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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Farthest Galaxy Found, Perhaps

Astronomers have glimpsed what may be the farthest galaxy we've ever seen, providing a picture of a baby galaxy born soon after the beginning of the universe.

Images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed the galaxy at almost 13 billion light-years away, making it the strongest candidate for the most distant galaxy ever seen, said European Southern Observatory astronomer Piero Rosati, who helped make the discovery.

Since the galaxy is so far away, its light took ages to reach us, so what we see now is a snapshot of how this galaxy looked 13 billion years ago. At that point in time, the galaxy would have been newly formed, so the new observations provide a baby picture.

"We certainly were surprised to find such a bright young galaxy 13 billion years in the past," said astronomer Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the research team. "This is the most detailed look to date at an object so far back in time."

The young galaxy, called A1689-zD1, was born about 700 million years after the Big Bang that scientists think created the universe. For most of its early life, the universe languished in "dark ages" when matter in the expanding universe cooled and formed clouds of hydrogen. Eventually matter began to clump into stars and galaxies that radiated light, heating up the universe and clearing the fog.

Scientists think this newly discovered galaxy may have been one of the first to form and help end the dark ages.

"This galaxy presumably is one of the many galaxies that helped end the dark ages," said astronomer Larry Bradley of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, leader of the research team. "Astronomers are fairly certain that high-energy objects such as quasars did not provide enough energy to end the dark ages of the universe. But many young star-forming galaxies may have produced enough energy to end it."

The discovery was made possible by a natural magnifying glass -- the galaxy cluster Abell 1689, which lies between us and the distant galaxy. Abell 1689's gravity is so strong it bends light that passes near it, acting like a giant zoom lens that magnifies what we see.

"This galaxy lies near the region where the galaxy cluster produces the highest magnification," Rosati said, "which was essential to bring this galaxy within reach of Hubble and Spitzer."

The discovery, announced today, will be detailed in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2008 February 12


Echoes from RS Pup
Credit: Pierre Kervella (Obs. de Paris), Antoine Mérand (CHARA), et al., ESO
Explanation: This dusty reflection nebula surrounds pulsating star RS Pup, some 10 times more massive than the Sun and on average 15,000 times more luminous. In fact, RS Pup is a Cepheid type variable star; a class of stars whose brightness is used to estimate distances to nearby galaxies as one of the first steps in establishing the cosmic distance scale. As RS Pup pulsates over a period of about 40 days, its regular changes in brightness are also seen along the nebula delayed in time, effectively a light echo. The otherwise overwhelming light from RS Pup itself is hidden behind the dark central stripe in the color image. Using new measurements of the time delay and angular size of the nebula, the known speed of light allows astronomers to geometrically determine the distance to RS Pup to be 6,500 light-years, with a remarkably small error of plus or minus 90 light-years. An impressive achievement for stellar astronomy, the echo-measured distance also more accurately establishes the true brightness of RS Pup, and by extension other Cepheid stars, improving the knowledge of distances to galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

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The Blackness of Space

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Eye-To-Eye With A Storm Striking Earth's Atmosphere

Here's a picture of a geomagnetic storm causing crazy auroras to light up the sky over Newfoundland, as seen from the International Space Station. The ISS is actually at the same altitude as these auroras, and sometimes flies straight through the Northern Lights. Click through for another trippy picture of Earth's auroras as seen from space.

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Eleven Dimensional Exploding Black Holes

Black_hole_big_2The Grand Unified Theory, the birth of the universe, the value of the fundamental constants - you name it, and string theory promises it'll have the answer. Hell, it'll throw in the details of the Kennedy assassination and the current location of Elvis Presley if you'll just ignore the lack of provable hypotheses just a little bit longer. But after years of being the Belle of the Scientific Ball, it's starting to look like Nicole Kidman in a lab coat: beautiful, and we really enjoy the concept, but their scientific credentials are questionable.

One of the boldest but least provable claims of string theory is that there are (at least) eleven dimensions, but the seven we've strangely failed to notice so far are too tiny too observe (about a thousandth of the radius of a proton). In terms of excuses that's slightly less credible than "No my dear, I rubbed lipstick on my collar to test it before buying it for you. Which I then forgot to do while ruffling my hair and finding this strange woman in my bed."

With the backlash starting to surface and scientific journals serving "Prove it or lose it" eviction notices, string theorists are searching high and low for evidence. Cosmic background radiation, the Large Hadron Collider experiments, distortions in satellite imagery - no matter how extreme the field you'll find a stringer crying "Wait, this one proves it!" And it doesn't get much more extreme than an exploding black hole.

King MacGenius of cosmology, also known as Stephen Hawking, famously proved that energy could escape from black holes. This "Hawking Radiation" means that the galactic trash compactors, previously thought inescapable, can actually lose mass over time. Since most of them gargle stars washed down with planets this isn't a major factor, but cute little mini-singularities thought to have been created during the big bang are small enough to lose mass faster than they can gain it, and when a defect in the structure of space time shuffles off this Reimannian coil they won't go quietly. Ever the understaters, cosmologists call this process "evaporation", though a regular humans idea of evaporation don't involve an intense radiation-emitting explosion.

Scientists from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the State University in Blacksburg predict that such an evaporating black hole (which might not exist) would eventually get small enough to fit into the tiny hidden dimensions (which really, really might not exist) and suddenly 'pop' in with a different kind of explosion (which has not yet been observed). We would never criticise research just because it hasn't been proven yet (we'd be scratching the Daily Galaxy into cave walls with bison thigh bones if people did), but that sounds less like "predict" than "vaguely hope".

Scientists at Cambridge and Stanford support the search, if only because the equipment used will see something interesting even if not the lottery-odds intended target, which isn't exactly the most ringing endorsement in scientific history. On the other hand, if they do prove the existence of mini-black holes and string theory with nothing but an eight-meter radio antenna, it'll be the greatest discovery of our lifetimes and we'll allow them to tattoo "Told you so" right on our foreheads.

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Chauffeuring Space Shuttle Atlantis from Point A to Point B


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Makeover for Europe's Mars robot

The boss of the European Space Agency has asked his officials to find a new name for theThe boss of the European Space Agency has asked his officials to find a new name for the flagship ExoMars mission.

Jean Jacques Dordain said the rover concept had changed so radically since first envisioned and costed that it was really now a new venture.

Mr Dordain will ask ministers in November for a near doubling of the 650-million-euro budget for ExoMars they originally agreed in 2005.

The robot rover - whatever its name - should launch for Mars in 2013.

"I am asking [my officials] to find a different way to define ExoMars because if we say 'this is ExoMars', for most of the ministers it means 'over-cost'.

"And this is not over-cost because we are not speaking at all of the same mission; it is a completely different mission. This is to try to make ministers understand that this is not over-cost."

ExoMars will be Europe's big space exploration project in the next decade.

Beefed up

The plan is to put a hi-tech vehicle on the Red Planet's surface with a range of instrumentation capable of investigating the planet's life potential - past and present.

When the idea was first put to European space ministers three years ago, they embraced the project and actually gave it slightly more money than was being asked for at the time.

EXOMARS MISSION CONCEPT
ExoMars concept (Esa)
Set to leave Earth in 2013; primary aim is to search for life
Will launch on a heavy-lift Proton or Ariane 5 rocket
Vented landing bags allow for a larger payload
Rover will carry a 16.5kg 'Pasteur' instrument suite
30kg geophysics/environment static station also possible
This would study the weather and listen for 'Marsquakes'
Concept to cost Esa states more than first estimates

But as the detailed design work was carried out, it became clear the original concept would not meet the expectations of scientists; and a decision was taken within the European Space Agency (Esa) to beef up the mission.

"Today what I call 'ExoMars 2008' is different from the 'ExoMars of 2005'," Mr Dordain said.

"This is why I'm looking for a different name. In 2005, it was mostly a technological mission with some scientific passengers. But the interest in Mars, and specifically exobiology, meant that I had a queue of scientists wanting to go onboard ExoMars.

"Now we have a scientific mission as much as a technological mission, meaning that the ExoMars 2008 is heavier, is more complex and is more costly."

The increased cost may present real problems for some countries, however.

In particular, the UK, which had signed up to be a lead partner on the mission, now faces having to find tens of millions of euros extra to maintain its position on the project.

Research centre

Next week, the British government will unveil a new space strategy. It has made clear its desire to increase its Esa contributions, and to host a specialist Esa research centre, most probably one that investigates space robotics.

Detailed legal work on that centre is being conducted now and the facility itself could be approved at the Esa Council meeting at ministerial level in The Hague on 25-26 November.

Mr Dordain said he had been encouraged lately by the UK's attitude, which in the past he has described as "anomalous" because of the nation's relative reluctance to get involved in the agency compared with Germany, France and Italy.

"The UK is the second richest country in Europe and the sixth [largest] contributor in Esa," he told BBC News.

"And this is all the more an anomaly because there are a lot of capabilities in the UK; there is a fantastic scientific community, there are good industrial capabilities and it is a pity that the British government is not taking more benefit from these assets."

Mr Dordain was speaking here in Florida after the launch of the Columbus science laboratory to the International Space Station, one of the voluntary Esa programmes in which the UK currently refuses to get involved.

flagship ExoMars mission.

Jean Jacques Dordain said the rover concept had changed so radically since first envisioned and costed that it was really now a new venture.

Mr Dordain will ask ministers in November for a near doubling of the 650-million-euro budget for ExoMars they originally agreed in 2005.

The robot rover - whatever its name - should launch for Mars in 2013.

"I am asking [my officials] to find a different way to define ExoMars because if we say 'this is ExoMars', for most of the ministers it means 'over-cost'.

"And this is not over-cost because we are not speaking at all of the same mission; it is a completely different mission. This is to try to make ministers understand that this is not over-cost."

ExoMars will be Europe's big space exploration project in the next decade.

Beefed up

The plan is to put a hi-tech vehicle on the Red Planet's surface with a range of instrumentation capable of investigating the planet's life potential - past and present.

When the idea was first put to European space ministers three years ago, they embraced the project and actually gave it slightly more money than was being asked for at the time.

EXOMARS MISSION CONCEPT
ExoMars concept (Esa)
Set to leave Earth in 2013; primary aim is to search for life
Will launch on a heavy-lift Proton or Ariane 5 rocket
Vented landing bags allow for a larger payload
Rover will carry a 16.5kg 'Pasteur' instrument suite
30kg geophysics/environment static station also possible
This would study the weather and listen for 'Marsquakes'
Concept to cost Esa states more than first estimates

But as the detailed design work was carried out, it became clear the original concept would not meet the expectations of scientists; and a decision was taken within the European Space Agency (Esa) to beef up the mission.

"Today what I call 'ExoMars 2008' is different from the 'ExoMars of 2005'," Mr Dordain said.

"This is why I'm looking for a different name. In 2005, it was mostly a technological mission with some scientific passengers. But the interest in Mars, and specifically exobiology, meant that I had a queue of scientists wanting to go onboard ExoMars.

"Now we have a scientific mission as much as a technological mission, meaning that the ExoMars 2008 is heavier, is more complex and is more costly."

The increased cost may present real problems for some countries, however.

In particular, the UK, which had signed up to be a lead partner on the mission, now faces having to find tens of millions of euros extra to maintain its position on the project.

Research centre

Next week, the British government will unveil a new space strategy. It has made clear its desire to increase its Esa contributions, and to host a specialist Esa research centre, most probably one that investigates space robotics.

Detailed legal work on that centre is being conducted now and the facility itself could be approved at the Esa Council meeting at ministerial level in The Hague on 25-26 November.

Mr Dordain said he had been encouraged lately by the UK's attitude, which in the past he has described as "anomalous" because of the nation's relative reluctance to get involved in the agency compared with Germany, France and Italy.

"The UK is the second richest country in Europe and the sixth [largest] contributor in Esa," he told BBC News.

"And this is all the more an anomaly because there are a lot of capabilities in the UK; there is a fantastic scientific community, there are good industrial capabilities and it is a pity that the British government is not taking more benefit from these assets."

Mr Dordain was speaking here in Florida after the launch of the Columbus science laboratory to the International Space Station, one of the voluntary Esa programmes in which the UK currently refuses to get involved.

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Chrysalis - Atlantis STS-122 Lift-Off

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1980 Satellite Recon Photo of Soviet Particle Beam Weapon

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Atlantis on Pad 39A


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NEW DINOSAUR FROM MEXICO OFFERS INSIGHTS INTO ANCIENT LIFE ON WEST AMERICA

Cretaceous-era duck-billed dinosaur discovery opens new window into time when much of continent was submerged

Media Contacts

Feb. 12, 2008 - A new species of dinosaur unearthed in Mexico is giving scientists fresh insights into the ancient history of western North America, according to an international research team led by scientists from the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

"To date, the dinosaur record from Mexico has been sparse," said Terry Gates, a paleontologist with the Utah Museum of Natural History, Utah's designated natural history museum.

The new creature - aptly dubbed Velafrons coahuilensis - was a massive plant-eater belonging to a group of duck-billed dinosaurs, or hadrosaurs. "Velafrons is a combination of Latin and Spanish meaning "sailed forehead," in reference to the large sail-like crest that grew atop the dinosaur's head," said Rosario Gomez, director of the paleontology program in Coahuila, Mexico. "The second part of the name honors the state of Coahuila in north-central Mexico, where the specimen was found," said Gomez.

Utah Museum of Natural History paleontologists teamed up with researchers from the Utah Geological Survey; Coordinacion de Paleontologia, Secretaria de Educacion y Cultura de Coahuila the Museo del Desierto, in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico; and the Royal Tyrrell Museum, in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, to excavate and study the 72-million-year-old specimen. The species was announced in the December edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Mexico's arid climate poses challenges for dinosaur hunters, Gates explained. With little rainfall, there is minimal erosion, which means fewer fossils ever see daylight. Yet the fossils emerging from Coahuila turn out to be a vital part of the North American story for the latter part of the Age of Dinosaurs.


A Different World

For most of the Late Cretaceous, high global sea levels resulted in flooding of the central, low-lying portion of North America. As a result, a warm, shallow sea extended from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, splitting the continent in two. Dinosaurs living on the long, narrow, peninsula-like western landmass - known as Laramidia, or more simply, "West America," - occupied only a narrow belt of plains that were sandwiched between the seaway to the east and rising mountains to the west. Central America had not formed at the time, which made Mexico the southern tip of the continent.

In many ways, the Late Cretaceous is the best-understood time during the Age of Dinosaurs, thanks in large part to over 120 years of dinosaur hunting in Canada, Montana, and the Dakotas. "Yet the dinosaurs from Mexico have remained a mystery," noted Scott Sampson, a Utah Museum of Natural History paleontologist and co-author of the study.

Gates described the arid, desert terrain where the dinosaur was recovered as nothing like Mexico during the Late Cretaceous. About 72 million years ago, this region was a humid estuary near the southernmost tip of West America, an area where salt water from the ocean mixed with fresh water from rivers. Many of the dinosaur bones are covered with fossilized snails and marine clams, indicating that these animals inhabited environments near the shore.

In addition to isolated skeletons, the researchers found large bonebeds of jumbled duck-bill and horned dinosaur skeletons. These sites appear to represent mass death events, perhaps associated with powerful storms like those that are known to occur around the southern tips of Africa and South America today.

"The region was periodically hammered by monstrous storms," Sampson said, "devastating miles of fertile coastline, apparently killing off entire herds of dinosaurs."

Recovering a Hatchet Head

Until recent years, there have been few large-scale paleontological projects in Mexico focused on the Age of Dinosaurs. Velafrons stands as one of the first dinosaurs to be named from Mexico.

The creature comes from a rock unit known as the Cerro del Pueblo Formation, which dates to around 71.5 million to 72.5 million years ago. The skeleton was discovered in the early 1990s on the outskirts of a small town called Rincon Colorado, about 27 miles west of the city of Saltillo.

The skeleton was found by Martha Carolina Aguillon, and excavated over the course of several seasons by members of the Coordinacion de Paleontologia de la Secretaria de Educacion y Cultura de Coahuila under the direction of Jim Kirkland, of the Utah Geological Survey, and Rene Hernandez-Rivera, Instituto de Geología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Much of the excavation work was completed by volunteers as a participant-funded research project organized by the Dinamation International Society and the staff of the Museo del Desierto.

On becoming Utah's state paleontologist, Kirkland encouraged Scott Sampson and his students to take over his role on the Coahuila Paleontological research project.

Then, in 2002, Sampson spearheaded the first of two paleontological expeditions to Coahuila, by securing funds from the University of Utah and National Geographic Society. The Utah Museum of Natural History crew, along with other researchers from Mexico, Canada, and the U.S., undertook the daunting task of completing the hadrosaur excavation, in addition to locating several other sites that contain new dinosaur species.

Armed with a jackhammer and shovels, the crew returned to the Rincon Colorado dig site, where they labored for two weeks through 12 feet of overburden, eventually uncovering the ancient skull. Upon its arrival at the Utah Museum of Natural History, the skull then required another two years of meticulous preparation by Jerry Golden, a skilled volunteer at the museum.

Based on the development of several bony features on the skull and skeleton, the scientists believe that this animal was still a youngster at the time of death. Nevertheless, although not yet fully grown, Velafrons would have been on the order of 25 feet long, suggesting an impressive adult size of 30 feet to 35 feet.

Gates explained that Velafrons represents the first occurrence of a crested duck-billed dinosaur in this region of North America. "The crested duck-billed dinosaurs are an extraordinary example of vertebrate evolution," he said. Unlike other animals where the nose bone lies in front of their eyes, these dinosaurs transformed their skulls so that the nose rested atop their skull. The snout extended backward, up their face, in order to fill the gap left by the relocated nose bone.

Interestingly, breathing was not straight-forward for Velafrons and its kin. Air flowed through a series of passages from the snout, into their crest, and finally inserting through a hole above their eyes. Scientists are uncertain what Velafrons' fan-shaped crest would have been used for, but a leading hypothesis suggests mate attraction, which explains the complex nasal passages as a possible musical instrument.


An Ancient Ecosystem Revealed

In addition to Velafrons, the most recent expeditions recovered remains of a second kind of duck-bill dinosaur, as well as a plant-eating horned dinosaur. Like its famous cousin, Triceratops, the new Coahuila horned dinosaur bore a massive horn over each eye and a long bony frill projecting rearward. The Cerro del Pueblo Formation has also yielded remains of large and small carnivores, including large tyrannosaurs (though smaller, older relatives of T. rex), and more diminutive Velociraptor-like predators armed with sickle-claws on their feet. As well as an abundance of fossilized bones, researchers discovered the largest assemblage of dinosaur track ways known from Mexico, a large area crisscrossed with the tracks of different kinds of dinosaurs. In all, the emerging picture is one of a diverse group of dinosaurs, perhaps representing an entirely new set of species.

Gates noted that this project is about much more than naming new dinosaurs. Each new species represents another vital piece of the puzzle as we attempt to comprehend the world of dinosaurs.

As might be suspected, paleontologists are excited about the future paleontological potential of this area.

"I am amazed at how prolific this region is," Gates said of the amount of material waiting to be collected. "Given the large number of fossils, the high quality preservation, and the great research team that is working this area, more spectacular discoveries are just around the corner."

"Dinosaurs from this particular period are important because this is a time that is relatively poorly understood," said Don Brinkman, a project researcher from Canada's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, who along with Aguillon, is studying the non-dinosaur vertebrates found at the site, including turtles, fish, and lizards. "The locality in Mexico goes a long way to filling in a gap in our knowledge of the record of changes in dinosaur assemblages throughout the Late Cretaceous era."

Few dinosaurs from this time period are known in North America outside the Drumheller region of Alberta, which is where the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located. Brinkman explained that researchers now have two points of comparison to examine not only different dinosaurs, but also different ecologies.

Research teams want to find examples of plant life and smaller animals that co-existed with these dinosaurs. This information can be compared with collections made in other parts of North America to understand north-south variations in species and entire ecosystems.

Sampson added, "Now that we've cracked open this amazing window into the world of dinosaurs, we look forward to future expeditions that will undoubtedly reveal more of Mexico's ancient past."

In addition to advancing the field of paleontology, the researchers hope that this project in Coahuila may encourage more tourism to the area and bring attention to the Museo del Desierto, where the original specimen will be permanently housed.

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Top Ten Photos of 2007 From National Geographic News

2. Croc Bites Off Hand

Kaohsiung, Taiwan, April 11, 2007—Armed and dangerous, a Nile crocodile prowls the Kaohsiung, Taiwan, zoo (top) on April 11, 2007. Veterinarian Chang Po-yu was reaching through iron bars to remove tranquilizer darts before treating the 440-pound (200-kilogram) reptile when the inadequately sedated animal bit the vet's forearm off.

But for the vet, it wasn't quite a farewell to arm.

After being shot at twice, but apparently unhit, the croc dropped the arm. After seven hours of surgery, doctors successfully reattached the appendage, shown at bottom on a smiling Chang on April 12.

The largest African crocodile species, the Nile croc may be threatened in some parts of its range, according to the World Conservation Union. The reptiles can reach 16 feet (5 meters) in length and are estimated to kill 200 people a year.

(Top photos determined by number of times viewed.)

More Photos in the News
Today's Top 15 Most Popular Stories
Free Email Newsletter: "Focus on Photography"
—Top photograph by Frank Lin/Reuters, photograph by Steve Chen/AP Photo

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Retrain Your Brain

Give Your Brain a Boost

Can't remember where you put your glasses? Blanked on your new colleague's name? "Forgetting these types of things is a sign of how busy we are," says Zaldy S. Tan, MD, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "When we're not paying good attention, the memories we form aren't very robust, and we have a problem retrieving the information later."


The key, says Harry Lorayne, author of Ageless Memory: Simple Secrets for Keeping Your Brain Young, is to get your brain in shape. "We exercise our bodies, but what good is that great body if you don't have the mental capabilities to go with it?" Sure, you could write everything down, keep organized lists and leave electronic notes on your BlackBerry, cell phone or PDA. But when you don't have access to those aids, or if you want to strengthen your brain, try these expert-recommended strategies to help you remember.

Brain Freeze #1
"What the heck is his name?"

• Pay attention. When you're introduced to someone, really listen to the person's name. Then, to get a better grasp, picture the spelling. Ask, "Is that Kathy with a K or a C?" Make a remark about the name to help lock it in ("Oh, Carpenter -- that was my childhood best friend's last name"), and use the name a few times during the conversation and when you say goodbye.

• Visualize the name. For hard-to-remember monikers (Bentavegna, Wobbekind), make the name meaningful. For Bentavegna, maybe you think of a bent weather vane. Picture it. Then look at the person, choose an outstanding feature (bushy eyebrows, green eyes) and tie the name to the face. If Mr. Bentavegna has a big nose, picture a bent weather vane instead of his nose. The sillier the image, the better.

• Create memorable associations. Picture Joe Everett standing atop Mount Everest. If you want to remember that Erin Curtis is the CEO of an architectural firm, imagine her curtsying in front of a large building, suggests Gini Graham Scott, PhD, author of 30 Days to a More Powerful Memory.

• Cheat a little. Supplement these tips with some more concrete actions. When you get a business card, after the meeting, jot down a few notes on the back of the card ("red glasses, lives in Springfield, went to my alma mater") to help you out when you need a reminder.

Brain Freeze #2
"Where in the world did I leave my glasses?"

• Give a play-by-play. Pay attention to what you're doing as you place your glasses on the end table. Remind yourself, "I'm putting my keys in my coat pocket," so you have a clear memory of doing it, says Scott.

• Make it a habit. Put a small basket on a side table. Train yourself to put your keys, glasses, cell phone or any other object you frequently use (or misplace) in the basket -- every time.

More Brain Freeze Tips

Brain Freeze #3
"What else was I supposed to do today?"

• Start a ritual. To remind yourself of a chore (write a thank-you note, go to the dry cleaner), give yourself an unusual physical reminder. You expect to see your bills on your desk, so leaving them there won't necessarily remind you to pay them. But place a shoe or a piece of fruit on the stack of bills, and later, when you spot the out-of-place object, you'll remember to take care of them, says Carol Vorderman, author of Super Brain: 101 Easy Ways to a More Agile Mind.

• Sing it. To remember a small group of items (a grocery list, phone number, list of names, to-do list), adapt it to a well-known song, says Vorderman. Try "peanut butter, milk and eggs" to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "Happy Birthday" or even nursery rhymes.

• Try mnemonic devices. Many of us learned "ROY G BIV" to remember the colors of the rainbow, or "Every Good Boy Deserves Favors" to learn musical notes. Make up your own device to memorize names (Suzanne's kids are Adam, Patrick and Elizabeth, or "APE"), lists (milk, eggs, tomatoes, soda, or "METS") or computer commands (to shut down your PC, hit Control+Alt+Delete, or "CAD").

• Use your body. When you have no pen or paper and are making a mental grocery or to-do list, remember it according to major body parts, says Scott. Start at your feet and work your way up. So if you have to buy glue, cat food, broccoli, chicken, grapes and toothpaste, you might picture your foot stuck in glue, a cat on your knee looking for food, a stalk of broccoli sticking out of your pants pocket, a chicken pecking at your belly button, a bunch of grapes hanging from your chest and a toothbrush in your mouth.

• Go Roman. With the Roman room technique, you associate your grocery, to-do or party-invite list with the rooms of your house or the layout of your office, garden or route to work. Again, the zanier the association, the more likely you'll remember it, says Scott. Imagine apples hanging from the chandelier in your foyer, spilled cereal all over the living room couch, shampoo bubbles overflowing in the kitchen sink and cheese on your bedspread.

Brain Freeze #4
"What's my password for this website?"

• Shape your numbers. Assign a shape to each number: 0 looks like a ball or ring; 1 is a pen; 2 is a swan; 3 looks like handcuffs; 4 is a sailboat; 5, a pregnant woman; 6, a pipe; 7, a boomerang; 8, a snowman; and 9, a tennis racket. To remember your ATM PIN (4298, say), imagine yourself on a sailboat (4), when a swan (2) tries to attack you. You hit it with a tennis racket (9), and it turns into a snowman (8). Try forgetting that image!

• Rhyme it. Think of words that rhyme with the numbers 1 through 9 (knee for 3, wine for 9, etc.). Then create a story using the rhyming words: A nun (1) in heaven (7) banged her knee (3), and it became sore (4).


Brain Freeze #5

"The word is on the tip of my tongue."

• Practice your ABCs. Say you just can't remember the name of that movie. Recite the alphabet (aloud or in your head). When you get to the letter R, it should trigger the name that's escaping you: Ratatouille. This trick works when taking tests too.

Brain Freeze #6
"I just can't memorize anything anymore!"

• Read it, type it, say it, hear it. To memorize a speech, toast or test material, read your notes, then type them into the computer. Next, read them aloud and tape-record them. Listen to the recording several times. As you work on memorizing, remember to turn off the TV, unplug your iPod and shut down your computer; you'll retain more.

• Use color. Give your notes some color with bolded headings and bulleted sections (it's easier to remember a red bullet than running text).

• Make a map. Imagine an intersection and mentally place a word, fact or number on each street corner.
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Tattoos Might Be the Best Way to Deliver a Cancer Vaccine

If you've ever considered getting a tattoo, it's probably for aesthetic purposes. That's all well and good, but in the near future getting a tattoo might be the best way to deliver vaccines, so if you go in for a new ink job you could also protect yourself from any number of diseases, including some cancers.

Some vaccines, when injected traditionally, fail to produce the necessary immune response. Researchers in Germany have found that by using a vibrating tattoo needle, they can get the optimal results. In tests on mice, using a tattoo needle produces 16 times more antibodies than by using a simple injection into muscle tissue. It may be tied to the greater damage to the body that tattoo needles produce.

It certainly would be interesting to have a permanent reminder of just when and how you were made immune from terrible, life-ending diseases, it would just suck to be forced into getting a tat in order to get the vaccine. Time will tell whether or not this becomes a viable or widespread technique. [BBC via Spulch]

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Birds Love Rich British People

Much like Gwyneth Paltrow or Madonna, birds prefer to be around wealthy British people.

A Great Tit on a bird feeder. Image by Andrzej Jabłecki

A recent study found that the population of birds in urban areas of Britain is directly related to the wealth of the area. Simply put, the wealthier an area is, the more likely it is to have larger populations of birds such as blue tits, coal tits, and great tits, all of whom are particularly attracted to bird feeders. Yes, that means you’re more likely to find a lot of great tits in wealthy areas. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to the science.

There’s a relatively simple explanation behind the higher bird populations in wealthier areas. Rich people can afford to spend their money on things like feeding birds. Wealthy Brits are far more likely to care about the birds and to feed them. Poorer people are more concerned with paying rent and buying groceries than installing bird feeders.

The research team studied Sheffield’s wealthy suburbs and city centre, and then compared these rich areas with poorer Sheffield neighbourhoods. In some of the least shocking news ever, the Sheffield University scientists found that a higher concentration of bird feeders in an area led to an increase in bird population, independent of factors like large yards or parks being present in the area. They also found many more bird feeders in wealthier areas than in poorer ones.

The study was published in the journal Diversity and Distributions. There is an estimated 60,000 tons of food left out for birds by people in Britain every year. Interestingly enough, the study found that, although the population of birds is affected by the presence of bird feeders, the range of birds is not. You could stick bird feeders in a straight line from the tropics to the freezing latitudes and the birds will still live in the same places they always have.

Info from Telegraph

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Scientists prove Napoleon not poisoned by British


By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italian scientists say they have proved Napoleon was not poisoned, scotching the legend the French emperor was murdered by his British jailors.

Napoleon's post-mortem said he died of stomach cancer aged 51, but the theory he was assassinated to prevent any return to power has gained credence in recent decades as some studies indicated his body contained a high level of the poison arsenic.

"It was not arsenic poisoning that killed Napoleon at Saint Helena," said researchers at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and the University of Pavia who tested the theory the British killed him while he was in exile on the South Atlantic island in 1821.

The Italian research -- which studied hair samples from various moments in his life which are kept in museums in Italy and France -- showed Napoleon's body did have a high level of arsenic, but that he was already heavily contaminated as a boy.

The scientists used a nuclear reactor to irradiate the hairs to get an accurate measure of the levels of arsenic.

Looking at hairs from several of Napoleon's contemporaries, including his wife and son, they found arsenic levels were generally much higher than is common today.

"The result? There was no poisoning in our opinion because Napoleon's hairs contain the same amount of arsenic as his contemporaries," the researchers said in a statement published on the university's website.

The study found the samples taken from people living in the early 1800s contained 100 times as much arsenic than the current average. Glues and dyes commonly used at the time are blamed for high environmental levels of the toxic element.

"The environment in which people lived in the early 1800s evidently caused the intake of quantities of arsenic that today we would consider dangerous," the scientists said.

One theory was that Napoleon was poisoned accidentally by arsenic vapor from dyes in his wallpaper at Saint Helena, but the study showed there was no massive increase in arsenic levels in his latter years.

"It is clear that one cannot talk about a case of poisoning, but of a constant absorption of arsenic," the researchers said.

Napoleon had been exiled once before -- on the Italian island of Elba after his failed invasion of Russia. But he returned to France and was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815 after which he was sent to the much more remote Saint Helena.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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The End of Aging? Inside the New Hunt for a Cure to Growing Old

Click here for an update from Glenn Reynolds on his self-prescribed clinical trial of anti-aging drus on The Popular Mechanics Show podcast.

Published in the March 2008 issue.


Old age has always been like the weather: Everybody talks about aging, but nobody does anything about it. Oh, they’ve tried. For millennia, charlatans have been offering remedies for aging that didn’t work any better than baldness cures and virility restorers.

ow, however, with baldness cures and virility restorers that do work found as close as the nearest drugstore, researchers have started looking into ways to slow, stop or perhaps even reverse the changes that accompany aging. If these scientists succeed, their breakthroughs may lead to major changes in human society.

We’ve long regarded aging as something almost mystical or supernatural, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike, say, smallpox, aging doesn’t come on suddenly or spread from person to person. You also don’t recover from it, as you do from most infectious diseases. It happens gradually, and it’s pretty much unrelenting. Eyesight dims, joints get stiff and achy, teeth go bad and, in general, things just keep getting worse until death arrives.

But research demonstrates that aging isn’t a supernatural proc­ess; it’s a physical one that gradually occurs as systems wear out beyond the body’s ability to repair them. Cells fill up with metabolic debris called lipofuscin that they can’t digest, accompanied by decreasing functionality. They also undergo glycation, gumming up and caramelizing with sugars that have bonded to proteins. Mitochondrial DNA can suffer mutations, and the body slowly loses stem cells, which weakens healing and repair.

Aging is breakdown, but broken things can be fixed. After all, cars and airplanes tend to wear out as they get older, but with sufficient maintenance they can last far beyond their design life.

Biogerontologists like Aubrey de Grey, author of Ending Aging, believe that living longer is a fairly straightforward engineering problem: Find out what breaks and fix it. De Grey promotes an approach he calls Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, or SENS. It identifies seven specific breakdowns and attempts to attack each of them in turn. He and others are researching longevity with support from nonprofits and an X Prize approach aimed at extending the life span of mice. (Researchers call it the Mprize, a reference to their quest to engineer the “Methuselah mouse.”) I certainly wish them well—after all, I’m not getting any younger—but de Grey says that it will probably be 20 or 30 years before we see effective antiaging drugs on the market.

Scientists have already identified more modest life extenders. It’s pretty thoroughly established that red wine’s resveratrol activates the SIRT-1 gene, which seems to clean out intracellular gunk. (The gene is also triggered by calorie restriction.) Studies show that rats dosed with resveratrol—or given low-calorie diets—seem to live longer and remain far more vital than ordinary rats. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals is currently conducting human testing of a drug called SRT501 as a treatment for diabetes, but it may also hold promise for retarding the aging process and alleviating a number of inflammatory diseases that go with getting older.

At Stanford, researchers have reversed the aging of skin in mice, making it look and act like young skin, which contains cells that reproduce rapidly. This treatment isn’t ready for humans, but it suggests an approach. And given the popularity of cosmetics that merely address the appearance of aging, it seems likely a product that actually produces new skin would sell like hot cakes.

Meanwhile, commercial res­veratrol supplements are available, and people are taking them, including some scientists in the field. As part of the research for this column, I started taking one. To find out if it’s working, click here for a follow-up on my experience.

On the flip side, people often see extended longevity as dubious, envisioning extra years in the nursing home. As Jay Leno says, “People tell you to eat right and exercise, but that only gives you more years in your 80s. Who needs that? What I really want are more years in my 20s.” New treatments for aging would give us just that—or at least healthier years in our 60s and 70s. The goal isn’t just more years in your life, but more life in your years.

If antiaging drugs eventually work, who could be against them? Well, Dr. Leon Kass, for one. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, writes: “Is it really true that longer life for individuals is an unqualified good? If the human life span were increased even by only 20 years, would the pleasures of life increase proportionately?”

The obvious answer: It depends on the individual. But on a societal level, the extension of peoples’ productive working lives could pay huge dividends. If people stay youthful longer, we’ll see less pressure on the stressed-out social security systems of most industrialized countries. If 65-year-olds were as vigorous as 35-year-olds, or even 45-year-olds, there would be no reason to fund their retirement. Pushing the retirement age back a decade or two could save trillions. And, of course, if you can actually reverse aging, the whole notion of retirement becomes obsolete.

The reality is that Americans now live longer, healthier lives by several decades than the majority did a century ago. Most of us think it’s a good thing. Would extending this phenomenon by several more decades be good, too? Seems like it to me.

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Self-cleaning wool and silk developed using nanotechnology


Good news for those who hate washing socks, are worried about hygiene or resent spending money on dry cleaning: self cleaning forms of wool and silk have been developed with the help of nanotechnology.

Wool socks, skirts and silk ties may soon clean themselves of smells and stains in the sunshine, researchers in Australia and China suggest.

The secret is a nano particle coating, one already used to keep windows clear, that could lead to "self-cleaning" versions of wool and silk fabrics.

Wool and silk, which are composed of natural proteins called keratins, are among the most prized and widely used fabrics in the clothing industry. However, they are difficult to keep clean and are easily damaged by conventional cleaning agents.

In the new study, scheduled for publication in the journal Chemistry of Materials, Dr Walid Daoud of Monash University, Victoria, Australia, and colleagues prepared wool fabrics with and without a nanoparticle coating - particles around five nanometres across (five billionths of a metre) composed of anatase titanium dioxide, a substance already used as a pigment that is known to break down and destroy contaminants upon exposure to sunlight.

"The self-cleaning technology in our work uses titanium dioxide photocatalyst that when triggered by light, it decomposes dirt, stains, harmful microorganisms and so on," says Dr Daoud.

The researchers then stained the fabric samples with red wine. After 20 hours of exposure to simulated sunlight, the coated fabric showed almost no signs of the red stain, whereas the untreated fabric remained deeply stained, the researchers say.

The coating, which is non-toxic, can be permanently bonded to the fibre and does not alter its texture and feel, they note, so a silk tie would still feel silky.

The tricky part of the research was finding a way to bind the keratin to the titanium dioxide, he says. "Applying a ceramic inorganic material to organic fibres, in particular keratin protein fibres such as wool, silk, hemp, and spider silk, remained a challenge."

After a chemical reaction to "activate" the surface of the fibres, the team found it could make the titanium dioxide crystals stick.

As for when self-cleaning socks could be on the market, Dr Daoud tells The Telegraph: "It is anticipated that as soon as the technology receives the approval technically and economically, you will then be able to see the product in the market. Currently, industrial testing and mill trials of this patent-pending technology are being conducted."

He adds: "I believe that self-cleaning property will become a standard feature of future textile and other commonly used materials to maintain hygiene and prevent the spreading of pathogenic infection. Particularly since pathogenic microorganisms can survive on textile surfaces for up to three months.

"Self-cleaning technology can also help in reducing the consumption of chemicals, such as detergents and dry-cleaning solvents, water, and energy."

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America's 50 Greenest Cities

Want to see a model for successful and rapid environmental action? Don't look to the federal government—check out your own town. Here, our list of the 50 communities that are leading the way. Does yours make the cut?

How the Rankings Work:

We used raw data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Geographic Society’s Green Guide, which collected survey data and government statistics for American cities of over 100,000 people in more than 30 categories, including air quality, electricity use and transportation habits. We then compiled these statistics into four broad categories, each scored out of either 5 or 10 possible points. The sum of these four scores determines a city’s place in the rankings. Our categories are:

  • Electricity (E; 10 points): Cities score points for drawing their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, as well as for offering incentives for residents to invest in their own power sources, like roof-mounted solar panels.
  • Transportation (T; 10 points): High scores go to cities whose commuters take public transportation or carpool. Air quality also plays a role.
  • Green living (G; 5 points): Cities earn points for the number of buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as for devoting area to green space, such as public parks and nature preserves.
  • Recycling and green perspective (R; 5 points): This measures how comprehensive a city’s recycling program is (if the city collects old electronics, for example) and how important its citizens consider environmental issues.

1. Portland, Ore. 23.1

  • Electricity: 7.1 Transportation: 6.4 Green Living: 4.8 Recycling/Perspective: 4.8

America’s top green city has it all: Half its power comes from renewable sources, a quarter of the workforce commutes by bike, carpool or public transportation, and it has 35 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

2. San Francisco, Calif. 23.0

  • Electricity: 6.8 Transportation: 8.8 Green Living: 3.5 Recycling/Perspective: 3.9
  • See how San Francisco turns wasted roof space into power, here.

3. Boston, Mass. 22.7

  • Electricity: 5.7 Transportation: 8.7 Green Living: 3.4 Recycling/Perspective: 4.9
  • CASE STUDY: Grass Power
    Boston has preliminary plans for a plant that would turn 50,000 tons of fall color into power and fertilizer. The facility would first separate yard clippings into grass and leaves. Anaerobic bacteria feeding on the grass would make enough methane to power at least 1.5 megawatts’ worth of generators, while heat and agitation would hasten the breakdown of leaves and twigs into compost.

4. Oakland, Calif. 22.5

  • Electricity: 7.0 Transportation: 7.5 Green Living: 3.1 Recycling/Perspective: 4.9
  • See how Oakland's hydrogen-powered transit helps the city cut pollution, here.

5. Eugene, Ore. 22.4

  • Electricity: 10.0 Transportation: 4.7 Green Living: 2.9 Recycling/Perspective: 4.8
  • CATEGORY LEADER: Electricity
    Much of the wet Pacific Northwest draws its energy from hydroelectric dams. But Eugene draws an additional 9 percent of its municipal electricity from wind farms. It also buys back excess power from residents who install solar panel

6. Cambridge, Mass. 22.2

  • Electricity: 6.1 Transportation: 7.5 Green Living: 3.9 Recycling/Perspective: 4.7

7. Berkeley, Calif. 22.2

  • Electricity: 6.2 Transportation: 8.4 Green Living: 2.9 Recycling/Perspective: 4.7

8. Seattle, Wash. 22.1

  • Electricity: 6.2 Transportation: 7.3 Green Living: 4.7 Recycling/Perspective: 3.9

9. Chicago, Ill. 21.3

  • Electricity: 5.4 Transportation: 7.3 Green Living: 5.0 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6
  • CATEGORY LEADER: Green Space
    In addition to the 12,000 acres Chicago has devoted to public parks and waterfront space, the U.S. Green Building Council has awarded four city projects with a “Platinum” rating, its highest award.
    See how Chicago's power plants produce twice the energy with a third the carbon, here.

10. Austin, Tex. 21.0

  • Electricity: 6.9 Transportation: 5.9 Green Living: 3.3 Recycling/Perspective: 4.9

11. Minneapolis, Minn. 20.3

  • Electricity: 7.8 Transportation: 7.4 Green Living: 2.8 Recycling/Perspective: 2.3
  • CASE STUDY: Citizen Enviro-Grants
    If you’ve got a world-saving idea, the City of Lakes will give you, your church or your community group the money to get it done. Twenty $1,000 mini-grants and five $10,000 awards were distributed last year to programs ranging from household power-consumption monitors to “block club talks” about global warming. A similar initiative has sprung up in Seattle.

12. St. Paul, Minn. 20.2

  • Electricity: 8.0 Transportation: 4.0 Green Living: 3.5 Recycling/Perspective: 4.7

13. Sunnyvale, Calif. 19.9

  • Electricity: 7.3 Transportation: 6.8 Green Living: 2.2 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6

14. Honolulu, Hawaii 19.9

  • Electricity: 6.0 Transportation: 7.8 Green Living: 2.6 Recycling/Perspective: 3.5

15. Fort Worth, Tex. 19.7

  • Electricity: 8.3 Transportation: 4.6 Green Living: 2.4 Recycling/Perspective: 4.4

16. Albuquerque, N.M. 19.1

  • Electricity: 7.6 Transportation: 5.5 Green Living: 2.4 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6

17. Syracuse, N.Y. 18.9

  • Electricity: 7.0 Transportation: 4.9 Green Living: 2.6 Recycling/Perspective: 4.4

18. Huntsville, Ala. 18.4

  • Electricity: 6.2 Transportation: 4.1 Green Living: 3.6 Recycling/Perspective: 4.5

19. Denver, Colo. 18.2

  • Electricity: 5.9 Transportation: 5.2 Green Living: 3.0 Recycling/Perspective: 4.1
  • CASE STUDY: Green Concrete
    Fly ash, a by-product of coal-burning power plants, usually ends up in landfills. Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver found a way to reuse this industrial by-product. They add it at concentrations of about 20 percent to a new green concrete mix. The addition of fly ash also reduces the amount of sulfur- and carbon-spewing concrete production needed to finish a job. The mayor has signed an executive order requiring the use of green concrete in new city projects, and a $550-million infrastructure bond makes demand for the mix likely to grow.

20. New York, N.Y. 18.2

  • Electricity: 2.8 Transportation: 10.0 Green Living: 3.4 Recycling/Perspective: 2.0
  • CATEGORY LEADER: Transportation
    More than 54 percent of New Yorkers take public transportation to work, beating the next-best metropolis, Washington, D.C., by 17 percent.
    See how New York City turns its tides into electricity, here.

21. Irvine, Calif. 18.1

  • Electricity: 4.2 Transportation: 6.8 Green Living: 2.9 Recycling/Perspective: 4.2

22. Milwaukee, Wis. 17.3

  • Electricity: 5.0 Transportation: 4.9 Green Living: 3.1 Recycling/Perspective: 4.3

23. Santa Rosa, Calif. 17.2

  • Electricity: 7.0 Transportation: 3.4 Green Living: 2.4 Recycling/Perspective: 4.4
  • See how Santa Rosa taps geysers for watts, here.

24. Ann Arbor, Mich. 17.2

  • Electricity: 4.6 Transportation: 4.8 Green Living: 2.9 Recycling/Perspective: 4.9

25. Lexington, Ky. 16.8

  • Electricity: 5.9 Transportation: 3.6 Green Living: 2.3 Recycling/Perspective: 5.0
  • CATEGORY LEADER: Recycling and green perspective
    Lexingtonians recycle everything from surplus electronics to scrap metal, and they listed the environment as their third most important concern (behind only employment and public safety)—the highest ranking in our survey.

26. Tulsa, Okla. 16.7

  • Electricity: 5.0 Transportation: 3.9 Green Living: 3.4 Recycling/Perspective: 4.4

27. Rochester, N.Y. 16.1

  • Electricity: 4.5 Transportation: 4.4 Green Living: 3.1 Recycling/Perspective: 4.1

28. Riverside, Calif. 16.0

  • Electricity: 7.5 Transportation: 3.1 Green Living: 2.1 Recycling/Perspective: 3.3

29. Springfield, Ill. 15.7

  • Electricity: 5.3 Transportation: 3.0 Green Living: 3.2 Recycling/Perspective: 4.2

30. Alexandria, Va. 15.7

  • Electricity: 2.7 Transportation: 6.3 Green Living: 3.1 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6

31. St. Louis, Mo. 15.0

  • Electricity: 2.7 Transportation: 5.0 Green Living: 3.7 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6

32. Anchorage, Alaska 14.4

  • Electricity: 2.7 Transportation: 4.7 Green Living: 2.1 Recycling/Perspective: 4.9
  • CASE STUDY: Power-Saving Streetlights
    Since Anchorage spends a good part of the year buried under highly reflective snow, it doesn’t make sense to keep the street lamps at full bore when moonlight can do the job. The fix? Install citywide dimmers. On top of that, the city is planning to upgrade its 16,000 streetlamps to either LED or induction bulbs, depending on the results of computer simulations designed to find the type of light that helps humans see best and disturbs wildlife the least. The swap should be complete by year’s end, and the initial $5-million investment is expected to save up to $3 million in energy costs annually.

33. Athens-Clarke, Ga. 14.1

  • Electricity: 2.4 Transportation: 4.7 Green Living: 3.2 Recycling/Perspective: 3.8

34. Amarillo, Tex. 14.0

  • Electricity: 5.2 Transportation: 2.9 Green Living: 2.3 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6

35. Kansas City, Mo. 13.8

  • Electricity: 2.7 Transportation: 3.7 Green Living: 2.7 Recycling/Perspective: 4.7

36. Salt Lake City, Utah 13.5

  • Electricity: 3.6 Transportation: 4.1 Green Living: 2.3 Recycling/Perspective: 3.5
  • See how Salt Lake City heats homes from waste, here.

37. Pasadena, Calif. 13.2

  • Electricity: 5.8 Transportation: 3.1 Green Living: 1.8 Recycling/Perspective: 2.5

38. Norwalk, Calif. 13.0

  • Electricity: 3.5 Transportation: 3.1 Green Living: 2.5 Recycling/Perspective: 3.9

39. Laredo, Tex. 12.9

  • Electricity: 4.4 Transportation: 2.5 Green Living: 1.7 Recycling/Perspective: 4.3

40. Joliet, Ill. 12.0

  • Electricity: 1.3 Transportation: 4.3 Green Living: 2.6 Recycling/Perspective: 3.8

41. Newport News, Va. 11.9

  • Electricity: 2.7 Transportation: 2.7 Green Living: 2.7 Recycling/Perspective: 3.8

42. Louisville, Ky. 11.9

  • Electricity: 1.3 Transportation: 4.0 Green Living: 2.5 Recycling/Perspective: 4.1

43. Concord, Calif. 11.9

  • Electricity: 3.0 Transportation: 3.2 Green Living: 2.2 Recycling/Perspective: 3.5

44. Fremont, Calif. 11.3

  • Electricity: 3.0 Transportation: 3.0 Green Living: 1.5 Recycling/Perspective: 3.8

45. Elizabeth, N.J. 10.5

  • Electricity: 2.6 Transportation: 2.8 Green Living: 1.8 Recycling/Perspective: 3.3

46. Livonia, Mich. 10.2

  • Electricity: 2.7 Transportation: 2.1 Green Living: 1.8 Recycling/Perspective: 3.6

47. San Bernardino, Calif. 10.2

  • Electricity: 2.8 Transportation: 2.3 Green Living: 1.6 Recycling/Perspective: 3.5

48. Thousand Oaks, Calif. 10.2

  • Electricity: 2.9 Transportation: 2.9 Green Living: 1.6 Recycling/Perspective: 2.8

49. Stockton, Calif. 10.1

  • Electricity: 2.8 Transportation: 2.5 Green Living: 1.0 Recycling/Perspective: 3.8

50. Greensboro, N.C. 10.0

Electricity: 2.0 Transportation: 2.0 Green Living: 2.1 Recycling/Perspective:

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Envisioning the Zero-Pollution Car

Georgia Tech Team Describes a Vehicle That Recycles Carbon


Researchers have announced a new strategy that would capture carbon as it is burned in vehicles, store it, and then turn it back into fuel at a central processing plant.

The Georgia Tech research, paid for by the federal government, is about goals and strategies, not about proof-on-the-ground technology. The latest on it was published today in Energy Conversion and Management.

While there's been a lot of talk and research about capturing carbon emissions from smokestacks, the challenge of capturing carbon at the tailpipe is not much discussed. Many plans for a low-carbon economy with modern conveniences instead envision electric cars that either run on hydrogen, which produces no carbon emissions, or on electricity, which would be generated at central plants.

The new research offers a new vision. According to the university:

The Georgia Tech team’s goal is to create a sustainable transportation system that uses a liquid fuel and traps the carbon emission in the vehicle for later processing at a fueling station. The carbon would then be shuttled back to a processing plant where it could be transformed into liquid fuel. Currently, Georgia Tech researchers are developing a fuel processing device to separate the carbon and store it in the vehicle in liquid form.

Georgia Tech’s near-future strategy involves capturing carbon emissions from conventional (fossil) liquid hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles with an onboard fuel processor designed to separate the hydrogen in the fuel from the carbon. Hydrogen is then used to power the vehicle, while the carbon is stored on board the vehicle in a liquid form until it is disposed at a refueling station. It is then transported to a centralized site to be sequestered in a permanent location currently under investigation by scientists, such as geological formations, under the oceans or in solid carbonate form.

In the long-term strategy, the carbon dioxide will be recycled forming a closed-loop system, involving synthesis of high energy density liquid fuel suitable for the transportation sector.

Georgia Tech settled on a hydrogen-fueled vehicle for its carbon capture plan because pure hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when it is used as a fuel to power the vehicle. The fuel processor produces the hydrogen on-board the vehicle from the hydrocarbon fuel without introducing air into the process, resulting in an enriched carbon byproduct that can be captured with minimal energetic penalty. Traditional combustion systems, including current gasoline-powered automobiles, have a combustion process that combines fuel and air — leaving the carbon dioxide emissions highly diluted and very difficult to capture.

The Georgia Tech team compared the proposed system with other systems that are currently being considered, focusing on the logistic and economic challenges of adopting them on a global scale. In particular, electric vehicles could be part of a long-term solution to carbon emissions, but the team raised concerns about the limits of battery technology, including capacity and charging time.

The hydrogen economy presents yet another possible solution to carbon emissions but also yet another roadblock — infrastructure. While liquid-based hydrogen carriers could be conveniently transported and stored using existing fuel infrastructure, the distribution of gaseous hydrogen would require the creation of a new and costly infrastructure of pipelines, tanks and filling stations.

The Georgia Tech team has already created a fuel processor, called CO2/H2 Active Membrane Piston (CHAMP) reactor, capable of efficiently producing hydrogen and separating and liquefying CO2 from a liquid hydrocarbon or synthetic fuel used by an internal combustion engine or fuel cell. After the carbon dioxide is separated from the hydrogen, it can then be stored in liquefied state on-board the vehicle. The liquid state provides a much more stable and dense form of carbon, which is easy to store and transport.

The Georgia Tech paper also details the subsequent long-term strategy to create a truly sustainable system, including moving past carbon sequestration and into a method to recycle the captured carbon back into fuel. Once captured on-board the vehicle, the liquid carbon dioxide is deposited back at the fueling station and piped back to a facility where it is converted into a synthetic liquid fuel to complete the cycle.

Now that the Georgia Tech team has come up with a proposed system and device to produce hydrogen and, at the same time, capture carbon emissions, the greatest remaining challenge to a truly carbon-free transportation system will be developing a method for making a synthetic liquid fuel from just CO2 and water using renewable energy sources.

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Fusion Power in the Next Five Years!?


prominent venture capitalist, Wal van Lierop, of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, has begun to invest in companies (such as General Fusion) who are providing patents and technologies for economical fusion power. In a recent interview at the Clean Tech Investor Summit (which we're very sad we're not attending), van Lierop said that he expects large energy companies to start thinking about building fusion plants within the next five years.

As we've noted before here at EcoGeek, the best way to track down that technologies are going to (very shortly) change the world is to watch what the venture capitalists are doing. These are people who basically make ridiculous sums of cash by predicting the future...and investing in it. And since they've got so much riding on their bets, they like to do a lot of research.

Often this is research that people like me (because I don't have billions of dollars to invest) can't do. So I follow the VCs, and pay attention to what they're saying.

And what van Lierop is saying seems almost crazy, on the surface. But dig a little deeper, and things start looking exciting. Despite sounding like a comic book hero, General Fusion's technology is very realistic. In a world where we're all used to hearing that "Fusion power has been twenty years away for twenty years" hearing that it's five years away is pretty remarkable.

General Fusion hopes to create small fusion reactors that cost around $50 million a piece and generate roughly 100 megawatts allowing for roughly 4 cent / kwh electricity. That's about the same cost as coal.

The fusion system the use, called Magnetized Target Fusion which uses lithium as a fuel. The lithium is heated and mixed with intensely pressurized plasma. The lithium then breaks down into tritium (hydrogen with two neutrons), which is then mixed with deuterium (hydrogen with one extra neutron.) In the high energy environment, the tritium and the deuterium fuse to form helium, and create a whole lot of heat.

The heat captured is significantly greater than the energy used to run the device and the only byproduct is helium and other harmless gasses.

Original here

612-Year Waiting List for New Wind Projects?


If you want to build a wind farm in Minnesota right now, you're in for a nasty surprise. A 612-year nasty surprise in fact.

he Midwest Independent Transmission System (MISO), the organization in charge of the power lines, has to approve every new project that will connect to existing power lines. And MISO is only used to dealing with coal-plant-sized projects. Thus, the current regulations say that they must dedicate 2 years of their time to every project that will connect to the grid.

Not only that, but they're only allowed to process one application at a time.

This worked fine back when they were approving coal plants. Two years was plenty of time, and there weren't enough giant fossil fuel plants to fill their docket.

But a system that worked fine for fossil fuel has completely broken down in the face of distributed wind energy. People filing an application with MISO to build a medium- to large-scale wind project (of which there are currently over three hundred) have a heck of a wait in front of them.

So...why hasn't the system been changed yet? Obviously, if people want to build wind turbines in America, especially in the Midwest where it's windy and the land is already roaded, we should let them! But so far, the only solution they've been able to come up with is to group proposals together, pretending that ten or twenty wind farms are all the same project. It's not technically legal, but apparently it's easier than changing the law.

The problem is, even if they manage to make that work, people applying today still have to wait at least FIFTY YEARS! I think we'll probably see MISO getting some serious pressure from the federal and state governments to change their ways, and fast.

Original here