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Science News

Gecko Feet Inspire Amazing Glue That Can Hold 700 Pounds On Smooth Wall

A card-sized pad of Geckskin can firmly attach very heavy objects such as this 42-inch television weighing about 40 lbs. (18 kg) to a smooth vertical surface. The key innovation by Bartlett and colleagues was to create a soft pad woven into a stiff fabric that includes a synthetic tendon. Together these features allow the stiff yet flexible pad to 'drape' over a surface to maximize contact. (Credit: Photo courtesy of UMass Amherst)University of Massachusetts Amherst

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2012) — For years, biologists have been amazed by the power of gecko feet, which let these 5-ounce lizards produce an adhesive force roughly equivalent to carrying nine pounds up a wall without slipping. Now, a team of polymer scientists and a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered exactly how the gecko does it, leading them to invent "Geckskin," a device that can hold 700 pounds on a smooth wall.

Doctoral candidate Michael Bartlett in Alfred Crosby's polymer science and engineering lab at UMass Amherst is the lead author of their article describing the discovery in the current online issue of Advanced Materials. The group includes biologist Duncan Irschick, a functional morphologist who has studied the gecko's climbing and clinging abilities for over 20 years. Geckos are equally at home on vertical, slanted, even backward-tilting surfaces.


Structure Of Tough Sea Urchin Spines May Inspire Engineers

Sea Urchin SpinesRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

A team of German scientists recently decoded the molecular structure of the unusually sturdy spines of sea urchins, a discovery that they believe could eventually prove useful in helping engineers construct stronger, more stable buildings.

Biologists have long known that the spines of the globular little marine animals are made of the compound calcium carbonate, a chemical commonly found in the shells of various invertebrates, not to mention egg shells, calcium supplements and the antacids you take for heartburn.

Like a multipurpose tinker toy, calcium carbonate has the ability to bond with itself and other compounds in numerous ways, making it one of the essential building blocks in nature’s toolkit.

But for researchers looking for an explanation as to why those little sea urchin spines are so remarkably strong, the versatility of the molecule and its numerous possibilities for bonding has long left them scratching their heads.


Sound effects inspired Stonehenge: US scientist

The sun rises behind Stonehenge. Ancient legends of thunder gods can be explained today with the modern science of sound waves, said a US scientist on Thursday who believes an auditory illusion inspired the creation of StonehengeBy Kerry Sheridan

Ancient legends of thunder gods can be explained today with the modern science of sound waves, said a US scientist on Thursday who believes an auditory illusion inspired the creation of Stonehenge.

The famous, 5,000 year-old stone circle in Britain is one of the best-known world heritage sites and many have guessed at the reasons for its existence, from a prehistoric observatory to sun temple to sacred healing ground.

Steven Waller, who has studied cave art for 20 years and cultivates a particular interest in the sounds of ancient sites, thinks that a sound wave effect that scientists understand today was so mysterious back then that it compelled people to erect Stonehenge.

The phenomenon is known as acoustic interference. It happens when two sources of sound, such as two bagpipers, are playing the same note at the same time from different places in a field.


Fossilized Pollen Unlocks Secrets of Ancient Royal Garden

Pollen recovered in a 2,500-year-old garden helps reconstruct a paradise of exotic plants, say TAU researchers
Artist's rendering of Ramat Rahel site.Tel Aviv University

Researchers have long been fascinated by the secrets of Ramat Rahel, located on a hilltop above modern-day Jerusalem. The site of the only known palace dating back to the kingdom of Biblical Judah, digs have also revealed a luxurious ancient garden. Since excavators discovered the garden with its advanced irrigation system, they could only imagine what the original garden might have looked like in full bloom — until now.

Using a unique technique for separating fossilized pollen from the layers of plaster found in the garden's waterways, researchers from Tel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology have now been able to identify what grew in the ancient royal gardens of Ramat Rahel. And based on the garden's archaeological clues, they have been able to reconstruct the lay-out of the garden.



Technology News

Apple Announces OS X Mountain Lion Operating System

Apple laptopApple

Apple has released a developer preview of its ninth major release of its Macintosh operating system, OS X Mountain Lion.

The move comes just seven months after the company released its latest OS X Lion last July.

The new operating system will integrate popular features from Apple’s iPad to its desktop computers.

The company said that OS X Mountain Lion will have over 100 new features, including Messages, a program that is already being used on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Apple said the newest operating system will be available for users to download through its Mac App Store in late summer 2012.

“The Mac is on a roll, growing faster than the PC for 23 straight quarters, and with Mountain Lion things get even better,” Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, said in a statement.


Weakness Found In Widely-used Online Encryption Method

EncryptionRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

A team of U.S and European cryptanalysts has discovered an unexpected vulnerability in the encryption system commonly used to provide privacy and security to online shopping, banking, e-mail and other Internet transactions, according to a recent New York Times report.

The weakness, which the scientists said involve a small but not insignificant number of cases, pertains to the way the system generates the random numbers used to prevent hackers from unscrambling digital messages.

The researchers found that these random numbers, which are associated with the encryption keys, were not always random enough. As a result, hackers could use public keys to guess the corresponding private keys that are used to decrypt data – something previously thought impossible.

The potential danger of this flaw is that even though the number of users affected by it may be relatively small, its existence could serve to undermine confidence in the security of Web transactions, the researchers wrote in a report about their findings.


Lemnis unwraps LED bulb under $5

The no-frills Pharox 200 Blu from Lemnis Lighting, priced at $4.95, is designed to tempt consumers to try out LED lighting.by Martin LaMonica

Lemnis Lighting is taking a foot-in-the-door approach to LED lightbulbs.

The startup company today announced a new line of bulbs, priced at $4.95 and $6.95, respectively, aimed at getting consumers to try out LEDs for general lighting. The bulbs, though, have some limitations.

The Pharox Blu line comes in 200-lumen and 350-lumen versions, both of which give off less light a 40-watt incandescent bulb's 450 lumens. That means that the bulbs, which consume less than 5 watts and 8 watts, respectively, won't give off enough light for many uses, such as lighting a whole room.

The Blu line also has a one-year warranty, versus a three-year warranty for existing Pharox line. They don't work with a dimmer, a move to save money on manufacturing.


Icon Aircraft Receives First-Ever Spin-Resistance Seal of Approval

Photo: Icon AircraftBy Jason Paur

Icon Aircraft has made aviation history even before finishing the final design of its first airplane.

The company hit a significant milestone in the development of its A5 amphibious light sport aircraft with a wing design aimed at significantly improving safety. The company has completed a rigorous flight testing schedule focused on the stall and spin characteristics of the two-seater, and when the first plane rolls off the line it will become the first production aircraft to comply completely with FAA spin resistance standards. In simpler terms, Icon has designed an airplane that could practically erase one of the major causes of aviation accidents.

“Creating a full-envelope spin-resistant airplane was extraordinarily difficult and took longer than expected,” CEO Kirk Hawkins said today in a statement announcing FAA certification of the wing. “[The design] dramatically raises the bar for light aircraft safety by decreasing the likelihood of inadvertent stall/spin loss of control by the pilot.”



Environmental News

'Mini-Cellulose' Molecule Unlocks Biofuel Chemistry

The 'mini-cellulose' molecule, called -cyclodextrin, solves one of the major roadblocks confronting high-temperature biofuels processes such as pyrolysis or gasification. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Massachusetts at Amherst)University of Massachusetts at Amherst

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2012) — A team of chemical engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered a small molecule that behaves the same as cellulose when it is converted to biofuel. Studying this 'mini-cellulose' molecule reveals for the first time the chemical reactions that take place in wood and prairie grasses during high-temperature conversion to biofuel.

The new technical discovery was reported in the January 2012 issue of the journal Energy & Environmental Science and highlighted in Nature Chemistry.

The "mini-cellulose" molecule, called α-cyclodextrin, solves one of the major roadblocks confronting high-temperature biofuels processes such as pyrolysis or gasification. The complex chemical reactions that take place as wood is rapidly heated and breaks down to vapors are unknown. And current technology doesn't allow the use of computer models to track the chemical reactions taking place, because the molecules in wood are too large and the reactions far too complicated.


Climatologists Predict More Extreme Summer Temperatures in 21st Century

Dry marshlandRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

A new report published by an American non-profit research center says that extreme summer temperatures are becoming increasingly commonplace in the United States, a trend that they project will continue throughout the 21st century.

Climatologist Phil Duffy led a group of researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California in analyzing the results of various climate models examining the occurrence of extreme high temperatures in the summer months of June, July and August. They found that higher than average spikes in temperature are becoming increasingly common in various regions of the lower 48 states.

“The observed increase in the frequency of previously rare summertime-average temperatures is more consistent with the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations than with the effects of natural climate variability,” Duffy wrote in the report published this week in the journal Climatic Change.

“It is extremely unlikely that the observed increase has happened through chance alone,” he added, highlighting what his team believes to be the anthropogenic cause behind the soaring temperatures.


Arsenic Levels In Some Organic Foods Surpass FDA Limits

Milk bottleRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

Researchers from Dartmouth reported today that potentially high levels of arsenic have been found in brown rice syrup, a primary ingredient in many organic foods.

Environmental chemist Brian P. Jackson found what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers dangerous amounts of arsenic in several organic food products, including organic infant formula whose main ingredient is brown rice syrup.

Other products that include the sweetener are some cereal bars, energy bars and energy “shots” consumed by many athletes, according to the study published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The list of products, not listed by brand name, follow recent reports about trace levels of arsenic discovered in apple juice and previous reports of the poison in rice. Researchers point out that rice is among one group of plants that are efficient in taking arsenic from the soil.

Jackson explained to Makiko Kitamura of Bloomberg: “In the absence of regulations for levels of arsenic in food, I would certainly advise parents who are concerned about their children’s exposure to arsenic not to feed them formula where brown rice syrup is the main ingredient.”


Many Lipsticks Found To Contain Lead

LipsticksRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently tested the top 400 lipsticks and found that all of them contain trace amounts of lead.

Among the top 10 contaminated brands five are Maybelline and L’Oreal, owned by L’Oreal USA, two Cover Girl, two NARS lipsticks, and one from Stargazer, according to the FDA’s data.

The lipstick with the highest concentration of lead was Maybelline’s Color Sensational “Pink Petal” with a concentration of 7.19 parts per million. But the average concentration out of the 400 lipsticks tested was 1.11 parts per million, well below the proposed limit of 10 parts per million.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics raised concerns to the FDA urging them to set limits to the amount of lead allowable in cosmetic products. In 2007 the campaign tested 33 lipsticks and found two-thirds of them contained lead and one-third surpassed the FDA’s lead limit for candy, according to TheSpec.com.

But the FDA finds no comparison to candy and lipstick saying, “It is not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy.”



Medical News

Successful Human Tests for First Wirelessly Controlled Drug-Delivery Chip

This implantable medical device, developed by professors Robert Langer and Michael Cima and colleagues, allows repeated wireless drug delivery in lieu of injections. (Credit: M. Scott Brauer)Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2012) — About 15 years ago, MIT professors Robert Langer and Michael Cima had the idea to develop a programmable, wirelessly controlled microchip that would deliver drugs after implantation in a patient's body. This week, the MIT researchers and scientists from MicroCHIPS Inc. reported that they have successfully used such a chip to administer daily doses of an osteoporosis drug normally given by injection.

The results, published in the Feb. 16 online edition of Science Translational Medicine, represent the first successful test of such a device and could help usher in a new era of telemedicine -- delivering health care over a distance, Langer says.

"You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip," says Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT. "You can do remote control delivery, you can do pulsatile drug delivery, and you can deliver multiple drugs."


Improving Economy Boosts Americans' Health, Too

Business peopleBy Ned Smith

The improved U.S. economy and unemployment rate are not only helping Americans make ends meet, they're also making us feel better, according to the new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI). Americans' overall well-being reached a seven-month high in January, driven by increased levels of optimism and healthy behavior.

The WBI life evaluation index, which measures optimism regarding current life and anticipated future life situations, the index number reached 50.1, its highest point since March 2011. Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they were thriving reached an eight-month high of 53.4 percent, while those who said they were suffering (3.3 percent) hit its lowest point since January 2011.

The healthy behaviors index, which measures lifestyle habits, improved to 63.3 in January, from 61 in December. Sixty-four percent of Americans reported that they ate "healthy all day yesterday" and 55.7 percent ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables four times in the last week. In addition, 49.1 percent said they exercised 30 minutes at least three days in the last week, the best January on record.


Mercury Again Ruled Out as Autism Cause

Autism and mercuryLiveScience.com

Mercury does not cause autism, another study now concludes.

The levels of mercury in the urine of children with autism were no higher than urine mercury levels of children without the condition, the study from England found.

The discredited idea that the form of mercury, called ethylmercury, sometimes used in vaccines may lead to autism has led to reductions in vaccine rates and increases in cases of preventable diseases, such as measles and mumps, according to the study.

But rates of autism have continued to rise after the use of the thimerosal in children's vaccines was stopped in 2001 in the developed world, according to the study.

The researchers collected urine samples from 54 children with autism spectrum disorders, and compared these with three other groups: 115 children from the general population, 28 children who attended special schools (mainly because of learning disabilities), and 42 children who didn't have autism, but had a sibling with the condition.


Humans Have About 100 Broken Genes Each

Broken GenesBy Jennifer Welsh

A new analysis of 185 human genomes indicates that every one of us has about 100 "broken genes." Some of these lost genes cause harmful effects, many seem innocuous, and some even seem to have some benefit.

Figuring out what's normal in the genome can help researchers better understand disease (and the mutations that can cause it).

"Currently, there are thousands of disease patients who are having their genomes sequenced as part of studies all around the world," study researcher Daniel MacArthur, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, told LiveScience. "Our study will make genome sequences easier to interpret — for instance, researchers will be able to see whether the DNA changes they find in their patients are in genes that have been shown to be nonessential in our study, meaning they're less likely to be disease-causing."



Space News

'Honeycombs' and Hexacopters Help Tell Story of Mars

Basalt columns in a (top) fresh crater near Marte Vallis on Mars look remarkably similar to columns at the Clarkston outcrop (bottom) in Washington state. The Mars columns were imaged with the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The aerial view of the Clarkston outcrop was taken from a remote-controlled plane. The scale (yellow bar) of both images is 10 meters (about 33 feet). (Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona and Goddard/David Weiss)NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2012) — In a rough-and-tumble wonderland of plunging canyons and towering buttes, some of the still-raw bluffs are lined with soaring, six-sided stone columns so orderly and trim, they could almost pass as relics of a colossal temple. The secret of how these columns, packed in edge to edge, formed en masse from a sea of molten rock is encrypted in details as tiny as the cracks running across their faces. To add to this mystery's allure, decoding it might do more than reveal the life story of some local lava: it might help explain the history of Mars.

But with trips to Mars hard to come by, the interns of the 2011 Lunar and Planetary Sciences Academy (LPSA) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., traveled to the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington state. It's a region that has been helping scientists understand the forces that shape planetary surfaces for a century "The Legacy of Megafloods."


Black Hole Found At The Center Of A Shredded Galaxy

GalaxyRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

Astronomers say they have found a black hole that was once at the core of a now-disintegrated dwarf galaxy.

The researchers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to find a cluster of young, blue stars encircling the first intermediate-mass black hole ever discovered.

“For the first time, we have evidence on the environment, and thus the origin, of this middle-weight black hole,” Mathieu Servility, who worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics when this research was conducted, said in a press release.

It is unclear exactly how super massive black holes form in the cores of galaxies.  One theory is that they build up through the merger of smaller, intermediate-mass black holes.

Lead author Sean Farrell discovered the black hole in 2009 by using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray space telescope.


Skydiver Prepares for Record-Setting Freefall from the Edge of Space

Baumgartner during a test flight. Credit: Red Bull StratosNancy Atkinson

In 2010, we reported on Felix Baumgartner and his upcoming attempt to break the sound barrier with his body, in a freefall from the edge of space. Part science experiment, part publicity stunt, part life-long ambition, the Red Bull Stratos mission will have Baumgartner traveling inside a capsule with a stratospheric balloon to 36,500 meters (120,000 feet), where he will step out and attempt a record-setting highest freefall jump ever. The mission was delayed by two years by a lawsuit, but Baumgartner’s jump is now back on, and will be attempted later this year, perhaps late summer or early fall 2012.

If Baumgartner is successful, the mission will break four world records: the altitude record for freefall, the distance record for longest freefall, the speed record for fastest freefall by breaking the speed of sound with the human body, and the altitude record for the highest manned balloon flight.

“This is the biggest goal I can dream of,” Baumgartner said. “If we can prove that you can break the speed of sound and stay alive I think that is a benefit for future space exploration.”


LARES 'mirror ball' sat will test Einstein's theory

The LARES satellite is just 36 centimetres across (Image: ESA/S. Corvaja)David Shiga

You don't have to be big to challenge Einstein. A pocked ball just 36 centimetres wide is the latest space probe tasked with measuring general relativity, one of the cornerstones of modern physics.

The Laser Relativity Satellite, or LARES, is a tungsten sphere with reflectors mounted in 92 holes punched into its surface. It is due to launch from Kourou, French Guiana, on a new European Space Agency rocket called Vega, designed to cheaply launch payloads of less than 2500 kilograms. The launch window opens on 13 February.

[...]

Though general relativity is the accepted theory of gravity, it might break down if measured with greater accuracy. The beleaguered Gravity Probe B satellite achieved an accuracy within 19 per cent of the expected orbit change; earlier satellites got within 10 per cent. Researchers hope to achieve 1 per cent with LARES, built by the Italian Space Agency.



Odd News

People Forage for Memories in the Same Way Birds Forage for Berries

bees flitting between flowersUniversity of Warwick

ScienceDaily (Feb. 14, 2012) — Humans move between ‘patches’ in their memory using the same strategy as bees flitting between flowers for pollen or birds searching among bushes for berries.

Researchers at the University of Warwick and Indiana University have identified parallels between animals looking for food in the wild and humans searching for items within their memory – suggesting that people with the best ‘memory foraging’ strategies are better at recalling items.

Scientists asked people to name as many animals as they could in three minutes and then compared the results with a classic model of optimal foraging in the real world, the marginal value theorem, which predicts how long animals will stay in one patch before jumping to another.

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