Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors jlms qkw, Bentliberal, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir and ScottyUrb, guest editors maggiejean and annetteboardman, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.

Between now and the general election, Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday will highlight the research stories from the public universities in swing states for either the presidential election or competitive contests for the U.S. Senate, plus those states holding presidential or vice-presidential debates during the week.  Competitive states will be determined based on the percentage chance to win at Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times.  Those that show the two major party candidates having probabilities to win between 20% and 80% inclusive will count as swing states.

As of October 6th, the presidential swing states are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia, while the states with competitive races for the U.S. Senate are Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Wisconsin.  Virginia has been dropped from the competitive senate contests because Nate estimates that Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine has more than an 80% likelihood of winning.  Also, Nebraska should have been removed from competitive status last week, as Bob Kerrey has less than a 10% chance of becoming Senator again.

Tonight's edition highlights the science, space, environment, health, and energy stories from universities in the states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

This week's featured story comes from Duke University via Science Daily.

Weather-Making High-Pressure Systems Predicted to Intensify
Oct. 5, 2012

High-pressure systems over oceans, which largely determine the tracks of tropical cyclones and hydrological extremes in much of the northern hemisphere, are likely to intensify this century, according to a Duke University-led study published online this week in Nature Geoscience.

The study's findings suggest that as summertime near-surface high-pressure systems over the northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans strengthen, they could play an increasingly important role in shaping regional climate, particularly the occurrence of drought and extreme summer rainfall, in coming years.
According to the simulations, these high-pressure systems will intensify over the 21st century as a result of increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations. The simulations suggest that an increase in the land-sea thermal contrast -- the difference between ocean and land heating, as Earth's climate warms -- will fuel the systems' intensification.

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

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National Geographic News: Pictures: Lost Royal Treasure Revealed by Sinking River

As drought depleted Poland's Vistula River (map), tons of looted 17th-century marble artifacts—including this stonework pictured against a power plant—surfaced this month. The revelation helps solve a centuries-old mystery and crowns one archaeologist's three-year quest for Warsaw's lost royal treasures.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Purdue University: Purdue-designed molecule one step closer to possible Alzheimer's treatment
October 1, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A new molecule designed to treat Alzheimer's disease has significant promise and is potentially the safest to date, according to researchers.

Purdue University professor Arun Ghosh designed the molecule, which is a highly potent beta-secretase inhibitor with unique features that ensure it goes only to its target and does not affect healthy physiological processes, he said.

"This molecule maintains the disease-fighting properties of earlier beta-secretase inhibitors, but is much less likely to cause harmful side effects," said Ghosh, the Ian P. Rothwell Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology. "The selectivity we achieved is unprecedented, which gives it great promise for the long-term medication required to treat Alzheimer's. Each time a treatment misses its disease target and instead interacts with a healthy cell or molecule, damage is done that we call toxicity. Even low levels of this toxicity could build up over years and years of treatment, and an Alzheimer's patient would need to be treated for the rest of his or her life."

NASA Television on YouTube: Dragon Ready to Ride the Falcon on This Week @NASA

The historic launch of the first-ever contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station by Space Exploration Technologies Corporationis ready. Also, cybersecurity; Antares rollout; hangin' out on Google; the Hubble constant; space orchestra, and more!

NASA Explorer on YouTube: NASA | X-ray Nova Reveals a New Black Hole in Our Galaxy

On Sept. 16, NASA's Swift satellite detected a rising tide of high-energy X-rays from a source toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The outburst, produced by a rare X-ray nova, announced the presence of a previously unknown stellar-mass black hole.

Space.com on YouTube: October 2012 Skywatching - Blazing Venus, Andromeda and Orionid Meteors | Video

The closest spiral galaxy to our own; a brilliant 'morning star' in the eastern sky; and bits of Comet Halley's tail highlight an eventful month for star gazers.


University of Arizona: UA MacArthur Fellow Brings Alien Worlds to Your Backyard
UA assistant professor Olivier Guyon has made it his mission to enable amateur astronomers and school children to discover alien planets far outside our solar system. For his breakthroughs in telescope optics and his vision of bringing cutting-edge science to the public, he was awarded the $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship.
By Daniel Stolte, University Communications
October 2, 2012

University of Arizona astronomer and optical scientist Olivier Guyon has been named a 2012 MacArthur Fellow for his contributions and creative potential toward the study of planets outside the solar system and for his vision of involving the public in their discovery.  

“When I was 10 years old, someone in my family gave me a book about astronomy, and I started looking at the sky and reading about it,” Guyon said in a recorded video statement. “Then I got a bigger telescope, and it never stopped.”

Indiana University: STAR TRAK
October 1, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Brilliant Jupiter will dominate the eastern sky by late evening during October. The huge planet will be much brighter than the stars of the constellation Taurus the Bull around it. Rising around 10 p.m. local daylight time early in the month and two hours earlier by month's end, Jupiter will be a magnificent sight in any telescope.
The Orionid meteor shower will peak before the first light of dawn on the night of Oct. 20-21. Try watching around 1 a.m. local daylight time, after the moon has set. The Orionids typically produce up to 25 meteors per hour, which appear to originate from the constellation Orion the Hunter. Orion will rise before midnight in the east-southeast, and the number of meteors will increase as it gets higher above the horizon. The shower will be active for most of October, with the number of meteors gradually increasing from the start and declining after the peak. The Orionid meteors are dust particles from Halley's Comet, left behind in the comet's orbit.
The moon will be at third quarter on Oct. 8, new on Oct. 15, at first quarter on Oct. 21 and full on Oct. 29.

University of Colorado, Boulder: CU hardware to fly on first-ever NASA-contracted resupply mission to space station
October 5, 2012

A University of Colorado Boulder space center is providing hardware and technical support for scientific experiments aboard the first-ever NASA-contracted resupply flight to the International Space Station, slated for launch Oct. 7 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA-funded center in CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department, has provided an automated, suitcase-sized incubator carrying fluid-processing devices for use by Montana State University researchers to test how a pathogenic yeast strain responds to the low gravity of space. The experiments will fly on the unmanned Dragon cargo spacecraft developed by Space Exploration Technologies X, or SpaceX, which made history during a May 2012 demonstration flight by becoming the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, or ISS.  

BioServe’s incubator, known as a Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, or CGBA, will provide space support for nearly 130 fluid-processing devices headed for ISS and loaded up with a common pathogen known as Canada albacans, said BioServe Business Development Manager Stefanie Countryman. The pathogen is under study by MSU faculty and students because it can cause localized infections in healthy people but can trigger potentially lethal infections in immune-compromised people.

University of Louisville: Professor to test 'astro-surgery' device
by Jill Scoggins, HSC Office of Communications and Marketing
last modified Oct 01, 2012 02:48 PM

University of Louisville researcher George Pantalos is working with colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University on a potentially lifesaving technology for astronauts traveling to Mars or others who are on extended space missions.

Pantalos, professor of surgery and bioengineering attached to the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at UofL, and Carnegie Mellon bioengineering researchers James Antaki, James Burgess and Jennifer Hayden are in Houston, Texas, this week for several flights aboard NASA’s zero-gravity aircraft to test a surgical system that would make “astro-surgery” possible.

The device, known as the Aqueous Immersion Surgical System (AISS), resembles a transparent dome the size of half of a grapefruit. It is designed to be mounted over a patient’s surgical site.


The Guardian (UK): Humans hunted for meat 2 million years ago
Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 1.6 million years earlier than previously thought
Robin McKie, science editor

Ancient humans used complex hunting techniques to ambush and kill antelopes, gazelles, wildebeest and other large animals at least two million years ago. The discovery – made by anthropologist Professor Henry Bunn of Wisconsin University – pushes back the definitive date for the beginning of systematic human hunting by hundreds of thousands of years.

Two million years ago, our human ancestors were small-brained apemen and in the past many scientists have assumed the meat they ate had been gathered from animals that had died from natural causes or had been left behind by lions, leopards and other carnivores.

But Bunn argues that our apemen ancestors, although primitive and fairly puny, were capable of ambushing herds of large animals after carefully selecting individuals for slaughter. The appearance of this skill so early in our evolutionary past has key implications for the development of human intellect.

Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Germany) via ScienceDaily: Oldest Ivory Workshop in the World Discovered in Saxony-Anhalt
Sep. 26, 2012

Excavations at the mammoth hunting site of Breitenbach near Zeitz have uncovered a 35,000-year-old ivory workshop.
During this year's campaign, site directors Dr. Olaf Jöris and Tim Matthies and their team found the oldest evidence for clearly distinct working areas which are interpreted as standardized workshops for working mammoth ivory. It was possible to identify a zone where pieces of ivory were split into lamella, as well as a second area where the pieces had been carved and their waste had been discarded. Some ivory beads and rough outs of unfinished products were also found amongst this debris, alongside several other ivory objects, including a decorated rod and fragments of a three-dimensionally modified object, very likely an object of art. The manufacturers were early modern humans similar to ourselves, who obtained mammoth ivory which had probably lain around at this site for some time, either from the carcasses of mammoths which had died here naturally or from the bodies of the victims of expert hunters. In the case of the latter scenario, the mammoths could have been hunted by modern humans or even by Neanderthals, since Neanderthals had only become extinct a few thousand years before the site was occupied by modern humans.

The clear spatial deposition of the finds in different working areas allows us to draw conclusions about the use of space at around 35,000 years ago, a concept apparently still unknown to Neanderthals.

Nature: African neighbours divided by their genes
Geographically close human populations in southern Africa have been genetically isolated for thousands of years.
Matt Kaplan
20 September 2012

Two studies exploring the genetics of hunter-gatherers and pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa, where humans are thought to have originated, reveal that even though the click-language peoples of southern Africa live in close proximity, they belong to two distinct genetic clusters.

To assess the degree of genetic difference, both teams looked at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — variations at individual nucleotides between different people — in the DNA of the various populations. One study, led by Carina Schlebusch at Uppsala University in Sweden and published today in Science1, analysed SNPs from 220 individuals belonging to 11 different southern African populations. The other, led by Joseph Pickrell at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and posted to the arXiv preprint server ahead of its publication in Nature Communications2, examined SNPs from 187 individuals belonging to 23 southern and eastern African populations.

By considering the similarities and differences among the SNPs in the various click-speaking peoples, and comparing them with patterns from other African populations, the teams were able to identify ancestral relationships. Both teams deduced that the southern African click-speaking populations (known generally as the Khoisan) actually belong to two genetically differentiated groups, one in the north and and one in the south of the Kalahari, which went their separate ways around 30,000 years ago. The discovery of this genetic divide is raising numerous questions about how it could have come about.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Florida State University: Biologist examines how duck-billed dinos chomped their way through Cretaceous
Elizabeth Bettendorf
10/04/2012 3:43 pm

Does the thought of crunching five giant servings of raw vegetation a day sound, well, a little daunting?

Not a problem for the duck-billed dinosaurs — a family of large reptiles that once roamed the Earth in herds and could pulverize and consume just about anything that grew from the ground.

“These guys were like walking pulp mills,” said Gregory Erickson, a biology professor at Florida State University whose research on duck-billed dinosaur teeth appears in the latest issue of the journal Science.

University of Louisville: Biologist to discuss ‘drunken monkey’ hypothesis
by UofL Today
last modified Oct 05, 2012 01:01 PM

California biologist Robert Dudley will discuss evidence that human alcohol use and abuse can be traced back to fruit-eating primate ancestors during a University of Louisville talk Oct. 11.
Dudley proposes that humans’ attraction to ethanol could stem from early primates’ reliance on fruit as a food source; ethanol occurs in ripe fruit, and primates may have developed a genetic attraction to the substance.


Arizona State University: Farmer-led innovation can help solve food security challenges
October 3, 2012

Since the 1960s, Nepal has registered 62 new high-yielding rice varieties. The method for developing new varieties has evolved in those years, to a method where farmers are now at the hub of the technological innovation process and work closely with scientists and policymakers.

This innovative approach was the subject of a recently published article by ASU researcher Netra Chhetri and colleagues. The work was reported in AgClim Letters, a science-policy bulletin distributed by CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food-secure and sustainable future.

“Can farmer-led crop breeding deal with the pace and uncertainty of climate change?” asks the internationally distributed bulletin. Chhetri and colleagues give a very positive response.


BBC: Rothamsted scientists study 170-year-old potatoes

Hertfordshire scientists have studied 170-year-old potatoes to learn lessons from the 19th Century Irish famine.

Potato blight in Ireland in the 1840s caused a food shortage which saw more than one million people die.

Rothamsted Research in Harpenden used DNA techniques on samples stored by 19th Century scientists.

The research showed how the disease survived between cropping seasons. It will also help test for plant diseases in the future.

Potato blight is caused by the microorganism, Phytophthora infestans, which destroys the leaves of potato crops.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

University of Arizona: Grad's Work with Germ-Killing Copper Could Save Thousands of Lives
By Ed Stiles, College of Engineering
October 2, 2012

The technology is based on copper alloys that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. The metals can be fashioned into everything from IV poles to sinks to bed rails – just about anything that is frequently touched in hospitals.

While these surfaces might look benign, they're covered with organisms that contribute to hospital-acquired infections, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined. That's 2 million infections annually, and 100,000 deaths – one infection for every 20 people admitted to hospitals.

While disease-causing organisms can lurk on stainless steel surfaces for two weeks, according to a recent UA research study, 99.9 percent die within two hours on surfaces that contain at least 60 percent copper, Estelle says.

The Arizona Republic: Unlocking your genetic road map, direct-to-consumer tests
Direct-to-consumer tests provide information but little context
by Ken Alltucker - Sept. 26, 2012 03:59 PM

People increasingly have more options to decode the health secrets contained in their own genes. Companies eager to reach anxious consumers are marketing hundreds of health tests that claim to measure everything from your lifetime risk of developing a brain aneurysm to your ability to metabolize caffeine.

Some experts question the benefit of providing gene-based test results directly to consumers, who may struggle with the results. They say test results may bring unnecessary worry or false hope, or even the potential for discrimination from employers or insurers.

Still, many people are willing to spend several hundred dollars or more and send a saliva sample to a far-flung lab in the hopes of unlocking their own genetic mysteries.

Arizona Daily Star: Genetics, pollution contribute to lung cancer
Stephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star
October 02, 2012 12:00 am

Smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer.

"It's a heterogeneous group of people who get lung cancer these days," said Dr. Linda Garland, director of clinical research in thoracic oncology at The University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson.
Secondhand smoke exposure, and exposure to uranium and radon, are all associated with causing lung cancer in nonsmokers, she said. And nonsmokers who live in very polluted cities get lung cancer at a higher rate than people who live in a very clean environment.

Other cases are attributed to genetics.

Florida State University: Study reveals differences in overall health of Latino-American subgroups
Jeffery Seay
10/02/2012 4:33 pm

Despite a shared Latino heritage, there are significant differences in the overall health and the use of health care services among Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Rican-Americans — even between men and women in the same subgroup — according to two recently published studies by Florida State University researchers.

The authors, led by College of Social Work Professor and Associate Dean Amy L. Ai, evaluated the physical and behavioral health, as well as the health care service usage, of all three major Latino subgroups in the United States. Collectively, these have been the fastest-growing ethnic minority in recent decades and are today the nation’s largest ethnic minority, comprising more than 15 percent of the nation’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The source of the studies’ data was the National Latino and Asian-American Study, the first nationally representative study of Latino-Americans.

“Within Latino groups, cross-subcultural differences may contribute to the different patterns in both physical and mental health,” Ai said. “There are interesting pattern differences between men and women. The patterns for Latino men are rather uniform, with Puerto Rican-Americans dominating most chronic conditions and behavorial health issues. The patterns for Latino women are more diverse in terms of overall health.”

University of Kentucky: Novel Gene Associated with Usher Syndrome Identified
Oct. 1, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Usher syndrome is a hereditary disease in which affected individuals lose both hearing and vision. The impact of Usher syndrome can be devastating. In the United States, approximately six in every 100,000 babies born have Usher syndrome.

Several genes associated with different types of Usher syndrome have been identified. Most of these genes encode common structural and motor proteins that build sensory cells in the eye and inner ear.

In a paper to be published in the November 2012 issue of Nature Genetics, a team of researchers from multiple institutions, led by Zubair M. Ahmed from the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and including Gregory Frolenkov, associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Department of Physiology, reported a novel type of gene associated with Usher syndrome - a calcium and integrin binding protein 2 (CIB2).

University of Louisville: IT-bioinformatics project receives one of only six Oracle awards for technology innovation
by Gary Mans, HSC communications and marketing
last modified Oct 03, 2012 12:42 PM

Green means healthy. Red means problematic. Understanding health risks is as simple as that in a health management program that the University of Louisville’s information technology office and health informatics group developed.

The program received one of only six Oracle awards for most innovative ideas of the year at the company’s annual showcase on Oct. 2.

The system uses a person’s routine blood test results to identify risk factors associated with various diseases and conditions and displays them in stages of red, yellow or green, with red being problematic and green being healthy. Assigning colors simplifies the test results and makes them easier to remember.

“Our goal is to provide individuals and their health care providers with an easy-to-use and interpret system to help them manage their risk factors for various diseases and conditions,” said Russ Bessette, associate vice president for bioinformatics at UofL’s Health Sciences Center.

Purdue University: Watermelon shown to boost heart health, control weight gain in mice
October 2, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Eating an apple a day may keep the doctor away, but eating watermelon may just keep the cardiologist at bay.

A study from Purdue University and University of Kentucky showed that mice fed a diet including watermelon juice had lower weight, cholesterol and arterial plaque than a control group. The findings, reported in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, suggest that citrulline, a compound found in watermelon, plays a role in cardiovascular health.

"We were interested in citrulline because previous studies showed that it may lower blood pressure," said Shubin Saha, a Purdue Extension vegetable specialist and study co-author. "We didn't see a lowering of blood pressure, but these other changes are promising."

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Scientists find missing link between players in the epigenetic code
New research from UNC has established the first link between the two most fundamental epigenetic tags -- histone modification and DNA methylation -- in humans.
Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Over the last two decades, scientists have come to understand that the genetic code held within DNA represents only part of the blueprint of life. The rest comes from specific patterns of chemical tags that overlay the DNA structure, determining how tightly the DNA is packaged and how accessible certain genes are to be switched on or off.

As researchers have uncovered more and more of these “epigenetic” tags, they have begun to wonder how they are all connected. Now, research from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine has established the first link between the two most fundamental epigenetic tags -- histone modification and DNA methylation -- in humans.

The study, which was published Sept. 30, 2012 by the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, implicates a protein called UHRF1 in the maintenance of these epigenetic tags. Because the protein has been found to be defective in cancer, the finding could help scientists understand not only how microscopic chemical changes can ultimately affect the epigenetic landscape but also give clues to the underlying causes of disease and cancer.


University of Arizona: Climate Change Could Cripple Southwestern Forests
Trees are facing rising drought stress and mortality as the climate warms, UA researchers and their colleagues report in a new study.
By Nancy Ambrosiano/Los Alamos National Laboratory, Catherine Puckett/U.S. Geological Survey and Mari N. Jensen/UA College of Science
October 1, 2012

Combine the tree-ring growth record with historical information, climate records and computer-model projections of future climate trends, and you get a grim picture for the future of trees in the southwestern United States.

That's the word from a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona and other partner organizations.

If the Southwest is warmer and drier in the near future, widespread tree death is likely and would cause substantial changes in the distribution of forests and of species, the researchers report this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Indiana University: IU develops tool to improve NASA polar ice mission
October 1, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Data vital to understanding global climate change will benefit from more efficient and secure processing, thanks to a new tool created by members of Indiana University's Research Technologies Systems.

This month, NASA's IceBridge mission will debut the new, IU-designed in-flight data copy system for instantly processing and archiving polar ice sheet data collected by radar systems in its DC-8 aircraft. IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice.

For the past four years, IU has provided IT support to the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas. CReSIS is a major player in the IceBridge mission, providing the radar technology that measures the physical interactions of polar ice sheets in Greenland, Chile and Antarctica. IU's support of polar research with CReSIS helps scientists better understand the current state of polar ice sheets, in order to improve models of the physical interactions of glaciers, sea ice and ice sheets at both poles.


Indiana University: IU-supported QuakeSim project co-winner of NASA’s Software of the Year
October 4, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.-- QuakeSim, an Indiana University-supported collection of online data and tools from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and multiple university partners, is a recipient of NASA's 2012 Software of the Year Award. The award recognizes innovative software technologies that significantly improve the agency's space exploration and maximize scientific discovery on Earth.

IU computer scientists developed the unifying online framework for the tools and data through the QuakeSim portal, which is a science gateway for understanding earthquake and tectonic processes. Simply put, science gateways are web-based portals and tools that let researchers pool resources, saving money and time. The QuakeSim portal allows scientists to use NASA remote-sensing and other earthquake-related data for in 3-D simulations and modeling of fault behavior both individually and as part of complex, interacting systems.


Indiana University: New publication supports early diagnosis of children on autism spectrum
October 1, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new publication developed by Indiana University centers and the Indiana State Department of Health encourages parents to have their young children evaluated if they suspect autism and provides guidance for professional evaluations.

The free brochure, "Roadmap to Services: When You Are Concerned Your Young Child May Have an Autism Disorder," includes information on the early signs of autism in the areas of communication, social skills and restrictive or repetitive interests, along with steps for obtaining a diagnosis and where to find services and support.
The CDC released new figures in 2012 indicating that the prevalence rate of autism spectrum disorders in the U.S. had climbed to 1 in 88 children. The estimated rate is 1 in 54 among boys and 1 in 252 among girls. In Indiana, based on 2011 census and child count data collected by the Indiana Department of Education, Office of Special Education, the prevalence rate is now approximately 1 in 83 in Indiana schools.

Purdue University: Study: Standing babies stay steady when focused
October 3, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Babies learning to stand may look wobbly, but they are really in more control than they appear, especially when they focus and hold on to an object like a toy, according to Purdue University research.

"Babies learning to stand often sway and appear out of control, but in this study, once we handed them a toy their standing posture improved and they were more stable," said Laura Claxton, an assistant professor of health and kinesiology who studies motor development in children. "Even though babies are top heavy and their neuromuscular systems are immature, this shows infants have more control when standing than many believe. Without the toy to hold, they go right back to being unstable."

The findings also support previous research that swaying, while it may look shaky, is another way babies explore the environment. Early instability is functional, Claxton said. Body sway provides sensory information that allows infants to learn how to appropriately control their body within their environments. However, too much body sway would make it impossible for the infants to focus on the toy, so Claxton believes that infants reduce their amount of sway in order to better interact with the toy.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Screening, counseling helps reduce risky drinking
September 26, 2012

Screening adults aged 18 and older for alcohol misuse and brief behavioral counseling interventions can help adults with risky or hazardous drinking reduce their alcohol intake, according to a new draft recommendation statement posted by the United States Preventive Services Task Force.

The task force’s draft recommendation is based on an evidence report by researchers from the RTI International-University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Evidence-based Practice Center.

Alcohol misuse is a leading cause of preventable mortality in the United States and contributes to a variety of health conditions including hypertension, liver problems, anxiety, depression, breast cancer, insomnia, injuries, and more.

University of Wisconsin: Smaller Estrogen Doses Improve Mood Without Memory Loss
October 4, 2012

Madison, Wisconsin - Ten years ago, the landmark Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) revealed that women older than 65 increased their risk for memory loss if they took estrogen to relieve the symptoms of menopause.

But new research by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) suggests that estrogen given in smaller doses to younger women just entering menopause does not worsen memory and improves mood and symptoms of depression.


The Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain) via PhysOrg: Archaeologists unearth 4,200-year-old fortification, unique in continental Europe
September 27, 2012

The archaeological excavations carried out this year at the site of La Bastida (Totana, Murcia, in Spain) have shed light on an imposing fortification system, unique for its time. The discovery, together with all other discoveries made in recent years, reaffirm that the city was the most advanced settlement in Europe in political and military terms during the Bronze Age (ca. 4,200 years ago), and is comparable only to the Minoan civilisation of Crete.

Similar characteristics have not been observed in other constructions of the Bronze Age, with three-metre thick walls, square towers originally measuring up to seven metres, a monumental entrance and an ogival arched postern gate; a fully conserved architectural element unique in Europe in that period.

The wall protected a city measuring 4 hectares located on top of a hill. With architectural elements reminiscent of people with Eastern styled military skills, its model is typical of ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean, such as the second city of Troy.

The Daily Mail (UK): Riddle of the 3,000- year-old British mummies made up of the bodies of DIFFERENT people
By Daily Mail Reporter

Archaeologists investigating the mystery of two perfectly preserved 3,000-year-old skeletons on a remote Scottish island believe they may have been made up of several different people.

The skeletons excavated in Cladh Hallan are said to be the first evidence that Britons preserved their dead using mummification.

But the identities of the oldest mummies ever found in Britain remain shrouded in mystery as scientists have gruesomely discovered they were made from body parts of several different people.

LiveScience: Ancient Burial Shroud Made of Surprising Material, Scientists Find
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 28 September 2012 Time: 09:20 AM ET

Ancient scraps of fabric found in a grave in Denmark are not made of cultivated flax as once believed, but instead are woven from imported wild nettles, suggesting the grave's inhabitant may have traveled far for burial.  

This discovery, announced today (Sept. 28) in the journal Scientific Reports, casts a new light on the textile trade in Bronze Age Europe, said study researcher Ulla Mannering, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen.

"Since the Stone Age, they had very well-developed agriculture and technology for producing linen textiles," Mannering told LiveScience. "So it's really unusual that a society which has established agriculture would also take in material from things that are not of the normal standardized agricultural production" — in other words, wild plants.

The Guardian (UK): Richard III: 'When I saw the skull, the hair on the back of my neck stood up'
As archaeologists leave the Leicester site where they believe they have found royal remains, locals are already convinced
Maev Kennedy

As far as Diana Thompson is concerned, the matter is beyond question. She hung a white boar flag from her front window the day she heard archaeologists had found the bones of a man with a twisted spine in a scruffy car park near her home in Leicester.

Sceptics may scoff, and results of an attempt to extract DNA and match it to descendants are not due until Christmas, but Thompson is adamant that the bones now resting in a safe in the archaeology and ancient history department of Leicester University are those of the last Plantagenet, Richard III, who rode out of Leicester on the morning of 22 August 1485 a king, and came back a naked corpse slung over the pommel of a horse.

"I've always been for Richard – I had to be, I went to the Richard III School for Girls. I know it is him – and I can tell you who did the wicked deed, it was Henry Tudor, without a shadow of a doubt, that's who killed him."

The Post-Standard: Eighty bodies from Onondaga County Poorhouse reburied as part of OCC renovation
By Douglass Dowty, The Post-Standard

Onondaga, NY -- The remains of 80 bodies first laid to rest more than 150 years ago were reburied today as part of renovations by Onondaga Community College.

The bodies of homeless adults and children were buried from 1826 to 1840 near the former Onondaga County Poorhouse on Onondaga Hill, said archaeologist Daniel Seib, who supervised the transfer of the remains.

Only three children, ages 2, 4 and 7, have been identified among the remains. They were siblings of the Kingman family, and died in April and May of 1832, said genealogist Nancy Maliwesky.

The Scotsman (UK): Grim find as skeletons are unearthed in city garden
Published on Monday 24 September 2012 12:02

POLICE are investigating the discovery of a series of human remains believed to be more than 100 years old which were found in the garden of a family home.

Four skulls were found to the rear of a town house in the Haymarket area of the city on Friday, with forensic experts yet to determine the cause of death.

Workmen installing decking in the back garden came across a series of bones but believed they belonged to buried pets, until they later found human teeth.

They raised the alarm and police officers sealed off the scene on Grove Street that afternoon.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman, who sent in the above articles.


University of Massachusetts, Amherst: UMass Amherst Physicist Wins Prestigious Early Career Award
October 2, 2012

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst biophysicist Jenny Ross has won one of the top national honors in her field, the 2013 Margaret Oakley Dayhoff Award, from the Biophysical Society of Rockville, Md. It is given to a woman who has achieved prominence for “substantial contributions to science,” while showing very high promise for ideas and leadership in the early stages of her biophysical research career.

Ross is one of five researchers to be honored during a symposium at the society’s 57th annual meeting in February in Philadelphia. In addition to receiving separate awards and honoraria, each will give a research presentation. Established in 1984, the award honors the memory of Margaret Dayhoff, former president of the society, professor of biophysics and director of research at the National Biomedical Research Foundation.

Ross is an assistant professor in physics at UMass Amherst and nationally known for her study of microtubules, which are strong, hollow tubes about 10-100 micrometers in length and 25 nanometers in diameter that provide structure to a vast variety of cells from plants to humans. “In plants, they direct cellulose deposition to give plants rigidity,” she explains. “They make up the tails of swimming sperm and the cilia in your intestines.”

Without microtubules to provide support, developing nerve axons cannot grow, and adult axons cannot be maintained. Without stabilized microtubules, nerve cells retract, causing neuromuscular diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or diseases of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Finally, microtubules are crucial in arranging materials inside cells during the two types of division, mitosis and meiosis. “When that process goes awry, cells can turn into cancerous tumors,” Ross says.

North Carolina State University: Researchers Reveal How Solvent Mixtures Affect Organic Solar Cell Structure
Tracey Peake
October 4, 2012

Controlling “mixing” between acceptor and donor layers, or solar cell domains, in polymer-based solar cells could increase their efficiency, according to a team of researchers that included physicists from North Carolina State University. Their findings shed light on the inner workings of these solar cells, and could lead to further improvements in efficiency.

Polymer-based solar cells consist of two domains, known as the acceptor and the donor layers. Excitons, the energy particles created by solar cells, must be able to travel quickly to the interface of the donor and acceptor domains in order to be harnessed as an energy source. Researchers had believed that keeping the donor and acceptor layers as pure as possible was the best way to ensure that the excitons could travel unimpeded, so that solar cells could capture the maximum amount of energy.

NC State physicist Harald Ade and his group worked with teams of scientists from the United Kingdom, Australia and China to examine the physical structure and improve the production of polymer-based solar cells. In findings published in two separate papers appearing this month online in Advanced Energy Materials and Advanced Materials, the researchers show that some mixing of the two domains may not be a bad thing. In fact, if the morphology, or structure, of the mixed domains is small, the solar cell can still be quite efficient.


Florida State University: Chemist's fluoride research may hold key to easier cleanup of toxic substances
Tom Butler
09/24/2012 2:46 pm

A Florida State University chemist’s work could lead to big improvements in our ability to detect and eliminate specific toxic substances in our environment.

Featured on the cover of the prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), Sourav Saha’s specialized work to strip electrons from the toxic chemical known as fluoride is producing a variety of unique results.  

“I started out with the very basic premise of trying to find new ways to detect toxic fluoride in solutions,” said Saha, an assistant professor of chemistry at Florida State. “As I got further into that work I was able to create a compound that could actually strip the electrons right off the molecule, producing a variety of tangible benefits such as toxin detection and removal.”


Arizona State University: ASU researchers to explore large-scale deployment of biomass energy crops
Posted: October 01, 2012

Arizona State University (ASU) researchers will embark on a novel renewable energy project with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Water Sustainability and Climate program (WSC).

NSF is providing $1.5 million to ASU to identify suitable locations across the United States where perennial biomass energy crops (e.g., miscanthus and switchgrass) could be grown sustainably. The five-year interdisciplinary project will integrate physical, agricultural and economic elements, embedded within a high-performance computing (HPC) framework, to identify geographically sustainable “hot-spots,” areas best-suited for expansion of perennial bioenergy crops.
The use of corn for ethanol production carries side effects, including food security concerns owing to its use as a staple food crop. Use of perennial feedstocks, such as miscanthus or switchgrass, offers a promising opportunity to decrease reliance on the use of food crops for energy production. Their sustainable expansion and utility for renewable energy purposes could significantly offset use of fossil fuels and combat greenhouse gas-induced climate change.

University of Colorado, Boulder: NSF awards CU-Boulder-led team $12 million to study effects of natural gas development
October 2, 2012

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $12 million grant to a University of Colorado Boulder-led team to explore ways to maximize the benefits of natural gas development while minimizing negative impacts on ecosystems and communities.

Led by Professor Joseph Ryan of CU-Boulder’s civil, environmental and architectural engineering department, the team will examine social, ecological and economic aspects of the development of natural gas resources and the protection of air and water resources. A part of NSF’s Sustainability Research Network initiative, or SRN, the project will focus on the Rocky Mountain region, where natural gas development, as well as objections to it, are increasing.

“We all create demand for natural gas so we have to accept some of the outcomes of its extraction,” said Ryan.  “Our goal is to provide a framework for society to evaluate the trade-offs associated with the benefits and costs of natural gas development.”

University of Kentucky: UK Chemistry Alumni Set World Record in Realm of Energy Efficiency
By Sarah Geegan
Oct. 4, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. — In a year that University of Kentucky teams have captured national titles, two UK alumni were part of another team that gained a world-record title — one that has the potential to impact everyone.  

UK alumni Joe Bullock and Kathy Woody are synthetic chemists at Phillips 66, a Houston-based company that manufactures energy products. Their team recently attained the world record for the most efficient polymer-based solar cells.

Increasing the efficiency of these organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells could have enormous implications for the energy industry. Currently, solar panels consist of photo cells based on the element silicon, which convert light energy to electrical energy. These silicon panels are costly, fragile and expensive in large amounts. However, organic panels, such as the ones Bullock and Woody helped develop, are produced using plastics and are less expensive, flexible and tougher.

"Using inorganic semi-conductors like silicon, which makes materials expensive and difficult to process in large quantities, is why solar cells are still very expensive compared to traditional grid power," Bullock said. "So we are investigating the next step. We hope to take plastics instead of silicon, and implement the cells into affordable, light-weight materials that could be as flexible as a grocery bag."

University of Wisconsin: Researchers develop efficient, scalable process for making renewable liquid fuels
by Renee Meiller
Oct. 3, 2012

Using simple technology developed primarily for producing electricity from hydrogen, a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology of South Korea has developed what could be a commercially viable, continuous process for converting biomass and electricity into renewable liquid transportation fuels.

George Huber, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering, and his collaborators have demonstrated they can use a proton-exchange-membrane fuel cell to convert the model biomass compound acetone into isopropanol, a chemical compound with a wide variety of pharmaceutical and industrial applications, including as a gasoline additive.

The advance paves the way for researchers to convert biomass molecules such as glucose into hexanes, which are significant components of gasoline currently derived by refining crude oil. "Essentially, we are making renewable liquid fuel that fits into the existing infrastructure," says Huber, whose team published its results in the Sept. 7, 2012, issue of the journal ChemSusChem.

University of Wisconsin: CPU-GPU optimization could offer big power savings for drones, data centers
by Mark Riechers
Oct. 3, 2012

The speed boost that a powerful computer processor can provide seems great, but the electric bill can be a real shocker. Not unlike choosing between a Ford Mustang and a Toyota Prius, faster processors require more energy to run, making them more expensive for their users.

While speed versus power consumption is an ever-present tradeoff in designing computer processors, Nam Sung Kim is optimizing processors in a way that delivers both speed and energy efficiency and, for example, could save billions of dollars in electrical costs for data centers.

Kim, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, seeks significant energy savings by optimizing the processors that integrate a central processing unit (CPU) that handles complex operations with a graphic processing unit (GPU) that typically handles the repetitive task of calculating and drawing thousands of pixels on the user's screen. These processors — known as accelerated processing units (APUs) — can process a large amount of complex information more efficiently than either a CPU or GPU alone.

Science, Space, Health, Environment, and Energy Policy

University of Arizona: Census Bureau Report: Downtown Populations on the Rise
A U.S. Census Bureau special report, co-authored by UA geography professor David Plane, shows significant downtown population growth in many of the country's largest cities between 2000 and 2010.
By Alexis Blue, University Communications
October 5, 2012

An increasing number of people in some of the nation’s largest cities are making downtown areas their home, according to a recently released special report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Titled “Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010,” the report examines population patterns and changes between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. It looks specifically at metropolitan areas – those containing at least one urbanized area with a population of 50,000 or more – and micropolitan areas, defined as areas containing at least one urban cluster with a population of at least 10,000 people but fewer than 50,000.
Among the report’s findings is that many of the country’s largest metropolitan areas – those  with 5 million people or more – saw double-digit population growth rates between 2000 and 2010 in their downtown areas, with “downtown” being defined as the region within a two-mile radius of a metropolitan area’s largest city hall.

University of Florida: Buyers may not understand risks in coastal purchases, new UF study shows
October 2, 2012.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Living along a Florida beach sounds like a dream, but it can bring nightmarish worries, including severe weather, erosion and regulations limiting how the land is used.

A new study by researchers with the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS, suggests that many buyers aren’t aware that living on the coast brings special challenges. In 2006, following two active hurricane seasons, state lawmakers strengthened real estate laws to ensure home and condominium buyers are told about the regulations and risks before their purchases are completed.

But the study findings suggest many who bought Florida coastal real estate in recent years either didn’t get the warning or didn’t absorb it amid the flurry of document-signing that accompanies closing a real estate deal.

“They’re either not being informed or they simply don’t remember – both of which are plausible,” said Tom Ankersen, director of the law school’s Conservation Clinic and Florida Sea Grant College’s legal specialist.

Science Education

University of Kentucky: UK Researchers Find Teachers, School Climate Key to Latino Immigrants’ Academic Success
Oct. 3, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A new study by researchers at the University of Kentucky found that teachers and schools that value diversity have a big impact on the academic experiences of Latino immigrant children living in predominantly White communities. The study appears in a special section of the September/October 2012 issue of Child Development on children from immigrant families.

The researchers discovered that children who had a teacher who valued diversity felt more positively about their ethnicity than children who had a teacher who felt uncomfortable with diversity.

“This is important because feeling positively about their ethnicity was associated with children valuing school more, enjoying school more, feeling like they belonged at school more and getting better grades,” said Christia Spears Brown, associate professor in the UK Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky, who led the study.

Teachers who valued diversity also seemed to establish classroom norms that discouraged peers from teasing others because of their ethnicity.

University of Kentucky: UK's Brandon Kulengowski Named Astronaut Scholar
Oct. 1, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) has selected University of Kentucky student Brandon Kulengowski, of Lagrange, Ky., as one of this year's 28 recipients of the prestigious $10,000 scholarship. The ASF Scholarship is presented annually to outstanding college students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math.

Astronaut Scholars exhibit motivation, imagination and intellectual daring, as well as exceptional performance, both in and outside the classroom. The foundation has awarded more than $3.5 million in scholarships to date, including $131,000 in scholarships to UK students alone.

The ASF issued its own press release: Astronaut Scholarships Award $220,000 to New Scholars.

Science Writing and Reporting

Arizona State University: Future Tense: anticipating implications of emerging technologies
October 4, 2012

Two and a half years ago, ASU embarked on an experimental partnership with the New America Foundation and Slate magazine. The initiative, Future Tense, was designed and built to explore emerging technologies and their potential radical effect on policy, society and culture.

The partnership originated as a series of live events in Washington, D.C., that is webcast on ASUtv. The events take on many topics, since the notion of emerging technologies is broad and at times difficult to define. Future Tense events "ask how we can govern technologies that barely exist yet - an important question to bring to the sometimes insular conversations of Washington, D.C.," says Joel Garreau, ASU faculty member and co-director of Future Tense.

Since its inception, Future Tense has hosted more than 30 events. Last academic year, 10 ASU faculty members participated in Future Tense events on topics ranging from the future of energy, with Sander van der Leeuw, dean of the School of Sustainability, to how the DIY movement is spurring innovation, with Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the College of Technology & Innovation.

Each event has corresponding articles featured on Slate magazine, Future Tense's media partner.

Arizona State University: Professor, student publish new textbook 'Understanding Sustainable Cities'
October 3, 2012

David Pijawka, sustainability scientist and professor in the School of Sustainability and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and urban planning doctoral student Martin Gromulat have published a new textbook for undergraduate students exploring sustainable cities.

The book, “Understanding Sustainable Cities: Concepts, Cases, and Solutions,” is the culmination of Pijawka’s experience teaching Sustainable Cities, an undergraduate course in the School of Sustainability.

Indiana University: IU professor's book explores political ecology of water in South American port cities
October 2, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Stephanie C. Kane spent half a year conducting research in northern Brazil, where her "guide, research collaborator and friend" Antonio Conceição Reis was waging a brave and passionate battle to protect the iconic lake called Abaeté.

"I had just left Brazil when I got word that he had been assassinated," Kane said. "It was quite a blow. He was the main person I worked with, the one person who dedicated himself to this cause."
book cover, Where Rivers Meet the Sea

Conceição Reis' death -- under circumstances that were never properly explained -- was a dramatic reminder of the sometimes destructive but essential relationship between people and water. And that relationship is at the center of Kane's new book, "Where Rivers Meet the Sea: The Political Ecology of Water," published by Temple University Press.

Indiana University: Book about Indiana coal mine reclamation compiles years of research
Oct. 3, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana Geological Survey has published an extensive collection of research papers about the reclamation of abandoned Indiana coal mine lands and the effects reclamation has on ground and surface water.

This volume, "Effects of Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation on Ground and Surface Water Quality: Research and Case Histories from Indiana," gathers together information learned by researchers who have studied the environmental impacts of mining and reclamation.

Thirteen papers, contributed by 20 authors from federal and state agencies, private industry, and university research institutes and academic departments, address these issues.

Virginia Tech: Joyce Arditti recognized for disciplined research on families of the incarcerated
Sept. 28, 2012

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Joyce Arditti admits that she has “long been preoccupied with issues of equality, fairness, and social justice.”

The professor of human development at Virginia Tech is known both nationally and internationally for her disciplined study of marginalized groups, publishing numerous empirical and review articles in therapy, social work, family studies, psychology and criminal justice journals. For her outstanding and enduring contributions to family science in the areas of scholarship, teaching, outreach, and professional service, the National Council on Family Relations recently conferred its organization’s prestigious Fellow status on Arditti.

Arditti’s research examines family disruption, parent-child relationships in vulnerable families, and public policy. More specifically, she has focused on parental incarceration, as well as the children and families of incarcerated parents, which culminated with a recently published book entitled “Parental Incarceration and the Family.”

University of Arizona: UA Study: Cartels Squeezing Information Flow by Pressuring Journalists
Two UA journalism professors have interviewed Mexican journalists along to U.S.-Mexico border to determine how drug cartels affect news reporting in the area.
By Johanna Willett, School of Journalism
October 2, 2012

Two researchers in the University of Arizona School of Journalism have traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border interviewing 39 Mexican journalists to find out how the drug cartels are affecting what news people receive.

Professors Celeste González de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly have found that the killing of Mexican journalists (more than 80 in the past few decades) by the cartels, particularly since 2006, is causing journalists to exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and nervous breakdowns. Said one: "I wake up at night seeing the dead, smelling the death, and shaking and crying. I try to forget."

Science is Cool

Agence France-Presse via Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey): Nazi-taken Buddhist statue hails from space

PARIS - A thousand-year-old Buddhist statue taken from Tibet in 1938 by an SS team seeking the roots of Hitler's Aryan doctrine was carved from a meteorite, scientists reported yesterday.

In a paper published in an academic journal, German and Austrian researchers recount an extraordinary tale where archaeology, the Third Reich and cosmic treasure are intertwined like an Indiana Jones movie.

Called the "Iron Man" because of the high content of iron in its rock, the 24-centimeter-high statue was brought to Germany by an expedition led by Ernst Schaefer, a zoologist and ethnologist.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Northern Arizona University: Determined NAU team tracks tainted heroin across globe
October 1, 2012

Meagan Seymour knew her career path before she finished high school in May 2009—laboratory-dwelling crime fighter specializing in forensics—and her tour of NAU’s Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics lab convinced her it was the right place to be.

She couldn’t have known when she enrolled at NAU that as a freshman she would help solve a mystery involving hundreds of cases of anthrax infections and the deaths of 14 people. It was an investigation that would involve law enforcement, health professionals and scientists from around the world and would backtrack the path of drug smugglers that led through Europe to the Balkan Route and south to poppy fields in Afghanistan.

The first two cases surfaced in December 2009. Unrelated heroin users with anthrax infections were admitted to a hospital in Glasgow, Scotland. Both died within days. Several cases surfaced in Glasgow, and eventually the net widened to England, Germany, France and Denmark.

News stories speculated on the source of the anthrax—was it terrorism, intentional tainting aimed at wiping out drug users or accidental contamination?

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 08:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech, Astro Kos, and J Town.

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