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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sun goes longer than normal without producing sunspots

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites.

That's good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of discussion for the scientists who attended an international solar conference at Montana State University. Approximately 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered June 1-6 to talk about "Solar Variability, Earth's Climate and the Space Environment."

The scientists said periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual.

"It continues to be dead," said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission. "That's a small concern, a very small concern."

The Hinode satellite is a Japanese mission with the United States and United Kingdom as partners. The satellite carries three telescopes that together show how changes on the sun's surface spread through the solar atmosphere. MSU researchers are among those operating the X-ray telescope. The satellite orbits 431 miles above ground, crossing both poles and making one lap every 95 minutes, giving Hinode an uninterrupted view of the sun for several months out of the year.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. Minimum activity generally occurs as the cycles change. Solar activity refers to phenomena like sunspots, solar flares and solar eruptions. Together, they create the weather than can disrupt satellites in space and technology on earth.

The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today's sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren't sure why.

"It's a dead face," Tsuneta said of the sun's appearance.

Tsuneta said solar physicists aren't like weather forecasters; They can't predict the future. They do have the ability to observe, however, and they have observed a longer-than-normal period of solar inactivity. In the past, they observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700.

Tsuneta said he doesn't know how long the sun will continue to be inactive, but scientists associated with the Hinode mission are ready for it to resume maximum activity. They have added extra ground stations to pick up signals from Hinode in case solar activity interferes with instruments at other stations around the world. The new stations, ready to start operating this summer, are located in India, Norway, Alaska and the South Pole.

Establishing those stations, as well as the Hinode mission, required international cooperation, Tsuneta said. No one country had the resources to carry out those projects by itself.

Four countries, three space agencies and 11 organizations worked together on Hinode which was launched in September 2006, Tsuneta said. Among the collaborators was Loren Acton, a research professor of physics at MSU. Tsuneta and Acton worked together closely from 1986-2002 and were reunited at the MSU conference.

"His leadership was immense, superb," Tsuneta said about Acton.

Acton, 72, said he is still enthused about solar physics and the new questions being raised. In fact, he wished he could knock 22 years off his age and extend his career even longer.

"It's too much fun," he said. "There's so much exciting stuff come up, I would like to be part of it."

Original here

Sun goes longer than normal without producing sunspots

Periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual. (Photo courtesy of NASA).
BOZEMAN -- The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites.

That's good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of discussion for the scientists who attended an international solar conference at Montana State University. Approximately 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered June 1-6 to talk about "Solar Variability, Earth's Climate and the Space Environment."

The scientists said periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual.

"It continues to be dead," said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission. "That's a small concern, a very small concern."

The Hinode satellite is a Japanese mission with the United States and United Kingdom as partners. The satellite carries three telescopes that together show how changes on the sun's surface spread through the solar atmosphere. MSU researchers are among those operating the X-ray telescope. The satellite orbits 431 miles above ground, crossing both poles and making one lap every 95 minutes, giving Hinode an uninterrupted view of the sun for several months out of the year.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. Minimum activity generally occurs as the cycles change. Solar activity refers to phenomena like sunspots, solar flares and solar eruptions. Together, they create the weather than can disrupt satellites in space and technology on earth.

The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today's sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren't sure why.

"It's a dead face," Tsuneta said of the sun's appearance.

Tsuneta said solar physicists aren't like weather forecasters; They can't predict the future. They do have the ability to observe, however, and they have observed a longer-than-normal period of solar inactivity. In the past, they observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700.

Tsuneta said he doesn't know how long the sun will continue to be inactive, but scientists associated with the Hinode mission are ready for it to resume maximum activity. They have added extra ground stations to pick up signals from Hinode in case solar activity interferes with instruments at other stations around the world. The new stations, ready to start operating this summer, are located in India, Norway, Alaska and the South Pole.

Establishing those stations, as well as the Hinode mission, required international cooperation, Tsuneta said. No one country had the resources to carry out those projects by itself.

Four countries, three space agencies and 11 organizations worked together on Hinode which was launched in September 2006, Tsuneta said. Among the collaborators was Loren Acton, a research professor of physics at MSU. Tsuneta and Acton worked together closely from 1986-2002 and were reunited at the MSU conference.

"His leadership was immense, superb," Tsuneta said about Acton.

Acton, 72, said he is still enthused by solar physics and the new questions being raised. In fact, he wished he could knock 22 years off his age and extend his career even longer.

"It's too much fun," he said. "There's so much exciting stuff come up, I would like to be part of it."

A related article on the Hinode mission is located at http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=4902

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu

Original here

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 June 9

Saturn's Rings from the Other Side
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: What do Saturn's rings look like from the other side? From Earth, we usually see Saturn's rings from the same side of the ring plane that the Sun illuminates them. Geometrically, in the above picture taken in April by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn, the Sun is behind the camera but on the other side of the ring plane. This vantage point, specifically 17 degrees above the ring plane, gives a breathtaking views of the most splendid ring system in the Solar System. Strangely, the rings have similarities to a photographic negative of a front view. The ring brightness as recorded from different angles indicates ring thickness and particle density of ring particles. Elsewhere, ring shadows can be seen on the sunlit face of Saturn, shown sporting numerous cloud structures in nearly true color.

Original here

World's first commercial bionic hand



The world's first commercial bionic hand has grabbed Britain's top engineering prize.

For years, the best doctors could do was equip disabled people with a glorified claw, a pincer-like device that mimics the opening and closing of a thumb and forefinger.

Ray Edwards gets to grips with his i-LIMB hand - World's first commercial bionic hand
Ray Edwards getting to grips with
his i-LIMB hand

That has all changed thanks to a more realistic bionic hand unveiled by the Scottish company Touch Bionics, called the i-LIMB Hand, the culmination of decades of research.

The Livingston based company has now won the 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award for its i-LIMB Hand, a prosthetic device that looks and acts like a real human hand with five individually powered digits.

Ray Edwards, 53, who had all four limbs amputated in 1987 after developing blood poisoning (septicaemia) in the wake of cancer treatment, had the i-LIMB hand fitted a month ago.

"When I heard about this hand that looked like a human hand I had to get one. I'm right-handed and have got used to a carbon-fibre hook worked by a cord on that arm. So I asked Touch Bionics to put the i-LIMB hand on my left arm instead.

"When I first looked down and saw the i-LIMB hand I just cried - i-LIMB has helped me more psychologically than physically. That was the first time in 21 years that I had seen a hand opening there - it made me feel I was just Ray again. You can do so much with technology but it's got to make the user happy - and i-LIMB does."

As if to underline this, Edwards, who works for the Limbless Association charity, went skiing over the weekend at Xscape in Milton Keynes and managed to get down the nursery slope. And he has his first flying lesson on Tuesday.

The hand started life in 1963 in a research programme at Edinburgh's Princess Margaret Rose Hospital to help children affected by Thalidomide.

The i-LIMB Hand is one of the most compelling devices in the world prosthetics market," says Touch Bionics CEO Stuart Mead. "Since we launched it in July 2007 over 200 patients have been fitted with it all over the world - in just a few months it has evolved from an exciting new technology into a new benchmark in prosthetic devices."

HRH the Duke of Edinburgh presented the team with a £50,000 prize and the solid gold MacRobert Award medal at the Academy Awards Dinner in London last night.

"As a project, it scored very highly on all three of our criteria," says Dr Geoff Robinson, Chairman of the MacRobert Award Judging Panel. "In addition to many specific innovations in the design and fabrication of the artificial hand, Touch Bionics have fundamentally changed the benchmark for what constitutes an acceptable prosthesis.

"Their approach to marketing, in what is universally acknowledged to be a difficult market to penetrate, showed a very high standard of focus, commitment and success. The social benefit for those involved must be obvious to everyone. Having tried it myself, I can vouch for the fact that it really does work in the way portrayed, even if one is fortunate enough to still have one's own real hand alongside."

The three team members sharing the prize are: chief executive officer Stuart Mead, director of research and founder David Gow, project manager Stewart Hill, director of technology and operations Hugh Gill and director of marketing Phil Newman, all based at Touch Bionics in Livingston.

Touch Bionics faced tough competition to win the award - also shortlisted for this year's MacRobert Award were:

  • The Automation Partnership, for Polar, a new robotic system designed specifically for the UK Biobank based near Stockport - the world's leading programme to create a large-scale resource for medical research.
  • Johnson Matthey, for their compact catalysed soot filter for diesel cars.
  • Owlstone Ltd, for their 'dime' sized chemical sensor on a silicon chip that provides a miniature detection system for trace amounts of a wide variety of chemicals. Owlstone's chip can detect explosives at airports, protect workers against gas exposure in heavy industry or detect fires before they begin from precombustion fumes.
  • London's Science Museum will be showcasing the iLIMB prosthetic hand in a special display in the Antenna science news gallery. The free exhibition runs from Thursday 12 June for three months.


    Original here

    Flies Playing Video Games...Could Lead To New Flying Robots

    They don’t call them flies for nothing. While we try to avoid the relentless aerial acrobatics of flies, some scientists have built them their own flight simulator. As this ScienCentral News video reports, the work could lead to new flying robots.

    [If you cannot see the youtube video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]


    Interviewee: Michael Dickinson,
    California Institute of Technology
    Length: 1 min 28 sec
    Produced by Sunita Reed
    Edited by Sunita Reed and Chris Bergendorff
    Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc.

    Superfly

    Blobs bad, vertical lines good. That’s the rule flies use to navigate, according to a new study published in the journal “Current Biology.”

    To study how fruit flies steer themselves, California Institute of Technology researcher Michael Dickinson and his colleagues used a tiny flight simulator, operated by a fruit fly. The so-called tethered-flight arena consists of a cylindrical light show, with a fly as the one-woman audience (only female flies were used).

    Original here

    Exploring the neurochemistry of fairness

    For many humans, interactions with their fellows are driven in part by an innate sense of fairness. People often base their own actions on what they perceive as being fair, and will frequently attempt to punish those who violate that sense. The complex behavior associated with the sense of fairness can be studied though a simplified test called the "Ultimatum Game." New results published in Science suggest that behavior in these studies can be easily manipulated by treatments that subtly alter the chemistry of the brain.

    For a relatively simple test, the Ultimatum Game (UG) has a large number of implications for a number of fields, from ethics to economics. The UG starts with a set amount of money; one participant gets to decide the percentage of that money that's shared with a second. If the second accepts that offer, they keep the money; if the offer is rejected, neither participant gets any money. Each participant only takes part in the UG once, to avoid issues with retribution or cumulative anger.

    At its heart, the UG represents a peek into notions of fairness and how we police them. In purely economic terms, any offer should be accepted, since some money is better than none. But humans don't display rational economic behavior here. They're generally happy to accept a deal that's within 10 percent of an even split of the money. But their actions appear dominated by a sense of fairness, as rejection rates climb to over 50 percent by the time an offer drops to 30 percent of the total cash. The response also suggests a social dimension, as people are willing to punish the perceived unfairness in others, despite the personal cost.

    An innate sense of fairness

    The fact that the UG works similarly across cultures has suggested that humans have an innate sense of fairness, which is consistent with the fact that many groups operate under something similar to the "golden rule," despite significant religious and cultural differences. These findings have been used to argue that there has been a selective advantage for those humans who have evolved behaviors that help them operate as part of social groups.

    The new research shows that, despite the apparent significance of this behavior, it's remarkably easy to manipulate responses to the UG by tweaking brain chemistry. The authors of this study recruited volunteers that ingested a drink that was either a placebo, or one that would produce a short-term drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin. Five hours later, when serotonin levels should be stably depleted, the subjects with reduced serotonin rejected unfair offers at significantly higher rates than the placebo population. No difference in behavior was detected in offers that are typically viewed as fair.

    This follows results from last year, published in the open access journal PLoS one. In that study, researchers were able to manipulate the generosity of offers by altering levels of the neural hormone oxytocin, which is implicated in forming trusting familial bonds. Those with elevated oxytocin made offers that were 80 percent more generous than the placebo controls.

    These studies suggest that a basic aspect of human behavior, one that may be a critical contributor to our ability to function in social contexts, is quite sensitive to basic brain chemistry. At a time when there is a great deal of interest in the use and developments of drugs that manipulate this chemistry, they serve as excellent reminders that these drugs will necessarily have side effects and unintended consequences.

    Original here

    Global market for nanotechnology slated for high growth through 2013

    According to a new technical market research report, Nanotechnology: A Realtistic Market Assessment from BCC Research (www.bccresearch.com), the global market for nanotechnology was worth $11.6 billion in 2007. This is expected to increase to $12.7 billion in 2008 and $27.0 billion by the end of 2013, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of $16.3%. The market is broken down into applications of nanomaterials, nanotools and nanodevices. Of these, nanomaterials dominated in 2007, accounting for 87% of the market. Worth an estimated $10.8 billion in 2008, this segment should reach $18.7 billion in 2013, for a CAGR of 11.7%.

    Nanotools accounted for 12.8% of the market in 2007. Worth an estimated $1.9 billion in 2008, the segment will reach almost $8.0 billion by the end of 2013, for a CAGR of 33.3%. Nanotools, which include the nanolithographic tools used to produce the next generation of semiconductors, are projected to grow at a much faster rate than nanomaterials. As a result, their market shares should increase to 29.4% in 2013, while nanomaterials' share will fall to 69.2% of the total market.

    The nanodevices segment will enjoy a CAGR of 69.5% between 2008 and 2013. It is expected to increase from a $26.2 million segment in 2008 to $366.2 million by the end of 2013.

    The largest end-user markets for nanotechnology in 2007 were environmental remediation (56% of the total market), electronics (20.8%) and energy (14.1%). Electronics, biomedical and consumer applications have much higher projected growth rates than other applications over the next 5 years (i.e., 30.3%, 56.2% and 45.9%, respectively.) In contrast, energy applications are projected to grow at a CAGR of only 12.6% and environmental applications should actually decline by an average of 1.5% per year.


    Click here to enlarge image
    Global Nanotechnology Market

    Original here

    Study traces the evolution of the human brain

    Women can take comfort from the discovery that it is the quality of connections in the brain, not the overall size, that really matters.

    A brain cell - Study traces the evolution of the human brain
    It is increase in the number of synapses in larger animals that allows more sophisticated thought

    For decades, men have gloated over how they have bigger brains, and thus must be smarter, a simple side effect of how they tend to have bigger bodies.

    Now female intuition that this is simplistic, misleading, even just plain wrong, has been found by new research on the evolutionary origins of the brain and how it evolved into the remarkably complex structure found in humans.

    The research in the journal Nature Neuroscience by Professor Seth Grant, Head of the Genes to Cognition Programme at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, suggests that it is not size alone that gives more brain power.

    Instead, he found that, during evolution, increasingly sophisticated molecular processing of nerve impulses - notably by providing more connections in the brain - allowed development of animals with more complex behaviours.

    "We are one step closer to understanding the logic behind the complexity of human brains," he said.

    Current thinking suggests that the protein components of nerve connections - called synapses - are similar in most animals from humble worms to humans and that it is increase in the number of synapses in larger animals that allows more sophisticated thought.

    But this has been challenged by the study done at the Sanger Institute, with colleagues at Edinburgh and Keele Universities.

    "Our simple view that 'more nerves' is sufficient to explain 'more brain power' is simply not supported by our study," explained Professor Grant.

    "Although many studies have looked at the number of synapses, none has looked at the molecular composition of synapses. We found dramatic differences in the numbers of proteins in the synapses between different species.

    "We studied around 600 proteins that are found in mammalian synapses and were surprised to find that only 50 percent of these are also found in invertebrate (creatures without a backbone, such as insects) synapses, and about 25 percent are in single-cell animals, which obviously don't have a brain.

    "The number and complexity of proteins in the synapse first exploded when multicellular animals emerged, some billion years ago. A second wave occurred with the appearance of vertebrates, perhaps 500 million years ago"

    Since the evolution of complex, 'big' synapses occurred before the emergence of large brains, it may be that these molecular evolutionary events were necessary to allow evolution of the human brain..

    "The molecular evolution of the synapse is like the evolution of computer chips - the increasing complexity has given them more power and those animals with the most powerful chips can do the most," continues Professor Grant.

    Synapses are the junctions between nerves where electrical signals from one cell are transferred through a series of biochemical switches to the next.

    However, synapses are not simply soldered joints, but mini-processors that give the nervous systems the property of learning and memory. Remarkably, the study shows that the origins of thinking like in feeling: some of the proteins involved in synapse signalling and learning and memory are found in yeast, where they act to respond to signals from their environment, such as stress due to limited food or temperature change.

    "It is amazing how a process of Darwinian evolution by tinkering and improvement has generated, from a collection of sensory proteins in yeast, the complex synapse of mammals associated with learning and cognition," said Dr Richard Emes, Lecturer in Bioinformatics at Keele University, and joint first author on the paper.

    Original here

    What's that name?

    You know the feeling that something is on the tip of your tongue? It offers deep insights into the nature of the mind.


    LATE IN 1988, a 41-year-old Italian hardware clerk arrived in his doctor's office with a bizarre complaint. Although he could recognize people, and remember all sorts of information about them, he had no idea what to call them. He'd lost the ability to remember any personal name, even the names of close friends and family members. He was forced to refer to his wife as "wife."

    (Ryan Lane/Istock Photo)

    A few months before, the man, known as LS in the scientific literature, had been in a serious accident. He was thrown from his horse and the left side of his skull took the brunt of the impact. At first, it seemed as if the man had been lucky. A battery of routine tests had failed to detect any abnormalities. But now he appeared stuck with this peculiar form of amnesia, so that the names of people were perpetually on the tip of his tongue. It was agonizing.

    In the years since, scientists have come to a much firmer understanding of this phenomenon. It's estimated that, on average, people have a tip-of-the-tongue moment at least once a week. Perhaps it occurs when you run into an old acquaintance whose name you can't remember, although you know that it begins with the letter "T." Or perhaps you struggle to recall the title of a recent movie, even though you can describe the plot in perfect detail. Researchers have located the specific brain areas that are activated during such moments, and even captured images of the mind when we are struggling to find these forgotten words.

    This research topic has become surprisingly fruitful. It has allowed scientists to explore many of the most mysterious aspects of the human brain, including the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, the fragmentary nature of memory, and the mechanics of language. Others, meanwhile, are using the frustrating state to learn about the aging process, illuminating the ways in which, over time, the brain becomes less able to access its own storehouse of information.

    "The tip-of-the-tongue state is a fundamental side effect of the way our mind is designed," says Bennett Schwartz, a psychologist at Florida International University who studies the phenomenon.

    One of the key lessons of tip-of-the-tongue research is that the human brain is a cluttered place. Our knowledge is filed away in a somewhat slapdash fashion, so that names are stored separately from faces and the sound of a word and the meaning of a word are kept in distinct locations. Sometimes when we forget something, the memory is not so much lost as misplaced.

    The messy reality of the mind contradicts the conventional metaphor of memory, which assumes that the brain is like a vast and well-organized file cabinet. According to this theory, we're able to locate the necessary memory because it has been sorted according to some logical system. But this metaphor is misleading. The brain isn't an immaculate file cabinet - it's more like an untidy desk covered with piles of paper.

    Under normal circumstances, we don't notice the clutter because we still manage to find what we're looking for. However, during a tip-of-the-tongue experience, a crucial piece of knowledge gets lost. What's interesting is that, even though the mind can't remember the information, it's convinced that it's around somewhere in the mess. This is a universal experience: The vast majority of languages, from Afrikaans to Hindi to Arabic, even rely on tongue metaphors to describe the tip-of-the-tongue moment. And this is what has drawn the attention of neuroscience: If we've forgotten a person's name, then why are we so convinced that we remember it? What does it mean to know something without being able to access it?

    For some researchers, the most interesting aspect of such moments is what they reveal about metacognition, a term that refers to the ways in which we reflect on our own thought processes. (We can think, in other words, about how we think.) Until recently, metacognition was largely ignored as a scientific subject because it seemed too abstract for experiments.

    While researchers had long realized that metacognition could be applied to things like mental states and emotions - you know when you're sleepy or angry - it wasn't clear that it could also be applied to particular pieces of knowledge, like the name of a person.

    "That seems like it would be a full-time job," says Schwartz. "There's a lot of stuff in your head."

    How might the mind keep track of its own contents? For the last several decades, scientists have assumed that the brain contains some innate indexing system, akin to a card catalog in a library, that allows it to immediately realize that it can produce a specific piece of knowledge. This is known as the "direct access" model, since it implies that the conscious brain has direct access to the vast contents of the unconscious.

    The tip-of-the-tongue experience, however, is leading researchers to question this straightforward model. According to this new theory, the brain doesn't have firsthand access to its own memories. Instead, it makes guesses based upon the other information that it can recall. For instance, if we can remember the first letter of someone's name, then the conscious brain assumes that we must also know his or her name, even if we can't recall it right away. This helps explain why people are much more likely to experience a tip-of-the-tongue state when they can recall more information about the word or name they can't actually remember.

    Perhaps the most surprising feature of the tip-of-the-tongue moment - a fleeting and infrequent experience - is that it can even be studied scientifically. Scientists say, however, that it's actually quite easy to trigger. The experiments go like this: A subject is given the definition of a rather obscure word, such as "goods that have been imported or exported illegally." Then, they are asked whether or not they can produce the word (contraband). A small percentage of the people will then say that, although they know the word, they can't quite recall it: it's on the tip of their tongue.

    Brain-imaging studies of tip-of-the-tongue states provide further evidence of how, exactly, the brain keeps track of its own knowledge. Research led by Daniel Schacter, a psychologist at Harvard, has demonstrated that tip-of-the-tongue states activate a distinct network of brain areas in the frontal lobes, including the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. These areas are typically associated with so-called higher brain functions and, during the tip-of-the-tongue moment, they seem to be performing two separate tasks. First, the frontal lobes are responsible for making the metacognitive judgment. And then, once we realize that we probably know what we can't remember, parts of the frontal lobe are in charge of organizing the search for that missing memory. They scour the stacks of the unconscious, as they try to figure out where we mislaid that pesky name.

    According to Schacter, the tip-of-the-tongue moment demonstrates a peculiar aspect of memory, which is that different aspects of memory are stored separately in the brain. When we think about a friend, all of our memories of that friend aren't filed away in a single location. Instead, different aspects of the memory are distributed throughout the brain, so that a proper name is separated from a visual memory of a face.

    "When we remember something, that memory feels unified," Schacter says. "But the reality is that you assemble each memory out of lots of different pieces. A tip-of-the-tongue state occurs when one of the pieces gets lost."

    A similar fragmentation is at work in the production of language. Lise Abrams, a psychologist at the University of Florida, has demonstrated that, in many cases, the key to remembering a word that has been on the tip of the tongue is to encounter another word that shares a first syllable with the one we are trying to remember. For instance, when subjects are trying to recall "bandanna," they are much more likely to come up with the solution if they are given "banish" as a hint. "Banish" and "bandanna" mean very different things, but they activate the same network of brain cells devoted to the sound of the words.

    The connections can be even more indirect. Abrams has shown that showing people a picture of a motorcycle can help them remember the word "biopsy." Because the idea of a motorcycle is connected in the brain to the concept of "bike," which shares a first syllable with "biopsy," the seemingly irrelevant cue becomes an effective hint.

    "By seeing what allows people to find the answer," Abrams says, "you can really trace all the different ways language is processed in the brain."

    The research suggests why the tip-of-the-tongue experience becomes so much more common with age. Numerous studies have documented the effects of the aging process on the frontal lobes, with the areas shrinking in size and decreasing in density. As a result, the frontal lobes become less effective at searching the rest of the cortex for specific pieces of information. This suggests that lapses in memory become more common not just because the memories have faded, but because it is harder and harder to find them. The memory is there, but it looms, frustratingly, just out of reach.

    Jonah Lehrer is an editor at large at Seed magazine and author of "Proust Was a Neuroscientist."

    Tracking the Immune System

    A new imaging probe illuminates the body's defense system as it fights cancer.
    Immune reaction: A new PET imaging probe illuminates immune cells as it attacks infection within a mouse. Green areas indicate the presence of active immune cells.
    Credit: UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

    The human immune system is complex, with multiple cell types stationed all over the body, ready to launch an attack at the first sign of infection. However, there has been no clinical tool to measure an immune response as it travels through the body. Such a tool would be helpful in monitoring immune reactions to diseases such as cancer. There have been cases in which the immune system successfully fights a tumor, and others in which it stimulates tumor growth. Finding an effective drug to treat cancer is also tricky, as many drugs actually suppress immune function, causing infections that could be life threatening. Understanding how the immune system reacts to certain cancers and drugs could help clinicians better diagnose and treat patients.

    Now scientists at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed an imaging probe for positron emission tomography (PET) that tracks an immune response throughout the body as it fights off cancer and infection. The scientists have published the results of their study in the online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

    The researchers' goal was not to track specific kinds of immune cells, but to image an immune response as a whole. To do that, they looked for a biological process characteristic of most types of immune cells and developed a probe to measure that process.

    "If we wanted to measure a specific cell type, such as a T cell, we could have made a marker and attached a radionucleotide," says Owen Witte, a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the senior author of the study. "But we wanted a more global monitor of multiple cell types, and we came up with looking at a fundamental process called the DNA salvage pathway."

    This pathway is essentially a DNA recycling mechanism that immune cells use to quickly and efficiently generate new cells. Most cells in the body can generate cells from scratch, slowly building new cells from glucose and sugars. However, in the presence of infection, immune cells have to act fast to make more cells for defense. These cells recycle floating bits of nucleotides--the building blocks of DNA--from food or dying cells, making more DNA that then churns out new immune cells.

    "During infection, there's a lot of turnover of DNA," says Caius Radu, an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA. "This is essentially a mechanism to allow these cells to scavenge and make DNA efficiently."

    Radu, Witte, and their colleagues designed a probe to detect DNA recycling activity. Specifically, the probe detects a particular enzyme involved in the first step of DNA recycling within immune cells. Without this enzyme, the process cannot proceed. The team designed an enzyme-detecting probe by modifying the molecular structure of a common chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine. After a wide drug screening, researchers found that this particular drug was effective in entering immune cells. They then altered the compound slightly so that, in the presence of the DNA recycling enzyme, the compound is phosphorylated and, in essence, stopped in its tracks. If the enzyme is not present, the compound simply passes through the cell.

    Witte's team also attached a radiolabel to the probe that, during a PET scan, glows when it enters a cell. The team then tested the probe in mice. Researchers first injected mice with an oncogenic virus, which caused a tumor to develop. This particular tumor is immunogenic, meaning that the immune system easily recognizes it and quickly attacks. After the virus injection, the team then injected the probe and performed PET scans.

    "It's basically like a heat map, and if there's a lot of immune cells, it's red; if less, green; and even less, blue," says Radu. "It looks spectacular. You can see a three-dimensional image of this mouse, and see these draining lymph nodes, which are close to the tumor, and just see them lighting up."

    The team was able to track the immune response as the tumor developed, and it saw that the areas around the tumor lit up the most after 10 to 14 days, a typical length of time in which an immune response can clear an infection.

    Radu says that in the future, clinicians may be able to use this new PET probe to image immune responses, in addition to using other techniques, such as CT scans, that can image tumors. In combination, these techniques may enable doctors to watch a tumor shrink as the body's immune system attacks so that they can determine the effectiveness of different therapies.

    Ronald Germain, deputy chief of the immunology laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that while the group's images are impressive, it is still not completely clear whether cells other than immune cells are being imaged--an effect that could create an imprecise picture.

    "It's not a completely specific probe, so you're not going to tell what type of cell is present at a site, which can be very important in making a diagnosis going forward," says Germain. "However, there is a real need to develop ways to assess immune responses without having to do biopsies, and this is one of several approaches that could be used."

    The researchers are now looking to develop a more specific probe, in addition to their general imaging probe. Radu and his colleagues are systematically examining chemical structures to find others that resemble gemcitabine. The team plans to test these compounds against each other to see which may have greater sensitivity and specificity for detecting certain kinds of immune cells.

    Original here

    Pesticides Are DePesticides Are Destroying Our Bodies! (Here’s Proof)stroying Our Bodies! (Here’s Proof)

    Now that we know, or don’t know rather, what is in pesticides we need take a look at the effect these chemicals have on the human body.

    Anyone who has ever sprayed a pesticide will immediately recognize the tight feeling you get in your throat, the burning in your nose, and the watery eyes. These symptoms should be the second clue that what you spraying is not good for you. The first, of course, is that you’re spraying it to KILL things.

    The Long Term Dangers Of Pesticides

    A few of the long term effects that many doctors believe are associated with the use of pesticides are neurological symptoms, immune systems disorders, liver disease and asthma attacks. (http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/331/7518/656-d?ecoll)

    If that is not enough, check out the research done by the University of Florida and University of South Florida Medical Libraries:

    Breast Cancer Linked To Termite Pesticide

    Some forms of Breast Cancer have now been linked to pesticide chlordane used in the U.S. to treat termites between 1950-1988. (http://www.chem-tox.com/pesticides/#breastcancer)

    Birth Defects Caused By Chlorophenoxy

    Babies that are born near wheat fields are at 65% greater risk for developing birth defects. Primarily these defects are respiratory related. Scientists have linked them to an herbicide known as chlorophenoxy.

    Guess where else they use this herbicide? To control weeds on the road sides and along canals. Canals that can seep into our nation’s water supply.

    Rural Mother’s Miscarry More

    A study done by the University of North Carolina confirmed that mothers to be who lived near farm land where crops were sprayed were 40-120% more likely to miscarry.

    Round-Up Is Ridiculous

    Its not just farm and crop pesticides. The popular herbicide Roundup has been linked liver and kidney damage and new studies are suggesting that it may cause cancer. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the 3rd most reported chemical in the state of California for pesticide related illness. This is the same Roundup that people spray in their yard and then let their children and animals play on the grass.

    A Threat To Pet’s And Livestock

    Pets aren’t immune to the harms of pesticide either. Recent studies link lawn pesticides to bladder cancer in dogs. It’s also in the grain we use to feed our livestock: milk, meat, cheese, all of these products potentially be affected by the use of pesticides.

    Say No To Toxic Chemicals

    Pesticides and Herbicides have been linked in study after study to cause cancer, neurological problems, respiratory problems and even death in unborn babies. These are the same pesticides that we spray in our yard and that we eat on fruits and vegetables everyday.

    If you want to stay healthy, protect our planet and protect all the living things on it don’t use pesticides. There are so many natural alternatives.

    And don’t buy fruits and vegetables that are not organically grown. Better yet, grow you own veggies. It easy and you will know exactly what goes on and into your food.

    Original here

    Think Electric Cars are Expensive? Try Ford’s F-250 Full-Sized Truck


    Think paying $100,000 for an electric car is obscene? How about $100K for an F-250?

    As much was we covet electric cars like the Tesla Roadster, most of us balk at the $100,000 sticker price. But with gas prices at or above $4 / gallon, the cost difference isn’t as dramatic as you might imagine.

    The NYTimes reported last week that if you account for total ownership of a full-sized truck, including insurance, interest, repairs, taxes, and gasoline, a big vehicle like Ford’s F-250 will now set you back $100,000 in the first five years of ownership. Five years is the average amount of time an owner keeps one of these trucks.

    Obviously, the average person and automakers alike are noticing how expensive large vehicles have become (GM just announced it would stop making trucks and SUVs at four of its North American plants). Until May, full-sized trucks accounted for 13% of the US vehicle market. They’ve now now plummeted to 9%. Ford’s F-series trucks have been the best selling vehicle annually since 1976, but for the first time in years the top selling vehicle last month was a car: the Honda Civic sedan.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a great renewable energy replacement for heavy duty trucks yet, besides incorporating hybrid technology (like GM has done) which can boost fuel economy by 20%, or modifying the fuel system to accept high ethanol blends (50% of GM’s fleet will be Flex-Fuel by 2012).

    One thing has been made abundantly clear: the threshold for buying a full-size truck has gone up a few notches. I was shocked earlier this month when my mechanic said he would be downsizing to a Toyota Tacoma for his daily commute. Will he keep the full-sized truck? Of course, he says, because well, he still has a boat and horse trailer to haul around.

    Original here

    Possible New Approach To Purifying Drinking Water, Thanks To Genetic Tool


    Sara Morey, left, and Claudia Gunsch examining the results of their latest experiment. (Credit: Duke University)

    A genetic tool used by medical researchers may also be used in a novel approach to remove harmful microbes and viruses from drinking water.

    In a series of proof-of-concept experiments, Duke University engineers demonstrated that short strands of genetic material could successfully target a matching portion of a gene in a common fungus found in water and make it stop working. If this new approach can be perfected, the researchers believe that it could serve as the basis for a device to help solve the problem of safe drinking water in Third World countries without water treatment facilities.

    The relatively new technology, known as RNA interference (RNAi), makes use of short snippets of genetic material that match -- like a lock and key -- a corresponding segment of a gene in the target. When these snippets enter a cell and attach to the corresponding segment, they can inhibit or block the action of the target gene. This approach is increasingly being used as a tool in biomedical research, but has not previously been applied to environmental issues.

    "Pathogens, whether bacterial or viral, represent one of the major threats to drinking water in developed and undeveloped countries," said Sara Morey, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Claudia Gunsch, assistant professor of civil engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. "Our data showed that we could silence the action of a specific gene in a fungus in water, leading us to believe that RNAi shows promise as a gene-silencing tool for controlling the proliferation of waterborne bacteria and viruses."

    Morey presented the results of her experiments June 3, 2008, during the annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in Boston.

    In addition to helping solve drinking water issues in underdeveloped countries, this new approach could also address some of the drawbacks associated with treated drinking water in more developed nations, Morey said. Methods currently used to treat water -- chlorine and ultraviolet (UV) light -- can be expensive to operate and the results of the treatment itself can affect the taste and smell of the water.

    Although these methods have been employed for years, problems can emerge once the treated water enters the distribution system, where pathogens are also present. For this reason, water is often over-chlorinated at the plant so that it remains in high enough concentrations in the pipes to neutralize pathogens. This explains why people living the closer to a treatment plant will be more likely to taste or smell the chemical than those farthest away from the plant, the researchers said. Additionally, chlorine can react with other organic matter in the system, leading to potentially harmful by-products.

    UV light, while also effective in neutralizing pathogens at the plant, has no effect once the water is pumped out of the plant. Gunsch said that many pathogens are developing a resistance to the effects of chlorine and UV light, so newer options are needed.

    "We envision creating a system based on RNAi technology that would look from the outside just like the water filters commonly used now," Gunsch said. "This approach would be especially attractive in less industrialized countries without water treatment systems. This 'point-of-use' strategy would allow these countries to make safe water without the expense of water purification infrastructure."

    The first prototypes would likely involve a filter "seeded" with RNAi that would eliminate pathogens as the water passed through it. These filters would likely need to be replaced regularly, Gunsch said, adding that she believes it would theoretically be possible to create a living, or self-replicating system, which would not require replacement.

    The researchers are currently conducting additional experiments targeting other regions of the fungus' genome. For their proof-of-concept experiments, they tested RNAi on a non-essential, yet easy to monitor, gene. They are now testing this approach to silence or block genes essential to the viability of the pathogen.

    They are also planning to test this strategy in water that contains a number of different pathogens at the same time, as well as trying to determine the optimal concentration needed in the water to be effective.

    The experiments were funded by Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

    Original here


    Turbine Engine: No Pistons, No Lube, 30% Better Fuel Economy

    There are more than 5,000,000 heavy duty trucks running up and down US highways each day. Every one of those trucks gets an average of 7 mpg, carries upwards of 200-300 gallons of diesel, and spews out potentially harmful emissions.

    Like it or not, we depend on them to bring us our food, fuel, and products for everyday living. It’s a connection that most of us often forget about, only remembering it long enough to curse them as they slow us down on the highway.

    It’s also an industry that has recently been hit hard by soaring fuel prices, and now, with the average price of diesel in the US at $4.70/gallon and climbing, it’s sure to get worse.

    Needless to say, there’s a rising cacophony of voices within the trucking industry clamoring for relief. Most of this noise currently comes in the form of wanting a break in fuel prices, but really that’s just a temporary fix. Any solution with sticking power would have to offer both economic and environmental benefit — you know, win-win.

    Enter Turbine Truck Engines. The company has developed an engine for heavy duty trucks called the Detonation Cycle Gas Turbine (DCGT). Key features of this engine technology include:

    • Uses over 30% less fuel than current heavy duty engines
    • 30%+ fewer emissions including nitrogen oxide (NO, NO2, N2O2) and carbon monoxide (CO)
    • Operates on all fuels and mixtures of fuels: biofuels, hydrocarbon fuels, hydrogen and synthetic
    • Has few moving parts, requiring much less maintenance
    • Has no pistons or valves, and uses no lube oil, filters or pump
    • Is air cooled and lightweight (less than 2 lbs. per hp)

    The company has been aggressively seeking investors recently and last year won the prestigious Frost and Sullivan Award for Technology Innovation.

    Currently Turbine Truck Engines holds several patents and has a few prototypes under its belt. When (and if) their technology finally reaches the market, the combined savings on maintenance and fuel, as well as environmental benefits, could make this engine extremely popular with truck drivers and trucking companies worldwide.

    What do you think? Is it worthwhile to invest in this type of technology, or should we move past fuel altogether and focus on other things such as our rail infrastructure for movement of goods? Is that even possible? Are big rigs a permanent feature of our society? Is there any way to run them entirely on electricity?

    Original here

    A go-kart that runs on air

    WASHINGTON: With fuel prices soaring, there is a need to look for alternatives to petrol, gas and diesel, and the answer to the problem lies in ‘air’ - literally so - as scientists have now developed cars that actually need air as a fuel, promising to run at great speeds.

    Inspired by air-powered car concepts in Europe, mechanical engineering students from Canada’s Dalhousie University — David Alderson, Scott Allan, David Langille, Michael Roy and Dave Spencer — have unveiled their air-powered go-kart. Under their year-long research project, these five Dalhousie mechanical engineering students have developed compressed air engine of their own.

    “We had done a lot of reading about renewable energy and became really interested in the air-powered car. The class was comprised of two parts, the first semester was the design semester and the second was for build time and tweaking the design,” said Langille. The air-powered go-kart was officially unveiled at Kartbahn Racing in Halifax’s Bayer’s Lake Business Park in front of members of the media.

    “We can do three laps here or just under two minutes going full out at 43 kmph with two tanks,” explained Langille.

    The students modified a 40-year-old snowmobile engine and ran compressed air through the engine to produce power similar to a gas engine. They attached the engine to a refurbished go-kart using two scuba tanks to house the air. The air is released through a standard scuba fitting with a high-flow regulator. The released air travels through tubing to a ball-valve connected to the foot pedal and throttle.

    “It operates much like a normal rotary engine,” says Langille.

    With the rising cost of fuel, this development is timely in the search for sustainable energy.

    “Last time we checked there wasn’t a 12% increase in air scheduled anytime soon,” he said.

    Despite agreeing to the fact that producing zero local emissions is a good thing, Langille said that a generator is still required to get the compressed air in the tank, but that’s something he hopes can be researched to a greater extent. The greatest drawback to the engine is that it runs out of air quickly. But, he thinks the engine will improve with refinements and could be a successor to conventional engines. “The zero local emissions make it attractive for indoor operations and the tanks are easy to refill,” Langille added.


    Original here

    Two small countries thinking big, and green

    Two small nations on opposite sides of the globe are building world class renewable energy proejcts. In Portugal they’re constructing what will become, temporarily at least, the largest solar generating plant on earth. It’s going into eastern Portugal near the town of Moura. This photovoltaic farm is being built in the sunniest spot in continental Europe. Portugal aims to generate over 30% of its own power from renewable sources by the year 2020. It’s already among the leaders in Europe. Here are the European top five, by percentage from renewable sources:
    Sweden 2005 39.8%, target by 2020 49%
    Latvia 34.9%, target 42%
    Finland 28.5%, target 38%
    Austria 23.3%, target 34%
    Portugal 20.5%, target 31%.
    Worst is the UK with less than 2% renewable, lagging even behind relatively impoverished Cyprus.

    WAVE OF THE FUTURE?

    In the southern hemisphere New Zealand is bereft of coal and oil. Like many island nations they are turning to the sea: wave power to be exact. One of the first projects to be deployed will be at Kaipara Harbor on the North Island. It would place turbines on the harbor floor and they would be driven by tidal flow.

    It’s only one of several ocean-powered projects slated for New Zealand. The reports there take heart in the fact that an Irish company is now generating electricity with wave power in Scotland. The firm is OpenHydro which could be providing technology and components for the Kaipara project.

    Here’s what OpenHydro says on their website: “Irish company OpenHydro has become the first tidal energy company to complete the connection of a tidal turbine to the UK national grid and commence electricity generation. This is a first for both the UK and Ireland and in doing so OpenHydro has now become one of the first companies in the world to reach this stage of technical maturity.”

    This one generating turbine is in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. A much larger installation will begin in the Channel Islands of England’s south coast next year.

    And here’s what their seabed turbines look like:
    seabedmounted.jpg
    Courtesy:OpenHydro

    A newsman since 1969, Harry Fuller has worked for CBS, ABC, CNBC Europe, CNET and was founding news director at TechTV. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

    Original here

    Rotating Wind Power Tower to begin construction in Dubai

    Dubai has garnered much attention in recent years with a never-ending supply of architectural wonders being built, or proposed, at a head spinning pace. Mostly these towering structures are grand and tall, but some are also green. We’ve covered many an ambitious Dubai skyscraper scheme here at Inhabitat, including David Fisher’s Rotating Tower, but there is new news from Fisher’s Dynamic Architecture firm. This self-sufficient, sun and wind powered design is making headlines once again as the Italian-Israeli architect has just unveiled the latest design for his twirling tower, and construction is set to begin this month!

    The Dynamic Architecture building has been aptly named Rotating Tower as the floors would be capable of rotating around a central axis. It will be continually in motion, changing shape and giving residents the ability to choose a new view at the touch of a button. The form of the building would constantly change as each floor rotates separately giving a new view of the building as it turns. According to Fisher, the building ensures a very high resistance to earthquakes as each floor rotates independently.

    The new tower is the first building of its size to produced in a factory. Each floor, made up of 12 individual units, complete with plumbing, electric connections, air conditioning, etc., will be fabricated in a factory. These modular units will be fitted on the concrete core or spine of the building at the central tower.


    The 59-floor building will be powered entirely by sun and wind energy. And, the architect claims that the building will generate 10 times more energy than required to power it, thus making it a positive energy building. Solar panels will be fitted on the roof to harness sunlight, and a total of 48 wind turbines will be sandwiched between the rotating floors, placed so that they are practically invisible. Each wind turbine could produce up to 0.3 megawatt of electricity, and it is estimated that 1,200,000 kilowatt-hours of energy would be generated every year.

    Construction is going to start soon, with an official launch later this month, and plans are also afoot to build a similar tower in Moscow.

    + Dynamic Architecture

    Via BDOnline and GizMag


    Original here