Science

How Pentaquarks May Lead To the Discovery of New Fundamental Physics 65 65

StartsWithABang writes: Over 100 years ago, Rutherford's gold foil experiment discovered the atomic nucleus. At higher energies, we can split that nucleus apart into protons and neutrons, and at still higher ones, into individual quarks and gluons. But these quarks and gluons can combine in amazing ways: not just into mesons and baryons, but into exotic states like tetraquarks, pentaquarks and even glueballs. As the LHC brings these states from theory to reality, here's what we're poised to learn, and probe, by pushing the limits of quantum chromodynamics.
Shark

Since Receiving Satellite Tags, Some Sharks Have Become Stars of Social Media 31 31

Lucas123 writes: A research project that tags the world's most dangerous sharks with four different tracking devices and then offers all the data to the public has taken off, garnering hundreds of thousands of users; one shark even has more then 80,000 followers on Twitter. OCEARCH, a non-profit shark tracking project, has tagged about 130 sharks, from great whites and tigers to hammerheads and makos, and open sourced the data in the hope that it will create citizen scientists who will follow the animals and care about what happens to them. To further personify the apex predators, the researchers at OCEARCH have also given the sharks names such as Katharine and Mary Lee, two sharks that are more than 14 feet long and weight more than a ton. OCEARCH's shark tracker has garnered 10 times the traffic it had last year, and it's expected to grow 20 times more by the end of this year. Along with data from satellite, acoustic and accelerometer tags, the project expects to begin using big data analytics to offer more granular data about the animals and their lives to scientists and the public at large.
Australia

Studies Find Genetic Signature of Native Australians In the Americas 97 97

Applehu Akbar writes: Two new research papers claim to have found an Australo-Melanesian DNA signal in the genetic makeup of Native Americans, dating to about the time of the last glacial maximum. This may move the speculation around the Clovis people and Kennewick man to an entirely new level. Let's hope that it at least shakes loose some more funding for North American archaeology. Ars reports: "The exact process by which humanity introduced itself to the Americas has always been controversial. While there's general agreement on the most important migration—across the Bering land bridge at the end of the last ice age—there's a lot of arguing over the details. Now, two new papers clarify some of the bigger picture but also introduce a new wrinkle: there's DNA from the distant Pacific floating around in the genomes of Native Americans. And the two groups disagree about how it got there."
Medicine

Giving Doctors Grades Has Backfired 245 245

HughPickens.com writes: Beginning in the early 1990s a quality-improvement program began in New York State and has since spread to many other states where report cards were issued to improve cardiac surgery by tracking surgical outcomes, sharing the results with hospitals and the public, and when necessary, placing surgeons or surgical programs on probation. But Sandeep Jauhar writes in the NYT that the report cards have backfired. "They often penalized surgeons, like the senior surgeon at my hospital, who were aggressive about treating very sick patients and thus incurred higher mortality rates," says Jauhar. "When the statistics were publicized, some talented surgeons with higher-than-expected mortality statistics lost their operating privileges, while others, whose risk aversion had earned them lower-than-predicted rates, used the report cards to promote their services in advertisements."

Surveys of cardiac surgeons in The New England Journal of Medicine have confirmed that reports like the Consumer Guide to Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery have limited credibility among cardiovascular specialists, little influence on referral recommendations and may introduce a barrier to care for severely ill patients. According to Jauhar, there is little evidence that the public — as opposed to state agencies and hospitals — pays much attention to surgical report cards anyway. A recent survey found that only 6 percent of patients used such information in making medical decisions. "Surgical report cards are a classic example of how a well-meaning program in medicine can have unintended consequences," concludes Jauhar. "It would appear that doctors, not patients, are the ones focused on doctors' grades — and their focus is distorted and blurry at best."
Medicine

How Drug Companies Seek To Exploit Rare DNA Mutations 93 93

An anonymous reader writes: With so many people in the world, humanity can't help but generate a large amount of genetic outliers. Most random mutations are undetectable, and many of the rest lead to serious diseases. But there's another class of mutation that has drug companies salivating. For example: a few dozen people worldwide have a condition that prevents them from feeling any pain. Another condition called sclerosteosis affects less than 100 people, giving them incredibly dense bone structure. Both of these conditions have serious downsides, but drug companies are beginning to see the dollar signs behind isolating these mutations and making them safe.

"People with sclerosteosis lack a protein that acts as a brake on bone growth. Without that protein, bones grow abnormally thick. It stood to reason, researchers thought, that a drug that could block the protein in patients with osteoporosis would encourage bone regrowth. Amgen's scientists created hundreds of antibodies that they tested to determine which might be able to get in the way of the protein. It took them three and a half years of research before they were able to identify the best antibody to inhibit the protein. Then NASA came calling." It's an unfortunate situation for those with the rare conditions; there's a lot more potential profit in finding a way to genetically prevent pain for billions of people than it is to cure the handful with the condition.
Medicine

Tallying the Mistakes and Malfunctions of Robot Surgeons 64 64

An anonymous reader writes: El Reg reports on a new study (PDF) that looked into malfunction and injury reports for medical procedures that used robot surgeons. From 2007 to 2013, 1.74 million such procedures were carried out, 86% of which were related to urology and gynecology. Of those, the study looked at reports of "adverse events," which were sent to the FDA. In that time period, there were 144 deaths, 1,391 patient injuries, and 8,061 device malfunctions. The malfunctions included "falling of burnt/broken pieces of instruments into the patient (14.7%), electrical arcing of instruments (10.5%), unintended operation of instruments (8.6%), system errors (5%), and video/imaging problems (2.6%)."

The more complicated surgeries involving vital organs were naturally the most dangerous. Head and neck surgeries accounted for 19.7% of all adverse results, and cardiothoracic procedures accounted for 6.4%. The much more common urology and gynecology procedures had adverse event rates of 1.4% and 1.9%. The researchers are quick to note that despite the high number of malfunctions, a vastly higher number of robotic procedures went off without a hitch. They say increased adoption of these techniques will go a long way toward resolving bugs and device failures.
Medicine

The Mystery of Acupuncture Partly Explained In Rat Study 159 159

hackingbear writes: A biological mechanism explaining part of the mystery of acupuncture has been pinpointed by scientists studying rats. The research showed that applying electroacupuncture to an especially powerful acupuncture point known as stomach meridian point 36 (St36) affected a complex interaction between hormones known as the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. In stressed rats exposed to unpleasant cold stimulation, HPA activity was reduced (abstract). The findings provide the strongest evidence yet that the ancient Chinese therapy has more than a placebo effect when used to treat chronic stress, it is claimed. "Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs exert their therapeutic effects on these same mechanisms," said lead investigator Dr Ladan Eshkevari, from Georgetown University medical center in Washington DC.
Earth

Fossil Fuels Are Messing With Carbon Dating 108 108

Taco Cowboy writes: The carbon dating method used in determining the age of an artifact is based on the amount of radioactive carbon-14 isotopes it contains. The C-14 within an organism is continually decaying into stable carbon isotopes, but since the organism is absorbing more C-14 during its life, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 remains about the same as the ratio in the atmosphere. When the organism dies, the ratio of C-14 within its carcass begins to gradually decrease. The amount of C-14 drops by half every 5,730 years after death.

The fossil fuels we're burning are old — so old they don't contain any C-14. The more we burn these fossil fuels, the more non-C-14 carbon we pump into the atmosphere. If emissions continue as they have for the past few decades, then by year 2050 a shirt made in that year (2050) will have the same C-14 signature as a shirt worn by William the Conqueror a thousand years earlier.
Biotech

Genetic Access Control Code Uses 23andMe DNA Data For Internet Racism 312 312

rjmarvin writes: A GitHub project is using the 23andMe API for genetic decoding to act as a way to bar users from entering websites based on their genetic data — race and ancestry. "Stumbling around GitHub, I came across this bit of code: Genetic Access Control. Now, budding young racist coders can check out your 23andMe page before they allow you into their website! Seriously, this code uses the 23andMe API to pull genetic info, then runs access control on the user based on the results. Just why you decide not to let someone into your site is up to you, but it can be based on any aspect of the 23andMe API. This is literally the code to automate racism."
Space

New Horizons Returns Best Images of Pluto's Moons Hydra and Nix 33 33

An anonymous reader writes: Over the weekend, the New Horizons probe sent back more data from Pluto, including two of the best images we'll get of its small moons Nix and Hydra. Nix measures about 42km long by 36km wide, and has a large reddish spot on it. The resolution allows us to see features about 3km across. Hydra is slightly bigger, and the pictures were taken with a different instrument, so resolution is a bit better. "Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull's-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater. ... Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto's satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan. ...Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull's-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater." Images have been taken of Styx and Kerberos, the most recently discovered moons of Pluto, but they won't be transmitted back for a while, yet. NASA has also released an image of a mountain range inside Pluto's heart-shaped region.
Biotech

Scientists Arm Cells With Tiny Lasers 35 35

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have implanted tiny lasers within living cells. A team of physicists and biologists have coaxed a cell to envelop a tiny plastic sphere that acts like a resonant cavity—thus placing a whole laser within a cell (abstract). The spheres are seasoned with a fluorescent dye, so that a zap with one color of light makes them radiate at another color. The light then resonates in the sphere, triggering laser action and amplifying itself. So although demonstrated only in cultured cells, the technique might someday be used to track the movement of individual cells, say, within cancerous tumors.
Education

Video CanSat Helps Students Make & Launch Sub-Orbital 'Satellites' (Video) 22 22

The Magnitude (motto: "Powered by Curiosity") "Can-sized satellites" aren't technically satellites because they're launched on rockets that typically can't get much higher than 10,000 feet, or as payloads on weather balloons that can hit 100,000+ feet but (obviously) can't go beyond the Earth's atmosphere. But could they be satellites? Sure. Get a rocket with enough punch to put them in orbit and off you go -- something Magnitude Co-founder and CEO Ted Tagami hopes to see happening in his local school district by 2020. Meanwhile, they'll sell you assembled CanSat packages or help you build your own (or anything in between), depending on your schools resources and aspirations. Have a question or an idea? Talk to Ted. He'd love to hear from you. Use the Magnitude Web form or send email to hello at magnitude dot io. Either way works.
Communications

Comet Lander Falls Silent; Scientists Fear It Has Moved 36 36

vivaoporto writes: European scientists say the Philae comet lander fell silent on Monday, raising fears that it has moved again on its new home millions of miles from Earth. Over the last few weeks, Rosetta has been flying along the terminator plane of the comet in order to find the best location to communicate with Philae. However, over the weekend of 10-11 July, the star trackers struggled to lock on to stars at the closer distances. No contact has been made with Philae since 9 July. The data acquired at that time are being investigated by the lander team to try to better understand Philae's situation.

One possible explanation being discussed at DLR's Lander Control Center is that the position of Philae may have shifted slightly, perhaps by changing its orientation with respect to the surface in its current location. The lander is likely situated on uneven terrain, and even a slight change in its position – perhaps triggered by gas emission from the comet – could mean that its antenna position has also now changed with respect to its surroundings. This could have a knock-on effect as to the best position Rosetta needs to be in to establish a connection with the lander.

The current status of Philae remains uncertain and is a topic of on-going discussion and analysis. But in the meantime, further commands are being prepared and tested to allow Philae to re-commence operations. The lander team wants to try to activate a command block that is still stored in Philae's computer and which was already successfully performed after the lander's unplanned flight across to the surface to its final location. "Although the mission will now focus its scientific priority on the orbiter, Rosetta will continue attempting – up to and past perihelion – to obtain Philae science packets once a stable link has been acquired," adds Patrick Martin, Rosetta mission manager.
NASA

Smithsonian Using Kickstart Campaign To Save Armstrong's Moon Suit 228 228

qpgmr writes: The Smithsonian is appealing for assistance to raise enough money to preserve Neil Armstrong's moon suit. The "Reboot the Suit: Bring Back Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit" campaign launched Monday on Kickstarter, marking 46 years since Armstrong's moonwalk in 1969. Smithsonian reports: "....on the anniversary of that 'small step for a man,' the Smithsonian Institution announced a plan of action that is, in its own way, a giant leap for funding the job with what the Institution’s first federal Kickstarter campaign. With a goal of raising $500,000 in 30 days—by offering incentives such as exclusive updates to 3D printed facsimiles of the space suit gloves—museum officials hope to be able to unveil a restored spacesuit by the time of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing four years from now, in 2019."
NASA

NASA Funded Study States People Could Be On the Moon By 2021 For $10 Billion 241 241

MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle reported that NextGen Space LLC has released the results of a study that suggests that if the United States were to choose to do space in some new and creative ways, American moon boots could be on the lunar surface by 2021. The cost from the authorization to the first crewed lunar landing would be just $10 billion. The study was partly funded by NASA and was reviewed by the space agency and commercial space experts.
Space

Elon Musk: Faulty Strut May Have Led To Falcon 9 Launch Failure 220 220

garyisabusyguy writes: This Forbes article provides the best analysis of the loss of the last Falcon 9 mission based on information released by Elon Musk to reporters. Highlights include:
  • 1. Sound triangulation led them to identify a strut holding helium tank as root cause where the falling helium tank pinched a line causing overpressure in the LOX tank.
  • 2. The failure occurred at 2,000 pounds of force, and the struts were rated at 10,000 pounds of force. They initially dismissed this as a cause until sounds triangulation pointed back to the strut
  • 3. Further testing of struts in stock found one that failed at 2,000 pounds of force, with further analysis identifying poor grain structure in the metal, which caused weakness
  • 4. It will be months before the next launch while SpaceX goes over procurement and QA processes all struts and bolts, and re-assesses any "near misses" with Air Force and NASA
  • 5. Next launch will include failure mode software, which will allow recovery of the Dragon module during loss of the launch vehicle since they determined that it could have saved the Dragon module in this lost mission

.

Space

Stephen Hawking and Russian Billionaire Start $100 Million Search For Aliens 208 208

An anonymous reader writes: Stephen Hawking is joining forces with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to start a $100 million effort to search the skies for signs of alien life. The initiative is called Breakthrough Listen, which will pay for large amounts of access to the Green Bank Telescope and the Parkes Telescope to scan the skies for signals over the next 10 years. They say the search will be 50 times more sensitive than previous attempts, cover 10 times more of the sky, and scan a greater portion of the radio spectrum 100x faster. They add, "All data will be open to the public. This will likely constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public. The Breakthrough Listen team will use and develop the most powerful software for sifting and searching this flood of data. All software will be open source." The project is also supported by Frank Drake, Ann Druyan, and Lord Martin Rees.
Space

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo's Re-entry Tech: the Feather 62 62

Dutch Gun writes: When most people think about rocket science, they think of the challenge of getting a spacecraft into space. However, the problem of safely re-entering the atmosphere is a daunting challenge as well. Virgin Galactic introduces us to the concept of "the feather," their term for the combination of fixed-wing and capsule based solutions both used by spaceships in the past, and explain how they believe this hybrid approach to be a superior solution. SpaceShipTwo folds its wings in the initial decent, acting a bit like a badminton shuttlecock, when a capsule decent has the most advantages. In the latter part of the decent, the wings are extended, giving the vehicle the advantages of a glider-like landing.
Education

US Wins Math Olympiad For First Time In 21 Years 280 280

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. won the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time in 21 years. Gender diversity is brought up in this NPR article because the eight team members on the U.S. team were all male, but they made a point to mention that of the top 12 people participating in the U.S. Math Olympiad, 2 are female, which is better than last year when there were no females in the top 12. "I will say that it's not really a super-great spectator sport, in the sense that if you are watching them, it will look like they are thinking," Po-Shen Loh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and head coach for Team USA says. "Although I will assure you that inside their heads, if you could spectate, that would be quite a sport."
Space

Company Aims To Launch Spacecraft On Beams of Microwaves 120 120

MarkWhittington writes: The quest for cheap access to space, to make space travel as inexpensive as air travel, has eluded engineers, government policy makers, and business entrepreneurs from before the beginning of the space age. It has become axiomatic, almost to the point of being a cliché, that the true space age will not begin until launch costs come down significantly. Forbes reported about a company called Escape Dynamics that has a unique approach to the problem. The company proposes to launch payloads into low Earth orbit on beams of microwaves.