Deep Water Archaeology
|Ben Sherman||August 17th 2009|
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospherice Agency (NOAA) will lead a three-week research expedition in August 2009 to study World War II shipwrecks sunk in 1942 off the coast of North Carolina during the Battle of the Atlantic. The shipwrecks are located in an area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," which includes sunken vessels from U.S. and British naval fleets, merchant ships, and German U-boats.
"The information collected during this expedition will help us better understand and document this often lost chapter of America's maritime history and its significance to the nation," said David W. Alberg, expedition leader and superintendent of the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. "It continues the work conducted by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries last summer to research and document historically significant shipwrecks tragically lost during World War II."
Alberg said the expedition, now underway, will also help document the condition of these vessels some 67 years after they were lost. Understanding the wrecks' current condition is a crucial first step in establishing efforts to preserve these historic sites, which serve as "time capsules from one of the darkest times in the nation's history," he said. Read more ..
Edge of Global Warming
|David Ruth||August 10th 2009|
No one knows exactly how much Earth's climate will warm due to carbon emissions, but recent research suggests that science’s best predictions about global warming might still be incorrect.
Climate models explain only about half of the heating that occurred during a well-documented period of rapid global warming in Earth's ancient past. This is the conclusion of a recent analysis of published records from a period of rapid climatic warming about 55 million years ago known as the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM.
"In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record," said oceanographer Gerald Dickens, a professor of Earth science at Rice University and a co-author of a recent study on the topic. "There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models."
During the PETM, for reasons that are still unknown, the amount of carbon in Earth's atmosphere rose rapidly. For this reason, the PETM, which has been identified in hundreds of sediment core samples worldwide, is probably the best ancient climate analogue for present-day Earth. Read more ..
|Paul Preuss||August 3rd 2009|
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have demonstrated a way to fabricate efficient solar cells from low-cost and flexible materials. The new design grows optically active semiconductors in arrays of nanoscale pillars, each a single crystal, with dimensions measured in billionths of a meter.
Beginning with low-cost, aluminum foil substrates, Berkeley Lab researchers grow dense arrays of single-crystal, negative-type semiconductors arranged as nanoscale pillars. An aluminum substrate forms a template for a forest of cadmium sulfide nanopillars and also serves as a bottom electrode. Embedded in clear cadmium telluride and equipped with a top electrode of copper and gold, the result is an inexpensive and efficient 3-D solar cell. When the nanopillars are combined with a transparent, positive-type semiconductor that serves as a window, the resulting 3-D photovoltaic promises efficient, cheap, flexible solar cells. Read more ..
The Race for Hydrogen
|Angeline French||July 27th 2009|
|Hydrogen Storage Process|
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory have created a reversible route to generate aluminum hydride, a high capacity hydrogen storage material. This achievement is not only expected to accelerate the development of a whole class of storage materials, but also has far reaching applications in areas spanning energy technology, synthetic chemistry, and alternative fuels for hydrogen fuled vehicles.
"We believe our research has provided a feasible route to regenerate aluminum hydride, a high capacity hydrogen storage material," says Dr. Ragaiy Zidan of SRNL, lead researcher on the project. The SRNL team, supported by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has developed a novel closed cycle for producing aluminum hydride (AlH3), also known as alane, that potentially offers a cost-effective method of regenerating the hydrogen storing material in a way that allows it to repeatedly release and recharge its hydrogen. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
An international collaboration of 390 scientists reports the discovery of an outburst of very-high-energy (VHE) gamma radiation from the giant radio galaxy Messier 87 (M 87), accompanied by a strong rise of the radio flux measured from the direct vicinity of its super-massive black hole.
The combined results give first experimental evidence that particles are accelerated to extremely high energies of tera electron Volt (one electron Volt is the energy an electron or proton gains when it is accelerated by a voltage of one Volt) in the immediate vicinity of a supermassive black hole and then emit the observed gamma rays. The gamma rays have energies a trillion times higher than the energy of visible light.
The large collaborative effort involved three arrays of 40 foot to 75 foot telescopes that detect very high-energy gamma rays and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) that detects radio waves with high spatial precision. Read more ..
The Edge of Life
One of nature's most gripping feats of survival is now better understood. For the first time, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory observed the chemical changes in individual cells that enable them to survive conditions that should kill them.
The team tracked the chemical changes in Desulfovibrio vulgaris, which is a single-cell bacterium that normally can only exist in an oxygen-free environment. They exposed the cells to the most hostile of conditions — air — and watched as some cells temporarily survived by initiating a well-orchestrated sequence of chemical events.
Until now, scientists have not been able to monitor, at a molecular level, the chemical changes in individual cells as they survive extreme conditions. The ability to watch this Herculean adaptation to stress, from such an up-close and real-time vantage, gives scientists an improved way to study adaptive responses in a range of microbes, such as disease-causing pathogens and microbes that play a role in photosynthesis, energy production, and geochemical phenomena. Their work was recently published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as "Real-time molecular monitoring of chemical environment in obligate anaerobes during oxygen adaptive response" by Hoi-Ying Holman, et al.
Read more ..
Big Brother Technology
President Barack Obama invited a group of Senate and House members to the White House for a June 25 meeting on comprehensive immigration reform. Among other things, he announced that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will work with lawmakers and that the federal government will target employers who hire undocumented workers.
For years, Helen Krieble, president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation in Denver, has been trying to help business owners and temporary migrant workers. Therefore, she developed the Red Card Solution. After all, she owns the Colorado Horse Park, an international equestrian center in Parker, Colorado, which depends on the labor of migrant or guest workers (an interchangeable term). Yet she has never been invited to meet with President Obama. Still, on June 23-24, Krieble conducted Red Card seminars in Washington for lawmakers and everyone who would listen.
Currently, U.S. law dictates that only 33,000 H-2B visas are granted to seasonal guest workers per each half of the fiscal year, but Krieble said that’s too few workers for the demands of small business owners across America.
She said, “We have criminalized hard-working people, not to mention the business owners who are made to choose between hiring illegal workers, or going out of business without them.” “In even the toughest economic times,” Krieble explained, “American workers reject certain jobs.” These jobs literally mean putting food on the table via the fishing industry, livestock care, farming, and grocery and restaurant labor – to name just a few occupations. Krieble said, “The labor shortages cause businesses to close, worsening the economic recession.” Read more ..
Iran's Voter Revolt
|Benjamin Weinthal||June 29th 2009|
Jerusalem Post correspondent
This week, news reports suggest that the Iranian regime is using technology obtained from Siemens, the German energy and engineering giant, and its partner Nokia to crack down on internet access, cell phone use, and Twitter accounts of protesters and dissidents. This disclosure highlights once again German technology's critical role in furthering the regime's activities -- and ultimately its survival. Despite some progress over the past several years, the German government remains lax in enforcing existing sanctions against Iran, and Germany remains Iran's most important trading partner in the West.
Ineffective "Discouragement Strategy"
As U.S. and international attention has focused on Iran's troubling behavior and its violation of UN Security Council resolutions, German chancellor Angela Merkel has attempted to tighten the screws on the flourishing German-Iranian economic relationship. In 2008, Merkel introduced a so-called discouragement strategy -- an approach that does not include financial or political penalties, and instead relies solely on moral persuasion -- to try and persuade German companies not to do business with Iran. Merkel adopted this strategy in the wake of reports that Hartmut Schauerte, a member of parliament and state secretary for the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, improperly peddled his influence to secure a deal worth more than 100 million euros for a company in his electoral district to build three plants in Iran for compressed natural gas production. Read more ..
Edge of the Seas
|Rosanne Skirble||June 22nd 2009|
Prior to the test run of a new robotic vehicle last month, underwater research vehicles operated no deeper than 6,000 meters. Nereus changed that.
The robotic craft, developed and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, dove to 10,902 meters in the western Pacific, pushing the frontiers of exploration into unknown depths, says Andy Bowen, project manager for the Nereus Robot Development Program.
"Nereus is a tool which we hope the scientific community will use to make important discoveries about that final 4,000 meters of the ocean," he says.
Bowen says the hybrid design allows Nereus to be operated remotely while tethered to its mother ship or to run as a free-swimming craft controlled by onboard computers. Read more ..
Edge of the Ecosystem
|Zulima Palacio ||June 15th 2009|
|Bats Found Dead in a Cave|
Three years ago, a few hundred bats were found dead in hibernating caves in the northeastern state of New York. The event barely registered for some scientists. By the following winter, the death toll had risen to a few thousand bats, sparking concern among some experts. This year, the death toll could near a million, and has set off an alarm among scientists and farmers. The dramatic reduction in the bat population and and its potential extinction could have extensive health, economic and environmental effects.
Now hundreds of thousands of bats have died in the northeastern region of the United States. According to some experts, the death toll is close to a million. The bats are succumbing to a disease called White Nose Syndrome, with a white fungus appearing on the nose, ears and wings of the bats.
"It is really unknown exactly what is causing the condition but in addition to the white nose by mid-winter these animals have lost most of their body fat," said Tom Kunz, an authority on bats at Boston University. Read more ..
|Carol Pearson ||June 8th 2009|
Millions of people use glasses to correct their vision. Others turn to a surgical procedure called LASIK that permanently changes the shape of the cornea, the clear part of the eye over the iris. But now there is another choice for people who are nearsighted.
Implanting the lenses involves minor surgery. Patients are awake, and the procedure takes about 10 minutes per eye.<br />
Implanting the lenses involves minor surgery. Patients are awake, and the procedure takes about 10 minutes per eye.
Tommy Hardeman cannot believe how well he can see. "Everything is so clear," he said. "I'm still not fully used to not wearing glasses or contacts." He is a 20-year-old college student who says that he did not get perfect vision with LASIK. Hardeman had contact lenses surgically implanted in his eyes.
This procedure is most often used for patients who cannot have laser surgery and whose low vision cannot be corrected any other way. Dr. Jeffery Whitman is enthusiastic about the results. "Patients are really thinking this is better than sliced bread (a vast improvement)," Dr. Whitman said. Read more ..
The Edge of Evolution
|Indian Himalayan Mother|
After Spanish colonialists moved into South America centuries ago, almost 60 years elapsed before the European women were able to give birth successfully at the high altitudes of the Andes. But indigenous Andean women had no problems with their babies. Now some researchers from Colorado are finding out why that may have been the case.
Anthropologist Colleen Julian, who works at the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado, says research has shown that babies born at high altitudes tend to be smaller than those born at sea level.
"But some populations are protected from that effect," Julian says. "So, for example, women who have lived at high altitudes for extended periods of time as a population... the babies who are born to those women tend to be protected to the effects of altitudes." Read more ..
Fighting Fire with Fire
|Jessica Berman||May 25th 2009|
An international group of researchers is calling for the creation of a separate scientific discipline devoted to the study of fire. The scientists say there's a basic lack of understanding about fire, which impacts virtually every aspect of life on earth.
Uncontrolled fires cause billions of dollars a year in damage to health, livelihoods and biodiversity, yet experts say relatively little is known about this primitive element and its impact.
In a paper published this week in the journal Science, co-author Steve Pyne and colleagues say there's currently no systematic, scientific way to study fire.
Pyne, a fire historian at Arizona State University in Tempe, says a separate fire science is long overdue.
"Fire is an enormous large ancient presence and it has not been considered in our disciplines. There is no fire topic as a discipline. You know the other ancient elements—earth, air and water—all have disciplines devoted to them but fire doesn't," he said.
Pyne and nearly two dozen other researchers compiled current data on fire's impact on global warming to underscore the need for a new fire discipline. The scientists report that all fires combined—from the intentional blazes farmers use to clear forest to the accidental wildfires sparked by both man and nature—release an amount of carbon dioxide equal to half the CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. They say that fires also pump other potentially climate-changing pollutants into the atmosphere, including methane gas, aerosols and soot. Read more ..
|Jessica Berman||May 18th 2009|
A group of scientists has unveiled what they say is the most comprehensive study ever of African genes which they say gives new insight into the origins of humans.
The genetic study, a compilation of two big studies, confirms theories that modern humans evolved in Africa and then migrated through Europe and Asia to reach the Pacific and Americas. The study also shows that Africans have the most diverse DNA, and the fewest potentially harmful genetic mutations.
Published in the journal Science, researchers examined genetic material from 121 African populations, as well as four African-American populations and 60 non-African populations. The study aims to teach Africans on population history and aid research into why diseases hit particular groups.
The researchers found that after a population of humans migrated off the African continent, the group shrank for some unknown reason. Later populations grew and spread from this smaller genetic pool of ancestors.
Populations that remained in Africa kept their genetic diversity. Read more ..
The Edge of Life
|Adam Phillips ||May 11th 2009|
|Pygmy Hippo Mother and Child|
Last Sunday was Mother's Day, a special day set aside for honoring mothers and celebrating all those qualities and actions that make mother "Mom." But animals and even plants also have evolved their own dizzyingly diverse maternal behaviors over the millennia, all aimed at ensuring that their offspring survive and thrive.
Columbia University ecologist Shahid Naaem says Mother's Day is a time to celebrate mothering in all species of life. He says humans instinctively recognize that mothering is critical not only to the survival of our species, but to every other single species one sees.
"Even if it's just an insect on the ground or plants or the mushrooms growing in the forest, or the birds flying overhead," he says, "[its mothering qualities are] a sign that life on Earth is working!"
Like other primates - a group of mammals that includes monkeys and apes - we human beings spend long periods of time gestating, then caring for, our young, usually in groups. Columbia zoology professor Marina Cords, who has spent years observing groups of blue monkeys in the forests of Kenya, is often reminded of them when she sees groups of human mothers and their infants in New York City's parks. Read more ..
The Future of Farming
|Rosanne Skirble||May 5th 2009|
|Proposed VRC robotic orange harvester|
Mechanization has made the modern farmer's life a lot easier. That's especially true for those who grow crops like wheat, soy or corn on big, broad fields. But the story is quite different for growers who raise fruit, nuts, vegetables or nursery plants.
These so-called specialty crops - a $45-billion-a-year business in the United States - require intensive hand labor. Faced with rising labor costs, a shortage of workers and increasing demand for safe and affordable products, specialty growers are desperate for ways to boost food quality without boosting its price.
One answer, says Craig Senovhich, may be robotic technology. Senovich, an engineer by day, opened Half Crown Hill Orchard four years ago in an overgrown field on land that his great-grandfather used to farm vegetables. Read more ..
Edge of Climate Change
|Brent Latham||April 27th 2009|
A new project has united researchers exploring the connection between rapid urban growth in Africa and climate related emergencies, in an effort to safeguard vulnerable urban populations from the effects of climate change.
The Climate Change and Adaptation in Africa program, or CCAA, aims to increase the capacity of African people and organizations to cope with the effects of climate change.
Sponsored by Canada's International Development Research Center and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, the project hopes to indentify strategies to help the urban poor in Africa's largest cities to adapt to challenges posed by the changing environment, says project manager Francois Gasengayire. Read more ..
|Jessica Berman||April 20th 2009|
Chinese researchers are challenging the notion that a woman has all of her egg cells from birth and will never create new ones. Scientists have produced new female eggs using stem cells, a development scientists say could help infertile women.
Researchers in China say it may be possible one day for women to turn back their biological clocks by repopulating their ovaries with new eggs using stem cells.
In an experiment described in the journal Nature Cell Biology, scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University found stem cells in mice ovaries that could be extracted, cultured and injected into sterile mice that then produced healthy offspring.
The research, which now needs to be duplicated in other labs, holds the possibility that women can produce new eggs. According to scientists, that could extend female fertility by resetting a woman's biological clock.
David Albertini, an expert on reproductive sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center, says the Chinese research shows promise for women who are unable to conceive.
"So the very nature of the experiments in some ways parallels the human condition that many of us are interested in addressing," he said. "That is, 'What would happen to a young woman who lost many of her eggs as a result of cancer treatment, and is there a potential avenue for therapy or retaining that fertility or restoring that fertility that could draw on the power of stem cell technology?'"
But Albertini cautions that more research is needed to determine whether the procedure will work in women. Read more ..
Edge of Disease
|Greg Flakus||April 13th 2009|
In August 2008, a new national laboratory began operating in Galveston, Texas, just weeks before the area was struck by a devastating hurricane. But the lab fared well, with no damage or disruption to operations. Why? Because it was built to withstand severe storms and more. Security is important at this pivotal installation with the unassuming name of The Galveston National Laboratory because within its walls are samples of the world's most dangerous and deadly pathogens.
New illnesses constantly appear around the world and are often found to be variations of illnesses already known. But to be sure, samples of the virus or bacteria thought to be causing the illness are sent back to Galveston. They end up in a 52,000 square-meter building--the Galveston National Laboratory--on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch. The lab's deputy director, Jim LeDuc says the staff on hand is ready for whatever comes in.
"Our faculty [members] are experts in a number of different diseases-plague and anthrax, virus diseases, common ones like influenza and less common ones that you see around the world like dengue and some of the viral hemorrhagic fevers," he said.
The Galveston laboratory has an in-house collection of most pathogens and works with collaborators around the world to identify and study new diseases. Read more ..
The Automotive Edge
Cutting Edge Energy Desk
It's 2 feet shorter than a Mini Cooper, presents an almost cartoonish appearance and weighs less than the four passengers it seats. But for the 350-million-plus middle class of India, the just-launched Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car at $2,000, is a cause for exhilaration. And for the first 100,000 lucky customers drawn via lottery, it's a dream come true.
A century after Henry Ford put America on wheels with the Model T, the affordable Tata Nano is doing the same to the less privileged of the world. What is now dismissed by many as a "toy car" could soon reveal itself to be the mouse that roared, one of the most transformational consumer products of the century.
Roughly 100,000 Indians lose their lives on the road every year, seven times the rate of the developed world. In a country where it is not uncommon to see entire families overflowing a rickshaw or women in saris sitting side-saddle on a bike with small children on their laps, moving one's family from an unsafe bike into a plastic capsule is a sensible $2,000 investment. Read more ..
Approaching Nuclear Energy
|Jack Spencer and Nicolas Loris||March 30th 2009|
|Three Mile Island Nuclear complex|
We recently observed the 30th anniversary of the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear reactor. This occasion is a good time to consider the advances in nuclear power safety since that time and discuss the misinformation about this incident and the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which is often associated with TMI.
Three Mile Island: What Happened
On March 28, 1979, a cooling circuit pump in the non-nuclear section of Three Mile Island's second station (TMI-2) malfunctioned, causing the reactor's primary coolant to heat and internal pressure to rise. Within seconds, the automated response mechanism thrust control rods into the reactor and shut down the core. An escape valve opened for 10 seconds to vent steam into a pressurizer, as it was supposed to, but it failed to close. Control room operators only saw that a "close" command was sent to the relief valve, but nothing displayed the valve's actual position. With the valve open, too much steam escaped into the pressurizer, sending misinformation to operators that there was too much pressure in the coolant system. Operators then shut down the water pumps to relieve the "pressure." Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||March 23rd 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Tim Russert Died of Sudden Cardiac Death|
You're sitting at your desk and suddenly your heart is beating in overdrive or worse, lurching along like a car on fumes. It is a shocking, uncomfortable and frightening sensation.
Irregular heart rhythms are a common cause of sudden cardiac death or SCD, a condition that accounts for 450,000 deaths annually in the United States. Scientists are now closer to understanding what causes SCD and who it may strike, said Gonçalo Abecasis, associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor. Abecasis received his doctorate at Oxford University, having written a dissertation on statistical methods for human gene mapping. The focus of his research at UM is in the identification and characterization of genes determining human variation and disease.
Abecasis was the co-leader of an international study aiming to identify genetic defects associated with sudden cardiac death. Aravinda Chakravarti of Johns Hopkins and Arne Pfeufer of the Institute for Human Genetics in Germany also co-led the study. Serena Sanna, formerly at the U-M School of Public Health and now a researcher at the National Research Center in Cagliari, Italy, was joint first author. Read more ..
Edge of the Sea
|John Chapin||March 16th 2009|
Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have solved the half-century-old mystery of a fish with tubular eyes and a transparent head. Ever since the "barreleye" fish Macropinna microstoma was first described in 1939, marine biologists have known that its tubular eyes are very good at collecting light. However, the eyes were believed to be fixed in place and seemed to provide only a "tunnel-vision" view of whatever was directly above the fish's head.
A new paper by Bruce Robison and Kim Reisenbichler shows that these unusual eyes can rotate within a transparent shield that covers the fish's head. This allows the barreleye to peer up at potential prey or focus forward to see what it is eating.
The barreleye fish, or Macropinna microstoma, has extremely light-sensitive eyes that can rotate within a transparent, fluid-filled shield on its head. The fish's tubular eyes are capped by bright green lenses. The eyes point upward when the fish is looking for food overhead. They point forward when the fish is feeding. The two spots above the fish's mouth are olfactory organs called nares, which are analogous to human nostrils. Read more ..
Edge on Communications
|Bill Rodgers||March 9th 2009|
|Afghani Cell Phone Vendor|
Cell phones are an example of what is sometimes now called "leapfrog technology," a product that allows developing nations the benefits of a reliable and extensive communications network without the heavy investment in fixed-line phone infrastructure. Mobile phones, along with Internet access, are part of a communications revolution that is helping boost income and stop the spread of disease in emerging economies.
For example, Abdul Wakil owns a dry goods store in the Afghan village of Daw Koo, about 40 kilometers north of Kabul. He says his cell phone has made all the difference. Read more ..
Inside the Black America
|John Chapin||March 3rd 2009|
Suicide rates among black adolescents have been historically low compared with their white counterparts, but the gap has narrowed, according to a new study at the University of Michigan.
Researchers there are taking a closer look at an emerging trend that indicating that black youths at risk of suicide may not show warning signs of their distress. Until this study, nationally representative data regarding non-fatal suicidal behaviors, especially among blacks, had not been available.
UM's survey captured responses from 1,170 African American and Caribbean black teens aged 13 to 17. Overall, researchers estimated that at some point before they reach 17 years of age, 4 percent of black teens, and more than 7 percent of black teen females, will attempt suicide.
Psychiatric disorders, especially anxiety issues, were significant predictors of attempted suicide rates among black youths. Those with at least three disorders were about seven times more likely to report having attempted suicide. Read more ..
Inside the Internet
|Neal Rauhauser||February 23rd 2009|
Cutting Edge Sci-Tech Writer
|NANOG members gathering|
On Monday February 16, a global meltdown of internet routing was narrowly averted, say some informed observers of information superhighway. Few know the details or understand the dynamics.
Our world today depends on the internet. Email has largely replaced the fax, various forms of instant messaging fill some of the duties once handled by the telephone, and your local bank teller probably doesn't even recognize you at the grocery store thanks to web access to your bank account.
Everyone is acquainted with the misbehaviors at the individual level found within the internet's open, distributed architecture: mailboxes full of spam, phishing attacks aimed at your financial information and spyware are ubiquitous. Less well known are the vulnerabilities to the systems that transport traffic. Yet this backbone issue weighs on the minds of everyone involved in the operation of the internet's core. Read more ..
|Jessica Berman||February 16th 2009|
A team of German scientists has completed the first draft of prehistoric genome. Scientists hope an ancient hominid will shed light on the evolution of modern humans.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology isolated three billion base pairs, or genetic building blocks, from 38,000-year-old Neanderthal bone fragments of three Croatian fossils. But the genetic blueprint is about 63 percent complete, researchers say, because many of the gene pairs are repeats.
Researchers had to use a special "clean room" to sift the DNA from the bacteria that had accumulated inside the fossils, which geneticists hope will answer questions about the extinct Neanderthals' migration out of Africa to Asia and Europe, where they died out 30,000 years later to be replaced by modern humans.
But there is argument about just how closely humans and Neanderthals are related. While some anthropologists believe Neanderthal was a direct ancestor, others believe the ancient hominid bred with other primates in Europe and Asia, which led to the explosion of modern humans. Read more ..
|Walid Phares||February 9th 2009|
Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst
The launching of an Iranian satellite into orbit on February 2, said to be for "communications technology" and "earthquake monitoring," would have been a normal news item not exceeding the greater news report about India landing a spacecraft on the moon in December 2008. But according to news agencies around the world, Western chanceries and national security agencies have taken the development "seriously."
The Associated Press and the BBC described reactions as "nervous." Although the debate about the value of Iranian space technology and commercial rocket capacity usually concludes that the mullah's regime is far from reaching a respectable level, many defense analysts dismiss the issue as about the sole industrialization of the Islamic Republic. In fact it is about the "weaponization" of the satellite.
Obviously this one launch may not be the crossing of the line, but the first step was accomplished and statements were made about the immediate following steps. The growing consensus today is about the strategic intention of Tehran's war room, solidly in the hands of the Pasdaran. Read more ..
The Future of Books
|Art Chimes||February 2nd 2009|
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, housing millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts. Like many other great research libraries, the Library of Congress has been moving into the digital world.
One way they're doing it is through a scanning project that has so far put 25,000 books online for anyone to read or download.
Doron Weber of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which is funding the $2 million project, stresses the importance of scanning complete books to preserve their cultural context.
"To preserve book knowledge and book culture means preserving every word of every sentence in the right sequence of pages in the right edition, within the appropriate historical, scholarly and bibliographical context. You must respect what you scan and treat it as an organic whole, not just raw bits of slapdash data."
The scanning is being done by the Internet Archive. The San Francisco-based nonprofit group aims to preserve cultural artifacts such as musical recordings and Web pages, as well as books, and make them available online. Brewster Kahle heads the Internet Archive.
"They're going faster and faster and faster here at the Library of Congress to bring the book collection, to digitize those, run them through optical character recognition, offer them for free on the Internet for anyone to download, read, bind, do anything they want with," Kahle said. Read more ..
The Future of Food
|Veronique LaCapra||January 26th 2009|
In spite of possible environmental problems, specialists say aquaculture can help spur the recovery of natural populations of fish and other aquatic species - and provide much-needed food and income, especially for small-scale farmers in developing countries.
Aquaculture has been practiced for thousands of years. Jim Diana, a professor of natural resources at the University of Michigan, says the first written textbook on aquaculture was published in China in about 400 B.C.
Asia continues to dominate the farming of fish and other aquatic species, accounting for approximately 92 percent of the world harvest.
"But," says Diana, "there is aquaculture in the United States and virtually every continent other than Antarctica." Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Jessica Berman||January 19th 2009|
Decades of research show people tend to go along with the majority view. Now, scientists are supporting those theories with brain images. A new study could explain why people follow fashion trends or join religious groups and even the rise of extreme political movements.
According to researcher Vasily Klucharev of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, the study shows when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal.
"If you make an error, if means that something [wrong is going on]. And, whenever we experience an error, it means this error signal pushes us to change behavior," Klucharev said. "And, we see it looks like we quite automatically produce this signal when our opinion is quite different from other people." Read more ..
|Amanda Scott||January 19th 2009|
The U.S. space agency, NASA, says large quantities of methane gas have been detected on Mars, hinting at the possibility of biological or geological activity on the Red Planet.
Astrobiologist Sushil Atreya says there are two possibilities as to why methane exists on Mars. "Either it's geology, in which case it's the reaction between water and rock, or it's biology, in which case the microbes are producing the methane," Atreya said.
Methane was first detected on Mars in 2003 by scientists using Earth-based telescopes. Scientists say that one plume of Martian methane contained nearly 19,000 tons of the gas. Read more ..
Preserving the Penguins
|Terry FitzPatrick||January 5th 2009|
Millions of African penguins once roamed the beaches along the continent's southern coast. But their population is collapsing and conservationists have begun drastic measures to prevent the species from going extinct. They are installing artificial nests to help the penguins survive. They are even feeding wild penguins by hand.
Dyer Island, about five miles off the southern tip of Africa, is a key breeding site for the African penguin. But a local charter boat captain, Wilfred Chivell, says the penguins need help.
"You can see it's impossible for any bird to make a nest in this area-boulders upon boulder upon boulder," Chivell said.
Over the years, people removed the topsoil from this island because it was rich in bird droppings and made good fertilizer. As a result, penguins can no longer burrow underground to build nests. They must breed in the open, where chicks are often killed by predators or stormy weather.
Chivell has decided to step in. He is installing small fiberglass igloos for the penguins to use as nests. “Once you've placed the nest there, they decorate," Chivell said. "They put a few extra stones and a few feathers and pieces of the natural vegetation here. So they make it nice and homely for themselves."
The need for artificial nests demonstrates why the African penguin is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Much of the penguin's natural habitat has been destroyed. As well, commercial fishing fleets have reduced their food supply. Chivell has formed the Dyer Island Conservation Trust to install 800 nests at this site. Read more ..
The Race for Hydrogen
|Neal Rauhauser||December 29th 2008|
Cutting Edge Sci-Tech Writer
The infrastructure and technology exists today to begin using hydrogen as a fuel. This will involve the proliferation of onsite hydrogen production using electrolysis or reformation from natural gas as well as neighborhood stations.
We have a sprawling, million mile natural gas pipeline network but only seven hundred miles of hydrogen pipeline, primarily serving high volume users such as Gulf Coast region refineries. In addition to the short pipelines serving high volume users, we ship tanks of hydrogen in either compressed or liquefied form. This is acceptable if you need hydrogen for some chemical manufacturing process, but it's a poor way to transport energy. The liquefaction process alone eats up 30% of the energy value of any hydrogen transported in this fashion.
But thanks to recent innovations, that hydrogen pipeline network could spread.
Early attempts to integrate hydrogen into existing pipelines tests supplementing natural gas with up to 20% hydrogen. This worked well for combustion but not for transport. Pipeline welds that easily stopped the larger natural gas molecules were quite willing to let hydrogen slip through, resulting in losses and the potential for fires and explosions where the gas accumulated.
Plastics and metals had long been used for piping, but plastics are permeable to hydrogen and metals are subject to hydrogen embrittlement as well as being permeable. Hydrogen molecules are a pair of atoms, and they pass through plastics still joined together. When presented with a metal barrier, the hydrogen atoms must dissociate, pass through the metal as individual atoms, and then find a partner again on the other side of the barrier. Read more ..
|Richard Hayes||December 22nd 2008|
Cutting Edge Genetics Analyst
Over the past half century, the world has been transformed through rapid developments in communications, transportation, weaponry, and trade. A vast infrastructure of intergovernmental institutions has been established to help ensure that these and related developments generate more benefit than they do harm. These include global institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, regional groups such as the European Union and the African Union, and those with issue-specific agendas such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Health Organization. Although the record of these institutions is far from perfect, a world without them would be fraught with even more risk than it is today.
The rapid development of powerful new human biotechnologies raises precisely the sort of questions that such intergovernmental institutions are positioned to address. If developed wisely, these technologies could help prevent and cure diseases that have afflicted humanity for millennia; if misapplied, they could pose new and profoundly consequential risks. Detailed knowledge of the human genome might lead to improved medical diagnostics, but could also lead to a Gattaca-like world in which affluent couples genetically modify their embryos in an attempt to create “designer babies.” The creation of clonal human embryos gives researchers tools to help investigate the developmental origin of congenital diseases, but brings us closer to the day when rogue scientists might attempt to create live-born human clones. Genetic interventions intended to help those suffering from degenerative muscular diseases could be used by athletes to illicitly enhance their strength and endurance. Read more ..
Edge on Autism
|Neal Rauhauser||December 15th 2008|
Cutting Edge Sci-Tech Writer
Impaired social function, repetitive motion, circumscribed interests—these are common themes in a group of complex developmental disabilities known as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD.
Individuals with ASD refer to themselves as being “on the spectrum” as they exhibit symptoms, characteristics, and function spanning the wide range from being unable to communicate or care for themselves, to managing to fit into society despite their quirks.
Although recognizable in historical writings, autism is still a relatively recent diagnosis. New collections of behaviors and deficits are being recognized as part of the autism spectrum. The initial characterization of Asperger's Syndrome (one of three forms of ASD) occurred in 1944, and work continues on sensory integration disorder, and on the catch-all pervasive developmental disorder. Read more ..
|Marcy Darnovsky||December 8th 2008|
Cutting Edge Genetic Analyst
Just before the world's financial system hit the skids, the New Yorker's Talk of the Town and the New York Times' Sunday Styles section both featured lengthy accounts of a celebrity "spit party," at which notables in cocktail attire ejected their saliva into test tubes.
The chic gala, hosted by media moguls Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, and Harvey Weinstein, was the latest episode of a remarkable publicity push by 23andMe, the start-up biotech firm whose mission is "to be the world's trusted source of personal genetic information." The Google-backed company launched its celebrity strategy this past January, when it distributed a thousand free spit kits at the elite World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But the genomes of the rich and famous were just the first step. Early this fall, 23andMe announced that it's slashing its prices to Christmas-stocking levels, in a bid to make DNA tests this year's high-tech must-have. Read more ..
The Edge of Disease
|Gilbert da Costa||December 1st 2008|
Despite the vehement protests of Muslim clerics, some 30 million children in Nigeria are to be vaccinated against polio and measles during an integrated immunization campaign set to begin immediately in Nigeria’s northern states.
For five days 200,000 health workers will be stationed at 33,000 schools throughout northern Nigeria to administer oral polio drops and measles vaccines to millions of children under the age of five in a new drive to eradicate the two diseases. The innoculation drive is beign spearheaded by the country's health ministry, with financial and technical support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners. But the campaign is proceeding despite vehement protests by radical Islamists.
Polio cases have more than doubled this year in Nigeria as health officials struggle to fight various natural strains of the virus as well as outbreaks set off by the polio vaccine itself three years ago. Kano, in northern Nigeria, has been the epicenter for the transmission of the crippling polio virus to other parts of the world since 2003 when the authorities suspended polio immunization for 13 months. That suspension followed claims by radical Muslim clerics and some medical doctors that the vaccine was laced with substances that could render girls infertile as part of a U.S.-led Western plot to depopulate Africa. Read more ..
|Richard Hayes||November 24th 2008|
Cutting Edge Contributor
The newest human biotechnologies have the potential for both great good and great harm. If used responsibly they could lead to medical advances and improved health outcomes. If misapplied they could exacerbate health disparities and generate new forms of discrimination and inequality. If we are to realize their benefits yet avoid their risks we will need regulations, laws, and guidelines at both national and international levels.
But how and where should the lines be drawn? If drawn too tightly they could constrain valuable medical research. If drawn too loosely they could open the door to a Gattaca-like world of neo-eugenic practices and ideologies.
In the United States, serious discussion of these questions has been thwarted for the past eight years by partisanship and polarization, and constructive engagement by the Bush administration at the international level has been effectively nil. The good news, however, is that during this same period many countries have been developing comprehensive human biotech policies that strike a practicable and socially responsible balance between being overly restrictive and overly permissive.
A survey of 192 countries and eight major intergovernmental organizations suggests that:
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- There is widespread support for human embryonic stem cell research involving embryos created but not used in the course of assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures.
- There is similarly widespread support for embryo screening to avoid passing serious diseases to one's offspring.
- There is strong opposition to human reproductive cloning, inheritable genetic modification, and embryo screening for non-medical purposes.
- There is widespread concern about the commercialization of human reproductive activities and about the use of genetic technologies for so-called "enhancement" purposes
The Water’s Edge
|Neal Rauhauser||November 17th 2008|
Cutting Edge Sci-Tech Writer
The United States has always been two separate countries when it comes to water. The east has riparian water rights like those of England, while the west has right of prior appropriation which has descended to us through Spanish laws modified for use in the arid southwest.
Riparian rights permit a variety of uses for water found on, under, or flowing next to a property. The rights can't be sold or transferred except to an adjacent piece of land, the water may not be transferred out of the watershed, and the use must be reasonable. Unfortunately what was reasonable in a high precipitation year may not be in a dry year, and reasonableness is not precisely defined but instead depends upon the views of the others who have right to the water. Read more ..
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