jones_supa writes "GNU Octave — the open source numerical computation suite compatible with MATLAB — is doing very well. The new 3.8 release is a big change, as it brings a graphical user interface, a feature which has long been requested by users. It is peppered with OpenGL acceleration and uses the super fast FLTK toolkit for widgets. The CLI interface still remains available and GNUplot is used as a fallback in cases where OpenGL or FLTK support is not available. Other changes to Octave 3.8 are support for nested functions with scoping rules, limited support for named exceptions, new regular expressions, a TeX parser for the FLTK toolkit, overhauls to many of the m-files, function rewrites, and numerous other changes and bug fixes."
An anonymous reader writes "This week, NASA released the results of its Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration's (LLCD) 30-day test carried out by its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) that is currently in orbit around the Moon. According to the space agency, the LLCD mission proved that laser communications are practical at a distance of a quarter of a million miles and that such a system could perform as well, if not better, than any NASA radio system."
An anonymous reader writes "IEEE Spectrum reports on a rover design being developed at NASA Ames Research Center: Super Ball Bot. The premise is that the rover's brain and scientific equipment would be suspended in the center of a structure made of rigid rods and elastic cables. The rods and cables would be deformable, allowing the rover to roll over complex terrain without damage. This design would be ideal for exploring a place like Saturn's moon Titan. Its atmosphere is thick enough that a probe could drop the rover from 100km above the surface, and it would survive the fall without a parachute. 'In a scenario studied by the team (PDF), the robot could be collapsed to a very compact configuration for launch. Once it reaches the moon, it would pop open and drop to the surface, flexing and absorbing the force of impact. By shortening and lengthening the cables that connect its rigid components, the ball bot could then roll about the surface. These same cables could be used to pull back parts of the robot, so that science instruments at the center could be exposed and used.'"
Lucas123 writes "After 3D printing has produced ears, skin grafts and even retina cells that could be built up and eventually used to replace defective eye tissue, researchers expect to be able to produce the first functioning organ next year. The organ, a liver, would not be for the purpose of human implant — that will take years to complete clinical trials and pass FDA review. Instead, the liver would initially be for development and testing of pharmaceuticals. The field of 3D printing known as organs on a chip, will greatly increase the accuracy and speed of drug development and testing, researchers say. The company producing the liver, Organovo, has overcome a major stumbling block that faces the creation of any organ: printing the vascular system needed to provide it with life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients. Typically, 3D printed tissue dies in the petri dish before it can even be used because of that. 'We have achieved thicknesses of greater than 500 microns, and have maintained liver tissue in a fully functional state with native phenotypic behavior for at least 40 days,' said Mike Renard, Organovo's executive vice president of commercial operations."
cold fjord writes in with this story about some new possible applications for metamaterials. "A new way of assembling things, called metamaterials, may in the not too distant future help to protect a building from earthquakes by bending seismic waves around it. Similarly, tsunami waves could be bent around towns, and sound waves bent around a room to make it soundproof. ... Metamaterials are simply materials that exhibit properties not found in nature, such as the way they absorb or reflect light. The key is in how they're made. By assembling the material — from photonic crystals to wire and foam — at a scale smaller than the length of the wave you're seeking to manipulate, the wave can, in theory, be bent to will. ... Ong and others say ... they could be used to redirect other kinds of waves, including mechanical waves such as sound and ocean waves. French researchers earlier this year, for example, diverted seismic waves around specially placed holes in the ground, reflecting the waves backward. Ong points to the possibility of using what has been learned in reconfiguring the geometry of materials to divert tsunamis from strategic buildings.'"
First time accepted submitter Stinky Cheese Man writes "An Antarctic climate research expedition, led by climate researcher Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales, has become trapped in heavy ice near the coast of Antarctica. The captain has issued a distress call and three nearby icebreaker ships are on their way to the rescue. According to Turney's web site, the purpose of the expedition is 'to discover and communicate the environmental changes taking place in the south.'"
cold fjord writes with an excerpt from The Atlantic's profile of Dr. Pat McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who has what sounds like a fascinating job: decoding ancient clues about what (and how) humans in the distant past were brewing and drinking. "'We always start with infrared spectrometry,' he says. 'That gives us an idea of what organic materials are preserved.' From there, it's on to tandem liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, sometimes coupled with ion cyclotron resonance, and solid-phase micro-extraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The end result? A beer recipe. Starting with a few porous clay shards or tiny bits of resin-like residue from a bronze cup, McGovern is able to determine what some ancient Norseman or Etruscan or Shang dynast was drinking." The article points out that McGovern has collaborated with the Dogfish Head brewery to reproduce in modern form six of these ancient recipes.
Taco Cowboy writes "Perhaps it's not much, but China has released a panoramic view of the moonscape where their lander has landed. They 'stitched' up some 60 photos taken by 3 cameras on the Chang'e 3 lander, taken from 3 different angles — Vertical, 15 degrees up, and 15 degrees down. From the picture, there is a significant sized crater is seen, several meters wide, off to the left of Yutu, the (jade rabbit) moon rover, and located only about 10 meters away from the Chang'e-3 lander."
sciencehabit writes "Earth's orbital variations—the wobbling and nodding of the planet on its rotational axis and the rhythmic elongation of the shape of its orbit—can affect the shape of the sea floor, according to new research. Scientists already knew that orbital variations, which are driven by gravitational interactions among solar system bodies, pace the comings and goings of the ice ages by shifting where sunlight falls on Earth. Now, researchers have shown in a computer model that those pressure variations should vary the amount of mantle rock that melts kilometers beneath midocean ridges. That, in turn, would vary the amount of ocean crust that solidifies from the melted rock, changing the thickness of new crust by as much as a kilometer as it slides down either side of a midocean ridge. And the group found that indeed, on the Juan de Fuca Ridge offshore of the Pacific Northwest, the ocean floor is grooved like a vinyl LP record in time with Earth's orbital variations of the past million years."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "AP reports that standing by a part of the Apollo 8 spacecraft he once rode, retired astronaut James Lovell read the 1968 Christmastime broadcast from the day he and two others became the first humans to orbit the moon marking the 45th anniversary of the orbit and the famous broadcast. 'The idea of bringing people together by a flight to the moon where we encompassed everybody in our thoughts is still very valid today,' says Lovell. 'The words that we read are very appropriate.' Millions tuned in on Dec. 24, 1968, when Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Lovell circled the moon. A television camera on board took footage of the crater-filled surface as the astronauts read Bible verses describing the creation of Earth. They circled 10 times and began reading from the Book of Genesis on the last orbit. 'It's a foundation of Christianity, Judaism and Islam,' Lovell said of choosing Genesis. 'It is the foundation of most of the world's religions. ... They all had that basis of the Old Testament.' Lovell says at the time the astronauts weren't sure who would be listening and how the broadcast would be taken. The famous "Earthrise" photo was also taken during the mission. Lovell closed with the same message the astronauts did in 1968. 'From the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.'"
A new study has been published in Nature Geoscience (abstract) detailing how scientists correctly anticipated the location and strength of an earthquake earlier this year. On September 5th, a 7.6 earthquake rocked Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula. That region had seen earthquakes of (roughly) magnitude 7 in 1853, 1900, and 1950, so "geoscientists had forecast that a magnitude 7.7 to 7.8 quake should occur around the year 2000, plus or minus 20 years." "The Nicoya Peninsula is prone to earthquakes because it's an area of subduction, where the Cocos Plate is pushing underneath the Caribbean Plate, moving at a rate of about 8.5 centimeters per year. When regions such as this suddenly slip, they produce a megathrust earthquake. Most of the world's largest earthquakes — including the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki quake in Japan in 2011 and the magnitude 9.15 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in 2004, both of which produced devastating tsunamis — fall into this category. .. The close study of this region allowed scientists to calculate how much strain was building in the fault and in May 2012 they published a study in which they identified two locked spots capable of producing an earthquake similar to the one in 1950. In September of that year, the landward patch ruptured and produced the earthquake. The offshore one is still locked and capable of producing a substantial but smaller earthquake, an aftershock with a magnitude as high as 6.9, the researchers say."
astroengine writes "Through the technique of microlensing, a candidate exomoon has been discovered in orbit around a free-floating planet about 1,600 light-years away toward the galactic bulge. The microlensing event, MOA-2011-BLG-262, was detected by the MOA-II telescope at Mt. John University Observatory (MJUO) in New Zealand and it appears to have a mass of approximately half that of Earth. The host planet is around 4 times the mass of Jupiter. Unfortunately there cannot be further studies of his particular exoplanet-exomoon pair (as microlensing events are transient and random), so the astronomers who made the discovery are remaining cautious and point out that although the exoplanet-exomoon model fits the data the best, there's a possibility that the lensing object may have been a more distant star with a massive exoplanet in tow. Microlensing surveys are, however, sensitive to low mass exoplanets orbiting massive free-floating planets, so this is a tantalizing first-detection. The study's pre-print publication has been uploaded to the arXiv."
ananyo writes "In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, unhappy lovers undergo an experimental brain treatment to erase all memories of each other from their minds. No such fix exists for real-life couples, but researchers report in Nature Neuroscience that a targeted medical intervention helps to reduce specific negative memories in patients who are depressed. The technique, called electroconvulsive (ECT) or electroshock therapy, induces seizures by passing current into the brain through electrode pads placed on the scalp. Despite its sometimes negative reputation, ECT is an effective last-resort treatment for severe depression, and is used today in combination with anaesthesia and muscle relaxants. Marijn Kroes, a neuroscientist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and his colleagues found that by strategically timing ECT bursts, they could target and disrupt patients' memory of a disturbing episode."
Ars Technica reports that the next planned spacewalk in the continuing repairs of the International Space Station's ammonia pump has been delayed, because of problems with the spacesuit worn by astronaut Rick Mastracchio. From the article: "According to Deutsche Welle, the problem is with how the sublimator (a cooling unit) in Mastracchio's suit operated when entering ISS airlock. NASA said the question is whether water entered the sublimator at that time. 'During repressurization of the station's airlock following the spacewalk, a spacesuit configuration issue put the suit Mastracchio was wearing in question for the next excursion,' NASA said in a statement. Delaying the next steps of the valve replacement from Monday until Tuesday will give NASA time to address the issue. Mastracchio is scheduled to wear a backup suit and needs this time to have it resized."
The BBC reports that researchers have discovered a huge pool of meltwater beneath Greenland's ice sheet, trapped "in the air space between particles of ice, similar to the way that fruit juice stays liquid in a slush drink." From the article, based on research published in Nature Geoscience (abstract): "The scientists say the water is prevented from freezing by the large amounts of snow that fall on the surface of the ice sheet late in the summer. This insulates the water from the air temperatures which are below freezing, allowing the water to persist as liquid all year long. Other researchers believe this discovery may help explain disparities between projections of mass loss by climate models and observations from satellites."
An anonymous reader writes: "I hope there are a few open source developers on Slashdot who understand this. As a developer who works alone and remotely (while living with my own family) — and is schizophrenic — there would be times I would feel very high (a surge of uncontrollable thoughts), or low because of the kind of failures that some patients with mental illness would have, and because of the emotional difficulty of being physically alone for 8 hours a day. This led me to decide to work physically together with my co-workers. Have you been in this situation before? If you have, how well did you manage it? (Medications are a part of the therapy as well.)"
The ISS crew can breathe a little easier now; the NY Times reports that the ammonia pump repair that the station has needed has now been partly completed, and in less time than expected. More work is scheduled, but, says The Times: "The astronauts, Col. Michael S. Hopkins of the Air Force and Richard A. Mastracchio, were far ahead of schedule throughout the spacewalk as they detached tubing and electrical connectors from the pump. They were able to remove the 780-pound module and move it to a temporary storage location, a task that had been scheduled for a second spacewalk on Monday. ... Colonel Hopkins and Mr. Mastracchio stepped out of an airlock at 7:01 a.m. Eastern time, and even though they accomplished more than they had set out to do, they were able to return at 12:29 p.m., an hour earlier than had been scheduled. The two encountered few complications." Ars Technica has video, too.
TrueSatan writes "Physicians at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris have inserted a heart made by the French Carmat company. The heart features bovine tissue components used to reduce the clot forming tendencies of fully artificial units and is intended to allow greater freedom of movement to the patient than previous, short-term use, units permitted. It is powered by external, wearable, lithium-ion batteries and is approximately three times heavier than a typical (European) human heart, though the manufacturer intends to reduce the weight and size of the unit so as to allow use by smaller recipients — in particular most women and men from areas of the world where average body size is less than white/Caucasian averages."
astroengine writes "Despite the assurances that the holes seen in Mars rover Curiosity's wheels were just a part of the mission, there seems to be increasing concern for the wheels' worsening condition after the one-ton robot rolled over some craggy terrain. In an upcoming drive, rover drivers will monitor the six wheels over some smooth terrain to assess their condition. "We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," said Jim Erickson, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 'Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so.' Although the wheels are designed to sustain significant damage without impairing driving activities, the monitoring of the situation is essential for future planning."
mrspoonsi sends this news from Scientific American: "The difference between HIV infection and full-blown AIDS is, in large part, the massive die-off of the immune system's CD4 T-cells. But researchers have only observed the virus killing a small portion of those cells, leading to a longstanding question: What makes the other cells disappear? New research shows that the body is killing its own cells in a little-known process. What's more, an existing, safe drug could interrupt that self-destruction, thereby offering a way to treat AIDS. The destructive process has caught scientists by surprise. 'We thought HIV infects a cell, sets up a virus production factory and then the cell dies as a consequence of being overwhelmed by virus. But there are not enough factories to explain the massive losses,' says Warner Greene, director of virology and immunology at the Gladstone Institutes, whose team published two papers today in Science and Nature describing the work. Greene estimates 95 percent of the cells that die in HIV infections are killed through pyroptosis, so the findings raise hope for a new type of treatment that could prevent HIV from progressing into AIDS. 'Inhibiting activation of the immune system is not a new concept, but this gives us a new pathway to target,' says Robert Gallo. And in fact, a drug already exists that can block pyroptosis."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Research scientists could learn an important thing or two from computer scientists, according to a new study (abstract) showing that data underpinning even groundbreaking research tends to disappear over time. Researchers also disappear, though more slowly and only in terms of the email addresses and the other public contact methods that other scientists would normally use to contact them. Almost all the data supporting studies published during the past two years is still available, as are at least some of the researchers, according to a study published Dec. 19 in the journal Current Biology. The odds that supporting data is still available for studies published between 2 years and 22 years ago drops 17 percent every year after the first two. The odds of finding a working email address for the first, last or corresponding author of a paper also dropped 7 percent per year, according to the study, which examined the state of data from 516 studies between 2 years and 22 years old. Having data available from an original study is critical for other scientists wanting to confirm, replicate or build on previous research – goals that are core parts of the evolutionary, usually self-correcting dynamic of the scientific method on which nearly all modern research is based. No matter how invested in their own work, scientists appear to be 'poor stewards' of their own work, the study concluded."
retroworks sends word that a group of researchers has found a chemical that successfully rejuvenated muscle tissue in mice. The scientists "said it was the equivalent of transforming a 60-year-old's muscle to that of a 20-year-old — but muscle strength did not improve." The study (abstract) is being called an "exciting finding" but the researchers are quick to point out the chemical only reverses one aspect of aging. Damage to DNA and shortening of telomeres continues. Still, it's one piece of the puzzle, and the group is hoping to begin clinical trials in 2015.
The Bad Astronomer writes "On December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts saw the Earth rising over the limb of the Moon. The photo they took of this moment — dubbed Earthrise — has become an icon of our need to explore, and to protect our home world. NASA has just released a video explaining how the astronauts were able to capture this unique moment, which included a dash of both coincidence and fast teamwork."
KentuckyFC writes "The universe today is filled with beautiful spiral galaxies — but it hasn't always been this way. In the early universe, there were no spiral galaxies, raising an interesting question: when did galaxies get their spirals, and how did they emerge? Now astronomers have the answer, thanks to an analysis of galaxies in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope known as the Ultra Deep Field. This shows some 10,000 galaxies of various ages. By ordering a subset of these by type and by age, astronomers have worked out how and when spirals must have evolved. It turns out the first spiral galaxies were simple two-armed structures and appeared when the universe was about 3.8 billion years old. But they say the universe had to wait until it was 8 billion years old before more complex multi-armed galaxies emerged, like the Milky Way and Andromeda."
hawkinspeter writes "The BBC is reporting that China has rejected 545,000 tons of U.S. corn that was found to contain an unapproved genetically modified strain. Although China doesn't have a problem per se with GM crops (they've been importing GM soybeans since 1997) — but their product safety agency found MIR162 in 12 batches of corn. 'The safety evaluation process [for MIR162] has not been completed and no imports are allowed at the moment before the safety certificate is issued,' said Nui Din, China's vice agricultural minister. The Chinese are now calling on U.S. authorities to tighten their controls to prevent unapproved strains from being sent to China after the first batch of corn was rejected in November due to MIR162."
MarkWhittington writes "With the Chang'e 3 and its rover Jade Rabbit safely ensconced on the lunar surface, the question arises: is it time to start dividing up the moon and its resources? It may well be an issue by the middle of the current century. With China expressing interest in exploiting lunar resources and a number of private companies, such Moon Express, working for the same goal, a mechanism for who gets what is something that needs looking into. Moon Daily quotes a Russian official as suggesting that it can all be done in a civilized manner, through international agreements. On the other hand, law professor and purveyor of Instapundit Glenn Reynolds suggests that China might spark a moon race by having a private company claim at least parts of the moon. 'International cooperation will certainly rule supreme while there are no economic interests, while it is not clear where commercial profits lie. Scientists can't help communicating with each other and sharing ideas.'"
mrspoonsi writes "BBC Reports: 'Europe has launched the Gaia satellite — one of the most ambitious space missions in history. The 740m-euro (£620m) observatory lifted off from the Sinnamary complex in French Guiana at 06:12 local time (09:12 GMT). Gaia is going to map the precise positions and distances to more than a billion stars. This should give us the first realistic picture of how our Milky Way galaxy is constructed. Gaia's remarkable sensitivity will lead also to the detection of many thousands of previously unseen objects, including new planets and asteroids. Gaia will use this ultra-stable and supersensitive optical equipment to pinpoint its sample of stars with extraordinary confidence. By repeatedly viewing its targets over five years, it should get to know the brightest stars' coordinates down to an error of just seven micro-arcseconds. "This angle is equivalent to the size of a euro coin on the Moon as seen from Earth," explained Prof Alvaro Gimenez, Esa's director of science.'"
cold fjord writes "UPI reports, 'Eighty percent of scientific data are lost within two decades, disappearing into old email addresses and obsolete storage devices, a Canadian study (abstract, article paywalled) indicated. The finding comes from a study tracking the accessibility of scientific data over time, conducted at the University of British Columbia. Researchers attempted to collect original research data from a random set of 516 studies published between 1991 and 2011. While all data sets were available two years after publication, the odds of obtaining the underlying data dropped by 17 per cent per year after that, they reported. "Publicly funded science generates an extraordinary amount of data each year," UBC visiting scholar Tim Vines said. "Much of these data are unique to a time and place, and is thus irreplaceable, and many other data sets are expensive to regenerate.' — More at The Vancouver Sun and Smithsonian."
astroengine writes "New measurements of the electron have confirmed, to the smallest precision attainable, that it has a perfect roundness. This may sounds nice for the little electron, but to one of the big physics theories beyond the standard model, it's very bad news. 'We know the Standard Model does not encompass everything,' said physicist David DeMille, of Yale University and the ACME collaboration, in a press release. 'Like our LHC colleagues, we're trying to see something in the lab that's different from what the Standard Model predicts.' Should supersymmetrical particles exist, they should have a measurable effect on the electron's dipole moment. But as ACME's precise measurements show, the electron still has zero dipole moment (as predicted by the standard model) and is likely very close to being perfectly round. Unfortunately for the theory of supersymmetry, this is yet another blow."
Nerval's Lobster writes "The comparatively recent addition of supercomputing to the toolbox of biomedical research may already have paid off in a big way: Researchers have used a bio-specialized supercomputer to identify a molecular 'switch' that might be used to turn off bad behavior by pathogens. They're now trying to figure out what to do with that discovery by running even bigger tests on the world's second-most-powerful supercomputer. The 'switch' is a pair of amino acids called Phe396 that helps control the ability of the E. coli bacteria to move under its own power. Phe396 sits on a chemoreceptor that extends through the cell wall, so it can pass information about changes in the local environment to proteins on the inside of the cell. Its role was discovered by a team of researchers from the University of Tennessee and the ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences using a specialized supercomputer called Anton, which was built specifically to simulate biomolecular interactions among proteins and other molecules to give researchers a better way to study details of how molecules interact. 'For decades proteins have been viewed as static molecules, and almost everything we know about them comes from static images, such as those produced with X-ray crystallography,' according to Igor Zhulin, a researcher at ORNL and professor of microbiology at UT, in whose lab the discovery was made. 'But signaling is a dynamic process, which is difficult to fully understand using only snapshots.'"
sciencehabit writes "In a report on the most complete genome of a Neandertal ever sequenced, an international team of researchers has found that the parents of a Neandertal woman from Siberia were as closely related as half-siblings. The genome also shows that at some point the Neandertals interbred with other human groups, including their cousins the Denisovans, and our own modern human ancestors. There are even signs of Denisovans interbreeding with a mysterious archaic species. In all, the study suggests very close encounters among the several kinds of hominins living in the past 125,000 years. The detailed genome of the extinct Neandertals—our closest relatives—also offers a new look at the genetic differences that set our species apart from all the others."
coondoggie writes "In its annual look at what challenges NASA faces in the coming year, the agency's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) this year outlined nine key areas it says will cause the most angina. Leading the way in pain is money. NASA's current money story starts off bad and just gets worse. From the article: '"Along with the rest of the Federal Government, NASA began FY 2013 under a 6-month continuing resolution that funded the Agency at FY 2012 levels. This was followed by a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that reduced the Agency's enacted funding level of $17. 5 billion by $626.5 million, or approximately 4% due to sequestration. These financial pressures look to repeat themselves in FY 2014, with no annual budget in place at the beginning of the fiscal year and potential sequestration impacts that could reduce NASA's budget request of $17.7 billion by $1.5 billion to $16.2 billion. As the National Research Council noted in its 2012 report examining NASA's strategic direction and management, NASA's budget is 'mismatched to the current portfolio of missions, facilities, and staff,'" the OIG report stated.'"
astroengine writes "Astronomers scoping-out the vicinity of the famous star Fomalhaut have discovered that its mysterious stellar sister is also sporting a rather attractive ring of comets. Located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, Fomalhaut A is one of the brightest stars in Southern Hemisphere skies. The bright blue giant is notable in that it hosts a gigantic ring of cometary debris and dust. Fomalhaut C is a red dwarf star and was only confirmed to be gravitationally bound Fomalhaut A and Fomalhaut B in October. Fomalhaut is therefore a triple, or trinary, star system. The small red dwarf star may be the proverbial runt of the Fomalhaut stellar litter, but it appears to share some common ground with its larger sibling. 'It's very rare to find two comet belts in one system, and with the two stars 2.5 light years apart this is one of the most widely separated star systems we know of,' said astronomer Grant Kennedy, of the University of Cambridge and lead researcher of this work. 'It made us wonder why both Fomalhaut A and C have comet belts, and whether the belts are related in some way.' One of the reasons why Fomalhaut A's cometary disk is so bright is down to the presence of its exoplanet, stirring up comet collisions. Fomalhaut C may be experiencing the same mechanism."
Rambo Tribble writes "The BBC reports on research that points to the possibility of using inkjet technology to print retinal ganglion and glial cells. While the research is preliminary, it is thought to hold great promise for treating certain kinds of eye problems."
schwit1 sends this news from the Washington Times: "Pennsylvania police this week were pulling people to the side of the road, quizzing them on their driving habits, and asking if they'd like to provide a cheek swap or a blood sample — the latest in a federally contracted operation that's touted as making roads safer. The same operation took place last month at a community in Texas. Then, drivers were randomly told to pull off the road into a parking lot, where white-coated researchers asked if they'd like to provide DNA samples for a project that determines what percentage of drivers are operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol at given times. With uniformed police in the background, the researchers also offered the motorists money — up to $50 or so — for the blood or saliva samples."
sciencehabit writes "A dog in the house is more than just good company. There's increasing evidence that exposure to dogs and livestock early in life can lessen the chances of infants later developing allergies and asthma. Now, researchers have traced this beneficial health effect to a microbe living in the gut. Their study, in mice, suggests that supplementing an infant's diet with the right mix of bacteria might help prevent allergies — even without a pet pooch."
MTorrice writes "In recent years, increasing numbers of patients worldwide have contracted severe bacterial infections that are untreatable by most available antibiotics. Some of the gravest of these infections are caused by bacteria carrying genes that confer resistance to a broad class of antibiotics called beta-lactams, many of which are treatments of last resort. Now a research team reports that some wastewater treatment plants in China discharge one of these potent resistance genes into the environment. Environmental and public health experts worry that this discharge could promote the spread of resistance."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Tech publications and pundits alike have crowed about the benefits we're soon to collectively reap from healthcare analytics. In theory, sensors attached to our bodies (and appliances such as the fridge) will send a stream of health-related data — everything from calorie and footstep counts to blood pressure and sleep activity — to the cloud, which will analyze it for insight; doctors and other healthcare professionals will use that data to tailor treatments or advise changes in behavior and diet. But the sensors still leave a lot to be desired: 'smart bracelets' such as Nike's FuelBand and FitBit can prove poor judges of physical activity, and FitBit's associated app still requires you to manually input records of daily food intake (the FuelBand is also a poor judge of lower-body activity, such as running). FDA-approved ingestible sensors are still being researched, and it'd be hard to convince most people that swallowing one is in their best interests. Despite the hype about data's ability to improve peoples' health, we could be a long way from any sort of meaningful consumer technology that truly makes that happen."
schwit1 sends this excerpt from CBS: "'Enough' with the multivitamins already. That's the message from doctors behind three new studies and an editorial that tackled an oft-debated question in medicine: Do daily multivitamins make you healthier? After reviewing the available evidence and conducting new trials, the authors have come to a conclusion of 'no.' 'We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful,' concluded the authors of the editorial summarizing the new research papers, published Dec. 16 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. 'These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.' They went on to urge consumers to not 'waste' their money on multivitamins."
With his popular Getting Started in Electronics, and Engineer's Mini-Notebook series and a number of different electronics kits sold at Radio Shack, Forrest Mims inspired countless scientists and engineers. Even though he received no formal academic training in science, Forrest has appeared in 70 magazines and scientific journals. He has worked as a consultant for the National Geographic Society, the National Science Teachers Association, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Today, Mims works on many scientific projects including climate change research. He's agreed to answer all your questions about science and engineering. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
sciencehabit writes "Cats have been part of human society for nearly 10,000 years, but they weren't always string-chasers and lap-sitters. Ancient felines hunted crop-destroying rats and mice for early farmers, and in return we provided food and protection. At least that's what scientists have long speculated. Now, they can back it up. Cat bones unearthed in a 5000-year-old Chinese farming village indicate that the animals consumed rodents and that some may have been cared for by humans. The findings provide the earliest hard evidence of this mutually beneficial relationship between man and cat."
sciencehabit writes "How old is the binary number system? Perhaps far older than the invention of binary math in the West. The residents of a tiny Polynesian island may have been doing calculations in binary—a number system with only two digits—centuries before it was described by Gottfried Leibniz, the co-inventor of calculus, in 1703."
barlevg writes "It's long been a concern that the widespread use of antibacterial soaps is contributing towards the evolution of drug-resistant 'superbugs,' but as the Washington Post reports, the Food and Drug Administration also does not believe that there is any evidence to support that the antibacterial agents in soaps are any more effective at killing germs than simply washing with soap and water. Under the terms of a proposal under consideration, the FDA will require that manufacturers making such claims will have to show proof. If they fail to do so, they will be required to change their marketing or even stop selling the products altogether."
When he's not lecturing at Stanford or NASA, Alan Adler is working on brewing the perfect cup of coffee and engineering flying toys. His AeroPress is one of the most popular coffee brewing systems available and one of his Aerobie Pro Rings set the world record for the farthest thrown object at 1,333 feet. Alan has agreed to sit down and answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
Zothecula writes "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward. NASA is carrying out initial tests on a new, lighter spacesuit for use by the crew of the Orion spacecraft that is currently under development. The tests are being carried out in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on a modified version of the pumpkin orange suit normally worn by Space Shuttle crews during liftoff and re-entry and is a return to a space suit design of the 1960s."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Alan Schwarz writes in the NYT that the rise of ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years have coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. 'The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it's not. It's preposterous,' says Dr. Keith Conners, a psychologist who has led the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for more than fifty years. Few dispute that classic ADHD, historically estimated to affect 5 percent of children, is a legitimate disability that impedes success at school, work and personal life. But recent data from the CDC show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990." (Read on for more.)
After the successful soft landing of its carrier vessel on the surface of the moon, China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover has begun beaming back photos of the lunar surface. From the BBC's article, with links to video as well as several photos, comes this description: "Chang'e-3 is the third unmanned rover mission to touch down on the lunar surface, and the first to go there in more than 40 years. The last was an 840kg (1,900lb) Soviet vehicle known as Lunokhod-2, which was kept warm by polonium-210. But the six-wheeled Chinese vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload, including ground-penetrating radar which will gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust. The 120kg (260lb) Jade Rabbit rover can reportedly climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660ft) per hour. ... The rover and lander are powered by solar panels but some sources suggest they also carry radioisotope heating units (RHUs), containing plutonium-238 to keep them warm during the cold lunar night. According to Chinese space scientists, the mission is designed to test new technologies, gather scientific data and build intellectual expertise. It will also scout valuable mineral resources that could one day be mined."
mbstone writes "Scientists at the University College of London — where argon was originally discovered in 1894 — have now found spectroscopic signatures of molecules of argon hydride (ArH), said to be produced via explosive nucleosynthesis in a core-collapse supernova in the Crab Nebula. The post-supernova molecular dust was observed by the Herschel Space Observatory shortly before it ran out of coolant in April.."
SpaceX and NASA have reached an agreement (though negotiations on the details are ongoing) for the private space company to lease NASA's launch pad 39A. SpaceX rival Blue Origin had also sought the launch pad for its own use. From the article: "During the selection process, Blue Origin had filed a petition to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The spaceflight company was claiming that NASA was favoring single-use of the launch pad which was designed as a multi-user facility. ... The GAO decided on Thursday that the petition has no basis, which prompted NASA to proceed with its decision process. The next day, the space agency informed both companies that it is granting the exclusive lease to SpaceX."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Computer scientists at Harvard University have come up with a way to convert algorithms that teach machines to learn into a form that would allow artificial intelligence to be programmed into complex chemical reactions. The ultimate result could be smart drugs programmed to react differently depending on which of several probable situations they might encounter – without the need to use nano-scale electronics to carry the instructions. 'This kind of chemical-based AI will be necessary for constructing therapies that sense and adapt to their environment,' according to Ryan P. Adams, assistant professor of computer science at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who co-wrote the paper explaining the technique (PDF). 'The hope is to eventually have drugs that can specialize themselves to your personal chemistry and can diagnose or treat a range of pathologies.' The techniques are part of a larger effort to program the behavior of molecules in manufacturing, decision-making and diagnostics, using both nano-scale electronics and the still-relatively-new study of bionanotechnology."