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From the L.A. Times, and with enough time to tune in, comes this tip: Comet Siding Spring's closest approach to the red planet will occur at 11:27 a.m. [Pacific Time] on Sunday. At its closest approach, the comet will come within 87,000 miles of Mars. That's 10 times closer than any comet on record has ever come to Earth. Sadly, this historic flyby is not visible to the naked eye. People who live in the Southern Hemisphere have a shot at seeing the comet if they have access to a good telescope six inches or wider. However, most of us in the Northern Hemisphere will not be able to see the comet at all, experts say, no matter how big a telescope we've got. Here to save the cometary day is astronomy website Slooh.com. Beginning at 11:15 a.m PDT on Sunday, it will host a live broadcast of the comet's closest approach to Mars, as seen by the website's telescopes in South Africa and in the Canary Islands. Later in the day, beginning at 5:30 p.m. PDT, Slooh will broadcast another view of the comet from a telescope in Chile.
33 comments | 3 days ago
The WSJ reports that 800 doses of an experimental vaccine for Ebola, developed over a decade at Public Health Agency of Canada’s main laboratory in Winnipeg, will be shipped to the World Health Organization in an effort to help fight the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa: The vaccine will be shipped by air from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to the University Hospital of Geneva via specialized courier. The vials will be sent in three separate shipments as a precautionary measure, due to the challenges in moving a vaccine that must kept at a very low temperature at all times. ... The vaccine had shown “very promising results in animal research” and earlier this week, Ottawa announced the start of clinical trials on humans at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the U.S. ... The government has licensed NewLink Genetics Corp. , of the U.S., through its wholly owned subsidiary BioProtection Systems Corp. to further develop the vaccine for use in humans. The government owns the intellectual property rights associated with the vaccine.
99 comments | 4 days ago
Lucas123 (935744) writes U.S. robotics researchers from around the country are collaborating on a project to build autonomous vehicles that could deliver food and medicine, and telepresence robots that could safely decontaminate equipment and help bury the victims of Ebola. Organizers of Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers are planning a workshop on Nov. 7. that will be co-hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Texas A&M, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. "We are trying to identify the technologies that can help human workers minimize their contact with Ebola. Whatever technology we deploy, there will be a human in the loop. We are not trying to replace human caregivers. We are trying to minimize contact," said Taskin Padir, an assistant professor of robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
87 comments | 5 days ago
HughPickens.com writes Jim Edwards writes at Business Insider that Google is so large and has such a massive need for talent that if you have the right skills, Google is really enthusiastic to hear from you — especially if you know how to use MatLab, a fourth-generation programming language that allows matrix manipulations, plotting of functions and data, implementation of algorithms, creation of user interfaces, and interfacing with programs written in other languages, including C, C++, Java, Fortran and Python. The key is that data is produced visually or graphically, rather than in a spreadsheet. According to Jonathan Rosenberg , Google's former senior vice president for product management, being a master of statistics is probably your best way into Google right now and if you want to work at Google, make sure you can use MatLab. Big data — how to create it, manipulate it, and put it to good use — is one of those areas in which Google is really enthusiastic about. The sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. When every business has free and ubiquitous data, the ability to understand it and extract value from it becomes the complimentary scarce factor. It leads to intelligence, and the intelligent business is the successful business, regardless of its size. Rosenberg says that "my quote about statistics that I didn't use but often do is, 'Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it the samurai.'"
205 comments | 5 days ago
StartsWithABang writes If you can reach the fabled "breakeven point" of nuclear fusion, you'll have opened up an entire new source of clean, reliable, safe, renewable and abundant energy. You will change the world. At present, fusion is one of those things we can make happen through a variety of methods, but — unless you're the Sun — we don't have a way to ignite and sustain that reaction without needing to input more energy than we can extract in a usable fashion from the fusion that occurs. One alternative approach to the norm is, rather than try and up the energy released in a sustained, hot fusion reaction, to instead lower the energy inputted, and try to make fusion happen under "cold" conditions. If you listen in the right (wrong?) places, you'll hear periodic reports that cold fusion is happening, even though those reports have always crumbled under scrutiny. Here's why, most likely, they always will.
346 comments | 5 days ago
jfruh writes: You may have heard that Japan will deal with its aging population by relying more on robots. Osaka startup RT Works is showing what that might mean in practice: not humanoid robotic caregivers, but tech-enhanced versions of traditional tools like walkers. RT Works's walker automatically adjusts to help its user deal with hilly terrain, and can call for help if it moves outside a predefined range.
34 comments | 5 days ago
KentuckyFC writes: One way to explore the link between quantum mechanics and general relativity is to study the physics that occurs on a small scale in highly curved spacetimes. However, these conditions only occur in the most extreme environments such as at the edge of black holes or in the instants after the Big Bang. But now one physicist has described how it is possible to create curved spacetime in an ordinary quantum optics lab.
The idea is based on optical lattices, which form when a pair of lasers interfere to create an eggbox-like interference pattern. When ultracold atoms are dropped into the lattice, they become trapped like ping pong balls in an eggbox. This optical trapping technique is common in labs all over the world. However, the ultracold atoms do not stay at a fixed location in the lattice because they can tunnel from one location to another. This tunneling is a form of movement through the lattice and can be controlled by changing the laser parameters to make tunneling easier or more difficult.
Now, a physicist has shown that on a large scale, the tunneling motion of atoms through the lattice is mathematically equivalent to the motion of atoms in a quantum field in a flat spacetime. And that means it is possible to create a formal analogue of a curved spacetime by changing the laser parameters across the lattice. Varying the laser parameters over time even simulates the behavior of gravitational waves. Creating this kind of curved spacetime in the lab won't reveal any new physics but it will allow researchers to study the behavior of existing laws under these conditions for the first time. That's not been possible even in theory because the equations that describe these behaviors are so complex that they can only be solved in the simplest circumstances.
89 comments | about a week ago
MTorrice writes: Many drugs that treat bacterial and fungal infections were found in microbes growing in the dirt. These organisms synthesize the compounds to fend off other bacteria and fungi around them. To find possible new drugs, chemists try to coax newly discovered microbial species to start making their arsenal of antimicrobial chemicals in the lab. But fungi can be stubborn, producing just a small set of already-known compounds.
Now, one team of chemists has hit upon a curiously effective and consistent trick to prod the organisms to start synthesizing novel molecules: Cheerios inside bags. Scientists grew a soil fungus for four weeks in a bag full of Cheerios and discovered a new compound that can block biofilm formation by an infectious yeast. The chemists claim that Cheerios are by far the best in the cereal aisle at growing chemically productive fungi.
77 comments | about a week ago
blottsie writes WikiLeaks has released an updated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) chapter on intellectual property. The new version of the texts, dated May 2014, show that little improvement has been made to sections critics say would hurt free speech online. Further, some of the TPP's stipulations could have dire consequences for healthcare in developing nations. The Daily Dot reports: "Nearly all of the changes proposed by the U.S. advantage corporate entities by expanding monopolies on knowledge goods, such as drug patents, and impose restrictive copyright policies worldwide. If it came into force, TPP would even allow pharmaceutical companies to sue the U.S. whenever changes to regulatory standards or judicial decisions affected their profits. Professor Brook K. Baker of Northeastern U. School of Law [said] that the latest version of the TPP will do nothing less than lengthen, broaden, and strengthen patent monopolies on vital medications."
130 comments | about a week ago
MarkWhittington writes Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council, has an intriguing Tuesday post on the OSTP blog. Kalil is soliciting ideas for "bootstrapping a solar system civilization." Anyone interested in offering ideas along those lines to the Obama administration can contact a special email address that has been set up for that purpose. The ideas that Kalil muses about in his post are not new for people who have studied the question of how to settle space at length. The ideas consist of sending autonomous robots to various locations in space to create infrastructure using local resources with advanced manufacturing technology, such as 3D printing. The new aspect is that someone in the White House is publicly discussing these concepts.
349 comments | about a week ago
astroengine writes With its heavily cratered, geologically dead surface, Saturn's moon Mimas was considered to be scientifically boring. But appearances can be deceiving. Using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, new research shows something strange inside Mimas that is causing the moon to sway as it orbits around the ringed gas giant. Computer models point to two possibilities. First is that Mimas, which is about 250 miles in diameter, has an oblong or football-shaped core, a clue that the moon may have formed inside Saturn's ice rings. The second option is that Mimas has a global ocean located 16 miles to 19 miles beneath its icy crust.
48 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes: There has long been a clear hierarchy of intelligence in the psychology lab, with monkeys are at the top, then rats, and finally mice at the bottom, "cute and fluffy but not all that bright." For at least a hundred years, researchers have used rats in their psychology experiments, assuming that they were the smarter of the two lab rodents. Now, Rose Eveleth reports at The Atlantic that new research shows this might not be true, suggesting mice can perform decision-making tasks in the lab just as well as rats can. "Anything we could train a rat to do we could train a mouse to do as well," says Tony Zador. This finding is important because using mice in experiments instead of rats could open up all kinds of new research options. For one thing, scientists have been able to manipulate a mouse's genome in really useful ways, silencing certain genes to figure out what role they play. There are mouse models for everything from Alzheimer's to Parkinson's. Being able to put those mice through the paces of a psychology experiment could help researchers connect diseases with the behaviors they impact.
So where did this idea that rats are smarter than mice come from, anyway? Zador says it's a historical bias. "There was 100 years of practice in training rats. And basically when people tried to treat the mice in exactly the way they treated the rats, the rats seemed smarter," says Zador. In other words, "over the course of 100 years people had figured out how to train rats, and that mice aren't rats." You might think that mice and rats would be basically the same when it comes to these kinds of things, but Zador points out that mice and rats diverged somewhere between 12 and 24 million years ago. For comparison, humans and chimpanzees split somewhere between 5 and 7 million years ago. So it's no surprise that mice behave differently than rats, and that the difference impacts their training in the lab. "The mouse is uniquely placed at the interface between experimental access and behavioral complexity, making it an ideal model for the study of adaptive decision-making. Successful behavioral paradigms, however, rely on targeting designs to the idiosyncrasies of the mouse from the outset, rather than simply assuming that mice are little rats."
154 comments | about a week ago
An anonymous reader writes: Stephen Hsu, a professor in theoretical physics at Michigan State University, has an article discussing the genetic underpinnings of intelligence, and how our understanding of it will eventually lead to smarter children. Researchers have detected genes that influence cognitive ability, but the effect of any one gene is very small — less than 1 IQ point at best. Genetically modifying such genes is unlikely to happen any time soon, but our ability to analyze an embryo's genome is becoming quick and cheap. As we isolate more and more genes that affect intelligence, this means prospective parents will soon be able to analyze a batch of zygotes and figure out which ones are likely to be the smartest. Hsu says a batch of 10 zygotes will probably have an IQ range of 15 points or more. As our understanding of intelligence genetics grows, that range will only expand. He adds, "The corresponding ethical issues are complex and deserve serious attention in what may be a relatively short interval before these capabilities become a reality."
366 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes Pamela Engel writes that Americans need only look to Nigeria to calm their fears about an Ebola outbreak in the US. Nigeria is much closer to the West Africa outbreak than the US is, yet even after Ebola entered the country in the most terrifying way possible — via a visibly sick passenger on a commercial flight — officials successfully shut down the disease and prevented widespread transmission. If there are still no new cases on October 20, the World Health Organization will officially declare the country "Ebola-free." Here's how Nigeria did it.
The first person to bring Ebola to Nigeria was Patrick Sawyer, who left a hospital in Liberia against the wishes of the medical staff and flew to Nigeria. Once Sawyer arrived, it became obvious that he was ill when he passed out in the Lagos airport, and he was taken to a hospital in the densely packed city of 20 million. Once the country's first Ebola case was confirmed, Port Health Services in Nigeria started a process called contact tracing to limit the spread of the disease and created an emergency operations center to coordinate and oversee the national response. Health officials used a variety of resources, including phone records and flight manifests, to track down nearly 900 people who might have been exposed to the virus via Sawyer or the people he infected. As soon as people developed symptoms suggestive of Ebola, they were isolated in Ebola treatment facilities. Without waiting to see whether a "suspected" case tested positive, Nigeria's contact tracing team tracked down everyone who had had contact with that patient since the onset of symptoms making a staggering 18,500 face-to-face visits.
The US has many of these same procedures in place for containing Ebola, making the risk of an outbreak here very low. Contact tracing is exactly what is happening in Dallas right now; if any one of Thomas Eric Duncan's contacts shows symptoms, that person will be immediately isolated and tested. "That experience shows us that even in the case in Nigeria, when we found out later in the timeline that this patient had Ebola, that Nigeria was able to identify contacts, institute strict infection control procedures and basically bring their outbreak to a close," says Dr. Tom Inglesby. "They did a good job in and of themselves. They worked closely with the U.S. CDC. If we can succeed in Nigeria I do believe we will stop it here."
381 comments | about a week ago
vinces99 writes "Under the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, thousands of Romanian children were placed in overcrowded orphanages with bleak conditions and minimal human contact, a legacy that continued even after the 1989 revolution. Only recently have research and public concern caused policy changes.
University of Washington research on children who began life in these institutions shows that early childhood neglect is associated with changes in brain structure. A paper published this month in Biological Psychiatry shows that children who spent their early years in these institutions have thinner brain tissue in cortical areas that correspond to impulse control and attention. "These differences suggest a way that the early care environment has dramatic and lasting effects for children's functioning," said lead author Katie McLaughlin, a UW assistant professor of psychology.
Since 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project has worked to document and treat the children's health. McLaughlin joined the team about six years ago to focus on brain development. This study is among the first in any setting to document how social deprivation in early life affects the thickness of the cortex, the thin folded layer of gray matter that forms the outer layer of the brain. The study provides "very strong support" for a link between the early environment and ADHD, McLaughlin said.
87 comments | about a week ago
mdsolar tips news that a second healthcare worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has tested positive for the Ebola virus. Like the nurse who tested positive a few days ago, this worker was involved in providing care to Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who seems to have brought the virus into the country. The CDC is working to identify further exposures to the local community, though the Times says a second infection among the 70+ medical professionals who were around Duncan is not unexpected. The largest U.S. nurses union says a lack of proper protective gear and constantly changing protocols are to blame for exposures. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says infection rates in West Africa are such that within a few months, they can expect 10,000 new Ebola cases a week. They also say the death rate for the current outbreak has risen to 70 percent.
463 comments | about a week ago
astroengine writes: Early results from NASA's recently arrived MAVEN Mars spacecraft show an extensive, tenuous cloud of hydrogen surrounding the red planet, the result of water breaking down in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday. MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, arrived on Sept. 21 to help answer questions about what caused a planet that was once warm and wet to turn into the cold, dry desert that appears today. "It's measurements like these that will allow us to estimate the escape rate of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere to space today. It's an important measurement to make because the hydrogen ... comes from water lower down in the atmosphere," MAVEN scientist Mike Chaffin, with the University of Colorado, Boulder, told reporters on a conference call.
63 comments | about a week ago
gthuang88 writes: Spider silk is touted for its strength and potential to be used in body armor, sports gear, and even artificial tendons and implants. Now several companies including EntoGenetics, Kraig Labs, and Araknitek have developed genetic approaches to producing commercial quantities of the stuff. One method is to implant spider genes into silkworms, which then act as spider-silk factories. Another is to place the gene that encodes spider web production into the DNA of goats; these "spidergoats" then produce milk containing spider-silk proteins that can be extracted. There's still a long way to go, however, and big companies like DuPont and BASF have tried and failed to commercialize similar materials.
82 comments | about a week ago
astroengine writes: At a distance of only 10 miles from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's surface, the European Rosetta mission has captured yet another dazzling self portrait with the dark comet lurking in the background. But the orbiter couldn't have snapped this picture without the help of a little friend — the attached Philae lander that is currently undergoing preparations for its historic comet surface landing in November.
62 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes German was the dominant scientific language in 1900. Today if a scientist is going to coin a new term, it's most likely in English. And if they are going to publish a new discovery, it is most definitely in English. Look no further than the Nobel Prize awarded for physiology and medicine to Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Their research was written and published in English. How did English come to dominate German in the realm of science? BBC reports that the major shock to the system was World War One, which had two major impacts. According to Gordin, after World War One, Belgian, French and British scientists organized a boycott of scientists from Germany and Austria. They were blocked from conferences and weren't able to publish in Western European journals. "Increasingly, you have two scientific communities, one German, which functions in the defeated [Central Powers] of Germany and Austria, and another that functions in Western Europe, which is mostly English and French," says Gordin.
The second effect of World War One took place in the US. Starting in 1917 when the US entered the war, there was a wave of anti-German hysteria that swept the country. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota there were many, many German speakers. World War One changed all that. "German is criminalized in 23 states. You're not allowed to speak it in public, you're not allowed to use it in the radio, you're not allowed to teach it to a child under the age of 10," says Gordin. The Supreme Court overturned those anti-German laws in 1923, but for years they were the law of the land. What that effectively did, according to Gordin, was decimate foreign language learning in the US resulting in a generation of future scientists who came of age with limited exposure to foreign languages. That was also the moment, according to Gordin, when the American scientific establishment started to take over dominance in the world. "The story of the 20th Century is not so much the rise of English as the serial collapse of German as the up-and-coming language of scientific communication," concludes Gordin.
323 comments | about two weeks ago