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news archives — science 10

New translation, the Magna Carta
article archives at abelard's news and comment zonescience archives
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science and technology 10

current hydrogen cells are 100 times the price of gasoline engines,
and that does not attend to infrastructure.

A hydrogen-fuelled economy is not in practical sight yet.
Hydrogen is not a fuel source.
Politicians and corporations who make glib statements about ‘the hydrogen economy’ are either lying, or ignorant.

A gasoline engine can produce one kilowatt of energy for about $50, while a one-kilowatt fuel cell on the market today costs around $5,000.”

“The new features also increase driving range by 40 km (25 miles) to 395 km (245 miles), although that is short of the minimum 500 km believed to be needed to make FCVs truly practical.”

related material
replacing fossil fuels
toyoto moving into production of 84m/USgal. car –> just over 100 m/UKgal.

the web address for this article is


related material

replacing fossil fuels

toyoto moving into production of 84m/USgal. car –> just over 100 m/UKgal.

the France Zone at
Economics and money zone at




clearing uranium contamination—i’ll have acetate with mine, says geobacter

“Within days the Geobacter population boomed, and soluble uranium levels began to drop. After 50 days, 70% of the uranium had been converted into uraninite.”

the web address for this article is


rapid climate change in alaska, with comments on climate models

“Such models are particularly crucial for places such as Alaska, as global-scale simulations are notoriously inaccurate at the poles3. Arctic clouds, for example, are not like their counterparts at lower latitudes: their droplets may be mostly ice rather than liquid water, for example. The gaps in our knowledge about arctic clouds puts some rainfall predictions off by as much as 100%. And no one can agree on how to deal with the reflectance of the Sun's energy by ice and snow, known as albedo.

“Small differences in the value of ice albedo can produce large differences in model outputs,”

the web address for this article is


development of the brain and gene linkages

“University of Utah researchers have identified genes that ensure nerves develop in the correct part of the brain so mice can roll their eyeballs sideways, wiggle their whiskers, pull their ears back and blink their eyelids. The genes are common to all mammals, and so they likely help control human facial expressions such as smiles and frowns.”

Recommended scan, but not for those hyper-sensitive to mice embryos!

the web address for this article is


toyoto moving into production of 84m/USgal. car –> just over 100 m/UKgal.

and all other car builders seem to be lagging.
How does the gas-profligate USA manage to get behind like this?
[Note: ‘gas’ is the American abbreviation for gasoline, which English-speaking Europeans call ‘petrol’.]

Warning: this, otherwise useful, Reuters site is often cavalier/sloppy with numbers, and with facts.

related material
interesting, if scrappy, item on vehicles with improved consumption

the web address for this article is


related material
interesting, if scrappy, item on vehicles with improved consumption

ion engine under test in space

Background article

“Solar-electric propulsion does not burn fuel as chemical rockets do; instead the technique converts sunlight into electricity via solar panels and uses it to electrically charge heavy gas atoms, which accelerate away from the spacecraft at high speed. This drives the spacecraft forwards. In a chemical rocket, the burning fuel creates gases which are expelled relatively slowly compared to ion thrusters. However, in an ion engine, the gas is ejected at high velocity, which makes it much more efficient and requires less fuel.

“Ion engines are very important because their high efficiency makes previously impossible missions achievable. Since they do not need to carry so much fuel, ion engines release room for more scientific instruments. As technology continues to get smaller, the size of instruments decreases and the overall size and mass of the spacecraft decreases, further increasing efficiency.”

the web address for this article is


using radar to measure root mass of trees!

“Traditional approaches used for root biomass harvests (e.g., soil cores, pits, and trenches) provide reasonably accurate information, but they are destructive in nature, labor intensive, and limited with respect to soil volume and surface area that can be assessed. Data derived from traditional root extraction approaches are also generally limited to root biomass averages across plots or treatments rather than information on root distribution.”

Long detailed item with illustrations—for the dedicated or curious, or even the bored!

the web address for this article is


ductile intermetallic compounds discovered

“Although these compounds possess chemical, physical, electrical, magnetic, and mechanical properties that are often superior to ordinary metals, their potential has gone untapped because they are typically quite brittle at room temperature. Until now.”

Intermetallic compound:
Any of a class of substances composed of definite proportions of two or more elemental metals, rather than continuously variable proportions (as in solid solutions). The crystal structures and the properties of intermetallic compounds often differ markedly from those of their constituents. In addition to the normal valences of their components, the relative sizes of the atoms and the ratio of the total number of valence electrons to the total number of atoms have important effects on the composition of intermetallic compounds.
The fixed, usually rational numerical relationship between the relative quantities of substances in a reaction or compound.

the web address for this article is


wanted—long, strong string

A conference of 70 scientists and engineers opens in Santa Fe today—

“Mr Clarke [A.C. Clarke, author of 2001, a space oddessey] - who once said a space elevator would only be built "about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" - was due to address the scientists at the Santa Fe conference today by satellite link from his home in Sri Lanka.”

“ He says it would slash the price of access to space 400-fold, and could allow cheaper, faster travel to other planets.

“One unlikely problem could be capturing the public's imagination. "When we actually start launching this it's going to be kind of boring," Dr Edwards said. "There's no smoke, there's no pillars of fire and there's no loud rumbling noises. There's just this thing that slowly ascends the ribbon into space." ”

the web address for this article is


chemical warfare in plant life

“Recent discoveries by Colorado State University scientists differ with traditional theories about invasive weed ecology by offering proof that at least one weed - spotted knapweed - doesn’t take over outside of its native ecology just by being leaner - it’s also meaner. So mean, in fact, that it triggers the plants around it that are competing for resources to destroy themselves.”

“ A chemical called catechin from spotted knapweed, which was documented in Colorado State research a year ago as a natural herbicide that is released by the plant’s roots to kill other plants, actually makes native plants that compete with spotted knapweed turn on themselves. The chemical triggers an internal reaction that leads native plants that compete with the weed to self destruct and allows the weed to take over more territory.”

“ In previous research, Vivanco lead a team that discovered that spotted knapweed produces two types of catechin that are the same chemical compound but the mirror image of each other in their structures. One has anti-bacterial properties and the other acts as a natural herbicide.”

the web address for this article is


methane extinction 1/4 billion years ago?

“The oxygen-starved aftermath of an immense global belch of methane left land animals gasping for breath and caused the Earth's largest mass extinction, suggests new research.

“Greg Retallack, an expert in ancient soils at the University of Oregon in Eugene, says his theory also explains the mysterious survival of a barrel-chested reptile that became the most common animal on the planet after the end of the Permian period, 251 million years ago.

“Paleontologists have long puzzled over the mass extinction at the end of the Permian. There is no evidence for a large asteroid impact, but sharp changes in carbon isotope ratios indicate something triggered massive releases of frozen methane hydrates from under the sea floor and in permafrost.”

related material
methane hydrates

the web address for this article is



related material
methane hydrates

going down—7,500 centuries of recorded history in ice

“An ice core recently shipped from Antarctica has yielded its first, eagerly awaited results. The tests confirm that the 3200-metre core dates back at least 750,000 years, making the ice the oldest continuous core ever retrieved.

“Gases and particles trapped in the layers of an ice core provide information about the Earth's climate and atmosphere. Oxygen and hydrogen isotopes reveal the temperature when the ice formed, for example, while high carbon dioxide and methane levels indicate periods of global warming.”

the web address for this article is


new technology nano-photovoltaic claim

“Nanosys’ novel nanocomposite photovoltaic technology combines precisely engineered inorganic semiconductor nanocrystals with a light-weight, flexible host-matrix to generate solar cells that combine the conversion efficiency, environmental stability and device lifetimes of inorganic solar-cells with the light-weight, flexibility, low-cost and volume-manufacturing capabilities of plastics. The result is a technology capable of generating solar power at less than $1 per Watt. These photovoltaic cells are fabricated using low-cost roll-to-roll processing that can produce standalone sheets or can be directly incorporated onto the surface of other structures. By combining the most important characteristics of each of today’s different solar materials, this single photovoltaic technology will impact all areas of the photovoltaic industry, from portable power and satellite power to on-grid power generation and solar integrated building materials such as roofing tiles or siding.”

This is much cheaper than previous claims and moves into competitive electricity production, if viable.

the web address for this article is


interesting to see that the us government space programme is starting to move
now private enterprise is on their heels

“In just five years, astronauts may journey to the International Space Station in a stripped-down four-seater instead of the mammoth — and aging — space shuttle. In effect, NASA hopes to commute to orbit in a sleek sedan instead of an 18-wheeler.”

[lead from aoiko]

the web address for this article is


this is your pilot—i am just approaching the 9th tee

if you have any concerns, please call me on my mobile.

“The US Air Force's Global Hawk became the first pilotless aeroplane to be given permission to fly routinely in civilian airspace on Thursday.”

the web address for this article is


“tonight could be the perfect time for a martian attack”

Go look, you with souls—

it is a beautiful red lantern in the sky, especially around 4 am as it rises overhead!
Clear skies essential, mistiness dulls it somewhat.

The glory will be there for several weeks, but now is Mars day.

You bags of wet chemicals will never ever see this sight again.

the web address for this article is


claim that plant mines cadmium from contaminated earth

“Designer plants that suck out heavy metals from contaminated soil, conveniently ferrying them to the surface for recovery, have moved a step closer after a discovery by U.S. researchers.”

the web address for this article is


death to mosquitoes

“ "By adding tiny crustaceans called copepods to the water, we can kill mosquito larvae before they become adults that may spread West Nile and other diseases," he said. "Tests at our Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach show that the copepods feed on mosquito larvae at an amazing rate, killing up to 90 percent of the larvae."

“Rey said the copepod species he is testing, Macrocyclops albidus, is very aggressive toward its prey. In fact, the copepods will kill the mosquito larvae even when they are not looking for a meal.

“ "They will attack the larvae and maim it so it’s not going to live and then drop it," he said. "We don’t know why they behave this way - it might be a reflex action or they’re just being mean." ”

the web address for this article is


mars reminder—one week to go!

Getting nearer and looking great! The red planet, Mars, will be closest to the Earth on 27th August.

This will probably be your only chance to see such a thing. The next time Mars is so close is not for another 284 years.

the web address for this article is


boiled and still alive

“It may be small, its habitat harsh, but a newly discovered single-celled microbe leads the hottest existence known to science.

“Its discoverers have preliminarily named the roughly micron-wide speck "Strain 121" for the top temperature at which it survives: 121 degrees Celsius, or about 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Announcing Strain 121's record-breaking ability to take the heat in the August 15 issue of the journal Science, researchers Derek Lovley and Kazem Kashefi write, "The upper temperature limit for life is a key parameter for delimiting when and where life might have evolved on a hot, early Earth; the depth to which life exists in the Earth's subsurface; and the potential for life in hot, extraterrestrial environments."

“Previously, the upper known temperature limit for life had been 113 C (235 F), a record held by another hyperthermophilic - or extreme-heat-liking- microbe called Pyrolobus fumarii.”

More available at the linked item, including pictures and many links.

the web address for this article is


element 110 receives a name
[shallow article]

After ten years of quarrelling, the name Darmstadtium is expected to be approved today.

A useful and clear list of the elements up to n°. 109 can be found here.

the web address for this article is


convergent evolution

“Convergent evolution, the emergence of chance look-alikes, involves an evolutionary pattern in which completely unrelated species share similar traits because each has independently adapted to similar ecological and environmental conditions. "If you were a little animal and you eat insects you have to be on the ground, then one of your main problems in life is that you get eaten by big things, so you have to come up with a defense mechanism," [...]”

the web address for this article is


mars remainder—two weeks to go

image credit: mars today/space ref




“On 27th August at 10.51 BST (9.51 GMT) Mars will be closer to Earth than at any time since the year 57,617 BC - 59,619 years ago. It won't be as near again until 28th August 2287. [...] On that date [27th August 2003], the Red Planet will approach to within 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 km) -- 145 times the distance of the Moon.”

“At its peak brightness, Mars will reach magnitude -2.9, far outshining the brightest star, Sirius (magnitude -1.5). It will remain brighter than Sirius until mid-October. Venus is the only planet that can appear brighter, but Venus will not be visible again until December.”

The linked page has explanations and general information about Mars.

the web address for this article is


increasing evidence of pre-birth learning/environment on behaviour

“Some people still don't believe this link between birth weight and adult disease but the evidence is amassing so strongly and so fast. I'd say a reasonable sized proportion of the obesity we see now could actually be blamed on environmental and 'in utero' factors.”

related material
possibly important result concerning gene expression


the web address for this article is



related material
possibly important result concerning gene expression

lots and lots of stars

70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of them and more....

“[...] 70 sextillion is greater than the estimated number of sand grains on all the world's beaches and deserts - about 10 times more.”

the web address for this article is


genetics and archeology closer to determining date of early migration to america

“This discovery places the DNA evidence more in line with archaeological data, which [archeological data] is characterized by a clear dearth of sites credibly dated beyond 14,000 years [...] ”

the web address for this article is


new technology digital camera

“[...] a pixel can be captured in just 40 billionths of a second [...] In one second, such a system could take 30 pictures with the resolution of a standard laptop screen.

“[...] three laser beams, one for each of the primary hues build up a colour picture. These are scanned across the object being photographed. Because of its high intensity, the reflected laser light can be detected millions of times faster than in a conventional digital camera.”

Not much use for party snaps! Maybe blind the guests...

the web address for this article is


fluorescent fish by gene modification for the pet market

Genetically modified zebra fish on sale in the far East. They contain DNA from jellyfish, which makes them shimmer in the dark (2 pictures available).

Taikong first developed a green fluorescent ricefish using jellyfish genes in a 2001 cooperation project with National Taiwan University fisheries scientist H.J. Tsai.

In 2002 it created a red glowing zebra fish in red, producing one that glows in both red and green in April this year.”

Other modifications reported elsewhere include pigs the excrete less phosphate (a pollutant), goats the product spider web protein in milk and cats that don't shed allergens (the last not yet available to my knowledge)

the web address for this article is


possibly important result concerning gene expression

This report is not as clear as I would wish, but it looks important.

“We have long known that maternal nutrition profoundly impacts disease susceptibility in their offspring, but we never understood the cause-and-effect link," said Randy Jirtle, Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology at Duke and senior investigator of the study. "For the first time ever, we have shown precisely how nutritional supplementation to the mother can permanently alter gene expression in her offspring without altering the genes themselves.”

Note particularly the word “permanently” – shades of Lamarck.

the web address for this article is


fascinating item on nanotechnology
I don’t understand much of it, but I expect you mechanics will!

The first nano-scale motor - a gold rotor on a nanotube shaft that could ride on the back of a virus.

“It's the smallest synthetic motor that's ever been made," said Alex Zettl, professor of physics at UC Berkeley and faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "Nature is still a little bit ahead of us - there are biological motors that are equal or slightly smaller in size - but we are catching up.”

“The entire electric motor is about 500 nanometers across, 300 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair[...]”

Animations and some details at link.

the web address for this article is


earth's gravitational field and the weather system—spirit level for the planet
interesting, like so much of NASAThree GoldenYak (tm) award

“Grace [NASA-German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment] is accomplishing that goal by providing a more precise definition of Earth’s geoid, an imaginary surface defined only by Earth’s gravity field, upon which Earth’s ocean surfaces would lie if not disturbed by other forces such as ocean currents, winds and tides. The geoid height varies around the world by up to 200 meters (650 feet).”

the web address for this article is


programme learns to distingush male from female, and fact from fiction

“The problem of automatically determining the gender of a document's author would appear to be a more subtle problem than those of categorization by topic or authorship attribution. Nevertheless, it is shown that automated text categorization techniques can exploit combinations of simple lexical and syntactic features to infer the gender of the author of an unseen formal written document with approximately 80% accuracy. The same techniques can be used to determine if a document is fiction or non-fiction with approximately 98% accuracy.”

More generally , it is found that even in formal writing, female writing exhibits greater usage of features identified by previous researchers as "involved" while male writing exhibits greater usage of features which have been identified as "informational". Finally, a strong correlation between the characteristics of male (female) writing and those of nonfiction (fiction) is demonstrated.”

That is, male writing is similar to fact writing, whereas female writing shows characteristics similar to fiction writing.

the web address for this article is


town tits sing high, rainforest greenbuls sing low

“Town tits hit the high notes, [...] whereas rural ones favour their lower registers. Urban birds may stand a better chance of being heard over the loud, low-frequency rumbling of engines if they use mainly high notes.”

“Species that can't modify their songs to compete with man-made noise could suffer as a result [...]. Great tits expand their repertoires throughout life.”

“The tit study builds on Slabbekoorn's earlier finding that little greenbuls (Andropadus virens) in the rainforest of central Africa sing lower songs than those elsewhere. In this setting, he explains, the birds compete against high-pitched racket from insects such as cicadas and grasshoppers.”

the web address for this article is


mars is coming closer

“The unusual proximity of Mars makes it particularly visible at the moment. Its brightness will peak towards the end of next month, when it will come within 55 million kilometres of Earth. During August, the red planet will outshine even Jupiter.”

Note that this item, from Nature, gives the time period since Mars was last so close to the Earth as 60,000 years, more than the item below, from Nature may well be considered to be more reliable on scientific matters.

“If the Martians want to invade, now would be the time. The Red Planet is making its closest pass by Earth in 50,000 years over the next few months.”
[Assuming that they have their figures correct.]

Look for the big red light in the night sky—it is not a stationary, high-flying helicopter or a flying saucer ... probably!

the web address for this article is


horizontal gene transfer between plants more common
than previously thought

“It has been common knowledge for years that horizontal gene transfer among bacteria is extremely common. Some scientists believe that as much as 25 percent of certain bacterial species' chromosomal DNA has been acquired by way of horizontal transfer.”

Horizontal transfer—between species
Vertical transfer—from parent to offspring.

the web address for this article is


new camera with gps
[this site is using poor mechanical translation]

This camera (from Ricoh) can stamp photos with the GPS position. Then the user changes the card (I think), which next allows transmission via mobile phone, and then links photos to a map on a computer. The slot is said not to take image-storage cards.
This appears to be the first camera with this type of facility aimed at the mass market.

I think the machine can also take dictation!

Price approximately $760/£500. Accessory prices not known currently.

[Lead from Limbic]

the web address for this article is


call in inspector computer sherlock

“And to ensure that each scenario makes sense, the software uses a "truth maintenance" program. This refers back to the knowledgebase, examines the causal relationships between each strand of evidence and assesses whether the scenario being considered could actually have taken place.”

An ideal companion for Robocop.

And they do not even fit you up, or take bribes. Probably ...

the web address for this article is


another, more interesting, planetary system out there

“ "This is the first time we've come across a planetary system that suggests no major difference to our own," said lead author Dr Brad Carter of the University of Southern Queensland in Brisbane.”

the web address for this article is


‘soft walls’ stop aircraft from intruding on restricted areas

“ "They propose modifying the avionics in aircraft so that the plane would fight any efforts by the pilot to fly into restricted airspace. So if a plane was flying with a no-fly-zone to the left, and the pilot started banking left to enter the zone, the avionics would counter by banking right. Lee's system, called "soft walls", would first gently resist the pilot, and then become increasingly forceful until it prevailed.”

Another step towards pilotless, computerised flight.

the web address for this article is


fuel cells for portable computers in development

“The fuel cell would enable notebooks to operate for 40 consecutive hours, or around 10 times the life of regular lithium-ion batteries, a company spokesman said.”

related material
miniaturised fuel cell battery substitute

the web address for this article is


related material
miniaturised fuel cell battery substitute

motion camouflage

“A future generation of anti-aircraft missiles could be made far harder to dodge by a guidance system inspired by the flight of dragonflies and hoverflies. The missiles will mimic a strategy called motion camouflage, which predatory insects use to trick prey into thinking they are stationary.

“Insects that use this technique sneak up on their prey in a way that makes them seem stationary even though they are in fact moving closer. They do this by keeping themselves positioned between a fixed point in the landscape and their prey.”

Also applicable to computer gaming.

related material
i’m not moving—i’m not chasing you for lunch—honest ...

the web address for this article is


related material
i’m not moving—i’m not chasing you for lunch—honest ...

our friends, pseudomonas stutzeri—bugs that clean up old paintings

“The bacteria, known as Pseudomonas stutzeri, degraded the organic compounds present in the frescoes, making it possible to see figures that previously had appeared like ghosts in a thick mist.”

And correct previous human mistakes.

the web address for this article is


weapons identification by fused images

“Blum and his graduate students have devised a system that combines a photo taken by an optical camera with a photo of the same subject taken by a millimeter-wave camera (MMW). The result is a composite photo that exposes much more than either photo reveals by itself.”

Visuals here.

the web address for this article is


birds protecting the forest canopy

“"This research, because of good design and controls, lets us make solid inferences. This is a good example in that it shows the ecological services that birds provide for the health of the forest," said Jeffrey D. Brawn, a professor in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences and department of animal biology. "This is another piece of evidence suggesting that if we tinker too much with our forests, there will be adverse effects. If I were growing trees for a living, I’d want some birds around."”

Natural systems often act like a functioning machine. Remove (or add) a part and the repercussions are unpredictable.

the web address for this article is


non-kin co-operation in group selection

Recommended reading.

“Most examples of cooperative behavior in animals involve cooperation between genetically related individuals, which is explained by the theory of "kin selection." Now, researchers have described an example of cooperation between genetically similar but unrelated members of a lizard species common in the western United States [...]

“Barry Sinervo, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been studying the side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) since 1989 [...]

“This phenomenon of runaway social selection centered on the throat-color locus has led to the evolution of cooperation in the blue males, Sinervo said. This represents a new idea for how social cooperation evolves, which he and Clobert call "morphotypic" selection, as opposed to kin selection.”

the web address for this article is


decaffinated coffee by ‘natural’ means

“ The three types of decaffeination method in commercial use today involve either chemical solvents, supercritical gases or water and caffeine-free extracts. These methods are expensive, say the researchers, and the result is poor tasting coffee: "problems that could potentially be overcome by the genetic engineering of coffee plants," they write.”

Coffee is currently stripped of caffeine in expensive industrial processes. Carbon dioxide or organic solvents flush the caffeine from beans, often along with other key flavour compounds. The resulting taste can send connoisseurs racing for a full-jolt fix, despite its negative effects on health. The alternative, more costly Swiss Water Process sieves out caffeine through a carbon filter, leaving a fuller-flavour brew.”

the web address for this article is


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