New submitter hebbosome writes "Researchers at Georgia Tech have provided a glimpse of a future full of highly-sensitive robots. Their nanoelectronic pressure sensors, comparable in sensitivity to human skin, are made out of new type of vertical transistor (abstract). 'In Wang’s nanowire transistors, the gate traditionally used in electronics is eliminated. Instead, the current flowing through the nanowires is controlled by the electrical charge generated when strain or force applied is to the transistors.' 'The arrays include more than 8,000 functioning piezotronic transistors, each of which can independently produce an electronic controlling signal when placed under mechanical strain.' They could immediately be used in human-machine interfaces for capturing electronic signatures, and, down the road, in robots and prosthetics."
Slashdot stories can be listened to in audio form via an RSS feed, as read by our own robotic overlord.
Following a conference on space debris, the European Space Agency has warned that the amount of space junk floating around in orbit is a problem that needs to be dealt with 'urgently.' They are calling for a number of test missions to examine different methods of controlling or removing the debris. "Our understanding of the growing space debris problem can be compared with our understanding of the need to address Earth’s changing climate some 20 years ago," said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the agency's Space Debris office. A couple years ago we discussed an idea for de-orbiting space junk by hitting it with a laser to change its momentum. An Australian company has now received funding from NASA and the Australian government to try just that. "We've been developing tracking systems using lasers for some years, so we can actually track very small objects with a laser rangefinder to very high accuracy. ... If you allow that velocity to change over a period of perhaps 24 hours, then you can get actually a 100-meter shift in the location of an object to deflect it from colliding with another space debris object." Other plans are in development as well, and there currently exists an international guideline saying that new hardware must de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere after 25 years of operation — but compliance is lagging. Meanwhile, collision events are becoming more common (PDF), and experts worry about the safety of the International Space Station and important satellites. "Their direct costs and the costs of losing them will by far exceed the cost of remedial activities."
sciencehabit writes "Researchers have found a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold. When they mutated this gene in mice, the rodents developed brains that look more like ours (abstract). The discovery may help explain why humans evolved more elaborate brains than mice, and it could suggest ways to treat disorders such as autism and epilepsy that arise from abnormal neural development. The findings go against a common conception that 'dumber species will have different genes' for brain development than more intelligent species, Borrell says. He adds that the mechanism could help explain how New World monkeys, with their small, smooth brains, could have evolved from an ancestor with a bigger and more folded brain."
Hatta writes "According to researchers from Harvard Medical School, belief in god is correlated with improved outcomes of treatment for depression. Quoting: 'In the study, published in the current issue of Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers comment that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without. "Belief was associated with not only improved psychological well-being, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm," says David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.' This raises interesting questions. Does this support the concept of depressive realism? If the association is found to be causal, would it be ethical for a psychiatrist to prescribe religion?"
symbolset writes "Planetary Resources wants to mine asteroids for their sweet, sweet minerals and make a business of it. The sparky little company has been writ up here on Slashdot numerous times. With the backing of such billionaires as Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, James Cameron, and many others, and such luminaries as major NASA project managers, engineers and scientists, you have to think they might have a good shot at it. Recently they picked up a huge engineering, procurement and construction partner: Bechtel. Their operations are already cash-flow positive by selling tech invented to pursue their goals, so they're a legitimate business running lean and intending to make good. Yesterday they announced the plan to launch their first space missions — the Arkyd Series 100 LEO Space Telescopes — as soon as next year. Beginning in 2014 their satellites will be scanning the skies from Low Earth Orbit for lucrative rocks that happen to be heading our way, and incidentally doing for-pay work to keep the lights on. For a reasonable fee they'll sell you the right to retask one of these telescopes to take a picture of anything you want that it can see, for a fair price. The plan is to follow up with harvester craft to go get these asteroids, mulch them, and sell their bits for profit. Some talk has been made of selling what are uncommon terrestrial minerals like gold and platinum, refined on orbit and deorbited at great expense as a business plan, but frankly that's absurd. 'Extraterrestrial Asteroid Bits' ought to go for a higher price on the collector market than gold or platinum ever would, and the temporal preeminence should draw a premium price. 'This 69 mg specimen (769 of 10,000) was one of the first commercially harvested bits of asteroid returned to Earth. Lucite embedded for permanent display, with case. Certificate of authenticity included.'"
iggychaos writes "The idea that aliens will come visit us is fundamentally flawed. Paul Tyma ponders the technology that would be required for such an event and examines how evolution of that technology would preclude any reason to actually make the trip. He writes, 'Twenty years ago if I asked you how many feet were in a mile (and you didn't know) you could go to a library and look it up. Ten years ago, you could go to a computer and google it. Today, you can literally ask your phone. It's not a stretch at all with the advent of wearable computing that coming soon - I can ask you that question and you'll instantly answer. ... How would you change if you had instant brain-level access to all information. How would you change if you were twice as smart as you are now. How about ten times as smart? (Don't answer, truth is, you're not smart enough to know). Now, let's leap ahead and think about what that looks like in 100 years. Or 1000. Or whenever it is you'll think we'd have the technology to travel to another solar system. We'd be a scant remnant of what a human looks like today. ... The question of why aliens might 'want to come here' is probably fundamentally flawed because we are forming that question from our current (tiny) viewpoint. The word 'want' might not apply at all to someone 1000 times smarter than us."
An anonymous reader writes "A study released Wednesday by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reinforces what a number of researchers have come to believe: that the STEM worker shortage is a myth. The EPI study found that the United States has 'more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.' Basic dynamics of supply and demand would dictate that if there were a domestic labor shortage, wages should have risen. Instead, researchers found, they've been flat, with many Americans holding STEM degrees unable to enter the field and a sharply higher share of foreign workers taking jobs in the information technology industry. (IT jobs make up 59 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the study.)"
hessian writes "New measurements suggest the Earth's inner core is far hotter than prior experiments suggested, putting it at 6,000C — as hot as the Sun's surface. The solid iron core is actually crystalline, surrounded by liquid. But the temperature at which that crystal can form had been a subject of long-running debate. Experiments outlined in Science used X-rays to probe tiny samples of iron at extraordinary pressures to examine how the iron crystals form and melt."
First time accepted submitter Dorianny writes in with a story about the ongoing battle over genetically engineered crops in Europe. "The European Union cannot meet its goals in agricultural policy without embracing genetically engineered crops (GMOs). That's the conclusion of scientists who write in Trends in Plant Science, a Cell Press publication, based on case studies showing that the EU is undermining its own competitiveness in the agricultural sector to its own detriment and that of its humanitarian activities in the developing world. 'Failing such a change, ultimately the EU will become almost entirely dependent on the outside world for food and feed and scientific progress, ironically because the outside world has embraced the technology which is so unpopular in Europe, realizing this is the only way to achieve sustainable agriculture,' said Paul Christou of the University of Lleida-Agrotecnio Center and Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats in Spain."
redletterdave writes "Thanks to a newly developed audio extraction technology called optical scanning, the Smithsonian was able to recover the voice of Alexander Graham Bell from one of his hundreds of discs he donated to the museum, which were once considered 'mute artifacts.' Since many of the collected recordings are very fragile due to their age and experimental nature, optical scanning is a non-invasive procedure that creates a high-resolution digital map of the disc or cylinder, which is then reconstructed and used to simulate the motion of a stylus moving through its grooves to reproduce the original audio content. Bell, who created this recording on a wax and cardboard disc on April 15, 1885, can be heard clearly saying, 'In witness whereof — hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.'"
The Bad Astronomer writes "A experiment called IceCube — consisting of sensitive light detectors buried deep in the Antarctic ice — has detected two ultra-high-energy neutrinos, each with over a peta-electronVolt of energy (a quadrillion times the energy of a visible light photon), the highest energy neutrinos ever seen. The two events, nicknamed Bert and Ernie, have a 99% chance of originating outside our galaxy, likely created either by a supermassive black hole or an exploding gamma-ray burst."
An anonymous reader writes "Back in the '60s, Bell Labs created a 'paper computer' called CARDIAC so students could learn the fundamentals of computers. Dr. Dobb's recreates the paper computer in an Excel spreadsheet and hints they will show how it gets ported to an FPGA in future installments."
sciencehabit writes "Citing an increasingly bleak outlook for federal research funding, Harvard Medical School is shutting down its major primate center, which has recently experienced the departure of several key scientists and an investigation into its handling of animals. In the announcement, which surprised many primate researchers, the school said it will not seek to renew the New England Primate Research Center's (NEPRC's) 5-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and will 'wind down operations' at the center in Southborough, Massachusetts, over the next 2 years. The center, which has a nearly 50-year history, had done groundbreaking work on an AIDS vaccine and developed animal models for diseases such as Parkinson's, among other accomplishments."
kkleiner writes "A new device will keep a liver alive outside of the human body for up to 24 hours. Developed at Oxford, the OrganOx circulates oxygenated red bloods cells and nutrients through the liver while maintaining the proper temperature. Doctors estimate that this new technique could double the number of livers available, saving the lives of thousands who die every year awaiting transplant."
An anonymous reader writes "Back in February 2010 NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory–a 3-axis stabilized satellite and fully redundant spacecraft. The aim of the SDO is to monitor solar activity and see how that impacts space weather. As part of its observations, the SDO captures an image of the Sun every 12 seconds using the onboard Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, but varies those shots across 10 different wavelengths. NASA has now collected three years worth of image data from the SDO and has put together a video letting us see the Sun spin in all its glory." If you watch closely, you can see individual frames containing the Moon and Venus.
ananyo writes "With Taiwan announcing the first case of H7N9 avian flu outside mainland China, researchers have revealed how the virus may spread in China — and beyond. The projections use risk maps developed for human infection by another, well-established avian flu — H5N1. Indeed, when human cases of H7N9 are overlaid on a risk map, they appear to fall within the highest risk areas for H5N1. The map suggests that high-risk areas for H7N9 might include Shandong province (where the first case was reported 23 April) and a belt extending around the Bohai sea to Liaoning province in the north. Though there has been no evidence of sustained human-to-human spread of H7N9 so far, researchers have analyzed airline passenger data for China. Eastern China — the epicenter of the current the H7N9 outbreak — is one of the world's busiest hubs for airline traffic. From the Nature story: 'A quarter of the global population outside of China lives within two hours of an airport with a direct flight from the outbreak regions, and 70% if a single connecting flight is included.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Matter and antimatter are thought to have existed in equal amounts at the beginning of the Universe, but today the Universe appears to be composed essentially of matter. By studying subtle differences in the behavior of particles and antiparticles, experiments at the LHC are seeking to cast light on this dominance of matter over antimatter. Now the LHCb experiment has observed a preference for matter over antimatter known as CP-violation in the decay of neutral B0s particles. The results are based on the analysis of data collected by the experiment in 2011."
astroengine writes "In a galaxy, far, far away (6 billion light-years away to be precise), the most efficient star 'factory' has been discovered. Called SDSSJ1506+54, this galaxy generates a huge quantity of infrared radiation, the majority being generated by a compact region at its core. NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer first spotted the galactic oddity and Hubble confirmed the maelstrom of stellar birthing near its core. But the most amazing thing? This galaxy is the 'greenest' factory yet discovered — it uses 100 percent of all the available hydrogen to supply the protostars, leaving no waste. 'This galaxy is remarkably efficient,' said lead scientist Jim Geach of McGill University in a NASA news release. 'It's converting its gas supply into new stars at the maximum rate thought possible.'"
MightyMait writes "A study from a team at McGill University has found Tetris to be a good treatment for lazy eye. 'Armed with a special pair of video goggles they set up an experiment that would make both eyes work as a team. Nine volunteers with amblyopia were asked to wear the goggles for an hour a day over the next two weeks while playing Tetris, the falling building block video game. The goggles allowed one eye to see only the falling objects, while the other eye could see only the blocks that accumulate on the ground in the game. For comparison, another group of nine volunteers with amblyopia wore similar goggles but had their good eye covered, and watched the whole game through only their lazy eye. At the end of the two weeks, the group who used both eyes had more improvement in their vision than the patched group (abstract).' As someone born with crossed-eyes who underwent surgery as an infant and has lived with a lazy eye his whole life (without 3-D vision), the prospect of fixing my vision by playing Tetris is an enticing one."
ananyo writes "Two dangerous things together might make a medicine for one of the hardest cancers to treat. In a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, researchers have shown that bacteria can deliver deadly radiation to tumours — exploiting the immune suppression that normally makes the disease so intractable. The researchers coated the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes with radioactive antibodies and injected the bacterium into mice with pancreatic cancer that had spread to multiple sites. After several doses, the mice that had received the radioactive bacteria had 90% fewer metastases compared with mice that had received saline or radiation alone."
new submitter heybiff writes "It is the time of year where students are scrambling for extra credit assignments to boost grades. As a middle school science teacher, I want to accommodate them, while still keeping science involved; and book reports are a popular activity in my school. Unfortunately, I have only been able to come up with a short list of science related books that a 11-14 year old would or could read in their free time: Ender's Game, Hitchhiker's Guide. What books would you recommend as a good read for an extra credit book report, that would still involve a strong science twist or inspire a student's interest in science? The book must be in print, science related, fiction or non-fiction, and not be overtly objectionable or outright banned. I look forward to the submissions." "Outright banned" actually seems a rich vein on which to draw; note that not even Ender's Game is safe.
First time accepted submitter ckwu writes "Scientists once thought that pathogens could not reach drinking water wells sunk into deep, protected groundwater aquifers. Nevertheless, over the past decade, researchers have identified diarrhea-causing viruses at a handful of deep bedrock well sites in the U.S. and Europe. Now, researchers report where these pathogenic viruses may have originated. The viruses appear to seep from sewer pipes and then swiftly penetrate drinking water wells. Experts recommend that public water systems might need to start testing for viruses on a routine basis."
ananyo writes "Activists occupied an animal facility at the University of Milan, Italy, at the weekend, releasing mice and rabbits and mixing up cage labels to confuse experimental protocols. Researchers at the university say that it will take years to recover their work. Many of the animals at the facility are genetic models for psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. Some of the mice removed by activists were delicate mutants and immunosuppressed 'nude' mice, which die very quickly outside controlled environments. No arrests have been made following the 12-hour drama, which took place on Saturday, although the university says that it will press charges against the protesters. The attack was staged by the animal-rights group that calls itself Fermare Green Hill (or Stop Green Hill), in reference to the Green Hill dog-breeding facility near Brescia, Italy, which it targets for closure."
littlesparkvt writes in with a bit from Space Industry News about Bigelow Aerospace's plans for the moon: "NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are in the initial planning phases for a moon base. 'As part of our broader commercial space strategy, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Bigelow Aerospace to foster ideas about how the private sector can contribute to future human missions,' Said David Weaver NASA Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications." Bigelow will be performing the study for free too. Robert Bigelow chatted with a radio host a few weeks ago about Bigelow's long-term space plans. They include refueling depots and a commercial moon base, since NASA isn't planning to go there.
colinneagle writes "During a recent trip to an eye doctor, I noticed that she was still using Windows XP. After I suggested that she might need to upgrade soon, she said she couldn't because she couldn't afford the $10,000 fee involved with the specialty medical software that has been upgraded for Windows 7. Software written for medical professionals is not like mass market software. They have a limited market and can't make back their money in volume because there isn't the volume for an eye doctor's database product like there is for Office or Quicken. With many expecting Microsoft's upcoming end-of-support for XP to cause a security nightmare of unsupported Windows devices in the wild, it seems a good time to ask how many users may fall into the category of wanting an upgrade, but being priced out by expensive but necessary third-party software. More importantly, can anything be done about it?"
coondoggie writes "IBM today said its researchers are developing a solar power system that concentrates solar radiation 2,000 times by using a human-blood supply modeled way of cooling and converting 80% of Sun's heat into useful energy. IBM says the system can also desalinate water and cool air in sunny, remote locations where such systems are often in short supply."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Samsung is testing a way to control your mobile device with your brainwaves. If that project succeeds, it would truly be a case of science fiction brought to real life. According to MIT Technology Review, Samsung's Emerging Technology Lab is collaborating with Roozbeh Jafari, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas, Dallas, on the early-stage research. That research involves placing a cap 'studded with EEG-monitoring electrodes' atop the head of a convenient subject, who then concentrates on an onscreen icon blinking at a particular rate. Concentrate hard enough, and the subject can launch and interact with applications. However, Samsung also indicated that mind-controlled mobile devices are quite a ways off, if they ever appear in a market-ready form at all. 'Several years ago, a small keypad was the only input modality to control the phone, but nowadays the user can use voice, touch, gesture, and eye movement to control and interact with mobile devices,' Insoo Kim, Samsung's lead researcher, told the Review. 'Adding more input modalities will provide us with more convenient and richer ways of interacting with mobile devices.' In any case, it's a crazy concept, the sort of thing Philip K. Dick might have written up as a short story; but it's one evidently grounded in reality."
An anonymous reader writes "A single equation grounded in basic physics principles could describe intelligence and stimulate new insights in fields as diverse as finance and robotics, according to new research, reports Inside Science. Recent work in cosmology has suggested that universes that produce more entropy (or disorder) over their lifetimes tend to have more favorable properties for the existence of intelligent beings such as ourselves. A new study (pdf) in the journal Physical Review Letters led by Harvard and MIT physicist Alex Wissner-Gross suggests that this tentative connection between entropy production and intelligence may in fact go far deeper. In the new study, Dr. Wissner-Gross shows that remarkably sophisticated human-like "cognitive" behaviors such as upright walking, tool use, and even social cooperation (video) spontaneously result from a newly identified thermodynamic process that maximizes entropy production over periods of time much shorter than universe lifetimes, suggesting a potential cosmology-inspired path towards general artificial intelligence."
After high winds (up to 140mph) delayed yesterday's scheduled launch (itself a re-do because of a cabling problem), Orbital Science's Antares rocket has made it to space. This launch was a test run, but Antares is intended to launch supplies to the ISS. Space.com reports: "The third try was the charm for the private Antares rocket, which launched into space from a new pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, its twin engines roaring to life at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) to carry a mock cargo ship out over the Atlantic Ocean and into orbit. The successful liftoff came after two delays caused by a minor mechanical glitch and bad weather." Congratulations to all involved.
hessian writes with a story at Wired (excerpt below) about a project from Drew Endy of the International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology, or BIOFAB, to standardize a programming language connecting genetic information from DNA to the cell components that DNA can create. "The BIOFAB project is still in the early stages. Endy and the team are creating the most basic of building blocks — the 'grammar' for the language. Their latest achievement, recently reported in the journal Science, has been to create a way of controlling and amplifying the signals sent from the genome to the cell. Endy compares this process to an old fashioned telegraph. 'If you want to send a telegraph from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the signals would get degraded along the wire,' he says. "At some point, you have to have a relay system that would detect the signals before they completely went to noise and then amplify them back up to keep sending them along their way.""
Shipud writes "E.O. Wilson is the renowned father of sociobiology, a professor (emeritus) at Harvard, two time pulitzer prize winner, and a popularizer of science. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Wilson provides controversial advice to aspiring young scientists. Wilson claims that math literacy is not essential, and that scientific models in biology, intuitively generated, can later be formalized by a specialized statistician. One blogger calls out Wilson on his article, arguing that knowing mathematics is essential to generating models, and that lacking what Darwin called the "extra sense" is essentially limiting to any scientist."
The Washington Post reports that concerns about high winds have postponed until tomorrow evening the launch of Orbital Science's Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. When the rocket finally launches, it should be a spectacular event for the region: "Clear skies should allow viewing of the 133-foot rocket throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic – including the Washington, D.C. area. Assuming technical issues don’t delay or abort the launch, look southeast and the rocket will be viewable about 10 degrees above the horizon in the Washington area at 5 p.m. 6:10 p.m."
alostpacket writes "The New York times reports that statistical scoring by the standardized testing company Pearson incorrectly disqualified over 4700 students from a chance to enter gifted / advanced programs in New York City schools. Only students who score in the 90th percentile or above are eligible for these programs. Those in the 97th or above are eligible for 5 of the best programs. 'According to Pearson, three mistakes were made. Students' ages, which are used to calculate their percentile ranking against students of similar age, were recorded in years and months, but should also have counted days to be precise. Incorrect scoring tables were used. And the formula used to combine the two test parts into one percentile ranking contained an error.' No mention of enlisting the help of the gifted children was made in the Times article, but it also contained a now-corrected error. This submission likely also contains an erro"
Florida today reports that cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov on Friday became the oldest person to have completed a spacewalk. From the article: "Working outside the Russian side of the international outpost, Vinogradov and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko put in six hours and 38 minutes of high-flying maintenance work. They set up a plasma physics experiment and retrieved a package that exposed advanced spacecraft materials to the deleterious space environment. They also replaced a reflector that is part of an autonomous rendezvous and docking system that will guide a robotic European space freighter to the station in early June." NASASpaceFlight.com has more details on the spacewalk, as well as the note that Vinogradov edges out "Story Musgrave, who was 58 when he flew the Hubble SM-1 mission in 1993."
damn_registrars writes "The lobe-finned fish described as a 'living fossil' due to its apparent lack of change for hundreds of millions of years (thought to be extinct until the 1930s) has been sequenced by an international team, including scientists from Sweden, Harvard, and MIT. The 3-billion-base-pair genome of the Coelacanth was described yesterday in the journal Nature. This paper is published in an open (non-paywalled) manner on Nature, making the full text available to all. 'We found that the genes overall are evolving significantly slower than in every other fish and land vertebrate that we looked at.'"
sciencehabit writes "When Superstorm Sandy struck the United States on 30 October, it didn't just devastate the Eastern Seaboard, it shook the ground as far away as the West Coast, producing tiny vibrations in Earth's crust that were picked up by seismometers there. Scientists can use this activity to track the path of the storm. Now, they say that analyzing past records of these vibrations may help them discern whether climate change has influenced the amount of storminess over the world's oceans in recent decades."
ananyo writes "Researchers have tagged every single worker in entire colonies and used a computer to track them, accumulating what they say is the largest-ever data set on ant interactions. The biologists have found that the workers fall into three social groups that perform different roles: nursing the queen and young; cleaning the colony; and foraging for food. The insects, they found, tend to graduate from one group to another as they age. By creating heat maps to represent the workers’ positions, Mersch's team showed that nurses and foragers stick to their own company and seldom mix, even if the colony’s entrance and brood chamber are close together (abstract). Cleaners are more widely dispersed, patrolling the whole colony and interacting with both of the other groups. 'The ants can probably be in any place within their enclosures in less than a minute,' says Mersch, 'but even in these simple spaces, they organize into these spatial groups.'"
astroengine writes "About 1,200 light-years from Earth, five planets are circling around sun-like star Kepler-62, two of which are fortuitously positioned for water, if any exists, to remain liquid on their surfaces — a condition believed to be necessary for life. The discovery, made by scientists using NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, is the strongest evidence yet for more than one Earth-sized planet existing in a star's so-called 'habitable' zone. 'We're particularly delighted to find that there are two planets in the habitable zone,' lead Kepler scientist William Borucki, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. 'It sort of doubles our chances of finding that Earth we'd all like to find. When you think about Earth and Mars, if Mars had been a bit larger, if Jupiter hadn't been so close, we'd again have two planets in the habitable zone and maybe we'd have a place to go,' he said." There's also a third planet believed to be a good candidate for hosting water.
Famous for his work in math, astronomy, nuclear engineering, and theoretical physics, Freeman Dyson has left his mark on almost every scientific discipline. He's won countless awards, and written numerous books on a wide range of topics both scientific and philosophical. One of his biggest contributions to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. 10 years after moving to the U.S. he started working on the Orion Project, which sought to create a spacecraft with a nuclear propulsion system. STNG exposed the idea of a Dyson sphere to the masses, and his hypothetical plan for making a comet habitable with the help of genetically-engineered plants is a personal favorite. Mr. Dyson has graciously agreed give us a bit of his time in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
astroengine writes "World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has announced that he was likely wrong about his view that the Higgs boson doesn't exist — an outcome he doesn't find very exciting — conceding that he lost a $100 wager. Speaking at the Beckman Auditorium in Caltech, Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday (April 16), the British physicist gave a public lecture on 'The Origins of the Universe,' summarizing new revelations in modern astrophysics and cosmology. After the lecture, Caltech physicist and colleague John Preskill commented on Hawking's fondness for placing bets when faced with conflicts of physics ideas. Hawking lost a famous wager to Preskill in 2004 in a debate over whether or not black holes destroy information (theory suggests they do not, opposing Hawking's argument). 'To love Stephen Hawking is to not always agree with Stephen Hawking,' Preskill quipped. 'He's usually right, but he's not always right. Sometimes we haven't been able to resolve our differences and we've resorted to making bets it's sad to say that although Stephen Hawking is without doubt a great scientist, he's a bad gambler.'"
olsmeister writes "Hydrogen Sulfide is a toxic, flammable, foul-smelling gas that some theorize may have been at least partially responsible for some of Earth's mass extinctions, including the Permian-Triassic event, which killed well over half of the species on the planet. Now, thanks to a fortuitous accident, doctoral student at the University of Washington seems to have discovered that very low doses of the gas seems to greatly enhance plant growth, causing plants to germinate more quickly and grow larger. The finding could have far reaching implications for both food and biofuel production."
An anonymous reader writes "This evening's planned launch of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket had to be canceled just 12 minutes before liftoff, due to the unexpected separation of the booster's umbilical cable while the vehicle was on the launch pad. This is the first attempt to fly the Antares rocket, which is a commercial craft and direct competitor to the SpaceX Dragon 9. Beyond being the first flight of a brand new commercial rocket, this mission is also notable for carrying three of NASA's PhoneSats; small satellites powered by Android running on Nexus smartphones. With each PhoneSat costing just $3,500, they're designed to test the limits of extremely low cost spacecraft, similar to the European STRaND-1 mission. Since this is simply an orbital test, and the Antares will not be attempting to dock with the International Space Station, the launch window is highly flexible. It's anticipated Orbital Sciences will make another attempt at launching the Antares within 48 hours."
ananyo writes "Paul Steinhardt, an astrophysicist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and colleagues have posted a controversial paper on ArXiv arguing, based on the latest Higgs data and the cosmic microwave background map from the Planck mission, that the leading theory explaining the first moments of the Big Bang ('inflation') is fatally flawed. In short, Steinhardt says that the models that best fit the Planck data — known as 'plateau models' because their potential-energy profiles level off at relatively low energies — are far less likely to occur naturally than the models that Planck ruled out. Secondly, he says, the news for these plateau models gets dramatically worse when the results are analyzed in conjunction with the latest results about the Higgs field coming from CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Particle physicists working at the LHC have calculated that the Higgs field is likely to have started out in a high-energy, 'metastable' state rather than in a stable, low-energy configuration. Steinhardt likens the odds of the Higgs field initially being perched in the precarious metastable state as to those of dropping out of the sky over the Matterhorn and conveniently landing in a 'dimple near the top,' rather than crashing down to the mountain's base."
sciencehabit writes "Put a fruit fly larva in a spacelike vacuum, and the results aren't pretty. Within a matter of minutes, the animal will collapse into a crinkled, lifeless husk. Now, researchers have found a way to protect the bugs: Bombard them with electrons, which form a 'nano-suit' around their bodies. The advance could help scientists take high-resolution photographs of tiny living organisms. It also suggests a new way that creatures could survive the harsh conditions of outer space and may even lead to new space travel technology for humans." Work is also being done on electron "suits" that protect against radiation.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has robot competitions all over the United States. FIRST was founded by inventor Dean Kamen. According to Wikipedia he has said that the FIRST competition is the invention he is most proud of, and he predicts that the 1 million students who have taken part in the contests so far will be responsible for some significant technological advances in years to come. In any case, Robert Rozeboom (samzenpus) was at the Michigan FIRST championship with camcorder in hand, and brought back some great shots of robots at work -- or maybe play. They fired off volleys of Frisbee-like discs, ran into each other, and climbed metal pyramids, either independently or under the control of their human masters. There was a pretty good crowd in the stands, too, to cheer on the robots. Or more likely, to cheer on the robots' human masters, since we're not yet at the point where robot masters invite their robot friends to competitions where they show off their humans.
DoctorBit writes "MIT Technology Review is running a story about an arXiv paper in which geneticists Alexei A. Sharov and Richard Gordon propose that life as we know it originated 9.7 billion years ago. The researchers estimated the genetic complexity of phyla in the paleontological record by counting the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides in typical genomes of modern day descendants of each phylum. When plotting genetic complexity against time, the researchers found that genetic complexity increases exponentially, just as with Moore's law, but with a doubling rate of about once every 376 million years. Extrapolating backwards, the researchers estimate that life began about 4 billion years after the universe formed and evolved the first bacteria just before the Earth was formed. One might image that the supernova debris that formed the early solar system could have included bacteria-bearing chunks of rock from doomed planets circling supernova progenitor stars. If true, this retro-prediction has some interesting consequences in partly resolving the Fermi Paradox. Another interesting consequence for those attempting to recreate life's origins in a lab: bacteria may have evolved under conditions very different from those on earth."
ananyo writes with this bit about lab grown organs from Nature: "Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have fitted rats with kidneys that were grown in a lab from stripped-down kidney scaffolds. When transplanted, these 'bioengineered' organs starting filtering the rodents' blood and making urine. The team, led by organ-regeneration specialist Harald Ott, started with the kidneys of recently deceased rats and used detergent to strip away the cells, leaving behind the underlying scaffold of connective tissues such as the structural components of blood vessels. They then regenerated the organ by seeding this scaffold with two cell types: human umbilical-vein cells to line the blood vessels, and kidney cells from newborn rats to produce the other tissues that make up the organ (paper)."
ananyo writes "Sediment in a deep-sea core may hold radioactive iron spewed by a distant supernova 2.2 million years ago and preserved in the fossilized remains of iron-loving bacteria. If confirmed, the iron traces would be the first biological signature of a specific exploding star. Scientists have found the isotope iron-60, which does not form on Earth, in a sediment core from the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, dating to between about 1.7 million and 3.3 million years ago. The iron-60, which appears in layers dated to around 2.2 million years ago, could be the remains of magnetite chains formed by bacteria on the sea floor as radioactive supernova debris showered on them from the atmosphere, after crossing inter-stellar space at nearly the speed of light."
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) director Jamie Love -- formally James Packard Love -- is the brain behind the "$1 a day" HIV drugs that have saved millions of lives in Africa and other poor parts of the world. Basically, he went around asking, "How much would it cost to make this HIV medication if the patent cost was removed?" At first, no one could answer. After a while, the answer came: Less than $1 a day. At that price, the Bush administration set up a massive program to deliver generic anti-HIV drugs to Africa. Jamie also works on copyright issues, boosts free software (he's a Linux user/evangelist and had more than a little to do with the Microsoft antitrust suit), and generally tries to make the international knowledge ecology more accessible and more useful for everyone, especially those who aren't rich. Or necessarily even prosperous. He's a smart guy (read the Wikipedia entry linked above), but more than that he's bullheaded. Jamie has worked on some of his initiatives for years, even decades. In many cases you can't say, "He hasn't succeeded," without adding "yet" on the end. (You'll understand that statement better after you watch the video, which we broke into two parts because it is far longer than our typical video interview.)
massivepanic writes "Unlike most natural disasters, earthquakes strike without warning. Between large quakes and resulting tsunamis, millions of lives have been lost because science has been unable to provide accurate, useful earthquake predictions. Stellar Solutions' QuakeFinder Division hopes it can develop the tools to dramatically reduce this loss of life. Its network of over 100 sophisticated sensor stations has detected patterns of electromagnetic pulses several days before a number of different earthquakes, moving the possibility of earthquake prediction closer to reality."