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Science News

New Details Emerge About ‘Snowball Earth’ Period

Image Credit: Bruce Rolff / ShutterstockLee Rannals for redOrbit.com

About 635 million years ago, our world was covered in ice during an event called “Snowball Earth,” and new details written in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provide new insight on the duration of this event.

According to the Snowball Earth hypothesis, an ice age brought on rapid changes in the atmospheric conditions on our planet, followed by a rapid greenhouse heat wave. This period may have given rise to modern levels of atmospheric oxygen, which helped to pave the way for animals and the diversification of life after.

Researchers set out to find how the planet was able to spring back from the ice apocalypse millions of years ago. Huiming Bao, and Charles L. Jones, Professor in Geology & Geophysics at Louisianna State University (LSU), said the story of our planet is about the incredible resilience of life and life’s remarkable ability to restore a new balance between atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere after a global glaciation.

“In the study, we concluded that the strange atmospheric O2 isotope event at about 635 million years ago, an event that so far remains singular in the entire Earth history, lasted anywhere from 0 to about 1 million years,” Bao told redOrbit.

Higgs Mass May Signal Our Universe’s Explosive Demise

Higgs BosonBy Perrin Ireland

Physicists announced last week that the Higgs Boson is light enough to make the Universe unstable, and predicted its catastrophic demise for several billion years from today.

Last summer, scientists finally found the long awaited Higgs Boson, a particle that, according to theoretical physics, gives all elementary particles mass. Without the Higgs, these particles would remain massless, and our bodies, blankets, cups of tea, dogs, and universe wouldn’t exist.

The Higgs particle is part of an equation that predicts the stability of the Universe, and now that we’ve found it, physicists can finally make calculations with that formula. For the Universe to maintain stability long term, the Higgs should weigh about 129 GEV. What they’re finding is that the Higgs is a bit on the light side, capping out at 126 GEV, and when that light weight is plugged into the equation—explosive universal demise ensues.

Technology News

PIC MCU software library uses human body for secure communications link

Figure. BodyCom uses the human body as a secure communications channel between base units and mobile units such as key fobs.Stephen Evanczuk

Microchip Technology has announced its BodyCom Development V1.0 Framework, enabling use of the human body as a secure communications link in Microchip 8-, 16-, and 32-bit PIC MCU-based designs. Activated by capacitively coupling to the human body, BodyCom provides secure bidirectional communications through the human body between a centralized controller and one or more wireless units for access control, personal security, medical, and consumer applications.

BodyCom allows engineers to lower system costs by eliminating the need for wireless transceivers, antennas, or even external crystals due to its low-frequency operation. According to Microchip, BodyCom also eliminates the cost and complexity of certification because it is complies with FCC Part 15-B for radiated emissions.

Novel Wireless Brain Sensor

Cortex communication. Engineers Arto Nurmikko and Ming Yin examine their prototype wireless, broadband neural sensing device. (Credit: Fred Field for Brown University)Brown University

Feb. 28, 2013 — In a significant advance for brain-machine interfaces, engineers at Brown University have developed a novel wireless, broadband, rechargeable, fully implantable brain sensor that has performed well in animal models for more than a year. They describe the result in the Journal of Neural Engineering and at a conference this week.

A team of neuroengineers based at Brown University has developed a fully implantable and rechargeable wireless brain sensor capable of relaying real-time broadband signals from up to 100 neurons in freely moving subjects. Several copies of the novel low-power device, described in the Journal of Neural Engineering, have been performing well in animal models for more than year, a first in the brain-computer interface field. Brain-computer interfaces coud help people with severe paralysis control devces with their thoughts.

Environmental News

Historic Datasets Reveal Effects of Climate Change and Habitat Loss On Plant-Pollinator Networks

Both plants and insects depend on insect pollination but so do people. Without insect pollination, we would have to survive on a monotonous diet limited to wind-pollinated grasses, such as wheat and corn. (Credit: Public domain image (created by the Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility)Washington University in St. Louis

Feb. 28, 2013 — Are plant-pollinator networks holding together as the insects and plants in the network are jostled by climate change and habitat loss?

The question is difficult to answer because there is no baseline: few historic datasets record when plants first bloomed or insects first appeared and almost none follow both plants and insects.

Which is why biologist Tiffany Knight and her then postdoctoral research associate Laura Burkle were delighted to discover meticulous data on a plant-pollinator network recorded by Illinois naturalist Charles Robertson between 1887 and 1916.

Re-collecting 26 spring-blooming flowers from Robertson's network, Knight, PhD, professor of biology at Washington University, and Burkle, PhD, now assistant professor of ecology at Montana State University, discovered that the network had weakened.

Canada to fund non-nuclear sources for medical isotopes

Medical isotopesBy Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

(Reuters) - Canada expects to be able to make enough medical isotopes through non-nuclear methods by 2016 to replace those now produced by an aging reactor and better assure an uninterrupted supply for medical imaging, a government minister said on Thursday.

To that end, the federal government will fund three research institutes developing cyclotron and linear accelerator technologies for production of isotopes on a commercial scale, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said.

Canada's only current source of the isotopes is a problem-plagued reactor at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd's facility at Chalk River, Ontario. The reactor is licensed to run until 2016.

"Our challenge now is to prove that cyclotron and linear accelerator production can be commercially viable. ... We envision a future where isotope production will no longer require highly enriched uranium — a weapons-grade material," he said.

Medical News

Contaminated Diet Contributes to Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Phthalates and BPA

Phthalates and bisphenol A are synthetic endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Previous studies have linked prenatal exposure to phthalates to male reproductive system abnormalities. Fetal exposure to BPA is linked to hyperactivity, anxiety, and depression in girls. People may exposed to these chemicals in their diets, even if their food is organic and not prepared in plastic containers, according to a new study. (Credit: (c) Art Allianz / Fotolia)University of Washington

Feb. 27, 2013 — While water bottles may tout BPA-free labels and personal care products declare phthalates not among their ingredients, these assurances may not be enough.

According to a study published February 27 in the Nature Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, we may be exposed to these chemicals in our diet, even if our diet is organic and we prepare, cook, and store foods in non-plastic containers. Children may be most vulnerable.

"Current information we give families may not be enough to reduce exposures," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, lead author on the study and an environmental health pediatrician in the UW School of Public Health and at Seattle Children's Research Institute. She is a physician at Harborview Medical Center's Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, and a UW assistant professor of pediatrics.

Man Walks Again After Surgery to Reverse Muscle Paralysis

After four years of confinement to a wheelchair, Rick Constantine, 58, is now walking again after undergoing an unconventional surgery at University of California, San Diego Heath System to restore the use of his leg. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California, San Diego Health Sciences)University of California, San Diego Health Sciences

Feb. 27, 2013 — After four years of confinement to a wheelchair, Rick Constantine, 58, is now walking again after undergoing an unconventional surgery at University of California, San Diego Heath System to restore the use of his leg. Neurosurgeon Justin Brown, MD, performed the novel 3-hour procedure.

"Following a car crash, Mr. Constantine had a brain stem stroke that caused paralysis on the right side of his body. His leg muscles became so severely spastic that he could not walk," said Brown, director of the Neurosurgery Peripheral Nerve Program at UC San Diego Health System. "Our team performed a delicate surgery to reduce input from the nerves that were causing the muscles to over contract to the point of disability."

"After my injury, I was told I would never walk again. All I could to was move from my wheelchair to my bed or a chair," said Constantine, a former NASCAR crew member. "After surgery with Dr. Brown, I could put my foot flat on the ground to walk. With physical therapy, everything just gets better and better. I'm a firm believer in never giving up."

Space News

Radiation ring around Earth mysteriously appears, then dissipates

Two Van Allen belts temporarily became three, possibly in response to solar activity
In September, a third ring appeared between the two known Van Allen radiation belts that girdle the Earth thousands of miles above.By Puneet Kollipara

High above Earth’s surface float two rings of energetic charged particles, and for about four weeks in September, they were joined by a third. The temporary ring may have formed in response to a solar shock wave that passed by Earth, researchers report online February 28 in Science.

The discovery could force scientists to revisit decades of ideas about the structure of the Van Allen belts, donut-shaped rings of radiation trapped in orbit by the planet’s magnetic field. Those revisions could improve predictions of space weather and scientists’ understanding of the space environment near Earth, resulting in better protection for manned and unmanned spacecraft that navigate those areas.

“It's a very important discovery,” says Yuri Shprits of the University of California, Los Angeles, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Over half a century after the discovery of the radiation belts, this most important region of space where most of the satellites operate presents us with new puzzles.”

China's next manned space mission to launch this summer

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (C), Liu Wang (R) and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, wave in front of a picture of the first astronaut Yang Liwei during a departure ceremony at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, June 16, 2012.Reuters

China's next manned space mission will launch sometime between June and August, carrying three astronauts to an experimental space module, state media said on Thursday, the latest part of an ambitious plan to build a space station.

The Shenzhou 10 and its crew will launch from a remote site in the Gobi desert and then link up with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese astronauts carried out a manned docking with the module for the first time last June.

Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels are an important hurdle in China's efforts to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long periods.

Odd News

Fossil shows origin of stuffing your face

(Image: Yie Jang, Yunnan University)Flora Graham, editor, newscientist.com

This multi-limbed creature is a Fuxianhuiid arthropod, and it's not waving, but eating. Some of those arms are actually mouthparts, the earliest ever seen.

Fuxianhuiids lived from 520 million years ago, roughly 50 million years before primordial land animals crawled from the sea. They had soft bodies, but their heads were covered in a hard shell, which has hidden the structures underneath in all fossils previously found. But now, thanks to an astonishingly rich new site in southern China, we have several specimens like the one pictured that were fossilised after losing their shells.

This has given researchers the first opportunity to examine the appendages on the creature's head, which turn out to be the earliest and simplest example of manipulative limbs used for feeding purposes.

The researchers reckon that fuxianhuiids adapted the limbs to push sediment into their mouths while grazing along the sea floor. They would then filter out the tasty morsels, such as traces of decomposed seaweed.

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