With his trademark hat and beard, Dr. Robert Bakker is one of the most recognized paleontologists working today. Bakker was among the advisers for the movie Jurassic Park, and the character Dr. Robert Burke in the film The Lost World: Jurassic Park is based on him. He was one of the first to put forth the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers and were warm-blooded, and is credited with initiating the ongoing "dinosaur renaissance" in paleontology. Bakker is currently the curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Director of the Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado. He is also a Christian minister, who contends that there is no real conflict between religion and science, citing the writings and views of Saint Augustine as a guide on melding the two. Dr. Bakker has agreed to take some time from his writing and digging in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
An anonymous reader writes with news from Mersenne.org, home of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search: "On January 25th at 23:30:26 UTC, the largest known prime number, 257,885,161-1, was discovered on GIMPS volunteer Curtis Cooper's computer. The new prime number, 2 multiplied by itself 57,885,161 times, less one, has 17,425,170 digits. With 360,000 CPUs peaking at 150 trillion calculations per second, GIMPS — now in its 17th year — is the longest continuously-running global 'grassroots supercomputing' project in Internet history."
MTorrice writes "To make light-weight, inexpensive electronics using renewable materials, scientists have turned to a technology that is almost 2,000 years old: paper. Researchers fabricated organic transistors on a transparent, exceptionally smooth type of paper called nanopaper. This material has cellulose fibers that are only 10 nm in diameter. The nanopaper transistors are about 84% transparent, and their performance decreases only slightly when bent."
MatthewVD writes "In 2006, researcher Mark Changizi came up with a novel theory for why humans evolved with color vision: to detect social cues and emotions in others. He built glasses called 02Amps to enhance perception of blood pooling. Some hospitals have tried using the glasses to see bruising that's not visible unaided, or help nurses find veins. But it turns out now that the glasses might be able to fix some forms of colorblindness, too."
cylonlover writes with news of an update to the model used for calculating the habitable zone around stars shifting things out a bit. From the article: "Researchers at Penn state have developed a new method for calculating the habitable zone (original paper, PDF) around stars. The computer model based on new greenhouse gas databases provides a tool to better estimate which extrasolar planets with sufficient atmospheric pressure might be able to maintain liquid water on their surface. The new model indicates that some of the nearly 300 possible Earth-like planets previously identified might be too close to their stars to to be habitable. It also places the Solar System's habitable zone between 0.99 AU (92 million mi, 148 million km) and 1.70 AU (158 million mi, 254 million km) from the Sun. Since the Earth orbits the Sun at an average distance of one AU, this puts us at the very edge of the habitable zone."
carmendrahl writes "Emergency-room visits linked to caffeine-laden energy drinks are on the rise. This gives scientists who'd like to see caffeine regulated the jitters. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seems to be dragging its feet on regulating caffeine content in food and drink, because people have different sensitivities to it (abstract). Currently, caffeine-rich products like Monster Energy get around the rules because they're marketed as dietary supplements. 'Caffeine gets cleared from the body at different rates because of genetic variations, gender, and even whether a person is a smoker. For this reason, it’s difficult to set a safe limit of daily consumption on the compound. Physiological differences, as well as differences in the way people consume caffeine, have tied FDA in knots as it has debated how to regulate the substance. ... The toxic level in humans, about 10 g, is roughly the equivalent of imbibing 75 cups of brewed coffee (in 8-oz mugs) or 120 cans of Red Bull over a few hours. But that lethal limit can vary widely from person to person, experts say."
An anonymous reader writes "It turns out that the remains found in a parking lot in Leicester, England belong to none other than King Richard III, one of the most reviled monarchs of English history. Scientists announced on Monday that they were able to confirm the identity of the skeleton through DNA testing."
An anonymous reader writes "Iran has unveiled a new home-made combat aircraft, which officials say can evade radar. The single-seat Qaher F313 (Dominant F313) is the latest design produced by Iran's military since it launched the Azarakhsh (Lightning), in 2007. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said it had 'almost all the positive features' of the world's most sophisticated jets.Footage from state TV showed the jet in flight, but not its take-off or landing."
First time accepted submitter ras writes "The Reserve Bank of Australia did some investigation into the accuracy of their economic predictions — the ones they use to run the country — with less than flattering results. '70 per cent of the RBA's forecasts for underlying inflation for the year ahead were close to the mark, but its predictions of economic growth were less accurate, and its unemployment rate estimates no better than [chance] ... The Reserve Bank employs numbers of people on very high pay and what they're admitting now is that their — all of this so-called science — has produced nothing more than what a roll of the dice could produce.'"
An anonymous reader writes "NASA is trying to measure the air pollution by flying a plane at various altitudes over the bay area. The tests are a part of a larger effort led by the DISCOVER-AQ campaign — a multi-year program launched across the United States in 2011 by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. DISCOVER-AQ stands for Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is the lead center for the mission."
Shipud writes "We live in the post-genomic era, when DNA sequence data is growing exponentially. However, for most of the genes that we identify, we have no idea of their biological functions. They are like words in a foreign language, waiting to be deciphered. The Critical Assessment of Function Annotation, or CAFA, is a new experiment to assess the performance of the multitude of computational methods developed by research groups worldwide and help channel the flood of data from genome research to deduce the function of proteins. Thirty research groups participated in the first CAFA, presenting a total of 54 algorithms. The researchers participated in blind-test experiments in which they predicted the function of protein sequences for which the functions are already known but haven't yet been made publicly available. Independent assessors then judged their performance. The challenge organizers explain that: 'The accurate annotation of protein function is key to understanding life at the molecular level and has great biochemical and pharmaceutical implications, explain the study authors; however, with its inherent difficulty and expense, experimental characterization of function cannot scale up to accommodate the vast amount of sequence data already available. The computational annotation of protein function has therefore emerged as a problem at the forefront of computational and molecular biology.'"
hypnosec writes "Microsoft Research has teamed up with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to develop software that can predict events like outbreaks of disease or violence by mining data from old news and the web. The project, if successful, will result into a tool that would provide information that is more than just educated guesses or intuition. The team consisting of Eric Horvitz from Microsoft Research and Kira Radinsky from Technion-Israel Institute tested the program with articles from New York Times spanning over 20 years from 1986-2007."
FatLittleMonkey writes "My mind to your mind... my thoughts to your thoughts... Researchers at the University of Essex have shown that combining the output from two non-invasive 'brain-computer interfaces,' computer-interpreted EEG signals, led to a much clearer signal of the subjects' intention than the output from a single subject. To test this idea, they had two subjects try to steer a simulated space-ship at a target planet, by thinking of one of eight possible directions. While a single user could achieve 67% accuracy, this jumped to 90% when two minds were combined. Researchers believe the technique also compensates for individual lapses in attention, and thus may have applications in real-world space missions."
littlesparkvt writes "One of two official packages of photos of Iran's famed simian space traveler depicted the wrong monkey, but a primate really did fly into space and return safely to Earth, a senior Iranian space official confirmed Saturday. The two different monkeys shown in the photos released by Iran’s state media caused some international observers to wonder whether the monkey had died in space or that the launch didn’t go well."
ananyo writes "Transistors, the simple switches at the heart of all modern electronics, generally use a tiny voltage to toggle between 'on' and 'off.' The voltage approach is highly reliable and easy to miniaturize, but has its disadvantages. First, keeping the voltage on requires power, which drives up the energy consumption of the microchip. Second, transistors must be hard-wired into the chips and can't be reconfigured, which means computers need dedicated circuitry for all their functions. Now, researchers have made a type of transistor that can be switched with magnetism. The device could cut the power consumption of computers, cell phones and other electronics — and allow chips themselves to be 'reprogrammed' (abstract)."