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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

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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

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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

victim

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

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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 Read more ..


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

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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

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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

iran-nuclear.jpg

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

venus

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

exam

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

cardiomyocytes

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 ..



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