NASA Chief Says Ban On Chinese Partnerships Is Temporary 54

An anonymous reader writes: Current head of NASA Charles Bolden has spoken out against the 4-year-old ban on collaborating with China. According to Bolden working with the Chinese is vital to the future of space exploration. Reuters reports: "The United States should include China in its human space projects or face being left out of new ventures to send people beyond the International Space Station, NASA chief Charles Bolden said on Monday. Since 2011, the U.S. space agency has been banned by Congress from collaborating with China, due to human rights issues and national security concerns. China is not a member of the 15-nation partnership that owns and operates the station, a permanently staffed research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, but Bolden says working China will be necessary in the future."
Data Storage

Ion-Based Data Allows Atom-Sized Storage Cells Similar To Brain Structure ( 19

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers in Germany have developed a method of writing data with ions and retrieving it with electrons that opens the path for atom-sized storage devices which are similar to structures found in the human brain. The Nanoelectronic group at Kiel University joined the Ruhr Universitat Bochum to seek alternatives to conventional memory technologies, which involve the displacement of electrons by applying voltage, but which promise little more advance in terms of capacity or form-factor. The new technique is based on electrical resistance using a solid ion conductor.

Hi-Tech Body Implants and the Biohacker Movement ( 66

szczys writes: Body modification has been growing in popularity. It's pretty common to see people with multiple piercings or stretched earlobes (called gauging). With this wider acceptance has risen a specific subset of Biohacking that seeks to add technology to your body through implants and other augmentation. The commonly available tech right now includes the addition of a magnet in your fingertip, or an RFID chip in your hand to unlock doors and start your car. Cameron Coward looked into this movement — called Grinding — to ask what it's like to live with tech implants, and where the future will take us.

Why NASA Rejected Lockheed Martin's Jupiter For Commercial Resupply Services 2 ( 29

MarkWhittington writes: Recently, NASA rejected Lockheed Martin's bid for a contract for the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program as being too expensive. CRS-2 is the follow-on to the current CRS program that has SpaceX and Orbital Systems sending supplies to the International Space Station. Motley Fool explained why the aerospace giant was left behind and denied a share of what might be $14 billion between 2018 and 2024. In essence, Lockheed Martin tried to get the space agency to pay for a spacecraft that would do far more than just take cargo to and from the International Space Station.
The Almighty Buck

Author Joris Luyendijk: Economics Is Not a Science ( 352

The Real Dr John writes: A Nobel prize in economics, awarded this year to Angus Deaton, implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modeling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths. In 1994 economists Myron Scholes and Robert Merton, with their work on derivatives, seemed to have hit on a formula that yielded a safe but lucrative trading strategy. In 1997 they were awarded the Nobel prize in economics. A year later, Long-Term Capital Management lost $4.6bn (£3bn) in less than four months; a bailout was required to avert the threat to the global financial system.

Scientists Hope To Attract Millions To "DNA.LAND" ( 32

An anonymous reader writes: Started by computational geneticist Yaniv Erlich, and geneticist Joseph Pickrell at the New York Genome Center and Columbia University in New York, DNA.Land is a project which hopes to create a crowdsourced DNA database for genetic studies. Nature reports: "The project, DNA.LAND, aims to entice people who have already had their genomes analyzed by consumer genetics companies to share that data, allowing DNA.LAND geneticists to study the information. Although some consumer genetic-testing companies share data with researchers, they provide only aggregate information about their customers, not individual genomes. Because the data are not always accompanied by detailed information on patients' health, they are of limited use for drawing links between genes and disease."

Will You Ever Be Able To Upload Your Brain? ( 262

An anonymous reader points out this piece in the Times by professor of neuroscience at Columbia and co-director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience Kenneth Miller, about what it would take to upload a human brain. "Much of the current hope of reconstructing a functioning brain rests on connectomics: the ambition to construct a complete wiring diagram, or 'connectome,' of all the synaptic connections between neurons in the mammalian brain. Unfortunately connectomics, while an important part of basic research, falls far short of the goal of reconstructing a mind, in two ways. First, we are far from constructing a connectome. The current best achievement was determining the connections in a tiny piece of brain tissue containing 1,700 synapses; the human brain has more than a hundred billion times that number of synapses. While progress is swift, no one has any realistic estimate of how long it will take to arrive at brain-size connectomes. (My wild guess: centuries.)"

The Top Secret Chinese Military Project That Led To a Nobel Prize 73 writes: Jeff Guo reports at the Washington Post that development of qinghaosu — or artemisinin — is one of modern China's proudest accomplishments winning a Noble Prize in Medicine this year for Tu Youyou, but it's also a story about Communism, Chairman Mao, and China's return to the world economy. On May 23, 1967, Chinese scientists commenced Project 523, a secret effort that enlisted hundreds of researchers to discover a new malaria drug during the Vietnam War. Although in a better warfare position, the People's Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army) and its allies in the South, Viet Cong, suffered increasing mortality because of malaria epidemics. The project began at the height of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, a brutal time during which academics and intellectuals were murdered, imprisoned, or sent to "reeducation camps" in mass purges.

For doctors and chemists. Project 523 was a lifeline, according to Professor Zhou Yiqing. "By the time Project 523 had got under way, the Cultural Revolution had started and the research provided shelter for scientists facing political persecution." Tu's husband had been banished to the countryside when she was asked to get involved in Project 523. Tu's research project sought to find modern logic in ancient ways, much as the French researchers identified quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree. According to Tu, she and her team screened over 2,000 different Chinese herbs described in old texts, of which about 200 were good enough to test in mice. That's when they hit upon a plant called Artemisia annua: annual wormwood, or qinghao in Chinese. At the time, all of this work remained a Chinese military secret; some of the results were published in Chinese-language journals, but it would be well after the death of Mao Zedong until China would reveal that it had discovered a surprisingly potent new weapon against malaria.

According to Guo the lion's share of the credit rightly goes to Tu and the countless other Chinese scientists who worked on Project 523. But Oxford anthropologist Elisabeth Hsu suggests that the political climate at the time also deserves recognition. Qinghaosu might never have been discovered had it not been for Maoist China's nationalist infatuation with Chinese folk medicine. "It was thus a feature specific to institutions of the People's Republic of China that scientists, who themselves had learnt ways of appreciating traditional knowledge, worked side by side with historians of traditional medicine, who had textual learning," Hsu argues. "This was crucial for the 'discovery' of qinghao."

Chinese Company To Sell Genetically Modified Micro Pigs as Pets ( 137

An anonymous reader writes: Tyne McConnon from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that a research firm in China plans to"sell its 'micro pig' as a pet after it successfully edited the DNA of the animal to stunt its growth. Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) created the pig, which grows to weigh between 14 and 20 kilograms, by changing the DNA responsible for its growth. The company originally genetically modified the Bama pig breed for research but announced at a Bio Tech Leader summit in China recently their plans to sell it."

NASA Releases 'Journey To Mars' Plan -- But Not a Budget ( 167

MarkWhittington writes: NASA released a document describing the steps involved in its Journey to Mars program (PDF). But, as the Wall Street Journal suggests, the "plan" has a conspicuous lack of specifics. It doesn't go into how much the program will cost or what intermediate steps have to be taken before human beings set foot on Mars in the 2030s. This is likely because of the upcoming and subsequent changes of governing administrations — the space agency's deep space exploration goals are likely to get a reevaluation. The plan serves as a public relations document more than anything else.

How Academia Still Struggles With Sexual Harassment ( 342

New submitter Dr. Scatterplot writes: Richard Feynman is celebrated as a brilliant scientist and idiosyncratic character. He is also someone who today might be accused of sexual harassment. That is, if his students felt empowered to report him. Whether his department would have done anything back then is a different matter. How far should academic communities go to protect their intellectual capital, at the expense of further harm to their students, past and present? UC Berkeley and exoplanet astronomers are walking that line with prominent professor and exoplanet discoverer Geoff Marcy. "Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping. As a result of the findings, the women were informed, Marcy has been given 'clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students,' which he must follow or risk 'sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal.''

The Rise and Fall of NASA's Shuttle-Centaur ( 53

An anonymous reader writes: An article at Ars Technica tells the story of Shuttle-Centaur, a NASA project during the mid-1980s to carry a Centaur rocket to orbit within the cargo bay of a space shuttle. As you might expect, shuttle launches became vastly more complex with such heavy yet delicate cargo. Still, officials saw it as an easy way to send probes further into the solar system. They developed a plan to launch Challenger and Atlantis within 5 days of each other in mid-1986 to bring the Ulysses and Galileo probes to orbit, each with its own Shuttle-Centaur. Though popular opinion at the time was that the shuttle program was "unstoppable," individuals within NASA were beginning to push back against slipping safety standards. "While a host of unknowns remained concerning launching a volatile, liquid-fueled rocket stage on the back of a space shuttle armed with a liquid-filled tank and two solid rocket boosters, NASA and its contractors galloped full speed toward a May 1986 launch deadline for both spacecraft." The destruction of Challenger in January, 1986 put Shuttle-Centaur on hold. The safety investigation that ensued quickly came to the conclusion that it presented unacceptable risks, and the project was canceled that June.

Source Code On Trial In DNA Matching Case ( 112

An anonymous reader writes: While computer analysis by other programs was inconclusive in matching DNA evidence to a suspect, one program, TrueAllele, gave a match. As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an expert witness for the defense wants access to the 170,000 lines of source code to determine whether the match is scientifically valid. Not surprisingly, the software creator is resisting. From the article: "TrueAllele, created by Dr. Perlin and in its current version since 2009, is the only computer software system of its kind that interprets DNA evidence using a statistical model. It can single out individuals in a complex DNA mixture by determining how much more probable a match is versus mere coincidence. Complex mixtures can involve multiple people, as well as degraded or small DNA samples. ... Although the technology is patented, the source code itself is not disclosed by any patent and cannot be derived from any publicly disclosed source. The source code has never been revealed, he said, and it would cause irreparable harm to the company if it were. In his declaration, Dr. Perlin said that reading the source code is unnecessary to validate the program, and that a review could be done in his office or online."

Study Finds Higher Rates of Premature Birth Near Fracking Sites ( 130

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have published a study (abstract) noting that pregnant women are more likely to give birth prematurely if they live close to fracking sites. The researchers used data from 40 counties in Pennsylvania, in which 10,946 babies were born between January 2009 and January 2013. They compared the data with the fast spread of fracking sites across the state — thousands have been built since 2006.

"The researchers found that living in the most active quartile of drilling and production activity was associated with a 40 percent increase in the likelihood of a woman giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation (considered pre-term) and a 30 percent increase in the chance that an obstetrician had labeled their pregnancy "high-risk," a designation that can include factors such as elevated blood pressure or excessive weight gain during pregnancy. When looking at all of the pregnancies in the study, 11 percent of babies were born preterm, with the majority (79 percent) born between 32 and 36 weeks."


Scientists Control a Fly's Heartbeat With a Laser ( 17

the_newsbeagle writes: Researchers have demonstrated a laser-based pacemaker in fruit flies, and say that a human version is "not impossible."

The invention makes use of optogenetics, a technique in which the DNA that codes for a light-sensitive protein is inserted into certain cells, enabling those cells to be activated by pulses of light. Researchers often use this method to study neurons in the brain, but in this case the researchers altered flies' heart cells. Then they activated those cardiac cells using pulses of light, causing them to contract in time with the pulses (abstract). Voila, they had an optical pacemaker that worked on living adult fruit flies.

Don't worry, no one can control your heartbeat with a laser just yet. That would require inserting foreign DNA into your heart cells, and also finding a way to shine light through the impediment of your flesh and bones. But lead researcher Chao Zhou of Lehigh University is working on it.


Researchers Say Fukushima Child Cancer Rates 20-50x Higher Than Expected ( 140

New submitter JackSpratts writes: According to the Associated Press, "A new study says children living near the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a rate 20 to 50 times that of children elsewhere, a difference the authors contend undermines the government's position that more cases have been discovered in the area only because of stringent monitoring.

Most of the 370,000 children in Fukushima prefecture (state) have been given ultrasound checkups since the March 2011 meltdowns at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The most recent statistics, released in August, show that thyroid cancer is suspected or confirmed in 137 of those children, a number that rose by 25 from a year earlier. Elsewhere, the disease occurs in only about one or two of every million children per year by some estimates."


Complex Living Brain Simulation Replicates Sensory Rat Behaviour ( 53

New submitter physick writes: The Blue Brain project at EPFL, Switzerland today published the results of more than 10 years work in reconstructing a cellular model of a piece of the somatosensory cortex of a juvenile rat. The paper in Cell describes the process of painstakingly assembling tens of thousands of digital neurons, establishing the location of their synapses, and simulating the resulting neocortical microcircuit on an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. “This is a first draft reconstruction of a piece of neocortex and it’s beautiful,” said Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “It’s like a fundamental building block of the brain.”

How Analog Tide Predictors Changed Human History ( 37

szczys writes: You'd think tide prediction would be quite easy: it comes in, it goes out. But of course it's driven by gravity between the moon and earth and there's a lot more to it. Today, computer models make this easy, but before computers we used incredible analog machines to predict the tides. The best of these machines were the deciding factor in setting a date for the Allies landing in Europe leading to the end of the second world war. From the Hackaday story: "In England, tide prediction was handled by Arthur Thomas Doodson from the Liverpool Tidal Institute. It was Doodson who made the tidal predictions for the Allied invasion at Normandy. Doodson needed access to local tide data, but the British only had information for the nearby ports. Factors like the shallow water effect and local weather impact on tidal behavior made it impossible to interpolate for the landing sites based on the port data. The shallow water effect could really throw off the schedule for demolishing the obstacles if the tide rose too quickly. Secret British reconnaissance teams covertly collected shallow water data at the enemy beaches and sent it to Doodson for analysis. To further complicate things, the operatives couldn't just tell Doodson that the invasion was planned for the beaches of Normandy. So he had to figure it out from the harmonic constants sent to him by William Ian Farquharson, superintendent of tides at the Hydrographic Office of the Royal Navy. He did so using the third iteration of Kelvin's predictor along with another machine. These were kept in separate rooms lest they be taken out by the same bomb.

What Happened To the Martian Ocean and Magnetic Field? ( 141

schwit1 writes with this story at The Atlantic that explores what may have destroyed the Martian atmosphere and ocean. The question of whether there is life on Mars is woven into a much larger thatch of mysteries. Among them: What happened to the ancient ocean that once covered a quarter of the planet's surface? And, relatedly, what made Mars's magnetosphere fade away? Why did a planet that may have looked something like Earth turn into a dry red husk? “We see magnetized rocks on the Mars surface,” said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the InSight mission to Mars, which is set to launch in March. “And so we know Mars had a magnetic field at one time, but it doesn't today. We would like to know the history—when that magnetic field started, when it may have shut down.”
United States

NSF Awards $74.5 Million To Support Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Research ( 9

aarondubrow writes: The National Science Foundation announced $74.5 million in grants for basic research in cybersecurity. Among the awards are projects to understand and offer reliability to cryptocurrencies; invent technologies to broadly scan large swaths of the Internet and automate the detection and patching of vulnerabilities; and establish the science of censorship resistance by developing accurate models of the capabilities of censors. According to NSF, long-term support for fundamental cybersecurity research has resulted in public key encryption, software security bug detection, spam filtering and more.