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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 ..

The Race for Energy Storage

‘Nanocable’ Could Be Big Boon For Energy Storage

June 8th 2012

energy storage

Thanks to a little serendipity, researchers at Rice University have created a tiny coaxial cable that is about a thousand times smaller than a human hair and has higher capacitance than previously reported microcapacitors.

The nanocable, which is described this week in Nature Communications, was produced with techniques pioneered in the nascent graphene research field and could be used to build next-generation energy-storage systems. It could also find use in wiring up components of lab-on-a-chip processors, but its discovery is owed partly to chance.

“We didn’t expect to create this when we started,” said study co-author Jun Lou, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice. “At the outset, we were just curious to see what would happen electrically and mechanically if we took small copper wires known as interconnects and covered them with a thin layer of carbon.”
Coaxial nanocable

The Digital Edge

Flexible Glass to Enable Thinner Displays

June 8th 2012

flexible bend

An ultra-slim flexible glass could revolutionize the shape and form of next-generation consumer electronic technologies, including displays and perhaps OLED luminaries: The Corning Willow Glass, introduced by chemical company Corning Inc. The company made the announcement today at the Society for Information Display's Display Week, an industry tradeshow in Boston.

Corning Willow Glass will enable thin, light and cost-efficient applications including today's slim displays and the smart surfaces of the future. The thinness, strength, and flexibility of the glass has the potential to enable displays to be “wrapped” around a device or structure. As well, the material can be processed at temperatures up to 500° C. High temperature processing capability is essential for today's high-end displays, and is a processing condition that cannot be supported with polymer films. Corning Willow Glass will enable the industry to pursue high-temperature, continuous roll-to-roll processes – similar to how newsprint is produced – that have been impossible until now. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Rain May Not Always Be Welcome for Waterbirds

June 8th 2012

cranes in flight

Scientists from the Smithsonian and colleagues have found that waterbird communities can be the "canary in the coal mine" when it comes to detecting the health of urban estuary ecosystems. Their research revealed that the types of waterbirds that inhabit urban estuaries are influenced not only by urban development, but also by a far more natural process―rain.

The scientists compared waterbird communities in estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay during 2002, a year of severe drought, to 2003, a year of high rainfall. During the drier year, the species of waterbirds present included both those that fed generally on many species of invertebrates and those that only fed on specific ones. However, the waterbird community was made up of most generalists the following year after heavy rain. The high rainfall increased nutrient runoff into the estuaries which reduced the estuaries' populations of small invertebrates. Because the dynamics of the invertebrate populations were affected, so in turn were the dynamics of the waterbird communities that fed on them. Read more ..

Broken Economy

‘Financial Seismograph’ Detects Early Signs of Global Crisis

June 8th 2012

Click to select Image

If the Germans only knew what a liability Greece would become to the European Union, they could have pulled out of Greek-tied investments earlier. This is one of the suggestions made by an Israeli-German team of researchers that has linked modern physics with contemporary economic theory to develop a new predictor of global financial hurricanes. World Bank executives take note.

The new team’s empirical-based research tool is built on a new understanding of principles from the modern field of complex biological systems, an increasingly popular subfield of physics. While the interconnected parts of a complex system, like in the case of the weather, might seem unrelated at first––such as cloud coverage in Singapore and puddles on a New York sidewalk––the new methodology to assess and quantify inter-market relations can explain the connectedness so that valuable data can be extracted and evaluated.

Examples of complex systems include ant colonies; the nervous system of the human body; climate; social structures; and living things. Global economics is also a complex system that can be explained with the right prediction tools. “Complex systems—this is the name of the game,” says Dror Kenett, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy who worked on the research. “Based strongly on physics theory, this is the intersection between physics, economics and finance. Over the past 20 years, there have been ever-growing amounts of data for economics and finance, and we make use of physics tools, concepts and algorithms, and empirical data approaches to look at what’s really going on.” Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Emerging Optics Technology to Fly on Microsatellite

June 7th 2012

photon sieve

This version of the photon sieve was used last summer to capture the first images
of the sun using this new technology. (Credit: Adrian Daw)

A kitchen gadget used to sift flour and other ingredients is the inspiration behind the name of an emerging technology that could resolve some of the more intriguing components of the sun's chromosphere--the irregular layer above the photosphere that contributes to the formation of solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

Adrian Daw and Douglas Rabin, scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., are collaborating with researchers at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado and other Air Force-affiliated organizations to build a small solar observatory equipped with the so-called "photon sieve," an eight-inch (20-centimeter) diffractive optic. A version of this technology was successfully demonstrated in a ground test, paving the way for its flight on a tiny Cubesat satellite in 2014--the Air Force-sponsored FalconSat-7 mission. That mission will demonstrate the practicality of deploying this emerging technology in space and possibly paving the way for a larger heliophysics mission in the future. "We've studied the sun's corona for years and it's complicated. But the chromosphere, which can be seen as a thin pink layer during a total solar eclipse, is even harder to understand," Daw said. "Things are happening there at spatial scales we can't currently resolve with existing space or ground-based telescopes." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Air Pollution Linked to Chronic Heart Disease

June 6th 2012

Click to select Image

Air pollution, a serious danger to the environment, is also a major health risk, associated with respiratory infections, lung cancer and heart disease. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher has concluded that not only does air pollution impact cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke, but it also causes repeated episodes over the long term.

Cardiac patients living in high pollution areas were found to be over 40 percent more likely to have a second heart attack when compared to patients living in low pollution areas, according to Dr. Yariv Gerber of TAU's School of Public Health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine. "We know that like smoking cigarettes, pollution itself provokes the inflammatory system. If you are talking about long-term exposure and an inflammatory system that is irritated chronically, pollution may well be involved in the progression of atrial sclerosis that manifests in cardiac events," explains Dr. Gerber. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Study Offers Hope For More Effective Treatment of Nearsightedness

June 6th 2012

child glasses

Research by an optometrist at the University of Houston (UH) supports the continued investigation of optical treatments that attempt to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children.

Conducted by UH College of Optometry assistant professor David Berntsen and his colleagues from The Ohio State University, the study compared the effects of wearing and then not wearing progressive addition lenses, better known as no-line bifocals, in children who are nearsighted. With funding by a National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute training grant and support from Essilor of America Inc. and the American Optometric Foundation Ezell Fellowship program, the study examined 85 children from 6-11 years old over the course of two years. The results were published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, one of the most widely read journals in the field. Read more ..

The Molecular Edge

Splitting the Unsplittable

June 5th 2012

Atoms split

Researchers from the University of Bonn have just shown how a single atom can be split into its two halves, pulled apart and put back together again. While the word "atom" literally means "indivisible," the laws of quantum mechanics allow dividing atoms - similarly to light rays - and reuniting them. The researchers want to build quantum mechanics bridges by letting the atom touch adjacent atoms while it is being pulled apart so that it works like a bridge span between two pillars. The results have just been published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Dividing atoms? What sounds like nuclear fission and radioactivity is, however, a precision process using quantum mechanics. The laws of quantum mechanics allow objects to exist in several states simultaneously. This is what the so-called double-slit experiment is based on, where a particle can go through two slits at the same time. The Bonn scientists working with Prof. Dr. Dieter Meschede from the Institute for Applied Physics of the University of Bonn succeeded in keeping a single atom simultaneously in two places that were more than ten micrometers, or one hundredth of a millimeter, apart. This is an enormous distance for an atom. Afterwards, the atom was put back together undamaged. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Flame--A Designer Computer Virus Created to Attack Iran's Nuclear Program

June 5th 2012


The computer virus known as "Flame" was specifically designed to steal secrets about Iran's nuclear program, a new report suggests.

According to Ynet, researchers at Russia's Kaspersky Lab said Tuesday that one of Flame's main objectives was to copy "confidential technical drawings" of Iranian military and nuclear facilities. ... the attackers had a "high interest in AutoCad drawings, in addition to PDF and text files"; further cementing reports suggesting the Flame was on a complex reconnaissance mission.

"They were looking for the designs of mechanical and electrical equipment," Prof. Alan Woodward, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC. "However, Iran isn't likely to have any intellectual property not available elsewhere. So, this suggests more a case of intelligence-gathering than onward selling on the black market," he added.

The virus stole the information by creating numerous fake identities to register more than 80 domain names around the world. The information taken from the Iranian systems would be sent to servers residing in Turkey, Germany, and Malaysia, among other countries. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Planet Venus to Make Rare Transit past the Face of the Sun

June 3rd 2012

Venus on the Sun

On June 5, 2012 at 6:03 PM EDT, the planet Venus will do something it has done only seven times since the invention of the telescope: cross in front of the sun. This transit is among the rarest of planetary alignments and it has an odd cycle. Two such Venus transits always occur within eight years of each other and then there is a break of either 105 or 121 years before it happens again.

The moments when Venus first appears to cross the limb of the sun and the moments it leaves, known as ingress and egress respectively, are historically the most scientifically important aspects of the transit since comparison of Venus's journey viewed from different points on Earth provided one of the earliest ways to determine the distance between Earth and the sun. The transit is also helpful to scientists today: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be watching the June 2012 transit to help calibrate its instruments as well as to learn more about Venus's atmosphere.

Since the points at which Venus will first touch and later leave the sun is known down to minute detail, SDO can use this information to make sure its images are oriented to true solar North. Orienting instruments is a constant adjustment game for telescopes in space, since their original position can be shifted during launch. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NASA to Use Rare Venus Transit as Planet-Hunting Exercise

June 3rd 2012


The planet Venus will make a rare transit across the face of the Sun on June 5. The phenomenon will not occur again for more than a century. The U.S. space agency, NASA, plans to use the Venus transit to fine-tune some of its deep-space planet-hunting techniques. Venus will appear as a small, black dot as it crosses in front of the Sun. The six and a half hour long passage will begin at 2209 Universal time on June 5, and most of the world - except much of South America and western Africa - will be able to see it. Experts warn to never look directly at the Sun.

NASA's Harley Thronson says transits of Venus in the 18th and 19th centuries provided the measurements that allowed astronomers to calculate the key distance between the Earth and the Sun. However, he admits that many people will observe the 2012 phenomenon just for fun. “It is primarily a gee-whiz factor. Its scientific importance is now historical. It was scientifically critical in the 1700’s and 1800’s,” Thronson said. Thronson says knowing the Earth-to-Sun distance - 150 million kilometers -- allowed astronomers to determine the size of the solar system for the first time - and ultimately, the sizes and distances of everything in the cosmos. Scientists look for distant planets by detecting the slight dimming of a star’s brightness that occurs when an orbiting object passes between it and the telescope making the observation. It is known as the “transit method.” Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Global Cancer Rates Expected to Soar by 2030

June 3rd 2012


The number of cancer cases is predicted to surge by 78 percent in middle income countries such as South Africa and India, and spike 93 percent in the developing world by the year 2030. Experts say an aggressive global strategy is needed. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, in Lyon, France, the incidence of all cancer cases will rise from 12.7 million new cases in 2008 to 22.2 million by 2030. The estimates are based on an analysis of social and economic trends in 184 countries compiled by the IARC. The organization looked at the incidence of nine of the most commonly diagnosed cancers, including cancers of the cervix, liver, breast, prostate, lung and colon. It concluded that reductions in cancers caused by infections in middle-income countries, such as those of the cervix and stomach, are likely to be rapidly off-set by a rise in breast, colon and prostate, as countries become more Westernized. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Arctic Warming Means Challenges, Clinton Says

June 3rd 2012

Hillary Clinton 2

Thinning polar ice means more sea traffic through the Arctic at a time of territorial claims to an area that could contain as much as 20 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Norwegian officials to discuss the changing Arctic. Over the last 20 years, Norwegian climate scientists say the Arctic has been losing 45,000 square kilometers of ice cover a year. That has opened new shipping routes across the north that could make trade between Europe and Asia 40 percent faster than using the Suez Canal.

So Arctic nations are working to protect a region that Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere says is undergoing a profound transformation. "There are changes going on which are leading to the emergence of a region which used to be frozen both politically and climatically, and now there is a thaw," Stoere said. The foreign minister brought Secretary Clinton to this city above the Arctic Circle to meet with scientists and business leaders preparing for greater ocean traffic and greater oil exploration in a region that the U.S. Geologic Survey says could hold $9 trillion in oil and minerals. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Why Has Facebook's Eagerly Anticipated Stock Offering Disappointed Investors?

June 3rd 2012

Facebook page

It was one of the biggest and most highly anticipated stock offerings in U.S. financial history. Now it looks to many people like Wall Street’s biggest disappointment. Shares in the social media company Facebook have been steadily losing value since the company’s May 18 public debut, when its market value was estimated at an eye-popping $104 billion. Since then, the share price has dropped 25 percent from an initial $38. The stock closed at $29.60 on May 31. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

Investors lucky enough to get their hands on Facebook stock thought they were buying a sure thing. The excitement leading up to its initial public offering (IPO) was unmatched in the history of Wall Street. Facebook fever gripped everyone from the largest investment bank to the smallest individual investor, all of whom wanted to own a piece of the wildly popular social media company founded by Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard eight years ago. It worked. The company raised $16 billion. So what’s gone wrong since then? Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

A New Heart From Old Skin

June 2nd 2012


The Israeli team transformed stem cells into cardiomyocytes. Photo credit: ISRAEL21c

Be still your beating hearts: Making medical history, scientists from Israel have been able to transform human stem cells from older diseased patients into brand-new, healthy, beating heart tissue. This could mean that heart disease might someday be repaired by using cells from a person’s own body, eliminating the need for risky surgical implants and transplants.

Using stem-cell technology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers from Haifa showed that their lab-produced cardiac muscle cells are also capable of merging into existing heart muscles. The news is causing a media sensation around the globe.

“The good thing about it is that the research has increased public awareness to science that Israel isn’t only portrayed with hostility, but that it’s a country bringing good news for the world,” Prof. Lior Gepstein, head researcher in the advance reported. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Catching Solar Particles Infiltrating Earth's Atmosphere

June 1st 2012

the sun

On May 17, 2012 an M-class flare exploded from the sun. The eruption also shot out a burst of solar particles traveling at nearly the speed of light that reached Earth about 20 minutes after the light from the flare. An M-class flare is considered a "moderate" flare, at least ten times less powerful than the largest X-class flares, but the particles sent out on May 17 were so fast and energetic that when they collided with atoms in Earth's atmosphere, they caused a shower of particles to cascade down toward Earth's surface. The shower created what's called a ground level enhancement (GLE).

GLEs are quite rare—fewer than 100 events have been observed in the last 70 years, since instruments were first able to detect them. Moreover, this was the first GLE of the current solar cycle—a sure sign that the sun's regular 11-year cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum.

This GLE has scientists excited for another reason, too. The joint Russian/Italian mission PAMELA, short for Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics, simultaneously measured the particles from the sun that caused the GLE. Solar particles have been measured before, but PAMELA is sensitive to the very high-energy particles that reach ground level at Earth. The data may help scientists understand the details of what causes this space weather phenomenon, and help them tease out why a relatively small flare was capable of producing the high-speed particles needed to cause a GLE. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Link Between WikiLeaks And Hacker Group Revealed

May 31st 2012

Hacker's Hand

With the U.K. Supreme Court to rule on May 30 on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden over rape and sexual-assault claims, a new book has revealed a damning link with a hacker collective that could undermine Assange's previous claims that WikiLeaks doesn't solicit information.

"We Are Anonymous," a new book from Parmy Olson, the Forbes London bureau chief, about the shadowy world of hackers, has shed some light on the connection between WikiLeaks and hacker group LulzSec. Olson details how, in June 2011 when Assange was holed up in the English countryside, he sent out tweets supporting LulzSec. According to Olson, he quickly deleted those tweets as "he didn't want to be publicly associated with what were clearly black hat hackers." Read more ..

The Medical Edge

'Lean Thinking' Techniques from Auto Industry boosts Surgeons' Teamwork

May 31st 2012

Face Transplant Surgery

For a year and a half, the University of Michigan Health System turned one of its head and neck surgery practices into a laboratory.

The goal: to see if ‘lean thinking’ techniques pioneered by the auto industry could be applied to the operating room in ways that simultaneous improved service for patients as well as improve overall efficiency.

The answer was a resounding, “Yes.”

Turnaround time between surgeries fell by more than 20 percent, while measurements of morale, teamwork and effective problem solving rose. The number of cases finishing after 5 p.m. which requires paying costly overtime was cut in half.

“The efficiencies should not only to enable us to reduce waiting times for patients scheduled to have elective procedures, but our results showed staff from scrub nurses to anesthesiologists are more empowered and teamwork has risen to new heights,” says surgeon Carol Bradford, M.D., chair of the U-M’s Department of Otolaryngology and the study’s senior author. Read more ..

Edge of Computing

New Mathematical Model Appears to Pick Hit Music

May 31st 2012

Online music purchasing

In 2004, a trio of researchers at Columbia University began an online experiment in social-media marketing, creating nine versions of a music-download site that presented the same group of unknown songs in different ways. The goal of the experiment was to gauge the effect of early peer recommendations on the songs’ success; the researchers found that different songs became hits on the different sites and that the variation was unpredictable.

“It’s natural to believe that successful songs, movies, books and artists are somehow ‘better,’” one of the researchers wrote in The New York Times in 2007. “What our results suggest, however, is that because what people like depends on what they think other people like, what the market ‘wants’ at any point in time can depend very sensitively on its own history.”

But for music fans who would like to think that talent is ultimately rewarded, the situation may not be as dire as the Columbia study makes it seem. In a paper published in the online journal PLoS ONE, researchers from the MIT Media Laboratory’s Human Dynamics Lab revisit data from the original experiment and suggest that it contains a clear quantitative indicator of quality that’s consistent across all the sites; moreover, they find that the unpredictability of the experimental results may have as much to do with the way the test sites were organized as with social influence. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

There's More Star-Stuff Out There But It's Not Dark Matter

May 31st 2012

gaseous ring on star

More atomic hydrogen gas—the ultimate fuel for stars—is lurking in today’s Universe than we thought, CSIRO astronomer Dr Robert Braun has found. This is the first accurate measurement of this gas in galaxies close to our own.

Just after the Big Bang the Universe’s matter was almost entirely hydrogen atoms. Over time this gas of atoms came together and generated galaxies, stars and planets—and the process is still going on. Astronomers want to understand where, when and how the atomic gas is transformed to better understand the Universe in which we live.

By taking a new look at some archival data, Dr Braun, Chief Scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science in Sydney, Australia, has discovered that galaxies around us are hiding about a third more atomic hydrogen gas than previously calculated. The study also shows that the gas is distributed very differently from how it was in the past, with much less in the galaxies’ outer suburbs than billions of years ago. “This means that it’s much harder for galaxies to pull the gas in and form new stars,” Dr Braun said. “It’s why stars are forming 20 times more slowly now than in the past.” Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Greenland's Current Loss of Ice Mass

May 31st 2012

Click to select Image

The Greenland ice sheet continues to lose mass and thus contributes at about 0.7 mm. per year to the currently observed sea level change of about 3 mm. per year. This trend increases each year by a further 0.07 mm. per year. The pattern and temporal nature of loss is complex. The mass loss is largest in southwest and northwest Greenland; the respective contributions of melting, iceberg calving and fluctuations in snow accumulation differing considerably. This result has been published by an international research group led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in the latest issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 1 June 2012. The result was made possible by a new comparison of three different types of satellite observations: measurements of the change in gravity by changes in ice mass with the satellite pair GRACE, height variation with the laser altimeter on the NASA satellite ICESat and determination of the difference between the accumulation of regional atmospheric models and the glacier discharge, as measured by satellite radar data. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Innovative Solar Retinal Implants May Give Sight to the Blind

May 31st 2012

Eye biometrics

Using tiny solar-panel-like cells surgically placed underneath the retina, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a system that may someday restore sight to people who have lost vision because of certain types of degenerative eye diseases.

This device, a new type of retinal prosthesis, involves a specially designed pair of goggles, which are equipped with a miniature camera and a pocket PC that is designed to process the visual data stream. The resulting images would be displayed on a liquid crystal microdisplay embedded in the goggles, similar to what's used in video goggles for gaming.

Unlike the regular video goggles, though, the images would be beamed from the LCD using laser pulses of near-infrared light to a photovoltaic silicon chip — one-third as thin as a strand of hair — implanted beneath the retina. Electric currents from the photodiodes on the chip would then trigger signals in the retina, which then flow to the brain, enabling a patient to regain vision. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Why Leukemia Often Beats Chemo

May 30th 2012

Child with leukemia

The fight against cancer is not won in a single battle: long after a cancer has been beaten into remission, it can return. The reason for this is under debate, and much is unclear. New research led by Weizmann Institute scientists shows that, at least for one type of blood cancer, the source of cancer recurrence is in a set of cells that do not proliferate as quickly as regular cancer cells, and thus are able to survive chemotherapy. The findings, which appear in the journal Blood, have some important implications for the future of the war on cancer.

Cancer involves a breakdown in the mechanism that regulates the pace of cell division. When this happens, cells divide rapidly, leading to unchecked growth that overruns the body. The most common chemotherapy drugs are those which specifically attack cells that are undergoing rapid division, and these, indeed, often destroy all the cancer and cure the patient.

But there are also quite a few leukemia patients who go through chemotherapy only to have the cancer return. Why does this happen? Several explanations have been proposed. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Ghostly Gamma-ray Beams Blast from Milky Way's Center

May 30th 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy

As galaxies go, our Milky Way is pretty quiet. Active galaxies have cores that glow brightly, powered by supermassive black holes swallowing material, and often spit twin jets in opposite directions. In contrast, the Milky Way's center shows little activity. But it wasn't always so peaceful. New evidence of ghostly gamma-ray beams suggests that the Milky Way's central black hole was much more active in the past.

"These faint jets are a ghost or after-image of what existed a million years ago," said Meng Su, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and lead author of a new paper in the Astrophysical Journal. "They strengthen the case for an active galactic nucleus in the Milky Way's relatively recent past," he added.

The two beams, or jets, were revealed by NASA's Fermi space telescope. They extend from the galactic center to a distance of 27,000 light-years above and below the galactic plane. They are the first such gamma-ray jets ever found, and the only ones close enough to resolve with Fermi. The newfound jets may be related to mysterious gamma-ray bubbles that Fermi detected in 2010. Those bubbles also stretch 27,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way. However, where the bubbles are perpendicular to the galactic plane, the gamma-ray jets are tilted at an angle of 15 degrees. This may reflect a tilt of the accretion disk surrounding the supermassive black hole. Read more ..

Japan after the Quake

Sandia Labs Technology Used in Fukushima Cleanup

May 30th 2012

Click to select Image

A Sandia National Laboratories technology has been used to remove radioactive material from more than 43 million gallons of contaminated wastewater at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Sandia researchers had worked around the clock following the March 2011 disaster to show the technology worked in seawater, which was pumped in to cool the plant's towers.

"It's the kind of thing that sends a chill," said Mark Rigali, manager of the geochemistry group at Sandia. "We've helped really make a difference in the world. These are the kinds of successes we want to see with all our intellectual property."

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, late last year renegotiated its license of the Sandia technology being used at Fukushima. The revised license makes UOP the exclusive U.S. manufacturer of crystalline silico-titanate, or CST, a molecular sieve that can separate highly volatile elements from radioactive wastewater. "Sandia has a very important and longstanding business relationship with UOP," said Bianca Thayer of Sandia's Intellectual Property Management, Alliances and Licensing Department. "This is an opportunity to grow our partnership with the company." Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Common Genetic Mutation Increases Sodium Retention, Blood Pressure

May 30th 2012


Nearly 40 percent of the small adrenal tumors that cause big problems with high blood pressure share a genetic mutation that causes patients to retain too much sodium, researchers report. The study of 47 human, benign adrenal gland tumors also showed a mutation of the gene KCNJ5 is twice as likely to occur in women–71 versus 29 percent–as it points to potential new treatments for some patients who don't respond to current hypertension regimens, said Dr. William E. Rainey, Scientific Director of the Adrenal Center at Georgia Health Sciences University.

Addititionally, when scientists put the mutated gene into an adrenal cell, it immediately starts producing the sodium-retaining hormone aldosterone. "We found it turned on a whole series of genes that cause the cell to produce aldosterone," Rainey said. Typically, KCNJ5 appears to help normalize levels of the sodium-retaining hormone aldosterone by regulating how much potassium is pumped in and out of aldosterone-producing cells on the outer layer of the adrenal glands. Abnormal protein produced by the mutated gene alters the cells' electrical status. "When this gene has a mutation, the cells lose control and just start producing aldosterone all the time," said Rainey, corresponding author of the study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. "The combination of too much salt and too much of this hormone leads to high blood pressure and tissue damage," said Rainey. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Discovery of Historical Photos Sheds Light on Greenland Ice Loss

May 30th 2012

Melting Glaciers

A chance discovery of 80-year-old photo plates in a Danish basement is providing new insight into how Greenland glaciers are melting today. Researchers at the National Survey and Cadastre of Denmark - that country's federal agency responsible for surveys and mapping - had been storing the glass plates since explorer Knud Rasmussen's expedition to the southeast coast of Greenland in the early 1930s. In this week's online edition of Nature Geoscience, Ohio State University researchers and colleagues in Denmark describe how they analyzed ice loss in the region by comparing the images on the plates to aerial photographs and satellite images taken from World War II to today.

Taken together, the imagery shows that glaciers in the region were melting even faster in the 1930s than they are today, said Jason Box, associate professor of geography and researcher at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State. A brief cooling period starting in the mid-20th century allowed new ice to form, and then the melting began to accelerate again in the 2000s. "Because of this study, we now have a detailed historical analogue for more recent glacier loss," Box said. "And we've confirmed that glaciers are very sensitive indicators of climate." Read more ..

The Edge of Communication

Study Finds TV Can Decrease Self-Esteem in Children, Except White Boys

May 30th 2012

Talking girls

If you are a white girl, a black girl or a black boy, exposure to today's electronic media in the long run tends to make you feel worse about yourself. If you're a white boy, you'll feel better, according to a new study led by an Indiana University professor. Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, and Kristen Harrison, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, also found that black children in their study spent, on average, an extra 10 hours a week watching television.

"We can't deny the fact that media has an influence when they're spending most of their time -- when they're not in school -- with the television," Martins said. Harrison added, "Children who are not doing other things besides watching television cannot help but compare themselves to what they see on the screen." Their paper has been published in Communication Research. Martins and Harrison surveyed a group of about 400 black and white preadolescent students in communities in the Midwest over a yearlong period. Rather than look at the impact of particular shows or genres, they focused on the correlation between the time in front of the TV and the impact on their self-esteem. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Less Couch Time Equals Fewer Cookies

May 29th 2012

Childhood Obesity

Simply ejecting your rear from the couch means your hand will spend less time digging into a bag of chocolate chip cookies. That is the simple but profound finding of a new Northwestern Medicine study, which reports simply changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others. Knock down your sedentary leisure time and you'll reduce junk food and saturated fats because you're no longer glued to the TV and noshing. It's a two-for-one benefit because the behaviors are closely related.

The study also found the most effective way to rehab a delinquent lifestyle requires two key behavior changes: cutting time spent in front of a TV or computer screen and eating more fruits and vegetables. "Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," said Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of the study published in Archives of Internal Medicine. "Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits," Spring said. "This approach simplifies it." Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Inequality Dates Back to the Stone Age

May 29th 2012

Artist's Reconstruction of Fossil

Hereditary inequality began over 7,000 years ago in the early Neolithic era, with new evidence showing that farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without. The research, carried out by archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford, is published in PNAS. By studying more than 300 human skeletons from sites across central Europe, Professor Alex Bentley and an international team of colleagues funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council uncovered evidence of differential land access among the first Neolithic farmers – the earliest such evidence yet found.

Strontium isotope analysis of the skeletons, which provides indications of place of origin, indicated that men buried with distinctive Neolithic stone adzes (tools used for smoothing or carving wood) had less variable isotope signatures than men buried without adzes. This suggests those buried with adzes had access to closer – and probably better – land than those buried without. Professor Bentley, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, said: "The men buried with adzes appear to have lived on food grown in areas of loess, the fertile and productive soil favoured by early farmers. This indicates they had consistent access to preferred farming areas." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Commonly Used Painkillers May Protect Against Skin Cancer

May 29th 2012

Lots of Pills

A new study suggests that aspirin and other similar painkillers may help protect against skin cancer. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings indicate that skin cancer prevention may be added to the benefits of these commonly used medications.

Previous studies suggest that taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, as well as a variety of other nonprescription and prescription drugs, can decrease an individual's risk of developing some types of cancer. Sigrún Alba Jóhannesdóttir, BSc, of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, and her colleagues looked to see if the medications might decrease the risk of the three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Powerful New Approach to Attack Flu Virus

May 28th 2012


An international research team has manufactured a new protein that can combat deadly flu epidemics. The paper, featured on the cover of the current issue of Nature Biotechnology, demonstrates ways to use manufactured genes as antivirals, which disable key functions of the flu virus, said Tim Whitehead, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University.

"Our most potent design has proven effective on the vulnerable sites on many pandemic influenza viruses, including several H1N1 (Spanish flu, Swine flu) and H5N1 (Avian flu) subtypes," said Whitehead, the paper's co-lead author. "These new therapeutics are urgently needed, so we were especially pleased to see that it neutralizes H1N1 viruses with potency."From its earlier research, the team used computer-aided design to engineer proteins that targeted vulnerable sites on the highly adaptable virus. From there, researchers optimized their designer proteins by comprehensively mapping the mutations that gave the proteins a strong advantage when attacking the viruses' targeted areas. The team improved their proteins through a process called "DNA deep sequencing." This allowed Whitehead and his colleagues to simultaneously sequence millions of variants of their manufactured proteins, identify and keep the beneficial mutations and optimize the proteins' performance. Read more ..

The Edge of Evolution

Timing is Everything

May 28th 2012

T-Rex (AMNH)

At first glance, it's hard to see how a common house sparrow and a Tyrannosaurus Rex might have anything in common. After all, one is a bird that weighs less than an ounce, and the other is a dinosaur that was the size of a school bus and tipped the scales at more than eight tons. For all their differences, though, scientists now say that two are more closely related than many believed. A new study, led by Harvard scientists, has shown that modern birds are, essentially, living dinosaurs, with skulls that are remarkably similar to those of their juvenile ancestors.

As reported in a May 27 paper in Nature, Arkhat Abzhanov, Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a PhD student in Abzhanov laboratory and the first author of the study, found evidence that the evolution of birds is the result of a drastic change in how dinosaurs developed. Rather than take years to reach sexual maturity, as many dinosaurs did, birds sped up the clock – some species take as little as 12 weeks to mature – allowing them to retain the physical characteristics of baby dinosaurs. "What is interesting about this research is the way it illustrates evolution as a developmental phenomenon," Abzhanov said. "By changing the developmental biology in early species, nature has produced the modern bird – an entirely new creature – and one that, with approximately 10,000 species, is today the most successful group of land vertebrates on the planet." Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Earth's Water Cycle Intensifying with Atmospheric Warming

May 27th 2012

Ocean scene

In a paper published today in the journal Science, Australian scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, reported changing patterns of salinity in the global ocean during the past 50 years, marking a clear fingerprint of climate change.

Lead author, Dr Paul Durack, said that by looking at observed ocean salinity changes and the relationship between salinity, rainfall and evaporation in climate models, they determined the water cycle has strengthened by four per cent from 1950-2000. This is twice the response projected by current generation global climate models. "Salinity shifts in the ocean confirm climate and the global water cycle have changed. "These changes suggest that arid regions have become drier and high rainfall regions have become wetter in response to observed global warming," said Dr Durack, a post-doctoral fellow at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

SpaceX Capsule Docks with ISS

May 27th 2012


The California-based company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has managed a feat only accomplished by four governments.  On Friday, it docked its spacecraft with the International Space Station. SpaceX's Dragon capsule made history when it approached the International Space Station, becoming the first private spacecraft ever to do so.  The robotic capsule free floated 10 meters away from the orbiting lab, and then was captured by the space station's robotic arm.

The news delighted NASA employees at mission control in Houston, Texas, and SpaceX employees at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California. NASA astronaut Don Pettit, who is aboard the International Space Station, helped guide the spacecraft to the orbiting outpost. The cargo-filled craft later docked with the orbiting lab.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was thrilled when he spoke to journalists from SpaceX headquarters.  "It's just a fantastic day, and I think a great day for the country and for the world.  This really is, I think, going to be recognized as a significantly historical step forward in space travel," Musk said. Read more ..

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