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

                            

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SHERLOC to micro-map Mars minerals and carbon rings

sherloctomic

An ultraviolet-light instrument on the robotic arm of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will use two types of ultraviolet-light spectroscopy, plus a versatile camera, to help meet the mission’s ambitious goals, including a search for signs of past life on Mars and selection of rock samples for possible return to Earth. It is called SHERLOC, for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals.

“This instrument uses two distinct detection strategies,” said its principal investigator, Luther Beegle of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It can detect an important class of carbon molecules with high sensitivity, and it also identifies minerals that provide information about ancient aqueous environments.”

SHERLOC will shine a tiny dot of ultraviolet laser light at a target. This causes two different spectral phenomena to occur, which the instrument captures for analysis. The first is a distinctive fluorescence, or glow, from molecules that contain rings of carbon atoms. Such molecules may be clues to whether evidence of past life has been preserved. The second is an effect called Raman scattering, which can identify certain minerals, including ones formed from evaporation of salty water, and organic compounds. This dual use enables powerful analysis of many different compounds on the identical spot. Via SHERLOC to micro-map Mars minerals and carbon rings.

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Siegfried Sassoon ‘How To Die’

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, actor David Harewood narrates an animated interpretation of the poem How To Die by Siegfried Sassoon.

In the work Sassoon, who gained recognition by writing about his own experience as a soldier and who became known as one of the leading poets of the Great War, describes the horrors of the trenches and battlefields in realistic detail, and rails against the idea of combat being a noble undertaking.

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Shirley: Visions of Reality

13 of Edward Hopper‘s paintings are brought alive by the film, telling the story of a woman, whose thoughts, emotions and contemplations let us observe an era in American history.

Shirley is a woman in America in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s. A woman who would like to influence the course of history with her professional and socio-political involvement. A woman who does not accept the reality of the Depression years, WWII, the McCarthy era, race conflicts and civil rights campaigns as given but rather as generated and adjustable. A woman whose work as an actress has familiarised her with the staging of reality, the questioning and shaping of it; an actress who doesn’t identify her purpose and future with that of solo success or stardom but who strives to give social potency to theatre as part of a collective. A woman who cannot identify with the traditional role model of a wife yet longs to have a life partner. A woman who does not compromise in moments of professional crisis and is not afraid to take on menial jobs to secure her livelihood. A woman who in a moment of private crisis decides to stick with her partner and puts her own professional interest on the back burner. A woman who is infuriated by political repression yet not driven to despair, and who has nothing but disdain for betrayal. Shirley, an attractive, charismatic, committed, emancipated woman.

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Ebola: How easily do germs spread on planes?

The risks of catching an infection from an ill passenger are not as high as you would think, says Christine Pearson, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. “It’s not any more dangerous than any place where you are in touch with lots of people – like a shopping mall food court for example.

John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University, London, agrees. He points out that the aeroplane ventilation goes from the ground to the ceiling, where the air is filtered for bacteria and viruses before it recirculates. Simulations looking at the potential spread of germs have found that they are generally confined to just a couple of rows either side of the carrier. Even then, the chances appear to be small, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The paper looked at a flight involving nine school children who were later found to be carrying the swine flu virus. Just two other passengers, of more than 100 questioned, later developed the illness – and they were both sitting within two rows of the ill school kids. As a result, the researchers concluded that there was just a 3.5% risk of catching the illness if you were sitting in those seats. A handful of other studies, looking at measles and TB, also suggest that in-flight transmission rates are similarly low. From studies such as these, Oxford says that “the biggest risk is not on the plane, but in the taxi on the way to the airport”.

However, John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, points out that it is difficult to come to any firm conclusions, even for the more prevalent diseases. The number of studies is small, he says, meaning you can’t find absolute figures for the risk and compare that to the risk of infection in a school, say. So it is even harder to assess the risk of in-flight transmission of rare and unstudied diseases like Ebola. Continue reading

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National Geographic Photo Winner – The Independence Day

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While on storm chasing expeditions in Tornado Alley in the U.S. I have encountered many photogenic supercell storms. This photograph was taken while we were approaching a storm near Julesburg, Colorado, on May 28, 2013. The storm was tornado warned for more than one hour, but it stayed an LP [low precipitation] storm through all its cycles and never produced a tornado, just occasional brief funnels, large hail, and some rain.

National Geographic Traveler Director of Photography Dan Westergren, one of this year’s judges, shares his thoughts on the first-place winner:

This winning photo of a supercell over the plains of eastern Colorado stopped the judges in our tracks. When we first saw the picture we guessed that the photographer probably had dedicated quite a bit of time chasing storms to capture such an amazing sight. But what makes the picture particularly strong is that except for the cloud, the rest of the scene is quite ordinary. The crazy UFO-looking shape gives the impression that it’s going to suck up the landscape like a tablecloth into a vacuum cleaner. The unresolved tension in the image makes me want to look at it over and over. Via National Geographic.

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Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

In their quest to understand life’s potential beyond Earth, astrobiologists study how organisms might survive in numerous environments, from the surface of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. For now, Earth is our only example of an inhabited planet, and studying the limits of habitability on Earth is a major component of astrobiology research. For this reason, scientists collect data from places on our planet where life is pushed to the absolute limits of adaptability, from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and from smoldering thermal vents to highly acidic rivers. But locations like the Antarctic Dry Valleys or deep-sea vents in the Pacific aren’t the only places in which astrobiologists study life as we know it. Low Earth orbit provides an opportunity to observe Earth-life in the harsh conditions of space.

In the early hours of July 24th, 2014, a new astrobiology experiment began its journey from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station (ISS). BIOMEX (Biology and Mars Experiment) launched onboard a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft and is one of four experiments that make up the EXPOSE-R2 facility, which will be mounted on the exterior of the ISS Zvezda module. Just six hours after launch, the cargo ship successfully docked with the ISS.

Life on the Station – BIOMEX contains twelve different experimental packages that are designed to help determine life’s potential on Mars. The Institute of Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is coordinating BIOMEX, but the project involves 25 participating institutions from around the world. BIOMEX contains numerous chambers that are filled with biomolecules and organisms that include bacteria, archaea, algae, fungi, lichens and mosses. Replicate samples spread across the compartments are subjected to a range of environmental conditions. Some samples of each biomolecule or organism are embedded in a simulant Mars soil (ranging from just a single layer of soil to multiple layers), and other samples are left on their own to face the space environment without protection. Via Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit.

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What is the universe expanding into?

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When Your Skin Smells Sandalwood Oil, It Heals Itself

Your nose isn’t the only part of your body capable of taking a whiff. In the past decade, scientists have discovered olfactory receptors lingering in strange places—in sperm, in the spine, and even in the kidneys. Now researchers in Hanns Hatt’s lab at Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum have identified scent receptors somewhere much more accessible: the skin. What’s more, these receptors appear to be involved in healing.

Here’s Bob Roeher, writing for New Scientist:

They found that Sandalore—a synthetic sandalwood oil used in aromatherapy, perfumes and skin care products—bound to an olfactory receptor in skin called OR2AT4. Rather than sending a message to the brain, as nose receptors do, the receptor triggered cells to divide and migrate, important processes in repairing damaged skin.

Cell proliferation increased by 32 per cent and cell migration by nearly half when keratinocytes [skin cells] in a test tube and in culture were mixed for five days with Sandalore.

In other words, your skin has the ability to smell, just not in the way we normally think of. Instead, certain odorants target “smelling” receptors in the skin, which prompt the healing process. Of course, just as one nose is different from another, so are the scent receptors in our skin. One person’s genetics might predispose them to greater olfactory sensitivity than another’s. Via When Your Skin Smells Sandalwood Oil, It Heals Itself

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Why Can’t You Remember Being a Baby?

It’s easy to recall events of decades past—birthdays, high school graduations, visits to Grandma—yet who can remember being a baby? Researchers have tried for more than a century to identify the cause of “infantile amnesia.” Sigmund Freud blamed it on repression of early sexual experiences, an idea that has been discredited. More recently, researchers have attributed it to a child’s lack of self-perception, language or other mental equipment required to encode memories.

Neuroscientists Paul Frankland and Sheena Josselyn, both at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, do not think linguistics or a sense of self offers a good explanation, either. It so happens that humans are not the only animals that experience infantile amnesia. Mice and monkeys also forget their early childhood. To account for the similarities, Frankland and Josselyn have another theory: the rapid birth of many new neurons in a young brain blocks access to old memories. In a new experiment, the scientists manipulated the rate at which hippocampal neurons grew in young and adult mice. The hippocampus is the region in the brain that records autobiographical events. The young mice with slowed neuron growth had better long-term memory. Conversely, the older mice with increased rates of neuron formation had memory loss.

Based on these results, published in May in the journal Science, Frankland and Josselyn think that rapid neuron growth during early childhood disrupts the brain circuitry that stores old memories, making them inaccessible. Young children also have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, another region of the brain that encodes memories, so infantile amnesia may be a combination of these two factors.As we age, neurogenesis slows, and the hippocampus achieves a balance of memory formation and retention. Of course, we still forget a lot, but that may be a good thing. “The sad truth in life is that most things we do are pretty mundane,” Frankland says. “The idea is that for healthy adult memory function, you need not only to be able to remember things but also to clear out the inconsequential memories.” Like all that sleeping, crying and crawling. Who needs to remember that? Via Why Can’t You Remember Being a Baby?

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‘Quantum Cheshire Cat’ becomes reality

Scientists have for the first time separated a particle from one of its physical properties – creating a “quantum Cheshire Cat”. The phenomenon is named after the curious feline in Alice in Wonderland, who vanishes leaving only its grin. Researchers took a beam of neutrons and separated them from their magnetic moment, like passengers and their baggage at airport security.They describe their feat in Nature Communications. The same separation trick could in principle be performed with any property of any quantum object, say researchers from Vienna University of Technology. Their technique could have a useful application in metrology – helping to filter out disturbances during high-precision measurements of quantum systems.

In Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story, the Cheshire Cat gradually disappears, leaving only its mischievous grin. This prompts Alice to exclaim: “Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!” The idea of a “quantum Cheshire Cat” was first proposed in 2010 by Dr Jeff Tollaksen from Chapman University, a co-author on this latest paper. In the world familiar to us, an object and its properties are always bound together. A rotating ball, for instance, cannot become separated from its spin. The cat (the neutron) goes via the upper beam path, while its grin (the magnetic moment) goes via the lower But quantum theory predicts that a particle (such as a photon or neutron) can become physically separated from one of its properties – such as its polarisation or its magnetic moment (the strength of its coupling to an external magnetic field). Edited from and more here ‘Quantum Cheshire Cat’ becomes reality.

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Watch 80,000 neurons fire in a zebrafish brain

The video is based on a new imaging technique called light-sheet imaging, which has allowed researchers to get an unprecedented glimpse into the neural mechanisms of a living zebrafish.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anything on Earth as complex as the brain – even if that brain happens to belong to a simple zebrafish – and these almost inscrutable organs pose a real challenge to those trying to study them. For decades researchers have had to resort to external devices that work by picking up signals in the brain, and often from just a few hundred neurons out of possibly billions, but what if you could see almost all of these neurons firing in real-time inside an active brain? That’s what researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US have been working on.

“There must be fundamental principles about how large populations of neurons represent information and guide behaviour,” one of the team, neuroscientist Jeremy Freeman, told Joshua Batson at Wired. “In this system where we record from the whole brain, we might start to understand what those rules are.”

The team genetically engineered zebrafish to have a chemical indicator in each of the neurons inside their brains. These chemical indicators are so efficient, they become fluorescent within a tenth of a second after a neuron fires. The new light-sheet imaging technology directs lasers to sweep across the wholly transparent bodies of the fish, which makes these indicators glow. A video camera hanging overhead is then able to capture extremely clear footage of the activity going on inside their brains. Via WATCH: 80,000 neurons fire in a zebrafish brain (Science Alert).

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Could California Go All in On Renewable Energy?

A Stanford professor has presented a plan to power all of the Golden State’s energy needs with renewable energy by 2050. “If implemented, this plan will eliminate air pollution mortality and global warming emissions from California, stabilize prices and create jobs — there is little downside,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, the study’s lead author and a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering, in a press release. It would take 25,000 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines, 1,200 concentrated solar plants, 15 million residential rooftop photovoltaic systems, 72 geothermal plants, 5,000 wave devices and 3,400 tidal turbines. After that initial investment, though, the researchers say the plan would save about $103 billion per year in health costs per year, and about $48 billion per year in climate change costs (such as coastal erosion and extreme weather damage).

The study, published in the journal Energy, is the second of its kind. The authors wrote a similar plan for New York, and are working on plans for all 50 states. The reports propose using technology that is currently available. “Like New York, California has a clear choice to make: Double down on 20th-century fossil fuels or accelerate toward a clean, green-energy future,” said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor and study co-author. Most of California’s energy now comes from oil, natural gas, nuclear power and some coal. The breakdown of the alternative-energy plan would be 55.5 percent from solar, 35 percent from wind and the remainder from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and wave energy. Edited from Could California Go All in On Renewable Energy? 

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George Butterworth’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’

George Butterworth, an English composer who was killed at the age of 31 during the First World War, is best known for his song settings of several of the poems in A. E. Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad.’ Those songs led to Butterworth composing this evocative orchestral rhapsody of the same name. It was first performed in 1913 and uses some of the same song melodies.

If you would like to learn more about the life and works of George Butterworth click here to read Alan Mason‘s excellent post on the ill fated composer. – Deskarati

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What is 5G and why do we need it?

mobile5G is the name currently being given to the next generation of mobile data connectivity that will come after the last drop has been wringed from 4G. It will provide unbelievably fast broadband speeds, but more importantly it will have enough capacity wherever you go to perform every function you want it to without a drop in speed or connection, no matter how many people are connected at the same time.

Indeed, EE’s principal network architect Professor Andy Sutton, believes that the aim of 5G is to become invisible. It should be a technology that’s “just there”, like electricity. It will enable device manufacturers to realise the Internet of Things as it will always be on and able to be tapped into without regionalisation.

Why do we need it? – One of the main benefits of 5G technology over 4G will not be its speed of delivery – which admittedly could be between 10Gbps and 100Gbps – but the latency. At present, 4G is capable of between 40ms and 60ms, which is low-latency but not enough to provide real-time response. Multiplayer gaming, for example, requires a lower latency than that to ensure that when you hit a button, the remote server responds instantly. Another example was given to us by EE’s Sutton, who said that 5G’s prospective ultra-low-latency could range between 1ms and 10ms. This would allow, he said, a spectator in a football stadium to watch a live stream of an alternative camera angle of the action that matches what is going on the pitch ahead with no perceivable delay.

The capacity is an important factor too. With the Internet of Things becoming more and more important over time, where gadgets and objects employ smart, connected features that they have never had before, the strain on bandwidth will continue to grow. Initial ideas behind 5G is that an infrastructure will be in place to avoid that. It will be more adaptive to user’s needs and demands and therefore able to allocate more or less bandwidth based on the application. Edited from What is 5G, when is it coming and why do we need it?

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After bumping my head, why do I ‘see stars’?

starsThe stars you see are actually neurons in your visual cortex firing spontaneously. This occurs when their oxygenation level changes abruptly either because you have stood up too quickly or because your brain has been suddenly accelerated by a sharp blow, sloshing blood into or out of the capillaries. The neurons closest to capillaries are affected first and, if it happens fast enough, they fire well before the surrounding neurons. This results in isolated signals that your brain interprets as lights. Via After bumping my head, why do I ‘see stars’?

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How To Get Better Sleep

Some tips to combat sleep deprivation!

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Sectoral heterochromia

Heterochromia iridis is a condition in which the iris in one eye has a different color than the iris of the other eye or shows different colours within the same eye. The iris is the tissue of the eye that surrounds the pupil and imparts a color, whether green, blue, brown, hazel, grey, or other, to the eye.

Iris color is the result of the pigment that is present in the iris. Brown eyes have large amounts of melanin pigment deposits, and blue eyes have a lack of melanin. Although eye color is inherited, the inheritance pattern is complex, with interaction of more than one gene. These genes interact to provide the full constellation of colors.

Other genes may determine the pattern and placement of pigment in the iris, thereby accounting for solid brown as opposed to rays of color. Normally, the two irises of an individual are of the same color. In heterochromia, the affected eye may be hyperpigmented (darker or hyperchromic) or hypopigmented (lighter or hypochromic). Eye color is determined primarily by the concentration and distribution of melanin within the iris tissues. Via Facebook.

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Remote tribe members enter another village, catch flu

Advocates for indigenous tribes are worried over incidents last month when some members of one of the last uncontacted tribes in the Peru/Brazil region, across borders, left their home in Peru and entered the village across the border, making contact for the first time with people in a settled Ashaninka community. The seven were sickened, alarming researchers about the risk of how diseases may decimate previously isolated peoples with no immunities. Responding to the risks of disease transmission, a government medical team treated the newly infected people and gave them flu immunizations.

The situation though took another turn when the contacted people then went back to their forest home, Their return has observers worried that they still could spread the sickness back to their tribe. Science News, from the journal Science, quoted Chris Fagan, executive director at the Upper Amazon Conservancy in Jackson, Wyoming. “We can only hope that [the FUNAI team members] were able to give out treatment before the sickness was spread to the rest of the tribe in the forest,” says Chris Fagan, executive director at the Upper Amazon Conservancy in Jackson, Wyoming. “Only time will tell if they reacted quickly enough to divert a catastrophic epidemic.” FUNAI refers to Brazil’s Indian affairs department.

On Friday, Heather Pringle reported in Science News that some scientists and Brazil’s government disagree if the people who came down with flu received enough medical treatment. “At least one scientist fears that the illness is just the start of a health catastrophe for the tribe.” The scientists say fuller precautions may have had to be taken regarding the seven people who then slipped back into the forest. In Pringle’s report, anthropologist Kim Hill of Arizona State University said a health worker or anthropologist should have been sent with the departing individuals to administer antibiotics in case pneumonia and other infections spread in the home village. Via Remote tribe members enter another village, catch flu.

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Boosting the force of empty space

Vacuum fluctuations may be among the most counter-intuitive phenomena of quantum physics. Theorists from the Weizmann Institute (Rehovot, Israel) and the Vienna University of Technology propose a way to amplify their force.

Vacuum is not as empty as one might think. In fact, empty space is a bubbling soup of various virtual particles popping in and out of existence – a phenomenon called “vacuum fluctuations”. Usually, such extremely short-lived particles remain completely unnoticed, but in certain cases vacuum forces can have a measurable effect. A team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) and the Vienna University of Technology has now proposed a method of amplifying these forces by several orders of magnitude using a transmission line, channelling virtual photons.

“Borrowing” Energy, but just for a Little While

If you park your car somewhere and later it is gone, that is most probably not due to vacuum fluctuations. Objects do not disappear or reappear, that would violate the law of energy conservation. In the world of quantum physics, however, things are a bit more complicated. “Due to the uncertainty principle, virtual particles can come into existence for a brief period of time”, says Igor Mazets from the Vienna University of Technology. “The higher their energy, the faster they will disappear again.”

But such virtual particles can have a measurable collective effect. At very short distances, vacuum fluctuations can lead to an attractive force between atoms or molecules – the Van der Waals forces. Even the ability of a gecko to climb flat surfaces can in part be attributed to vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles. The famous Casimir effect is another example of the power of the vacuum: The physicist Hendrik Casimir calculated in 1948 that two parallel mirrors in empty space will attract each other due to the way they influence the vacuum around them. Continue reading

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How an Embryo Grows

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