ping, told reporters Friday the rocket is being fueled as one final step before the launch. She said rehearsals of the Shenzhou-9's main systems have been completed, the crew is in good condition and all preparations have been made. The spokeswoman explained that the Shenzhou-9 will separate from its rocket and automatically dock with Tiangong-1, a space module that is orbiting more than 300 kilometers above the earth.

She said when the two vehicles connect, the astronauts will enter the experimental Tiangong-1 vehicle and live there for nearly two weeks to carry out scientific and technological experiments.  The crew also will work to dock the vessels manually. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Search Engine Aims to Quiz Sensor Networks

June 14th 2012

Russian computer user

A new type of search engine is being developed that can interrogate networks of sensors to give real time answers to questions about the physical world. The European-funded project, known as SMART, for ‘Search engine for MultimediA Environment geneRated content’, aims to develop and implement an open source system to allow internet users to search and analyse data from any network of sensors.

By matching search queries with information from sensors and cross-referencing data from social networks such as Twitter, users will be able to receive detailed responses to questions such as ‘What part of the city hosts live music events which my friends have been to recently?’ or ‘How busy is the city centre?’ Currently, standard search engines such as Google are not able to answer search queries of this type.

The SMART project is a joint research initiative of nine partners including the University of Glasgow, Atos, Athens Information Technology, IBM’s Haifa Research Lab, Imperial College London, City of Santander, PRISA Digital, Telesto and Consorzio S3 Log. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Current Projections May Underestimate Consequences of Global Climate Change

June 13th 2012

Click to select Image

Global climate change is expected to cause sea-level rise of approximately 1-2 meters within this century and studies are beginning to project the consequences for humans and global biodiversity. While the direct consequences of sea-level rise due to flooding and inundation (‘primary effects’) are beginning to be assessed, no studies have yet considered the possible secondary effects from sea-level rise due to the relocation of human refugees into the hinterland. 

Researchers from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, with lead author Florian Wetzel and senior researcher Dustin Penn, collaborated with scientists  from the Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity Group of Aarhus University, Denmark to assess and project the potential secondary impacts of sea-level rise on habitat availability and the distribution of mammals.

They found that in more populated regions secondary effects can lead to an equal or even higher loss of habitat than primary displacement effects. Florian Wetzel, Helmut Beissmann and Dustin Penn from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna and W. Daniel Kissling from the Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity Group of Aarhus University, Denmark, examined the potential ecological consequences of sea-level rise on habitat availability on more than 1200 islands in the Southeast Asian and Pacific region. Read more ..

The Urban Edge

New Software Forecasts Noise Levels in a Street

June 13th 2012

Click to select Image

University of Granada researchers have designed a new software solution to determine noise levels in a street in the future. This new system predicts noise frequency and the type of noise that the inhabitants of a neighborhood will have to endure. This information is of great interest to people interested in buying a new house.

This system is more accurate than the traditional mathematical models employed. This application yields a prediction of urban noise levels using a dataset (street type, road conditions, average speed of the vehicles passing by, road works, etc), with a reliability of 95percent. The researchers are currently trying to reduce the number of variables required to produce an accurate forecast of the noise levels in a given area.The research group "Approximate Reasoning and Artificial Intelligencel" is composed of researchers at the University of Granada Departments of Computer Sciences and Artificial Intelligence, Civil Engineering and Applied Physics. The application of neural networks to the prediction and analysis of urban noise "is a step forward in the field of noise forecasting models". In addition, it will help perform urban noise mapping projects Read more ..

The Edge of Health

How Real-Life Exposure to Violence Disrupts a Child's Sleep Habits

June 13th 2012

Little girl upset

When violence shatters a child's world, the torment can continue into their sleep, according to researchers in Cleveland. The impact is measurable and affected by the severity of the violence, and the effects can last over time. The study, being presented today at SLEEP 2012, shows how the severity of a violent event affects a child's quality and quantity of sleep. The more severe the violence, the more sleep is impacted. Trouble with nightmares and insomnia have long been associated with exposure to violence, but the Cleveland study found that characteristics of the violent act touch different aspects of the child's sleep.

For example, children who are victimized during a violent event tend to sleep less and more poorly than children who witnessed a violent event but were not victimized. Children who witness homicide have more inconsistent sleep as time passes since the violent event occurred. "Violence permeates our society, and this work is showing that experiencing even a single violent event as a victim or as a witness may influence sleep behavior in different ways, which in turn may negatively affect a child's health and functioning," said James Spilsbury, PhD, the study's principal investigator. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

PAP Therapy Improves Depressive Symptoms in all Patients With Sleep Apnea

June 12th 2012

Clenched Fists

Patients seen at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center who used positive airway pressure (PAP) to treat their obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) had improvements in their depressive symptoms, even if they followed the prescribed PAP regimen only partly, a new study reports.

The study looked at 779 patients with OSA and asked them to fill out a standardized PHQ-9 form to assess depressive symptoms, which patients with OSA often have, researchers said. They were assessed again with the PHQ-9 following PAP treatment, and all showed improvement in PHQ-9 scores; however, patients using their PAP devices more than four hours per night had greater score improvements than those who were less adherent. Other factors that affected the improvements in PHQ-9 scores were whether the patient was sleepy and marital status.

"The score improvements remained significant even after taking into account whether a patient had a prior diagnosis of depression or was taking an anti-depressant," said Charles Bae, MD, principal investigator in the study. "The improvements were greatest in sleepy, adherent patients but even non-adherent patients had better PHQ-9 scores. Another interesting finding was that among patients treated with PAP, married patients had a greater decrease in PHQ-9 scores compared to single or divorced patients." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NASA's Fermi Detects the Highest-Energy Light from a Solar Flare

June 12th 2012

Solar flare

During a powerful solar blast on March 7, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the highest-energy light ever associated with an eruption on the sun. The discovery heralds Fermi's new role as a solar observatory, a powerful new tool for understanding solar outbursts during the sun's maximum period of activity. A solar flare is an explosive blast of light and charged particles. The powerful March 7 flare, which earned a classification of X5.4 based on the peak intensity of its X-rays, is the strongest eruption so far observed by Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT).

The flare produced such an outpouring of gamma rays -- a form of light with even greater energy than X-rays -- that the sun briefly became the brightest object in the gamma-ray sky. "For most of Fermi's four years in orbit, its LAT saw the sun as a faint, steady gamma-ray source thanks to the impacts of high-speed particles called cosmic rays," said Nicola Omodei, an astrophysicist at Stanford University in California. "Now we're beginning to see what the sun itself can do." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Echocardiogram Screenings Are Effective in Preventing Rheumatic Heart Disease

June 12th 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

Routine screening with echocardiogram can detect three times as many cases of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) as clinical examinations, offering a novel approach in preventing this common disease, according to a new study in Circulation. The study, conducted by cardiologists from Children's National Medical Center, is the largest single-population study in Africa. The August issue of Nature Reviews - Cardiology features a summary of the article in its Public Health feature.

The study screened nearly 5,000 school-aged children in Uganda and 130 had abnormal echocardiograms. After further evaluation at a hospital, 72 children were classified as having RHD, compared with just 23 children who met the diagnosis criteria for clinical evaluation. This represents a 400 percent increase in identification with an echocardiogram. "What we found is that there were many children who had clinically silent RHD, which would have gone undetected without an echocardiogram," said Children's National's Andrea Beaton, MD, the lead author. "Echo screenings allow us to identify at-risk patients early, which in turn allows for early intervention to prevent more serious disease and complications." Read more ..

The Edge of Psychiatry

Nature or Nurture? It May Depend on Where you Live

June 12th 2012

School kids

The extent to which our development is affected by nature or nurture – our genetic make-up or our environment – may differ depending on where we live, according to research funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

In a study published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers from the Twins Early Development Study at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry studied data from over 6,700 families relating to 45 childhood characteristics, from IQ and hyperactivity through to height and weight.

They found that genetic and environmental contributions to these characteristics vary geographically in the United Kingdom, and published their results online as a series of nature-nurture maps. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Top Risk of Stroke for Normal-Weight Adults: Getting Under 6 Hours of Sleep

June 11th 2012

ER Entrance

Habitually sleeping less than six hours a night significantly increases the risk of stroke symptoms among middle-age to older adults who are of normal weight and at low risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to a study of 5,666 people followed for up to three years. The participants had no history of stroke, transient ischemic attack, stroke symptoms or high risk for OSA at the start of the study, being presented today at SLEEP 2012.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham recorded the first stroke symptoms, along with demographic information, stroke risk factors, depression symptoms and various health behaviors. After adjusting for body-mass index (BMI), they found a strong association with daily sleep periods of less than six hours and a greater incidence of stroke symptoms for middle-age to older adults, even beyond other risk factors. The study found no association between short sleep periods and stroke symptoms among overweight and obese participants. Read more ..

The Molecular Edge

Tabletop Laser-Like Device Creates Multicolor Beams of Ultraviolet T- and X-rays

June 10th 2012

laser xray beam

Coherent (laser-like) X-ray beam.

For the first time, researchers have produced a coherent, laser-like, directed beam of light that simultaneously streams ultraviolet light, X-rays, and all wavelengths in between. One of the few light sources to successfully produce a coherent beam that includes X-rays, this new technology is the first to do so using a setup that fits on a laboratory table.

An international team of researchers, led by engineers from the NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) for EUV Science and Technology, reports their findings in the June 8, 2012, issue of Science.

By focusing intense pulses of infrared light--each just a few optical cycles in duration--into a high-pressure gas cell, the researchers converted part of the original laser energy into a coherent super-continuum of light that extends well into the X-ray region of the spectrum. The X-ray burst that emerges has much shorter wavelengths than the original laser pulse, which will make it possible to follow the tiniest, fastest physical processes in nature, including the coupled dance of electrons and ions in molecules as they undergo chemical reactions, or the flow of charges and spins in materials. "This is the broadest spectral-bandwidth, coherent-light source ever generated," says engineering and physics professor Henry Kapteyn of JILA at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who led the study with fellow JILA professor Margaret Murnane and research scientist Tenio Popmintchev, in collaboration with researchers from the Vienna University of Technology, Cornell University and the University of Salamanca. "It definitely opens up the possibility to probe the shortest space and time scales relevant to any process in our natural world other than nuclear or fundamental particle interactions," Kapteyn adds. The breakthrough builds upon earlier discoveries from Murnane, Kapteyn and their colleagues to generate laser-like beams of light across a broad spectrum of wavelengths. Read more ..

The Edge of Life

Unique Microbes Found in Extreme Environment

June 9th 2012

soil cells, desert

Researchers who were looking for organisms that eke out a living in some of the most inhospitable soils on Earth have found a hardy few. A new DNA analysis of rocky soils in the martian-like landscape on some volcanoes in South America has revealed a handful of bacteria, fungi, and other rudimentary organisms, called archaea, which seem to have a different way of converting energy than their cousins elsewhere in the world.

"We haven't formally identified or characterized the species," said Ryan Lynch, a microbiologist with the University of Colorado in Boulder who is one of the finders of the organisms, "but these are very different than anything else that has been cultured. Genetically, they're at least 5 percent different than anything else in the [DNA] database of 2.5 million sequences." The database represents a close-to comprehensive collection of microbes, he added, and researchers worldwide add to it as they publish papers about the organisms.

Life gets little encouragement on the incredibly dry slopes of the tallest volcanoes in the Atacama region, where Lynch's co-author, University of Colorado microbiologist Steven Schmidt, collected soil samples. Much of the sparse snow that falls on the terrain sublimates back to the atmosphere soon after it hits the ground, and the soil is so depleted of nutrients that nitrogen levels in the scientists' samples were below detection limits. Ultraviolet radiation in this high-altitude environment can be twice as intense as in a low-elevation desert. And, while the researchers were on site, temperatures dropped to -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) one night, and spiked to 56° C (133° F) the next day. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

More Can Mean Less When it Comes to Being Happier – Especially if you are Neurotic

June 9th 2012


New research from the University of Warwick suggests getting more money may not make you happier, especially if you are neurotic. In a working paper, economist Dr Eugenio Proto, from the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) at the University of Warwick, looked at how personality traits can affect the way we feel about our income in terms of levels of life satisfaction.

He found evidence suggesting that neurotic people can view a pay rise or an increase in income as a failure if it is not as much as they expected. Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in psychology and refers to a tendency to experience negative emotional states. People with high levels of neuroticism have higher sensitivity to anger, hostility, or depression. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Parmy Olson On Anonymous: 'A Growing Phenomenon That We Don’t Yet Understand'

June 9th 2012

Hacker's Hand

To some, unscrupulous rabble-rousers; to others, the Robin Hoods of the Internet. The hacker collective Anonymous defies characterization. Parmy Olson, the London bureau chief for "Forbes," has written a new book, "We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency," which looks in detail at the movement, its schisms, and its evolving tactics. I spoke to Olson by phone about her new book.

RFE/RL: How would you characterize Anonymous, as they've been described as a movement, a meme, an organization? Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NASA to Launch Black Hole Hunter

June 9th 2012

baby black hole

The U.S. space agency is set to launch a telescope into space June 13 to seek out and study black holes -- those still-mysterious celestial bodies that scientists believe lie at the heart of every massive galaxy, including our own Milky Way. Black holes have a gravitational pull so intense that not even light can escape from them. As gas, dust and stars are sucked in, the material accelerates and heats up, generating powerful X-ray light emissions.

Only a few decades ago, scientists thought black holes were rare. But their thinking has changed in the past 20 years, and now NASA is setting out to conduct a census of the black holes in the universe. The U.S. space agency is launching a black hole hunter, a new telescope called NuSTAR, but formally known as Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array. Read more ..

The Edge of Computing

Creating Tomorrow’s Computers

June 8th 2012

Tiny particles such as atoms and electrons often behave in mysterious and surprising ways. Unlike larger objects composed of many particles, they can, for instance, exist simultaneously in more than one state. “According to the laws of quantum mechanics, a single atom can be in multiple locations at the same time and can be doing different things at the same time. We physicists call this the superposition principle,” says Dr. Roee Ozeri of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Physics of Complex Systems.

Dr. Ozeri and his research team are exploring how to design a computer that takes advantage of quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition. “If we could build a quantum computer, it would be much more powerful than any computer in use today,” he says. “It could solve computational problems that cannot be solved today, improve our ability to perform research, and allow us to crack the most complex encryption codes.”

In a conventional computer, components called transistors act as switches that regulate electric current. There are millions of interconnected transistors on each microprocessor chip. The transistors store bits of information, and each bit represents either a “1” or a “0,” depending on whether the switch is on—allowing the current to flow through—or off. Read more ..

The Race for Quantum Computer

Collaboration on Nano-Engineered Synthetic Diamond Sets a New Quantum Information Record

June 8th 2012

Click to select Image

Using synthetic diamond, quantum bit memory can now exceed one second at room temperature, opening up the potential for new solid state quantum based sensors and quantum information processing

7 June 2012: Element Six, the world leader in synthetic diamond supermaterials, working in partnership with academics in Harvard University, California Institute of Technology and Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik, has used its Element Six single crystal synthetic diamond grown by chemical vapour deposition (CVD) to demonstrate the capability of quantum bit memory to exceed one second at room temperature. Read more ..

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