Germany Sets New National Record With 85 Percent of Its Electricity Sourced From Renewables (digitaltrends.com) 404

Germany was able to set a new national record for the last weekend of April with 85 percent of all electricity consumed in the country being produced from renewables -- wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric power. Digital Trends reports: Aided by a seasonal combination of windy but sunny weather, during that weekend the majority of Germany's coal-fired power stations weren't even operating, while nuclear power stations (which the country plans to phase out by the year 2022) were massively reduced in output. To be clear, this is impressive even by Germany's progressive standards. By comparison, in March just over 40 percent of all electricity consumed in the country came from renewable sources. However, while the end-of-April weekend was an aberration, the hope is that it won't be for too much longer. According to Patrick Graichen of the country's sustainability-focused Agora Energiewende Initiative, German renewable energy percentages in the mid-80s should be "completely normal" by the year 2030.

Apple Watch Can Detect An Abnormal Heart Rhythm With 97 Percent Accuracy, UCSF Study Says (techcrunch.com) 102

According to a study conducted through heartbeat measurement app Cardiogram and the University of California, San Francisco, the Apple Watch is 97 percent accurate in detecting the most common abnormal heart rhythm when paired with an AI-based algorithm. TechCrunch reports: The study involved 6,158 participants recruited through the Cardiogram app on Apple Watch. Most of the participants in the UCSF Health eHeart study had normal EKG readings. However, 200 of them had been diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heartbeat). Engineers then trained a deep neural network to identify these abnormal heart rhythms from Apple Watch heart rate data. Cardiogram began the study with UCSF in 2016 to discover whether the Apple Watch could detect an oncoming stroke. About a quarter of strokes are caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, according to Cardiogram co-founder and data scientist for UCSF's eHeart study Brandon Ballinger. Cardiogram tested the deep neural network it had built against 51 in-hospital cardioversions (a procedure that restores the heart's normal rhythm) and says it achieved a 97 percent accuracy in the neural network's ability to find irregular heart activity. Additional information available via a Cardiogram blog post.

'The Traditional Lecture Is Dead' (wired.com) 233

Rhett Allain, an Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, writing for Wired: What is the traditional lecture? It is a model of learning in which a teacher possesses the knowledge on a given topic and disseminates it to students. This model dates to the beginning of education, when it was the only way of sharing information. In fact, you occasionally still see the person presenting the lecture called a reader, because way back before the internet and even the printing press, a teacher would literally read from a book so students could copy it all down. Now, don't get me wrong. The traditional lecture model worked wonderfully for eons. But it is an outdated idea (free pass for adblockers). Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a college physics course with a professor giving a traditional lecture. Now open your eyes. Did you envision The Best Physics Lecture EVAR? I doubt it. You probably pictured someone droning on and on in front of a chalkboard or PowerPoint presentation. No way that is more engaging or interesting than an episode of The Mechanical Universe , and if you're a teacher who uses traditional lectures, just stop and play the show instead. Everyone will be better off. You may think by now that I think most physics professors are dolts. I promise that's not the case. But traditional lectures simply aren't effective. Research shows students don't learn by hearing or seeing, they learn by doing, a model often called active learning. Physics faculty should start thinking about how they can go beyond just a traditional lecture. There are some easy things they can do (or students can ask them to do) to make learning more engaging. First, make students read the book outside of class, rather than in class. If your lecture merely covers the material in the textbook, why make students buy the textbook? Now, you may put a different spin on the material, but still. You're merely repeating what students can read on their own. Let them do that on their own time, and use the classroom for experiments and demonstrations and so forth.

Buzz Aldrin To NASA: Retire the International Space Station ASAP To Reach Mars (space.com) 349

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: If NASA and its partner agencies are serious about putting boots on Mars in the near future, they should pull the plug on the International Space Station (ISS) at the earliest opportunity, Buzz Aldrin said. "We must retire the ISS as soon as possible," the former Apollo 11 moonwalker said Tuesday (May 9) during a presentation at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, D.C. "We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost." Instead, Aldrin said, NASA should continue to hand over activities in low Earth orbit (LEO) to private industry partners. Indeed, the space agency has been encouraging that move by awarding contracts to companies such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Boeing to ferry cargo and crew to and from the ISS. Bigelow Aerospace, Axiom Space or other companies should build and operate LEO space stations that are independent of the ISS, he added. Ideally, the first of these commercial outposts would share key orbital parameters with the station that China plans to have up and running by the early 2020s, to encourage cooperation with the Chinese, Aldrin said. Establishing private outposts in LEO is just the first step in Aldrin's plan for Mars colonization, which depends heavily on "cyclers" -- spacecraft that move continuously between two cosmic destinations, efficiently delivering people and cargo back and forth.

A Baffling Brain Defect Is Linked to Gut Bacteria, Scientists Say (sciencealert.com) 55

Gina Kolata from The New York Times writes about a baffling brain disorder that is linked to a particular type of bacteria living in the gut (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternate source) The new study, published on Wednesday in Nature, is among the first to suggest convincingly that these bacteria may initiate disease in seemingly unrelated organs, and in completely unexpected ways. The researchers studied hereditary cerebral cavernous malformations -- blood-filled bubbles that protrude from veins in the brain and can leak blood or burst at any time. When Dr. Mark Kahn, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, began this work, the microbiome was the last thing on his mind. Dr. Kahn and his colleagues studied cerebral cavernous malformations as part of a larger effort to understand the development and function of blood vessels. Three genes have been linked to the disorder, and Dr. Kahn and his colleagues tried to figure out what these mutations really do. The scientists were able to mimic the condition in mice by deleting a gene that is mutated in many patients. A year ago, the scientists moved to a new building, and something unexpected happened. The experimental mice stopped developing the brain malformations. Dr. Kahn's student, Alan T. Tang, had been deleting the gene by injecting a drug into the abdomens of the mice. Sometimes a mouse would get an infection that would lead to an abscess, and bacteria leaked from the gut into the blood. In the new building, only those mice still developed the brain defect. The other gene-deleted mice did not. He and his colleagues finally identified the culprit: Gram-negative bacteria, named for the way they stain, that carry a molecule in their cell walls, a lipopolysaccharide. Without a functioning gene, the lipopolysaccharide can signal veins in the brain to form blood bubbles.

Microsoft's Emma Watch Is a Game-Changer For People With Parkinson's (betanews.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: Called "Emma," it is a wrist wearable that can help people suffering with Parkinson's disease. The device is named after the Parkinson's sufferer that helped Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research, create the device. What exactly does it do? Well, the incurable disease causes body tremors in those inflicted, and as a result, Emma has very shaky hands. This disease makes it impossible for her to draw straight lines or write legibly. With the wearable on her wrist, however, normal writing and drawing is possible. Remarkably, how it works isn't 100 percent known. "While the wait for a cure continues, Zhang has created what she hopes could be a 'revolutionary' aid for reducing tremors. The Emma Watch uses vibrating motors -- similar to those found in mobile phones -- to distract the brain into focusing on something other than trying to control the patient's limbs. Put simply, Zhang believes Lawton's brain is at war with itself -- half is trying to move her hand, the other half is trying to stop it. The two signals battle and amplify each other, causing the tremors. The device stops that feedback loop," says Microsoft. You will want to watch this video.

Researchers Devise New Printing Technique To Produce High-Resolution Color Images Without Using Ink (gizmodo.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark have taken inspiration from creatures like butterflies and peacocks, whose wings and feathers create bright, iridescent colors not through light-absorbing pigments, but by bending and scattering light at the molecular level, creating what's known as structural color. The new printing method the team has developed starts with sheets of plastic covered in thousands of microscopic pillars spaced roughly 200 nanometers apart. To get those tiny plastic pillars to produce color, or at least appear to, they're first covered with a thin layer of germanium -- a shiny, grayish-white metalloid material. An ultra-fine laser blasts the germanium until it melts onto each pillar, strategically changing their shape and thickness (Editor's note: original research paper). This is then followed by a protective coating that helps preserves the shape and structure of all those tiny pillars. When light hits this modified plastic surface, the lightwaves bounce around amongst the various pillars, which end up changing their wavelength as they're reflected, producing different colors. The researchers were able to predict what colors would be produced by those nanoscale pillars, and by creating specific patterns, they were able to generate recognizable, high-contrast images.

The Intelligent Intersection Could Banish Traffic Lights Forever (arstechnica.com) 305

Jonathan M. Gitlin reports via Ars Technica: With a degree of coordination -- between vehicles, and with traffic infrastructure -- traffic chaos should theoretically be banished, and less congestion means fewer pollutants. Clemson researcher Ali Reza Fayazi has provided a tantalizing glimpse at that future, a proof-of-concept study showing that a fully autonomous four-way traffic intersection is a hundred times more efficient at letting traffic flow than the intersections you and I currently navigate. Because cars don't sit idling at the lights, Fayazi calculated it would also deliver a 19 percent fuel saving. Fayazi designed an intersection controller for a four-way junction that tracks vehicles and then uses an algorithm to control their speeds such that they can all pass safely through the junction with as few coming to a halt as possible. What makes the study particularly interesting is that Fayazi demonstrated it by interspersing his own physical car among the simulated traffic -- the first use of a vehicle-in-the-loop simulator for this kind of problem. Fayazi drove his real car at the International Transportation Innovation Center in Greenville, South Carolina, where a geofenced area was set up to use as the simulated intersection. Using GPS sensors, his car was just as visible to the intersection controller as the virtual autonomous vehicles that were also populating its memory banks. Ideally, Fayazi says he'd like to have tested it with an autonomous vehicle, but they are hard to come by, particularly in South Carolina. Instead, the intersection controller directly governed his speed in the study (as it did with the simulated vehicles), and this controller sent him a speed to maintain in order to safely cross the junction. Over the course of an hour, the intelligent intersection only required 11 vehicles to come to a complete halt. By contrast, when the simulation was run with a traffic light instead, more than 1,100 vehicles had to stop at the junction over the course of an hour.

The Vatican Invites World's Leading Scientists To Discuss Cosmology (independent.co.uk) 305

In 2014, Pope Francis declared that God is not "a magician with a magic wand" and that evolution and the Big Bang theory are real. Now, the Vatican has sent an invitation to the world's leading scientists and cosmologists to try and understand the Big Bang. The Independent reports: Astrophysicists and other experts will attend the Vatican Observatory to discuss black holes, gravitational waves and space-time singularities as it honors the late Jesuit cosmologist considered one of the fathers of the idea that the universe began with a gigantic explosion. The conference honoring Monsignor George Lemaitre is being held at the Vatican Observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to help correct the notion that the Roman Catholic Church was hostile to science. In 1927, Lemaitre was the first to explain that the receding of distant galaxies was the result of the expansion of the universe, a result he obtained by solving equations of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Lemaitre's theory was known as the "primeval atom," but it is more commonly known today as the big-bang theory. The head of the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, says Lemaitre's research proves that you can believe in God and the big-bang theory.
United States

Tunnel Collapses At Nuclear Facility Once Called 'An Underground Chernobyl Waiting To Happen' (gizmodo.com) 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Managers at the Hanford Site in Washington State told workers to "take cover" Tuesday morning after a tunnel leading to a massive plutonium finishing plant collapsed. The emergency is especially worrisome, since Hanford is commonly known as "the most toxic place in America," with one former governor calling it "an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen." Worrisome might actually be an understatement. An emergency has been declared. The accident occurred near the 200 East Area, the home of several solid waste sites. More specifically, the tunnel that collapsed was one filled with highly radioactive train cars that once carried spent fuel rods containing deeply dangerous plutonium and uranium from a reactor on the Columbia River to the processing facility. Those reactors once produced plutonium for America's nuclear arsenal, though production ended in 1980. The cleanup process that followed has gone on for nearly 30 years. Back to the poor workers, though. They've been instructed to stay indoors, and one manager reportedly sent out a message telling workers to "secure ventilation in your building" and "refrain from eating or drinking." When you can't even have a glass of water, you know the nuclear emergency is bad. The U.S. Department of Energy sent out a press release around 1pm EST that said "facility personnel have been evacuated," while workers at nearby sites have been instructed to stay indoors. A spokesperson also told the press that "there was no evidence to suggest that radioactive materials had been released and that all of the workers in the area were accounted for."

Chinese Startup Infervision Emerges From Stealth With An AI Tool For Diagnosing Lung Cancer (techcrunch.com) 45

Jonathan Shieber from TechCrunch writes of a Chinese company called Infervision that aims to help lower the number of people in China who die from lung cancer ever year. The company has created a tool that uses machine learning and computer vision to help diagnose cancers. From the report: The company is taking advantage of a digital infrastructure that's been in place in Chinese hospitals since the SARS outbreak in 2003. It is using training data from images stored in digital health records in China and coupling them with data the company's technology is collecting in real time from its deployment in 20 hospitals around China (including Peking Union Medical College Hospital and Shanghai Changzheng Hospital). Infervision is also working with GE Healthcare, Cisco and Nvidia to develop and refine its technology. The company has processed roughly 100,000 CT scans and 100,000 x-rays since its initial installation last year. Infervision installs its software on-premise at hospitals and updates its image recognition and diagnostics tools based on the data coming in from its training hospitals, Chen Kuan, founder and CEO of Infervision, said. Training procedures are divided into two separate components, according to Kuan. The first is the the actual training system, where annotated data is collected from radiologists and incorporated into the company's training data. Then an updated version of the software (including the latest training data) is distributed to the network of hospitals.

US Life Expectancy Can Vary By 20 Years Depending On Where You Live (npr.org) 292

After analyzing records from every U.S. county between 1980 and 2014, Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and his team found that life expectancy can vary by more than 20 years from county to county. "In counties with the longest lifespans, people tended to live about 87 years, while people in places with the shortest lifespans typically made it only about 67," reports NPR. From the report: The discrepancy is equivalent to the difference between the low-income parts of the developing world and countries with high incomes, Murray notes. For example, it's about the same gap as the difference between people living in Japan, which is among countries with the longest lifespans, and India, which has one of the shortest, Murray says. The U.S. counties with the longest life expectancy are places like Marin County, Calif., and Summit County, Colo. -- communities that are well-off and more highly educated. Counties with the shortest life expectancy tend to have communities that are poorer and less educated. The lowest is in Oglala Lakota County, S.D., which includes the Pine Ridge Native American reservation. Many of the other counties with the lowest life expectancy are clustered along the lower Mississippi River Valley as well as parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, according to the analysis. There's no sign of the gap closing. In fact, it's appears to be widening. Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the highest and lowest lifespans increased by about two years. The reasons for the gap are complicated. But it looks like the counties with the lowest lifespans haven't made much progress fighting significant health problems such as smoking and obesity. The study has been published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers Create Touchpads With a Can of Spray Paint (phys.org) 31

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have figured out a way to turn any surface into a touchpad using none other than spray paint. "Walls, furniture, steering wheels, toys and even Jell-O can be turned into touch sensors with the technology, dubbed Electrick," reports Phys.Org. From the report: The "trick" is to apply electrically conductive coatings or materials to objects or surfaces, or to craft objects using conductive materials. By attaching a series of electrodes to the conductive materials, researchers showed they could use a well-known technique called electric field tomography to sense the position of a finger touch. With Electrick, conductive touch surfaces can be created by applying conductive paints, bulk plastics or carbon-loaded films, such as Desco's Velostat, among other materials. Like many touchscreens, Electrick relies on the shunting effect -- when a finger touches the touchpad, it shunts a bit of electric current to ground. By attaching multiple electrodes to the periphery of an object or conductive coating, Zhang and his colleagues showed they could localize where and when such shunting occurs. They did this by using electric field tomography -- sequentially running small amounts of current through the electrodes in pairs and noting any voltage differences. The tradeoff, in comparison to other touch input devices, is accuracy. Even so, Electrick can detect the location of a finger touch to an accuracy of one centimeter, which is sufficient for using the touch surface as a button, slider or other control, Zhang said. You can watch a video about how it works here.

EPA Dismisses Half the Scientists on Its Major Review Board (nymag.com) 279

An anonymous reader shares a report: A few weeks after the election, pro-Trump commentator Scottie Nell Hughes heralded the dawn of a new era when she declared, "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts." In the age of Trump there's little need for people who've devoted their lives to studying scientific facts, and over the weekend the administration finally got around to dismissing some of them. According to the Washington Post, about half of the 18 members on the Environmental Protection Agency's Board of Scientific Counselors have been informed that their terms will not be renewed. The academics who sit on the board advise the EPA's scientific board on whether its research is sound. The academics usually serve two three-year stints, and they were told by Obama administration officials and career EPA staffers that they would stay on for another term. But on Friday some received emails from the agency informing them that their first three-year term was up and they would not be renominated. Republican members of Congress have complained for some time that the Board of Scientific Counselors, as well as the 47-member Science Advisory Board, just rubber-stamp new EPA regulations. A spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed that he's thinking of replacing the academics with industry experts (though the EPA is supposed to be regulating those companies). Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, expressed her disappointment and asked, "What's the scientific reason for removing these individuals from this EPA science review board? It is rare to see such a large scale dismissal even in a presidential transition. The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions. The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics. This move by the EPA is inserting politics into science."

Your Boss Is Not More Stressed Out Than You, Science Says (vice.com) 245

An anonymous reader writes: Work under capitalism is a brutal psychological gauntlet -- low pay, long hours, and little to no safety net. But bosses usually expect you to take some solace in the fact that you're not doing their (supposedly more difficult) job, even if they make more money. Some part of you might think that's bullshit, but hey, what do you know? Well, according to new work from researchers from the University of Manchester, University College London, and the University of Essex, it probably is bullshit. According to their study, published on Friday in the Journals of Gerontology, people lower on the corporate ladder are, on average, more stressed than people higher up. Worse, according to the study, the elevated stress continues into retirement for average working people. 'Workers in lower status jobs tend to have more stressful working conditions -- they have lower pay, poorer pension arrangements, less control over their work, and report more unsupportive colleagues and managers,' Tarani Chandola, a professor of medical sociology at the University of Manchester and one of the paper's authors, wrote me in an email.

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