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Science News

Einstein’s 134th Birthday Honored With Two Radical Physics Breakthroughs

EinsteinBrett Smith for

Albert Einstein, almost unanimously considered the greatest physicist since Sir Isaac Newton, would have turned 134 today.

His legacy can still be seen in modern society – in the revelations being made by physicists around the world and by his theories that they are still struggling to comprehend.

Perhaps the most prominent contemporary example of Einstein’s legacy is the research at CERN surrounding the Higgs boson, also referred to as the ‘God particle.’ Perhaps as a hat tip to the great scientist, physicists announced today that the search for the elusive subatomic particle is all but over.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said Joe Incandela, a lead physicist from one of the two main teams at CERN.

An Ode To National Pi Day

National Pi DayMichael Harper for

Nerds, Rejoice! Today is National Pi Day, a day set aside to celebrate mathematics, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter and, perhaps best of all, baked goods that prominently display the greek letter “π.”

Every March 14, (or 3/14 … get it?) math enthusiasts celebrate the never-ending number as well as Albert Einstein’s birthday.

Many use pi as a shibboleth, casually dropping it in conversations or creative works in hopes of finding others who also appreciate the infinite number sequence. The ever nerd-friendly Google once used the number pi as a bid on a stack of patents, but only after bidding the distance between the Earth and the sun. These are the kinds of fun things you can do with Pi.

It’s the infinite mystery which attracts math enthusiasts to pi. It’s been around for almost 4,000 years, but it has never been fully calculated.

Technology News

Spin control: Apple goes on offense against Android

On the eve of Samsung's big Galaxy S4 launch, Apple's marketing head decides that it's time to talk trash. Expect more of the same for 2013.
Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide product marketing Phil Schillerby Charles Cooper

 If he were the marketing chief for any company other than Apple, people would rightly figure that Phil Schiller's public bashing of Android was just part of the job description. And yes, there's that. But context is everything and Schiller's recent media offensive is part of a much bigger story with higher-than-normal stakes.

Schiller started the trash talking last week with a random tweet urging people to "Be safe out there" with a link to a report from F-Secure focusing on Android mobile security threats.

Then, on the eve of Samsung's Galaxy S4 announcement, Schiller sought out Reuters and The Wall Street Journal , to dis Android as "fragmented" and suggest that Android users were left far less satisfied than owners of Apple's smartphone.

"At Apple we know that it's not just enough to have products pumped out in large numbers," Schiller said. "You have to love and use them. There is a lot of data showing a big disparity there."

Normally, this sort of stuff is about as interesting as the spots on a leopard's rear end. Tech companies have been smacking around competitors since the dawn of the PC industry. In the mid-1980s, for instance, the head of software maker Borland had his minions slip copies of a negative magazine article about his opposite number at Lotus under the hotel room doors of executives attending the DEMO conference. That was a bit extreme, but in the following years the sight of CEOs taking verbal potshots at each other became quite common. Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison rarely passed a chance to get on a podium to take a poke at Bill Gates. And Steve Jobs himself famously said that Microsoft had no taste."

DeviantArt’s New Service Turns Users Into Massive Outsourced Creative Team

DreamUp gives any company a global creative office.By Joseph Flaherty

DeviantArt, the enormous online artist showcase, is moving into the creative services business with the launch of its new program, DreamUp.

Over the past 13 years, DeviantArt has grown into one of the top 100 websites in the U.S. and has become the go-to portfolio site for DreamWorks directors, Marvel comic book artists, and millions of emerging talents. It has also become a popular spot for Kickstarter project creators to source a logo, photography, or other creative assistance. Despite that, it’s an imperfect marketplace where clients have been known to stiff artists and artists to flake on clients, with no system separating good from bad — until now.

DevianArt’s new service, DreamUp, acts as a complimentary site to give art patrons a place to connect with designers, illustrators, and photographers to work on everything from story boards for a film to custom tattoo designs. With 14 million members and over 155,000 artworks uploaded every day, there’s plenty to choose from.

“We’ve worked hand and hand with the creative community for over a decade,” says DeviantArt/DreamUp founder and CEO Angelo Sotira. “We know how creatives and clients work together and what makes a successful collaboration. DreamUp is our vision for satisfying for both parties. Creatives are protected and clients are served.”

Environmental News

News in Brief: Bedbugs raise genetic defense against pesticides

Insects turn on several genes to stave off effects of insecticides
Bedbugs (adults, nymphs and eggs shown) have developed multiple layers of resistance to pesticides, making it hard to control their populations.By Tina Hesman Saey

To escape the sting of insecticides, bedbugs boost activity of certain genes in their shells, a new study shows. Bedbugs are notorious for escaping unharmed by pesticides; understanding how the insects escape death could lead to better ways to fight the pests.

Researchers led by Subba Palli of the University of Kentucky in Lexington collected 21 groups of common bedbugs, Cimex lectularius, from four Midwestern cities. The researchers examined the activity of genes that slough off the effects of pyrethroid pesticides, a category of insecticide in some of the most common household bug sprays.

Bedbugs turn on diverse genes in their outer covering, called the cuticle or integument, the team reports March 13 in Scientific Reports. Those genes detoxify pesticides, stop them from penetrating and pump out the insecticides before they can reach the insects’ nerve cells, the researchers found. An additional pesticide resistance gene called kdr is active in the nerve cells, giving bedbugs multiple layers of protection. The scientists know of no other insects that use such a multipronged defense.

Discards Ban Could Impact Seabird Populations

Species of seabirds could successfully return to their natural foraging habits following changes to European fisheries policies, scientists have suggested. The European Parliament recently voted to scrap the controversial discards policy, which has seen fishermen throwing thousands of edible fish and fish waste back into the sea because they have exceeded their quotas. (Credit: (c) Valeriy Kirsanov / Fotolia)University of Plymouth

Mar. 14, 2013 — Species of seabirds could successfully return to their natural foraging habits following changes to European fisheries policies, scientists have suggested.

The European Parliament recently voted to scrap the controversial discards policy, which has seen fishermen throwing thousands of edible fish and fish waste back into the sea because they have exceeded their quotas.

Scientists at Plymouth University believe this could have a negative impact on some seabirds, which have become used to following the fishing vessels and are increasingly reliant on their discards.

But they say others could return to using foraging as their sole source of food, as long as there are sufficient numbers of fish to meet their needs.

Medical News

News in Brief: Heart benefits from quitting smoking outweigh weight gain

People who give up cigarettes have fewer heart problems despite gaining weight
Quit smokingBy Nathan Seppa

Weight gain, a common downside of quitting smoking, doesn’t appear to wipe out the cardiovascular benefits of kicking the habit. People in a long-term study who quit smoking were about half as likely to experience a heart attack, stroke or other cardiac problem as were people who continued to smoke, researchers report in the March 13 JAMA.

The benefits showed up even when the scientists adjusted the data to account for the weight gain that tends to accompany smoking cessation. But the data were inconclusive as to whether people with diabetes accrued the same benefits from quitting as did people without the condition.

Carole Clair of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and a team of U.S. researchers analyzed heart health data from 3,251 people over six years of an ongoing Massachusetts health project in which participants undergo physical exams every four years. The group included current smokers, those who quit within the last four years, people who had quit long ago and people who had never smoked. Between-visit weight gain was highest, averaging six pounds, in the more-recent quitters. But the researchers conclude that quitting smoking still yields “a net cardiovascular benefit” on average, no matter the weight gain.

Plastic implant replaces three-quarters of man's skull

Polymer cranium made using 3-D printer
A 3-D printing process that binds granules of an inert polymer with a laser has allowed researchers to create customized pieces of skull (shown). In an example not pictured, scientists recently replaced 75 percent of a man’s skull with a custom prosthetic.By Rachel Ehrenberg

Surgeons have replaced 75 percent of a man’s skull with a custom-designed polymer cranium constructed with a 3-D printer. The surgery took place on March 4 and is the first U.S. case following the FDA’s approval of the implants last month. The patient’s reason for needing such extensive replacement surgery has not been revealed.

Similar surgeries may follow in other cases where sections of the skull are removed because the brain has swollen during a surgery or after an accident, says Scott DeFelice, president of Connecticut-based Oxford Performance Materials, the company that created the prosthetic.

Technicians used CT scans to get images of the part of the skull that needed replacing. Then, with computer software and input from surgeons, engineers designed the replacement part. A machine that uses lasers to fuse granules of material built the prosthetic layer by layer out of a special plastic called PEKK. While inert like titanium, PEKK is riddled on its surface with pocks and ridges that promote bone cell growth, DeFelice says.

Space News

Distant planets’ atmospheres revealed

Telescopes get best glimpse of gases on exoplanets
This illustration depicts the HR 8799 planetary system at an early stage in its evolution, with a disk of gas and dust and three planets (HR 8799c shown in the foreground).By Erin Wayman

Alien worlds have become a little less alien. Astronomers have gotten the most detailed look yet at the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.

The study is among the first to directly analyze the chemical makeup of an exoplanet. In the past, astronomers inferred the existence of exoplanets and their gases by looking for subtle changes in the light streaming from the planet’s star. Now, with improved instruments, a team led by Quinn Kanopacky of the University of Toronto has detected light coming directly from a planet light-years away.

“It’s [data] I imagined we’d have in 10 years,” says Jonathan Fortney, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The data have high enough resolution to reveal not only the presence but the abundance of carbon monoxide and water in the planet’s atmosphere, the team reported online March 14 in Science. Such information could shed light on how the planet formed. Such studies could also reveal the presence of life on a distant planet, but the planet’s size and orbit have already ruled it out as a habitable world.

Sun Burps Up Two CMEs In Less That 12 Hours

Image Caption: ESA and NASA’s Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this image of a coronal mass ejection bursting off the leftside of the image at 9:25 p.m. EDT on March 12, 2013. This sun itself is obscured in this image, called a coronagraph, in order to better see the dimmer structures around it. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHOBrett Smith for

Earlier this week the sun twice ejected large amounts of solar material during two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) in a 12-hour period, according to a NASA report. The CMEs are not expected to significantly impact Earth.

The first CME began at 8:36 p.m. EDT on March 12, 2013. The solar material was directed toward three NASA spacecraft, Spitzer, Kepler and Epoxi. Two of the crafts, Spitzer and Kepler, are in an Earth-like orbit around the sun, trailing just behind our planet. Fortunately, NASA has determined that there is no particle radiation associated with this event, meaning that the event will not disrupt the computer electronics on board the spacecraft.

The second CME began at 6:54 a.m. EDT on March 13, 2013. NASA scientists said that the ejection’s flank may pass by Earth at a speed that will not impact the planet. Faster moving CMEs can cause a shock wave, resulting in the disruption of radio signals.

Based on observations from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, NASA models indicate that both CMEs left the sun at around 400 miles per second, which is a normal speed for CMEs.

Odd News

Marco Rubio Talks Science, ‘Mutual Respect’ at CPAC

CPAC 2013: Marco Rubio Argues for a Strong America

Sen. Marco Rubio today challenged some of the stereotypes affixed to the Republican Party on two hot-button topics, abortion and gay marriage, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that his positions on the issues make him neither a “chauvinist” nor a “bigot.”

“In order to work together with people you disagree with, there has to be mutual respect,” the Florida Republican told the annual, three-day conference in National Harbor, Md. “That means I respect people that disagree with me on certain things, but they have to respect me, too.

“Just because I believe that states should have the rights to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot. Just because we believe that life, all life, all human life is worthy of protection of every stage in its development does not make you a chauvinist.”

Rubio, 41, continued to argue that science was on his side when it comes to abortion, saying “the people who are actually close-minded in American politics are the people that love to preach about the certainty of science when regards to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science is proven that life begins at conception.”

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