xclr8r writes "A technique to use fiber optics to adjust microscopic particles has been developed. 'Rather than an actual physical device that wraps around a cell or other microscopic particle to apply rotational force, the spanner (the British term for a wrench) is created when two laser beams — emitted by a pair of optical fibers — strike opposite sides of the microscopic object, trapping and holding it in place. By slightly offsetting the fibers, the beams can impart a small twisting force, causing the object to rotate in place. It is possible to create rotation along any axis and in any direction, depending on the positioning of the fibers.' Applications of this technology can be used in a number of ways, including cancer research. This technology could be used to actually manipulate DNA. Associate Professor of Physics Samarendra Mohanty states that macroscale applications are a possibility, including 'direct conversion of solar energy to mechanical energy,' or possibly using it to 'simulate an environment in which photons radiated from the sun could propel the reflective motors in solar sails, a promising future technology for deep-space travel.'"
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SternisheFan sends word of new research out of Ohio State University into the possibility of life arising in other star systems: "Scattered around the Milky Way are stars that resemble our own sun—but a new study is finding that any planets orbiting those stars may very well be hotter and more dynamic than Earth. That's because the interiors of any terrestrial planets in these systems are likely warmer than Earth—up to 25 percent warmer, which would make them more geologically active and more likely to retain enough liquid water to support life, at least in its microbial form. ... 'If it turns out that these planets are warmer than we previously thought, then we can effectively increase the size of the habitable zone around these stars by pushing the habitable zone farther from the host star, and consider more of those planets hospitable to microbial life,' said Unterborn, who presented the results at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week."
The Bad Astronomer writes "A recent hearing of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform became a bully pulpit for antivaccination rhetoric when Representatives Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh.) made speeches connecting vaccines to autism — a connection that medical experts have shown does not exist. Although there were actual medical researchers there as witnesses, they were mostly berated by the Congressmen on the panel. Vaccines are one of the most successful medical advancements in human history, having saved hundreds of millions of lives, and after copious studies have been shown to have no connection with autism. Despite this, a vocal antivax lobby exists, including, clearly, members of Congress. In part this is why preventable and potentially fatal diseases like pertussis and measles are once again on the rise."
sciencehabit writes "Despite long experience with the ways of the world, older people are especially vulnerable to fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission, up to 80% of scam victims are over 65. One explanation may lie in a brain region that serves as a built-in crook detector. Called the anterior insula, this structure — which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character — is less active in older people, possibly making them less cagey than younger folks, a new study finds."
mphall21 writes "Voyager 1 is nearing the edge of the 'magnetic highway' of our solar system and scientists believe this is the final area the space probe must cross before entering interstellar space. The Voyager team infers this region is still inside of our heliosphere because the direction of the magnetic field has not changed. The direction of this field is expected to change when Voyager goes into interstellar space. 'Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,' said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. 'We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.' Moving at 10.5 miles per second, the space probe is the most distant man-made object from Earth. The space craft has been in operation for 35 years and receives regular commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network."
sciencehabit writes about new estimates of Vega's age giving hope that any planets it might have are old enough to harbor life. From the article: "Shining just 25 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, Vega is the fifth brightest star in the night sky. In 1983, astronomers discovered dust orbiting the star, suggesting it had a solar system, and Carl Sagan chose to make Vega the source of a SETI signal in his 1985 novel Contact. At the time, Vega was thought to be only about a couple hundred million years old, probably too young for any planets to have spawned life. Since then, however, estimates of Vega's age have increased to between 625 million and 850 million years old. So suitable planets have probably had sufficient time to develop primitive life." With improvements in telescopes allowing detection of the rough atmospheric composition of exoplanets on the way, this could be pretty exciting.
techtech writes in with the results from the first soil samples tested by the Curiosity rover. "Although NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't yet confirmed the detection of organic compounds on Mars, it's already seeing that the Red Planet's soil contains complex chemicals — including signs of an intriguing compound called perchlorate. The first soil sample analysis from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars lab, or SAM, was the leadoff topic today at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. The findings were eagerly awaited because of rumors that the Curiosity team was on the verge of announcing major findings — and although NASA tamped down expectations, the scientists said they were overjoyed with the first round of analysis."
Zothecula writes "One of life's less pleasant surprises is discovering the chocolate bar that you forgot you had in your pocket on a hot day. Two scientists working at Cadbury's research and development plant in Bourneville, U.K., are fighting that gooey surprise with the invention of chocolate that remains solid even when exposed to temperatures of 40 C (104 F) for more than three hours. Aimed at tropical markets, the 'temperature tolerant chocolate' is described in a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) patent application."
porsche911 writes "The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about how the data from Implanted health devices is managed and the limitations patients run into when they want to see the data. Companies like Medtronic plan to sell the data but won't provide it to the person who generated it. From the article: 'The U.S. has strict privacy laws guaranteeing people access to traditional health files. But implants and other new technologies—including smartphone apps and over-the-counter monitors—are testing the very definition of medical records.'"
hattig writes "US researchers say they have developed a new type of lighting that could replace fluorescent bulbs. The new light source is called field-induced polymer electroluminescent (Fipel) technology. It is made from three layers of white-emitting polymer that contain a small volume of nanomaterials that glow when electric current is passed through them. The developer is promising cheap, hard-to-break, mercury-free, highly efficient bulbs from 2013."
cstacy writes "The American Psychiatric Association is dropping Asperger's Syndrome from the upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) Its symptoms will be included under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder, which includes everything from severe autism such as children who do not talk or interact, to milder forms of autism. Asperger's disorder is impairment in social interaction and repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, activities and interests, without significant delay in language or cognitive development. Often the person has high intelligence and vast knowledge on narrow subjects but lacks social skills. DSM-5 comes out in May and will be the first major rewrite in 19 years."
McGruber writes "The Wall Street Journal has an article about Theresa Christy, a mathematician who develops algorithms for Otis Elevator Company, the world's largest manufacturer and maintainer of people-moving products including elevators, escalators and moving walkways. As an Otis research fellow, Ms. Christy writes strings of code that allow elevators to do essentially the greatest good for the most people — including the building's owner, who has to allocate considerable space for the concrete shafts that house the cars. Her work often involves watching computer simulation programs that replay elevator decision-making. 'I feel like I get paid to play videogames. I watch the simulation, and I see what happens, and I try to improve the score I am getting,' she says."
Kwyj1b0 writes "In a massive study on genetic variation among humans, researchers found that most changes have occurred in the last 200 generations, too fast for natural selection to catch up. Recent papers show that rare genetic variations have a more drastic effect than previously believed. Another result shows that 'we carry a much larger load of deleterious variants' (as well as positive variants) than our ancestors 200 generations ago."
An anonymous reader sent word that astronomers have discovered an absolutely enormous black hole residing in a galaxy that seems too small for it. In a new study (PDF), researchers looked at galaxy NGC 1277 and found that its central black hole weighed in at roughly 17 billion solar masses. Quoting Phil Plait: "The problem is, that’s far more massive than the central bulge of NGC 1277 would suggest the black hole should be. It’s well over half the total mass of the bulge! In fact, the entire mass of the galaxy is about 120 billion solar masses, which means the black hole at its heart is 14 percent of the total galaxy’s mass; compare that to the Milky Way’s black hole mass of 0.01 percent and you’ll see why astronomers were shocked."
New submitter dj_tla writes "A team of Canadian researchers has created a state-of-the-art brain model that can see, remember, think about, and write numbers. The model has just been discussed in a Science article entitled 'A Large-Scale Model of the Functioning Brain.' There have been several popular press articles, and there are videos of the model in action. Nature quotes Eugene Izhikevich, chairman of Brain Corporation, as saying, 'Until now, the race was who could get a human-sized brain simulation running, regardless of what behaviors and functions such simulation exhibits. From now on, the race is more [about] who can get the most biological functions and animal-like behaviors. So far, Spaun is the winner.' (Full disclosure: I am a member of the team that created Spaun.)"
An anonymous reader writes "A story at the BBC explains how the UK government has put an extra clause into a funding bill to ensure that any new 'free schools' (independent schools run by groups of parents or organizations, but publicly-funded) must teach evolution rather than creationism or potentially lose their funding. 'The new rules state that from 2013, all free schools in England must teach evolution as a 'comprehensive and coherent scientific theory.' The move follows scientists's concerns that free schools run by creationists might avoid teaching evolution. Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said it was 'delighted.' Sir Paul told BBC News the previous rules on free schools and the teaching of evolution versus creationism had been 'not tight enough.'"
ananyo writes "A global team of researchers has come up with the most accurate estimate yet for melting of the polar ice sheets, ending decades of uncertainty about whether the sheets will melt further or actually gain mass in the face of climate change. The ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at an ever-quickening pace. Since 1992, they have contributed 11 millimeters — or one-fifth — of the total global sea-level rise, say the researchers. The two polar regions are now losing mass three times faster than they were 20 years ago, with Greenland alone now shedding ice at about five times the rate observed in the early 1990s. This latest estimate, published this week in Science, draws on up to 32 years of ice-sheet simulations and 20 years of satellite data to give an estimate two to three times more accurate than that in the last IPCC report."
KermMartian writes "In what seems to be an accelerating arms race for graphing calculator supremacy between Texas Instruments and Casio, the underdog Casio has fired a return salvo to the recently-announced TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition. The new ClassPad fx-CP400 has a massive color touchscreen and a Matlab-esque CAS. Though not accepted on the SAT/ACT, will such a powerful device gain a strong following among engineers and professionals?"
sciencehabit writes "People usually find out that they have cancer after developing symptoms or through a screening test such as a mammogram—signs that may appear only after the cancer has grown or spread so much that it can't be cured. But what if you could find out from a simple, highly accurate blood test that you had an incipient tumor? By sequencing the abnormal DNA that a tumor releases into a person's bloodstream, researchers are now one step closer to a universal cancer test. Although the technique is now only sensitive enough to detect advanced cancers, that may be a matter of money: As sequencing costs decrease, the developers of the method say the test could eventually pick up early tumors as well."
cylonlover writes "Exploring the regions of deep space beyond Mars means sending probes where solar power isn't practical. Since the 1960s, NASA has equipped its Apollo missions and unmanned explorers with Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTGs). These have worked very well, but they run on plutonium 238, which is currently in short supply. Therefore, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing a new small nuclear reactor for spacecraft that uses uranium instead of plutonium to power Stirling engines and generate electricity. At the Nevada National Security Site's Device Assembly Facility near Las Vegas, engineers from Los Alamos, the NASA Glenn Research Center and National Security Technologies LLC conducted a Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment that produced 24 watts of electricity using a pair of free-piston Stirling engines."