Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spaceship Could Fly Faster Than Light

By Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer

Travel by bubble might seem more appropriate for witches in Oz, but two physicists suggest that a future spaceship could fold a space-time bubble around itself to travel faster than the speed of light.

We're talking about the very distant future, of course.

The idea involves manipulating dark energy – the mysterious force behind the universe's ongoing expansion – to propel a spaceship forward without breaking the laws of physics.

"Think of it like a surfer riding a wave," said Gerald Cleaver, a physicist at Baylor University. "The ship would be pushed by the spatial bubble and the bubble would be traveling faster than the speed of light."

In theory, the universe grew faster than the speed of light for a very short time after the Big Bang, driven by the dark energy that represents about 74 percent of the total mass-energy budget in the universe. Dark matter constitutes 22 percent of the budget, and normal matter (stars, planets and everything you see) makes up the remaining 4 percent or so.

Strange as it sounds, current evidence supports the notion that the fabric of space-time can expand faster than the speed of light, because the reality in which light travels is itself expanding.

Cleaver and Richard Obousy, a Baylor graduate student, tapped the latest idea in string theory to devise how to manipulate dark energy and accelerate a spaceship. Their notion is based on the Alcubierre drive, which proposes expanding space-time behind the spaceship while also shrinking space-time in front.

String theorists had believed that a total of 10 dimensions exist, including height, width, length and time. The other six dimensions exist largely as unknowns, but everything is based on hypothetical one-dimensional strings. A newer theory, called M-theory, suggests that those strings all vibrate in yet another dimension.

Manipulating that additional dimension would alter dark energy in terms of height, width, and length, Cleaver and Obousy theorize. Such a capability would permit the altering of space-time for a spaceship, taking advantage of dark energy's effect on the universe.

"The dark energy is simultaneously decreased just in front of the ship to decrease (and bring to a stop) the expansion rate of the universe in front of the ship," Cleaver told "If the dark energy can be made negative directly in front of the ship, then space in front of the ship would locally contract."

This loophole means that the spaceship would not conflict with Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which states that objects accelerating to the speed of light require an infinite amount of energy.

However, the Baylor physicists estimate that manipulating dark energy through the extra dimension requires energy equivalent to the converting the entire mass of Jupiter into pure energy — enough to move a ship measuring roughly 33 feet (10 meters) by 33 feet by 33 feet.

"That is an enormous amount of energy," Cleaver said. "We are still a very long ways off before we could create something to harness that type of energy."

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'Beer goggles' are real - it's official

THE next time you hear someone blaming "beer goggles" for their behaviour, you may have to believe them. People really do appear more attractive when our perceptions are changed by drinking alcohol.

There have been few previous attempts to investigate the idea that people seem to find others more attractive when drunk. In 2003, psychologists at the University of Glasgow, UK, published a study in which they asked heterosexual students in campus bars and cafés whether they had been drinking, and then got them to rate photos of people for attractiveness. While the results supported the beer goggles theory, another explanation is that regular drinkers tend to have personality traits that mean they find people more attractive, whether or not they are under the influence of alcohol at the time.

To resolve the issue, a team of researchers led by Marcus Munafò at the University of Bristol in the UK conducted a controlled experiment. They randomly assigned 84 heterosexal students to consume either a non-alcoholic lime-flavoured drink or an alcoholic beverage with a similar flavour. The exact amount of alcohol varied according to the individual but was designed to have an effect equivalent to someone weighing 70 kilograms drinking 250 millitres of wine - enough to make some students tipsy. After 15 minutes, the students were shown pictures of people their own age, from both sexes.

Both men and women who had consumed alcohol rated the faces as being more attractive than did the controls (Alcohol and Alcoholism, DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agn065). Surprisingly, the effect was not limited to the opposite sex - volunteers who had drunk alcohol also rated people from their own sex as more attractive.

This contrasts with the Glaswegian team's results, where there was only an effect when men were looking at pictures of women, and vice versa. One explanation, says Munafò, is that alcohol-boosted perceptions of attractiveness tend to become focused on potential sexual partners in environments conducive to sexual encounters. He aims to repeat the experiment after showing students a video of people flirting in a bar, to provide some appropriate social cues.

Munafò also intends to study how the effect varies with the amount of alcohol consumed - although ethical constraints rule out exploring doses at which our ability to focus on a face breaks down. "We can look at smaller doses and we can look at slightly higher doses," he says.

As well as changing perceptions of attractiveness, alcohol also encourages us to engage in behaviour we would otherwise avoid. In a study by Robert Leeman of Yale University students reported they were more likely to engage in risky sexual acts after drinking - which could be due to alcohol lowering our inhibitions through a direct effect on the brain or by providing a convenient excuse for such behaviour.

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CERN to Start Up the Large Hadron Collider. Now Here's How It Plans to Stop It

By Sally Adee

13 August 2008—This week, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)—the world’s most powerful particle accelerator—began test runs, sending a stream of protons around a quarter of its 27-kilometer circumference. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN), in Geneva, Switzerland, where the LHC is housed, says the tests are part of the preparations for the machine’s projected 10 September start-up date.

The experiment will hurtle two hair-thin beams of hundreds of trillions of protons around a ring-shaped accelerator at 99.99 percent the speed of light, knocking the beams together 11 000 times each second. According to CERN LHC accelerator physicist Rüdiger Schmidt, who is in charge of machine protection systems, each unimpeded beam is capable of melting a 500-kilogram block of copper.

Even the slightest malfunction could lead to a catastrophic accident, so CERN has spent nearly two decades devising an interlocking system of fail-safes. One of these is a method of safely purging a proton beam, which has a higher chance of becoming unstable the longer it is whipped around the circular accelerator. Every 10 hours the accelerator gets fresh beams. But first the old ones are dumped into specially designed absorbers called beam dump blocks.

IMAGE: CERN, courtesy of L. Bruno and Rudiger Schmidt

WHAT A DUMP: The 8 meter graphite dump block weighs about 10 tons. The shielding weighs about 1000 tons.

The two beam dump blocks are located at the ends of two straight tunnels tangentially diverging from what CERN scientists refer to as Point 6 on the circular accelerator. At 15 strategically located positions around the underground accelerator tunnel, so-called kicker magnets deflect the speeding beams out of their opposing circular paths and into these tunnels.

Having been kicked out of its circular racetrack, a newly freed beam is now steered via “septum” magnets toward its beam dump. No longer constrained by the bending magnets inside the LHC tunnel, the beam travels in a straight line down the 700-meter tunnel.


HOT-E: Because the beam's intensity is distributed into the beam dump block in a pattern instead of being focused in one spot, the graphite block's maximum temperature rise is only about 750 C.

Next, the 0.2-millimeter proton beam passes through 10 dilution magnets, which cause the protons to fan out until the beam has thickened to a lower-intensity diameter of 1.5 mm.

Now fattened to the width of a human hair, the beam continues down the tunnel to the beam-dump cavern. Inside waits a cylindrical block of a dense, absorptive graphite composite that is 8 meters long and 0.7 meters in diameter.

The 10-ton graphite cylinder is encased in 1000 metric tons of steel and concrete. Why not just make the whole thing out of lead or another heavy metal? It turns out that graphite is the only material whose low density and high melting point can resist the ravages of the proton beam. In experiments, researchers found that an 86-microsecond exposure of the beam would bore a hole 40 meters into a block of copper.

Even though the beam’s damage potential has now been reduced by its increased girth, the beam would still handily eat through the graphite composite cylinder. So instead of letting it burn a single 1.5-mm-wide hole into the cylinder, CERN engineers designed the system to “scan” the beam onto the face of the cylinder, much as the electron beam is scanned in a cathode-ray-tube television screen. To ensure that the intense beam never lingers too long in one place, it is scanned as a pattern—which vaguely resembles the letter e—onto the cylinder.

Though the graphite beam dump becomes very hot (about 750 °C), it does not melt. In fact, after it cools down it can be reused a few hours later.

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Scientists Find Ways to Cloak 3D Materials

The bottom two details are images taken by scanning electronic microscopes of the first of the two new cloaking materials. This one features silver nanowires, closely spaced to give the material a negative index of refraction for visible light. (Source: Jie Yao, UC Berkeley)

On the left is the conceptual rendered "fishnet" design for the second cloaking material. The actual produced material is seen on the right in an electron microscope picture. It is capable of bending light backwards. (Source: Jason Valentine, UC Berkeley)
New invisibility cloak works toward fulfilling long-time dreams of military, ninjas, fantasy fans alike

DailyTech has written several updates on "cloaking" technology of different kinds. The first reports involved a Russian professor who devised a new method of invisibility by redirecting light around objects. Later, U.S. and British researchers were able to use similar techniques to cloak a metal cylinder from microwaves. Next, University of Maryland reported successfully cloaking small 2D objects from all light waves. A recent overview on the topic of cloaking provided more insight.

Now a new breakthrough in the art of illusion has been achieved. Researchers at the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at the University of California, Berkeley have for the first time found a way to cloak 3D materials. They did this with not only one, but with two different materials.

One approach uses a nano-fishnet of metal layers. The other uses nanoscale silver wires. Both approaches make what is known as "metamaterials" -- special manmade materials with properties not seen in nature. These materials have a negative refraction index, meaning they can bend light around them.

The materials were developed by two separate teams, both under the leadership of Xiang Zhang. One team will be reporting its findings in the prestigious Nature journal, while the other will report in the journal Science.

Both materials currently can only work with limited portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Researcher Jason Valentine who helped with the projects states, "We are not actually cloaking anything. I don't think we have to worry about invisible people walking around any time soon. To be honest, we are just at the beginning of doing anything like that."

He explains the typical positive index of refraction saying, "In naturally occurring material, the index of refraction, a measure of how light bends in a medium, is positive. When you see a fish in the water, the fish will appear to be in front of the position it really is. Or if you put a stick in the water, the stick seems to bend away from you."

What would a negative index of refraction look like? Mr. Valentine explains, "Instead of the fish appearing to be slightly ahead of where it is in the water, it would actually appear to be above the water's surface. It's kind of weird."

The key to achieving such strange mechanics is to develop structures smaller than the targeted wavelength of light. Mr. Valentine's team targeted the near the visible spectrum, in a region used in fiber optics. Past methods have focused on using single-atom layers, but these have proven too hard to work with. The new method from Mr. Valentine's team has taken those designs and thickened them, by using multiple layers with nanoholes punched in them.

He explains, "What we have done is taken that material and made it much thicker. We call it a fishnet."

The other team used an oxide template to grow silver nanowires inside porous aluminum oxide. The spacing between the wires was smaller than the wavelength of visible light. This device works in the visible spectrum, refracting light.

Despite his belief that cloaking is "not quite there", Mr. Valentine says both technologies could soon allow for a cloak of invisibility. He explains, "However, cloaking may be something that this material could be used for in the future. You'd have to wrap whatever you wanted to cloak in the material. It would just send light around. By sending light around the object that is to be cloaked, you don't see it."

Professor Zhang is similarly enthusiastic, stating, "What makes both these materials stand out is that they are able to function in a broad spectrum of optical wavelengths with lower energy loss. We've also opened up a new approach to developing metamaterials by moving away from previous designs that were based upon the physics of resonance. Previous metamaterials in the optical range would need to vibrate at certain frequencies to achieve negative refraction, leading to strong energy absorption. Resonance is not a factor in both the nanowire and fishnet metamaterials."

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Well, this one is original, I’ll give it that…

I got an interesting email from French BABloggee Pierre Joliveau. His father worked on some nuclear tests in French Polynesia back in the 1950s, and took some amazing photographs of the explosions.

Julian pointed this one out in particular:

It’s hard to spot the pareidolia, but he helpfully highlighted it:

Picture of Jesus in hydrogen bomb blast

Now isn’t it interesting that people went quite nuts over the face of Satan in the cloud of smoke from the WTC, but no one seems to have noticed this one? And you know what? This one is at least as good as the last few examples I’ve posted.

You should look at the other pictures in that set linked above, too. There is something eerie and beautiful and horrifying in those pictures. If you’ve ever watched Trinity and Beyond (also called The Atomic Bomb Movie) then you know what I mean.

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Invisibility materials can speed up web ten fold

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

A new kind of light-warping material could boost the speed of the internet at least ten fold by, strangely enough, slowing bits of it down.
The possibility is raised by the development by a Californian team of two artificial composite materials, called metamaterials, which attracted a huge amount of publicity for the way they could pave the way to invisibility cloaks.

But a more direct application of these materials could be in fibre optic networks where applying the brakes to light could enable engineers to route information much more efficiently and quickly than conventional electronics.

And these metamaterials could also mark an advance in quantum computing, named after the strange quantum properties of matter at the atomic level, that could enhance the power of computers millions of times beyond anything available today.

Fibre optic communications have vast capacities because each frequency of light sent bouncing down an optical fibre can carry a separate channel of information.

At major interconnection points, where billions of parcels of information from myriad phone calls arrive simultaneously, these metamaterials could be used to slow, divert and allow through information, working in the same way as traffic congestion calming schemes do on motorways, when a reduction in the speed limit can lead to a swifter overall flow of traffic.

The ability to slow the light to separate these channels could be a tremendous force for telecommunications because conventional electronics that do this cap the possible speed of the fibre optic cable, comments Dr Chris Stevens from the department of engineering sciences at the University of Oxford.

While light can operate at a frequency of around one terahertz, one million million cycles per second, conventional electronics struggle to cope with more than a few gigahertz, that is a few thousand million cycles per second.

Using metamaterials that can cope with these higher frequenices could regulate the flow of information through the web to ensure that too much information does not arrive simultaneously. giving the web a higher information capacity.

They could also store light, which would enable much higher amounts to be handled than electronic chips, and without the efficiency draining steps of having to convert information stored on particles of light (photons) to that stored with electricity (electrons).

Thus these metamaterials represent a revolution in broadband computing and memory storage.

"In general, metamaterials can be designed for many interesting applications beyond this work, such as slow light in optical communications", the Telegraph is told by Prof Xiang Zhang, the University of California researcher who announces two new metamaterials to manipulate light, one today in the journal Nature and a second in tomorrow's issue of Science.

However, he stresses that " our work at this point is concentrated on manipulating light beams at a small scale and bending them at our desire which enables technologies for imaging at molecular scale and building even smaller computer circuits."

Prof Ortwin Hess of the University of Surrey has done theoretical work to show how light can be slowed down "in a controlled way" so that a beam of sunlight can travel at a leisurely stroll, be brought close to a standstill, and thus even stored for later use in the form of a rainbow in a metamaterial.

"I am excited about the realization of the material by the Berkeley team since this is precisely the kind of material with very much the right properties that we have assumed in our earlier work."

His studies predict an increase in operating capacity of 1,000 per cent over the use of conventional electronics by exploiting light's broad spectrum to lay down lots of different information simultaneously in the first "optical capacitor."

This ability to store light will conceivably provide a powerful new tool to control optical information, even harness the quantum properties of atoms, and so exploit the possibilities of quantum computers that, in theory, will be able solve problems millions of times faster than current machines.

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Lab makes renewable diesel fuel from E. coli poop

By Marsha Walton

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, California -- Fossil fuels that keep our planet running -- oil, natural gas and coal -- were created from the decomposition of plants, plankton and other organic material over millions of years.

A California lab has developed genetically altered bacteria that eat sugars and excrete a form of diesel oil.

A California lab has developed genetically altered bacteria that eat sugars and excrete a form of diesel oil.

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Today, scientists all over the globe are working to create fuels with the same properties but without that pesky 100 million-year wait. And "renewable petroleum" is now a reality, on a small scale, in some laboratories.

The biotech company LS9 Inc. is using single-celled bacteria to create an oil equivalent. These petroleum "production facilities" are so small, you can see them only under a microscope.

"We started in my garage two years ago, and we're producing barrels today, so things are moving pretty quickly," said biochemist Stephen del Cardayre, LS9 vice president of research and development.

How does it work? A special type of genetically altered bacteria are fed plant material: basically, any type of sugar. They digest it and excrete the equivalent of diesel fuel.

Humans have used bacteria and yeast for centuries to do similar work, creating beer, moonshine and, more recently, ethanol. But scientists' recent strides in genetic engineering now allow them to control the end product.

"So these are bacteria that have been engineered to produce oil," del Cardayre said. "They started off like regular lab bacteria that didn't produce oil, but we took genes from nature, we engineered them a bit [and] put them into this organism so that we can convert sugar to oil."

The company is focusing on diesel fuel, but the microbes can be "programmed" to make gasoline or jet fuel.

The bacteria used are a harmless form of E. coli. And the feedstock, or food for the microbes, can be any type of agricultural product, from sugar cane to waste such as wheat straw and wood chips. Choosing plants with no food value sidesteps one of the biggest criticisms of another synthetic fuel, corn ethanol, because critics say that corn should be used as food, not fuel.

It takes a lot of microbe poop to fill a gas tank, however. Biofuel experts say that processes like those used at LS9 are scientifically viable but that there's still a long way to go before they can address global energy needs.

"Scalability is really the critical issue," said Robert McCormick, principal engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado. "If you've got something that you can make work in a test tube, that's good, but you've got to be able to make it work on a very large scale to have an impact on our petroleum imports."

But del Cardayre says his product has other benefits over traditional fossil fuels.

"What we've done is make the same molecules from renewable sources, so that it can go into the existing infrastructure, be made domestically and in an environmentally friendly way. That's the goal," he said.

The LS9 product does not have the cancer-causing benzene that is in other fossil fuels and has far less sulfur, he said.

LS9 President Bob Walsh says that using existing petroleum pipelines is crucial. Ethanol, for example, requires its own distribution system because it can corrode oil pipelines.

"You can't put ethanol in a pipeline, [and] even your car needs some adjustments to it; whereas the product we're making is going into the existing system, and that's a big difference," he said.

LS9 expects to be in large-scale commercial production in three or four years. But del Cardayre is the first to admit that microscopic oil fields are not a silver bullet for the world's energy woes.

"I doubt we're going to completely eliminate our dependence on oil, but we'll certainly be able to supplement the amount of oil we need in the short term," he said.

Although energy researchers are spending tens of millions of dollars in venture capital, McCormick believes that "just making more" is not enough.

"I think that the answer to reducing our petroleum-import problem and reducing the carbon emissions from transportation is really threefold," he said. "It involves replacement fuels like biofuels, it involves using much more efficient vehicles than we use today, and it involves driving less."

One thing that McCormick and del Cardayre agree on is that energy research is a great place to be these days if you are a scientist.

"The fun of the challenge from the science perspective is that you do have farmers and biologists and entomologists, and biochemists and chemical engineers, and process engineers and business people and investors all working to solve this, and it ranges anywhere from a political issue to a technical issue," del Cardayre said.

"Honestly, I couldn't think of a more exciting thing to work on as a scientist or technologist right now," said McCormick, a chemical engineer. "Part of the excitement comes from the fact that this is such a complex problem, it can't be solved by a farmer or an ag expert, and it can't be solved by a chemical engineer or a chemist.

"We all have to pool our various talents and training and try to come up with a whole new system of producing energy," he said. "And the current energy price environment has made literally everyone interested in replacements for petroleum."

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Bohm's bummed: wave theory needs 10,000x light speed to work

By Chris Lee

One of the most controversial parts of modern physics is what it tells us about philosophy. Both quantum mechanics and special relativity have much to say on the limits of what can be casually related, the degree to which reality is deterministic, how local (or non-local) the universe is, and even whether some forms of realism are scientifically valid. Many people find the conclusions of quantum mechanics unpalatable and have proposed alternatives, such as Bohm's pilot wave quantum mechanics, to match their personal preference for reality. However, most of these proposals require that there is some privileged view of the universe that keeps both special relativity and their particular ideas in agreement. Researchers have now tested the mechanism that would have to be behind this agreement, and found it to be extremely unlikely.

If you are experiencing déjà vu about now, you are not alone—we have been here before. In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was considerable debate about the speed of light. Maxwell's then-new theory of electromagnetism had predicted the speed of light. However, speed is always measured between two objects, so the natural question was what the predicted speed of light measured relative to? The question seemed to imply that there was some absolute reference from which everything could be measured. Experiments showed that this frame of reference was extremely unlikely, and it took Einstein to suggest that perhaps our ideas about relativity should be re-thought.

Now, here we are just over 100 years later, and the same question has returned, albeit in a slightly different form. Quantum mechanics has a property called entanglement that tells us that the states of two particles can be correlated. Furthermore, if we separate the correlated particles by an arbitrary distance and then do something to one particle, our actions will be instantaneously reflected in changes to the measured properties of the other particle. Although this sounds like it can be used for information transfer, it cannot, so special relativity is safe.

If, like Bohm, you happen to dislike the nondeterminism inherent in quantum mechanics, this is a problem because the two particles must communicate. He rewrote quantum mechanics so that a pilot wave kept the two particles entangled and everything remained deterministic. However, to do this and not violate special relativity, a privileged way to observe the universe, called a frame, is required. These frames should always be detectable, because the Earth is in motion. Unless the special frame is both centered on, and rotating with, the Earth, the frame could always be detected by determining how the movement of the Earth changes experimental results.

This is exactly what a group of Swiss scientists have now done. From their Geneva location, they created entangled pairs of photons. These photons were sent down optical fibers to two villages separated by 18km in an approximately east-west direction. At each end, the single photon was offered two choices—a long path and a short path to a photodetector. If both photons took the same choice, then the detectors in each village would click at the same time.

To observe the entangled nature of the photons, the lengths of the paths in one village were changed slightly over time, so the timing of photon arrivals fluctuated periodically as the path lengths oscillated back and forth, creating interference fringes. The key to the experiment was measuring how deep the fringes are. If the correlations are not due to entanglement, there will be no, or very shallow, fringes. Fringes deeper than a certain threshold can only be due to entanglement.

The researchers reasoned that if there is a special frame through which the entangled particles keep track of each other, then at certain times of the day the fringes will vanish. This will occur when the surface of the Earth is at right angles to the special frame. So, they looked for periodic changes to the fringe visibility, but found that the fringe visibility is independent of the Earth's rotation. No matter what time of the day, the fringes were always too deep to be due to anything but entanglement.

One can always explain away these results by postulating that the speed of the proposed pilot wave is faster than light. Well, the researchers considered that as well. Their analysis shows that the pilot wave must travel at least 10,000 times faster than the speed of light to explain their results, a possibility they consider extremely unlikely.

It seems that there are always people who will argue for specialness. First there was the luminiferous aether, then the anthropic principle, and now an entanglement frame. With the possible exception of the anthropic principle (and I wouldn't put money on that surviving the next 50 years), none of these ideas survive for very long.

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Women Nobel Laureates

The Nobel Prize has been awarded to 34 women since 1901. One woman, Marie Curie, has been awarded the Nobel Prize two times, in 1903 (the Nobel Prize in Physics) and in 1911 (the Nobel Prize in Chemistry).

Spooky Physics: Signals Seem to Travel Faster Than Light

By Charles Q. Choi, Special to LiveScience

Strange events that Einstein himself called "spooky" might happen at least 10,000 times the speed of light, according to the latest attempt to understand them.

Atoms, electrons, and the rest of the infinitesimally tiny building blocks of the universe can behave rather bizarrely, going completely against the way life as we normally experience it. For example, objects can sometimes be said to exist in two or more places at the same time, or spin in opposite directions simultaneously.

One consequence of this murky realm of quantum physics is that objects can get linked together, such that what happens to one instantaneously has an effect on the other, a phenomenon dubbed "quantum entanglement." This holds true no matter how far apart these objects are from each other.

Einstein rebelled against the notion of quantum entanglement, derisively calling it "spooky action at a distance." One could instead argue that an entangled object releases an unknown particle or some other signal at high speeds to influence its partner, giving the illusion of a simultaneous reaction.

In the past, experiments have ruled out any suspects for such hidden signals from the realm of classical physics. Still, one exotic possibility remains — that such x-factors instead travel faster than the speed of light.

To investigate this possibility, scientists at Geneva in Switzerland began with entangled pairs of photons, or packets of light. These pairs were then split up and sent over fiber optic cables provided by Swisscom to stations at two Swiss villages some 11 miles (18 kilometers) apart from each other. The stations confirmed that each pair of photons had remained entangled — by analyzing one, scientists could predict aspects of its partner.

For any hidden signal to travel from one station to the other in just 300 trillionths of a second — the rapidity at which the stations could accurately detect the photons — any such x-factor had to go at least 10,000 times the speed of light.

As much as Einstein might have disliked the notion of quantum entanglement, he also revealed that signals could not get transmitted faster than light. Any faster-than-light "spooky action at a distance" is therefore implausible, said researcher Nicolas Gisin, a physicist at the University of Geneva. Instead, "what's fascinating here is that we see that nature is able to produce events that can manifest themselves at several locations," he said.

In a sense, these instantaneous events "seem to happen from outside space-time, in that it's not a story you can tell within space-time," Gisin told LiveScience. "This is something that an entire community of scientists is already studying very intensively."

Gisin and his colleagues detailed their findings in the August 14 issue of the journal Nature.

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A Memory-Erasing Chemical That Can Change Your Behavior

Memory is one of the main reasons why drug addicts who have gone sober suddenly find themselves jumping off the wagon. Environmental cues like visiting a place where you were high can make you remember the drug and weaken your resistance to taking it again. But now researchers have discovered a way to selectively erase "drug-associated memories" and make it easier for you to just say no to the needle, pill, or pipe. It all has to do with interrupting the brain's process of "reconsolidation," or memory retrieval.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge cut down on the drug-seeking behavior of cocaine-addicted rats by giving them a chemical that blocked NMDA-type receptors in the brain. First, they gave the rats a bunch of coke while flashing a light. Later, when they flashed the same light, they inspired the rats to look really frantically for drugs and engage in behaviors that had gotten them coke before. And yet when the scientists administered a chemical that blocked the rats' NMDA receptors, the rats who saw the flashing light didn't start trying to get drugs.

NMDA receptors are associated with learning and memory. Researchers speculate that interfering with them affects with memory retrieval, blocking or changing the memories significantly. According to the Society for Neuroscience:

Several NMDA receptor inhibitors are already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including the cough suppressant dextramethorphan and the Alzheimer's disease drug memantine.

"This is an example of hypothesis-driven basic research that can be readily translated to the treatment of cocaine addiction in humans," said Yavin Shaham, PhD, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an expert uninvolved in the study.

So drug addicts may be given the real-life equivalent of the memory-erasing technique we saw in The Manchurian Candidate. What I want to know is what exactly it feels like to have your memories tampered with so much that you no longer recall wanting to do a drug you've been addicted to. Do you literally forget taking the drug? Or do you just forget that it felt good?

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The Pill Makes Women Pick Bad Mates

By Jeanna Bryner, Senior Writer

Birth-control pills could screw up a woman's ability to sniff out a compatible mate, a new study finds.

While several factors can send a woman swooning, including big brains and brawn, body odor can be critical in the final decision, the researchers say. That's because beneath a woman's flowery fragrance or a guy's musk the body sends out aromatic molecules that indicate genetic compatibility.

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are involved in immune response and other functions, and the best mates are those that have different MHC smells than you. The new study reveals, however, that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors.

MHC genes churn out substances that tell the body whether a cell is a native or an invader. When individuals with different MHC genes mate, their offspring's immune systems can recognize a broader range of foreign cells, making them more fit.

Past studies have suggested couples with dissimilar MHC genes are more satisfied and more likely to be faithful to a mate. And the opposite is also true with matchng-MHC couples showing less satisfaction and more wandering eyes.

"Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems," said lead researcher Stewart Craig Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Newcastle in England, "but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

Sexy scents

The study involved about 100 women, aged 18 to 35, who chose which of six male body-odor samples they preferred. They were tested at the start of the study when none of the participants were taking contraceptive pills and three months later after 40 of the women had started taking the pill more than two months prior.

For the non-pill users, results didn't show a significant preference for similar or dissimilar MHC odors. When women started taking birth control, their odor preferences changed. These women were much more likely than non-pill users to prefer MHC-similar odors.

"The results showed that the preferences of women who began using the contraceptive pill shifted towards men with genetically similar odors," Roberts said.

Pregnant state

Based on the work by Claus Wedekind, a University of Lausanne researcher who preformed similar studies in the 1990s, Roberts suggests a likely reason for the pill's effect on a woman's odor preferences. The pill puts a woman's body into a hormonally pregnant state (the reason she doesn’t ovulate), and during that time there would be no reason to seek out a mate.

"When women are pregnant there's no selection pressure, evolutionarily speaking, for having a preference for genetically dissimilar odors," Roberts said. "And if there is any pressure at all it would be towards relatives, who would be more genetically similar, because the relatives would help those individuals rear the baby."

So the pill puts a woman's body into a post-mating state, even though she might be still in the game.

”The pill is in effect mirroring a natural shift but at an inappropriate time,” Roberts told LiveScience.

The results are detailed in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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Nanoantennas envisioned as possible replacement for solar cells

By Wolfgang Gruener

Jacksonville (FL) – Imagine the possibilities of harvesting waste heat and converting it into electricity. Computer processors could be the source of power for their own cooling devices and solar cells could become dramatically more efficient by leveraging energy that is not being used today. If everything goes right, nanoantennas could even replace solar cells one day, researchers believe.

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory believe that plastic sheets containing billions of nanoantennas that collect heat energy generated by the sun and other sources could dramatically improve the use of a type of energy we are all aware of, but have no use for so far – heat. According to research results that will be presented on August 13 at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2008 2nd International Conference on Energy, the sheets could one day be manufactured as lightweight "skins" that power everything from hybrid cars to iPods with higher efficiency than traditional solar cells.

While described by the authors of research as solar energy, the approach does not focus on collecting sunlight, but flexible nanoantenna arrays that capture abundant solar energy mid-infrared rays radiated by the Earth as heat after absorbing energy from the sun during the day. The clear advantage of this thought is that energy can be generated at all times and not just during times when sun light is available. The scientists said that infrared radiation is an especially rich energy source because it also is generated by industrial processes such as coal-fired plants.

The nanoantennas are tiny gold squares or spirals set in a specially treated form of polyethylene, a material used in plastic bags. While others have successfully invented antennas that collect energy from lower-frequency regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as microwaves, infrared rays have proven more elusive. Part of the reason is that materials' properties change drastically at high-frequency wavelengths.

The researchers said that they studied the behavior of various materials - including gold, manganese and copper - under infrared rays and used the resulting data to build computer models of nanoantennas. They found that with the right materials, shape and size, the simulated nanoantennas could harvest up to 92% of the energy at infrared wavelengths. If that in fact is true, a combination of solar cells and these nanoantennas could result in a raw energy efficiency of more than double of today’s high-end solar cell range, which is somewhere between 40% and 50% and mass-market solar cells that are just below 20%.

Starting with computer models, the team created real-life prototypes to test their computer models. They used conventional production methods to etch a silicon wafer with the nanoantenna pattern. The silicon-based nanoantennas matched the computer simulations, absorbing more than 80% of the energy over the intended wavelength range. Next, they used a stamp-and-repeat process to emboss the nanoantennas on thin sheets of plastic. While the plastic prototype is still being tested, initial experiments suggest that it also captures energy at the expected infrared wavelengths, the researchers said.

You know there is always a catch and this research result is no exception. While the energy can be harvested, the scientists have found no solution yet to convert the energy into electricity. According to the scientists, “more technological advances” are necessary to turn this vision into reality. They said that infrared rays create alternating currents in the nanoantennas that oscillate trillions of times per second, requiring a component called a rectifier to convert the alternating current to direct current and today's rectifiers can't handle such high frequencies. A nanoscale rectifier suited for this application in fact would need to be about 1,000 times smaller than current commercial devices and will require new manufacturing methods, according to the scientists.

Once these hurdles are overcome, the researchers believe that nanoantennas have the potential to be a cheaper, more efficient alternative to solar cells.

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How to Make 4 Alternative Fuels at Home: Goodbye, Big Oil!

By Erin Scottberg


EFuel100 MicroFueler
The EFuel100 MicroFueler home-brews ethanol by fermenting a mix of table sugar and nutrient-treated yeast in the system’s 250-gal. tank. The resulting fuel, which is 99.9 percent ethanol, can either be stored in the unit or pumped into a gas tank through the 50-ft. hose. It takes 10 to 14 pounds of sugar to produce 1 gal. of ethanol, so the cost of fuel is only as cheap as the feedstock. Available in late 2008.
Production: Up to 35 gal. per week
Price: $9995
Compatibility: Flex-fuel vehicles; conventional cars if mixed with 90 percent gasoline


FuelMeister II
Powered by a 120-volt outlet, the FuelMeister II mixes used vegetable oil with lye and methanol to produce biodiesel. The process takes about 7 hours from start to finish—but only 1 hour involves hands-on work, such as connecting hoses, pumping methane and testing the final product. The fuel meets ASTM biodiesel standards and, unlike straight vegetable oil, can be burned in regular diesel engines.
Production: 40 gal. in 5 hours
Price: $2995
Compatibility: Any diesel-powered vehicle


Envision Solar Lifeport
The modular Envision Solar Lifeport can support up to 32 polycrystalline 200-watt photovoltaic panels, which can produce up to 6.4 kilowatts of electricity. The panels are wired to an inverter, and then through your home’s electric meter. With this configuration the panels will power your home, but DIYers can mod the Lifeport into a solar-powered carport by running electricity back to an outlet in the 23 x 23–ft. structure.
Production: Up to 6.4 kw
Price: $45,199 for a 4.8-kw-rated kit
Compatibility: Plug-in hybrids and pure EVs


Honda Home Hydrogen Fueling Station
A mix of natural gas, air and water is catalyzed in the Honda Home Hydrogen Fueling Station reformer, creating a gas that is 40 to 50 percent hydrogen. A membrane filters out pure hydrogen gas, which is then compressed for fuel. There’s no storage tank, so your car slow-fills from the pump at night; it takes about 6 hours to reach max capacity—171 liters at 5000 psi. The catch: Hydrogen from gas isn’t emissions-free, and Honda says consumers still have a several-year wait.
Production: 50 standard liters per minute
Price: Not yet available
Compatibility: Hydrogen cars

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Device Creates Energy, Fuel, and Usable Compost from Trash

Oceans on the Precipice, ie, Totally Screwed

Shell rebuked for 'greenwash' over ad for polluting oil project

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell misled the public about the green credentials of a vastly polluting oil project in Canada, in an attempt to assure consumers of its good environmental record, a media watchdog will rule today.

In an embarrassing rejection of Shell's "greenwash", the Advertising Standards Authority said the company should not have used the word "sustainable" for its controversial tar sands project and a second scheme to build North America's biggest oil refinery. Both projects would lead to the emission of more greenhouse gases, the ASA said, ruling the advert had breached rules on substantiation, truthfulness and environmental claims.

Carried by the Financial Times on 1 February to accompany Shell's financial results, the company claimed: "We invest today's profits in tomorrow's solutions."

The advert continued: "A growing world needs more energy, but at the same time we need to find new ways of managing carbon emissions to limit climate change. Continued investment in technology is one of the key ways we are able to address this challenge, and continue to secure a profitable and sustainable future."

Shell explained it was harnessing its technical expertise "to unlock the potential of the vast Canadian oil sands deposits".

The WWF (formerly the Worldwide Fund for Nature) complained that extracting low-grade bitumen from sand was highly inefficient and destroyed huge tracts of virgin forest. In its defence, Shell maintained that new technology was reducing pollution from the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in Alberta in which it owns a 60 per cent stake.

Shell quoted a critical WWF report as rating its Muskeg River Mine one of the least damaging coal-tar sands projects because it sought to limit emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and organic compounds.

Making its ruling, the ASA quoted Canada's independent National Energy Board that oil sand developments had considerable social and economic impacts on water conservation, greenhouse gas emissions, land disturbance and waste management.

David Norman, the WWF's director of campaigns, said: "The ASA's decision to uphold WWF's complaint sends a strong signal to business and industry that greenwash is unacceptable."

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A 10% Drop in Gasoline Use Would do a lot of Good

On many occasions on this site I’ve stated that just slightly decreasing the amount of gasoline you use will add up over time and really make a difference, for both your finances and the environment. While it certainly is pretty cliche, it’s nothing but the truth. While the idea behind this post is fairly obvious, the actual benefits implementing the idea might not be.

For example, if Americans were to decrease gasoline consumption by just 10% - which can be done any number of ways: by being a better driver, keeping up on car maintenance, trading in a gas guzzler for a fuel sipper - we could save billions of dollars per year and keep massive amounts of greenhouse gases out of the environment.

Let me explain a little further:

On average, Americans consume about 386 million gallons of gasoline each day. Over the course of a year, that adds up to just under 141 billion gallons of gas. That’s a lot of gas, and is by far the highest number of any country in the world.

If people were able to reduce their fuel consumption by just 10% - which, again, is very easy to do - we would save 14.1 billion gallons of gas each year.

With the current national average price for a gallon of gas sitting at $3.78, this reduction in gasoline usage would equal a total dollar savings of over $53 billion. To put that in perspective, this total is about 1/3rd of the Government stimulus package that was supposed to help jump start the economy.

In addition to the massive amounts of money we would save, there would also be a significant reduction in the amount of damage we do to the environment.

Each gallon of gasoline that we burn releases roughly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is widely believed to be one of the main contributors to global warming and the “greenhouse effect.”

By reducing fuel consumption by just 10%, we would keep 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. While I have no idea whether or not this would make a significant dent in global warming, it certainly can’t hurt. (I’m sure someone will be kind enough to leave a comment telling everyone what effects a reduction of this magnitude would have on the environment. Hint, hint.)

So, back to the original premise, if Americans were able to reduce their gasoline usage by only 10%, we would save billions of dollars and help save the environment. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

Thanks to higher gas prices, Americans have already begun to drastically reduce the amount of miles they drive, and have started to trade in their gas guzzlers for more cars with better fuel economy. Hopefully, that means we’re well on our way to getting to this 10% reduction - if not more.

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Leaves, Twigs, and Bark: Cheap Biofuel Alternatives?

Big cats banned from Australia

Colorado Creating US’s First Fossil Fuel-Free Community

Written by Jaymi Heimbuch

The latest trend in the green movement – other than EVs – seems to be greenhousing communities. Considering everyone needs a place to live, this is a perfect focus for injecting green technology into daily living. Arvada, Colorado is all over this concept, going farther than solar roofing, or LEED certification goals. They’re setting up a community that will completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels.

Called Geos, the 25-acre area will have 250 homes from smaller 850 square feet to mansion-sized 3,500+ square feet placed in four neighborhoods. While that’s a whole lot of houses, they’ll be keeping a whopping 40% of the area as green space.

Using active and passive solar energy for daytime heating and electricity, the homes will be placed and constructed to maximize sun exposure, with rooftops housing PV panels. Excess power is stored in the grid. For un-sunny days, winter heating, and summer cooling, geothermal energy will be used.

Each home will be hooked up to a very cool energy monitoring system (not sure what model…) so the homeowner can keep an eye, and leash, on energy consumption.

The community is breaking ground this fall, and homes will be flying up – the first will be available during Spring of 2009. My only question now is how green they’ll be in terms of building process and materials...hopefully, very.

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