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The Race for LEDs

Digital LED Driver Technology Eliminates Harmful Flicker

March 24th 2012

LED

With LEDs gaining traction in replacing incandescent bulbs, a downside of LED-based concepts is gaining visibility as well: There are concerns that the flicker associated with LED lamps might cause health problems - even epileptic seizures can be triggered by this phenomenon.

IEEE experiments suggest US-based LED driver company iWatt claims that its technology avoids these problems. Two factors cause LED lamps to flicker. One is the mains grid frequency that can introduce low frequency flicker to the LEDs which, in contrast to incandescent bulbs, do switch on and off at the rhythm of the grid frequency - much in contrast to conventional incandescent bulbs which are simply to inert to react on the grid frequency. The other factor that transforms LED lamps into nervously flickering lights are dimmers - available dimming circuits frequently are optimized for incandescent bulbs; they cannot cope with quickly reacting light sources such as LED lamps. Both factors added can cause significant flicker - and while it is a known fact that many LED lamps perform poorly when used with an electronic dimmer. However, this flicker is not just annoying but it can cause health problems.
Read more ..


Science of The Earth

Discovery Sheds New Light on Wandering Continents

March 23rd 2012

wandering continents

A layer of partially molten rock about 22 to 75 miles underground can't be the only mechanism that allows continents to gradually shift their position over millions of years, according to a NASA-sponsored researcher. The result gives insight into what allows plate tectonics – the movement of the Earth's crustal plates – to occur.

"This melt-rich layer is actually quite spotty under the Pacific Ocean basin and surrounding areas, as revealed by my analysis of seismometer data," says Dr. Nicholas Schmerr, a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow. "Since it only exists in certain places, it can't be the only reason why rigid crustal plates carrying the continents can slide over softer rock below." Schmerr, who is stationed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is author of a paper on this research appearing in Science on March 23.

The slow slide of Earth's continents results from plate tectonics. Our planet is more than four billion years old, and over this time, the forces of plate tectonics have carried continents many thousands of miles, forging mountain ranges when they collided and valleys that sometimes filled with oceans when they were torn apart. This continental drift could also have changed the climate by redirecting currents in the ocean and atmosphere. Read more ..


Edge of Astronomy

Mountaintop Blasting to Mine The Sky With The Giant Magellan Telescope

March 23rd 2012

giant telescope

Astronomers have begun to blast 3 million cubic feet of rock from a mountaintop in the Chilean Andes to make room for what will be the world's largest telescope when completed near the end of the decade. The telescope will be located at the Carnegie Institution's Las Campanas Observatory—one of the world's premier astronomical sites, known for its pristine conditions and clear, dark skies. Over the next few months, more than 70 controlled blasts will break up the rock while leaving a solid bedrock foundation for the telescope and its precision scientific instruments.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will have unprecedented capabilities, allowing it to peer back to the dawn of time, witnessing the birth of the first stars, galaxies and black holes, while also exploring planetary systems similar to our own around nearby stars in the Milky Way. The GMT will help astronomers probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy, mysterious forms of matter and energy that allow galaxies to form while the expansion of the universe accelerates.

At a ceremony on the mountaintop March 23, Dr. Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories and chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) said, "Today marks a historic step toward constructing an astronomical telescope larger than any in existence today. Years of testing have shown that Las Campanas is one of the premier observatory sites in the world and the Carnegie Institution is proud to host the GMT." The Giant Magellan Telescope is being built by a consortium of U.S., South Korean and Australian institutions with funding from both private and public sources. To date 40% of the telescope's ultimate $700M price tag has been committed and active fundraising is underway to secure the remaining funds. Read more ..


The Nanotech Edge

Researchers Seek Ways to Make Emerging Tech Safer for Environment

March 21st 2012

Nanotube

The percentage of electronic waste occupying our landfills has grown at an alarming rate over the last decade, giving rise to concerns about the toxicity of components used in consumer electronics.

Researchers at the University of Florida are looking for ways to minimize environmental hazards associated with a material likely to play an increasingly important role in the manufacture of these goods in the future. The results of their most recent studies are published in the March 2012 issue of Nanotoxicology.

Carbon nanotubes are already being used in touch screens and to make smaller, more efficient transistors. And if current research to develop them for use in lithium ion batteries is successful, carbon nanotubes could become important technology for powering everything from smartphones to hybrid vehicles. But for all of the promise developers see in this emerging technology, there is also some concern.

“Depending on how the nanotubes are used, they can be toxic—exhibiting properties similar to asbestos in laboratory mice,” said Jean-Claude Bonzongo, associate professor of environmental engineering at UF’s College of Engineering. He is involved in a research collaboration with Kirk Ziegler, a UF associate professor of chemical engineering, to minimize this important material’s potential for harm.

In particular, the UF team is investigating toxicity associated with aqueous solutions of carbon nanotubes that would be used in certain manufacturing processes. Read more ..


The Edge of Archaeology

Spotting Ancient Sites—From Space

March 21st 2012

Angkor radar map
Radar image of Ankgor from orbit (credit: NASA/JPL)

A Harvard archaeologist has dramatically simplified the process of finding early human settlements by using computers to scour satellite images for the tell-tale clues of human habitation, and in the process uncovered thousands of new sites that might reveal clues to the earliest complex human societies.

As described in a paper published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jason Ur, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, worked with Bjoern Menze, a research affiliate in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to develop a system that identified settlements based on a series of factors—including soil discolorations and the distinctive mounding that results from the collapse of mud-brick settlements.

Armed with that profile, Ur used a computer to examine satellite images of a 23,000 square-kilometer area of north-eastern Syria, and turned up approximately 9,000 possible settlements, an increase of “at least an order of magnitude” over what had previously been identified.

“I could do this on the ground,” Ur said, of the results of the computer-aided survey. “But it would probably take me the rest of my life to survey an area this size. With these computer science techniques, however, we can immediately come up with an enormous map which is methodologically very interesting, but which also shows the staggering amount of human occupation over the last 7,000 or 8,000 years. Read more ..


The Race for Oil Drilling

Polycrystalline Diamond Drill Bits Open Up Options For Geothermal Energy

March 20th 2012

oil drilling

Nearly two-thirds of the oil we use comes from wells drilled using polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) bits, originally developed nearly 30 years ago to lower the cost of geothermal drilling. Sandia and the U.S. Navy recently brought the technology fullcircle, showing how geothermal drillers might use the original PDC technology, incorporating decades of subsequent improvements by the oil and gas industry.

Sandia and the Navy’s Geothermal Program Office (USN GPO) conducted the Phase One demonstration tests as part of a geothermal resources evaluation at the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range in Imperial Valley, Calif.

Sandia has a long history in geothermal research and drill bit technology development. Three decades ago, Sandia played a large role in developing PDCs for geothermal drilling. That work focused on resolving issues with materials, devising laboratory tests and developing data and design codes that now form the basis of the bit industry. Recently, Sandia received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to improve PDC bits, potentially increasing access to geothermal resources in the continental U.S. by enabling the drilling of deeper, hotter geothermal resources in hard, basement rock formations. Read more ..


The Race for Graphene

Graphene Supercapacitor Holding Promise For Portable Electronics

March 20th 2012

graphene

Electrochemical capacitors (ECs), also known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, differ from regular capacitors that you would find in your TV or computer in that they store sustantially higher amounts of charges. They have garnered attention as energy storage devices as they charge and discharge faster than batteries, yet they are still limited by low energy densities, only a fraction of the energy density of batteries.

An EC that combines the power performance of capacitors with the high energy density of batteries would represent a significant advance in energy storage technology. This requires new electrodes that not only maintain high conductivity but also provide higher and more accessible surface area than conventional ECs that use activated carbon electrodes. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Researchers Highlight Progress in TB Vaccines

March 20th 2012

tuberculosis for realz
Tuberculosis bacteria (credit: NIH)

In the past decade, scientists have made significant progress building the critical knowledge and infrastructure needed to identify and develop novel tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidates and move the most promising ones into human clinical trials. The results of those trials, coupled with advances from other TB studies, have paved the way for the next 10 years of research on TB vaccines, a critical component of TB control efforts, note scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Their editorial, co-authored by NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and Christine Sizemore, Ph.D., appears in the journal Tuberculosis to coincide with the publication of Tuberculosis Vaccines: A Strategic Blueprint for the Next Decade.

The new Blueprint on TB vaccines updates the original, which was published in 2000 as the result of an NIH-sponsored workshop.

Since that time, TB researchers have assembled a significant pipeline of vaccine candidates and assessed them in clinical trials. However, to transform the field and help make licensure of new vaccines a reality, the co-authors stress, scientists must investigate remaining fundamental questions, including:

  • Why does infection with the TB bacterium cause active disease in some people but not others?
  • Why does the current licensed TB vaccine, Bacille Calmette-Guérin, protect children more effectively than adults?
  • What immune responses must effective vaccines elicit to successfully protect against TB?

NIAID, part of the team that helped to develop both iterations of the Blueprint, supports scientists working worldwide in contributing important data to these and other areas of inquiry. Read more ..


Weather on Edge

Infrared NASA Satellite Data Indicates Severe Weather for South Central US this Week

March 20th 2012

NASA

Infrared and microwave satellite imagery from NASA have been providing forecasters at the National Weather Service valuable data on weather system that has potential to bring severe weather to the south central U.S. over the next several days. A large upper-level storm system is approaching central Oklahoma and moving east, into eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, bringing the threat of heavy rain, gusty winds, and tornadoes. Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted early on March 19 in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Oklahoma also has a flash flood warning centered on Oklahoma City. Texas had a tornado warning near Midland earlier in the day.

The National Weather Service issued warnings today, March 19, 2012 for eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas which stated "Dangerous/potentially life-threatening flooding is expected." Forecasters at the National Weather Service expect 4 to 8 inch rainfall totals through Wednesday, March 21, and possibly moderate and major river flooding. Edward Olsen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. creates imagery using data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument that flies onboard NASA's Aqua satellite. Olsen created imagery from a satellite overpass during the morning hours today, March 19. He said, "The infrared and microwave images show the early phase of the convection blow-up." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA Unveils Atlas, Catalog of Entire Infrared Sky

March 20th 2012

Galaxies

A new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky were unveiled recently by NASA. The atlas and catalog – which show more than a half-billion stars, galaxies and other objects – were composed from data captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. With the entire release of the sky catalog, the WISE mission has now met its fundamental objective, according to NASA The new atlas is made up with more than 18,000 images taken by the WISE mission. An accompanying catalog lists the infrared properties of more than 560 individual objects, which can be found in the images. Most of the objects listed are stars and galaxies, many of which have never been seen before. "Today, WISE delivers the fruit of 14 years of effort to the astronomical community,” said Edward Wright, WISE principal investigator at UCLA.

The WISE spacecraft launched Dec. 14, 2009. In 2010, it mapped the entire sky using equipment that was much more sensitive than that used on previous missions. Over the course of its mission, WISE collected more than 2.7 million images of everything from asteroids to distant galaxies. The mission team has also been processing more than 15 terabytes of data transmitted back to Earth by the WISE spacecraft. About a year ago, in a preliminary release, NASA offered its first bundle of WISE data to astronomers. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

The Viking Journey of Mice and Men

March 19th 2012

House Mouse

House mice (Mus musculus) happily live wherever there are humans. When populations of humans migrate the mice often travel with them. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology has used evolutionary techniques on modern day and ancestral mouse mitochondrial DNA to show that the timeline of mouse colonization matches that of Viking invasion. During the Viking age (late 8th to mid 10th century) Vikings from Norway established colonies across Scotland, the Scottish islands, Ireland, and Isle of Man. They also explored the north Atlantic, settling in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Newfoundland and Greenland. While they intentionally took with them domestic animals such as horses, sheep, goats and chickens they also inadvertently carried pest species, including mice. A multinational team of researchers from the UK, USA, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden used techniques designed to characterize genetic similarity, and hence the relatedness of one population, or one individual, with another, to determine a mouse colonization timeline. Modern samples of mouse DNA were collected and compared to ancient samples dating mostly from the 10th to the 12th century. Read more ..

Edge of Medicine

Cancer Cells Alert Neighbors to Tumor-killing Virus

March 18th 2012

Glioblastoma
Glioblastoma (credit: A. Hellerhoff)

Brain-tumor cells that are infected with a cancer-killing virus release a protein “alarm bell” that warns other tumor cells of the impending infection and enables them to mount a defense against the virus, according to a study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center–Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC–James).

The infected tumor cells release a protein called CCN1 into the narrow space between cells where it initiates an antiviral response. The response limits the spread of the oncolytic virus through the tumor, reducing its ability to kill cancer cells and limiting the efficacy of the therapy.

The study suggests that cells in general might use this mechanism to help control viral infections, and that blocking the response might improve oncolytic viral therapy for glioblastoma and perhaps future gene therapy treatments. Oncolytic viruses replicate in tumor cells and kill them. They have shown promise for the treatment of glioblastoma, the most common and deadly form of brain cancer. Patients with glioblastoma survive only about 15 months after diagnosis on average, so there is great need for new treatments.

"We found that, in the extracellular matrix, this protein orchestrates a striking cellular antiviral response that reduces viral replication and limits its cytolytic efficacy," says researcher and principal investigator Balveen Kaur, associate professor of Neurological Surgery at the OSUCCC–James. Read more ..


The Electronic Edge

Diamond Brightens the Performance of Electronic Devices

March 18th 2012

Warwick golden electrode

While diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, they’re also well-loved by scientists working to enhance the performance of electronic devices.

Two new studies performed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have revealed a new pathway for materials scientists to use previously unexplored properties of nanocrystalline-diamond thin films. While the properties of diamond thin films are relatively well-understood, the new discovery could dramatically improve the performance of certain types of integrated circuits by reducing their "thermal budget."

For decades, engineers have sought to build more efficient electronic devices by reducing the size of their components. In the process of doing so, however, researchers have reached a "thermal bottleneck," said Argonne nanoscientist Anirudha Sumant. Read more ..


Race for Biofuel

A Fragrant New Biofuel

March 18th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

A class of chemical compounds best known today for fragrance and flavor may one day provide the clean, green and renewable fuel with which truck and auto drivers fill their tanks. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to generate significant quantities of methyl ketone compounds from glucose. In subsequent tests, these methyl ketones yielded high cetane numbers – a diesel fuel rating comparable to the octane number for gasoline – making them strong candidates for the production of advanced biofuels.

“Our findings add to the list of naturally occurring chemical compounds that could serve as biofuels, which means more flexibility and options for the biofuels industry,” says Harry Beller, a JBEI microbiologist who led this study. “We’re especially encouraged by our finding that it is possible to increase the methyl ketone titer production of E. coli more than 4,000-fold with a relatively small number of genetic modifications.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Graphics War Heating Up in Mobile

March 18th 2012

iPhone4

Mobile systems are driving toward better graphics, better voice quality and quad-core processors, according to veteran market watcher.

Graphics seems to be key area of investment, as mobile systems become the game platform of choice,” said Linley Gwennap of the Linley Group (Mountain View, California) “I think we will see more game play on smartphones and less on dedicated devices like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony Playstation Vita—even tablets are taking away from game consoles,” he said.

Nvidia is trying to get console game titles ported to its Tegra3 chip as Apple courts developers to port games to the new iPad that packs twice the graphics capabilities of its previous model. Separately, Qualcomm recently launched its Snapdragon S4 Pro, mainly focused on enhanced graphics, he noted. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Increase in Arctic Shipping Poses Risk to Marine Mammals

March 18th 2012

marine mammals

A rapid increase in shipping in the formerly ice-choked waterways of the Arctic poses a significant increase in risk to the region's marine mammals and the local communities that rely on them for food security and cultural identity, according to an Alaska Native groups and the Wildlife Conservation Society who convened at a recent workshop.

The workshop, which ran from March 12-14, examined the potential impacts to the region's wildlife and highlighted priorities for future management of shipping in the region. The meeting included participants from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, Eskimo Walrus Commission, Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, Ice Seal Committee, Indigenous People's Council for Marine Mammals, and the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Other participants included the University of Alaska, government agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Arctic Research Commission, and the Marine Mammal Commission, and regional Alaska Native groups such as Kawerak Inc., North Slope Borough, Northwest Alaska Borough, and Association of Village Council Presidents.

At issue is the effect of climate change on Arctic waters, which over the last few decades have become increasingly ice-free during the summer and fall. The lengthening of the open-water season has led to new industrial developments, including oil and gas activities and a rising number of large maritime vessels transiting either the Northern Sea Route over the Russian Arctic from Europe, or the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic from the Atlantic. Whichever route is being used, the only gateway to the Pacific is through the Bering Strait - an important migratory pathway for marine mammals. In spring and fall for example, almost the entire bowhead whale and walrus populations migrate through this narrow strait. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Using Virtual Worlds to 'Soft Control' Peoples' Movements in the Real One

March 18th 2012

Smart phone

Eighty-eight percent of Americans now own a cell phone, forming a massive network that offers scientists a wealth of information and an infinite number of new applications. With the help of these phone users — and their devices’ cameras, audio recorders, and other features — researchers envision endless possibilities for gathering huge amounts of data, from services that collect user data to monitor noise pollution and air quality to applications that build maps from people’s cell phone snapshots. Today, user data provides some opportunities; for example, researchers can use Flickr photos to compile 3-D virtual representations of various landmarks. But even opportunities like these have limits, as researchers are limited to using only photos that people choose to take and share. This creates a significant imbalance: Some geographic areas and landmarks have thousands of Flickr photos, while others have none.

“Take the Lincoln Memorial, for example,” said Fabian Bustamante, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering. “Flickr has thousands of photos of the front of the Lincoln Memorial. But who takes a picture of the back? Very few people.” This has led researchers to ask the questions: How can we get mobile users to break out of their patterns, visit less frequented areas, and collect the data we need? Researchers can’t force mobile users to behave in a certain way, but researchers at Northwestern University have found that they may be able to nudge them in the right direction by using incentives that are already part of their regular mobile routine. “We can rely on good luck to get the data that we need," Bustamante said, "or we can ‘soft control’ users with gaming or social network incentives to drive them where we want them." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Environmental Factors in Tiny Tim's Near Fatal Illness

March 17th 2012

Christmas Carol

Le Bonheur Professor Russell Chesney, M.D. believes he knows what was ailing Tiny Tim, the iconic character from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Based on detailed descriptions of both the symptoms and living conditions of 18th century London, Dr. Chesney hypothesizes that Tiny Tim suffered from a combination of rickets and tuberculosis (TB). His findings were published in the March 5 edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Dr. Chesney noted during the time the novel was written, 60 percent of children in London had rickets and nearly 50 percent displayed signs of TB. He says this is due to crowded living conditions, poor diets, filth and low exposure to sunlight. The coal-burning city of London in addition to particles from a Indonesian volcanic eruption contributed to blackened skies for many years. Both rickets and TB can be improved and indeed cured through increased exposure to Vitamin D, which can be obtained through exposure to sunlight and a balanced diet. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Belfast Summit Important in Preventing Cyber World War

March 16th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

One of the world's leading Internet security experts, Eugene Kaspersky, has described the World Cyber Security Technology Research Summit at Queen's University Belfast as key in preventing a Cyber World War. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of the largest antivirus company in Europe, Kaspersky Lab, will be giving a keynote address at the second annual Cyber Security Technology Research Summit on Friday 16 March. The cyber security guru is joining some of the world's leading cyber security experts and government policy makers from around the world for a two-day meeting of minds to combat future threats to global cyber security. The annual Summit, held at the Centre for Secure Information Technology (CSIT), Queen's University - the UK's lead university centre for cyber security research, made headlines across the world when it was launched last year, and has attracted even more leading international experts in cyber security to this year's Summit in Belfast. Speaking ahead of the event, Eugene Kaspersky said: "For almost a decade I've been doing my best to attract the attention of governments and officials around the world to the imminent threat of cyber-war and cyber-terrorism and the need to prevent it - but with limited effect. Read more ..


The Edge of Psychology

Recent Generations Focus More on Fame, Money than Giving Back

March 15th 2012

Helping hands

The times are changing, and not necessarily for the better when it comes to giving back to society, according to 40 years of research on 9 million young adults. Since the baby boomer generation, there has been a significant decline among young Americans in political participation, concern for others and interest in saving the environment, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association. "Popular views of the millennial generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, as more caring, community-oriented and politically engaged than previous generations are largely incorrect, particularly when compared to baby boomers and Generation X at the same age," said the study's lead author, Jean Twenge, PhD, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book, "Generation Me." "These data show that recent generations are less likely to embrace community mindedness and are focusing more on money, image and fame." The study was published online this month in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The findings did show that millennials were more likely than baby boomers or Generation Xers to volunteer during high school and to say that they intend to participate in community service in college. However, the authors contend that this trend is most likely related to schools' requiring community service for graduation, which has been cited in numerous studies. The desire to save the environment, an area considered to be of particular concern to millennials, showed some of the largest declines, with three times as many millennials as baby boomers at the same age saying they made no personal effort to help the environment. Fifty-one percent of millennials said they made an effort to cut down on electricity use to save energy, compared to 68 percent of boomers in the 1970s. Read more ..


The Edge of Evolution

Previously-Unknown Stone Age People Discovered

March 15th 2012

skull archaeological

An international team of scientists has discovered a previously-unknown Stone Age people. The fossils of human remains, found in south-west China, reportedly offer a rare glimpse of a fairly recent stage of human evolution. An artist's reconstruction of fossils from two caves in southwest China have revealed a previously unknown Stone Age people. The remains of what the scientists call “red-deer” – because they hunted and cooked extinct red deer – were first found in 1979 near the village of Longlin, China. Skeletal remains of three more of these people were found a decade later, in 1989, at Maludong, or Red Deer Cave, near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. Scientists date the remains to between 11,400 and 14,500 years ago, when farming culture in China first developed. It’s likely these people also shared their early Asian environment with a more modern-looking people. The fossils are described as the remains of people who had a highly unusual mix of archaic and modern anatomical features. Read more ..

Earth on Edge

Looking for Interplanetary Defense Work?

March 14th 2012

asteroid 2011 ag5
Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/NEOPO

It was a shock to read on Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy last week that an asteroid 450 feet across, lurking just now on the other side of the sun, stands a (remote) chance of smacking us—or someone else on Earth—in about 29 years. Scientists presently judge the probability to be around 1 in 625, which sounds substantially more threatening than the usual estimate of a one in 5,000 chance that a major asteroid will hit Earth in the next century.

The asteroid that created Arizona’s Barringer Meteor Crater was about 150 feet across, and hit at about 28,600 mph. The crater is 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep.

More will be known next year, after new calculations, and everything hinges on the asteroid—named 2011 AG5—passing through what astronomers are calling a space “keyhole” that could bend its orbit toward Earth sometime in 2023. So there will be some time to prepare. But frankly, there’s an opportunity for some defense industry contracts right now, and it’s not hard to pick out a front-runner.

With uncanny foresight, some scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory prepared a video that was uploaded to YouTube in the middle of last month extolling how their newest Cray supercomputer can model the impact of an “energy source” on an asteroid. Robert P. Weaver, identified only as an R&D scientist at the New Mexico lab, narrates how the shock wave from a one-megaton-sized explosion—he never mentions the “n” word, for the nuclear weapons at the heart of the lab’s work—would blast a much larger asteroid into smaller bits of rock.

Read more ..

Health on Edge

Body Clocks May Hold Key to Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

March 14th 2012

sleeping person

Scientists have gained insight into why lithium salts are effective at treating bipolar disorder in what could lead to more targeted therapies with fewer side-effects.

Bipolar disorder is characterised by alternating states of elevated mood, or mania, and depression. It affects between 1 percent and 3 percent of the general population. The extreme “mood swings” in bipolar disorder have been strongly associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms—the 24-hourly rhythms controlled by our body clocks that govern our day and night activity.

For the last 60 years, lithium salt (lithium chloride) has been the mainstay treatment for bipolar disorder, but little research has been carried out to find out whether and how lithium impacts on the brain and peripheral body clockwork.

“Our study has shown a new and potent effect of lithium in increasing the amplitude, or strength, of the clock rhythms, revealing a novel link between the classic mood-stabiliser, bipolar disorder, and body clocks,” said lead researcher Dr Qing-Jun Meng, in the University of University of Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Why Do We See the Man in the Moon?

March 13th 2012

full moon
credit: Lick Observatory

There’s something poetic about gazing up at the night sky, seeing the familiar face of the “Man in the Moon” who faithfully accompanies us through life. The Moon rotates synchronously, i.e., it takes the same amount of time to spin around its own axis as it does to revolve around Earth. This is what causes the Moon to “lock eyes” with Earth, resulting in one of its hemispheres constantly facing us. But is there a reason why this particular half of the Moon locked with Earth, or is it pure coincidence that it doesn’t “turn its back” on us?

Through careful analysis and simulations, Prof. Oded Aharonson of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Center for Planetary Science, Prof. Peter Goldreich of the California Institute of Technology, and Prof. Re’em Sari of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have shown that it is not coincidence, but the Moon’s geophysical properties that determine its orientation. Their findings were recently published in Icarus.

The near side of the Moon is low-lying and covered by craters filled with dense, dark, volcanic material, the pattern of which creates the “Man in the Moon” image. In contrast, the far side is predominately made up of higher mountainous regions. “Intuitively, we might actually have expected the far side to be facing us as the high mountains, as opposed to the low craters, would have brought the Moon closer to Earth, putting the system in a lower energy state,” says Prof. Aharonson. Nature usually prefers lower energy states, so why isn’t this the case? Read more ..


The Edge of Health

More Trans Fat Consumption Linked to Greater Aggression

March 13th 2012

Clenched Fists

Might the "Twinkie defense" have a scientific foundation after all? Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have shown – by each of a range of measures, in men and women of all ages, in Caucasians and minorities – that consumption of dietary trans fatty acids (dTFAs) is associated with irritability and aggression. The study of nearly 1,000 men and women provides the first evidence linking dTFAs with adverse behaviors that impacted others, ranging from impatience to overt aggression.

The research, led by Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, associate professor in the UC San Diego Department of Medicine, has been published online by PLoS ONE.Dietary trans fatty acids are primarily products of hydrogenation, which makes unsaturated oils solid at room temperature. They are present at high levels in margarines, shortenings and prepared foods. Adverse health effects of dTFAs have been identified in lipid levels, metabolic function, insulin resistance, oxidation, inflammation, and cardiac health. The UC San Diego team used baseline dietary information and behavioral assessments of 945 adult men and women to analyze the relationship between dTFAs and aggression or irritability. The survey measured such factors as a life history of aggression, conflict tactics and self-rated impatience and irritability, as well as an "overt aggression" scale that tallies recent aggressive behaviors. Analyses were adjusted for sex, age, education, and use of alcohol or tobacco products.   Read more ..


The Learning Edge

Proteopedia Turns New York City Students into Scientists

March 13th 2012

The students in Allison Granberry’s class at Hostos-Lincoln Academy, a South Bronx public school serving children in grades 6 to 12, are as excited about proteins and other biological macromolecules as most kids their age are about playing basketball or updating their social status.

The passion of these newly minted scientists is due to the enthusiasm of Ms. Granberry, as well as Prof. Joel L. Sussman of the Department of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. In a Rockefeller University after–school outreach program called SMART (Students Modeling A Research Topic) Team—a nationwide project conceived by Dr. Timothy Herman, Director of the Center for Biomolecular Modeling at the Milwaukee School of Engineering—Ms. Granberry and her students work with Prof. Sussman’s website Proteopedia.

Developed in 2007 by Prof. Sussman, together with Dr. Jaime Prilusky and Eran Hodis at the Israel Structural Proteomics Center at the Weizmann Institute, Proteopedia is a web resource and encyclopedia where protein and nucleic acid structures are presented in an intuitive manner, with interactive 3D images appearing alongside explanatory text about the structure.

Proteopedia allows registered users—1,500 to date—to easily add their own structural annotations. The site’s users include scientists browsing the 3D images; researchers presenting their newly solved structures; and educators from high school to graduate school teaching structural biology by assigning site–related projects. In 2010, Proteopedia was selected by thousands of online readers and a panel of judges as the “Best Website” winner of The Scientist magazine’s inaugural Labby Awards, which were created to honor “the best Web–based multimedia by labs.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Personal Cloud Replaces PCs as the Center of Our Digital Lives

March 13th 2012

CG cloud

The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the center of users' digital lives, according to research from Gartner.

Gartner analysts said the personal cloud will begin a new era that will provide users with a new level of flexibility with the devices they use for daily activities, while leveraging the strengths of each device, ultimately enabling new levels of user satisfaction and productivity. However, it will require enterprises to fundamentally rethink how they deliver applications and services to users.

"Major trends in client computing have shifted the market away from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices," said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner. "Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life." Read more ..


The Animal Edge

Orientation of Desert Ants: Every Cue Counts

March 11th 2012

red bull ant
credit: QuartI

Desert ants have adapted to a life in a barren environment which only provides very few landmarks for orientation. Apart from visual cues and odors the ants use the polarized sunlight as a compass and count their steps in order to return safely to their home after searching for food. In experiments with ants of the genus Cataglyphis in their natural habitats in Tunisia and Turkey, behavioral scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have now discovered that ants can also use magnetic and vibrational landmarks in order to find their way back to their nest—a small hole in the desert ground. In addition, carbon dioxide produced by their nestmates' breathing also helps homing ants to pinpoint their nest entrance. Hence, the ants' navigational skills prove enormously adaptable to their inhospitable environment.  Read more ..


The Race for Bio-Detergents

Environmentally-Friendly Cleaning and Washing

March 11th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

More and more everyday products are based on renewable resources, with household cleaners now containing active cleaning substances (surfactants) made from plant oils and sugar. These fat and dirt removers are especially environmentally friendly and effective when produced using biotechnology, with the aid of fungi and bacteria.

Detergents are everywhere – in washing powders, dishwashing liquids, household cleaners, skin creams, shower gels, and shampoos. It is the detergent that loosens dirt and fat, makes hair-washing products foam up and allows creams to be absorbed quickly. Up until now, most detergents are manufactured from crude oil – a fossil fuel of which there is only a limited supply. In their search for alternatives, producers are turning increasingly to detergents made from sustainable resources, albeit that these surfactants are usually chemically produced. The problem is that the substances produced via such chemical processes are only suitable for a small number of applications, since they display only limited structural diversity – which is to say that their molecular structure is not very complex. Now researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB are taking a different approach: they are manufacturing surfactants using biotechnological methods, with the assistance of fungi and bacteria. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Magnetic Moon

March 11th 2012

full moon

In the nearly five decades since the first lunar surveys were conducted as part of NASA's Apollo program, scientists have advanced a number of increasingly complex theories to explain the vast swaths of highly magnetic material that had been found in the some parts of the Moon's crust.

But now a team of researchers from Harvard, MIT and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, have proposed a surprisingly simple explanation for the unusual findings – the magnetic anomalies are remnants of a massive asteroid collision. As described in a paper published March 9 in Science, the researchers believe an asteroid slammed into the moon approximately 4 billion years ago, leaving behind an enormous crater and iron-rich, highly magnetic rock.

While there is evidence that the Moon once generated its own magnetic field, there is little to suggest it was strong enough to account for the anomalies seen in earlier surveys, Sarah Stewart-Mukhopadhyay, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences, and one of three co-authors of the paper, said. To explain the findings, then, researchers turned to a number of elaborate scenarios. Read more ..


Edge on Paleontology

Feathered Dinosaur Fossils Yield New Behavior Clues

March 11th 2012

Microraptors
Art courtesy of Jason Brougham/University of Texas

Paleontologists say winged dinosaurs with glossy feathers likely used their flashy plumage to attract a mate in the same way as their modern descendants—birds. Researchers from the U.S. National Science Foundation teamed up with experts from China’s Beijing Museum of Natural History to study a newly-discovered dinosaur fossil they say is the earliest known record of iridescent color in feathers.

The fossil is that of a four-winged, pigeon-sized dinosaur called a Microraptor that lived about 120 million years ago during the height of the Cretaceous period. The bird-like dinosaur’s long, narrow tail was adorned with a pair of “streamer feathers.” After comparing the detailed pattern and color of dinosaur feathers to those of modern birds, the scientists believe the Microraptor’s plumage was an iridescent black, with the same glossy sheen as the feathers of a modern crow. Read more ..


Edge of Life Sciences

Meteorites Reveal Another Way to Make Life's Components

March 10th 2012

meteorite antarctica

Creating some of life's building blocks in space may be a bit like making a sandwich – you can make them cold or hot, according to new NASA research.

This evidence that there is more than one way to make crucial components of life increases the likelihood that life emerged elsewhere in the Universe, according to the research team, and gives support to the theory that a "kit" of ready-made parts created in space and delivered to Earth by impacts from meteorites and comets assisted the origin of life. In the study, scientists with the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., analyzed samples from fourteen carbon-rich meteorites with minerals that indicated they had experienced high temperatures – in some cases, over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They found amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, used by life to speed up chemical reactions and build structures like hair, skin, and nails. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Massive Solar Storm Has Little Effect on Earth

March 9th 2012

Solar flare Mar 2012
Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

A massive solar storm initially expected to create havoc for everything from mobile phones to airline flights has reached Earth with little effect, but experts say that could still change.

The storm appeared to spare satellite and power systems as it shook the Earth’s magnetic field Thursday, with no reports of GPS or power disruptions. A scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Joseph Kunches, said the storm struck in a direction that causes the fewest problems—but that orientation could change as the storm continues.

The storm started with a pair of solar flares Tuesday, and continued with two coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently. Read more ..


Earth on Edge

Listening to the March 2011 Earthquake

March 8th 2012

Minato Japan after Quake

Last year’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake centered at Tohoku-Oki, Japan, was the fourth largest since 1900. However, because of thousands of seismometers in the region and Japan’s willingness to share their measurements with the rest of the world, the Tohoku-Oki quake is the best-recorded earthquake of all-time.

This plethora of information is allowing scientists to share their findings in unique ways. Zhigang Peng, associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has converted the earthquake’s seismic waves into audio files. The results allow experts and general audiences to “hear” what the quake sounded like as it moved through the earth and around the globe. Read more ..


The Edge of Transistor

Biodegradable Transistors - Made from Us

IC Layout

Silicon, a semi-conducting element, is the basis of most modern technology, including cellular phones and computers. But according to Tel Aviv University researchers, this material is quickly becoming outdated in an industry producing ever-smaller products that are less harmful to the environment.

Now, a team including Ph.D. students Elad Mentovich and Netta Hendler of TAU's Department of Chemistry and The Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, with supervisor Dr. Shachar Richter and in collaboration with Prof. Michael Gozin and his Ph.D. student Bogdan Belgorodsky, has brought together cutting-edge techniques from multiple fields of science to create protein-based transistors — semi-conductors used to power electronic devices — from organic materials found in the human body. They could become the basis of a new generation of nano-sized technologies that are both flexible and biodegradable. Read more ..


The Sea World

Hot Meets Cold at New Deep-Sea Ecosystem: "Hydrothermal Seep"

March 7th 2012

hydrothermal-vent

Decades ago, marine scientists made a startling discovery in the deep sea. They found environments known as hydrothermal vents, where hot water surges from the seafloor and life thrives without sunlight.

Then they found equally unique, sunless habitats in cold areas where methane rises from seeps on the ocean bottom. Could vents and seeps co-exist in the deep, happily living side-by-side? No one thought so. Until now.

That's exactly what researchers uncovered during a submersible expedition off Costa Rica. They've coined a new term to describe the ecosystem: a hydrothermal seep. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Explosive Weather on Venus

March 7th 2012

View of Venus
Venus Explorer examines Venus (credit: ESA)

In the grand scheme of the solar system, Venus and Earth are almost the same distance from the sun. Yet the planets differ dramatically: Venus is some 100 times hotter than Earth and its days more than 200 times longer. The atmosphere on Venus is so thick that the longest any spacecraft has survived on its surface before being crushed is a little over two hours. There’s another difference, too: Earth has a magnetic field and Venus does not—a crucial distinction when assessing the effects of the sun on each planet.

As the solar wind rushes outward from the sun at nearly a million miles per hour, it is stopped about 44,000 miles away from Earth when it collides with the giant magnetic envelope that surrounds the planet called the magnetosphere. Most of the solar wind flows around the magnetosphere, but in certain circumstances it can enter the magnetosphere to create a variety of dynamic space weather effects on Earth. Venus has no such protective shield, but it is still an immovable rock surrounded by an atmosphere that disrupts and interacts with the solar wind, causing interesting space weather effects. Read more ..


The Edge of Spectroscopy

LAMIS – A Green Chemistry Alternative for Remote-Controlled Laser Spectroscopy

March 6th 2012

LAMIS

At some point this year, after NASA’s rover Curiosity has landed on Mars, a laser will fire a beam of infrared light at a rock or soil sample. This will “ablate” or vaporize a microgram-sized piece of the target, generating a plume of ionized gas or plasma, which will be analyzed by spectrometers to identify the target’s constituent elements. Future Mars rovers, however, will be able to do even more. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Applied Spectra, Inc., have developed an advanced version of this laser technology that can also analyze a target’s constituent isotopes. This expanded capability will enable future rovers for the first time to precisely date the geological age of Martian samples.

Rick Russo, a scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division and a pioneer in laser ablation spectroscopy, led the development of LAMIS – for Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry. As with the earlier Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) technology being used on rover Curiosity, the basic premise is to use the energy of a high-powered laser beam focused to a tiny spot on the surface of a sample to create a plasma plume for analysis. Read more ..


The Edge of Astronomy

Oxygen Detected in Atmosphere of Saturn’s Moon Dione

March 6th 2012

Blue Planet

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

Dione, discovered in 1684 by astronomer Giovanni Cassini (after whom the spacecraft was named), orbits Saturn at roughly the same distance as our own moon orbits Earth. The tiny moon is a mere 700 miles wide and appears to be a thick, pockmarked layer of water ice surrounding a smaller rock core. As it orbits Saturn every 2.7 days, Dione is bombarded by charged particles (ions) emanating from Saturn’s very strong magnetosphere. These ions slam into the surface of Dione, displacing molecular oxygen ions into Dione’s thin atmosphere through a process called sputtering. Read more ..


Humanity on Edge

Ethics of the Singularity

March 6th 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy
NGC 1079 (credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SINGS Team (SSC))

What Is the Singularity? If we manage to create a general artificial intelligence (AI)—an AI with intellectual capabilities similar to our own—this may well launch a Technological Singularity.

The possibility of a Technological Singularity is a key issue for the future of the AI community and of human society. If the Singularity occurs, it is very likely that the main social and technological problems facing us will then be eliminated, for better or worse. The first possibility excites Singularity enthusiasts; the second excites Hollywood directors and other pessimists. As AI researchers, we would like to be enthusiasts; here we review our prospects for remaining enthusiastic. Read more ..



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