Harperdog writes "Noah Schactman has a great piece on the Airborne Laser, the ray gun-equipped 747 that became a symbol of wasteful Pentagon weaponeering. Despite sixteen years and billions of dollars in development, the jet could never reliably blast a missile in trials. Now the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces wants the Airborne Laser to be used to defend us against the threat of North Korea's failed missiles."
sciencehabit writes "In a world where we've tamed our environment and largely protected ourselves from the vagaries of nature, we may think we're immune to the forces of natural selection. But a new study finds that the process that drives evolution was still shaping us as recently as the 19th century (abstract). 'The finding comes from an analysis of the birth, death, and marital records of 5923 people born between 1760 and 1849 in four farming or fishing villages in Finland. ... Natural selection was alive and well in all of the villages the researchers surveyed."
MrSeb writes "Numerous research groups around the world are reporting that they have created silicene, a one-atom-thick hexagonal mesh of silicon atoms — the silicon equivalent of graphene. You will have heard a lot about graphene, especially with regard to its truly wondrous electrical properties, but it has one rather major problem: It doesn't have a bandgap, which makes it very hard to integrate into existing semiconductor processes. Silicene, on the other hand, is theorized to have excellent electrical properties, while still being compatible with silicon-based electronics (abstract). For now, silicene has only been observed (with a scanning tunneling electron microscope), but the next step is to grow a silicene film on an insulating substrate so that its properties can be properly investigated."
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have discovered a benign algae eating protozoan in a lake near Oslo, Norway whose gene sequence does not match any known organism living on earth today, and this beasty combines genetic characteristics across plant, animal, and fungal kingdoms. It is believed to be the closest living organism to the original organisms that spawned all animal life on earth."
conner_bw writes "A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crash-landed. The pilot ejected just minutes before the collision. The plane was packed with scientific experiments, including crash test dummies. Dozens of cameras recorded the crash from inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and even on the ejecting pilot's helmet. All of this was done for a feature length documentary to be shown on the Discovery Channel later this year."
Hugh Pickens writes "Representing only 10 percent of the general human population, scientists have long wondered why left-handed people are a rarity. Now a new study suggests lefties are rare because of the balance between cooperation and competition in human evolution and a mathematical model was developed that predicts the percentage of left-handers by sport based on each sport's degree of cooperation versus competition. 'The more social the animal—where cooperation is highly valued—the more the general population will trend toward one side,' says study author Daniel M. Abrams. 'The most important factor for an efficient society is a high degree of cooperation. In humans, this has resulted in a right-handed majority.' If societies were entirely cooperative everyone would be same-handed, but if competition were more important, one could expect the population to be 50-50 because cooperation favors same-handedness—for sharing the same tools, for example while physical competition favors the unusual. In a fight, for example, a left-hander would have the advantage in a right-handed world. The mathematical model accurately predicted the number of elite left-handed athletes in baseball, boxing, hockey, fencing, and table tennis (PDF)—more than 50 percent among top baseball players and well above 10 percent (the general population rate) for the other sports. For other sports like football or hockey where team cooperation is paramount, it is ideal for all individuals to possess the same handedness. For example, in football, blocking schemes are often designed to protect a quarterback's blind side. As a result, it is beneficial for all quarterbacks on the roster to possess the same handedness to minimize variations of the offensive sets. 'The accuracy of our model's predictions when applied to sports data supports the idea that we are seeing the same effect in human society.'"
kkleiner writes "Twenty-seven-year-old Ray Fearing suffered from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a common type of kidney disease, and needed a new kidney. His 24-year-old sister, Cera Fearing, wanted to give him hers. The transplanted kidney immediately began to grow diseased, so doctors removed it. But then something happened that, according to the doctor who performed the procedure, had never been done before. The unhealthy kidney was removed from Ray, and replanted into another patient, and the kidney became healthy and has remained in this second patient ever since."
New submitter jools33 writes "The BBC has a fascinating story about how a mathematical formula revolutionized the world of finance — and ultimately could have been responsible for its downfall. The Black-Scholes mathematical model, introduced in the '70s, opened up the world of options, futures, and derivatives trading in a way that nothing before or since has accomplished. Its phenomenal success and widespread adoption lead to Myron Scholes winning a Nobel prize in economics. Yet the widespread adoption of the model may have been responsible for the financial crisis of the past few years. It's interesting to ponder how algorithms and formulas that we work on today could fundamentally influence humanity's future."
New submitter ph4cr writes with news that a new particle has been discovered at CERN that confirms theoretical predictions. A pre-print of the academic paper is available at the arXiv (PDF). From the article: "Physicists from the University of Zurich have discovered a previously unknown particle composed of three quarks in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator. A new baryon could thus be detected for the first time at the LHC. The baryon known as Xi_b^* confirms fundamental assumptions of physics regarding the binding of quarks. ... In the course of proton collisions in the LHC at CERN, physicists Claude Amsler, Vincenzo Chiochia and Ernest Aguiló from the University of Zurich's Physics Institute managed to detect a baryon with one light and two heavy quarks. The particle Xi_b^* comprises one 'up,' one 'strange' and one 'bottom' quark (usb), is electrically neutral and has a spin of 3/2 (1.5). Its mass is comparable to that of a lithium atom. The new discovery means that two of the three baryons predicted in the usb composition by theory have now been observed."
Hugh Pickens writes "AP reports that when a Delta Airlines flight touched down at Midway International Airport in Chicago, the passengers looked out the window to see the jet surrounded by fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. Health officials came through the door wearing facemasks and other protective gear. As it turns out the bedbugs that infest hotels appear to be the source of red marks on a 50-year old Minnesota woman that prompted health officials to quarantine the jet for fear they were dealing with something much more serious: monkeypox. Lise Sievers called her mother during a layover in Detroit and told her that one of the children she visited and is trying to adopt in Uganda had some pus-filled red bumps and also mentioned she had some small bumps of her own, a rash that she suspected was the handiwork of bedbugs. Those two very different bumps — one with pus, one without — got jumbled up in Siever's mother's mind, and she called a hospital near her Indiana home to ask about treatment for her daughter. 'She told them her daughter is on a flight back from Uganda and has some red bumps which are pussing and what should she do to treat them,' says Roger Sievers. 'She was looking for some general advice.' Health officials feared they were looking for monkeypox, a rare and sometimes fatal disease mostly in found in central and western Africa. After the passengers waited on the plane for a couple of hours, officials brought good news. 'They came back down and told my mom it was bed bug bites and they started releasing people.'"
LilaG writes "To develop new materials for robotics, scientists have developed graphene-based actuators that convert electricity into motion. In robots, actuators act like muscles, driving the movement of mechanical arms and fins. Most actuator materials, such as ceramics and conductive polymers, respond slowly, require a lot of power, or provide very little force. To make speedy, strong actuators, Chinese researchers coated graphene paper with the polymer polydiacetylene. Graphene provides a highly conductive, flexible backing for the fragile polymer crystals, which deform in response to electrical current. The actuators can bend 200 times per second and generate more force than most current materials. Using a sheet of the material, the scientists built a simple inchworm robot that arches and relaxes to crawl forward."
astroengine writes "There are 10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy that are the same size as our sun. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that astronomers have identified a clone to our sun lying only 200 light-years away. Still, it is fascinating to imagine a yellow dwarf that is exactly the same mass, temperature and chemical composition as our nearest star. In a recent paper reporting on observations of the star — called HP 56948 — astronomer Jorge Melendez of the University of San Paulo, Brazil, calls it 'the best solar twin known to date.' Using HP 56948 as a SETI target seems like a logical step, says Melendez."
ananyo writes "Individual neurons in birds' brains can relay crucial information about Earth's magnetic field, possibly providing the animals with an 'internal GPS.' Pigeons' remarkable navigational feats have long been pegged to the birds' ability to sense magnetic fields, but pinning down how they do so has frustrated scientists for years. Work published in Science (abstract) shows that individual cells seem to encode information on a magnetic field's direction, intensity and polarity. The work also suggests that these signals come from a part of the inner ear called the lagena, further complicating matters for researchers in the field. The Science paper comes just days after a report in Nature (abstract) revealed that cells in pigeons' upper beaks, previously thought to be magnetoreceptors, are actually immune cells called macrophages."
CowboyRobot writes "Space junk has increased to the point where pieces of it are colliding and breaking into smaller pieces. The problem is now so bad that NASA has had to modify the design of satellites to protect them from flying debris. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to turn disabled satellites and their components, including antennas and solar arrays, into functioning systems. They are hosting a conference on June 26 to explore how to build 'refurbished' satellites from already-orbiting material for less than what it would cost to build them from scratch and launch them from the surface of the Earth."