United States

FDA: We Can't Scale To Regulate Mobile Health Apps 123

chicksdaddy writes Mobile health and wellness is one of the fastest growing categories of mobile apps. Already, apps exist that measure your blood pressure and take your pulse, jobs traditionally done by tried and true instruments like blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes. If that sounds to you like the kind of thing the FDA should be vetting, don't hold your breath. A senior advisor to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that the current process for approving medical devices couldn't possibly meet the challenge of policing mobile health and wellness apps and that, in most cases, the agency won't even try. Bakul Patel, and advisor to the FDA, said the Agency couldn't scale to police hundreds of new health and wellness apps released each month to online marketplaces like the iTunes AppStore and Google Play.

Cassini's Space Odyssey To Saturn 45

An anonymous reader writes in with this look at the amazingly successful Cassini mission and the discoveries it has made. Scientists says Cassini is helping them understand how our solar system developed. Of the astronomically profound discoveries it's made over a decade of circling, the startling hint this April of a new moon being formed in the rings of Saturn is merely the latest. Indeed, the spacecraft Cassini — which inserted itself into orbit around the giant gas planet in July, 2004 — has transmitted imagery and sensory data back to Earth that has given us a new understanding of our bejewelled neighbour three doors down. "It's one of the most successful (space) missions probably ever," says University of Toronto astrophysicist Hanno Rein, whose own work has been significantly informed by the tiny craft's output.

Consciousness On-Off Switch Discovered Deep In Brain 284

An anonymous reader writes "One moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area. Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises. When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn't respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments.

A Tour of One of the World's Only Underwater Labs With Fabien Cousteau 30

An anonymous reader writes Having completed his 31-day stretch underwater, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, shows off his underwater laboratory to PBS in this video. When asked about his observations' Fabien said' "It's just amazing, we've seen so much new behavior that I've never seen before. Fish sleeping in sponges, a goliath grouper attacking a barracuda, never seen that before, I don't think anyone has ever caught it on film before. Christmas tree worms, spawning and giving off this milky smoke like stuff off. I mean it's just science fiction, it's really amazing down here. And that's why we're down here, my grandfather used to say, in order to film a fish you must become a fish. So we're trying to get as close as we can to becoming fish."

Study: Whales Are Ecosystem "Engineers" 64

An anonymous reader writes Researchers had previously thought that, being excessively uncommon and migrant, whales didn't have much of an effect on the more extensive marine environment. However, a new study distributed in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment gives whales a role as "engineers" of the oceans. In the study, scientists from the University of Vermont suggest that the 13 types of extraordinary whale have an essential and positive impact on the capacity of seas, on carbon storage, and on the state of fisheries around the globe. "The decline in great whale numbers, estimated to be at least 66% and perhaps as high as 90%, has likely altered the structure and function of the oceans, but recovery is possible and in many cases is already underway," researchers wrote in an article announcing their investigation.

Newly Spotted Frozen World Orbits In a Binary Star System 34

An anonymous reader writes A newly discovered planet in a binary, or twin, star system located 3,000 light-years from Earth is expanding astronomers' notions of where Earth-like planets can form. At twice the mass of Earth, the planet orbits one of the stars in the binary system at almost exactly the same distance at which Earth orbits the sun. However, because the planet's host star is much dimmer than the sun, the planet is much colder than Earth. "This greatly expands the potential locations to discover habitable planets in the future," said Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. "Half the stars in the galaxy are in binary systems. We had no idea if Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits could even form in these systems."

When Beliefs and Facts Collide 725

schnell writes A New York Times article discusses a recent Yale study that shows that contrary to popular belief, increased scientific literacy does not correspond to increased belief in accepted scientific findings when it contradicts their religious or political views. The article notes that this is true across the political/religious spectrum and "factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines." So what is to be done? The article suggests that "we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues – for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."

Two Earth-Like Exoplanets Don't Actually Exist 102

Two suspected exoplanets, Gliese 581g and 581d, have been shown to not exist, and are instead misinterpretations of data from starspot activity. From the article: "Gliese 581g doesn't exist," said lead author Paul Robertson of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Neither, he said, does another planet in the same solar system, known as Gliese 581d, announced in 2009—less clearly hospitable to life, but still once seen by some astronomers as a possible place to find aliens. ... What's happening, they say, is that magnetic disturbances on Gliese 581's surface — starspots — are altering the star's spectrum in such a way that it mimics the motion induced by a planet. The star itself rotates once every 130 days, carrying the starspots with it; the disputed planets appeared to have periods of almost exactly one half and one fourth of the 130-day period. When the scientists corrected for the starspot signal, both planets disappeared.

Oklahoma's Earthquakes Linked To Fracking 154

An anonymous reader writes Oklahoma has already experienced about 240 minor earthquakes this year, roughly double the rate at which California has had them. A recent study (abstract) has now tied those earthquakes to fracking. From the article: "Fracking itself doesn't seem to be causing many earthquakes at all. However, after the well is fracked, all that wastewater needs to be pumped back out and disposed of somewhere. Since it's often laced with chemicals and difficult to treat, companies will often pump the wastewater back underground into separate disposal wells. Wastewater injection comes with a catch, however: The process both pushes the crust in the region downward and increases pressure in cracks along the faults. That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes. ... More specifically, the researchers concluded that 89 wells were likely responsible for most of the seismic activity. And just four wells located southeast of Oklahoma City were likely responsible for about one-fifth of seismic activity in the state between 2008 and 2013."

NASA Approves Production of Most Powerful Rocket Ever 146

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, NASA has given a green light to the production of a new motor, dubbed the Space Launch System, intended to enable deep space exploration. Boeing, prime contractor on the rocket, announced on Wednesday that it had completed a critical design review and finalized a $US2.8-billion contract with NASA. The last time the space agency made such an assessment of a deep-space rocket was the mighty Saturn V, which took astronauts to the moon. ... Space Launch System's design called for the integration of existing hardware, spurring criticism that it's a "Frankenstein rocket," with much of it assembled from already developed technology. For instance, its two rocket boosters are advanced versions of the Space Shuttle boosters, and a cryogenic propulsion stage is based on the motor of a rocket often used by the Air Force. The Space Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group and frequent NASA critic, said Space Launch System was "built from rotting remnants of left over congressional pork. And its budgetary footprints will stamp out all the missions it is supposed to carry, kill our astronaut program and destroy science and technology projects throughout NASA."

What Came First, Black Holes Or Galaxies? 76

StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "It was one of the most hotly contested questions for decades: we first expected and then found supermassive black holes at the centers of practically all large galaxies. But how did they get there? In particular, you could imagine it happening either way: either there was this top-down scenario, where large-scale structures formed first and fragmented into galaxies, forming black holes at their centers afterwards, or a bottom-up scenario, where small-scale structures dominate at the beginning, and larger ones only form later from the merger of these earlier, little ones. As it turns out, both of these play a role in our Universe, but as far as the question of what came first, black holes or galaxies, only one answer is right."

Polymer-Based Graphene Substitute Is Easy To Mass-Produce 37

Zothecula writes: For all the attention graphene gets thanks to its impressive list of properties, how many of us have actually encountered it in anything other than its raw graphite form? Show of hands. No-one? That's because it is still difficult to mass-produce without introducing defects. Now a team at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology has developed a graphene substitute from plastic that offers the benefits of graphene for use in solar cells and semiconductor chips, but is easy to mass-produce (abstract).

Study: People Would Rather Be Shocked Than Be Alone With Their Thoughts 333

sciencehabit writes "How much do we hate being alone with our own thoughts? Enough to give ourselves an electric shock. In a new study, researchers recruited hundreds of people and made them sit in an empty room and just think for about 15 minutes. About half of the volunteers hated the experience. In a separate experiment, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to push a button and shock themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think. One of the study authors suggests that the results may be due to boredom and the trouble that we have controlling our thoughts. "I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world," he says. "So when we don't give it anything to focus on, it's kind of hard to know what to do."

Researchers Create Walking, Muscle-Powered Biobots 33

Zothecula writes If you're going to deploy robots in biological settings – for example, inside the body – it makes a lot of sense to build those robots out of actual biological body parts. Muscle, for example, is a very effective, biodegradable replacement for an electric actuator that can run in a nutrient-rich fluid without the need for any other power source. Bio-robotics experts in Illinois have demonstrated a bio-bot built from 3-D printed hydrogel and spinal muscle tissue that can "walk" in response to an electrical signal. Their next step will be trying to incorporate neurons that can get the bot walking in different directions when faced with different stimuli.

How Did Those STAP Stem Cell Papers Get Accepted In the First Place? 109

bmahersciwriter writes The news team at the scientific journal Nature turns its investigative power on the journal itself. The goal: to try and understand how two papers that made extraordinary claims about a new way to create stem cells managed to get published despite some obvious errors and a paucity of solid evidence. The saga behind these so-called STAP cells is engaging, but sadly reminiscent of so many other scientific controversies.

New Class of Stars Are Totally Metal, Says Astrophysicist 119

KentuckyFC writes Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse under their own gravity, generating enough heat and pressure to fuse the atoms inside them together. When this cloud of dust and gas is the remnants of a supernova, it can contain all kinds of heavy elements in addition to primordial hydrogen, helium and lithium. Now one astrophysicist has calculated that a recently discovered phenomenon of turbulence, called preferential concentration, can profoundly alter star formation. He points out that turbulence is essentially vortices rotating on many scales of time and space. On certain scales, the inertial forces these eddies create can push heavy particles into the calmer space between the vortices, thereby increasing their concentration. In giant clouds of interstellar gas, this concentrates heavy elements, increasing their gravitational field, attracting more mass and so on. The result is the formation of a star that is made entirely of heavy elements rather than primordial ones. Astrophysicists call the amount of heavy elements in a star its "metallicity". Including preferential concentration in the standard model of star formation leads to the prediction that 1 in 10,000 stars should be totally metal. Now the race is on to find the first of this new class of entirely metal stars.

Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2 133

Zothecula writes Rising atmospheric CO2 levels can generally be tackled in three ways: developing alternative energy sources with lower emissions; carbon capture and storage (CCS); and capturing carbon and repurposing it. Researchers at Princeton University are claiming to have developed a technique that ticks two of these three boxes by using solar power to convert CO2 into formic acid. With power from a commercially available solar panel provided by utility company Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), researchers in the laboratory of Princeton professor of chemistry Andrew Bocarsly, working with researchers at New Jersey-based start-up Liquid Light Inc., converted CO2 and water to formic acid (HCOOH) in an electrochemical cell.

Tibetans Inherited High-Altitude Gene From Ancient Human 133

sciencehabit writes A "superathlete" gene that helps Sherpas and other Tibetans breathe easy at high altitudes was inherited from an ancient species of human. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that the gene variant came from people known as Denisovans, who went extinct soon after they mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians about 40,000 years ago. This is the first time a version of a gene acquired from interbreeding with another type of human has been shown to help modern humans adapt to their environment.

Hierarchical Membrane For Cleaning Up Oil Spills 32

rtoz (2530056) writes Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an "emulsion." It is extremely hard to separate them, and they can cause severe damage to ecosystems. Now, MIT researchers have discovered a new, inexpensive way of getting the two fluids apart again. This new approach uses membranes with hierarchical pore structures. The membranes combine a very thin layer of nanopores with a thicker layer of micropores to limit the passage of unwanted material while providing strength sufficient to withstand high pressure and throughput.

Unintended Consequences For Traffic Safety Feature 579

An anonymous reader writes: Traffic engineers had a problem to solve: too many pedestrians were getting hit by cars while using the crosswalks at intersections because they didn't know when the 'WALK' sign would change. Their solution was simple: implement a countdown timer. Countless cities have now adopted these timers, but it turns out to have an undesired consequence: motor vehicle crashes are actually increasing at intersections where the countdown timer is used. Researchers think this is because pedestrians aren't the only ones who see the timers. Drivers see them too, and it provides them with information on when the light will change. Then they anticipate the change by either speeding up to beat a change to red light, or anticipating a green light in order to get through before the pedestrians can move into the road. The researchers suggest finding some way to hide the countdown from the drivers, perhaps through the use of an audio countdown that would be difficult to hear from inside a car.

Alleged 'Bigfoot' DNA Samples Sequenced, Turn Out To Be Horses, Dogs, and Bears 198

sciencehabit writes: In North America, they're called Bigfoot or Sasquatch. In the Himalayan foothills, they're known as yeti or abominable snowmen. And Russians call them Almasty. But in the scientific laboratory, these elusive, hairy, humanoid creatures are nothing more than bears, horses, and dogs. That's the conclusion of a new study—the first peer-reviewed, genetic survey of biological samples claimed to be from the shadowy beasts. To identify the evolutionary source of each sample, the team determined the sequence of a gene—found inside the mitochondria of cells—that encodes the 12S RNA, which is often used for species identification. Unlike standard DNA, mitochondrial genes are passed only from mother to offspring.

Seven of the samples didn’t yield enough DNA for identification. Of the 30 that were sequenced, all matched the exact 12S RNA sequences for known species, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Ten hairs belonged to various bear species; four were from horses; four were from wolves or dogs; one was a perfect match to a human hair; and the others came from cows, raccoons, deer, and even a porcupine. Two samples, from India and Bhutan, matched polar bear 12S RNA—a surprising finding that Sykes is following up on to determine whether some Himalayan bears are hybrid species with polar bears.

India Launches Five Foreign Satellites 85

vasanth writes: "India has put into orbit five foreign satellites, including one built by France two from Canada and one each from Singapore and Germany. The PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) has so far successfully launched 67 satellites, including 40 foreign ones, into space. The PSLV costs about 17 million USD and the cost is seen as a major advantage India has over other countries in terms of commercial launches. When talking about the cost of the project, the Prime Minister of India noted that the launch was cheaper than Hollywood film Gravity.

Reproducing a Monet Painting With Aluminum Nanostructures 27

MTorrice writes: Plasmonic printing is a recently developed method to create color images using different shapes and sizes of gold or silver nanostructures. It relies on the oscillations of electrons in the metal surfaces and can produce images with a resolution 100 times that of a common desktop printer. Now researchers have expanded the color palette of the technique using tiny aluminum-capped nanopillars. Each pixel consists of four nanopillars; tuning the diameters and arrangement of the pillars produced a palette of more than 300 different colors. Using these pixels, the researchers created a microscale reproduction of Claude Monet's "Impression, Sunrise."

'Vampire' Squirrel Has World's Fluffiest Tail 54

sciencehabit (1205606) writes Few scientists have ever seen the rare tufted ground squirrel (Rheithrosciurus macrotis), which hides in the hilly forests of Borneo, but it is an odd beast. It's twice the size of most tree squirrels, and it reputedly has a taste for blood. Now, motion-controlled cameras have revealed another curious fact. The 35-centimeter-long rodent has the bushiest tail of any mammal compared with its body size.

How Often Do Economists Commit Misconduct? 305

schwit1 (797399) writes A survey of professional academic economists finds that a large percentage are quite willing to cheat or fake data to get the results they want. From the paper's abstract: "This study reports the results of a survey of professional, mostly academic economists about their research norms and scientific misbehavior. Behavior such as data fabrication or plagiarism are (almost) unanimously rejected and admitted by less than 4% of participants. Research practices that are often considered 'questionable,' e.g., strategic behavior while analyzing results or in the publication process, are rejected by at least 60%. Despite their low justifiability, these behaviors are widespread. Ninety-four percent report having engaged in at least one unaccepted research practice."

That less than 4% engage in "data fabrication or plagiarism" might seem low, but it is a terrible statistic . ... 40% admit to doing what they agree are "questionable" research practices, while 94% admit to committing "at least one unaccepted research practice." In other words, almost none of these academic economists can be trusted in the slightest. As the paper notes, "these behaviors are widespread.""

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Objections To Contraception 1330

An anonymous reader writes In a legislative first, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that for-profit companies can, in essence, hold religious views. Given the Supreme Court's earlier decisions granting corporations the right to express political support through monetary donations, this ruling is not all that surprising. Its scope does not extend beyond family-owned companies where "there's no real difference between the business and its owners." It also only applies to the contraception mandate of the health care law. The justices indicated that contraceptive coverage can still be obtained through exceptions to the mandate that have already been introduced to accommodate religious nonprofits. Those exceptions, which authorize insurance companies to provide the coverage instead of the employers, are currently being challenged in lower courts. The "closely held" test is pretty meaningless, since the majority of U.S. corporations are closely held.

Ninety-Nine Percent of the Ocean's Plastic Is Missing 304

sciencehabit writes Millions of tons. That's how much plastic should be floating in the world's oceans, given our ubiquitous use of the stuff. But a new study (abstract) finds that 99% of this plastic is missing. One disturbing possibility: Fish are eating it. If that's the case, "there is potential for this plastic to enter the global ocean food web," says Carlos Duarte, an oceanographer at the University of Western Australia, Crawley. "And we are part of this food web."
United Kingdom

Cambridge Team Breaks Superconductor World Record 73

An anonymous reader writes University of Cambridge scientists have broken a decade-old superconducting record by packing a 17.6 Tesla magnetic field into a golf ball-sized hunk of crystal — equivalent to about three tons of force. From the Cambridge announcement: "A world record that has stood for more than a decade has been broken by a team led by University of Cambridge engineers, harnessing the equivalent of three tonnes of force inside a golf ball-sized sample of material that is normally as brittle as fine china. The Cambridge researchers managed to 'trap' a magnetic field with a strength of 17.6 Tesla — roughly 100 times stronger than the field generated by a typical fridge magnet — in a high temperature gadolinium barium copper oxide (GdBCO) superconductor, beating the previous record by 0.4 Tesla."

NASA Launching Satellite To Track Carbon 190

An anonymous reader writes A NASA satellite being prepared for launch early on Tuesday is expected to reveal details about where carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas tied to climate change, is being released into Earth's atmosphere on a global scale. From the article: "The $468 million mission is designed to study the main driver of climate change emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes. Some of the carbon dioxide is sucked up by trees and oceans, and the rest is lofted into the atmosphere, trapping the sun's heat and warming the planet. But atmospheric CO2 levels fluctuate with the seasons and in different regions of the Earth. The natural and human activities that cause the changes are complicated. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2 for short, will be able to take an ultra-detailed look at most of the Earth's surface to identify places responsible for producing or absorbing the greenhouse gas."

Researchers Claim Wind Turbine Energy Payback In Less Than a Year 441

mdsolar (1045926) writes "Researchers have carried out an environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines mooted for a large wind farm in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. They conclude that in terms of cumulative energy payback, or the time to produce the amount of energy required of production and installation, a wind turbine with a working life of 20 years will offer a net benefit within five to eight months of being brought online." Watts Up With That? has a more skeptical take on the calculations.

Swedish Farmers Have Doubts About Climatologists and Climate Change 567

cold fjord (826450) writes with this excerpt from ScienceNordic: Researchers the world over almost unanimously agree that our climate is changing ... But many farmers – at least Swedish ones – have experienced mild winters and shifting weather before and are hesitant about trusting the scientists. The researcher who discovered the degree of scepticism among farmers was surprised by her findings. Therese Asplund ... was initially looking into how agricultural magazines covered climate change. Asplund found after studying ten years of issues of the two agricultural sector periodicals ATL and Land Lantbruk that they present climate change as scientifically confirmed, a real problem. But her research took an unexpected direction when she started interviewing farmers in focus groups about climate issues. Asplund had prepared a long list of questions about how the farmers live with the threat of climate change and what they plan to do to cope with the subsequent climate challenges. The conversations took a different course: "They explained that they didn't quite believe in climate changes," she says. "Or at least that these are not triggered by human activities." (Original paper here.)

NASA Successfully Tests 'Flying Saucer' Craft, New Parachute 49

As reported by the Associated Press, via the Washington Post, an update on the promised (and now at least mostly successful) new disc-shaped craft and parachute technology intended for a NASA mission to Mars, though applicable to other space missions as well: A saucer-shaped NASA vehicle launched by balloon high into Earth’s atmosphere splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, completing a successful test on Saturday of technology that could be used to land on Mars. Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere. The $150 million experimental flight tested a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. Despite small problems like the giant parachute not deploying fully, NASA deemed the mission a success. ... [T]he parachute unfurled — if only partially — and guided the vehicle to an ocean splashdown about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011. Coatta said engineers won't look at the parachute problem as a failure, but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests. ... A ship was sent to recover a "black box" designed to separate from the vehicle and float. Outfitted with a GPS beacon, the box contains the crucial flight data that scientists are eager to analyze. "That's really the treasure trove of all the details," Coatta said. "Pressure, temperature, force. High-definition video. All those measurements that are really key to us to understanding exactly what happens throughout this test."

Secret of the Banjo's Unique Sound Discovered By Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist 101

KentuckyFC (1144503) writes The banjo is a stringed instrument that produces a distinctive metallic sound often associated with country, folk and bluegrass music. It is essentially a drum with a long neck. Strings are fixed at the end of the neck, stretched across the drum and fixed on the other side. They are supported by a bridge that sits on the drum membrane. While the instrument is straightforward in design and the metallic timbre easy to reproduce, acoustics experts have long puzzled over exactly how the instrument produces its characteristic tones. Now David Politzer, who won the Nobel prize for physics in 2004, has worked out the answer. He says the noise is the result of two different kinds of vibrations. First there is the vibration of the string, producing a certain note. However, the drum also vibrates and this pushes the bridge back and forth causing the string to stretch and relax. This modulates the frequency of the note. When frequency of this modulation is below about 20 hertz, it creates a warbling effect. Guitar players can do the same thing by pushing a string back and forth after it is plucked. But when the modulating frequency is higher, the ear experiences it as a kind of metallic crash. And it is this that gives the banjo its characteristic twang. If you're in any doubt, try replacing the drum membrane with a piece of wood and the twang goes away. That's because the wood is stiffer and so does not vibrate to the same extent. Interesting what Nobel prize-winning physicists do in their spare time.

Fixing Faulty Genes On the Cheap 105

An anonymous reader sends an article about CRISPR, a system for modifying genes and moving them from cell to cell. It's notable because the cost to do so is dropping to the point where it's becoming viable to use on a patient-by-patient basis. CRISPR is one of those interesting inventions that comes, not from scientists explicitly trying to cure a disease, but from researchers trying to understand something fundamental about nature. Jennifer Doudna's research at the University of California, Berkeley has focused on how bacteria fight the flu. It turns out bacteria don't like getting flu any more than the rest of us do. Doudna says the way bacteria fight off a flu virus gave her and her colleagues an idea. Bacteria have special enzymes that can cut open the DNA of an invading virus and make a change in the DNA at the site of the cut — essentially killing the virus. Doudna and other scientists figured out how this defense system works in bacteria; that was interesting all by itself. But then they realized that they could modify these enzymes to recognize any DNA sequence, not just the DNA sequence of viruses that infect bacteria.

Larry Page: Healthcare Data Mining Could Save 100,000 Lives a Year 186

An anonymous reader writes Google often gets criticism for its seemingly boundless desire for data collection and analysis, but the company says it has higher ambitions than just figuring out how best to serve advertising. Speaking to the NY Times, Larry Page said, "We get so worried about these things that we don't get the benefits Right now we don't data-mine healthcare data. If we did we'd probably save 100,000 lives next year." By "these things," he means privacy concerns and fear that the data might be misused. But he also pointed to Street View as a case where privacy concerns mostly melted away after people used it and found it helpful. "In the early days of Street View, this was a huge issue, but it's not really a huge issue now. People understand it now and it's very useful. And it doesn't really change your privacy that much. A lot of these things are like that."

CDC: 1 In 10 Adult Deaths In US Caused By Excessive Drinking 454

An anonymous reader writes: According to new research from the CDC, 9.8% of deaths in working-age adults (22-64 years old) in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010 were "attributable to excessive drinking." This makes excessive drinking the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The study included deaths from medical conditions, such as liver disease and alcohol-induced strokes, as well as deaths from alcohol-related events, like car accidents, homicides, and fall injuries. However, it did not account for cases where excessive alcohol consumption was a factor in contracting conditions like AIDS, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, so the count may actually be higher. Many western states with low population spread out over a large area showed the highest alcohol-related death rates, while states from the east coast and the midwest tended to be on the lower end of the spectrum. The study also tracked years of life lost, which is higher for alcohol-related deaths than for most other types of death. Researcher Robert Brewer said, "One of the issues with alcohol that is particularly tragic is the extent to which it gets people in the prime of their lives."

Visualizing Algorithms 50

An anonymous reader writes "Many people reading this site probably have a functional understanding of how algorithms work. But whether you know algorithms down to highly mathematical abstractions or simple as a fuzzy series of steps that transform input into output, it can be helpful to visualize what's going on under the hood. That's what Mike Bostock has done in a new article. He walks through algorithms for sampling, shuffling, and maze generation, using beautiful and fascinating visualizations to show how each algorithm works and how it differs from other options.

He says, "I find watching algorithms endlessly fascinating, even mesmerizing. Particularly so when randomness is involved. ... Being able to see what your code is doing can boost productivity. Visualization does not supplant the need for tests, but tests are useful primarily for detecting failure and not explaining it. Visualization can also discover unexpected behavior in your implementation, even when the output looks correct. ...Even if you just want to learn for yourself, visualization can be a great way to gain deep understanding. Teaching is one of the most effective ways of learning, and implementing a visualization is like teaching yourself."

Company Uses 3D Printing and Design To Change the Way We Look At Prosthetics 28

An anonymous reader writes UNYQ (pronounced: unique), a start-up based in San Francisco and Seville, has set out to change the way we look at prosthetics by selling affordable 3D printed prosthetic leg covers, known as "fairings," directly to consumers. The company was co-founded by Eythor Bender, who is best known for developing a prototype bionic exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk again. Bender, who has worked with the disabled for over 20 years, was frustrated by the lack of consideration of style in the medical device development process. Despite all the progress made in other areas, the devices still look more or less like a "wooden stick." Bender wants to challenge what we think is possible with prosthetics.

Trio of Big Black Holes Spotted In Galaxy Smashup 74

sciencehabit writes Astronomers staring across the universe have spotted a startling scene: three supermassive black holes orbiting close to one another, two of them just a few hundred light-years apart. The trio, housed in a pair of colliding galaxies, may help scientists hunting for ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves.

Air Pollution Can Disrupt Pollinating Insects By Concealing the Scent of Flowers 67

vinces99 writes Car and truck exhaust fumes that foul the air for humans also cause problems for pollinators. In new research on how pollinators find flowers when background odors are strong, University of Washington and University of Arizona researchers found that both natural plant odors and human sources of pollution can conceal the scent of sought-after flowers. When the calories from one feeding of a flower gets you only 15 minutes of flight, as is the case with the tobacco hornworn moth studied, being misled costs a pollinator energy and time. "Local vegetation can mask the scent of flowers because the background scents activate the same moth olfactory channels as floral scents," according to Jeffrey Riffell, UW assistant professor of biology. "Plus the chemicals in these scents are similar to those emitted from exhaust engines and we found that pollutant concentrations equivalent to urban environments can decrease the ability of pollinators to find flowers."

NASA's Orion Spaceship Passes Parachute Test 75

An anonymous reader writes The spacecraft it is hoped will take man to Mars has passed its first parachute tests. Nasa's Orion spacecraft landed gently using its parachutes after being shoved out of a military jet at 35,000 feet. "We've put the parachutes through their paces in ground and airdrop testing in just about every conceivable way before we begin sending them into space on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 before the year's done," Orion program manager Mark Geyer said in a NASA statement. "The series of tests has proven the system and will help ensure crew and mission safety for our astronauts in the future."

Is Time Moving Forward Or Backward? Computers Learn To Spot the Difference 78

sciencehabit (1205606) writes For the first time, scientists have taught computers to figure out the direction of time in videos, a result that could help researchers better understand our own perception of time. Regardless of any possible applications, "we just thought it was a great problem," says one of the study's authors. Teaching computers to see the arrow of time combines computer science, physics, and human perception to get at the heart of the question, "How do we understand the visual world?" The researchers "broke down 180 YouTube videos into square patches of a few hundred pixels, which they further divided into four-by-four grids. Combining standard techniques for discovering objects in still photographs with motion detection algorithms, the researchers identified 4000 typical patterns of motion, or 'flow words,' across a grid’s 16 cells. ... When they tested their program on the remaining 60 videos, the trained computers could correctly determine whether a video ran forward or backward 80% of the time."

New Chemical Process Could Make Ammonia a Practical Car Fuel 380

overThruster (58843) writes A phys.org article says UK researchers have made a breakthrough that could make ammonia a practical source of hydrogen for fueling cars. From the article: "Many catalysts can effectively crack ammonia to release the hydrogen, but the best ones are very expensive precious metals. This new method is different and involves two simultaneous chemical processes rather than using a catalyst, and can achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost. ... Professor Bill David, who led the STFC research team at the ISIS Neutron Source, said 'Our approach is as effective as the best current catalysts but the active material, sodium amide, costs pennies to produce. We can produce hydrogen from ammonia "on demand" effectively and affordably.'" The full paper. The researchers claim that a two-liter reaction chamber could produce enough hydrogen to power a typical sedan.

Hospitals Begin Data-Mining Patients 162

schwit1 (797399) sends word of a new and exciting use for all of the data various entities are collecting about you. From the article: You may soon get a call from your doctor if you've let your gym membership lapse, made a habit of ordering out for pizza or begin shopping at plus-sized stores. That's because some hospitals are starting to use detailed consumer data to create profiles on current and potential patients to identify those most likely to get sick, so the hospitals can intervene before they do. Acxiom Corp. (ACXM) and LexisNexis are two of the largest data brokers who collect such information on individuals. They say their data are supposed to be used only for marketing, not for medical purposes or to be included in medical records. While both sell to health insurers, they said it's to help those companies offer better services to members.

Neanderthals Ate Their Veggies 151

sciencehabit (1205606) writes Scientists excavating an archaeological site in southern Spain have finally gotten the real poop on Neanderthals, finding that the Caveman Diet for these quintessential carnivores included substantial helpings of vegetables. Using the oldest published samples of human fecal matter, archaeologists have found the first direct evidence that Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants about 50,000 years ago.

Match.com, Mensa Create Dating Site For Geniuses 561

mpicpp writes in with news about a new dating opportunity for Mensa members. It takes a special person to join Mensa. For one, the elite society only takes individuals with IQ scores in the 98th percentile, meaning just 1 in 50 Americans is eligible. This exclusivity — some might say snobbery — is part of Mensa's lore. Early Mensans in Britain walked around with yellow buttons, organizational publications once referred to non-Mensa members as "Densans," and last year, a top Mensa member and tester called anyone with an IQ of 60 a "carrot." In short, you don't always join Mensa because you think you're smart. You join to be set apart from most people, who are, as one member put it: "mundane." But a new partnership between American Mensa and online dating giant Match.com offers a new, enticing reason to join the society of geniuses: true love. Beginning this week, members of the brainiac group can connect through a separate, exclusive dating service called Mensa Match. In addition, Match.com members can add a special Mensa badge to their profiles, signaling a specific interest in connecting with a single person with a confirmed genius-level IQ score.

What's Your STEM Degree Worth? 148

Jim_Austin writes A recent study by economist Douglas Webber calculates the lifetime earnings premium of college degrees in various broad areas, accounting for selection bias--that is, for the fact that people who already are likely to do well are also more likely to go to college. These premiums are not small. Science Careers got exclusive access to major-specific data, and published an article that tells how much more you can expect to earn because you got that college degree--for engineering, physics, computer science, chemistry, and biology majors.

A Physicist Says He Can Tornado-Proof the Midwest With 1,000-Foot Walls 501

meghan elizabeth writes: Temple physicist Rongjia Tao has a utopian proposal to build three massive, 1,000-foot-high, 165-foot-thick walls around the American Midwest, in order to keep the tornadoes out. Building three unfathomably massive anti-tornado walls would count as the infrastructure project of the decade, if not the century. It would be also be exceedingly expensive. "Building such walls is feasible," Tao says. "They are much easier than constructing a skyscraper. For example, in Philadelphia, the newly completed Comcast building has about 300-meter height. The wall with similar height as the Comcast building should be much easier to be constructed." Update: 06/28 04:14 GMT by T : Note: originally, this story said that Tao was at Drexel rather than Temple -- now corrected

Astronomers Discover Earth-Sized Diamond 112

ygslash (893445) writes Astronomers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory announced that they have discovered what appears to be the coolest white dwarf ever detected. The white dwarf is formerly a star similar to our own sun which, after expending all of its fuel, has cooled to less than a chilly 3000 degrees Kelvin and contracted to a size approximately the same as Earth. A white dwarf is composed mostly of carbon and oxygen, and the astronomers believe that at that temperature it would be mostly crystallized, forming something like a huge diamond.

Mysterious X-ray Signal Hints At Dark Matter 100

Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the XMM-Newton have recorded an unusual emission of X-ray light from a remote cluster of galaxies which may turn out to be evidence of dark matter. Astronomers think dark matter constitutes 85% of the matter in the Universe, but does not emit or absorb light like “normal” matter such as protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the familiar elements observed in planets, stars, and galaxies. Because of this, scientists must use indirect methods to search for clues about dark matter. he latest results from Chandra and XMM-Newton consist of an unidentified X-ray emission line, that is, a spike of intensity at a very specific wavelength of X-ray light. Astronomers detected this emission line in the Perseus galaxy cluster using both Chandra and XMM-Newton. They also found the line in a combined study of 73 other galaxy clusters with XMM-Newton. ... The authors suggest this emission line could be a signature from the decay of a "sterile neutrino." (Abstract.) Sterile neutrinos are a hypothetical type of neutrino that is predicted to interact with normal matter only via gravity. Some scientists have proposed that sterile neutrinos may at least partially explain dark matter.