Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dark Energy's Fingerprint Found in Distant Galaxies

Star Light, Star Bright, First Star...Scientists don't know much about the mysterious phenomenon known as dark energy, but they do have a picture of what it's doing to the universe, namely, driving it apart.

In what may be the clearest detection of dark energy to date, astronomers at the University of Hawaii looked at microwaves left over from the beginning of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago. The scientists grouped the rays depending on whether they had passed through massive clusters of galaxies or bee-lined to Earthly detectors through areas largely lacking galactic real estate.

The premise was that these "background" microwaves would pick up a little energy as they entered the clusters, urged on by the forces of gravity. But if gravity had a monopoly on the game, the rays would lose that snap as they pressed through the other side, rendering the energy gain a transitory phenomenon.

So how to explain that the microwaves passing through super-sized galaxy clusters got to keep a bit of unearned gain?

István Szapudi and colleagues believe it is because dark energy, which sometimes is referred to as anti-gravity or vacuum energy, had spread out the galaxy clusters, as it is doing to all space. By the time the microwaves exited, there was proportionally a bit less mass to deal with, leaving the rays with a slight energy advantage.

"It's kind of like if you have a car on a hill," explained Gary Hinshaw of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "You pick up energy as you're going down, but you give it all back up again when you go up.

"What is happening here," he added, "is that the acceleration of the universe is forcing the gravity wells to be less over the time it takes for energy to cross the cluster, the strength of the cluster has diminished."

Superclusters and Supervoids

The measurements are difficult to make because tiny variations in the Big Bang remnant waves are larger than the observable effects of intervening galaxy clusters and voids. But by grouping together data from background radiation maps of the 50 largest galaxy clusters and the 50 largest voids, researchers were able to come up with a finding they say has only a one in 200,000 chance of being a statistical fluke.

The data was taken from Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has mapped the distribution of galaxies in about 25 percent of the sky.

Previous dark energy studies have a one in 20 chance of being statistically coincidental, Szapudi said.

Dark energy was discovered about 10 years ago and is considered the leading outstanding puzzle in cosmology today.

"In the last six or seven billion years, the expansion of the universe has switched over from slowing down to speeding up, meaning that dark energy is becoming more dominant in controlling the growth of the universe," Hinshaw said. "As the universe expands, matter gets more and more dilute and dark energy gets more and more dominate."

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NASA shoots down Mars rumors: we're not sure what we've got

Over the weekend, rumors started rebounding around the Internet: initial work from the Mars Phoenix lander had found something that was evidence relevant to the possibility of life on Mars, and the President had been briefed. Before the jokes regarding the President and intelligent life had subsided, other rumors suggested that NASA had found a toxin that was incompatible with life. NASA decided to end the speculation, and dragged members of the Phoenix team into an early-afternoon press conference. Phoenix may have found an abundance of a specific chemical on Mars, but the researchers involved aren't even sure what it is yet.

NASA spokesman Duane Brown introduced the press conference by referencing what he called the "speculation and rumors," and described it as an attempt to set the record straight. The scientists, he said, were doing so reluctantly, as they are being forced to present the results before their instruments were even producing an unambiguous result, much less one that had passed peer review. Mike Meyer, the head of NASA's Mars efforts, said, "we're here today to announce a nonannouncement—more experiments and time are needed to resolve the results of the science experiments."

The project lead, Peter Smith, seemed a bit more accepting. Describing it as a "break with scientific tradition," he nevertheless said that it was a great opportunity that he likened to "opening a window to allow the public to see the scientific process in action." Although that process is still dealing with multiple, potentially contradictory, indications, the strongest one they have is that there are significant amounts of perchlorate on Mars.

Perchlorate's chemical formula is ClO4-, and is found naturally on earth, typically as part of a salt with a positive ion. It was once thought to be such a strong oxidizing agent that it was considered incompatible with organic compounds, leading to some of the rumors that circulated about findings of a chemical that could kill. Since then, however, it has not only been found in deposits with organic compounds, but microbes have been discovered that actually use it as the primary oxidizing agent in their metabolism.

The problem is that two instruments on the lander are providing somewhat contradictory results. Michael Hecht spoke about the MECA instrument, which runs wet chemistry experiments. The instrument contains a number of sensors that are tuned to pick up the presence of different classes of ions released as the sample heats up. The instrument that picks up perchlorate and (to a lesser extent, nitrates) registered a huge spike—so large, the scientists didn't trust it. Since then, however, a second sample and a test with an earth-bound version of MECA produced the same spike, so the MECA folks are feeling confident.

The Rosy Red sample on its way to MECA
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

The people behind the TEGA instrument, represented by William Boynton, are less sure. TEGA probes the composition of gases released when samples are heated using a mass spectrometer, and it has seen large amounts of oxygen (consistent with perchlorate), but no chlorine. Only a number of perchlorate salts will decompose in a way that releases chlorine, so that's not a complete shock, but the team is now trying to figure out ways to detect some of the others.

Assuming the finding's right, what's it all mean? It's really hard to say. Different perchlorate salts can have very different properties, so nailing down precisely what's present in the soil will be critical. Once that's done, data from elsewhere on the planet can be reevaluated to determine whether its presence might be widespread. Given that some organisms use it as part of their basic biochemistry, it's clearly not incompatible with life, but it doesn't seem to make life—past or present—any more likely on Mars.

The researchers note that, because of its strong oxidizing properties, perchlorate was actually used in the propulsion system of one stage of the Delta rocket that got Phoenix to Mars in the first place. But dry runs with the instruments showed that they weren't contaminated, and the shovel has spent a month scraping itself clean on various soil samples, so any contamination there should have declined significantly. Amusingly, the scientists have been giving each soil sample brought on board a nickname, so the press conference was peppered with references to "wicked witch," "baby bear," "rosy red," and "sorceress."

So, as mentioned right at the start, this was a bit of a nonannouncement. We've got a strong indication that perchlorate is probably present, but we're not even positive yet, much less precisely the form it's in. About the clearest thing that can be said about the results came from Michael Hecht, who said, "they can potentially keep a lot of graduate students busy for a very long time."

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Rochester Physicist's Quantum-"Uncollapse" Hypothesis Verified

In 2006, Andrew Jordan, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, together with Alexander Korotkov at the University of California, Riverside, spelled out how to exploit a quantum quirk to accomplish a feat long thought impossible, and this week a research team at the University of California at Santa Barbara has tested the theory, proving it correct.

Quantum particles behave in ways that from our everyday experience seem utterly impossible. For instance, quantum particles have wave-like properties and can exist in many places at once. Why the objects we see around us every day—in what physicists call the "classical" world—don't behave this way despite being made of these very same strange quantum particles is a deep question in modern physics.

Most scientists have believed that the instant a quantum object was measured it would "collapse" from being in all the locations it could be, to just one location like a classical object. Jordan proposed that it would be possible to weakly measure the particle continuously, partially collapsing the quantum state, and then "unmeasure" it, causing the particle to revert back to its original quantum form, before it collapsed.

Jordan's hypothesis suggests that the line between the quantum and classical worlds is not as sharply defined as had been long thought, but that it is rather a gray area that takes time to cross.

In the latest issue of Nature News, Postdoctoral Fellow Nadav Katz explains how his team put the idea to the test and found that, indeed, he is able to take a "weak" measurement of a quantum particle, which triggered a partial collapse. Katz then "undid the damage we'd done," altering certain properties of the particle and performing the same weak measurement again. The particle was returned to its original quantum state just as if no measurement had ever been taken.

Because theorists had believed since 1926 that a measurement of a quantum particle inevitably forced a collapse, it was said that in a way, measurements created reality as we understand it. Katz, however, says being able to reverse the collapse "tells us that we really can't assume that measurements create reality because it is possible to erase the effects of a measurement and start again."

Jordan is currently continuing to probe the differences between the quantum and everyday world. He's focusing on nanophysics, which addresses fundamental physical problems that occur on the mesoscopic level.

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Scientists Create World's Thinnest Balloon

Scientists have developed the world's
thinnest balloon that is impermeable
to even the smallest gas molecules.
Above is a multi-layer graphene membrane
that could be used in various applications,
including filters and sensors.
Credit: Jonathan Alden

Scientists have created the world's thinnest balloon, made of a single layer of carbon just one atom thick.

The fabric that the balloon is made of is leakproof to even the tiniest airborne molecules. It could find use in "aquariums" smaller than a red blood cell, through which scientists could peer at molecules, researchers suggested.

The balloon is made of graphite, as found in pencils, which is made of atom-thin sheets of carbon stacked on top of each other known. The sheets are known as graphene.

Graphene is highly electrically conductive, and scientists are feverishly researching whether it could find use in advanced circuitry and other devices.

"We were studying little graphene trampolines, and by complete accident, we made a graphene sheet over a hole. Then we started studying it, and saw that it was trapping gas inside," said researcher Paul McEuen, a physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

By experimenting further with bubbles made of graphene, McEuen and his colleagues found the membranes were impermeable to even the smallest gas molecules, including helium.

"It's amazing that something only an atom thick can be an impenetrable barrier. You can have gas on one side and vacuum or liquid on the other, and with a wall only one atom thick, nothing would go through it," McEuen told LiveScience.

In terms of applications, McEuen suggested one possibility which he called miniature aquariums for molecules. "You could have instruments on one side of the membrane, in vacuum or air, and on the other side you would have DNA or proteins suspended in liquid," he explained. "And then you could get right up close to image the molecules, within a few angstroms," or widths of an atom.

Other potential applications include hyper-fine sensors and ultra-pure filters.

"Once you have a membrane that won't let anything past, the most interesting thing is to then poke a hole in it. Then you can detect what leaks through that hole with high sensitivity, or make sure only what you want leaks through that hole," McEuen said.

The only way gas leaked out from inside the balloons was through the glass that the bubbles were anchored on, McEuen explained.

"We need to build a better base that's more impenetrable, such as single crystal silicon. I'm confident we can make a leakproof version," McEuen said.

Original here

Curved electronic eye created

Flexible circuits should lead to diverse imaging applications.

An eye-shaped camera made from a flexible mesh of silicon light-detectors marks a significant step towards creating a 'bionic' eye, its inventors say.

cameraA single lens, mounted on top of a transparent cap, focuses light onto the flexible electronic circuit beneath.John Rogers/Nature

Conventional cameras use a curved lens to focus an image onto a flat surface where the light is captured either by film or by digital sensors. However, focusing light from a curved lens onto a flat surface distorts the image, necessitating a series of other lenses that reduce the distortion but tend to increase the bulk and cost of a device.

By contrast, human eyes require only a single lens and avoid much of this distortion, because the image is focused onto the curved surface at the back of the eyeball. John Rogers, a materials scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his colleagues have taken inspiration from our own eyes to create an electronic version1.

It's a problem that many researchers have worked on over the last few decades. The key hurdle has been the rigidity of established electronic materials, which fracture when bent.

Flexible scaffold

The team's solution was to use a series of silicon photodetectors (pixels) connected by thin metal wires. This network is supported and encapsulated by a thin film of polyimide plastic, allowing the flexible scaffold to bend when compressed. This scaffold takes up the mechanical stress and protects the pixels as the array takes its hemispherical shape.

The team made a hollow dome about 2 centimetres wide from a rubber-like material called poly(dimethylsiloxane). They flattened out the stretchy dome, and attached the electronic mesh. Then, as the hollow dome snapped back into its original shape, it pulled the array with it, forming a hemisphere that could be attached to a lens; the basis of the camera

“The ability to wrap high quality silicon devices onto complex surfaces and biological tissues adds very interesting and powerful capabilities to electronic and optoelectronic device design,” says Rogers. "It allows us to put electronics in places where we couldn't before."

The research was described as a “breakthrough” by Dago de Leeuw, a research fellow with Philips Research Laboratories based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The technique could work for any application where you would want to have stretchable electronics, and is limited only by what sensors you can add to the array.

Higher resolution

To improve the camera’s resolution, the researchers have also experimented with another of nature's designs. The constant motion of the human eye means that we get many views of an object, which we automatically combine to give us a better picture of what we’re looking at, explains Rogers. So his team has done the same, taking several images with their camera at slightly different angles and then combining them with computer software to give a much sharper image.

Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo, Japan, who also works on stretchable electronics, says that the camera marks a great advance in the field of stretchable electronics, with potential applications including bionic implants, robotic sensory skins and biomedical monitoring devices2.

At the moment, the camera is limited to 256 pixels, but this could be easily scaled up, says Rogers. Advantageously, this electronic eye camera exploits technology that already exists, so facilities currently fabricating planar silicon devices should be able to adapt to making this new technology.

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You are here: 1. Home 2. News Police chief calls for universal DNA database

Scotland's most senior police office has called for the creation of a DNA database of the entire population.

By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent

Stephen House, Chief Constable of Strathclyde, said that storing the genetic profiles of every man, woman and child would help catch more criminals.

He also called for Scotland to adopt the English DNA system that allows the profiles of suspects to be kept even if they are not charged with any wrongdoing.

Police in Scotland have to destroy the DNA records of innocent people but can keep samples of those accused of sexual or violent crimes for three years.

There are around 4.2 million DNA profiles stored in England, which has the biggest genetic database in the world.

However, a government inquiry recommended last week that one million of these should be destroyed because they came from people who had never been convicted.

Increasing DNA databases north or south of the border would also be strongly opposed by human rights groups and by many politicians. In Scotland, the database currently holds the genetic profiles of around 200,000 Scots.

Mr House said he was pressing minister adopt the English system, and used the case of the murdered teenager Sally Anne Bowman to support his case.

Her killer was caught by the Metropolitan Police largely through a DNA sample collected after an unrelated incident that was already in the system.

He added: "In Scotland the chances are that the DNA would be destroyed but in England it wasn't, it was put on the database and matched. There are numerous examples of where that has happened.

"An even more complete system is to say we will go the whole hog. Forget criminality, we'll take DNA from everyone in the country.

"If the public and the government decide they want to do it, you would do it gradually.

"One of the ways to do it is that you would say all newborn children would have DNA recorded and when you apply for a driver's licence your DNA would be taken and gradually over the years would start to develop a 100 per cent database. Would it deter people? That's less certain, but we would detect more crime."

Last year, a senior judge called for the entire UK population, and every visitor to Britain to be put on the DNA database.

Lord Justice Sedley, one of England's most experienced appeal court judges, described the country's current system as "indefensible".

However, any move towards a national database would meet with fierce opposition. Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, has described the British public as the most "spied upon on the planet".

The organisation Liberty said a database of every man, woman and child in the country was a "chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse".

And the human rights lawyer John Scott said yesterday that the plan would "disturb the balance between the state and the individual".

He added: "At a time when people are calling for the English system to be closer to our own, we shouldn't be going in the opposite direction.

"We could get a situation where outside bodies like insurance firms manage to get hold of DNA from innocent people and use it for their own purposes."

The issue is being reviewed for the Scottish Executive by Prof James Fraser of Strathclyde University's centre for forensic science.

Simon Davies, of the human rights watchdog organisation Privacy International, said the Strathclyde force had a history of "obsession with DNA collection" and it was time it was "reined in".

He added: "It was Strathclyde that proposed many years ago mandatory DNA collection for even minor offences. What it is proposing is a step too far."

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Viruses can catch colds, says study that redefines life itself

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

The debate about what counts as a living thing is fuelled today by the discovery of the first virus that is able to fall "ill" by being infected with another virus.

  • Can we make software that comes to life?
  • The Bradford bug that may be a new life form
  • Search for a definition of life may be a never-ending quest
  • Viruses are glorified scraps of genetic code that are exquisitely designed to pirate a host to reproduce: the common cold virus needs cells in the nose and respiratory tract to reproduce, before being spread with a sneeze.

    But the discovery of a giant virus that itself falls ill through infection by another virus seems to suggest they too are alive, highlighting how there is no watertight definition of what exactly scientists mean when they refer to something as "living".

    "There's no doubt, this is a living organism," the journal Nature is told by Prof Jean-Michel Claverie, director of the Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology in Marseilles, part of France's basic-research agency CNRS. "The fact that it can get sick makes it more alive."

    When the giant virus infects a host cell, an amoeba, they create a huge structure within the host, like a transient cell, that makes more viruses.

    Thus, he said, the virus has the same role in its life cycle as a sperm does in the human life cycle. And it is not a surprise that this transient parasitic cell is itself vulnerable to viruses.

    The extraordinary discovery that the giant virus suffers infections of its own is reported in Nature by Prof Bernard La Scola at the Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, and colleagues.

    They used an electron microscope to look at cells infected with a new strain of mimivirus, the largest known virus, which was first recognised by Prof Claverie and colleagues five years ago.

    Prof La Scola and his colleagues were surprised to spot a smaller type of virus attached to the virus-making factory inside infected cells. The new virus - Sputnik - was unable to infect cells by itself but seemed to hijack the larger to achieve its infectious aims.

    The team suggests that Sputnik (after "travelling companion" in Russian) is a 'virophage', much like the bacteriophage viruses that infect and sicken bacteria.

    The giant virus was first isolated in amoebae from a cooling tower in Bradford. Since then, genetic studies of ocean waters have indicated that these giant viruses are very important, and may play a crucial role in regulating the population of plankton as well as influence the climate.

    A genetic study of ocean water has revealed an abundance of genetic sequences closely related to giant viruses, leading to a suspicion that they are a common parasite of plankton.

    By regulating the growth and death of plankton, giant viruses - and satellite viruses such as Sputnik - could be a major influence on ocean nutrient cycles and climate.

    "These viruses could be major players in global systems," Nature is told by Prof Curtis Suttle, an expert in marine viruses at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

    Original here

    The Tire Gauge Controversy-Saving Gas?

    Barack Obama recently said that Americans should tune up their cars and keep their tires properly inflated to save gas. He said that doing so would save more oil than what would be gained by offshore drilling. The McCain campaign jumped on it and began handing out tire gauges marked "Obama Energy Policy".

    But politics aside, what's the data? IN a recent Time article, the estimates of the Bush Administration state that expanding offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. Americans now use about 20 million bbl. per day, so 200,000 barrels per day would meet about 1% of our demand- in about 20 years. But today efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3% and regular maintenance can boost that another 4%. If everyone kept their cars tunes and tires full, we could reduce demand several percentage points right away, saving gas, dollars andCO2 emissions. Looks like Obama is right- simple everyday things like tire pressure and tune ups do make a real difference.

    Conservation and efficiency are the best approaches to dealing with energy and CO2crisis- according to Time "the cheapest, cleanest, quickest and easiest ways to ease our addiction to oil, reduce our pain at the pump and address global warming. It's a pretty simple concept: if our use of fossil fuels is increasing our reliance on Middle Eastern dictators while destroying the planet, maybe we ought to use less."

    This is a real piece of good news and empowerment that all of us can take action on, wherever we are. We can use significantly less energy without significantly changing our lifestyle- no hair shirt here. My friend Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute has shown repeatedly that investing in what he calls "nega-watts" — reducing our electricity use by increasing efficiency — is easier and lots cheaper than building the coal nuclear and oil fired plants to produce more megawatts. Turns out there's lots of simple steps each of us can do to reduce our own energy coasts, carbon footprint, and help our country become energy independent.

    Put in CFLs: compact fluorescent light bulbs. They cost a few bucks more at the store but save 30-80 bucks over their lifetime. Every time you don't buy one you leave a pile of ten dollar bills on the table. We can put in power strips and then just cut the juice to things like televisions, computers and phone chargers that draw a small but significant "phantom load" even when they are switched off. We can seal up our windows, beef up our insulation and lower our thermostats in the winter and raise them in the summer so we use less heat and air-conditioning. Every time we buy a new appliance make sure it's the most energy efficient available, wash in cold water (you won't notice any difference in how clean your clothes are). Buy the most fuel efficient car that meets your needs, drive it in ways that boost mileage and inflate your tires and get a tune up. This is not a Democrat or Republican thing; it's an American thing and a good citizen of the world thing. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida, both Republican governors have taken strong efficiency stands as have many Democrats. While we're at it, we can cut down on idling, which can improve fuel economy another 5%, and cut down on speeding and unnecessary acceleration, which can increase mileage as much as 20%.

    I don't like putting $75- $100 worth of gas into my car, so I take every step I can to do it as little as possible.

    Even looking at getting an electric motorcycle- who says you can't be a little wild and "green" at the same time? Born to raise hell and lower my carbon footprint at the same time!

    Original here

    'Land that never melts' is melting: Erosion probed in Nunavut park

    Parks Canada staff flying by helicopter over Auyuittuq National Park last week took this photograph of the erosion at Crater Lake.

    Experts working with Parks Canada say flooding and erosion at Nunavut's Auyuittuq National Park are related to a flood that hit the nearby hamlet of Pangnirtung in June.

    The south end of the Baffin Island park has been closed to visitors since July 28, as a severely eroded moraine at Crater Lake has raised the risk of flash flooding into the Akshayuk Pass.

    The partial closure means visitors cannot enter the park from Pangnirtung in the south. Park officials say they will decide in the next couple of days whether to reopen the south end.

    Parks Canada officials say they have never seen anything like this before in Auyuittuq.

    "Auyuittuq means 'land that never melts,' but of course now it's melting," Pauline Scott, a spokeswoman for Parks Canada's Nunavut field unit, told CBC News on Tuesday.

    Scott said glaciologists and geologists have taken a close look at the park by helicopter, identifying five different areas where erosion is most severe.

    They have determined that much has happened in both the national park and Pangnirtung, which in June was hit by heavy rains causing flash flooding in the Duval River.

    That flooding eroded the banks around the hamlet's two bridges, shutting them down and cutting many residents off from basic municipal services for weeks. Large cracks and sinkholes also started appearing around the riverbank.

    "At the time that it flooded in Pang, there was also rain on snow in Auyuittuq National Park, and that actually started to set the stage for what followed," Scott said.

    What followed, she added, was a two-week record heat wave and more rain that filled up the park's Summit Lake. That sent a large burst of water travelling throughout the park, washing out the Windy Lake suspension bridge and eroding numerous areas.

    Scott said 22 tourists have been flown out of the affected area by helicopter since the closure.

    It has also changed travel plans for numerous tourist groups, which have had to reroute their trips to avoid the southern part of the park.

    "I think some of them were obviously a little upset because they were going to do the Overlord to Pang [trip], but I think they're still going to have a great time," said Erin Shipman of the Black Feather adventure company in Parry Sound, Ont.

    Scott said officials will reopen the south end of the park when it's safe to do so, and visitors will be given information about what areas to avoid.

    "Crater Lake looks like it's stabilized. But before we lift the closure, we want to make sure staff go on foot through the park on the east side, right from Overlord to Windy Lake to make sure that things are all right," Scott said.

    "Also, we want to put staff on the west side going from Overlord right up to Summit Lake."

    Orignal here

    Hospital Food Goes Green: Pleasing Patients and Helping Them Heal

    By Judy Mandell and Amanda Spake

    Mark Stevens finally got his appetite back a week after heart bypass surgery last year, but he couldn’t eat the hospital’s food. “Even the nurses cringed when they saw the so-called chicken,” says the 58-year-old New York writer and entrepreneur. “It looked like plastic painted with shoe polish. I needed cheering up, but that chicken said, ‘Go pray for your life.’ ”

    Despite a wealth of research over the past three decades showing that fresh, well-prepared food is packed with natural disease-fighting nutrients to speed healing and prevent illness, hospital food has hardly been a model of healthy eating. “There’s been a bit of a disconnect between what the medical literature says about nutrition and what you get served in the hospital,” says Carolyn Lammersfeld, director of nutrition at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Studies indicate that many hospitalized patients don’t eat enough of the food to adequately nourish their bodies. A 2003 article in the journal Nutrition, for example, showed that hospitalized patients worldwide are malnourished, and rates of undernourishment in some U.S. hospitals were as high as 41 percent.

    Today, however, nutrition experts, doctors, hospital administrators, food service companies and patient advocates are working together to make hospital food healthier, better-tasting and a key part of the healing process. Ronald M. Davis, M.D., president of the American Medical Association, in an article for the AMA’s April newsletter, called on hospitals to “buy meat and poultry raised without nontherapeutic antibiotics, use milk produced without recombinant bovine growth hormones, and replace unhealthy snacks found in many vending machines with healthy choices.”

    Gerard Mullin, M.D., director of Integrative GI Nutrition Services at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, points out that “food has biochemical benefits beyond just calories. Having the freshest food available to preserve the bioactivity of those nutrients is very important for healing sick patients.”

    Hospital food’s need for reconstructive surgery has led 127 facilities to sign a pledge to serve primarily organic and chemical-free food, produced locally. Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest health care system, has adopted similar healthy-food guidelines, declaring that its hospitals will work with local suppliers and other vendors to serve food that is “fresher, tastes better, and is associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

    Initiated by the nonprofit group Health Care Without Harm, the pledge campaign has thus far convinced hospitals in 21 states, ranging in size from 25 beds to 900 beds, to serve more local fruits and vegetables, hormone-free milk, meat raised without antibiotics or hormones, and eggs laid by cage-free hens.

    The movement to overhaul hospital cuisine goes far beyond the pledge, says William Notte, president of the American Society of Healthcare Food Service Administrators (ASHFSA). “It is huge,” Notte says. Most hospitals are looking to buy fresher and less processed food, he says, because patients are demanding it. Lammersfeld of the Cancer Treatment Centers says, “Our meats and dairy products are free of chemicals, our luncheon meats are nitrate-free, and we serve as much organic produce as possible.”

    The new culinary consciousness has meant accepting the idea that food offered in hospitals should be nutritionally superior to junk food sold at shopping malls. Medical staffs were mortified in 2006 when a research letter appeared in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, showing that 42 percent of large U.S. teaching hospitals had brand-name fast-food franchises right on hospital grounds. The most common fast food sold in hospitals? Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

    “This is terrible,” laments Johns Hopkins’ Gerard Mullins. “The hospital should be setting a standard of nutrition for the community.”

    Kaiser Permanente is trying to do just that. It hosts farmers’ markets at 29 hospitals to encourage residents to eat more locally grown fruit and vegetables, just as its hospitals are serving more fresh produce.

    Food management companies with hospital clients are also coming on board. “Food is absolutely an important factor in accelerating the healing process,” says Richard Schenkel, president and CEO of Unidine, which in May became the first food-service company to sign Health Care Without Harm’s pledge. Discussions with other large food management firms are under way, says David Wallinga, M.D., a physician with Health Care Without Harm.

    Even with much progress, there are still roadblocks to improving hospital food. The biggest is cost. The American Society of Healthcare Food Service Administrators’ Notte, who also is director of food and nutrition services at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida, says the average cost of patient food ranges from $6 to $8.50 a day.

    Cancer Treatment Centers spends about $7 per patient per meal, or $21 per patient per day. Lammersfeld says the hospital system has instituted new inventory control and other cost-cutting efforts in order to spend more on food.

    Other hospitals that are improving their food services also seem to be shifting costs to pay for it, says ASHFSA’s Notte. In addition, says Leo Dorsey, head of food service at Johns Hopkins Hospital and an executive at Sodexho, the nation’s largest food service company, food costs go down because “patients are getting only what they want.”

    Food service managers who have made improvements say that fears of rising costs for patients and insurance companies are unfounded. “The food service is part of hospital room and board. So there is no additional cost depending on the type of food, or the way it is served,” explains Swedish Medical Center’s nutrition director, Kris Schroeder. “As hospitals look at their budget, the nutrition service is such a small piece of the overall hospital budget.” Generally, it’s only about 1 percent.

    In the end, those hospitals that have dramatically improved their food services find that the benefits are worth the effort. “In general, we have patients who gain weight during treatment because they say the food is so good,” adds Lammersfeld. For cancer patients, who often have to force themselves to eat, this is high praise indeed.

    Original here

    25 Tips to Make Your Apartment an Eco Friendly, Sustainable, Green Paradise!

    bigstockphoto_a_new_life_13358_resized 25 Tips to Make Your Apartment an Eco Friendly, Sustainable, Green Paradise! sustainable apartment living pyrmont

    Renting an apartment should not make you feel exempt from doing your part for the environment and saving yourself some money while you are at it. It may seem like most of the world is talking about “Going Green” but they are talking about their own homes and their cars. What about the apartment dwellers among us? Luckily, if you take a look at the basics of green living, you will find that there are many simple things that anyone can do no matter where you live or who owns it. You don’t need any special technology or newfangled gadget, just plain common sense and a little effort.

    1. Choose your apartment well. Consider sharing an apartment with someone like minded and work together on being as eco friendly as you can. Take into consideration the location of your apartment and make it as convenient to your job and places that you go on a regular basis, so that you can walk or ride a bike to. The environment will love you and so will your heart with all the exercise you will get. Try to choose a place where you feel comfortable talking to your landlord about possibly working together to make improvements like installing low flow toilets, for instance.
    2. There are many little things that you can do right off the bat to make your apartment as energy efficient as possible. Such as putting weather stripping on your doors and windows can have a significant impact on your energy bills. Apply plastic glazing to windows to increase heat retention. Installing sun shielding shades and blinds are another great way to control the light in your room without using electricity to do it and will also help maintain the temperature in your home so you can use your air and heat less.
    3. Better late than never, many of the electric suppliers out there are finally beginning to offer green power options. By doing some research on the internet, you can quickly find out if there are any reasonable options in your area and considering switching to one of them.
    4. Get rid of old incandescent light bulbs. Replace them with compact fluorescents and you will save a sizable amount of energy and money over time. Not to mention they will help remove greenhouse gases from the air.
    5. Turn off the lights. Turn off the television. Shut the refrigerator door. Many of us tend to get into the habit of turning the lights or television on the moment we step into a room. Not that we necessarily need the lights or plan on watching television, but just because it has become an engrained habit to do it. Throw on all the lights and turn on the TV so we have some noise. Try to go without the noise for awhile and you might be amazed at how calming it is for your mind. You may think that you will go crazy without the noise but after a bit you will sense your mind and thoughts slowing down without all the marketing and advertising whoopla being pushed into your thoughts.environment friendly compact fluorescentsenergy efficiency rating
    6. Saving water is becoming even more crucial these days. Saving water usually results in saving energy also, so it is one of the best ways to go green in your apartment. It would be nice if you could install the latest in low-flush toilets but it may not be such a big deal to your landlord. Instead, fill a milk jug with stones and place it in your toilet tank to displace water and use less to fill the tank. There are other smaller things that you can do by yourself if you have the landlord’s permission like installing water-efficient faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads on your taps. Most importantly is watching your own behaviour. Spend less time in the shower, turn the water off while you are actually brushing your teeth, don’t use hot water for your laundry. Cold water works just as well and only run your washing machine and dishwasher with a full load.
    7. Grow your own food. Ok, I know what you are thinking, how can I grow my own food in an apartment? With a couple of window boxes or better yet, a small porch or balcony area you will be amazed at how much food can be grown in various containers. If nothing else, you can at least grow your own herbs to use in your food and as natural first aid remedies.
    8. Look for reduced packaging. Lots of companies are realizing the need to protect the environment and are using less packaging materials on their products. The less packaging used means less garbage filling up our landfills.
    9. Try not to use plastic bags. Plastic bags are used so carelessly in society and they continue to be one of the worst things for the environment. People have hoards of these things collected in their garages and storage bins that will never get used and will eventually end up dumped somewhere. At the very least, reuse them as much as possible. They are great to use as garbage bags for small garbage cans or to take your lunch to work with you.
    10. If you still like to read the old fashioned newspaper instead of following the news on television, radio or internet, reuse them. When you are done with it, use it as extra padding in gifts or things you are mailing. And don’t forget newspapers provide a streak-free shine on all your windows and mirrors including your cars. A little bit of watered down vinegar in a spray bottle and your old newspapers can beat the pants off of Windex any bagswater saving
    11. Old t-shirts and pyjamas make excellent bedding for dogs and cats. Instead of spending money at the pet store, use your old clothes until they get too dirty and then throw them away. Recycle your used cat litter when you clean out the litter box by putting it in the bottom of plant containers to aid in drainage and get the added benefit of natural fertiliser.
    12. Light your home with alternatives that don’t require electricity like candles. No need for expensive candles or fancy holders. Some of the most interesting pieces are made out of dollar store candles and empty bottles. Use old collectible bottles like old Coke bottles or wine bottles to make memories that light up your room with a cozy glow.
    13. Shop at thrift stores and consignment shops before buying new products and clothes. Many times you can find everything you need and do the environment a favour at the same time by reusing the items instead of just throwing them in the trash.
    14. Switch to non-toxic cleaners and detergents. While the grocery stores have also finally jumped on the bandwagon and figured out they were losing out on a huge niche market that was not going away, the people that make those cleaning products have very little regulations to force them to disclose dangerous ingredients. So, while words like “organic,” “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly” is everywhere companies do not have to list dangerous ingredients unless the effects appear immediately after improper use. Since World War II, about 75,000 chemicals have been put on the market, but less than 5 percent of them have been tested for health or environmental side effects. Use vinegar to clean windows and toilet bowl or baking soda on your counter tops. There are a million alternatives to harmful cleaning chemicals.
    15. Add some houseplants to your apartment. Just two plants per hundred square feet in your apartment spread out over the rooms will clean out toxins in the air better than any air freshener or disinfectant spray will.
    16. If your apartment or your plants have bugs, soak citrus rind in water for a few days. Pour the water into a pump bottle and spray on plants, indoors and out. Or, you can make a mixture of 1 tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap and 1 cup of cooking oil. Mix about 3 tablespoons of this concentrate with a quart of water in a pump bottle and spray on plants. Include peppermint with your herb garden and it will help repel ants and mice.urban-balcony pyrmont_apartment plantseco friendly cleaning products
    17. Stop using your central heat and air 24/7. Open the doors and windows and let nature in. Breathe some fresh air. Let some sunshine in and get a little bit closer to nature while saving your self some money and saving the Earth’s precious resources. By lowering your thermostat one degree in the winter and raising it one degree in the winter, you can reduce your energy costs by almost five percent.
    18. Make sure that you check and replace your air conditioning filter as often as it needs to be. This also applies to any other appliance that you use in your home that has a filter. Any appliance that has a filter will run cleaner and use less energy if the filter is replaced on a regular basis.
    19. Quit smoking. Ok, maybe this is a given but so many people still have this life threatening habit and it ends up affecting other people. Second-hand smoke is a major indoor air pollutant and health hazard. If you have to smoke and continue to harm your own health, at least do it outside so you don’t force your visitors to be exposed to this pollution you choose to be around.
    20. Look for different kinds of furniture with minimal processing. Most furniture contains resins and varnishes that are just more chemicals that you are bringing into your home. If you spend a little extra time and money to find organic bedding, towels, drapes and clothing not only are you eliminating the toxins that you are exposing yourself to everyday, you’re giving your immune system a break and giving your body a chance to detoxify and rejuvenate while you are sleeping and relaxing.
    21. Buying as much organic food and products that you can from your local suppliers will only increase the demand for more of these types of businesses and products which will result in even more savings when the supply increases to meet the demand.
    22. The idea of kitchen composting, especially in an apartment, may just sound a little too disgusting to make it worth it. But with new products out there on the market it is actually quite easy to do and not even a little bit gross. A stainless steel kitchen composter makes saving table scraps easy and completely odorless. They usually are made with a carbon filter in the lid that keeps any smells contained while closed. Use this compost on your houseplants and your herbs.
    23. Make sure that your appliances like your refrigerator is not only an energy efficient model, but that you maintain it the best you can. This may mean having a repairman out once a year or so to make sure it is cooling properly but it is worth the expensive once a year by saving all year on your energy bills not to mention saving yourself from the dreaded blow out when you have a break down and lose a freezer full of food.
    24. Recycle your paper. If you print a lot of materials you may end up throwing away a great deal of paper that has only been used on one side. Save them up, flip them over and cut them in half or in fourths and you have lots of scrap paper to use for notes or grocery lists.
    25. Avoid volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are a wide range of carbon-based molecules used in a wide range of products. Under normal conditions, they vaporize and enter the air where they combine with other airborne compounds to form ozone. They can be introduced via paint, carpets, furnishings, and cleaning agents. Water-based glues, adhesives, finishes, and soy-based foams used in furniture will help keep VOC levels to a minimum in furnishings and compostorganic food

    The time to act is now, not later. If we keep shirking our responsibilities, there will be nothing left to meet the needs of future generations. We must begin to live a sustainable lifestyle and not continue to jeopardise the abilities of our future generations. By each of us taking responsibility for our own actions, a huge impact could be made very quickly on the fate of our planet and our children and grandchildren.

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    Mountain lion snatches dog from owners' bedroom

    A mountain lion slunk into the master bedroom of an Idledale home early Monday, snatched a yellow Labrador retriever and vanished.

    Officers are hunting the mountain lion and have set a trap, said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

    "A lion that will brazenly go into someone's bedroom . . . we need to be careful of," Churchill said.

    The dog's body was found near the property.

    Churchill said the residents had left open the French doors to their bedroom, apparently to cool the house, and didn't have screens.

    There were dogs sleeping in the bedroom when the mountain lion entered between 4 and 4:30 a.m.

    Idledale, between Morrison and Evergreen along Bear Creek, "is definitely in lion country," Churchill said. "It's not unheard of for unattended or easy-to-get-to pets to be taken by mountain lions in areas from Boulder to Evergreen."

    Mountain lions are known to partially eat their kill and then cache it for later meals by covering it with leaves and pine needles, Churchill said.

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    How To Live Without Gas

    The Segway, that marvel of two-wheeled balance and electric mobility, may someday solve America's dependence on gas-powered engines. But first, it will have to solve the suburbs.

    That was the lesson of my short-lived experiment in gas-free living, an ill-fated attempt to explore the latest in electric tech as an alternative to $4-a-gallon gas.

    As pump prices rise and the buzz around plug-in alternatives grows, I vowed to leave behind my privileged public transit lifestyle in New York City and spend three days gasoline-free where it meant something: In my family's hometown suburbs of Durham, N.C.--the depths of car-centric, Nascar-loving America.

    In Pictures: Tech Tips For Cutting Your Gas Bill

    The Segway, I had thought, would be my secret weapon in the struggle against the pump-powered lifestyle. According to the company, rising gas prices have driven Segway sales up by more than 50% last quarter, compared with the same period a year ago. "Never fill up again," Segway's marketing materials suggest optimistically.

    But I found that gliding my Segway around the suburbs is not the breezy experience the slogan implies. On my first trip, I had successfully ridden about six miles to pick up a DVD when I reached the inevitable: a long stretch of sidewalk-less road. I edged onto the asphalt.

    Rain began to drip through my borrowed bike helmet. Cars whizzed by at 45 miles an hour, honking at the two-foot-wide biped awkwardly blocking their lane. I tried leaning forward to accelerate beyond the Segway's 12.5 mph maximum, and the machine responded by lurching its foot platform back--a not-so-subtle way of telling me to slow down.

    Instead, I leaned in farther in a panicked attempt to find the nearest sidewalk and escape the internal-combustion engines threatening to crush me from behind. By the time I reached safety, my Segway seemed ready to chuck me off like a spooked horse, and I felt less like a green-tech revolutionary than a very dangerous idiot.

    I didn't give up. On my second day, I steeled myself and tried riding the Segway to a friend's house located just 10 minutes away by car. I ended up on a 55 mph backwoods road, trucks careening just inches from my Segway's wide wheelbase. With my organs in a knot, I gave up and called my brother to pick me up in his Prius.

    To be fair, Segway's two-wheeled wonders were never intended for this kind of reckless jackassery, even in the name of American progress. Both the vehicle's manufacturers and the helpful folks at Triangle Segway, a dealer in Raleigh that loaned me the machine, had warned against straying from low-speed roads and sidewalks.

    Most states prohibit riding Segways on any street with a speed limit above 25 mph, and Bedford, N.H.-based Segway inventor Dean Kamen himself has long suggested his device would solve the "last mile" problem, bringing riders the final leg of their trips once public transit had already hauled them close to their destinations.

    But that doesn't change the notion that the Segway simply isn't built for a suburban lifestyle--the one lived by the large majority of Americans. At best, it's an approximately $5,000 replacement for either walking or biking--two activities that, for most suburbanites, have little to do with getting from A to B.

    Luckily, there are other options for suburban petrophobes. Santa Monica, Calif.-based Miles Electric Vehicles builds a fully electric car it calls the ZX40S, which runs up to 25 mph, can travel as much as 60 miles without a charge (compared to the Segway's 24 mile limit) and costs around $19,000.

    Another small plug-in auto, known as the ZENN (for "Zero Emissions, No Noise"), is built by Toronto-based ZENN Motor and offers similarly modest speed and range for $16,000.

    But ZENN Chief Executive Ian Clifford admits that current electric cars are still a "niche product," and that his company has sold just 350 of the current model. The main snag: because of their low speeds, today's electric cars are generally illegal on any street with posted speeds above 35 mph, making them only marginally more useful than a Segway in treacherous suburbia.

    Better offerings are on the way. Miles is working on a high-speed sedan priced between $35,000 and $39,000 that can travel 80-plus mph and go 250 miles on a single charge, making it a real contender for the gas-powered standby.

    ZENN is building a highway-ready plug-in with equal power and endurance that it hopes to sell by late 2009. Clifford says it will be priced competitively with gas-powered cars, and will be able to fully charge its battery in just five minutes.

    "At that point, there's no reason why anyone would drive a vehicle that burns gas," says Clifford. "Once you've got the energy storage that enables a highway-capable vehicle, can recharge in minutes--not hours--and is cost-competitive with internal combustion, you've cracked the code."

    For commuters who can't wait till 2009 to zip past gas stations, the most practical solution may be one that's been zooming around Europe and Asia for years: an electric bicycle. One model is emerging in the U.S. this August from San Francisco-based Ultra Motor.

    Known as the A2B, it can hit 20 mph unassisted and travels up to 43 miles on a charge. Its design is far thinner than a Segway's for negotiating traffic, and it costs about half as much: around $2,500.

    Unlike electric cars, the A2B can travel legally on any road where bicycles are permitted. "It's basically a bike on steroids--in a good way," says chief executive Chris Deyo.

    Of course, riding an electric bike, like riding today's electric cars, is an adventure not suited to the Lexus set. Like the Segway, electric bicycles still leave riders vulnerable to the gas-powered masses of steel and glass that fly by on high-speed roads, and require wearing a helmet--a deal breaker for many style-conscious commuters.

    So how to find instant gasoline-free gratification? The simplest way may be for suburbanites to leave the world of highways and strip malls--a culture that was practically designed by and for the automobile industry--and move to the city.

    That, it turns out, is where green-tech wonders like the Segway work best--and where the subway works even better.

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