01 October 2014
The tank looks oddly out of place here on the windy Pampas of western Argentina. Surrounded by yellow grass and spiky thorn bushes, the chest-high plastic cylinder could be some kind of storage container — were it not for the bird-spattered solar panels and antennas on top.
More tanks can be seen in the distance, illuminated by a crimson Sun dropping behind the far-off Andes. “Some locals think that the tanks influence the weather: they make it rain or snow, or make a dry season,” says Anselmo Francisco Jake, the farmer who owns this stretch of land. “But I know they don't. I know they catch cosmic rays.”
Jake is right. There are 1,600 of these tanks, spaced over a 3,000-square-kilometre expanse that could fit all of Luxembourg with room to spare. Together they comprise the Pierre Auger Observatory: a US$53-million experiment to reveal the mysterious origins of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, the most energetic subatomic particles known to exist.
But for all its size, the array has fallen short. After almost ten years of hunting, it has observed dozens of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, but has not managed to solve the mystery of where they come from. As a detector, “the device worked twice as well as we expected”, says project co-founder James Cronin, a retired astrophysicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois. But the particles seem to be coming from all over the sky, with too little clustering for researchers to pinpoint the sources. “It's up to nature with experiments like this one,” he says. ---> Keep reading
17 September 2014
We are the unwitting subjects of subtle mind games to make us better passengers. And it sometimes starts before we even board.
On a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver in August, a small piece of plastic caused an unexpected diversion to another airport – and headlines around the world. It started when one passenger had used a “Knee Defender” – a $21.95 piece of plastic that attaches to the tray table and blocks the seat in front in an upright position. A furious row ensued, with name-calling and drinks being thrown – and the plane had to make an emergency stop in Chicago, with police escorting both passengers off the flight.
The use of the Knee Defender is an extreme example of some of the tricks we use to try and make our commute – by bus, train or plane – that little bit more comfortable. The fight for space on public transport can turn the meekest among us into a rebel. But while we might be aware of the tricks we pull to afford ourselves that extra bit of space, we’re not necessarily aware of those being played on us by transport operators – the “nudge”.
Persuading people to do the right thing when they’re travelling is a nuanced business. The nudge is the unspoken ushering towards a way of acting that makes life easier for everyone, be it on a cramped Tube train or a commuter flight. So how do they trick us into behaving the way they want – ideally without us even noticing they are doing it? ---> Keep reading
20 July 2014
Black holes suck – but do they have mirror twins that blow? A far-flung space telescope is peering into galactic nuclei to spot one for the first time
PHYSICS is full of opposites. For every action, there's a reaction; every positive charge has a negative; every magnetic north pole has a south pole. Matter's opposite number is antimatter. And for black holes, meet white holes.
Black holes are notorious objects that suck in everything around them. Famously, not even light can escape their awesome gravity. White holes, in contrast, blow out a constant stream of matter and light – so much so that nothing can enter them. So why have so few people heard of them?
One reason is that white holes are exotic creatures whose existence is speculated by theorists, but ... ---> Keep reading(Subscribers only)
11 May 2014
06 May 2014
Novels are typically for reading, but a recent study attempted to create an entirely new art form by translating the emotions of the written word into music.The work could transform the way people interact with literature and spark new ways to visualize information, such as audiovisual e-books that generate music according to the emotions on the page or novel music apps, the researchers said."Given a novel in an electronically readable form, our system — called TransProse — generates simple piano pieces whose notes are dependent on the emotion words in the text," said Saif Mohammad, a computer scientist at the National Research Council Canada. ---> Keep reading
The aurora is more than just a breathtaking display of light. It may also hold the secret of a magnetic phenomenon related to the nuclear fusion powering the sun. This secret could even help create nuclear fusion in the lab, says a team of researchers.
Nuclear fusion is a reaction that combines the nuclei of two atoms into one. The process powers stars, but getting a self-sustained fusion reaction going on Earth is very difficult, and has so far eluded scientists. For example, in February, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California made headlines when they managed to spur a fusion reaction that ate up less fuel than it produced. ---> Keep reading
01 May 2014
22 April 2014
A theoretical physicist has explained a way to capture particles of light called photons, even at room temperature, a feat thought only possible at bone-chillingly cold temperatures.
Alex Kruchkov, a doctoral student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), has built the first quantitative mathematical model for trapping and condensing light under realistic conditions.
Light consists of tiny quantum particles called photons. One of the most spectacular properties of quantum particles is that they can condense or lose their individual identity and behave like clones of each other, becoming a single gigantic wave called a Bose-Einsteincondensate (BEC). ---> Keep reading
Money, gadgets and credit cards could soon have tiny, invisible anti-counterfeiting "fingerprints" embedded into them, making it pretty much impossible to falsify such objects, say scientists.
South Korean researchers have developed tiny tags made of silver nanowires that are randomly scattered, then form a unique pattern — just like the one-of-a-kind designs in each spider web.
The research is "an important and inspiring idea to use nanotechnology for anti-counterfeiting," said Zhao Qin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., who was not involved in the study. ---> Keep reading
22 April 2014
17 April 2014
Astronomers are one step closer to solving a longstanding mystery — just what our Milky Way galaxy looks like.
It may seem odd that a comprehensive understanding of the Milky Way's structure has so far eluded researchers. But it's tough to get a broad view of the galaxy from within.
"We are fairly confident that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, but we don't know much in detail. At the most basic level, we'd like to be able to make a map that would show in detail what it looks like," said Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the new study. ---> Keep reading
When conventional road signs have no effect, designers are turning to increasingly clever ways to subconsciously make drivers slow down or pay attention.
A spooky, black human silhouette suddenly appeared out of nowhere on the roadside of a picturesque country road in southern France. It was the size of an adult, but it had no face; instead, a lightning bolt seemed to split its head in two.
Speeding down this road with no traffic, no lampposts and no speed traps – just ancient plane trees towering on both sides – I dismissed the figure as a weird prank. But then there was another. And then two more, an adult and what looked like a child. ---> Keep reading
15 April 2014
10 April 2014
Cuba’s long-term investment in medical
research is starting to pay off economically, with the communist nation poised to sell products and drugs around the world, said Salvador Moncada, a former
consultant with the Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the WHO.
His assessment comes as the Cuban parliament approved a law that promises foreign investors generous tax exemptions for joint ventures with companies on the island — as long as they can get round the US trade embargo against the state.
Cuba already has a global reputation for the excellence of its doctors. For many decades, especially during the Cold War, Cuba dispatched teams of medics as a form of foreign diplomacy. ---> Keep reading
Island nations in the developing world are especially well placed to benefit from technology
that exploits a new potential source of energy from sea water: ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), experts have
The technology uses sea water from the ocean depths to generate electricity, and various pilot projects are already under way in the developing world.
For example, French defence firm DCNS Group aims to start building an OTEC plant on the Caribbean island of Martinique this year, to be completed by 2016. The company already has a prototype plant on Reunion in the Indian Ocean. ---> Keep reading
09 April 2014
04 April 2014
Thanks to a little inspiration from nature, new ceramics could be made from materials that make them stronger and tougher, researchers have discovered.
The new ceramics are inspired bya material called nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl. Nacre is much stronger and tougher than common ceramics and is derived from the nacre of abalone, a small, single-shelled marine mollusk. ---> Keep reading
It has no wings and no engine — just a long, slim body. But the paradise tree snake effortlessly glides up to 32 feet (10 meters) through the air from tree to tree. Now, physicists are starting to understand how these snakes have mastered such a feat.
The 4-foot-long (1.2 meters) reptile from southeastern Asia rides tiny vortices of air to get that crucial extra boost to remain airborne, a team of researchers wrote in the most recent issue of the journal Physics of Fluids. ---> Keep reading
03 April 2014
02 April 2014
RADIOACTIVE waste has helped us peer inside a star explosion and solve a long-standing mystery about the cosmic origins of chemical elements.
Stars fuse hydrogen in their cores, creating helium and releasing energy. As they run out of hydrogen fuel, very massive stars start fusing heavier elements. Eventually, the star's core becomes so massive that it collapses, triggering a brilliant explosion that tears the star apart and flings material into space. ---> Keep reading
The Higgs boson — a particle thought to explain how other particles get their mass — is tiny, but it may not be the tiniest particle yet. Theories have long predicted the existence of even smaller particles that might make up the Higgs, and recent research suggests these pip-squeaks, dubbed techni-quarks, are likely lurking in the universe. ---> Keep reading
01 April 2014
The idea that our universe may be just one among many out there has intrigued modern cosmologists for some time. But it looks like this "multiverse" concept might actually have appeared, albeit unintentionally, back in the Middle Ages.
When scientists analyzed a 13th-century Latin text and applied modern mathematics to it, they found hints that the English philosopher who wrote it in 1225 was already toying with concepts similar to the multiverse.
The study, published on the pre-print server Arxiv and accepted by the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, has brought together two traditionally quite separate subjects: cosmology and history. ---> Keep reading
01 April 2014
The traces of water in ancient moon rocks may share a common source with water on Earth, scientists say.
If confirmed, the potential moon-Earth water link would add more support to thetheorythat the moon's material came from the proto-Earth, and that water in this material survived the aftermath of the giant impact thought to have formed Earth's large natural satellite, researchers explained earlier this month at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. ---> Keep reading
01 April 2014
26 March 2014
Air conditioners, cars and other machinery may soon be free of vibrations and thus much quieter than they are now, thanks to new so-called adaptive phononic crystals.
A group of researchers has demonstrated that by changing an electrical parameter of such a material, it is possible to get it to modify its mechanical properties and to program the way sound propagates through it, canceling out vibration. ---> Keep reading
Plants that absorb metals from the soil could clean up old mines and allow farmers to harvest valuable resources without ruining the environment still more
ALAN BAKER squatted to get a closer look at the delicate white flowers that shouldn't have been there. He knew that the soil in that part of England's Peak District was laced with metals toxic to most plants. Yet here, in the desolate surroundings of an old lead mine, he had found spring sandwort flourishing. ---> Keep reading (paywall)
26 March 2014
24 March 2014
A new way to screen animal livers for drug-related damage in real time, using tiny sensors embedded in nanoparticles, has been developed by researchers in the US. Liver toxicity is the leading cause of drug failure, so the advance could help streamline the drug development process, resulting in fewer toxic drugs and a greater success rate for clinical trials.
Measuring common metabolites that are indicators of oxidative stress – reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) – can be predictive of drug toxicity, but detecting ROS and RNS directly in the liver is tricky. ---> Keep reading
Computer hard drives could soon have a lot more storage capabilities, thanks to a recent discovery of a highly sensitive magnetic material that changes its magnetism with the tiniest shifts in temperature.
The material doesn't have a name yet, but the discoverer, Ivan Schuller, said "magnetic-oxide hybrid" might be a fitting name, as its properties seem to be unique. ---> Keep reading
24 March 2014
24 March 2014
Beam me up, Einstein. The world's most powerful atom laser could one day be sent into space to probe the mysteries of general relativity and perhaps offer clues to the long-sought connection between gravity and quantum mechanics.
Atom lasers emit beams of matter instead of photons. This is possible using an ultra-cold gas called a Bose-Einstein condensate, which makes millions of atoms behave like a single wave. Previous work created atom lasers by bottling up the ultra-cold gas using powerful electromagnets. ---> Keep reading
Dinosaurs that roamed the Earth 250 million years ago knew a world with five times more carbon dioxide than is present on Earth today, researchers say, and new techniques for estimating the amount of carbon dioxide on prehistoric Earth may scientists predict how Earth's climate may change in the future.
The findings are detailed in a recent published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ---> Keep reading
21 March 2014
They gush along the ocean floor and can wipe out the internet. Need another reason to understand the planet's underwater rivers?
UNDERNEATH the Bosporus Strait flows a mysterious river. It has banks and rapids and in places is a kilometre across. If it snaked across the land, the volume of water careering through it per second would make it our sixth largest river after the Amazon, Ganges, Congo, Yangtze and Orinoco. Yet the crews on board the ships that ply the strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea don't even know the river exists. It flows silently 70 metres beneath them before reaching the edge of the sea shelf and disappearing into the deep.
The hidden river has no name, yet is by no means unique. Myriad underwater rivers criss-cross the ocean floor, some many thousands of kilometres long, tens of kilometres wide and hundreds of metres deep. They are the arteries of our planet. They shunt sediments into the deep, carrying with them the oxygen and nutrients that allow life to thrive at great depths. They also seem to be a vital part of the world's carbon cycle, burying organic matter carried from the shore. ---> Keep reading
19 March 2014
Modern airliners go through a series of exhaustive tests, from the earliest stages of design, to make sure they are as safe as possible. Katia Moskvitch lifts the lid on some of the stresses plane-makers put them through – from Arctic freezing to shooting chickens at the cockpit.
Aeroplanes have moved on more than a little since the first aviators soared into the sky, clad in leather jackets, caps and goggles. Back then, they needed quite an element of faith before taking to their flying machines. One hundred years on, they board highly complex machines often made from unusual materials such as carbon fibre and flying partly thanks to computers. The days of flying on “a wing and a prayer” are over.
Nowadays, aircraft testing is incredibly elaborate and rigorous. New planes only make it into the air after a long list of tests – from chucking chickens into jet engines to simulate bird strikes to bending the wings to extreme angles.
In the last 10 years, the testing methods have undergone major changes– both on the ground and in computer simulations. The aim, in both cases, is to minimise the number of hours testing planes in flight. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
17 March 2014
Synthetic nanoparticles can boost photosynthesis in plants and enable them to spot pollutants, according to a team of researchers in the US.
Previous research that added nanomaterials to plants had focused on the uptake of nanoparticles through plant cell walls and membranes, and their absorption, transport and distribution. But this latest study takes a nanobionic approach and could transform plants into a non-conventional technology, says Juan Pablo Giraldo who performed the work in Michael Strano’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
To create the nanobionic plants, the team extracted chloroplasts – tiny structures in plant cells that are home to the photosynthetic system – from Arabidopsis, a flowering plant that is commonly used by biologists as a model organism. They put the chloroplasts into a buffer solution and added polymer-coated nanoparticles containing ceria (CeO2). ---> Keep reading
13 March 2014
Flight delays are tedious at the best of times. But it’s even worse when it’s cold, and the plane you’re in poised for take-off suddenly lumbers down a taxi way to join a queue of aircraft waiting to be de-iced – as many people in the US can testify during the recent bad weather.
Ice and aircraft do not mix well. The weight of ice on the wings and fuselage of a fully-fuelled aircraft can prevent it taking off. During the Arctic conditions the US this January, when temperatures dropped as low as -51C (-60F) thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed. Some airports further south, where sub-zero temperatures are rare, didn’t even have de-icing equipment. At O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, the jet fuel and de-icing fluids froze altogether, according to American Airlines.
This leads to more than just delays and ill-tempered passengers – it can have deadly consequences. One such tragedy occurred in October 1994 when American Eagle flight 4184 crashed in Roslawn, Indiana, killing all 68 people on board. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
14 March 2014
Voyaging spaceships may soon be able to top off their fuel tanks in space, just as cars and trucks do here on Earth.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston are suggesting establishing off-Earth propellant depots to fuel future missions to the moon. Such en-route stations would mean spacecraft could launchwith less fuelon boardand hencecarryheavier loads, such as largerscientific experiments.
This is not a new idea, but previous proposalsto solve the problemhave usually been pricey. One, for example, explored the possibility of setting up a fuel-manufacturing station on the lunar surface, from which tankers would be sent to refill floating depots. ---> Keep reading
13 March 2014
Hundreds of wandering "rogue" black holes may dwell in the Milky Way — and now researchers say they know how to detect them. Discovering these strange objects could shed light on the formation of the Milky Way and other galaxies.
No one knows exactly how the Milky Way came to exist. But according to one popular model of galaxy formation, the building blocks of the Milky Way were dwarf galaxies that collided and merged shortly after the Big Bang.
This idea assumes that floating black holes, each containing 1,000 to 100,000 more mass than the sun, could be left over from those early cosmic times — fossil evidence for the growth and mergers of black holes in the infant universe. ---> Keep reading
12 March 2014
It's never fazed by seeds of doubt. A shrub with small, edible berries is a cool customer when parasites attack, responding in line with the severity of the infestation.
Each fruit of the barberry, Berberis vulgaris, has either one or two seeds, which may be targeted by larvae of the tephritid fruit fly.
Katrin Meyer, now at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and her colleagues collected around 2000 berries and examined them for signs of piercing – because the fruit fly makes a tiny hole in the berries so it can lay its eggs inside. If the berries were pierced, the team also dissected them.
It was already known that the plant can cut off nutrient supplies to its seeds when resources are limited. Meyer's team also found that the same mechanism was used with infested seeds, killing the parasite in the process. More surprisingly, the likelihood of a seed being aborted depended on how many seeds the berry had – if it had two seeds and one was attacked, the plant killed off the infested seed 75 per cent of the time, compared with just 5 per cent in single-seeded berries that were attacked. ---> Keep reading
12 March 2014
Scientists should expand their quest for life in other worlds by searching for any kind of liquid, not just water, say researchers. Rich organic chemistry can occur in many types of liquid, and a recent study supports the idea that a prebiotic ‘soup,’ from which life could emerge, may be present in hydrocarbon lakes of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
‘We think that life requires liquid,’ says Chris McKay from Nasa, who led the study. ‘Right now, there’s a bias that that liquid has to be water. But maybe when we look at other moons and planets, we should be asking what other possible liquids there could be.’
Using new data from the Cassini probe, which has been orbiting Titan since 2004, alongside his team’s lab research, McKay has released the first year results of a five-year investigation into whether a prebiotic soup could form on Titan. ---> Keep reading
05 March 2014
Biological engineer Angela Belcher is genetically modifying viruses to create batteries that can be recharged thousands of times and then decay harmlessly
You're making batteries using viruses – don't they normally make us sick?
When people think of viruses, the flu often comes to mind. But there are also viruses everywhere, from in the ocean to inside the gut, that infect bacteria. Those are not harmful to humans. Viruses are basically genetic material with a protein coat. They need a host so they can use its molecular machinery to make copies of themselves.
The main virus I work with has a single strand of DNA in a protein coat and it is completely benign. It only infects a particular bacterial host – and doesn't kill it, just slows it down as it uses the host to replicate itself. ---> Keep reading
05 March 2014
A device that detects ultra-weak radio waves by converting them into light signals has been created by physicists in Denmark and the US. The device does not require costly cryogenic cooling and could be put to practical use in a range of applications, from radio astronomy to magnetic resonance imaging. The researchers also believe that the technology could provide an essential building block of a "quantum internet" of the future.
Detecting extremely weak radio waves is at the heart of many modern technologies, including satellite navigation, long-distance communications, radio telescopes and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. In some detectors, weak radio signals are converted into optical signals that can then be transported long distances via optical fibres. In addition to requiring expensive modulators to convert the electronic signals into optical signals, these converters must be cooled to cryogenic temperatures, making them expensive and inconvenient to operate. ---> Keep reading
04 March 2014
Every black hole conceals a secret — the quantum remains of the star from which it formed, say a group of scientists, who also predict that these stars can later emerge once the black hole evaporates.
The researchers call these objects "Planck stars" and believe that they could solve a very important question in modern physics: the information paradox, or the question of what happens to information contained in matter that falls into a black hole.
The idea could also finally reconcile quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity that describes gravity, thus showing how a theory of quantum gravity might solve longstanding puzzles in the world of physics. ---> Keep reading
03 March 2014
The first microscope that uses the eerie trick of quantum entanglement to increase its sensitivity has been developed by Japanese researchers.
The new tool relies on a weird principle of quantum mechanics, in which two particles can become entangled so that even when separated by large distances, say light-years, they are intimately connected. Using such entangled photons, or particles of light, the microscope reveals things that are completely transparent, visualizing them in a much better quality than could be done with ordinary light.
Physics guru Albert Einstein once famously called it "spooky action at a distance." ---> Keep reading
20 Feb 2014
A syringe that turns bright red after it has been used could dramatically reduce the number of unsafe injections in the developing world and save lives, says the researcher who came up with the
David Swann of Huddersfield University in the United Kingdom has been shortlisted for the biennial World Design Impact Prize, which recognises projects that use industrial design solutions to improve social, economic and environmental quality of life.
“In an ideal world, every provider would adopt [single-use] safety syringes,” says Swann. “However this is not the case at the moment. Our ambition is to add patient safety value to an ordinary disposable syringe.”
More than half of all injections in developing nations involve used or unsterilised needles, according to the WHO, and such injections cause more than 30 per cent of all hepatitis A and B cases and five per cent of all HIV cases. ---> Keep reading
18 Feb 2014
Working replicas of expensive scientific equipment could be made for a fraction of conventional cost using cheap 3-D printers, possibly saving developing world labs thousands of dollars each
time, says a researcher whose book on the subject was published this year.
This and similar advances mean the age of appropriate technology — affordable, sustainable solutions designed and built to meet local needs — may be here, argues Joshua Pearce, a materials science and engineering professor at Michigan Technological University, United States, in an article in last month’s Physics World magazine.
“For example, my lab developed an open-source 3-D printable colorimeter for water testing, which costs US$50 instead of US$2,000,” says Pearce, whose book is called Open source lab: How to build your own hardware and reduce research costs. ---> Keep reading
18 Feb 2014
Move over, copper wires. The next generation of electricity cables may well be made from lettuce, based on the innovation of a U.K. researcher. The advance could pave the way to biological computers and bio-robots of the future.
Computer scientist Andrew Adamatzky of the University of West England did a series of tests with four-day-old lettuce seedlings. To create bio-wires, he bridged two electrodes made from conductive aluminum foil with a seedling that was placed onto the electrodes in drops of distilled water.
Next, he applied electrical potential between electrodes ranging from 2 to 12 volts, and calculated the seedling's so-called potential transfer function that shows output potential as a fraction of input potential — the amount of energy produced relative to energy put in. ---> Keep reading
12 Feb 2014
The shape of the Milky Way galaxy, our solar system's home, may look a bit like a snail, but spiral galaxies haven't always had this structure, scientists say.
In a recent report, a team of researchers said they now know when and how the majestic swirls of spiral galaxies emerged in the unicerse. Galaxies are categorized into three main types, based on their shapes: spiral, elliptical and irregular. Almost 70 percent of those closest to the Milky Way are spirals. But in the early universe, spiral galaxies didn't exist.
A husband and wife team of astronomers, Debra Meloy Elmegreen at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Bruce Elmegreen at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., analyzed an image from the Hubble Space Telescope known as the Ultra Deep Field. ---> Keep reading
12 Feb 2014
Across portions of the south of England, waves lap against the shores of lakes and ponds that used to be fields, as one of the wettest winters in U.K. history has dumped successive bouts of rain over the country, causing rivers to top their banks and inundate farms and towns.
And while a series of shifts in weather patterns across the globe seems to be causing the endless train of storms soaking the island, climate change may play a role in the current heavy downpours as well, said Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientist of the country's official weather service, the MET Office, according to news reports. ---> Keep reading
11 Feb 2014
LONDON — So, physicists have found the Higgs boson. What next?
It took three years for the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), to spot the elusive Higgs boson particle, which is thought to explain how other particles get their mass.
It took the international science lab CERN much longer, though, to build the machine beneath the mountains straddling France and Switzerland — nearly two decades, and at a cost of billions of dollars. ---> Keep reading
06 Feb 2014
If you were watching Iranian state TV in early December 2011, you would have seen an unusual flying object paraded in front of viewers. Windowless, squat, with a pointed nose, its two wings made it the shape of a manta ray. The trophy on show was an RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone, a key weapon in the intelligence gathering arsenal of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Standing in a hangar on a military airfield, the drone was seemingly undamaged. Indeed, Iranian officials insisted that it had not been shot down; rather, they claimed an unusual coup: to have hacked the drone while it was flying near Iran’s border over Afghanistan and forced it to land.
Outside Iran, many snorted in disbelief at hearing such claims. Todd Humphreys, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas in Austin, US, was one of the sceptics. Soon, though, he would prove himself wrong. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
06 Feb 2014
LONDON — Exotic particles never before detected and possibly teensy extra dimensions may be awaiting discovery, says a physicist, adding that those searching for such newbies should keep an open mind and consider all possibilities.
Such particles are thought to fill gaps in, and extend, the reigning theory of particle physics, the Standard Model, said David Charlton of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, who is also a spokesperson of the ATLAS experiment at the world's biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and one of the experiments that pinpointed the Higgs boson particle thought to explain why other particles have mass.
Charlton addressed an audience of researchers last month at a talk titled "Before, behind and beyond the discovery of the Higgs Boson" here at the Royal Society. ---> Keep reading
31 Jan 2014
31 Jan 2014
IF YOU were to draw up a list of the most pressing issues in science, it's unlikely that astronomy's carbon footprint would be on it. If it were, it would probably end up somewhere between effective male birth control and how to fold headphones to stop their wires getting tangled in your pocket.
Ueli Weilenmann, deputy director of La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, would disagree with that assessment. Recently, while grappling with the costs of running the place, he was shocked to discover the scale of the observatory's carbon emissions (see diagram). A bit of further digging revealed that the problem is not limited to Paranal: many other observatories exude more greenhouse gas than their size betrays. ---> Keep reading (subscription only)
Earthlings may be extreme latecomers to a universe full of life, with alien microbes possibly teeming on exoplanets beginning just 15 million years after the Big Bang, new research suggests.
Traditionally, astrobiologists keen on solving the mystery of the origin of life in the universe look for planets in habitable zones around stars. Also known as Goldilocks zones, these regions are considered to be just the right distance away from stars for liquid water, a pre-requisite for life as we know it, to exist.
But even exoplanets that orbit far beyond the habitable zone may have been able to support life in the distant past, warmed by the relic radiation left over from the Big Bang that created the universe 13.8 billion years ago, says Harvard astrophysicist Abraham Loeb. ---> Keep reading
28 Jan 2014
27 Jan 2014
Rechargeable, energy-dense bio-batteries running on sugar might be powering our electronic gadgets in as little as three years, according to a US team of scientists. The battery, created by the group of Y H Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, can convert all the potential chemical energy stored in a sugar into electricity.
The prototype is similar in size to a typical AA battery and has an energy storage density of 596 amp hours per kilogram – roughly one order of magnitude greater than a smartphone’s lithium-ion battery. This means that the battery could last at least twice as long as conventional lithium-ion batteries on a weight-for-weight basis.
Sugar is an excellent source of energy. Most living cells generate their energy from glucose by passing it down an enzymatic chain that converts it into different sugars. This enzymatic cascade provides the necessary energy to create an electrochemical gradient. This, in turn, can be used to power an enzyme that synthesises adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the universal biological energy currency. ---> Keep reading
Data journalism offers a new way to visualise and
discuss development challenges, but is being hampered in the developing world by a lack of open data and stricter
laws, says an expert.
Despite this form of journalism being in its infancy in developing nations, there is a lot of innovation in this field in some newsrooms. Argentina’s newspaper La Nacion, for example, won one of the awards at last year’s Data Journalism Awards (DJA) for its investigation into political corruption.
Bertrand Pecquerie, the chief executive of the Global Editors Network that organises these international awards, says data investigation and visualisation offer a way to change how people view
many issues, such as global warming, slums and poverty. “Changing our perception [regarding] these problems is the first
step to solving them,” he says.
Data journalism is now moving into the mainstream thanks to open data and access to more public and private databases, says Pecquerie. “Today, the data journalists are recognised as being at the forefront of newsroom innovation,” he tells SciDev.Net. ---> Keep reading
23 Jan 2014
23 Jan 2014
LONDON — Squarks, selectrons and neutralinos may be lurking in the universe, say physicists who suggest supersymmetry — the idea that every known particle has a yet-to-be-discovered sister particle — is not dead, despite the lack of evidence found in its favor.
The world's most powerful atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), has yet to find evidence of the existence of such sparticles (supersymmetric particles), though perhaps physicists are not interpreting the in the right way, said particle theorist Ben Allanach of Cambridge University.
Speaking here at the Royal Society conference "Before, behind and beyond the discovery of the Higgs Boson" on Tuesday (Jan. 21), Allanach proposed that the LHC might detect the elusive supersymmetric particles once it is up and running again next year with much higher energies.
The underground accelerator at the CERN laboratory, located near Geneva, is currently switched off until early 2015 for a technical upgrade, which will allow it to smash protons together at the machine's near-maximum energy of 14 teraelectronvolts (TeV). ---> Keep reading
Putting the squeeze on light may be the key to teleporting energy across vast distances. Although the amount of energy that could theoretically be transmitted is tiny for now, it could be enough to power quantum computers that don't overheat.
For years physicists have been smashing distance records for quantum teleportation, which exploits quantum entanglement to send encrypted information. Entangled particles remain linked no matter how far apart they are, and a change to one particle always affects its partner in a particular way. In experiments, for example, a pair of entangled particles is separated and each partner is sent to a different location. When someone measures the particle at point A, its quantum state is decided and that event immediately causes a corresponding change in the particle at point B.
No physical matter is transmitted, and nothing is travelling faster than light. But the person at point B can recreate the photon at point A using only information about the observed changes – effectively teleporting the photon.
Physicists have done this with light and with matter, such as entangled ions. But Masahiro Hotta of Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, wondered if it would be possible to also teleport quantum energy. ---> Keep reading
22 Jan 2014
22 Jan 2014
LONDON — Music blasts can't quite lift you off your feet just yet, but making droplets levitate with sound may be the first step in that direction. A team of researchers demonstrated experimentally how to lift and spin liquid droplets, controlling them with high-frequency sound waves.
The scientists developed a device that makes liquid droplets "dance," hovering in midair, without exploding. The achievement could lead to potential biological and pharmaceutical applications, such as studying chemical reactions in extreme environments without disturbing them via contact, moving hazardous materials, and analyzing and testing new materials without the risk of contamination. It could also be used in microgravity experiments on Earth.
Mathematics is a universal language. Even so, a Kazakh mathematician's claim to have solved a problem worth a million dollars is proving hard to evaluate – in part because it is not written in English.
Mukhtarbay Otelbayev of the Eurasian National University in Astana, Kazakhstan, says he has proved the Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness problem, which concerns equations that are used to model fluids – from airflow over a plane's wing to the crashing of a tsunami. The equations work, but there is no proof that solutions exist for all possible situations, and won't sometimes "blow up", producing unrealistic answers.
In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute, now in Providence, Rhode Island, named this one of seven Millennium Prize problems offering $1 million to anyone who could devise a proof.
Otelbayev claims to have done just that in a paper published in the Mathematical Journal, also based in Kazakhstan. "I worked on the problem on and off, for 30 years," he told New Scientist... ---> Keep reading
22 Jan 2014
In Lewis Carroll's famous children's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, which disappears and leaves only its grin behind. Now, physicists have created a quantum version of the feline by separating an object—a neutron—from its physical property—its magnetism. The experiment is the latest example of how quantum mechanics becomes even weirder using a technique called weak measurement and could provide researchers with an odd new experimental tool for performing precision measurements.
In quantum physics, tiny particles can be in opposite conditions or states at the same time, a property known as superposition. For instance, an electron can literally spin in opposite directions simultaneously. Try to measure the spin, however, and that state will "collapse" so that the electron is found spinning one way or the other. That's because quantum theory generally forbids you to measure a particle's state without altering it—at least ordinarily. ---> Keep reading