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Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.

This week's featured story comes from Agence France Presse via Discovery News.

2010 Warmest on Record, Says U.N.

Data from the United Nations confirms last year tied with 2005 and 1998 as the warmest ever recorded.

The UN's World Meteorological Organization said Thursday that 2010 was the warmest year on record, confirming a "significant" long-term trend of global warming.

The trend also helped to melt Arctic sea ice cover to a record low for December last month, the WMO said in a statement.

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

DarkSyde: This week in science

Haole in Hawaii: Giant Mantas and More - A Photo Diary

Magnifico: Um... Greenland's ice sheet melt in 2010 broke record

Ojibwa: Pseudo-Archaeology

Slideshows/Videos

The Toronto Star (Canada): Royal Ontario Museum’s secret mummy babies revealed
Amy Dempsey

Somewhere deep in the organized jungle of museum storage, Gayle Gibson leans against a long stretch of counter, cooing and fussing over a baby named Hor.

"Poor little fella," says Gibson, an Egyptologist and teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum. She smiles parentally at the 2,000-year-old mummified infant resting in front of her.

"He’s a nice little kid."

Eastern Daily Press (UK): Photo gallery: The writing’s on the wall for Binham Priory
BY VICTORIA LEGGETT
Thursday, 20 January, 2011 12:34 PM

A series of medieval sketches found on the walls of a north Norfolk priory could give an insight into how the village’s historic parish church was designed.

From 21st-century teenagers with short attention spans to 13th-century schoolboys whiling away a service – grafitti has been scrawled over the county’s churches for hundreds of years.

But a series of medieval sketches found on the walls of a north Norfolk priory could reveal a lot more than the thoughts of a bored parishioner.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

CNN: Voice found: Woman speaks with new larynx
By Madison Park, CNNJanuary 20, 2011 10:29 p.m. EST

For 11 years, Brenda Charett Jensen couldn't speak. She communicated through an electronic device that sounded like a robot. When the batteries ran out, her conversation was over.

Jensen lost her ability to speak after a breathing tube permanently damaged her airway during surgery in 1999. She breathed through a tracheotomy tube, which extended from a hole in her neck. Because Jensen could not pass air through her nose and mouth, she lost her senses of taste and smell.

On Thursday, Jensen emerged with her doctors from University of California Davis Medical Center. And she had something to say.

BBC: Harvesting energy: body heat to warm buildings
By Xanthe Hinchey
Technology of business reporter, BBC News

Body heat is not an energy source that normally springs to mind when companies want to keep down soaring energy costs.

But it did spring to the mind of one Swedish company, which decided the warmth that everybody generates naturally was in fact a resource that was going to waste.

New Scientist: Malaria caught on camera breaking and entering cell

The video above captures the moment when a malaria parasite invades a human red blood cell - the first time the event has been caught in high resolution.

Astronomy/Space

Discovery News: DON'T PANIC! Betelgeuse Won't Explode in 2012
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Thu Jan 20, 2011 11:58 PM ET

Betelgeuse is a celebrity amongst stars and no stranger to astronomers' zoom lenses. And like any celebrity, news can break at any time, for any reason, and today I received a surge of messages via Twitter and email pointing me to a big Betelgeuse scoop that can be summarized as: The star is gonna blow! Soon! Possibly around 2012!

Naturally, I checked out the source of this breaking story to find... well, not much.

On reading a few sentences from the Australian News.com.au article, one would think the journalist had found the story of the decade. NEWS FLASH: An exploding Betelgeuse is one of the most over-used sensationalist stellar events to appear in the tabloid press in recent years. There's no scoop here, move along.

Time via Yahoo! News: NASA's Stardust Probe Readies for Date with Comet Tempel 1
By JEFFREY KLUGER
Fri Jan 21, 11:50 am ET

It's a good thing comets don't hold a grudge. If they did, comet Tempel 1 would have a few choice words for NASA when the agency's next spacecraft comes calling. That encounter is set for Valentine's Day and should be a peaceable affair, as the Stardust spacecraft whizzes within 124 miles (200 km) of the ancient ball of rock and ice and snaps some six dozen pictures before vanishing back into the void.

The last time a spacecraft buzzed the comet, however, was in 2005, and on that mission, the Deep Impact spacecraft used Tempel 1 for target practice, firing an 820-lb. (370 kg) copper projectile into its flank, blasting out a massive plume of debris and vapor that the spacecraft could then analyze. The return trip by a different ship will be not only a scientific achievement but a clever administrative one, demonstrating NASA's increasing ability to find multiple uses for its robot probes, flying two or more missions for the price of one.

Agence France Presse via Yahoo! News: Japanese rocket puts cargo into orbit

TOKYO (AFP) – A Japanese rocket successfully took an unmanned cargo transporter to the International Space Station into orbit, according to Japan's space agency.

The H-IIB rocket took off from the Tanegashima space centre in southern Japan on schedule at 2:37 pm (0537 GMT) on Saturday...

The "Kounotori (stork) 2" space vehicle is carrying five tonnes of supplies, including food, water and experimental tools for astronauts.

Discovery News: NASA Replaces Injured Astronaut on Next Shuttle Crew
Analysis by Irene Klotz
Wed Jan 19, 2011 03:48 PM ET

Injured astronaut Tim Kopra is being replaced by two-time shuttle veteran Steve Bowen for shuttle Discovery’s planned mission to the space station next month.

"Tim is doing fine and expects a full recovery; however, he will not be able to support the launch window next month," NASA's chief astronaut Peggy Whitson said in a statement.

"If for some unanticipated reason (the mission) slips significantly, it is possible that Tim could rejoin the crew," she added.

Agence France Presse via Yahoo! News: NASA sets final space shuttle mission for June 28
Thu Jan 20, 3:13 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Despite budget uncertainties, NASA on Thursday announced plans to send the space shuttle Atlantis on the final mission of the US program June 28, after which the famed fleet will be retired.
...
President Barack Obama has signed a bill authorizing NASA to conduct the third and final mission, but the US space agency's budget for 2011 remains to be approved so the shuttle flight depends on congressional authorization of extra funds.
...
The shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on February 24 and the shuttle Endeavour is set for takeoff on April 19.

Yahoo! News: SpaceX Looks Ahead to Manned Dragon Flight
Mark Whittington
Fri Jan 21, 3:43 pm ET

Having conducted a successful launch, orbit, and recovery of an unmanned version of its Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX has proposed to NASA that it proceed with the development of a manned version to carry astronauts to and from ISS.
...
"Upgrading Dragon capsules to carry astronauts won't be too difficult, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said in a statement released Monday (Jan. 17). According to Musk, both the capsule and its Falcon 9 rocket launch vehicle were originally designed to transport crew.

"'The cargo version of the Dragon spacecraft will be capable of carrying crew with only three key modifications: a launch abort system, environmental controls and seats,' Musk wrote."

Discover Magazine: Fake Mars Astronauts Are Approaching Fake Mars!

With less than 10,000 miles to go until they reach fake Mars, the fake mission to the Red Planet is going as planned. Which is to say, the space travel simulation project known as Mars-500 project is full of mishaps and surprises, as the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems tests the fake astronauts’ ability to handle anything outer space could throw at them.

The next milestone: the fake arrival in Mars orbit on February 1.

LiveScience via Yahoo! News: Strange Claim: The Sun Rose 2 Days Early in Greenland
Wynne Parry
LiveScience Senior Writer
Tue Jan 18, 5:20 pm ET

Residents of a town on the western coast of Greenland may have seen the sun peek over the horizon 48 hours earlier than its usual arrival on Jan. 13, sparking speculation, and disagreements, over possible causes.

The town of Ilulissat sits just above the Arctic Circle, meaning its residents had been without any sunlight for a good chunk of the winter, and traditionally they'd expect to see their "first sunrise" on Jan. 13.

News that the sun had peeked over the horizon on Jan. 11 appeared online in British and German-language publications and it appears to trace back to a story by the Greenland broadcasting company KNR that quotes residents who noticed the change.

Evolution/Paleontology

Agence France Presse via Yahoo! News: Fossil of Cretaceous-era squid found in Peru
Thu Jan 20, 6:13 pm ET

LIMA (AFP) – Paleontologists said Thursday they discovered the 85-million-year-old fossil of a previously unknown squid species from the Cretaceous era in the high jungle region of northeastern Peru.

"It is a new species of squid, totally new, that has not been seen in other parts of the world," paleontologist Klaus Honninger told AFP.

Honninger, director of the Meyer-Honninger Paleontology Museum in the northern city of Chiclayo, said the fossil was a large cephalopod of the extinct Baculite species, known for their long straight shells.

Biodiversity

Reuters via Christian Science Monitor: Barbicambarus simmonsi: New giant crayfish species discovered, and it's really big
Barbicambarus simmonsi: The new giant crayfish should not have been easily overlooked, as it is huge – twice the size of other species, the team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Kentucky University said.
January 20, 2011

A new species of giant crayfish literally crawled out from under a rock in Tennessee, proving that large new species of animals can be found in highly populated and well-explored places, researchers said Wednesday.

The new crayfish should not have been easily overlooked, as it is huge -- twice the size of other species, the team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Kentucky University said.

But the crustacean is also quite rare, they report in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

Treehugger: Newly Discovered Wasp Species Enslaves Spiders
by Stephen Messenger

Spiders spend a lot of time crafting their webs in hopes of making a meal out of all manner of winged insect--but a recently discovered species of wasp is found to use the spider's engineering prowess to its own advantage. Through a not yet understood chemical process, the wasps are able to, quite literally, enslave the unsuspecting spiders to build a nest for their larva, and after all that hard work, become their first meal. Sure, it seems pretty dastardly, but researchers say it's evolution.

According to a study published by a Brazilian team in the Journal of Natural History, and reported by Correio Braziliense, the newly discovered wasp species, a member of the Hymenoptera family, is able to control some spiders through a chemical process that remains a mystery.

The West Australian via Yahoo! News: Scientists find new bee in Perth
MICHAEL HOPKIN, The West Australian
January 18, 2011, 5:08 am

A species of bee unknown to science has been found at Forrestdale, underlining Perth's reputation as one of the world's most biodiverse cities.

WA Museum scientists discovered the species - which unlike honeybees live a solitary existence - last month in bush within the Jandakot Regional Park.

N.Y. Times: Feathering Their Nests With Plastic, and Getting Ahead
By SINDYA N. BHANOO
Published: January 20, 2011

Fast cars and big homes might be stereotypical status symbols in American society, but in the world of black kites, it’s all about the white plastic.

Researchers studying the birds of prey report in the journal Science that black kites that use the most white plastic to decorate their nests are better fighters and produce more offspring.

The plastic serves as a visible warning sign to other black kites that may be trying to take over the nest, said Fabrizio Sergio, an ecologist at Doñana Biological Station in Spain.

MSNBC: How male birds affect female fertility

John Roach writes: Biological clocks tick more slowly for female blue tit birds that consistently choose mates whose first reproductive success came in their first year, according to a new study.

The finding suggests that males, who help build the nest and feed mom and her chicks, create an environment that influences how the female interacts with the world.

"The thought was that males didn't matter," Josh Auld, a study co-author at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina, said in a news release.

It turns out that they do.

Reuters via Yahoo! News: Oil platform plan threatens rare Pacific whale: WWF

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) – Plans for an oil platform off Sakhalin in Russia's Far East poses a major threat to an endangered whale population already on the brink of disappearing, a wildlife protection group said.

Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, which is partly owned by Shell as well as several Japanese companies, has announced plans for a major oil platform near the feeding grounds of the Western North Pacific gray whale population, of which only about 130 exist, said WWF-International.

Though a number of oil and gas development projects already exist in the area, construction of an additional off-shore platform could further disrupt feeding and increase the danger of whales being struck by ships, not to mention the potential impact of an oil spill.

Biotechnology/Health

Agence France Press via Yahoo! News: Canadian stem cell pioneer dies
Fri Jan 21, 4:20 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Ernest McCulloch, a Canadian researcher who was part of a team that first proved the existence of stem cells more than five decades ago died this week at the age of 84, his colleagues said Friday.

McCulloch and his research partner James Till together created the first method for identifying stem cells in mice, and their work is credited with revolutionizing the field of cell biology and the treatment of chronic disease.

Many had speculated they could have won the Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking work. The pair was nominated in 2009 but did not win. The prize cannot be awarded posthumously.

Agence France Presse via Yahoo! News: Researchers aim to resurrect mammoth in five years
by Shingo Ito
Mon Jan 17, 5:44 am ET

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese researchers will launch a project this year to resurrect the long-extinct mammoth by using cloning technology to bring the ancient pachyderm back to life in around five years time.

The researchers will try to revive the species by obtaining tissue this summer from the carcass of a mammoth preserved in a Russian research laboratory, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

"Preparations to realise this goal have been made," Akira Iritani, leader of the team and a professor emeritus of Kyoto University, told the mass-circulation daily.

Reuters via Edmonton Journal (Canada): Semen allergy suspected in rare post-orgasm illness
By Kate Kelland

A mysterious syndrome in which men come down with a flu-like illness after an orgasm may be caused by an allergy to semen, Dutch scientists said on Monday.

Men with the condition, known as post orgasmic illness syndrome or POIS and documented in medical journals since 2002, get flu-like symptoms such as feverishness, runny nose, extreme fatigue and burning eyes immediately after they ejaculate. Symptoms can last for up to week.

Marcel Waldinger, a professor of sexual psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, published two studies in the Journal of Sexual Medicine which suggest that men with POIS have an allergy to their own semen, and that a treatment known as hyposensitisation therapy can help reduce its impact.

Climate/Environment

Agence France Press via Yahoo! News: Record melt from Greenland icesheet in 2010
by Marlowe Hood
Sat Jan 22, 10:06 am ET

PARIS (AFP) – Greenland's icesheet, feared as a major driver of rising sea levels, shed a record amount of melted snow and ice in 2010, scientists reported Friday, a day after the UN said last year was the warmest on record.

The 2010 runoff was more than twice the average annual loss in Greenland over the previous three decades, surpassing a record set in 2007, said the study, published in the US-based journal Environmental Research Letters.

Ice melt has now topped this benchmark every year since 1996, according to the paper, derived from long-term satellite and observational data.

Were it to melt entirely, Greenland's icesheet would drive up ocean levels by some seven metres (23 feet), drowning coastal cities around the world.

Check out Magnifico's diary on the subject.

Discovery News: The Sensitive Seasons of Europe
Analysis by John D. Cox
Fri Jan 21, 2011 04:48 PM ET

The springs in Paris and the winters in the Alps have been more sensitive to outside climate influences such as volcanic eruptions and solar variations -- as well as greenhouse gases -- for much longer than scientists thought, a new study reports.

A detailed analysis going back 500 years employs everything from diary entrees of medieval monks to the world's most sophisticated computer modeling to develop a new look to the pattern and pace of change across the European Continent.

Geology

The News-Press: Ancient plant-matter find in Pine Island changes Florida history
BY KEVIN LOLLAR

Recently discovered plant material from deep beneath Pine Island might change the way scientists think about Florida’s ancient geography.

Tests at the University of Florida show that a rock sample from an injection well contained pollen and spores from the oldest land plants ever found in Florida. The sample and, thus, the pollen and spores date to the Eocene epoch — about 35 million years ago — a time when scientists think the Florida Peninsula was at the bottom of a shallow sea.

"The fact that we’re finding it in this age rock suggests there were terrestrial sources for plants in the vicinity," said Curtis Klug, a hydrologist with Entrix Inc. of Fort Myers. "Perhaps there were islands where plant material was accumulating. This could help tighten up our interpretations of the past geography and environment of the state."

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Psychology/Behavior

Agence France Press via Discovery News: Chess Experts Use Brains Differently Than Amateurs
Experts who train for years are perfecting a circuit between two regions of their brains.
Fri Jan 21, 2011 12:30 PM ET

Experts use different parts of their brains than amateurs, maximizing intuition, goal-seeking and pattern-recognition, says a new study that examined players of shogi, or Japanese chess.

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare the brain activity of amateurs and professionals who were presented with various shogi board patterns and were told to think of their next move.

They found that certain regions of expert brains lit up, while the amateurs' did not, said the research led by Japan-based scientist Xiaohong Wan and published in the journal Science on Thursday

.

Science News via Discovery News: Chimps Wear Personalities on their Mugs
People can gauge aggressiveness in their evolutionary cousins' expressionless faces. .Sat Jan 22, 2011 09:12 AM ET
Content provided by Bruce Bower, Science News

In chimpanzees, as in humans, faces are personality billboards, a new study suggests.

People can usually tell whether or not a chimp acts dominantly and is physically active simply by looking at a picture of the ape's expressionless mug, says a research team led by psychologist Robert Ward of Bangor University, Wales.

Consistent with earlier evidence from other researchers, Ward and his colleagues reported last year that volunteers can also accurately detect whether people are extroverted, emotionally stable, agreeable and imaginative by looking at pictures of their neutral-looking faces. Extroversion in people and dominance in chimps both relate to assertiveness and sociability, and both partly derive from an individual's genetic makeup.

Archeology/Anthropology

The Columbus Dispatch: Bradley T. Lepper commentary: Climate had role in changing cultures
Sunday, January 16, 2011  02:57 AM

American Indian cultures in ancient Ohio changed over time. The earliest Ice Age colonists are known as Paleoindians. By 10,000 years ago, the Ice Age had come to an end and the Archaic cultures developed over the next 6,000 years.

The domestication of local plants initiated the transformation of Archaic to the succeeding Woodland cultures. Over time, cultural complexity increased, culminating in the rise of the Late Prehistoric cultures by about 1,000 years ago.

Understanding why cultures changed is one of the most fascinating problems in archaeology. Significant cultural transformations have been attributed to various factors such as technological evolution, migrations of people or climate change.

Red Orbit: Tutankhamen's Tomb To Be Closed To Visitors
Tuesday, 18 January 2011, 08:05 CST

Time is running out to visit the tomb of Tutankhamen, as officials with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities have announced plans to close it to tourists by the end of the year.

The tomb, which was discovered some 89 years ago, has been damaged as a result of the many visitors it has received, particularly over the past three decades, according to a Monday report in the Australian newspaper The Sunday Times. Instead, visitors will be directed to a soon-to-be-created replica of the tomb in Luxor, while the original will be closed down for preservation purposes.

"There's no alternative. Closing the tombs is the only way to preserve them," Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, told The Sunday Times. "People's respiration, the humidity they bring into the tombs, their sweat, the fact that they use flashes when taking pictures--all this damages the tombs."

"If I don't build this 'Valley of the Replicas', the originals will be destroyed in less than 100 years," Dr. Hawass added. "That would be a disaster for history."

Trenton Times via The Philadelphia Inquirer: I-95 bridge dig yields American Indian site
Tools, other artifacts reveal life here 2,500 years ago.
By Carmen Cusido
TRENTON TIMES

A $1.1 million archaeological dig that has been under way for months as part of the proposed project to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge has turned up evidence that American Indians lived at the site as long ago as 500 B.C. and as recently as A.D. 1500.

The most "intriguing" pieces of evidence found at the Ewing site "are the physical remains of a large number of hearths," said John Lawrence, a senior archaeologist with AECOM, a Trenton engineering firm hired by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

The Japan Times: Team finds more Peru geoglyphs

YAMAGATA (Kyodo) A Japanese research team has discovered two geoglyphs on Peru's Nazca Plateau, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its gigantic lines and geoglyphs.

The team, led by Masato Sakai, professor at Yamagata University's faculty of literature and social sciences, said Tuesday that the newly discovered geoglyphs appear to represent a human head and an animal.

In 2006, the same team announced the discovery of about 100 geoglyphs on the Nazca Plateau, many in the form of straight lines and triangles.

I am such a geek that when I read about a Japanese team discovering new geoglyphs on Nazca, I first thought of the anime Nazca.

Teesdale Mercury (UK): Archaeologists unearth more evidence of Roman shanty town
Jan 20, 2011

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed further evidence of a Roman "shanty town" in Teesdale.

Two years ago, experts carried out a major dig in Bowes. They found significant remains of a large unplanned settlement, called a vicus, on the outskirts of the Roman fort.

Dubbed a "shanty town", historians said the settlement was significant because it was inhabited longer than similar sites in the north – including Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall.

Stanford University: Stanford archaeologist shows how the Romans made pottery in Britain
What the Romans in Britain lacked in aesthetics they more than made up for in efficiency – and a Stanford researcher shows how they did it by recreating and firing a kiln based on the late Iron Age and Roman models in Britain.
BY CYNTHIA HAVEN

In the shadow of Hadrian's Wall, Roman soldiers defended their empire's northern borders in Great Britain, passed the time in their bathhouses and inevitably drank a lot of wine. They also made an awful lot of pots.

But how? Melissa Chatfield, a research fellow in ceramic geoarchaeology, was determined to find out. Hence, way out on the edge of the Stanford campus, a narrow column of pale smoke rose behind the Stanford Community Farm building last weekend.

The source was a 5-foot-high grass mound atop a 12-foot-square wooden box. It was modeled on several ancient kilns in England dating to the first century B.C. and the early Roman kilns that followed. Chatfield and her crew had been creating the mound for six weeks.

The Galveston County Daily News via KHOU-TV: Crews find 4 Civil War cannonballs in Texas City Ship Channel
by T.J. Aulds / The Daily News

TEXAS CITY, Texas — The FBI sent an explosives expert to Texas City on Monday after U.S. Army Corps of Engineer crews dredging the Texas City Ship Channel found four cannonballs believed to be from the Civil War era. The cannonballs likely were from a ship that was a part of the Battle of Galveston that sank during an effort by Union seamen to scuttle the boat.

The cannonballs could be part of the arsenal used aboard the USS Westfield, a Civil War gunboat that was scuttled by its crew during the Battle of Galveston in 1863. In November, dredge crews found a 10,000-pound cannon from the Westfield not far from where the cannonballs were found Monday.
...
The Westfield sank in an ill-fated attempt by Union sailors to destroy the ship so Confederate sailors wouldn’t capture it, he said. It was New Year’s Day, 1863, and Union soldiers occupied Galveston. As Confederate steamers launched an attack to regain the island, the USS Westfield, the Union’s flagship of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, ran aground on a sandbar north of Pelican Island.

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

Physics

Discovery News: TED-X Caltech Pays Tribute to Feynman
Analysis by Jennifer Ouellette
Tue Jan 18, 2011 01:40 PM ET

Of course, there would be bongos. And a Tuvan throat singer. And a multimedia performance by a jazz band whose members have 11 Grammys between them. But mostly, there was science, a celebration of the human urge to explore our world and find things out.

Caltech hosted its first ever TED-X conference last Friday, with talks by a diverse lineup of speakers all celebrating famed physicist Richard Feynman: the scientist, the explorer, the visionary, the wacky eccentric, the brilliant explainer of complex topics, and above all, the raconteur.
...
There was certainly no shortage of related topics to explore. Feynman shared his Nobel Prize for the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED), but he also gave prescient talks touching on molecular machines, nanotechnology, and quantum computing throughout his career. He loved anything that was "IN-teresting" about how the world worked. I think he would have enjoyed hearing short talks on biocomplexity, spintronics, nanoelectronics, molecular robots, and quantum simulations.

Chemistry

Science News: Building big molecules bottom-up
Chemists make ring structures on the scale of biological machinery
By Rachel Ehrenberg January 29th, 2011; Vol.179 #3 (p. 16)   Text Size

Just tossing mortar and bricks together won’t yield a tidy structure, but chemists must often resort to similar measures when building molecules the size of proteins, the workhorses of cells. Now researchers have developed a cleaner strategy for constructing such compounds. By employing one kind of molecule as a template, scientists can string together small biologically important molecules into larger ringed structures with unprecedented precision and no mess, a team reports in the Jan. 6 Nature.

The new technique hits a previously inaccessible sweet spot, yielding hefty molecules that approach the size of proteins, the macromolecules that are the movers and shakers of the cellular world. The method could become a broadly used tool for building big molecular structures, including more templates to build even larger compounds. And because the rings are built from strands of compounds of the same class as the pigment chlorophyll, the large loops may exhibit unusual electrical properties and could help researchers better understand how the pigments that drive photosynthesis harvest light.

"We’d like to think the use would be very general — there’s no reason it shouldn’t be," says chemist Harry Anderson of the University of Oxford in England, who led the new work. "People often want to make objects that are a particular size and shape."

Energy

Discovery News: 100 Percent Renewable Energy is Possible by 2030
Analysis by David Teeghman
Fri Jan 21, 2011 10:38 AM ET

Despite the "green" movement that has taken over the country in the last few years, more than 80 percent of the world's energy supply still comes from fossil fuels. Solar panels and wind turbines haven't been able to make much of a dent in coal and petroleum's dominance. But a new two-part study published in the journal Energy Policy (part 1, part 2) claims it's possible and affordable for the world to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The renewable sources of energy the researchers' calculations focused on included wind power, solar power, waves and geothermal energy, even as some question if solar power is worth the expense. According to PhysOrg, achieving 100 percent clean energy would require building about 4 million 5-megawatt wind turbines, 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, and around 90,000 300-megawatt solar power plants.

Stamford Advocate: State leading the way in fuel cell energy
Hydrogen-based businesses expand as price of gasoline creeps upwards
John Burgeson, Staff Writer

When you drink Sierra Nevada beer, you are a small contributor to Connecticut's growing fuel cell and hydrogen industry.

That's because the beer company is a customer of Danbury's FuelCell Energy Inc. It's a company that most folks haven't heard about. As its name suggests, it's a manufacturer of fuel cells, devices that turn hydrogen and oxygen into water, releasing electrical and heat energy in the process.

The Sierra Nevada brewery, in Chico, Calif., uses methane gas, a by-product of beer fermentation, as a source of hydrogen molecules for its four, 300-kilowatt FuelCell Energy units. Not only does this generate nearly all of the electricity for the brewery, but it also provides all of the heat and steam needed to run the Sierra Nevada plant.

Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy

Discover Magazine: Of China, Solar, and Sputnik
by Chris Mooney

As we explained in Unscientific America, following the Soviet launch of Sputnik this country poured a massive investment into scientific research, science education, space exploration, and much else. And that set the U.S. on course to dominate the world in science for the next half century.

Right now, by contrast, partisanship and ideology are preventing us from doing the same when it comes to clean energy innovation. We’re holding back our domestic clean energy industry because we can’t agree to put a price on carbon–and we’re doing that because we can’t even agree that global warming is our collective fault. Meanwhile, solar heads to China, and no wonder–that nation is now investing massively more than we do in renewable energy.

To me the real question is this: Can partisanship and ideology become so powerful that they prevent the ability to respond to a Sputnik moment? Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that they can.

Universe Today via Discovery News: NASA Lacks Budget for Next Generation Rockets
The heavy-lift vehicle required to send astronauts to an asteroid and Mars cannot be constructed by the current 2016 deadline.
Tue Jan 18, 2011 06:17 PM ET
Content provided by Jason Rhian, Universe Today

NASA has sent Congress a report stating that it cannot meet the requirements that it produce a heavy-lift rocket by the current 2016 deadline -- or under the current allocated budget.

In the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, NASA was directed to develop a heavy-lift rocket in preparation to flights to an asteroid and possibly Mars.

NASA said it cannot produce this new rocket despite the fact that the agency would be using so-called "legacy" hardware -- components that have been employed in the shuttle program for the past 30 years. NASA would also utilize modern versions of engines used on the massive Saturn V rocket.

Christian Science Monitor: Bye Bye Blackbird: USDA acknowledges a hand in one mass bird death
One in a series of mysterious mass bird deaths in the past month was the product of a USDA avicide program, which began as operation Bye Bye Blackbird in the 1960s.
By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer
January 20, 2011
Atlanta

It's not the "aflockalyptic" fallout from a secret US weapon lab as some have theorized. But the government acknowledged Thursday that it had a hand in one of a string of mysterious mass bird deaths that have spooked residents in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, South Dakota, and Kentucky in the last month.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) took responsibility for hundreds of dead starlings that were found on the ground and frozen in trees in a Yankton, S.D., park on Monday.

The USDA's Wildlife Services Program, which contracts with farmers for bird control, said it used an avicide poison called DRC-1339 to cull a roost of 5,000 birds that were defecating on a farmer's cattle feed across the state line in Nebraska. But officials said the agency had nothing to do with large and dense recent bird kills in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Agence France Presse via Yahoo! News: Food price rises 'may cause unrest': ministers
Sat Jan 22, 11:10 am ET

BERLIN (AFP) – Agriculture ministers from Europe, Africa and Canada warned Saturday of dire consequences, including riots and social unrest, unless action is swiftly taken to improve food security and tackle price hikes.

The ministers from Germany, France, Poland, Ukraine, Morocco, Kenya and Canada met in Berlin to prepare for a larger gathering which was to begin later in the day.

The seven agriculture ministers were unanimous on the causes and consequences of food shortages, which are pushing prices sharply up and, they agreed, renewing the threats of social instability and the sort of food riots witnessed in Mozambique, Egypt and elsewhere last year.

"We will see them again in 2011 and 2012 if we don't rapid take the necessary decisions together," warned French minister Bruno Le Maire.

Science Education

Christian Science Monitor: Creationists have gotten clever, but there's still no debate over evolution
Creationists and intelligent design proponents have gotten clever. Instead of pushing for creationism to be taught in science classes, they're merely asking that schools fairly present 'the scientific evidence' against evolution. The only problem? There isn't any.
By Steven Newton
January 19, 2011
Oakland, Calif.

As 2011 gets under way, those who care about the integrity of science education are bracing for the latest round of state legislation aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Every year, a host of these bills are filed across the country. In 2008, one was passed in Louisiana, despite protests from scientists and educators. In Oklahoma, State Senator Josh Brecheen (R) has vowed to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session that requires schools to teach "all the facts" on the so-called fallacies of evolution.

The tactics of creationists have evolved since 1925, when Tennessee’s Butler Act forbade the teaching of evolution, and high school biology teacher John Scopes was put on trial for doing so. (Creationists believe that God created the physical universe and all organisms according to the account in Genesis, denying the evolution of species.)

But creationists’ tactics have also evolved since 2005, when a federal court in Pennsylvania established that teaching intelligent design (ID) in public schools is unconstitutional. The judge in the case ruled, "ID is not science" and derives instead from "religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism." (Intelligent design holds that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.")

Science Writing and Reporting

University of Nottingham via physorg.com: DNA detectives in the Viking North West
The Vikings are alive and well and living in the North West of England! That's the revelation in a new book on an epic research project into the genetic footprint of the Scandinavian invaders.
By Emma Rayner
January 21, 2011

Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project’ is the culmination of several years of research by Wirral-raised Professor Steve Harding from the University of Nottingham, Professor Mark Jobling and Dr. Turi King from the University of Leicester, and many other collaborators. It showcases the power of modern DNA methods for probing ancestry using the North West of England as an example.

The North West has long been known to have special links with the Vikings going back over a thousand years. Evidence for this has been archaeological, in ancient manuscripts, local surnames and placenames such as ‘Thingwall’ from the Old Norse ‘ping-vollr’ meaning ‘meeting place’. It’s believed many Vikings, of mainly Norwegian origin, ended up in the region after being expelled from Ireland in AD902.

The new book tells the story of how 21st century genetic methods have been used in conjunction with historical and linguistic evidence to investigate the Viking ancestry of Wirral and neighboring West Lancashire. Rigorous DNA analysis of samples of the local population has scientifically proved that the Vikings settled heavily in the area and left a huge genetic legacy which survives and continues today.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Science is Cool

Discover Magazine: How Was the Financial Meltdown of 2008 Like a Collapsing Ecosystem?

"It’s a jungle out there," you might hear a big shot Wall Street type say about the high-stakes world of high finance. Yet, the jungle-ecosystem metaphor may be most applicable not to the competitiveness of the world’s financial system, but to its vulnerability.

For an unusual study in this week’s edition of the journal Nature, an economist (Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England) and a zoologist (Robert May of Oxford University) team up to argue that the banking and financial system is much like a natural system in the way that a key hit to one area caused the cascading wave of doom, which wrecked the world economy in 2008.

One way to see the resemblance is to think of the world’s many banks as the bean plants in a vast industrial mega-farm, where the nearly identical plants are all vulnerable to the same pest.

Discover Magazine: Ping Pong Night at the Museum: Grab Your Paddle and Talk Science

It wasn’t your typical American Museum of Natural History crowd: yesterday evening, a handful of kids and the standard science nerds were joined in the Hall of Ocean Life by ping pong aficionados.

Five ping pong tables—courtesy of co-host SPiN ping pong club—were set up in the hall for the event, "This is Your Brain on Ping Pong." The evening included time for guests to practice the sport, as well as a panel discussion moderated by museum icthyologist Melanie Stiassny.

The evening’s attempts to connect ping pong and science were, well, a little weak. Stiassny ran through a brief history of life on Earth, with references to the sport dotting her speech like product placements: 500 million years ago the first organisms with nervous systems are on the scene—hey, you need a spinal cord to control a ping pong paddle! "Clearly evolution has a purpose, and that purpose is ping pong," said Stiassny.

Originally posted to Neon Vincent's Massage Parlour on Sat Jan 22, 2011 at 09:05 PM PST.

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