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Scientists have found a reset “button” for our body clock

Canadian scientists have discovered the molecular switch that resets and synchronises our internal body clock, and targeting it could help treat a range of disorders, such as insomnia, depression and obesity, that are triggered when our sleep patterns get out of whack, or when we’re exposed to light when we shouldn’t be (hello, screen checking at 1am). It’s already well established that light naturally controls these circadian rhythms, but scientists have struggled to work out exactly how it does this – until now.

The new research has shown that light resets our body clocks by triggering phosphate to combine with a key brain protein called eIF4E. This process is known as phosphorylation, and by ‘hijacking’ it, the researchers suggest it could help our bodies keep up with the pace of the 21st century. “This study is the first to reveal a mechanism that explains how light regulates protein synthesis in the brain, and how this affects the function of the circadian clock,” said lead researcher Nahum Sonenberg, a biochemist from McGill University in Quebec, in a press release.

To work out what was going on, Sonenberg’s team mutated the eIF4E protein in the brains of lab mice, so that it couldn’t be phosphorylated. They then studied the mice’s activity levels, which are controlled by their internal body clocks, as they adjusted the artificial day and night in the lab from 12-hour cycles to 10.5-hour shifts of light and dark. Usually, mice – and humans – would be able to adapt to this new rhythm quite quickly, thanks to this inbuilt reset switch. But with eIF4E phosphorylation blocked, the mice were jet-lagged in their old routine. They then investigated the pathway further, and found that phosphorylation of eIF4E increased the production of Period proteins, important proteins that are known to play a role in synchronising the body’s circadian clock. Obviously this research was conducted in mice, not humans, but all mammals have very similar circadian clocks, and so the results give a good indication of the process in our own brains.

The research has now been published in Nature Neuroscience. Importantly, it highlights a potential pathway that future drugs could target – although the researchers stress that we’re still a long way off that. Source: Scientists have found a reset “button” for our body clock

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Saturn’s moon Hyperion

Measuring 410 x 260 x 220 km, Saturn’s moon Hyperion is one of the largest irregularly shaped bodies in the Solar System. The moon’s low density suggests that it is made mostly of water ice and accounts for its spongey surface. This newly released image was taken by NASA’s Cassini orbiter when it flew by the moon on 26 September 2005. (Don’t ask me why they only just released it. – Deskarati) Via Facebook.

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Rediscovered Francis Bacon portraits up for auction

bacon4_paTwo self-portraits by Francis Bacon are going on public display for the first time after being rediscovered in a private collection, before being sold. Although experts knew the works by the late painter existed, they had no idea who had bought them. Descendants of the original owner have decided to sell the paintings, which are expected to fetch up to £15m each. The artworks are titled Self-Portrait 1975 and Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1980). Bacon’s eyes are downcast in this artwork, as he became more haunted by the prospect of death

A Bacon painting featuring his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud, became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it fetched $142m (£89m) in New York in 2013. Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in contemporary art, described the discovery of the portraits as “a pretty extraordinary collecting moment”. “(Art dealer) Marlborough Fine Art kept a photographic archive and so both of these paintings appeared in a book on Bacon’s self-portraits, but apart from being reproduced in books they’ve not been seen,” he said. “We knew of the existence of the paintings but simply had no idea where they could be. The first time I saw these paintings it was such a wonderful awakening. They’re both so luminous.”

bacon3_paSelf-Portrait 1975 was painted at the height of Bacon’s career in the period which followed the suicide of his former lover George Dyer in 1971. Although Bacon was in his 60s he looked much younger in the work, having dyed his hair and worn make-up as he grew older. Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1980) shows him with downcast eyes, increasingly haunted by the inevitability of death. Mr Barker said that the artist “gave himself film star-style looks, appearing as photogenic as possible while still being highly self-critical”. “He paints himself with a much more youthful appearance,” he said.

The self-portraits go on sale at Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 1 July.Edited from Rediscovered Francis Bacon portraits up for auction

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Audi have successfully made diesel fuel from carbon dioxide and water

German car manufacturer Audi has reportedly invented a carbon-neutral diesel fuel, made solely from water, carbon dioxide and renewable energy sources. And the crystal clear ‘e-diesel’ is already being used to power the Audi A8 owned by the country’s Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka (really – deskarati).

The creation of the fuel is a huge step forward for sustainable transport, but the fact that it’s being backed by an automotive giant is even more exciting. Audi has now set up a pilot plant in Dresden, Germany, operated by clean tech company Sunfire, which will pump out 160 litres of the synthetic diesel every day in the coming months.

Their base product, which they’re calling ‘blue crude’ is created using a three-step process. The first step involves harvesting renewable energy from sources such as wind, solar and hydropower. They then use this energy to split water into oxygen and pure hydrogen, using a process known as reversible electrolysis.

This hydrogen is then mixed with carbon monoxide (CO), which is created from carbon dioxide (CO2) that’s been harvested from the atmosphere. The two react at high temperatures and under pressure, resulting in the production of the long-chain hydrocarbon compounds that make up the blue crude. Once it’s been refined, the resulting e-diesel can be mixed in with our current diesel fuel, or used on its own to power cars in a more sustainable way. Via Audi have successfully made diesel fuel from carbon dioxide and water.

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The Backwards Brain Bicycle

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Are centrioles carriers of biological information?

EPFL scientists discover that certain cell structures, the centrioles, could act as information carriers throughout cell generations. The discovery raises the possibility that transmission of biological information could involve more than just genes.

Centrioles are barrel-shaped structures inside cells, made up of multiple proteins. They are currently the focus of much research, since mutations in the proteins that make them up can cause a broad range of diseases, including developmental abnormalities, respiratory conditions, male sterility and cancer. Publishing in the Nature journal Cell Research, EPFL scientists show that the original centrioles of a fertilized egg, which only come from the father, persist across tens of cell divisions in the developing embryo. The surprising finding raises the possibility that centrioles may actually be carriers of information, with profound implications for biology and disease treatment.

Perhaps best known for their role in cell division, centrioles ensure that chromosomes are properly passed on to the new daughter cells. However, they are also found in cilia, the long eyelash-like structures that allow many cells in the body to signal to their neighbors and other cells to exhibit motility, e.g. in cells that line the respiratory tracts. During reproduction, both parents equally contribute genetic material, while the female egg donates most of the cell organelles, such as mitochondria. However, the centrioles of the newly fertilized embryo come exclusively from the male’s sperm, bringing with them any malfunctions to the first embryo cells. Via Beyond genes: Are centrioles carriers of biological information?.

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How many trees are needed to provide enough oxygen for one person?

Trees release oxygen when they use energy from sunlight to make glucose from carbon dioxide and water. Like all plants, trees also use oxygen when they split glucose back down to release energy to power their metabolisms. Averaged over a 24-hour period, they produce more oxygen than they use up; otherwise there would be no net gain in growth.

It takes six molecules of CO2 to produce one molecule of glucose by photosynthesis, and six molecules of oxygen are released as a by-product. A glucose molecule contains six carbon atoms, so that’s a net gain of one molecule of oxygen for every atom of carbon added to the tree. A mature sycamore tree might be around 12m tall and weigh two tonnes, including the roots and leaves. If it grows by five per cent each year, it will produce around 100kg of wood, of which 38kg will be carbon. Allowing for the relative molecular weights of oxygen and carbon, this equates to 100kg of oxygen per tree per year.

A human breathes about 9.5 tonnes of air in a year, but oxygen only makes up about 23 percent of that air, by mass, and we only extract a little over a third of the oxygen from each breath. That works out to a total of about 740kg of oxygen per year. Which is, very roughly, seven or eight trees’ worth. Via How many trees are needed to provide enough oxygen for one person?.

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Formula 1 aerodynamics will make grocery stores more efficient

No, that’s not a typo. It turns out Formula 1 racing technology, specifically aerodynamics, can help rid grocery stores of the so-called “cold aisle” issue. Using aerofoils that are designed to guide the direction of air flow around a race car, Williams F1’s engineering department and UK start-up Aerofoil Engery aim to keep the cool temps inside the open refrigerators at the market. The aerofoils attach to each shelf, guiding the cold air so that not only is that section more comfy for shoppers, but energy use is reduced as well. In fact, Sainsbury’s, the second largest grocery store chain in the UK, is already testing the tech. “This Formula 1 inspired innovation has already shown it can cut carbon produced by major refrigerators,” said John Skelton, the retailer’s head of refrigeration. The project is still in the testing phase, so if could be a while before its ready for widespread installation. Via Formula 1 aerodynamics will make grocery stores more efficient.

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World’s largest vertical farm opens this year in the US

A 21,031-square-metre vertical farm will open in Newark, New Jersey later this year, and is expected to grow close to a million kilograms of pesticide-free produce annually. Made out of an old steel factory, the farm will not only be 75 times more productive than a farm of a similar size spread across a flat, open field, but it requires far less to run.

Built by AeroFarms, which is a US-based company intent on creating more environmentally friendly farming solutions, the facility requires zero soil, 95 percent less water than traditional farms, and because it’s pesticide-free, doesn’t cause any harmful run-off to the environment surrounding it. The farm also uses recyclable materials, and a lighting system that conserves energy by facilitating more efficient photosynthesis. Web Urbanist explains: “Plants rooted in reusable microfleece cloth and stacked in modular planters will be sprayed by a nutrient mist and illuminated by LED lights. … The company is ‘targeting specific wavelengths of light for more efficient photosynthesis and less energy consumption. LEDs can also be placed much closer to the plants, enabling greater vertical growing for even greater productivity per square foot’.”

The farm will also use an ‘aeroponic mist’, which is packed with nutrients and oxygen so the plants don’t suffer from being indoors all the time. This mist has all the nutrients of soil, except the plants don’t need to fish through the waste to get at them, so the theory is that they’ll grow more robust more quickly. According to Dan Nosowitz at Modern Farmer, AeroFarms says it will achieve a full crop cycle – so, seed to harvest – in just 16 days. The farm’s been tipped to open this year, so we’ll soon see if the farm will live up to its promises. I sure hope so. We need better food production solutions, and traditional farming is becoming more and more ill-suited to our progressively resource-poor world.  Via World’s largest vertical farm opens this year in the US

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Wormhole Entanglement and the Firewall Paradox

One hundred years after Albert Einstein developed his general theory of relativity, physicists are still stuck with perhaps the biggest incompatibility problem in the universe. The smoothly warped space-time landscape that Einstein described is like a painting by Salvador Dalí — seamless, unbroken, geometric. But the quantum particles that occupy this space are more like something from Georges Seurat: pointillist, discrete, described by probabilities. At their core, the two descriptions contradict each other. Yet a bold new strain of thinking suggests that quantum correlations between specks of impressionist paint actually create not just Dalí’s landscape, but the canvases that both sit on, as well as the three-dimensional space around them. And Einstein, as he so often does, sits right in the center of it all, still turning things upside-down from beyond the grave.

Like initials carved in a tree, ER = EPR, as the new idea is known, is a shorthand that joins two ideas proposed by Einstein in 1935. One involved the paradox implied by what he called “spooky action at a distance” between quantum particles (the EPR paradox, named for its authors, Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen). The other showed how two black holes could be connected through far reaches of space through “wormholes” (ER, for Einstein-Rosen bridges). At the time that Einstein put forth these ideas — and for most of the eight decades since — they were thought to be entirely unrelated.

But if ER = EPR is correct, the ideas aren’t disconnected — they’re two manifestations of the same thing. And this underlying connectedness would form the foundation of all space-time. Quantum entanglement — the action at a distance that so troubled Einstein — could be creating the “spatial connectivity” that “sews space together,” according to Leonard Susskind, a physicist at Stanford University and one of the idea’s main architects. Without these connections, all of space would “atomize,” according to Juan Maldacena, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., who developed the idea together with Susskind. “In other words, the solid and reliable structure of space-time is due to the ghostly features of entanglement,” he said. What’s more, ER = EPR has the potential to address how gravity fits together with quantum mechanics.

Not everyone’s buying it, of course (nor should they; the idea is in “its infancy,” said Susskind). Joe Polchinski, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose own stunning paradox about firewalls in the throats of black holes triggered the latest advances, is cautious, but intrigued. “I don’t know where it’s going,” he said, “but it’s a fun time right now.” Via Wormhole Entanglement and the Firewall Paradox

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How Big Is The Sun?

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Researchers have created glasses-free 3D holograms using graphene

Three-dimensional holographic images are a mainstay in sci-fi films, from Princess Leia’s cry for help in Star Wars, to the holographic maps in Avatar. But in real life, we’ve struggled to achieve the same effect without the use of annoying 3D glasses. Now scientists from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia have used a graphene-based material to create a full-colour, pop-up, 3D floating display – visible from a wide angle with the naked eye. The effect was created using a graphene oxide, and could be applied to the touch-screen surface of smartphones or watches, the authors Min Gu and Xiangping Li explain over at The Conversation.

holographHolograms work by bending light off the screen in a carefully controlled way so that, instead of bouncing directly back into your eye, it makes it appear as though it’s projected off a separate display. The Swinburne researchers were able to create the floating 3D display by tweaking the refractive index – the measure of how much light bends as it passes through a medium – of graphene oxide. This allowed them to create tiny, nanoscale pixels that make up floating 3D images, visible to the naked eye.

“If you can change the refractive index you can create lots of optical effects,” said Gu in a press release. “Our technique can be leveraged to achieve compact and versatile optical components for controlling light. We can create the wide angle display necessary for mobile phones and tablets.” Edited from ScienceAlert and Swinburne

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Giselle: Behind the Ballerina

Great video by Australian Ballet’s principle artist Adam Bull.

Adam is my son’s brother-in-law and the nicest guy you could ever meet. – Jim – Deskarati

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Single Picture Explains How Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Work In Photography

If you’re a beginner photographer, it can be helpful to have a simple guide that helps you understand the different settings that you can toggle on your DSLR camera. While this helpful exposure chart by Daniel Peters at Fotoblog Hamburg won’t explain HOW the optics of photography work, it will show you exactly what happens when you tweak your camera’s settings.

The three settings in this chart are part of what photographers like to call the exposure triangle. ISO is the digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The aperture is a structure in your lens that works much like the iris in our eyes. It opens and close to let more or less light in, and also changes the depth of field, or how many different objects can remain in focus in the shot at the same time. Last is the shutter speed, which controls how much time the camera’s shutter remains open when taking a photo. A longer shutter opening will let in more light but may also cause blurring if any motion occurs while the photo is being taken. Via Single Picture Explains How Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Work In Photography

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Calbuco Volcano In Eruption Southern Chile

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Exercise ‘not key to obesity fight’

sports_medicine_centre-splPhysical activity has little role in tackling obesity – and instead public health messages should squarely focus on unhealthy eating, doctors say. In an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, three international experts said it was time to “bust the myth” about exercise. They said while activity was a key part of staving off diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia, its impact on obesity was minimal. Instead excess sugar and carbohydrates were key.

The experts, including London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, blamed the food industry for encouraging the belief that exercise could counteract the impact of unhealthy eating. They even likened their tactics as “chillingly similar” to those of Big Tobacco on smoking and said celebratory endorsements of sugary drinks and the association of junk food and sport must end. They said there was evidence that up to 40% of those within a normal weight range will still harbour harmful metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity.

But despite this public health messaging had “unhelpfully” focused on maintaining a healthy weight through calorie counting when it was the source of calories that mattered most – research has shown that diabetes increases 11-fold for every 150 additional sugar calories consumed compared to fat calories. And they pointed to evidence from the Lancet global burden of disease programme which shows that unhealthy eating was linked to more ill health than physical activity, alcohol and smoking combined. Edited from Exercise ‘not key to obesity fight’

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Robert Oppenheimer

It’s the birthday of Robert Oppenheimer, who was born in 1904 in New York City. Oppenheimer majored in physics at Harvard University and earned a PhD at the University of Göttingen. There, he and his thesis adviser, Max Born, derived their famous Born-Oppenheimer approximation in atomic physics. Oppenheimer spent most of the 1930s at the University of California, Berkeley, where his research interests broadened to include astrophysics and nuclear physics. The breadth of Oppenheimer’s knowledge impressed General Leslie Groves, who in 1942 chose him to direct the secret research laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the US atomic bomb was designed and developed. After World War II, Oppenheimer became the third director of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. He remained a trusted adviser to the US government on nuclear weapons until his security clearance was revoked in 1953 because of his past ties to Communists and questions about his reliability. Although Oppenheimer was later awarded the Fermi award by the White House for his lifetime contributions to energy research, he never regained his security clearance. Via Facebook.

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Australia could have zero emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2050

Australia can make deep cuts to its carbon emissions and become entirely powered by renewable energy by mid-century, all for a relatively low cost, a new study has found. The report, which was released this week, was prepared by researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra on behalf of WWF-Australia. It argues that the country’s renewable energy potential is 500 times greater than the current installed capacity, and notes that forecasting by the Government’s Treasury Department regarding the cost of large-scale renewable energy plants is outdated.

“The costs of some carbon-free technologies, including solar and wind power, have fallen much faster than expected,” the report states. “For example, large-scale solar panel power stations are already only half the cost that the Treasury’s 2008 and 2011 modelling studies estimated they would be in the year 2030.” The report also highlights that Australia’s economy can continue to grow while achieving ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emission over the short and long-term, and says the country could achieve net-zero emissions by offsetting limited fossil fuel use in remote areas with farming and forestry initiatives.

It’s no secret that Australia has a wealth of potential renewable energy at its disposal. The problem is, the country’s also abundantly rich in coal. It’s one of the world’s largest coal exporters, and at home, coal is used to produce around 65 percent of electricity. What’s worrying is that Australia emits more carbon dioxide per capita than any other developed western nation, and the electricity sector accounts for about one-third of those emissions. Via Australia could have zero emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2050, new study finds

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New mass extinction event identified by geologists


Over the past 450 million years, life on Earth has been devastated by five mass extinction events that are widely recognised by geologists. Now, an international team of researchers proposes adding a sixth mass extinction to the list. The team believes it has accumulated sufficient evidence to promote the Capitanian event to the rank of mass extinction.

The extinction occurred approximately 262 million years ago. Their proposal would elevate the Capitanian, which occurred during the Middle Permian period, to sit alongside the so-called “Big Five” mass extinctions. The researchers, led by Dr David Bond of the University of Hull, presented their case in the Geological Society of America Bulletin.

The status of the Capitanian crisis is disputed because little has been learned about it since its discovery 20 years ago. The majority of the existing literature is based on evidence unearthed in the tropics. More here – New mass extinction event identified by geologists

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The Universe

Edited from an article by Paul Davies

To begin with the only hard fact we have on this topic: Nobody knows the structure or form of the universe. It’s debatable whether or not we will ever be able to know with any certainty. Still, the scientific process marches on. We observe the available evidence, and make intelligent guesses.

One fundamental question is whether or not the universe is infinite. Is there an edge, or does space and time just keep on going forever? We may never know, as we can only observe as far as the cosmic horizon. That is the point at which we can no longer see anything because there has not been enough time (in the 13.7 billion years of existence) for light to travel to, and be seen by earth. So it’s a bit like trying to determine the shape of the earth without being able to get out of your chair.

We have decided that there is no noticeable center to our universe. When we think of the Big Bang origin we picture an explosion happening in one spot, and everything spreading outwards from that spot. But that’s not really the case, according to the available evidence. The way that every galaxy is moving away from every other galaxy suggests the big bang happened everywhere-all-at-once.

The way we think about the space around us is in three dimensions. There are a very limited number of ways we can move, and we’re stuck being in only one place at any given time. In order to make sense of certain things, scientists are seriously considering that there are more dimensions than meets the eye.

One proposed shape for the universe, and a solution to the everywhere-all-at-once conundrum, is called a hypersphere. It’s a round ball, but rather than having a flat surface (like the earth) the outside edge of this ball is in itself a three dimensional space.  Perhaps you could picture a balloon. There’s nothing on the inside, but the balloon wall is “thick” with three dimensions.

So now consider the Big Bang in context of this balloon being inflated. It starts as a little ball of solid latex. (that balloon, not the universe) As it is blown up, it expands outward and the hyperspherical wall grows. If you were to have dots on the surface of this balloon, all the dots would be moving farther away from all the other dots, just like our galaxies.

Note: While the balloon analogy hopefully helps to explain the affect of a hyperspherical universe and uniform expansion, it doesn’t get you any closer to actually picturing the true shape of a hypershpere.

So, that’s just one concept for the shape of the universe. With the hypersphere, there is a finite volume of space. In fact, if you could travel in one direction long enough, you would eventually loop around back to where you started. (like walking around the globe, but in a crazy 4-dimensional way)

Source – Paul Davies – Get a copy of his book The Goldilocks Enjgma

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