Science

Studying the Roots of Individuality 42

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-the-case-of-nature-v.-nurture dept.
An anonymous reader sends an article from Quanta Magazine about research into individuality — how behavior varies (or doesn't) when genetics and environment are as similar as possible. Scientists are taking various strains of fruit fly that are genetically almost identical (the result of extreme inbreeding) and raising them alone in environments that are exact copies of each other. Then they run the fruit flies through a series of decision-making tests to see how varied their responses are. Some fruit fly strains show a high degree of variance for tasks like navigating a maze. Other strains show almost no variance, suggesting there's a genetic component to individuality. The scientists also found that manipulating a certain set of neurons in the fruit flies's brains could increase the variation in choices they make. One theory suggests that evolution tends to select for genes that increase individuality by making it more difficult for predators to predict what the prey will do next.
Businesses

What's the Business Model For Commercializing Cyborgs? 43

Posted by Soulskill
from the whatever-the-borg-used dept.
An anonymous reader points out an article about Backyard Brains, a small company notable for turning cockroaches into cyborgs. The article explores how such an odd use of science and technology can actually form the basis of a business. They primarily work with educational organizations to bring their brand of DIY neuroscience to students and other interested parties. School budgets are often small, so a key part of Backyard Brains's goal is to make things inexpensive. "We want to inspire a generation of citizen-scientists. If we can lower the barrier to entry so the only limit is creativity, that might help with finding treatments for neurological disorders." As they find success, they're developing more research kits, and finding more ways to make cyborg insects into a business.
ISS

ISS Crew Stuck In Orbit While Russia Assesses Rocket 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the enjoy-your-extra-space-vacation dept.
astroengine sends word that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station will be staying up there longer than expected while engineers for Russia's space program try to figure out if it's safe to launch more rockets. The recent Russian cargo mission that spun out of control and eventually fell back into the atmosphere sparked worries that a vessel sent to retrieve the astronauts wouldn't make it all the way to the ISS's orbit. Roscosmos and NASA said the next rocket launch will be postponed at least two months. Even though the Russian cargo ship failed to reach the ISS, they have plenty of food, water, and air to last them to the next scheduled supply run — a SpaceX launch in late June.
Science

New Magnesium-Alloy Foam From NYU's Nikhil Gupta Floats On Water 101

Posted by timothy
from the floating-on-sand-is-old-hat dept.
Jason Koebler writes: A new class of magnesium-alloy syntactic foam, which is made out of hollow particles to lower its weight and density is one of the strongest metals for its weight and density ever developed, which makes it ideal for use in boats. Developed by Nikhil Gupta at NYU Polytechnic University, the alloy is 44 percent stronger than similar, aluminum-based foams, and each individual sphere within the foam can withstand pressure of more than 25,000 pounds per square inch before breaking, which is roughly 100 times the pressure exerted by water coming out of a firehose. Gupta's foams are currently used by the Navy and he suspects this one will be ready for use in warships within three years.
Earth

California Gets Past the Yuck Factor With "Toilet To Tap" Water Recycling 278

Posted by samzenpus
from the flush-me-a-cup dept.
HughPickens.com writes: From a marketing point of view, using treated sewage to create drinking water is a proposition that has proved difficult to sell to customers. Now John Schwartz writes in the NYT that as California scrambles for ways to cope with its crippling drought and the mandatory water restrictions imposed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown, enticing people to drink recycled water is requiring California residents to get past what experts call the "yuck" factor. Efforts in the 1990s to develop water reuse in San Diego and Los Angeles were beaten back by activists who denounced what they called, devastatingly, "toilet to tap." Orange County swung people to the idea of drinking recycled water with a special purification plant which has been operating since 2008 avoiding a backlash with a massive public relations campaign that involved more than 2,000 community presentations. The county does not run its purified water directly into drinking water treatment plants; instead, it sends the water underground to replenish the area's aquifers and to be diluted by the natural water supply. This environmental buffer seems to provide an emotional buffer for consumers as well.

In 2000, Los Angeles actually completed a sewage reclamation plant capable of providing water to 120,000 homes — the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys.The plan was abandoned after public outrage. Angelenos, it seemed, were too good to drink perfectly safe recycled water — dismissed as "toilet to tap." But Los Angeles is ready to try again, with plans to provide a quarter of the city's needs by 2024 with recycled water and captured storm water routed through aquifers. "The difference between this and 2000 is everyone wants this to happen," says Marty Adams. The inevitable squeamishness over drinking water that was once waste ignores a fundamental fact, says George Tchobanoglous: "When it comes down to it, water is water. Everyone who lives downstream on a river is drinking recycled water."
Space

Construction At SpaceX's New Spaceport About To Begin 57

Posted by timothy
from the nice-place-for-it dept.
schwit1 writes: SpaceX has begun prepping the construction sites at its private spaceport in Brownsville, Texas. The county has begun work on a road to where the spaceport command center will be, and SpaceX has established its construction headquarters in a double-wide trailer there. It is expected that actual construction of the command center will begin in August, with the launchpad construction to follow. The expected cost for building the entire spaceport: $100 million. Compare that to the billions the Russians are spending for Vostochny, or the billions that NASA spends on comparable facilities.
Earth

Ice Loss In West Antarctica Is Speeding Up 422

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A new study just published on Antarctic ice loss by Christopher Harig and Frederik Simons of Princeton confirm West Antarctica is losing mass fast. The study used satellite measurements to determine the rate of mass loss. The lead author of the study told The Guardian: "It is very important that we continue long term monitoring of how mass changes in ice sheets. For West Antarctica in particular this is important because of how it is thought to be more unstable, where the feedbacks can cause more and more ice loss from the land over time. These strong regional accelerations that we see are very robustly measured and imply that Antarctica may become a major contributor to sea level rise in the near future. This increase in the mass loss rate, in ten years, accelerations like that show that things are beginning to change on human time scales."
Space

The Milky Way's Most Recent Supernova That Nobody Saw 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the didn't-see-it dept.
StartsWithABang writes: A little over 300 years ago, a supernova — a dying, ultramassive star — exploded, giving rise to such a luminous explosion that it might have shone as bright as our entire galaxy. And nobody on Earth saw it. Located in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, the light was obscured, but thanks to a suite of great, space-based observatories (Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra), we've been able to piece together exactly what occurred. Not only that, but observations of a light-echo, or reflected light off of the nearby gas, has allowed us to see the light from this explosion centuries later, and learn exactly how it happened.
Government

World Health Organization Has New Rules For Avoiding Offensive Names 186

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-pustule-by-any-other-name dept.
sciencehabit writes: Last week The World Health Organization (WHO) decided to address not only the physical toll of disease but the stigma inflicted by diseases named for people, places, and animals as well. Among the existing names that its new guidelines "for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases" would discourage: Ebola, swine flu, Rift valley Fever, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and monkey pox. The organization suggests researchers, health officials, and journalists should use more neutral, generic terms, such as severe respiratory disease or novel neurologic syndrome instead. “It will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,” predicts Linfa Wang, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong. “You should not take political correctness so far that in the end no one is able to distinguish these diseases,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn, Germany.
NASA

Apollo 15 Commander Talks About Developing and Driving Lunar Buggy 49

Posted by samzenpus
from the more-fun-than-moon-patrol dept.
szczys writes: Greg Charvat recently sat in on an MIT course called "Engineering Apollo". For this set of sessions, David Scott recounted his experience as an astronaut. David was the commander of the Apollo 15 mission, flew several others, and took part in the development of much of the equipment used in the moon missions. The class is basically him hanging around with a bunch of engineers talking in a level of detail rarely heard. From the Hackaday article: "As if you had any doubts, but David confirms the lunar rover was really fun to drive. The vehicle had a wide wheel base, a low center of gravity, and each wheel had its own motor. But there was one occasion that caused a stir when the rover nearly slid down a mountain."
Games

Psychologist: Porn and Video Game Addiction Are Leading To 'Masculinity Crisis' 950

Posted by Soulskill
from the suggests-going-outside-and-chopping-some-wood dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Philip Zimbardo is a prominent psychologist from Stanford, most notable for leading the notorious Stanford prison experiment. He has published new research findings based on the lives of 20,000 young men, and his conclusion is stark: there is a developing "masculinity crisis" caused by addiction to video games and pornography. "Our focus is on young men who play video games to excess, and do it in social isolation — they are alone in their room," says Zimbardo. "It begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward center of the brain, and produces a kind of excitement and addiction. What I'm saying is — boys' brains are becoming digitally rewired."

As an example, Zimbardo uses this quote from one young man: "When I'm in class, I'll wish I was playing World of Warcraft. When I'm with a girl, I'll wish I was watching pornography, because I'll never get rejected." Zimbardo doesn't think there's a specific time threshold at which playing video games goes from being acceptable to excessive. He says it varies by individual, and is more based on a "psychological change in mindset." To fight the problem, he suggest families need to track how much time is being spent on video games compared to other activities. "He also called for better sex education in schools — which should focus not only on biology and safety, but also on emotions, physical contact and romantic relationships."
Earth

Can Earthquakes Be Predicted Algorithmically? 94

Posted by timothy
from the hindsight-is-excellent dept.
An anonymous reader with this story about a practical application of big data analysis as applied to the trove of sensor readings taken by satellites and by ground-based senosrs. A company called Terra Seismic says that earthquakes can be predicted 20-30 days before they occur, by sifting data for thermal, ionic, and other abnormalities in areas where quakes are considered likely. Says the linked article: "The company claims to have successfully predicted a number of earthquakes. For example, on 5th of April 2013, the firm issued a forecast for Japan. On 12th April 2013, an earthquake hit the identified area and 33 people were injured. On 4th June 2013, the firm again made a prediction for an earthquake in North Italy. On 21st June, an earthquake hit the identified area. On 3rd March 2013, the firm issued a forecast for an earthquake in Iran. Again, after 35 days, an earthquake hit the identified area."
Medicine

Researchers Discover Breakthrough Drug Delivery Method By Changing Shape of Pill 66

Posted by timothy
from the in-your-face dept.
ErnieKey writes: Researchers at the UCL School of Pharmacy, University College London have found a way to change the rate of dissolution within medication via a 3D printing method. Researchers used MakerBot's water- soluble filament, cut it into tiny pieces and mixed in acetaminophen. They then used the Filabot extruder to extrude a drug infused filament. With this filament they printed odd shaped pills and tested them to see what effect different shapes had on the speed at which they dissolved. What they concluded was that these odd shaped pills allowed for different rates of absorption, enabling custom medications for patients.
Stats

Poker Pros Win Against AI, But Experts Peg Match As Statistical Draw 65

Posted by timothy
from the at-this-rate-they-win-next-year dept.
hypnosec writes with some positive news for Skynet watchers, in that humans still have at least a slight lead against the AIs who might one day imprison us in energy-harvesting goo tanks, or at least beating us in Las Vegas. The two-day poker showdown involving four of the world's top (human) players and a Carnegie Mellon University AI program called Claudico saw the professionals win, after several days of heads-up no-limit Texas Hold'em. "Despite the win, the poker players' $732,713 collective lead over Claudico wasn't quite large enough to attain statistical significance, experts have said. This means that the results can't be accepted as scientifically reliable thereby indicating that the "Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence" competition effectively ended in a statistical tie." On the other hand, the computers sure got over what looked like a rout by the humans.
NASA

Messenger Data Says Mercury's Magnetic Past Goes Back Billions of Years 26

Posted by timothy
from the do-you-have-receipts? dept.
Space.com notes a study published in the May 7th issue of Science (abstract) which concludes not only that Mercury has a magnetic history dating back billions of years, but also that the strength of that field means that it once rivaled Earth's own magnetic field, though it is now "about 100 times weaker." The source of this conclusion is data gathered prior to the crash of NASA's Messenger probe into Mercury's surface on April 30 of this year. Says the story: The researchers analyzed magnetic data collected by MESSENGER in the fall of 2014 and 2015, when the spacecraft flew incredibly close to the planet's surface, at altitudes as low as 9 miles (15 kilometers). In contrast, the lowest that MESSENGER flew in previous years was between 125 and 250 miles (200 and 400 km). ... The scientists detected magnetized rocks in a part of Mercury's crust that, due to the presence of many craters from cosmic impacts, appears to be quite ancient. The researchers suggest the rocks were once magnetized by the planet's magnetic field, and based on the age and amount of the magnetized rocks, as well as how strongly they were magnetized, the investigators deduced that Mercury's magnetic field has persisted for 3.8 billion years.
Medicine

WHO Declares Liberian Ebola Outbreak Over 39

Posted by timothy
from the when-better-news-is-good-news dept.
The Washington Post reports that after 42 days with no new cases of Ebola infection in Liberia, the World Health Organization has declared over the outbreak which killed more than 4,000 people in that country; 42 days means twice the known maximum incubation period for the disease, though scientists' understanding of the virus's persistence continues to evolve. From the WHO's statement: Health officials have maintained a high level of vigilance for new cases. During April, the country’s 5 dedicated Ebola laboratories tested around 300 samples every week. All test results were negative.

While WHO is confident that Liberia has interrupted transmission, outbreaks persist in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, creating a high risk that infected people may cross into Liberia over the region’s exceptionally porous borders.
Patents

Brainwave-Reading Patents Spike On Increase In Commercial Mind-Reading Apps 29

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-out-of-my-brain dept.
smaxp writes: Consumer market researcher Nielsen leads the pack, with patents describing ways to detect brain activity with EEG and translate it into what someone truly thinks about, say, a new product, advertising, or packaging. Microsoft Corp. holds patents that assess mental states, with the goal of determining the most effective way to present information. "Neurotech has gone well beyond medicine, with non-medical corporations, often under the radar, developing neurotechnologies to enhance work and life," said SharpBrains Chief Executive Alvaro Fernandez at the NeuroGaming conference in San Francisco.
Space

Shape of the Universe Determined To Be Really, Really Flat 235

Posted by timothy
from the how-flat-was-it dept.
StartsWithABang writes: You might imagine all sorts of possibilities for how the Universe could have been shaped: positively curved like a higher-dimensional sphere, negatively curved like a higher-dimensional saddle, folded back on itself like a donut/torus, or spatially flat on the largest scales, like a giant Cartesian grid. Yet only one of these possibilities matches up with our observations, something we can probe simply by using our knowledge of how light travels in both flat and curved space, and measuring the CMB, the source of the most distant light in the Universe. The result? A Universe that's so incredibly flat, it's indistinguishable from perfection. Which means it's probably even flatter than Kansas.
Medicine

Ebola Lurked In Cured Patient's Eye 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the things-I'd-like-to-avoid-in-my-lifetime dept.
An anonymous reader writes: During the Ebola outbreak last year, Dr. Ian Crozier was infected. He was eventually airlifted to Emory University for treatment, and a couple months later he was cured of the disease — or so physicians thought. Not long after he was released, his left eye began bothering him. His sight faded, and he felt intense pressure and pain in his eye. Examination of the eye found it teeming with Ebola. His doctors were surprised. Cured patients frequently deal with health issues long after the virus is gone, but this adds a new dimension to the course of the disease.

Doctors say Crozier posed no threat to others through casual contact; the virus did not exist in his tears or on the surface of his eye. But in addition to the new symptoms, his eye turned from blue to green. And doctors had to rush to disinfect the exam area used for what they thought was an Ebola-free patient. Research is ongoing to determine whether and how to protect from this lingering ebola infection. One theory suggests the virus survived, but was damaged somehow. Crozier was treated with antiviral drugs, and his eye improved, but doctors aren't sure whether the drug actually helped. Either way, it's made the medical community realize this is a longer battle than they had thought.
Earth

Subsurface Ocean Waves Can Be More Than 500 Meters High 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
An anonymous reader writes: New field studies out of MIT found that "internal waves" — massive waves below the surface of the ocean — can reach enormous sizes. The most powerful internal waves known to science are in the South China Sea, and they can be over 500 meters high. These waves mix disparate layers of ocean water, and contribute to evening temperatures between various bodies of water (abstract). The waves grow larger as they propagate, and carry on all year. These waves have enough mass to affect the earth-moon system: "To cut a long story short, it's not unreasonable to say internal waves play a role in the moon moving away or receding from the Earth. They are big enough that they affect large-scale celestial motions."