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Science News

An Evolution Animation Unlike Any You’ve Seen Before...

salamander-like creatureBy Carin Bondar

How do you make an authentic evolution animation?  Quite simply: you allow it to evolve.  Tyler Rhodes, a student in the animation program at Virginia Commonwealth University, wanted to create an animation that wasn’t simply linear, but instead represented the true ‘tree-like’ process of evolution.  So he enlisted the help of elementary school students from William Fox Elementary School and the Patrick Henry School of Science & Art, and involved them in a type of game.

“Much like the whispered game “telephone” where one person whispers a message down the line until it’s very different by the end due to small “mutations” along the way, I would create a game of telephone using visual imagery.”

Tyler began the game by sketching a nondescript salamander-like creature.

He then had various groups of students make copies of this sketch, knowing that the copies would contain subtle differences.  The natural variation in the ‘progeny’ created from the first salamander sketch was used to determine the survival of the fittest.  Tyler would ‘kill off’ 98% of the organisms and start the process again, this time working from the sketches that ‘survived’.  In subsequent iterations he would throw out curveballs like desertification or a volcanic explosion (subsequent to the sketching), which would help the group decide which animals were best suited to survive.  They would then take these environmental changes into account when sketching their next creatures.

Virtuous Behaviors Sanction Later Sins

People are quick to treat themselves after a good deed or healthy act
Image: The Heads of StateBy Ashley Welch

Anyone who has ever devoured a triple-chocolate brownie after an intense workout knows how tempting it can be to indulge after behaving virtuously. A new study suggests, however, that we often apply this thought process to inappropriate scenarios, giving ourselves license to act in unhealthy or antisocial ways.

Researchers in Taiwan gave a sugar pill to 74 smokers, misleading half of them to think it was a vitamin C supplement. All the participants then took an unrelated survey and were told they could smoke if they desired. Those who believed they had taken a vitamin smoked twice as many cigarettes as those who knew they had taken a placebo. According to study co-author Wen-Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-Sen University, the participants may have felt, consciously or unconsciously, that the healthy activity entitled them to partake, a concept known as the licensing effect.

In-Your-Face: Can Computers Catch You Telling a Lie?

Research suggests that software might be better than law-enforcement officials at detecting a lie. But will it really work?
THE EYES HAVE IT?: Researchers at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (U.B.), claim their video-analysis software can analyze eye movement successfully to identify whether or not a subject is fibbing 82.5 percent of the time.By Larry Greenemeier

A popular school of thought, dramatized in the recent TV drama Lie to Me, is that a careful study of facial expressions—especially eye movements—tells investigators if a perp is dissembling. Reality is neither as dramatic nor as decisive. Even experienced investigators average only about a 65 percent success rate, according to researchers. Could computers do a better job?

Researchers at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (U.B.), claim their video-analysis software can analyze eye movement successfully to identify whether or not a subject is fibbing 82.5 percent of the time. The researchers, who first presented their (still unpublished) results at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition a year ago, believe they have laid the foundation for a more extensive study that will include a larger sample and take into account body language in addition to eye movement to determine whether new technologies can help interrogators in their search for the truth.

New discovery is key to understanding neutrino transformations

The inside of a cylindrical antineutrino detector before being filled with clear liquid scintillator, which reveals antineutrino interactions by the very faint flashes of light they emit. Sensitive photomultiplier tubes line the detector walls, ready to amplify and record the telltale flashes. (Roy Kaltschmidt photo, LBNL)By Robert Sanders

BERKELEY — A new discovery provides a crucial key to understanding how neutrinos – ghostly particles with multiple personalities – change identity and may help shed light on why matter exists in the universe.

In an announcement today (Thursday, March 8), members of the large international Daya Bay collaboration reported the last of three measurements that describe how the three types, or flavors, of neutrinos blend with one another, providing an explanation for their spooky morphing from one flavor to another, a phenomenon called neutrino oscillation.

The measurement makes possible new experiments that may help explain why the present universe is filled mostly with matter, and not equal parts of matter and antimatter that would have annihilated each other to leave behind nothing but energy. One theory is that a process shortly after the birth of the universe led to the asymmetry, but a necessary condition for this is the violation of charge-parity (or CP) symmetry. If neutrinos and their antimatter equivalent, antineutrinos, oscillate differently, this could provide the explanation.

Technology News

Apple's 'new iPad' gets high-res screen, LTE

Pre-orders start today for no-name tablet, which ships March 16
iPad 3By Gregg Keizer

Computerworld - Apple today unveiled the next-generation iPad, which features a higher-resolution display, a new processor with improved graphics performance, and support for faster LTE mobile data networks.

Much of what Apple executives unveiled had been heavily speculated on by bloggers and media outlets in the weeks leading up to today's launch event in San Francisco.

"But it's not Apple's job to surprise me, it's Apple's job to satisfy me," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

And it did so, Gottheil continued.

"They've done a pretty good job here," he said. "It's a nice package, they're maintained the price, they're updating the software. It's sweet, and I'm sure they'll convince more people to go with a tablet."

That was the line that Apple CEO Tim Cook used when he called the company's tablet, "The poster child for the post-PC world" and again hammered home the theme that tablets are the future of computing, and that the iPad continues to lead all rivals.

Google, Motorola Ordered to Give Apple Android Details

A federal judge has ordered Google and Motorola to hand over details about Android to Apple. It’s a small legal victory for Cupertino in a long patent war.
DroidBy: Michelle Maisto

Apple's legal team enjoyed a small victory March 5, when a federal judge in Chicago ruled that Google and Motorola Mobility must hand over to Apple information relevant to development of Google's Android operating system, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The ruling came as part of an ongoing 2010 lawsuit filed by Apple against Motorola—which is in the process of being acquired by Google. Motorola also has a pending lawsuit against Apple. Motorola has been an enthusiastic backer of Android, which has surpassed Apple iOS in global market share.

“The Android/Motorola acquisition discovery is highly relevant to Apple’s claims and defenses,” Apple’s attorneys’ wrote in a March 2 filing, requesting the judge’s order, reported Bloomberg, which has obtained court documents.

With Google yet to fully acquire Motorola, attorneys for the later argued that Google has nothing to do with the lawsuit, and the request lacked merit.

Minnesota legislators serve up bill to ban community broadband

broadbandBy Sean Buckley

Minnesota has become the latest state to put forth legislation to stop communities from building their own broadband networks.

Following similar efforts in Georgia and North Carolina, Minnesota's HF 2695 explicitly bars any community from building a broadband network to serve their needs.

What's ironic about this bill, as reported in Community Broadband Networks, is that the state's incumbent telcos and cable operators like CenturyLink  (NYSE: CTL) and Mediacom refuse to make the effort to deliver the services to unserved or underserved communities themselves.

Not surprisingly, the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) said they are not behind the bill.

Christopher Mitchell, Telecom Researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, wrote in a post on their Community Broadband Networks site that while he believes they may not be behind it, but is quick to point out if passed it would be a gift to cable operators and telcos that face little competition and incentive to upgrade their networks to deliver higher speed broadband services.

Raise It or Raze It?: How Will the Stranded Italian Cruise Ship Be Salvaged?

Possible methods to move the massive Costa Concordia, twice as big as the Titanic, include multiple cranes, inflatable bags and even buoyant objects like ping-pong balls used by Donald Duck
PRE-SALVAGE: A striking picture from the Costa Concordia accident.By Charles Choi

At more than twice the size of the Titanic, the Costa Concordia was the largest passenger vessel ever to sink when it capsized off Italy's northwest coast on January 13. So far, Italian authorities say of the more than 4,200 passengers and crew on board, at least 18 are confirmed dead and 14 unaccounted for, and the insurance costs may reach $1 billion, according to Moody's Investors Service. Now salvage companies around the world are gearing up for the mammoth task of recovering the ship, a challenge made all the more complicated by its precarious spot. "The wreck's on the edge of deep water, and can drop another 200 feet [60 meters] or more," says Mike Lacey, secretary general of the International Salvage Union.

The Costa Concordia was the flagship of Costa Cruises and was christened only in 2006. The luxury vessel cost roughly $600 million to build and had an internal volume of about 112,000 in gross tonnage—the Titanic, in comparison, only had a gross tonnage of about 46,000. It now lies on its starboard side partially submerged in shallow water after hitting a reef near the island of Giglio. ((Last week, more than 1,000 passengers and crew members on another Costa Cruises ship endured unpleasant conditions for three days after a fire broke out on board and knocked out the ship's power. The Costa Allegra was adrift for several hours on February 27 before receiving a tow that brought all on board to the Seychelles where they disembarked on March 1.)

Environmental News

Solar Power in Poor Rural Areas

Solar panel on hutEditor, ENN

Solar power works best of course where the sun is brightest. However, another major factor is the capital cost for a solar installation. If your are poor, you cannot get started easily. One of the big opportunities positive climate action has presented the developing world is the chance to leapfrog a generation of energy technology straight into clean, green generation without the intervening capital intensive and dirtier aspects of energy technology. A British company thinks it has a potential and intriguing solution. Cambridge-based Eight19, named after the eight minutes and 19 seconds it takes light form the sun to reach earth, has developed this technology, and the business plan to tackle these challenges.

Eight19 is developing a novel printed plastic solar cell technology based on organic semiconductor materials.

Japan’s Nuclear Energy Industry Nears Shutdown, at Least for Now

The Ohi nuclear plant was not damaged by the earthquake or tsunami but sits idled because of a standoff caused by a legal quirk: Japanese law requires reactors to be shut down every 13 months for routine checkups and the plant’s operator has been unable to restart them because of opposition from local residents.By MARTIN FACKLER

OHI, Japan — All but two of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the nuclear disaster a year ago, after the earthquake and tsunami, and it is not clear when they can be restarted. With the last operating reactor scheduled to be idled as soon as next month, Japan — once one of the world’s leaders in atomic energy — will have at least temporarily shut down an industry that once generated a third of its electricity.

With few alternatives, the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has called for restarting the plants as soon as possible, saying he supports a gradual phase-out of nuclear power over several decades. Yet, fearing public opposition, he has said he will not restart the reactors without the approval of local community leaders.

Alien Species Invading Antarctica via Tourists, Scientists

Seeds hitchhiking on cold-weather clothing, gear
Tourists disembark at Antarctica's Danco Island (file picture).Charles Q. Choi

Antarctic tourists and scientists may be inadvertently seeding the icy continent with invasive species, a new study says.

Foreign plants such as annual bluegrass are establishing themselves on Antarctica, whose status as the coldest and driest continent had long made it one of the most pristine environments on Earth.

But a boom in tourism and research activities to the Antarctic Peninsula may be threatening the continent's unique ecosystems, scientists say. (See a high-res Antarctica map.)

For the study, ecologist Steven Chown at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and colleagues vacuumed the clothes, footwear, bags, and gear of approximately 2 percent of people who visited during the Antarctic summer from late 2007 to early 2008. That amounted to 853 scientists, tourists, and accompanying support workers and ships' crew members. (Read more about the gear required for Antarctic travel.)

"Endless hours were spent vacuum-cleaning clothes and gear. ... If one is doing so on a ship underway on a rough ocean, it can take a strong stomach," Chown recalled.

Estimates Clash for How Much Natural Gas in the United States

Hydraulic fracturing sites like this one in Springville, Pennsylvania, have proliferated across the United States to tap the country's stores of natural gas, but the exact volume of those reserves remains uncertain.Mason Inman

Natural gas is now flowing so fast into U.S. pipelines that the big question seems to be what to do with it all: Engineer cars to run on methanol? Reopen shuttered chemical plants that rely on gas for feedstock? Export liquefied gas by tanker? With about two-thirds of U.S. states thought to hold natural gas reserves, many take President Barack Obama seriously when he calls the United States the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas."

But just how much natural gas does the United States have?

A close look at the assessments shows that even the experts disagree. Most dramatically, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the government's own analytical team, last month slashed in half its estimate for a key and large subset of reserves: the amount of gas in shale rock formations across the country.

Although the government's new estimate for total U.S. natural gas resources—2,214 trillion cubic feet (tcf)—is a third higher than its 2008 estimate, the shale gas markdown underscores the uncertainties around this new supply source. In an interview with National Geographic News, the EIA has offered a sneak preview of the more detailed explanation it will publish in April on why its shale gas estimate plummeted.

Medical News

Knee Replacements on Shaky Scientific Ground

Knee replacement image courtesy of iStockphoto/33karen33By Katherine Harmon

As the U.S. population ages and continues packing on the pounds, knee replacement surgeries are becoming increasingly common. More than 650,000 total knee replacements were performed in 2008 (according to the latest data available).

And as materials and surgical technologies improve, the promise of newer and better implants is making the procedure even more appealing to the millions of people who suffer from arthritis of the knee. Many of these implants have yet to prove their mettle when it comes to long-term efficacy and safety, however, according to a new report published online Monday in The Lancet.

“In the past 40 years, the number of implants available on the market has substantially proliferated, often with little or no evidence of effectiveness or cost-effectiveness,” noted the authors of the report, led by Andrew Carr, of the University of Oxford’s Department of Orthopedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences. He and his co-authors reported that there simply isn’t enough data to be sure implants—especially new designs—provide the most pain relief and hold up well to wear and tear.

Caffeine Disrupts Sleep for Morning People, but Not Night Owls

The researchers said this is the first study to link caffeine intake with "chronotype," which classifies people by the time of day they are most alert and active
Image: Austin Public LibraryBy Rachael Rettner and MyHealthNewsDaily

Caffeine will get you going during the day but could leave you tossing and turning at night unless you're  a "night owl" to begin with, a new study suggests.

In the study, "morning people" who consumed caffeine during the day appeared more likely than late risers to awaken in the middle of their nighttime sleep.

The researchers said this is the first study to link caffeine intake with "chronotype," the categorizing of people by the time of day they are most alert and active. The findings are preliminary and more research is needed to confirm them, the researchers added.

Fifty college students were asked to record their caffeine consumption and their sleeping and waking times for a week. The students wore wrist devices that monitored their movements, to assess whether they had periods of wakefulness after they had fallen asleep. The researchers also measured caffeine levels in the students' saliva over the week.

Cancer Causing Chemical Prevalent In Pepsi And Coke Products

SodaRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

Popular soft-drink products contain levels of a chemical that is a known animal carcinogen, according to new chemical analyses.

The chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) was found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi after an analyses by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

CSPI said the carcinogen forms when ammonia or ammonia and sulfates are used to manufacture the “caramel coloring” that gives sodas their distinctive brown colors.

The organization asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revoke its authorization for caramel coloring that contains 4-MI, and to change the name of the additive to “ammonia-sulfate process caramel coloring” or “chemically modified caramel coloring.”

“Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement. “The coloring is completely cosmetic, adding nothing to the flavor of the product.

FDA Considering New Over-The-Counter Drugs

PrescriptionRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering making common drugs to treat diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol available to patients over the counter.

The agency is seeking public comment until Friday on a way to make these medications more readily available.

The goal is to make the drugs more available for those patients who have the diseases and do not take medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure cost the U.S. about $76 billion in 2010.

About one in three U.S. adults have high blood pressure, helping to contribute to heart disease and stroke, as well as raising the cost of healthcare in the U.S.

Experts say the unwillingness of people to take certain medications as prescribed is raising the cost of healthcare in the U.S. because those diseases go untreated, leading to other health complications.

Space News

Raging solar storm 'blinds' Venus spacecraft

An artist's interpretation of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft orbiting the second planet in our Solar System. (ESA)Written By Denise Chow

Strong radiation from one of the most intense solar storms in the past five years has temporarily "blinded" a European spacecraft in orbit around Venus, and mission controllers are now racing to fix the problem.

The European Space Agency'sVenus Express probe, which is located much closer to the sun than Earth, experienced high doses of radiation from the recent solar storm, and on Tuesday (March 6) at 8:40 p.m. EST (0140 GMT March 8), spacecraft operators reported that Venus Express' onboard startracker cameras had become blinded.

After being bombarded by solar radiation Tuesday, the cameras were unable to pick up any stars, said Octavio Camino, the Venus Express spacecraft operation manager at ESA's European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

"We were not able to detect any stars, so we decided to switch to the B unit, but we saw exactly the same thing," Camino told "Both of them were blinded by heavy solar activity. Since then, we have not been able to get them back on track, so we are doing a lot of things in order to keep the spacecraft in a safe configuration." [Photos: Huge Solar Flare Eruptions of 2012]

Air Force's mysterious X-37B space plane survives first year in orbit

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center image shows on-orbit functions for the reusable X-37 space plane, now under the wing of the U.S. Air Force. (NASA/MSFC)Written By Leonard David

The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane has celebrated a silent anniversary, surpassing an entire year in Earth orbit on a mystery mission for American military. Meanwhile, a third X-37B space plane mission is being readied, and could even launch later this year, has learned.

The X-37B space plane currently orbiting Earth is the second spacecraft of its kind built for the Air Force by Boeing’s Phantom Works. Known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2, or OTV-2, its classified mission is under the wing of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

The robotic X-37B space plane is a reusable spacecraft that resembles a miniature space shuttle. The Air Force launched the OTV-2 mission on March 5, 2011, with an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket lofting the space plane into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Radar Prototype Begins Tracking Down Space Junk

Simulation of how Space Fence will track orbital space debris. Image courtesy Lockheed Martinby Nancy Atkinson

Several times a year, the International Space Station needs to perform Debris Avoidance Maneuvers to dodge the ever-growing amount of space junk hurtling around in Earth orbit. Additionally, our increased dependence on satellites for communications and navigation is threatened by the risk of potential collisions with space debris. The existing system for finding and tracking objects, the Air Force Space Surveillance System, or VHF Fence, has been in service since the early 1960s, and is sorely out of date. But a prototype system called Space Fence has now been tested in a series of demonstrations, and successfully tracked more and smaller pieces of debris than the current system.

“The current system has the ability to track about 20,000 objects,” Lockheed Martin spokesperson Chip Eschenfelder told Universe Today, “but there millions of objects out there, many of which are not being tracked. Space Fence will find and catalog smaller objects than what are not being tracked now.”

Earthshine holds clues to exoplanet aliens

Shines of life? (Image: Chris Cook/Science Photo Library)New Scientist

IS IT possible to tell whether a planet hosts life just from its glow? A new analysis of Earthshine, sunlight reflected off Earth then bounced back by the moon, suggests this is a viable way to seek life on exoplanets.

Life co-exists with certain chemicals that leave their imprint on the light Earth reflects, while plants reflect light differently to rocks. The trouble is that exoplanets are too faint compared with their host stars for such distinctions to be detected.

So Michael Sterzik of the European Southern Observatory in Santiago, Chile, and colleagues used a spectrograph mounted on the Very Large Telescope to examine polarised Earthshine, its light waves aligned in one plane. The reflection of light off a planet's surface and passage through the atmosphere cause it to become polarised, making it visible amid the glare of unpolarised starlight.

Odd News

Could a Penny Dropped Off a Skyscraper Actually Kill You?

Collisions with air molecules slow a falling penny. Also, its flat shape contributes to air resistance. So it might damage your skull but not drill through it
Image: California State Controller's OfficeBy Natalie Wolchover and Life's Little Mysteries

City-slickers: Have you ever worried that, at any moment, you could be struck dead by a penny flung off the roof of a nearby skyscraper?

You can rest easy — on that score, at least. In fact, it's extremely difficult to turn a penny into a lethal weapon, and hurling it over the barricades at the top of the Empire State Building won't get the job done. Even from that height, a penny is too small and flat, and cushioned by too much air, to become a torpedo.

Instead, it would flutter to the ground, like a leaf. If it did strike you, it would feel like being flicked in the forehead — "but not even very hard," said Louis Bloomfield, a physicist at the University of Virginia. And he should know. He recently used wind tunnels and helium balloons to replicate the fall of pennies from skyscrapers. When experimental pennies struck him, it didn't hurt. "I think one bounced off my face once," Bloomfield told Life's Little Mysteries.

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