sciencehabit writes "Here's a twist: Scientists have designed a flexible, yarn-like artificial muscle that can also pack a punch. It can contract in 25 milliseconds—a fraction of the time it takes to blink an eye—and can generate power 85 times as great as a similarly sized human muscle. The new muscles are made of carbon nanotubes filled with paraffin wax that can twist or stretch in response to heat or electricity. When the temperature rises, the wax melts and forces the nanotubes to contract. Such artificial muscles, the researchers say, could power smart materials, sensors, robots, and even devices inside the human body."
Dupple writes in with a story about the uncertain future of a proposed bio lab in the heart of cattle country. "Plans to build one of the world's most secure laboratories in the heart of rural America have run into difficulties. The National Bio and Agro defense facility (NBAF) would be the first US lab able to research diseases like foot and mouth in large animals. But reviews have raised worries about virus escapes in the middle of cattle country. For over fifty years the United States has carried out research on dangerous animal diseases at Plum Island, just off the coast of New York. However after 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security raised concerns about the suitability of the location and its vulnerability to terrorist attack."
Velcroman1 writes "Invisibility cloaks and deflector shields, once a staple of popular science-fiction, are now the real deal, researchers say. But here on Earth, top researchers have been battling too, not over the fate of the empire but over whose tech will someday shield U.S. ships. Fractal Antenna Systems came out swinging Wednesday over a 'perfected' invisibility cloak by researchers at Duke and Imperial College. Company CEO and inventor Nathan Cohen issued a scathingly critical press release throwing very visible zingers — and claiming he invented it first. '[Their tech] makes you more, not less, visible,' Cohen said. The company says a patent-pending deflector shield built off a variant of the technology can divert electromagnetic radiation around an object — and they plan to show it off Friday in New York City, at the Radio Club of America."
pev writes "After losing another laptop containing personal information, NASA wants to have all of its laptops encrypted within a month's time with an intermediate ban on laptops containing sensitive information leaving its facilities. Between April 2009 and April 2011 it lost or had stolen 48 'mobile computing devices.' I wonder how long it will be before other large organizations start following suit as a sensible precaution?"
An anonymous reader writes "Climate treaty negotiators would do well to have a little chat with some game theorists, according to this article. The fundamental approach they've been taking for the last several years is flawed, these researchers say, and they can prove it. From the article: 'The scientists gave members of a 10-member group their country’s “treasure”: a 20-euro national savings account, plus a fund for spending on emissions reductions that consisted of 10 black chips worth 10 cents apiece and 10 red chips worth one euro apiece. Each person could then contribute any number of these chips to a common pool. The contributed chips represented greenhouse gas reduction strategies that were relatively inexpensive (black) or expensive (red). Players could communicate freely about their plans for how many chips they intended to contribute.'"
terrancem writes "A newly discovered light-producing cockroach, Lucihormetica luckae, may have already been driven to extinction by a volcanic eruption in Ecuador. The species, only formally described by scientists this year, hasn't been spotted since the Tungurahua Volcano erupted in July 2010. The new species was notable because it represented the only known case of mimicry by bioluminescence in a land animal. Like a venomless king snake beating its tail to copy the unmistakable warning of a rattlesnake, Lucihormetica luckae's bioluminescent patterns are nearly identical to the poisonous click beetle, with which it shares (or shared) its habitat."
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists announced Wednesday that they have mapped the entire genome of the domestic pig, revealing that besides providing tasty bacon and sausages, the animal may also be useful in fighting human diseases. The study published in the journal Nature found that pigs and humans share 112 DNA mutations that have previously been linked to diseases like obesity, diabetes, dyslexia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, according to US and European researchers. Researchers said that because pigs share many of the same complex genetic diseases as humans, the animals would serve as excellent models for studying the underlying biology of human disease."
c0lo writes "'Severely brain-injured Scott Routley hasn't spoken in 12 years. None of his physical assessments since then have shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate, thus being diagnosed as vegetative (vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world).' Scott Routley was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine. British neuroscientist Prof Adrian Owen said Mr Routley was clearly not vegetative. 'Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is.' As a consequence, medical textbooks would need to be updated to include Prof Owen's techniques, because only observational assessments (as opposed to using mind-readers) of Mr. Routley have continued to suggest he is vegetative. Functional MRI machines are expensive (up to $2 million), but it's quite possible that a portable high-end EEG machine, costing about $75,000, can be used at a patient's bedside. Phillip K. Dick's world is one step closer."
An anonymous reader writes "Google has rolled out a new web experiment for Chrome. This one is a visualization of the locations of over 100,000 nearby stars. It pulls data from astrometric databases and catalogs to show accurate relative locations of the stars. You can zoom and pan around the cluster, zoom all the way in to the solar system, or zoom all the way out to see how even this huge number of stars is dwarfed by the rest of the Milky Way. It also has data on a number individual stars in our stellar neighborhood. This web app works best in Chrome (much like their previous one, Jam With Chrome), but I was able to try it in Firefox as well."
Lasrick writes "Nate Silver is at it again. This time, instead of the presidential election, he's focusing on the baseball's Most Valuable Player race for the American league. It's a race that embodies the split among baseball fans between those who think of it from a mathematical perspective (the Moneyball generation) and those who prefer the traditional, feel-of-the-game perspective. Here's a quote: 'On Thursday, the American League will announce the recipient of its Most Valuable Player award. The winner is likely to be Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers star who won the league’s triple crown by leading in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and runs batted in (139). It might seem as if these statistics make Cabrera, the first triple crown winner in either league since 1967, a shoo-in for the M.V.P. But most statistically minded fans would prefer that it go to another player, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.'"
New submitter DaemonDan writes "The first successful pregnancy by IVF was accomplished over 50 years ago, essentially creating a multi-billion dollar industry. Many scientists are trying to take it one step farther with a 100% test tube baby brought to term in an artificial womb. 'Cornell University's Dr. Hung-Ching Liu has engineered endometrial tissues by prompting cells to grow in an artificial uterus. When Liu introduced a mouse embryo into the lab-created uterine lining, "It successfully implanted and grew healthy," she said in this New Atlantis Magazine article. Scientists predict the research could produce an animal womb by 2020, and a human model by early 2030s.' The author of the article seems to believe that birth via artificial wombs could become the new norm, but is it really feasible, desirable or even affordable for the majority of Earth's population?"
Velcroman1 writes "Every second in your body, thousands of tiny isotopes are bursting with radioactive decay. And, all around you, imperceptible gamma rays explode in a brilliant but invisible lightshow. And they've just formed a live band. Yes, you read that correctly. But it's all for science: The Radioactive Orchestra 2.0 is part of a Swedish project to help us understand how low-energy radiation works, by showing the energy patterns of nuclear isotopes. Swedish musician Kristofer Hagbard conceived of the orchestra about a year ago and released an album last spring, but the new 2.0 version of 'the band' allows him to perform live in front of an audience. 'This can be looked at as a piano for high energy photons, so every detection gives us a note,' Hagbard said. 'The musical instrument is as good as the gamma spectrometer we are using.'"
Maow writes with news of a sighting of a rogue gas giant: "'This object was discovered during a scan that covered the equivalent of 1,000 times the [area] of the full moon,' said study co-author Etienne Artigau of the University of Montreal. 'We observed hundreds of millions of stars and planets, but we only found one homeless planet in our neighborhood.' This planet appears to be an astonishingly young 50-120 million years old. The original paper is on the arXiv. Here's hoping the Mayan End-of-World-2012 people don't seize upon this as some kind of impending rogue planet on a collision course with Earth, but one can expect it'll be bantered about on such forums." From the article: "The team believe it has a temperature of about 400C and a mass between four and seven times that of Jupiter - well short of the mass limit that would make it a likely brown dwarf."
Penurious Penguin writes "Tuesday at 6:38AM (2038 GMT Tuesday) thousands of Australians witnessed a solar eclipse in northern Queensland, where it was the first total eclipse in over 1000 years for the specific region. The most prominent view occurred in Cairns, while elsewhere in locations such as New Zealand, parts of Indonesia and Australia, partial eclipses were visible. Totality lasted approximately two minutes — video and photos can be seen at Universe Today. Scientists are also taking the opportunity to study both land and aquatic wildlife in affected areas."
ananyo writes "Many people dislike the clashing dissonances of modernist composers such as Arnold Schoenberg. But what's our problem with dissonance? There has long been thought to be a physiological reason why at least some kinds of dissonance sound jarring. Two tones close in frequency interfere to produce 'beating': what we hear is just a single tone rising and falling in loudness. If the difference in frequency is within a certain range, rapid beats create a rattling sound called roughness. An aversion to roughness has seemed consistent with the common dislike of intervals such as minor seconds. Yet when cognitive neuroscientist Marion Cousineau of the University of Montreal in Quebec and her colleagues asked amusic subjects (who cannot distinguish between different musical tones) to rate the pleasantness of a whole series of intervals, they showed no distinctions between any of the intervals but disliked beating as much as people with normal hearing. Instead the researchers propose that harmonicity is the key (abstract). Notes contain many overtones — frequencies that are whole-number multiples of the basic frequency in the note. For consonant 'pleasant sounding' intervals the overtones of the two notes tend to coincide as whole-number multiples, whereas for dissonant intervals this is no longer the case. The work suggests that harmonicity is more important than beating for dissonance aversion in normal hearers."
Nwe submitter arrow3D writes "A new startup in Norway is focused on design and fabrication at the level and quality of nature. Using pure mathematical volumes, rather than surfaces or voxels, they are developing a new generation of 3D modelling tools specifically aimed at high resolution 3D printing, to 'support the future of design and manufacturing.' Their software was recently used to create the multi-material Minotaur Helmet by Neri Oxman from MIT, as featured in Wired UK last month. An interesting thought (as recently illustrated in Dilbert) is the idea of a Physical Turing Test for synthetic objects and that both Turing Tests may require each other — i.e. only by designing and building at the resolution of nature can we achieve the intelligence of natural objects. Their software platform is still very much under development but they've started trying to 'save the world from polygons' with a KickStarter campaign that's live now."
eldavojohn writes "Professor Gerald "Jerry" Crabtree of Stanford's Crabtree Laboratory published a paper (PDF) that has appeared in two parts in Trends in Genetics. The paper opens with a very controversial suggestion: 'I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions.' From there, Crabtree speculates we're on the decline of human intelligence and we have been for at least a couple millennia. His argument suggests agriculture and, following from that, cities, have allowed us to break free of some environmental forces on competitive genetic mutations — a la Mike Judge's theory. However, the conclusion of the paper urges humans to keep calm and carry on, as any attempt to fix this genetic trend would almost certainly be futile and disturbing."
According to a story at Northwest Public Radio, the state of Virginia's board of education has decided to institute different passing scores for standardized tests, based on the racial and cultural background of the students taking the test. Apparently the state has chosen to divide its student population into broad categories of black, white, Hispanic, and Asian — which takes painting with a rather broad brush, to put it mildly. From the article (there's an audio version linked as well): "As part of Virginia's waiver to opt out of mandates set out in the No Child Left Behind law, the state has created a controversial new set of education goals that are higher for white and Asian kids than for blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities. ... Here's what the Virginia state board of education actually did. It looked at students' test scores in reading and math and then proposed new passing rates. In math it set an acceptable passing rate at 82 percent for Asian students, 68 percent for whites, 52 percent for Latinos, 45 percent for blacks and 33 percent for kids with disabilities." (If officially determined group membership determines passing scores, why stop there?) Florida passed a similar measure last month.
New submitter calder123 writes "Last week, the BBC won an FOIA tribunal ruling that they didn't have to reveal the names of attendees at a seminar in 2006, designed to shape the BBC's coverage of climate change issues. The document, uncovered by Maurizio Morabito, puts comments by the BBC that the meeting was held under Chatham House rules, and that the seminar drew on top scientific advice in an interesting light. In a bizarre coincidence, four of the BBC's attendees at the seminar have resigned in the last few days."
the_newsbeagle writes "It's hard to determine what the unconscious brain is doing since, after all, we're not aware of it. But in a neat set of experiments, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's consciousness lab found evidence that the unconscious brain can parse language and perform simple arithmetic. The researchers flashed colorful patterns at test subjects that took up all their attention and allowed for the subliminal presentation of sentences or equations. In the language processing experiment, researchers found that subjects became consciously aware of a sentence sooner if it was jarring and nonsensical (like, for example, the sentence 'I ironed coffee')."