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Material Breaks Record For Turning Heat Into Electricity 102

ananyo writes "A new material has broken the record for converting heat into electricity. The material had a conversion efficiency of about 15% — double that of one of the most well-known thermoelectrics: lead telluride (abstract). For decades, physicists have toyed with ways to convert heat into electricity directly. Materials known as thermoelectrics use temperature differences to drive electrons from one end to another. The displaced electrons create a voltage that can in turn be used to power other things, much like a battery. Such materials have found niche applications: the Curiosity rover trundling about on the surface of Mars, for example, uses thermoelectrics to turn heat from its plutonium power source into electricity. That doesn't mean that the material is ready to be used on the next Mars rover, however: NASA has been looking at similar materials for future space missions, but the agency is not yet convinced that they are ready for primetime."

Is the Can Worse Than the Soda? 388

DevotedSkeptic sends this excerpt about research that found a correlation between the use of a common food-packaging chemical and obesity rates. "Since the 1960s, manufacturers have widely used the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastics and food packaging. Only recently, though, have scientists begun thoroughly looking into how the compound might affect human health—and what they've found has been a cause for concern. Starting in 2006, a series of studies, mostly in mice, indicated that the chemical might act as an endocrine disruptor (by mimicking the hormone estrogen), cause problems during development and potentially affect the reproductive system, reducing fertility. After a 2010 Food and Drug Administration report warned that the compound could pose an especially hazardous risk for fetuses, infants and young children, BPA-free water bottles and food containers started flying off the shelves. In July, the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but the chemical is still present in aluminum cans, containers of baby formula and other packaging materials. Now comes another piece of data on a potential risk from BPA but in an area of health in which it has largely been overlooked: obesity. A study by researchers from New York University, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at a sample of nearly 3,000 children and teens across the country and found a 'significant' link between the amount of BPA in their urine and the prevalence of obesity."

Richard Branson 'Determined To Start a Population On Mars' 266

RocketAcademy writes "British billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic company is backing the development of SpaceShip Two, has told CBS News he is 'determined to start a population on Mars.' He said, 'I think over the next 20 years, we will take literally hundreds of thousands of people to space and that will give us the financial resources to do even bigger things. That will give us the resources then to put satellites into space at a fraction of the price, which can be incredibly useful for thousands of different reasons.' Branson isn't the only billionaire interested in the Red Planet. Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), wants to put humans on Mars in the next 12 to 15 years."

Roundup Tolerant GM Maize Linked To Tumor Development 356

New submitter spirito writes with this snippet about rats fed Roundup laced water: "The first animal feeding trial studying the lifetime effects of exposure to Roundup tolerant GM maize, and Roundup, the world's best-selling weedkiller, shows that levels currently considered safe can cause tumors and multiple organ damage and lead to premature death in laboratory rats, according to research published online today by the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. ... Three groups were given Roundup in their drinking water, at three different levels consistent with exposure through the food chain from crops sprayed with the weedkiller: the mid level corresponded to the maximum level permitted in the US in some GM feed; the lowest corresponded to contamination found in some tap waters. Three groups were fed diets which contained different proportions of NK603 – 11%, 22% and 33%. Three groups were given both Roundup and NK603 at the same three dosages. The final control group was fed an equivalent diet with no Roundup or NK603 but containing 33% of equivalent non-GM maize." The Chicago Tribune reports that not everyone's convinced of the results: "Experts not involved in the study were highly skeptical about its methods and findings, with some accusing the French scientists of going on a 'statistical fishing trip.'"

Video Seaweed is Good for You and Can Be Tasty, Too (Video) 109

When you think of garage-based tech start-ups, hardware makers like Apple or data-manipulators like Google probably spring to mind before biotech, and way before farming. Lewis Weil, though, has for the last several years been perfecting the art of growing seaweed in central Texas, and his Austin Sea Veggies have garnered interest from gourmets and restaurants across the U.S. In large part, that's because seaweed is so useful for industrial purposes, it's getting harder to find eating seaweed these days. Lewis says there's nothing stopping anyone with an interest in aquaculture in emulating his success as an inland ocean farmer, but has some cautions, too -- when small things go wrong, or a record heatwave overcomes humans' puny air conditioning systems, your seaweed harvest can fail just like any other crop. Update: 09/19 16:40 GMT by T : Now with transcript! If video's too slow and linear, click below to read what Lewis had to say.

How Big Pharma Hooked America On Legal Heroin 499

pigrabbitbear writes "The active ingredient in OxyContin, oxycodone, isn't a new compound. It was originally synthesized in Germany in 1916. The patent on the medication had expired well before Purdue Pharma, a Stamford, Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company and the industry leader in pain medication, released it under the brand name in 1996. The genius of Purdue's continued foray into pain-management medication – they had already produced versions of hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone – was twofold. They not only created a drug from an already readily available compound, but they were able to essentially re-patent the active ingredient by introducing a time-release element. Prior to the 1990s, strong opioid medications were not routinely given for miscellaneous or chronic, moderately painful conditions; the strongest classes of drugs were often reserved for the dying. But Purdue parlayed their time-release system not only into the patent for OxyContin. They also went on a PR blitz, claiming their drug was unique because of the time-release element and implied that it was so difficult to abuse that the risk of addiction was 'under 1%.'"

More Evidence That Multitasking Reduces Productivity 133

bdking writes "A recent study by a Louisiana State University psychology professor adds more evidence to the argument that the human brain is incapable of performing numerous tasks without memory and productivity loss. 'In four separate experiments, both local second-graders and LSU psychology students were shown words on a computer screen and instructed to remember them in the correct sequence. As the participants read the words, they also sometimes heard unrelated words in the headphones all were wearing. Adults in the LSU study showed a word recall performance drop of 10% on average, while the second-graders’ performance diminished by up to 30% on average.'"

Fusion Power Breakthrough Near At Sandia Labs? 358

An anonymous reader writes "An achievement that would have extraordinary energy and defense implications might be near at Sandia National Laboratories. The lab is testing a concept called MagLIF (Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion), which uses magnetic fields and laser pre-heating in the quest for energetic fusion. A paper by Sandia researchers that was accepted for publication states that the Z-pinch driven MagLIF fusion could reach 'high-gain' fusion conditions, where the fusion energy released greatly exceeds (by more than 1,000 times) the energy supplied to the fuel."

Judge Preserves Privacy of Climate Scientist's Emails 345

ananyo writes "Climate scientist Michael Mann reported Monday that he and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have prevailed in a court case against the conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI), which had sought access to emails he wrote while serving as a professor at the school from 1999-2005. Now at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Mann says the ruling supports the University of Virginia's argument than an exemption to the state's freedom-of-information law 'applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work.' The Prince William County Circuit Court ruling came directly from the bench in and was not immediately available online. The Virgina Supreme Court tossed out a case against Mann in March. The state's conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, had, among other things, demanded access to the climatologist's emails, arguing that Mann might have manipulated data and thus defrauded the government in applying for scientific grants."

First Word On Results From GRAIL, NASA's Moon Gravity Mission 40

An anonymous reader writes "Nature has advance word on the first science results from GRAIL, NASA's twin probes launched a year ago which are mapping the gravity of the Moon from lunar orbit. This is coming out in advance of any official publication or NASA release, so the data isn't available, but the story trails what the PI Maria Zuber told a Harvard CFA colloquium last week are some of the team's key scientific findings: including that the Moon's crust is substantially thinner than once thought; and some of the more speculative impact basins haven't been confirmed."

Switching Tasks Changes Worker Bee DNA 82

`puddingebola writes "A report in the journal Nature Neuroscience (paywalled) says scientists have observed epigenetic markers in bees that correspond to their roles in the society. From the article, 'Honeybees are born into their place in society. Those fed royal jelly as larvae emerge as queens and do little but lay eggs. The rest become worker bees and divvy up the jobs that need doing around the hive. While some worker bees remain at home, others take flight in search of nectar, pollen and other hive essentials. The entire honeybee workforce are genetically identical sisters. But analysis of the worker bees' DNA revealed that foragers had one pattern of chemical tags on their genes, while those that stayed home had another. When bees swapped one job for the other, their genetic tags changed accordingly.'"

Warp Drive Might Be Less Impossible Than Previously Thought 867

runner_one writes "Harold 'Sonny' White of NASA's Johnson Space Center said Friday (Sept. 14) at the 100 Year Starship Symposium that warp drive might be easier to achieve than earlier thought. The first concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy, studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter. But recent calculations showed that if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring the warp drive could be powered by the energy of a mass as small as 500 kg. Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more."

"Out of Africa" Theory Called Into Question By Originator 169

Amiga Trombone writes "Christopher Stringer is one of the world's foremost paleoanthropologists. He is a founder and most powerful advocate of the leading theory concerning our evolution: Recent African Origin or 'Out of Africa.' He now calls the theory into question: 'I'm thinking a lot about species concepts as applied to humans, about the "Out of Africa" model, and also looking back into Africa itself. I think the idea that modern humans originated in Africa is still a sound concept. Behaviorally and physically, we began our story there, but I've come around to thinking that it wasn't a simple origin. Twenty years ago, I would have argued that our species evolved in one place, maybe in East Africa or South Africa. There was a period of time in just one place where a small population of humans became modern, physically and behaviourally. Isolated and perhaps stressed by climate change, this drove a rapid and punctuational origin for our species. Now I don't think it was that simple, either within or outside of Africa.'"

Study Attempts To Predict Scientists' Career Success 64

First time accepted submitter nerdyalien writes "In the academic world, it's publish or perish; getting papers accepted by the right journals can make or break a researcher's career. But beyond a cushy tenured position, it's difficult to measure success. In 2005, physicist Jorge Hurst suggested the h-index, a quantitative way to measure the success of scientists via their publication record. This score takes into account both the number and the quality of papers a researcher has published, with quality measured as the number of times each paper has been cited in peer-reviewed journals. H-indices are commonly considered in tenure decisions, making this measure an important one, especially for scientists early in their career. However, this index only measures the success a researcher achieved so far; it doesn't predict their future career trajectory. Some scientists stall out after a few big papers; others become breakthrough stars after a slow start. So how we estimate what a scientist's career will look like several years down the road? A recent article in Nature suggests that we can predict scientific success, but that we need to take into account several attributes of the researcher (such as the breadth of their research)."

Australian Study Backs Major Assumption of Cosmology 94

cylonlover writes "In mankind's attempts to gain some understanding of this marvelous place in which we live, we have slowly come to accept some principles to help guide our search. One such principle is that the Universe, on a large enough scale, is homogeneous, meaning that one part looks pretty much like another. Recent studies by a group of Australian researchers have established that, on sizes greater than about 250 million light years (Mly), the Universe is indeed statistically homogeneous, thereby reinforcing this cosmological principle."

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