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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

StethoscopeAndKeyboard

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

Pills

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

ISS

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 ..


The Edge of Medicine

Outrage over New Prostate Cancer Testing Recommendations

May 26th 2012

Surgeons

After lung cancer, prostate cancer is the most prevalent killer of men in the United States. So when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that men stop having a test that can tell if they have prostate cancer, it stirred up controversy in the medical community.

For years, men over the age of 40 were told to get a simple blood test to see if they have prostate cancer. But the rationale behind the new recommendation is that treating the cancer can produced more harm than good. "Close to two-thirds of older men have prostate cancer, and yet the huge majority of them never have a problem from it in their lifetime," says Dr. Virginia Moyer, who heads USPSTF.

The task force reviewed two large studies before concluding that the potentially harmful risks of treating the cancer revealed by the PSA test can outweigh the benefits. While the more common post-treatment side effects include impotence and incontinence, some physicians cite other, potentially more serious risks. "I actually think impotence and incontinence are some of the minor side effects," says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. "Some [patients] are actually going to have significant problems like pulmonary emboli, heart attacks."

But many doctors disagree. The American Urological Association posted a statement online expressing outrage over the task force's recommendation, specifically because the PSA test is the only widely available test for prostate cancer. "In the PSA-testing era, which has been over the last 20 years or so, the mortality for prostate cancer has declined by 38 per cent," says Dr. Deepak Kapoor, Chairman and CEO of Integrated Medical Professionals and president of the Large Urology Group Practice Association (LUGPA). Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Hazelnuts Improve Infant Formula

May 26th 2012

Black infant

Human breast milk is the best source of food for infants. University of Georgia researchers have found what may be a new second best-formula made from hazelnut oil. Casimir Akoh, a UGA distinguished research professor of food science and technology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, developed a new nutrient based on hazelnut oil that better mimics the structure of mother's milk, which makes it better suited to nourish infants. The results of his study were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry on May 23. "Human milk is the most valuable source of nutrients for infants," he said, "but it is not always possible to feed infants with human milk, and supplements and formula are needed."

Mothers naturally provide the healthful omega-3 fatty acid DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, and omega-6 fatty acid ARA, arachidonic acid, which are important-for the development of the brain and other organs-to infants during the last three months of pregnancy and through breast-feeding. Akoh's development of fats from hazelnut oil contains DHA and ARA at the same molecular positions found on fats in human milk. "The fatty acid profile of human milk is the gold standard when designing the fat composition of infant formulas," he said. "The unique structure of human milk fat increases digestion and absorption of the fatty acids and improves calcium absorption." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Popular Russian Search Engine Outstrips State-TV Audience

May 26th 2012

Computer User

Yandex, Russia's biggest search engine, drew a record 19 million visitors each day last month, outstripping the country's most popular state-run television channel for the first time. A study released by research firm TNS suggests that the Internet is emerging as an increasingly popular source of information in a news market dominated by state-run television. According to the study, as many as 19.1 million people consulted Yandex in April compared with 18.2 million for the state-controlled Channel One television station.

The study comes as Russia witnesses a wave of anti-Kremlin protests that have been largely played down by state television, but which have received widespread coverage on the Internet. However, according to media analyst Aleksei Pankin, Yandex's success could simply be down to the spectacular rise of the Russian Internet, known in Russia as Runet. "The main reason is very rapid Internet penetration," he said. "Both broadband and mobile Internet is expanding very fast in Russia." "Very fast" means a 25-percent annual growth -- one of the fastest Internet growth rates in the world. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Phablets Hybrid Communication Devices to Surpass 208 Million Unit Shipments Annually in 2015

May 25th 2012

Smart phone

More than 208 million phablets, a hybrid device that is larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet, like the Samsung Galaxy Note, will be shipped globally in 2015, says ABI Research. Despite the slow start for phablet smartphones in 2011, the market is at the dawn of the phablet era. HTC, LG, and Huawei will each introduce phablet smartphones in 2012, joining the ranks of Samsung's Galaxy Note and Nexus. Additionally, another phablet smartphone was released earlier this month, the Samsung Galaxy S3.

“One of the chief drivers for phablets is the amount of time people use their smartphones for web browsing, reading articles and newspapers on the go, or simply navigating their journeys,” says senior analyst Joshua Flood. “The larger screen sizes make a significant difference to the user’s experience when compared to conventional-sized touchscreens between 3.5 to 4 inches.” Additionally, new phablet-styled devices provide an attractive two-in-one device proposition and are beginning to see the competition between these larger smartphone form factors and smaller media tablets (less than seven inches). Phablets are defined as having a touch screen size between 4.6 to 5.5 inches. Global shipments for phablets will increase by a factor of 10 in 2012 from 2011. Read more ..


The Edge on Space

Is the Earth a Cosmic Feather-Duster?

May 25th 2012

NCG 6604 and environs

Scientists at the University of Leeds are looking to discover how dust particles in the solar system interact with the Earth's atmosphere. Currently, estimates of the Earth's intake of space dust vary from around five tons to as much as 300 tons every day. A €2.5 million international project, led by Professor John Plane from the University's School of Chemistry, will seek to address this discrepancy.

The Cosmic Dust in the Terrestrial Atmosphere (CODITA) project will investigate what happens to the dust from its origin in the outer solar system all the way to the earth's surface. The work, funded by the European Research Council, will also explore whether cosmic dust has a role in the Earth's climate and how it interacts with the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

"People tend to think space is completely empty, but if all the dust between the Sun and Jupiter was compressed it would create a moon 16 miles across. It's surprising that we aren't more certain how much of this comes to Earth" said Professor Plane. "If the dust input is around 300 tons per day, then the particles are being transported down through the atmosphere considerably faster than generally believed; if the 5-ton figure is correct, we will need to revise substantially our understanding of how dust evolves in the Solar System and is transported from the edge of space around 50 miles high to the surface," added Professor Plane. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Like Curry? New Biological Role Identified for Compound Used in Ancient Medicine

May 25th 2012

Indian Spices

Scientists have just identified a new reason why some curry dishes, made with spices humans have used for thousands of years, might be good for you. New research at Oregon State University has discovered that curcumin, a compound found in the cooking spice turmeric, can cause a modest but measurable increase in levels of a protein that's known to be important in the "innate" immune system, helping to prevent infection in humans and other animals.

This cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide, or CAMP, is part of what helps our immune system fight off various bacteria, viruses or fungi even though they hadn't been encountered before. Prior to this, it was known that CAMP levels were increased by vitamin D. Discovery of an alternative mechanism to influence or raise CAMP levels is of scientific interest and could open new research avenues in nutrition and pharmacology, scientists said. Turmeric is a flavorful, orange-yellow spice and an important ingredient in many curries, commonly found in Indian, South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It has also been used for 2,500 years as a medicinal compound in the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India – not to mention being part of some religious and wedding ceremonies. In India, turmeric is treated with reverence. The newest findings were made by researchers in the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU and published today in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Key Gene Found Responsible for Chronic Inflammation, Accelerated Aging and Cancer

May 24th 2012

walking-cane

 Researchers at NYU School of Medicine have, for the first time, identified a single gene that simultaneously controls inflammation, accelerated aging and cancer.

"This was certainly an unexpected finding," said principal investigator Robert J. Schneider, PhD, the Albert Sabin Professor of Molecular Pathogenesis, associate director for translational research and co-director of the Breast Cancer Program at NYU Langone Medical Center. "It is rather uncommon for one gene to have two very different and very significant functions that tie together control of aging and inflammation. The two, if not regulated properly, can eventually lead to cancer development. It's an exciting scientific find."

For decades, the scientific community has known that inflammation, accelerated aging and cancer are somehow intertwined, but the connection between them has remained largely a mystery, Dr. Schneider said. What was known, due in part to past studies by Schneider and his team, was that a gene called AUF1 controls inflammation by turning off the inflammatory response to stop the onset of septic shock. But this finding, while significant, did not explain a connection to accelerated aging and cancer.

When the researchers deleted the AUF1 gene, accelerated aging occurred, so they continued to focus their research efforts on the gene. Now, more than a decade in the making, the mystery surrounding the connection between inflammation, advanced aging and cancer is finally being unraveled. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Fantastic Voyage to Fight Colon Cancer

May 24th 2012

Voyage Colon Cancer

Only a few years ago it would have belonged to the realm of science fiction: A tiny capsule that travels through the intestines, snapping 360-degree X-ray images and continuously transmitting information to a wrist-worn data receiver reporting on the prevalence of polyps, the precursors of colorectal cancer.

Thanks to the ingenuity of Israel’s Check-Cap, all you’ll have to do is swallow a tiny capsule containing a miniaturized X-ray source and several imaging sensors. No colonoscopy, no hospital visit. “Everyone over 50 should be regularly screened for colon cancer,” CEO Guy Neev states “yet too few people do so because the standard colonoscopy procedure is uncomfortable and invasive. Ingesting the capsule involves no preparation or discomfort, and patients can continue to go about their everyday lives — meaning that they are far more likely to take the test.” Read more ..


Edge of Medicine

Advances in Adult Stem-Cells shows Promise for Bone Therapy

May 24th 2012

Stemcell bone slide

On a special surface that could help advance stem cell therapies, researchers at the University of Michigan have turned human skin cells into adult-derived stem cells, coaxed them into bone cells and then transplanted them into holes in the skulls of mice. The cells produced four times as much new bone growth as in the mice without the extra bone cells. The researchers proved that this special surface, free of biological contaminants, allows adult-derived stem cells to thrive and transform into multiple cell types. Their success brings stem cell therapies another step closer. An embryo's cells really can be anything they want to be when they grow up: organs, nerves, skin, bone, any type of human cell. Adult-derived "induced" stem cells can do this and better. Because the source cells can come from the patient, they are perfectly compatible for medical treatments.

Paul Krebsbach, chair of biological and materials sciences at the U-M School of Dentistry, said that in order to make them, "We turn back the clock, in a way. We're taking a specialized adult cell and genetically reprogramming it, so it behaves like a more primitive cell." Specifically, human skin cells are turned into stem cells. Less than five years after the discovery of this method, researchers do not know how it works, but the process involves adding proteins that can turn genes on and off to the adult cells.

Stem cells, before they can be utilized to make repairs in the human body, must be grown and directed into becoming the desired cell type. Researchers typically use surfaces of animal cells and proteins for stem cell habitats, but these gels are expensive to make, and batches vary depending on the individual animal. "You don't really know what's in there," said Joerg Lahann associate professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering at the Ann Arbor-based institution.

  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Why Did Pakistan Shut Off Twitter?

May 24th 2012

twitter jail

It only lasted for about 8 hours, but that was long enough to start a whole new round of Internet rumor and worry. On Sunday, May 20th, Pakistani telecommunications authorities suddenly blocked all access to the micro-blogging site Twitter, effectively shutting off the service within Pakistan. Then, just as suddenly, service was restored that evening, leaving behind angry web activists and charges about why access was cut off in the first place. The official reason given: concerns about an event that’s come to be known as “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”

As background, in 2010, a Seattle-based cartoonist, angered by death threats made by some Islamic activists against the animation team behind South Park, urged people to draw images of the prophet Muhammad on May 20 and post them online. Free-speech advocates quickly turned the idea into a satiric event, which drew worldwide headlines and angry responses from those Muslims who consider images of any of the prophets to be blasphemous. At the time authorities in Pakistan were so angered that they blocked access Facebook until the social network agreed to remove pages promoting the event for users in India and Pakistan. (The cartoonist, Molly Norris, has since distanced herself from the event after receiving what the FBI called a “very serious” threat.)
Read more ..

The Farming Edge

Internet Fundraising Helps Farmers Flourish

May 23rd 2012

wheat fields

Josh Brill and Meadow Squire grow vegetables and rice in Tinmouth, Vermont. They wanted to expand their rice production last fall, but lacked the needed funds to do it. So they posted a six-minute video on Kickstarter, a crowd-sourced funding website. Seventy-six people thought enough of the couple’s dream to send them money. Brill and Squire raised over $6,000.

Thousands of Americans use Kickstarter to raise money for specific projects. The site launched in 2009 primarily to help artists and musicians but today, inventors, entrepreneurs and a growing number of farmers are also using the site. Scott Nelson of Friendly Folk Farm in Brookfield, Vermont, is one of them. He wanted to document the growth and development of his farm - to create a kind of how-to video for others interested in organic farming. He raised nearly $9,000 on Kickstarter.

To raise money on Kickstarter, you have to have a specific, creative project in mind - one approved by the website.  Many entrepreneurs, like Brill and Squire, include a video to explain what their project is and why people should support it.  There’s also a deadline for raising the cash - typically about 30 days. To entice people to pledge, projects also include a list of thank you gifts for various levels of support. Brill and Squire gave supporters packs of seeds, rice they’d harvested, and good karma points. “Yeah," Squire says with a laugh. "Everyone needs more Karma, I think.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Private Spacecraft Heads to ISS

May 23rd 2012

Falcon 9 liftoff
credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

The private U.S. company Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and reusable Dragon space capsule from Cape Canaveral in Florida before dawn Tuesday.

“Three, two, one, zero and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station,” announced NASA launch commentator George Diller as the rocket, carrying the Dragon space capsule, soared into the dark sky. The unmanned Dragon capsule is heading to the International Space Station, an orbiting lab that zooms around the Earth at more than 32,000 kilometers per hour. It is the first time a private spacecraft has attempted to catch up to the orbiting lab, a feat that has only been achieved by official space agences of the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden grinned as he spoke to journalists at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the successful launch. “The significance of this day cannot be overstated,” said Bolden. “A private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And, while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to a good start, and I hope you would all agree on that.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Study Asks Why are Some People "Morally" Against Tax?

May 23rd 2012

Tax Protest

As the U.S. presidential election campaigns heat up, the economic debate is dominated by bailouts, austerity and, inevitably, taxation. Now a new study published in Symbolic Interaction asks why tax is such an important issue to voters and explores the moral ideas which underpin their views.

Americans are famously hostile to taxes even though they are not heavily taxed in comparison to Canadians and the British. In their study Dr Jeff Kidder and Dr Isaac Martin, from Northern Illinois University and the University of California-San Diego, explore how middle class feelings of exploitation lie behind this hostility. "Everyday tax talk among the middle class is not simply part of a wider ideological view about economics or free markets," said Kidder. "Tax talk is morally charged and resonates with how Americans see themselves and their place in society." Read more ..


The Canine Edge

Ancient Dog Mystery Remains Unsolved

May 23rd 2012

rottweiler

Exactly where man’s best friend came from remains a mystery. Thousands of years of cross-breeding have made it difficult for scientists to trace the ancient genetic roots of today’s dogs. Still, British researchers gave it a try. They recently compared genetic data from 1,375 modern-day dogs, from 35 different breeds, to global archeological records of dog remains. Although, other genetic studies suggest dogs descended from the grey wolf, the researchers found modern dog breeds, genetically speaking, have little in common with their ancient ancestors.

Dogs were the first animals domesticated by man about 15,000 years ago. However, we really didn’t start keeping them as pets until about 2,000 years ago. Even so, until fairly recently, most dogs were kept and used to perform specific jobs. Although some dog breeds – such as the Akita, Afghan Hound and the Chinese Shar-Pei – have been classified as ancient by canine experts, they’re no closer to the first domesticated dogs than any other modern breeds. This, according to the study, is again due to cross-breeding through the years.

Other aspects affecting the dog’s genetic diversity include human movement and migration. Major worldwide events, such as the two world wars, also impacted the dog population, the researchers said. Breeds like the Saluki appear genetically different because they were geographically isolated and were not part of the 19th century efforts to blend lineages to create most of the breeds we keep as pets today. Lead author Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist in Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said, “Ironically, the ubiquity of dogs combined with their deep history has obscured their origins and made it difficult for us to know how dogs became man’s best friend. All dogs have undergone significant amounts of cross-breeding to the point that we have not yet been able to trace all the way back to their very first ancestors.”
Read more ..


The Weapon's Edge

Israeli Military Uses Biomimicry to Design Butterfly Drone

May 22nd 2012

Butterfly 01

Biomimicry is one of the smartest contemporary approaches to design, so it was inevitable that Israeli researchers would apply this science to their military designs. Like the Iranian home that mimics a snail’s form in order to stay cool and a bottle inspired by the Namib desert beetle that can harvest water in one of the driest places on earth, Israel Aerospace Industries’ (AIA) latest insect drone, their smallest to date at only 20 grams, takes its intelligence, form and other properties from one of nature’s finest creatures: the butterfly.

An indoor butterfly

The Butterfly drone can perform tricks that have never before been achieved by a surveillance device. It can fly indoors, thereby enabling covert information gathering during meetings inside buildings, at train stations and other public buildings as well as outdoors, and it is equipped with a tiny 0.15 gram camera that takes color photographs. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Climate Change Impacts Human Evolution

May 22nd 2012

Neanderthal child mannequin

Most scientists agree that the Earth is undergoing significant climate change, partly due to the greenhouse gases produced when fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal are burned. However, earth scientists know that the planetary environment has always been in flux. Some of those changes have caused extinctions on a massive scale. However, for humans, higher apes and other large mammals, environmental fluctuations have sometimes been a goad to adaptation.

Geologists and climatologists, who specialize in the physical earth sciences, came together with biologists, paleontologists and anthropologists, who mainly concern themselves with life on Earth, for a symposium at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, to discuss the question, “Did Climate Change Shape Human Evolution?” “This is a meeting I’ve been trying to have for, I’d say, at least the last 10 years,” says Peter deMenocal, of Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, who organized the multi-disciplinary event. “The message from earth’s history is that climate has played a role in every major faunal change event in recorded history. That said, this question of how climate shaped or may have been involved in human evolution is very much an open one we don’t have an answer to. But we’ve got some very intriguing initial clues that point to a strong relationship.” Read more ..

The Health Edge

US Panel Recommends Ending Routine Blood Test for Prostate Cancer

May 22nd 2012

blood test

An independent panel of U.S. public health officials is recommending that physicians no longer use a blood test to screen men for prostate cancer. The Congressionally-created advisory group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, says the widely-used test does more harm than good. Prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the U.S. Last year, more than 240,000 mostly older men in their 60s got the news. An estimated 33,000 died of the disease.

The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped organ that’s part of the male reproductive system, producing the fluid that carries sperm. Since the 1990s, the so-called prostate specific antigen or PSA test has been a routine part of medical care for men aged 55 and older in the U.S. and other developed countries. The PSA test measures levels of a protein in the blood that are elevated in the presence of prostate cancer. If cancer is found, it is treated aggressively, in nearly 90 percent of patients, with radiation, surgery or estrogen therapy designed to shrink the tumor. But the PSA test has a high rate of false positives. So, men who turn out to have no cancer at all, or whose tumors are so small they pose no real health threat, often get unnecessary interventions such as uncomfortable and medically risky prostate tissue biopsies. Read more ..

The Chemical Edge

Alternatives Sought for Endangered Rubber Supplies

May 20th 2012

Isoprene

Rubber supplies are in peril, and automobile tire producers are scrambling to seek alternative solutions.

Tom Sharkey, chairperson of the Michigan State University biochemistry and molecular biology department, believes isoprene, a gas given off by many trees, ferns and mosses, could be a viable option. Some plants use it as a mechanism to tolerate heat stress as opposed to most crops, which stay cool through evaporation.

Sharkey’s research team already has measured rates of isoprene emission from plants that are used by the Environmental Protection Agency to predict lower-atmosphere ozone levels. His team also has created models to measure how much isoprene plants release on a global scale. Given the amounts of isoprene made by plants, finding a way to produce a synthetic version for the rubber industry seemed like the next logical step, Sharkey said. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Rabies Evolves Slower in Hibernating Bats

May 19th 2012

egyptian fruit bat

The rate at which the rabies virus evolves in bats may depend heavily upon the ecological traits of its hosts, according to researchers at the University of Georgia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Their study found that the host's geographical location was the most accurate predictor of the viral rate of evolution. Rabies viruses in tropical and sub-tropical bat species evolved nearly four times faster than viral variants in bats in temperate regions.

"Species that are widely distributed can have different behaviors in different geographical areas," said Daniel, the study's leader. "Bats in the tropics are active year-round, so more rabies virus transmission events occur per year. Viruses in hibernating bats, on the other hand, might lose up to six months' worth of opportunities for transmission."

Understanding the relationship between host ecology and viral evolution rates could shed light on the transmission dynamics of other viruses, such as influenza, that occur across regions, infect multiple host species or whose transmission dynamics are impacted by anthropogenic change. Read more ..


The Weather Edge

Pollution Teams With Thunderclouds to Warm Atmosphere

May 19th 2012

Click to select Image

Pollution is warming the atmosphere through summer thunderstorm clouds, according to a computational study published May 10 in Geophysical Research Letters. How much the warming effect of these clouds offsets the cooling that other clouds provide is not yet clear. To find out, researchers need to incorporate this new-found warming into global climate models.

Pollution strengthens thunderstorm clouds, causing their anvil-shaped tops to spread out high in the atmosphere and capture heat -- especially at night, said lead author and climate researcher Jiwen Fan of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Global climate models don't see this effect because thunderstorm clouds simulated in those models do not include enough detail," said Fan. "The large amount of heat trapped by the pollution-enhanced clouds could potentially impact regional circulation and modify weather systems." Clouds are one of the most poorly understood components of Earth's climate system. Called deep convective clouds, thunderstorm clouds reflect a lot of the sun's energy back into space, trap heat that rises from the surface, and return evaporated water back to the surface as rain, making them an important part of the climate cycle. Read more ..


The Koreas on Edge

Japan Launches South Korean Satellite Into Orbit

May 18th 2012

Click to select Image

Japan has successfully launched a South Korean satellite. The historical accomplishment puts the Japanese in the same arena as European and Russian entities in the lucrative commercial space launch business. The roar of the H-2A launch vehicle shattered the early morning silence On the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima.  The space center was illuminated as the liquid-fueled 57-meter high two-stage rocket rose off the pad with four satellites on board. Sixteen minutes after launch, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the first payload had successfully separated.

The Arirang-3 satellite (also known as KOMPSAT-3) was then placed into orbit. The Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) says it is functioning normally. Also deployed Friday from the H-2A rocket was a satellite with the world's largest revolving antenna. The Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) is able to measure water temperature from the sea surface with an accuracy of 0.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists say the Japanese satellite, nick-named “Shizuku,” will play an important role in monitoring global water circulation and climate change. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Human Suspicion Impulse Resides in Two Regions of the Brain

May 17th 2012

Baby Boomer

The baseline level of distrust is distinct and separable from our inborn lie detector. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on my parahippocampal gyrus.

Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have found that suspicion resides in two distinct regions of the brain: the amygdala, which plays a central role in processing fear and emotional memories, and the parahippocampal gyrus, which is associated with declarative memory and the recognition of scenes.

"We wondered how individuals assess the credibility of other people in simple social interactions," said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study. "We found a strong correlation between the amygdala and a baseline level of distrust, which may be based on a person's beliefs about the trustworthiness of other people in general, his or her emotional state, and the situation at hand. What surprised us, though, is that when other people's behavior aroused suspicion, the parahippocampal gyrus lit up, acting like an inborn lie detector." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Navigating the Shopping Center

May 16th 2012

I-phone

With a GPS receiver in your smart-phone, you can navigate your way over highways and streets with certainty. But once you get inside a building, it provides no further assistance. That’s why Fraunhofer researchers, together with the Bosch Corporation and other partners, have engineered a navigation system for interior spaces. Thanks to a clever combination of sensors, the module tracks the movements and position of its user in precise detail. At the Sensor+Test trade fair in Nuremberg from May 22-24, 2012, researchers will deliver a live demonstration of how this new interior-space navigation operates.

A smart-phone with GPS functionality is a delightful tool. It guides its owner safely and with certainty through the streets of an unfamiliar city. But after arriving at the destination, all too often the orientation is gone, because as soon as you enter a building, you lose contact with the GPS satellites. Then you are on your own – whether in the interminable hallways of the trade fair complex, or inside one of the branches of the local megaplex shopping mall. “Wouldn't it be helpful,” Harald von Rosenberg thought to himself, “if at such moments the smart-phone could quickly shift to an interior space navigator, and point the way through the rows of shops and stairwells?” Well, that is absolutely possible, as the project manager for “motion control systems” at the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA now demonstrates through the “MST-Smartsense” cooperation project from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research BMBF. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

“Dip Chip” Technology Tests Toxicity On-the-Go

May 15th 2012

Hikers on Garfield Peak Trail, Crater Lake
Garfield Peak Trail, Crater Lake (credit: Mark Gorzynski)

From man-made toxic chemicals such as industrial by-products to poisons that occur naturally, a water or food supply can be easily contaminated. And for every level of toxic material ingested, there is some level of bodily response, ranging from minor illness to painful certain death.

Biosensors have long been used to safeguard against exposure to toxic chemicals. Food tasters employed by the ancients acted as early versions of biosensors, determining if a meal had been poisoned. More modern examples include the use of fish, which may alter their swimming characteristics if a toxic material is introduced into to the water. But although current warning systems are more sophisticated, they require equipment and time that a soldier in the field or an adventurer in the wilderness do not have.

Now Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand, Vice Dean of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Engineering, along with Prof. Shimshon Belkin of the Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has married biology and engineering to produce a biosensor device called the “Dip Chip,” which detects toxicity quickly and accurately, generating low false positive and false negative readings. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Vesta Asteroid Collision Occurred More Recently than Thought

May 15th 2012

Vesta asteroid

A team of researchers led by a NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) member based at Southwest Research Institute has discovered evidence that the giant impact crater Rheasilvia on Asteroid (4) Vesta was created in a collision that occurred only about 1 billion years ago, much more recently than previously thought. This result is based on the analysis of high-resolution images obtained with the Dawn spacecraft, which entered orbit around Vesta in July 2011.

In addition to creating the crater, the impact is believed to have launched a large number of fragments into space, some of which later escaped the main belt and possibly hit the Earth. Vesta, the second-most massive body in the main asteroid belt, is believed to have formed within the first few million years after the earliest solar system solids (~4.6 billion years ago). According to models, its early evolution occurred in an environment where collisions with other asteroids were much more frequent than they are today. It was thought that one such early collision on Vesta created a swarm of fragments, which we now call an asteroid family. Although Vesta and its family are located between Mars and Jupiter, smaller pieces of these asteroids can be found in meteorite collections on Earth, including most eucrite, howardite and diogenite meteorites. Several large craters on Vesta were first inferred by Hubble Space Telescope imaging. Read more ..


The Edge of Agriculture

Futuristic Hydogel Technology Makes Desert Crops Flourish on Barren Soil

May 14th 2012

Hydrogel crops

Here’s another futuristic invention that could completely change the future of agriculture in a desertifying world. Substituting an industrially produced hydrogel for soil makes it possible to farm on sterile desert sand. Similarly to Pink LEDs Grow Future Food with 90% Less Water, this amazing sci fi technology allows the farming of the desert, with 80 percent less water than needed in traditional farming.

The hydrogel technology is the invention of Waseda University Visiting Professor Yuichi Mori, who has years of experience in developing polymeric membranes for use in medical technologies such as blood purification and oxygen enrichment. But Mori saw the greatest need was in desert farming in a future world faced with explosive population growth, but diminishing potential for traditional soil-based agriculture due to soil degradation, erosion, and drought. His hydrogel membrane–based plant cultivation technology has a unique membrane technology. The simple system is much more portable than traditional hydroponics. Read more ..


Earth on Edge

Reading the Ash from the Icelandic Volcano

May 13th 2012

Eyjafjallajökull eruption Apr 2010
Eyjafjallajökull eruption, Apr 2010 (© 2010/credit: Marco Fulle)

In May 2010, the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull reached the Iberian Peninsula and brought airports to a halt all over Europe. At the time, scientists followed its paths using satellites, laser detectors, sun photometers, and other instruments. Two years later they have now presented the results and models that will help to prevent the consequences of such natural phenomena.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland began on 20 March 2010. On 14 April, it began to emit a cloud of ash that moved towards Northern and Central Europe, resulting in the closure of airspace. Hundreds of planes and millions of passengers were grounded. After a period of calm, volcanic activity intensified once again on 3 May. This time the winds transported the aerosols (a mixture of particles and gas) towards Spain and Portugal, where some airports had to close between 6 and 12 May. This was also a busy time for scientists, who took advantage of the situation to monitor the phenomenon. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Were Dinosaurs Undergoing Long-term Decline before the Mass Extinction?

May 13th 2012

T-Rex (AMNH)

Despite years of intensive research about the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs about 65.5 million years ago, a fundamental question remains: were dinosaurs already undergoing a long-term decline before an asteroid hit at the end of the Cretaceous? A study led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History gives a multifaceted answer. The findings, published in Nature Communications, suggest that in general, large-bodied, “bulk-feeding” herbivores were declining during the last 12 million years of the Cretaceous. But carnivorous dinosaurs and mid-sized herbivores were not. In some cases, geographic location might have been a factor in the animals’ biological success.

“Few issues in the history of paleontology have fueled as much research and popular fascination as the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs,” said lead author Steve Brusatte, a Columbia University graduate student affiliated with the Museum’s Division of Paleontology. “Did sudden volcanic eruptions or an asteroid impact strike down dinosaurs during their prime? We found that it was probably much more complex than that, and maybe not the sudden catastrophe that is often portrayed.” Read more ..



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