AN ECLECTIC MIX OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, HISTORY AND THE ARTS

                            

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The Most Radioactive Places on Earth

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Quantum physics just got less complicated

Here’s a nice surprise: quantum physics is less complicated than we thought. An international team of researchers has proved that two peculiar features of the quantum world previously considered distinct are different manifestations of the same thing. The result is published 19 December in Nature Communications.

Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner made the breakthrough while at the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore. They found that ‘wave-particle duality’ is simply the quantum ‘uncertainty principle’ in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.

“The connection between uncertainty and wave-particle duality comes out very naturally when you consider them as questions about what information you can gain about a system. Our result highlights the power of thinking about physics from the perspective of information,” says Wehner, who is now an Associate Professor at QuTech at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The discovery deepens our understanding of quantum physics and could prompt ideas for new applications of wave-particle duality. Via Quantum physics just got less complicated.

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Origin of the Eukaryotic cell

“The origin and evolution of eukaryotes” is a tale that has yet to be told. At this point in time, it exists only as the title of a fascinating new compendium that has just been produced by the Cold Spring Harbor Press. While this volume is some 400 pages long, there is a palpable feeling among its authors that if they could somehow just compact it into a few pages, a figure, and perhaps even a token energy equation, then what is now just a diffuse description would become the explanation we seek—maybe even without any new discoveries or information.

The nearest the book comes to providing that holy explanation is undoubtedly the chapter by Thomas Cavalier-Smith dealing with what he likes to call the “Neomuran Revolution,” which we will describe below. At its heart, what Cavalier-Smith offers is a sweeping tree of life that has continued to grow with the abundant fertilizer he has added over the last several decades. Incidentaly, we should add that one of the best ways to expedite your ascendance to prominance in the origin of life business is to simply expand your last name with – Smith. Both Graham Cairns-Smith and John Maynard Smith were masters at this and their work continues to shape the field.

Instead of the typical three domains of life—bacteria, archaea (archaebacteria), and eukaryotes—that many now presume, Cavalier-Smith maintains that the latter two form a sister clade (neomura), whose origins refute the now popular theory that eukaryotes originated by merging an archaebacterium with an alphaproteobacterium. The defining feature of clade neomura, he suggests, is the loss of the murein wall in certain posibacteria—his world for a refined class of gram-positive bacteria. This evolution, taking place ~1.2 Gy ago, would have enabled a more flexible cell complete with novel modes of cell division, DNA segregation, phagocytosis, and ambulation.

The departure of some of Cavalier-Smith ideas from the current mainstream view takes root with the so-called “hydrogen hypothesis” which we discussed here fairly recently. When extended to its logical conclusion, this theory presumes that the above-mentioned merger that enabled the aquisition of a mitochondrial precursor (the alphaproteobacterium) by a methanogen (the archaeobacterium) precipitated the development of a complex nucleus through subsequent gene transfer from the mitochondrion, along with the prompt establishment of the other modern accoutrements of the eukaryotic cell.Via Origin of the Eukaryotic cell: Part I – How to train your endosymbiont.

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The world’s loudest sound caused shock waves 100,000 times that of a hydrogen bomb

On 27 August 1883, the Earth made the loudest noise in recorded history. Emanating from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia, the sound could be heard clearly almost 5,000 kilometres away and by people across 50 different geological locations around the world.

According to Aatish Bhatia at Nautilus, about 3,200 kilometres away from Krakatoa, residents of New Guinea and Western Australia reported hearing “a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”, and over 4,800 kilometres away on the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, locals reported hearing what sounded to them like the distant roar of heavy gun fire.

The sound was caused by a record-breaking volcanic eruption that sent smoke up almost 80 kilometres into the air as ash fell into the ocean some 20 kilometres away. Burning hot debris was shot from the mouth of Krakatoa’s volcano at speeds of up to 2,575 kilometres per hour, which is more than double the speed of sound. Via The world’s loudest sound

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Nasa emails spanner to space station

Astronauts on the International Space Station have used their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in an email. It is the first time hardware has been “emailed” to space.Nasa was responding to a request by ISS commander Barry Wilmore for a ratcheting socket wrench. Previously, if astronauts requested a specific item they could have waited months for it to be flown up on one of the regular supply flights.

Mike Chen, founder of Made In Space, the company behind the 3-D printer, said: “We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore (who goes by “Butch”) mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have.” Mr Wilmore installed the printer on the ISS on 17 November. On 25 November he used the machine to fabricate its first object, a replacement part for the printer.

Nasa says the capability will help astronauts be more self-reliant on future long duration space missions. Mike Chen added: “The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly. “It also marks the end of our first experiment—a sequence of 21 prints that together make up the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth.” The other 21 objects were designed before the 3D printer was shipped to the space station in September on a SpaceX Dragon supply flight. Via Nasa emails spanner to space station.

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Scientists have created a device that could build instant-start computers

In the future, you may never have to wait for your computer to load up again. Researchers from Cornell University in the US have built a memory device that encodes data at room temperature with nothing but an electric field. While that may sound a little abstract, it opens up the potential for engineers to create instant-start computers that use far less energy than today’s models.

Right now, our computers store data using electric currents. This works pretty well, but it significantly limits how small we can make computers – the wires that carry a current can only get so tiny. It also means that our computers use a lot of power and take a while to boot up when we switch them on. When you think about it, despite all the advances in technology, computers don’t load up much faster now than they did 10 years ago.

The ideal solution would be for data to be encoded without current, for example, using an electric field applied across an insulator. This would use up much less energy and would allow computers to get much faster and smaller, and it’s something scientists have been struggling with for decades. But now the team at Cornell have made a major breakthrough, by creating a room-temperature magnetoelectric memory device that is the equivalent to one computer bit. Although it’s pretty small for now, this device is being called the “holy grail of next-generation nonvolatile memory”, and it can switch on (a process known as “magnetic switchability”) in two steps with nothing but an electric field. Via Scientists have created a device that could build instant-start computers.

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The Most Influential Scientist You May Never Have Heard Of

Thanks to Tom Robb for suggesting this post

Gaze at Alexander Von Humboldt’s 1814 self-portrait and you peer into the eyes of a man who sought to see and understand everything. By this point in his life, at age 45, Humboldt had tutored himself in every branch of science, spent more than five years on a 6,000 mile scientific trek through South America, pioneered new methods for the graphical display of information, set a world mountain climbing record that stood for 30 years and established himself as one of the world’s most famous scientists, having helped to define many of today’s natural sciences.

Humboldt, born in Berlin, is sometimes called the last Renaissance man – he embodied all that was known about the world in his day. He spent the last three decades of his life writing Kosmos, an attempt to provide a scientific account of all aspects of nature. Though unfinished at the time of his death in 1859, the four completed volumes are one of the most ambitious works of science ever published, conveying an extraordinary breadth of understanding.

An 1817 Humboldt manuscript showing a geographic distribution of plants. APS Museum

Throughout his life, Humboldt sought out the world’s interconnections. Today knowledge can seem hopelessly fragmented. The sciences and humanities speak different languages, the scientific disciplines frequently seem incommensurable and the university itself often feels more like a multiversity. Against this backdrop, Humboldt represents the aspiration for encompassing order; if only we look deeply enough, we can locate an intricate underlying harmony.

In reflecting on this ambition in Kosmos, Humboldt wrote:

The principal impulse by which I was directed was the earnest endeavor to comprehend the phenomena of physical objects in their general connection, and to represent nature as one great whole, moved and animated by internal forces.

To understand the entire natural order, however, Humboldt had to pour himself into “special branches of study,” without which “all attempts to give a grand and general view of the universe would be nothing more than a vain illusion.” More here IFLScience.

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Colony On Venus?

Thanks to Andres Bustos for suggesting this post

NASA has plans to live on Venus. Seriously. In fact, up in the clouds above its scorching surface, Venus is “probably the most Earth-like environment that’s out there,” Chris Jones of NASA told Evan Ackerman at IEEE Spectrum. Forget Mars and its frigid temperatures and thin atmosphere when we can live like gods, afloat in the clouds of Venus.

Jones is part of the Space Mission Analysis Branch of NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center in Virginia. The research group recently unveiled a detailed plan to eventually set up permanent residence on Venus. The mission is called the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept, or HAVOC. Right now, HAVOC is just an idea, but if fully implemented, it would lead to floating cities on Venus that look like this: More here Colony On Venus

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Why do we eat turkey dinners?

Swans, peacocks and boars’ heads graced aristocrats’ tables; more modest households made do with whatever seasonal fare they could find – chicken or goose, perhaps, or the odd pigeon.

It’s claimed that one William Strickland brought back the first six turkeys from the New World in 1526 during the reign of Henry VIII. Before the introduction of the railways, Norfolk farmers would dip turkeys’ feet in tar and sand to make ‘wellies’ for the walk to London, which could take up to two months.

Like so many traditions, roasted turkey became synonymous with Christmas when immortalised by Charles Dickens. At the end of the classic A Christmas Carol, the humbled Scrooge sends a boy to buy the biggest turkey in the shop. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that Hollywood movies popularised the dish in the UK, and prices fell thanks to new farming methods. Via Why do we eat turkey dinners?

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India launches biggest rocket into space

Yesterday, India successfully launched its biggest rocket, to test a capsule that could one day take its astronauts to space. They successfully got an orbiter all the way to Mars in September, and now India’s space programme has hit an exciting new milestone. They’ve launched the biggest rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh.

“This was a very significant day in the history of (the) Indian space programme,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K.S Radhakrishnan announced, as the rocket launched into a $25 million test mission, AFP reports.

The new 630-tonne, 42-metre-tall rocket, called the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III, has been designed to carry heavier communication and satellite equipment into orbit than they’ve ever been capable of before – up to 4 tonnes worth. The hope is that within the next 10 years it will also be able to transport three astronauts into space at a time. Via India launches biggest rocket into space

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How to Build a Human

babyCreated by designer Eleanor Lutz, this addictive animation takes us through the transformation from egg to baby. Made from 396 sketches based on scientific data from Scott F. Gilbert’s textbook, Developmental Biology, the animation starts with a zygote – a fertilised egg cell – which slowly multiplies through the process of mitotic division to produce a multicellular embryo. Click to enlarge.

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New, tighter timeline confirms ancient volcanism aligned with dinosaurs’ extinction

A definitive geological timeline shows that a series of massive volcanic explosions 66 million years ago spewed enormous amounts of climate-altering gases into the atmosphere immediately before and during the extinction event that claimed Earth’s non-avian dinosaurs, according to new research from Princeton University.

A primeval volcanic range in western India known as the Deccan Traps, which were once three times larger than France, began its main phase of eruptions roughly 250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, extinction event, the researchers report in the journal Science. For the next 750,000 years, the volcanoes unleashed more than 1.1 million cubic kilometers (264,000 cubic miles) of lava. The main phase of eruptions comprised about 80-90 percent of the total volume of the Deccan Traps’ lava flow and followed a substantially weaker first phase that began about 1 million years earlier.

The results support the idea that the Deccan Traps played a role in the K-Pg extinction, and challenge the dominant theory that a meteorite impact near present-day Chicxulub, Mexico, was the sole cause of the extinction. The researchers suggest that the Deccan Traps eruptions and the Chicxulub impact need to be considered together when studying and modeling the K-Pg extinction event. Via New, tighter timeline confirms ancient volcanism aligned with dinosaurs’ extinction.

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Mitochondrial disease

With the British government about to vote on whether to make it legal to create babies from three parents, we thought you might like to know a bit about why this might be a good idea. One of the main problems that this could help is with parents whose offspring are susceptible to Leigh’s or Mitochondrial Disease. – Deskarati

Mitochondrial disease is a group of disorders caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy for the cell. Mitochondria are found in every cell of the human body except red blood cells, and convert the energy of food molecules into the ATP that powers most cell functions.

Mitochondrial diseases are sometimes (about 15% of the time) caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA that affect mitochondrial function. Other causes of mitochondrial disease are mutations in genes of the nuclear DNA, whose gene products are imported into the Mitochondria (Mitochondrial proteins) as well as acquired mitochondrial conditions. Mitochondrial diseases take on unique characteristics both because of the way the diseases are often inherited and because mitochondria are so critical to cell function.

cell dna

Defective mitochondria are passed only from mother to child so scientists in the UK have pioneered therapies that use functioning mitochondria from a donor woman. The fertility technique uses material from the mother, father and a donor woman to prevent deadly diseases. The UK scientists that have led the research hope to offer the procedure next year. Some families have lost up to seven children to “mitochondrial diseases” that leave the body with insufficient energy to function. However, mitochondria have a tiny amount of their own DNA so any resulting child would have genetic information from three people.

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What is an exciton?

exciton

An exciton forms when an atom absorbs a photon and excites an electron, moving it from the valence band of its atom into the conduction band. In turn, this leaves behind a positively-charged electron hole.

The exciton is the combination of the electron and a positive hole (or empty electron state in a valence band), which is free to move through a medium as a unit. The electron and the positive hole have equal but opposite electrical charges, so the exciton has no net electrical charge, but it does transport energy.

When the electron and the positive hole recombine, the original atom is restored, and the exciton vanishes. The energy of the exciton may be converted into light when this happens, or it may be transferred to an electron of a neighbouring atom in the medium. If the energy is transferred to a neighbouring electron, a new exciton is produced as this electron is forced away from its atom. – Deskarati

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Methane ‘belches’ detected on Mars

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has detected methane on Mars – a gas that could hint at past or present life on the planet. The robot sees very low-level amounts constantly in the background, but it also has monitored a number of short-lived spikes that are 10 times higher.

Methane on the Red Planet is intriguing because here on Earth, 95% of the gas comes from microbial organisms. Researchers have hung on to the hope that the molecule’s signature at Mars might also indicate a life presence. The Curiosity team cannot identify the source of its methane, but the leading candidate is underground stores that are periodically disturbed. Curiosity scientist Sushil Atreya said it was possible that so-called clathrates were involved.

“These are molecular cages of water-ice in which methane gas is trapped. From time to time, these could be destabilised, perhaps by some mechanical or thermal stress, and the methane gas would be released to find its way up through cracks or fissures in the rock to enter the atmosphere,” the University of Michigan professor told BBC News. He was reporting the discovery here at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

The question remains, of course, of how the methane (CH4) got into the clathrate stores in the first place. It could have come from Martian bugs; it could also have come from a natural process, such as serpentinisation, which sees methane produced when water interacts with certain rock types. At the moment, it is all speculation. But at least Curiosity has now made the detection. Via Methane ‘belches’ detected on Mars.

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Skype’s real-time voice translator launches today in English-Spanish

Skype has today launched its anticipated real-time translator tool and is accepting registrations for the new service. For now, the voice function of Skype Translator will only work in English and Spanish, the two most widely spoken languages in the world after Mandarin (it’s likely the tech giant will want to launch in Mandarin as well, and position the tool as being for business as well as education). However, in a blog post the company says we can expect “40 plus instant messaging languages” to be up for translations. The preview version of the tool, which has been in the making for a decade at Microsoft Research, is available on Windows 8.1 and anyone that wants to give it a whirl will have to register.

There will, no doubt, be plenty of hiccups, errors and display glitches as anyone that uses Skype will attest (the first line of a demo of the tool at WPC 2014 was incorrectly translated on stage). However, a demo of the system shows us how Microsoft wants the world to see Skype Translator — as a unifying tool that will break down country boundaries and propel multichannel education forward. A promotional video shows how it was used by two schools — the Peterson School in Mexico City, and Stafford Elementary School in Tacoma, US. The kids had to ask each other questions over Skype in their respective languages, then guess where the other was calling from. Ensue much cuteness and hilarity, as you see firsthand what this kind of technology — when done right — can achieve. Via Skype’s real-time voice translator launches today in English-Spanish

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The Chandelier Tree in ‘Drive-Thru Tree Park’

Car RedwoodThe Chandelier Tree in ‘Drive-Thru Tree Park’ is a 315-foot (96 m) tall coast redwood tree in Leggett, California with a 6-foot (1.8 m) wide by 6-foot-9-inch (2.06 m) high hole cut through its base to allow a car to drive through. Its base measures 21 ft (6.4 m) in diameter.

The name “Chandelier Tree” comes from its unique limbs that resemble a chandelier. The limbs, which measure from 4 to 7 ft (1.2 to 2.1 m) in diameter, begin 100 ft (30 m) above the ground. The tree is believed to have been carved in the early 1930s by Charlie Underwood.

Drive-Thru Tree Park is a privately-owned grove that has been operated by the Underwood Family since 1922. Located approximately 180 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area, the park was an ideal stopping place for overnight or week-long stays. In 1937 the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree was added to provide a unique treat for travellers. Visitors have been taking pictures of their vehicles inside the opening ever since. With the exception of motor homes or vehicles pulling trailers most vehicles will be able to drive through the Tree. Parking is provided for larger vehicles and tour buses.

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New ‘elixir of life’ pills to fight ageing after breakthrough discovery

Scientists have discovered that the genes linked to youthful looks and supple limbs also appear to affect how long we live. The breakthrough finding could lead to “elixir of life” anti-ageing drugs that would slow down or even put off the development of chronic age-related diseases. It could even lead to a new generation of cosmetics which help hold back the ageing process and boost overall health.

Researchers found the life-extending secret is all thanks to an increase in the activity of genes that produce both collagen – which is vital to young-looking skin – and other proteins found in the body’s “extra-cellular matrix” (ECM). This is the framework of scaffolding that supports tissues, organs and bones.

The study focused on strategies known to boost the lifespan of the tiny laboratory worm called C.elegans – or Caenorhabditis elegans – including calorie restriction and use of the drug rapamycin. Professor Keith Blackwell, from the Joslin (CORR) Diabetes Centre which is part of Harvard Medical School in the US, said: “Any longevity intervention that we looked at, whether genetic or nutritional or drugs, increased the expression (activity) of collagen and other ECM genes, and enhanced ECM remodelling.“If you interfere with this expression, you interfere with the lifespan extension. And if you over-express some of these genes, the worm actually lives a little bit longer.” Via Anti-ageing drugs developed that banish wrinkles and chronic diseases

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Amazonian bird chicks mimic poisonous caterpillar to avoid detection

A trio of researchers has found and documented the case of a newly hatched bird with plumage that mimics a poisonous caterpillar to ward off predators. In their paper published in American Naturalist, Gustavo Londoño, Duván García and Manuel Sánchez Martínez, describe finding the young birds and observing their habits while in their nests.

Scientists have discovered a number of creatures that mimic other species to protect themselves from predators, but until now, no evidence for it has been found in birds, (aside from one that makes a noise like a rattlesnake). The team found that cinereous mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra) chicks are born with bright orange coloring that very closely resembles one of two large, hairy toxic caterpillars (Podalia or Megalopyge), and even behave like them while in the nest. The adults, on the other hand, are rather bland with mostly grey feathers. Via Amazonian bird chicks mimic poisonous caterpillar to avoid detection.

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The lift that goes sideways as well as up and down

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