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Disk-wiping malware now has ransomware component, demanding 222 bitcoins

Disk-wiping malware now has ransomware component, demanding 222 bitcoins | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
An infamous disk-wiping malware called KillDisk is now functioning as ransomware. It will demand a surprisingly steep amount of 222 bitcoins, or equal to almost $215,000 to unlock infected files.

 

A piece of malicious software called KillDisk, infamously known for wiping files on a hard drive and corrupting it afterwards, is now equipped with a ransomware component, giving it the ability to lock up a victim's computer and demand money.

 

KillDisk was developed by a gang calling themselves 'TeleBots,' a group which is also behind a backdoor trojan of the same name, and responsible for a cyber-attack that sabotaged Ukrainian companies in 2016. Aside from this, Ukrainian banks have also been targeted, using malicious email attachments that contain the trojan.

 

Once important data from infected systems have been collected, KillDisk will then be deployed, subsequently destroying and replacing system files, as well as modifying file extensions. At this point, with the damage being done, this will render the computer unbootable, as well as hide the identity of the attacker.

 

And now, to make matters even worse, as KillDisk is mainly functioning as ransomware, and as Bleeping Computer puts it, it makes it much easier to cover the cybercriminals' tracks when they market themselves as ransomware, covering up the TeleBots backdoor trojan.

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7 Imaging Tools Pushing Science Forward

7 Imaging Tools Pushing Science Forward | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Berkeley Lab scientists are developing new ways to see the unseen. Here are seven imaging advances that are helping to push science forward.
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Newly Discovered 'Blue Whirl' Fire Tornado Burns Cleaner for Reduced Emissions

Newly Discovered 'Blue Whirl' Fire Tornado Burns Cleaner for Reduced Emissions | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Fire tornados, or ‘fire whirls,’ pose a powerful and essentially uncontrollable threat to life, property, and the surrounding environment in large urban and wildland fires. But now, a team of researchers in the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering say their discovery of a type of fire tornado they call a ‘blue whirl’ could lead to beneficial new approaches for reducing carbon emissions and improving oil spill cleanup.

 

A new paper published online August 4, 2016, in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) describes this previously unobserved flame phenomenon, which burns nearly soot-free.

 

“Blue whirls evolve from traditional yellow fire whirls. The yellow color is due to radiating soot particles, which form when there is not enough oxygen to burn the fuel completely,” said Elaine Oran, Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering and co-author of the paper. “Blue in the whirl indicates there is enough oxygen for complete combustion, which means less or no soot, and is therefore a cleaner burn.”

 

The Clark School team initially set out to investigate the combustion and burning dynamics of fire whirls on water. What they discovered was a novel, swirling blue flame that they say could help meet the growing worldwide demand for high-efficiency, low-emission combustion.

 

“A fire tornado has long been seen as this incredibly scary, destructive thing. But, like electricity, can you harness it for good? If we can understand it, then maybe we can control and use it,” said Michael Gollner, assistant professor of fire protection engineering and co-author of the paper.

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Kit Newton's comment, January 2, 4:47 AM
It's more efficient in terms of energy production and cleaner as regards soot residue. But I don't think it will reduce carbon dioxide emission. Greater efficiency means less fuel is needed to generate a given amount of energy. But as more carbon is oxidized per unit of fuel, the amount of CO2 would be roughly the same.
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The W7-X Is One Step Closer to Creating Nuclear Fusion

The W7-X Is One Step Closer to Creating Nuclear Fusion | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The US Dept. of Energy has confirmed that the W7-X's discrepancy is less than one part in 100,000 from its design expectations, truly impressive for the engineering of a fusion device. If future test are successful, the W7-X may be the key to giving society access to abundant, clean, and sustainable energy through fusion.

 

The methods by which we power the world — burning fossil fuels, capturing solar energy, etc. — are limited in their efficiency, and each has its own drawbacks, be they environmental, financial, or health related. By mimicking how the sun reacts atoms together in a process called nuclear fusion, scientists believe we could create a potentially limitless source of clean, renewable energy.

 

Unfortunately, no one has been able to develop a viable method for creating and harnessing this energy source yet. They are one step closer, however, thanks to the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) stellarator, a type of device that uses magnetic fields to confine the hot plasma that fuels fusion.

 

Built in Greifswald, Germany, by the Max Planck Institute für Plasma Physik, the W7-X has been going through numerous tests since its debut last year, and a recent collaboration with physicists from the US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) just confirmed in Nature Communications that the stellarator does produce the extremely high quality magnetic fields anticipated by its design.

 

The device’s discrepancy of less than one part in 100,000 from its design expectations is truly impressive. “To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented accuracy, both in terms of the as-built engineering of a fusion device, as well as in the measurement of magnetic topology,” the researchers said in the publication.

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Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, January 1, 7:06 AM
Fusion would be the only energy solution four human's greed for energy.
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Amazon Echo and Google Home Record What You Say. But What Happens to All That Data?

Amazon Echo and Google Home Record What You Say. But What Happens to All That Data? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Recording your voice and storing it on a server sounds alarming---OK, it is alarming---but there's a good reason why Amazon Echo and Google Home do it.

 

If you got an Amazon Echo or Google Home voice assistant, welcome to a life of luxurious convenience. You’ll be asking for the weather, the news, and your favorite songs without having to poke around on your phone. You’ll be turning off lights and requesting videos from bed. The world is yours. But you know what? That little talking cylinder is always listening to you. And not just listening, but recording and saving many of the things you say. Should you freak out? Not if you’re comfortable with Google and Amazon logging your normal web activity, which they’ve done for years. Many other sites have also done it for years. Echo and Home simply continue the trend of saving a crumb trail of queries, except with snippets of your voice.

 

However, it’s still a reasonable concern for anyone worried about privacy. If you only use Chrome in “Incognito Mode,” put tape over your laptop camera, and worry about snoops sniffing your packets, a web-connected microphone in your home seems risky. It’s a fair thing to be unsettled about. But recording your voice is a major part of how voice assistants work. Here’s how devices like Echo and Home record your voice, why they do it, what they do with the data, and how to scrub those recordings.

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First movie of energy transfer in photosynthesis solves decades-old debate

First movie of energy transfer in photosynthesis solves decades-old debate | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Using ultrafast imaging of moving energy in photosynthesis, scientists have determined the speed of crucial processes for the first time.

 

This should help scientists understand how nature has perfected the process of photosynthesis, and how this might be copied to produce fuels by artificial photosynthesis.

 

During photosynthesis, plants harvest light and, though a chemical process involving water and carbon dioxide, convert this into fuel for life. A vital part of this process is using the light energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

 

It was previously thought that the process of charge separation in the reaction center was a ‘bottleneck’ in photosynthesis - the slowest step in the process - rather than the transfer of energy along the antennae.

 

Since the structure of Photosystem II was first determined 2001, there was some suggestion that in fact it could be the energy transfer step that was slowest, but it was not yet possible to prove experimentally.

 

Now, using ultrafast imaging of electronic excitations that uses small crystals of Photosystem II, scientists from Imperial College London and Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Austria have shown that the slowest step is in fact the process through which the plants harvest light and transfer its energy through the antennae to the reaction center.

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Researchers combat antimicrobial resistance using smartphones

Researchers combat antimicrobial resistance using smartphones | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of UCLA researchers has developed an automated diagnostic test reader for antimicrobial resistance using a smartphone. The technology could lead to routine testing for antimicrobial susceptibility in areas with limited resources.

 

Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria are posing a severe threat to global public health. In particular, they are becoming more common in bacterial pathogens responsible for high-mortality diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and sepsis.

 

Part of the challenge in combatting the spread of these organisms has been the limited ability to conduct antimicrobial susceptibility testing in regions that do not have access to labs, testing equipment and trained diagnostic technicians to read such tests.

 

The UCLA researchers have developed a simple and inexpensive smartphone attachment that can conduct automated antimicrobial susceptibility testing. The research results were published in the journal Scientific Reports, part of the Nature Publishing Group.

 

"This work is extremely important and timely, given that drug-resistant bacteria are increasingly becoming a global threat rendering many of our first-line antibiotics ineffective," said Aydogan Ozcan, Chancellor's Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Our new smartphone-based technology can help put laboratory-quality testing into much wider adoption, especially in resource-limited regions."


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Earthquake-detection app captured nearly 400 temblors worldwide

Earthquake-detection app captured nearly 400 temblors worldwide | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The Android app harnesses a smartphone’s motion detectors to measure earthquake ground motion, then sends that data back to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for analysis. The eventual goal is to send early-warning alerts to users a bit farther from ground zero, giving them seconds to a minute of warning that the ground will start shaking. That’s enough time to take cover or switch off equipment that might be damaged in a quake.

 

To date, nearly 220,000 people have downloaded the app, and at any one time, between 8,000 and 10,000 phones are active — turned on, lying on a horizontal surface and connected to a wi-fi network — and thus primed to respond.

 

An updated version of the MyShake app will be available for download today (Dec. 14) from the Google Play Store, providing an option for push notifications of recent quakes within a distance determined by the user, and the option of turning the app off until the phone is plugged in, which could extend the life of a single charge in older phones.

 

“The notifications will not be fast initially — not fast enough for early warning — but it puts into place the technology to deliver the alerts and we can then work toward making them faster and faster as we improve our real-time detection system within MyShake,” said project leader Richard Allen, a UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary sciences and director of the seismology lab.

 

In a presentation today, during this week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, UC Berkeley developer and graduate student Qingkai Kong will summarize the app’s performance. Ten months of operation clearly shows that the sensitivity of the smartphone accelerometers and the density of phones in many places are sufficient to provide data quickly enough for early warning. The phones readily detect the first seismic waves to arrive — the less destructive P waves — and send the information to Berkeley in time to issue an alert that the stronger S wave will soon arrive.

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Researchers Developed World's First Water-Wave Laser

Researchers Developed World's First Water-Wave Laser | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Technion researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, that laser emissions can be created through the interaction of light and water waves. This “water-wave laser” could someday be used in tiny sensors that combine light waves, sound and water waves, or as a feature on microfluidic “lab-on-a-chip” devices used to study cell biology and to test new drug therapies.

 

For now, the water-wave laser offers a “playground” for scientists studying the interaction of light and fluid at a scale smaller than the width of a human hair, the researchers write in the new report, published November 21 in the journal Nature Photonics.

The study was conducted by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology students Shmuel Kaminski, Leopoldo Martin, and Shai Maayani, under the supervision of Professor Tal Carmon, head of the Optomechanics Center at the Mechanical Engineering Faculty at Technion. Carmon said the study is the first bridge between two areas of research that were previously considered unrelated to one another: nonlinear optics and water waves.

 

A typical laser can be created when the electrons in atoms become “excited” by energy absorbed from an outside source, causing them to emit radiation in the form of laser light. Professor Carmon and his colleagues now show for the first time that water wave oscillations within a liquid device can also generate laser radiation.

 

The possibility of creating a laser through the interaction of light with water waves has not been examined, Carmon said, mainly due to the huge difference between the low frequency of water waves on the surface of a liquid (approximately 1,000 oscillations per second) and the high frequency of light wave oscillations (10^14 oscillations per second). This frequency difference reduces the efficiency of the energy transfer between light and water waves, which is needed to produce the laser emission.

 

To compensate for this low efficiency, the researchers created a device in which an optical fiber delivers light into a tiny droplet of octane and water. Light waves and water waves pass through each other many times (approximately one million times) inside the droplet, generating the energy that leaves the droplet as the emission of the water-wave laser.

 

The interaction between the fiber optic light and the miniscule vibrations on the surface of the droplet are like an echo, the researchers noted, where the interaction of sound waves and the surface they pass through can make a single scream audible several times. In order to increase this echo effect in their device, the researchers used highly transparent, runny liquids, to encourage light and droplet interactions.

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Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, December 9, 2016 6:14 AM
Looks very interesting as optomechanics amplifier
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'Diamond-age' of power generation as nuclear batteries developed

'Diamond-age' of power generation as nuclear batteries developed | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current. The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life. This innovative method for radioactive energy was presented at the Cabot Institute's sold-out annual lecture - 'Ideas to change the world'- on Friday, 25 November.

 

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

 

Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University's Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: "There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy."

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Google's AI just created its own universal 'language'

Google's AI just created its own universal 'language' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The technology, used in Google Translate, can translate unseen material between languages. Google has previously taught its artificial intelligence to play games, and it's even capable of creating its own encryption. Now, its language translation tool has used machine learning to create a 'language' all of its own.

 

In September 2016, the search giant turned on its Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) system to help it automatically improve how it translates languages. The machine learning system analyses and makes sense of languages by looking at entire sentences – rather than individual phrases or words.

Following several months of testing, the researchers behind the AI have seen it be able to blindly translate languages even if it's never studied one of the languages involved in the translation. "An example of this would be translations between Korean and Japanese where Korean <> Japanese examples were not shown to the system," the Mike Schuster, from Google Brain wrote in a blogpost.

 

The team said the system was able to make "reasonable" translations of the languages it had not been taught to translate. In one instance, a research paper published alongside the blog, says the AI was taught Portuguese→English and English→Spanish. It was then able to make translations between Portuguese→Spanish.

 

"To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of true multilingual zero-shot translation," the paper explains. To make the system more accurate, the computer scientists then added additional data to the system about the languages.

 

However, the most remarkable feat of the research paper isn't that an AI can learn to translate languages without being shown examples of them first; it was the fact it used this skill to create its own 'language'. "Visual interpretation of the results shows that these models learn a form of interlingua representation for the multilingual model between all involved language pairs," the researchers wrote in the paper.

 

An interlingua is a type of artificial language, which is used to fulfill a purpose. In this case, the interlingua was used within the AI to explain how unseen material could be translated. "Using a 3-dimensional representation of internal network data, we were able to take a peek into the system as it translated a set of sentences between all possible pairs of the Japanese, Korean, and English languages," the team's blogpost continued. The data within the network allowed the team to interpret that the neural network was "encoding something" about the semantics of a sentence rather than comparing phrase-to-phrase translations.


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IBM: How to use your phone camera to identify skin cancer based on AI app

IBM: How to use your phone camera to identify skin cancer based on AI app | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Technology like computer vision and machine learning help identify cancerous spots.

 

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is expected to cause more than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. alone in 2016. Researchers are now hard-pressed to find a new way to catch the disease and others like it in the earliest stages. That's where that handy, ubiquitous iPhone camera can help, according to new research.

In an IBM Research Blog post, Dr. Noel Codella outlines a means of identifying markers of melanoma via skin image analysis that might be available to doctors and patients in the future.

 

The methodology for home diagnosis via smartphone is relatively simple (at least in theory): When someone finds a questionable spot on their skin, they use their handset's camera to take a picture of the lesion and submit the image to be assessed by an analytics service, which can recognize and reliably identify the characteristics of disease. 

 

In practice, though, it's much more complicated than that. We've seen this type of system put to the test before in standalone apps, but those programs were woefully inadequate at best, resulting in a dreadful 93 percent failure rate in some instances. But that was all the way back in 2013. Now, the IBM team is employing much more powerful tools to improve the accuracy of computer image analysis.

 

The key to the success of this project hinges on two factors. The first is the widespread use of Dermascopes, which are devices that can be attached to smartphone cameras to optimize photos of lesions for analyzation. The second (and more important) factor is the development of a massive database containing images of cancerous skin spots. The database is accessed using IBM's machine learning, computer vision and cloud computing capabilities to develop the means to consistently identify cases of melanoma through technology. 


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Tiny electronic device can monitor heart, recognize speech

Tiny electronic device can monitor heart, recognize speech | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and Northwestern University have developed a tiny, soft and wearable acoustic sensor that measures vibrations in the human body, allowing them to monitor human heart health and recognize spoken words.

The stretchable device captures physiological sound signals from the body, has physical properties well-matched with human skin and can be mounted on nearly any surface of the body, said CU Boulder Assistant Professor Jae-Woong Jeong, one of three lead study authors. The sensor, which resembles a small Band-Aid, weighs less than one-hundredth of an ounce and can gather continuous physiological data.

 

"This device has a very low mass density and can be used for cardiovascular monitoring, speech recognition and human-machine interfaces in daily life," said Jeong of the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. "It is very comfortable and convenient - you can think of it as a tiny, wearable stethoscope."

 

A paper on the subject was published Nov. 16, 2016 in Science Advances. The other two co-corresponding authors are Professors Yonggang Huang and John Rogers of Northwestern. "The thin, soft, skin-like characteristics of these advanced wearable devices provide unique capabilities for 'listening in' to the intrinsic sounds of vital organs of the body, including the lungs and heart, with important consequences in continuous monitoring of physiological health," said Rogers, the Simpson Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery. Rogers also is director of Northwestern's Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics.


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Physicists make it possible to 3D print your own baby universe

Physicists make it possible to 3D print your own baby universe | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Physicists have created a 3D printed cosmic microwave background - a map of the oldest light in the universe - and provided the files for download. The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is a glow that the universe has in the microwave range that maps the oldest light in the universe. It was imprinted when the universe first became transparent, instead of an opaque fog of plasma and radiation.

 

The CMB formed when the universe was only 380,000 years old – very early on in its now 13.8 billion-year history. The Planck satellite is making ever-more detailed maps of the CMB, which tells astronomers more about the early universe and the formation of structures within it, such as galaxies. However, more detailed maps are increasingly difficult to view and explore.

 

To address this issue, Dr Dave Clements from the Department of Physics at Imperial, and two final-year undergraduate students in Physics, have created the plans for 3D printing the CMB. A paper describing the process is published today in the European Journal of Physics.

 

Dr Clements said: “Presenting the CMB in a truly 3D form, that can be held in the hand and felt rather than viewed, has many potential benefits for teaching and outreach work, and is especially relevant for those with a visual disability.

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Sony's Smart Contact Lenses Can Record What You See

Sony's Smart Contact Lenses Can Record What You See | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Sony’s new patent for a “smart” contact lens includes some pretty cool tech—such as the ability to record and playback images, store them internally, and even autofocus.

 

Our memories are fallible things. We remember something one way; but the reality can be quite different. But imagine contact lenses that are also tiny cameras, recording and storing whatever you see, and even playing it back before your very eyes. What was really said at last week’s meeting? Play it back and see. Want to cherish forever some treasured moment—when you first saw your future spouse, or the birth of a child, or some other formative event? You may be able to soon.

 

And it gets better. Imagine how it might change the criminal justice system, with such infallible eyewitnesses. Grandpa has an incredible Bigfoot, ghost, or UFO story? Maybe all three? Let’s see the playback, Gramps; let’s see the proof.

 

It’s an intriguing concept, and a little frightening. And now, Sony is muscling its way into a game that already boasts such heavyweight players as Google and Samsung. The company has filed a patent for a “smart” contact lens.

 

A key component of the new contact lens technology is that the camera recorders “know” when you’re deliberately blinking, as opposed to the natural, involuntary blinks; these deliberate motions activate the mechanisms of the camera.

 

The patent claims: “It is known that a time period of usual blinking is usually 0.2 seconds to 0.4 seconds, and therefore it can be said that, in the case where the time period of blinking exceeds 0.5 seconds, the blinking is conscious blinking that is different from usual blinking (unconscious blinking).”

 

What happens when you fall asleep? Rest your eyes for a few seconds? There are issues to be worked out, certainly, but it’s still a fascinating concept.

 

Another exciting development is that the lenses record images to an internal storage device—a big improvement over other designs, such as Samsung’s, which would transmit images to an external device. It means you can easily and quickly access your recordings.

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Skype Co-Founder Invests 10 Million in a Flying Car That Can Travel More Than 250 km/h

Skype Co-Founder Invests 10 Million in a Flying Car That Can Travel More Than 250 km/h | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Flying cars might not have the most beautiful exteriors, nor are they the safest form of transportation, but for Atomico,  a European venture firm, that doesn’t matter. They’re betting flying cars will take-off, not only literally but financially as well.

It’s faith in this technology that has the venture firm investing 10 million euros in Lilium Aviation, a start-up aviation company that plans on bringing flying cars into reality.

 

The company’s current prototype is the forth in a line of attempts. It boasts a lightweight frame that has a take-off weight of around 600 kilograms with a maximum payload of 200 kilograms. It’s able to fly by using VTOL technology, which is also seen in some military fighter jets.

 

Instead of giant engines though, the flying car is able to lift-off vertically using 36 “highly mobile, ducted electric fans.” The vehicle is able to achieve flight by slowly turning the fans horizontally, with the wings and the fuselage generating aerodynamic lift. It has a maximum speed of 250 to 300 km/h (160 to 190 mph).

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Donald Schwartz's comment, January 1, 1:37 PM
Stowing the wings remains a problem.
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How blockchain can create the world’s biggest supercomputer

How blockchain can create the world’s biggest supercomputer | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

As our desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, etc. stand idly by for a huge portion of the day, the need for computing resources is growing at a fast pace. Large IoT ecosystems, machine learning and deep learning algorithms and other sophisticated solutions being deployed in every domain and industry are raising the demand for stronger cloud servers and more bandwidth to address the minute needs of enterprises and businesses.

 

So how can we make a more economic and efficient use of all the computing power that’s going to waste? Blockchain, the distributed ledger that’s gaining traction across various domains, might have the answer to the dilemma by providing a platform that enables participants to lend and borrow computing resources — and make money in the process.


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Researchers use radar to track 3.5 trillion migrating insects over England

Researchers use radar to track 3.5 trillion migrating insects over England | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers in the UK have turned some highly specialized radar equipment to the skies to track a staggering volume of material—3.2 kilotons of it—as it transits the skies of southern England. The material in question? Insects, about 3.5 trillion of them each year. While smaller insects seem to drift on the prevailing wind, larger ones appear to undergo a directed, seasonal migration.

 

The study relied on a combination of high-tech and old-fashioned hardware, shown above and below. The old-fashioned equipment was a traditional insect-catching net, albeit one that was sent aloft trailing below a miniature blimp. This was needed to pick up smaller insects—below 10mg in body mass—which couldn't be tracked using the radar. The radar was a special piece of equipment, called a vertical-looking entomological radar.

 

It's impressive hardware. For anything above 10mg, the radar could record "body mass, flight altitude, aerial density, displacement speed, displacement direction, and flight heading." The equipment could do all this up to about 1.2km in altitude, allowing it to catch any high-flying insects. The equipment was set up in three locations in the southern UK and sampled the movement of insects for a full decade to produce the data analyzed in this new paper. During that time, the radars tracked more than 1.8 million individual insects, which were used to extrapolate general trends.

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Virtual reality provides vivid look at a fetus inside the womb

Virtual reality provides vivid look at a fetus inside the womb | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Brazilian researchers have devised a way to immerse parents in virtual reality visualizations of their unborn babies, though the most vivid visuals will likely be reserved for a tiny fraction of pregnancies in which doctors suspect health problems. The technology has been tested in about 30 pregnancies at a Rio de Janeiro clinic but has not yet been peer-reviewed; it will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

 

The technology could inform fetal medical care — and it has commercial potential as a novelty for expectant parents.

But it may be an expensive novelty indeed. And it’s not clear how many parents would pay for a virtual reality slide down their fetus’s esophagus — or how useful that would be for doctors making medical decisions.

 

The Brazilian technology draws on two types of medical imaging data, traditional ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Software splices images from the scans and turns them into three-dimensional models, which are then transformed into virtual reality environments. They’re a step beyond the 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds that have become increasingly popular among expectant parents with the means to buy a fancy scan for a souvenir.

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WIRED: The 16 best scientific breakthroughs of 2016

2016 may have been a difficult year for many reasons, but at WIRED we want to celebrate the great things that happened too. Alongside the 16 positive things that happened this year, we bring you the incredible scientific breakthroughs that have changed the future of research and development.

 

  1. Cloning does not cause long-term health issues, study finds
  2. Using virtual reality and brain training to help paraplegics walk
  3. Huge underground helium reserve discovered in Tanzania
  4. First human CRISPR gene-editing trial gets early approval
  5. Most distant signs of oxygen in the Universe detected
  6. Algorithm that can predict when a tsunami will strike
  7. Nasa’s Kepler telescope finds 1,284 exoplanets
  8. Robot carries out first autonomous soft tissue surgery
  9. AI used to ‘rewrite’ painful memories in people’s brains
  10. Fish ‘chat’ to each other and may have ‘regional accents’
  11. New blood test hunts down the earliest traces of cancer
  12. ‘Heart on a chip’ could finally spell end for animal testing
  13. How naked mole rats have evolved to feel no pain
  14. Are we be on the brink of a ‘universal’ flu vaccine?
  15. Octobot – the first entirely, soft autonomous robot
  16. Zika vaccine a step closer after scientists ‘neutralize’ the virus during pregnancy
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Mitigating the risk of solar geoengineering

Mitigating the risk of solar geoengineering | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Aerosols could cool the planet without ozone damage | To halt the rise of global temperatures, Harvard researchers are looking at solar geoengineering, which would inject light-reflecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the planet.

 

The planet is warming at an unprecedented rate, and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases alone is not enough to remove the risk. Last year’s historic Paris climate agreement set the goal of keeping global temperatures no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Emission reductions will be central to achieving that goal, but supplemental efforts can further reduce risks.

 

One drastic idea is solar geoengineering — injecting light-reflecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the planet. Researchers know that large amounts of aerosols can significantly cool the planet; the effect has been observed after large volcanic eruptions. But these sulfate aerosols also carry significant risks. The biggest known risk is that they produce sulfuric acid in the stratosphere, which damages ozone. Since the ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun, its depletion can lead to increased rates of skin cancer, eye damage, and other adverse consequences.

 

Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have identified an aerosol for solar geoengineering that may be able to cool the planet while simultaneously repairing ozone damage. The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

“In solar geoengineering research, introducing sulfuric acid into the atmosphere has been the only idea that had any serious traction until now,” said David Keith, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at SEAS and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, the first author of the paper. “This research is a turning point and an important step in analyzing and reducing certain risks of solar geoengineering.”

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Toward the development of X-ray movies

Toward the development of X-ray movies | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
MIT researchers find a tabletop all-optical terahertz-driven electron gun could replace car-sized radio-frequency (RF) guns in electron diffraction imaging and ultrafast X-ray imaging.

 

Ultrashort bursts of electrons have several important applications in scientific imaging, but producing them has typically required a costly, power-hungry apparatus about the size of a car. In the journal Optica, researchers at MIT, the German Synchrotron, and the University of Hamburg in Germany describe a new technique for generating electron bursts, which could be the basis of a shoebox-sized device that consumes only a fraction as much power as its predecessors.

 

Ultrashort electron beams are used to directly gather information about materials that are undergoing chemical reactions or changes of physical state. But after being fired down a particle accelerator a half a mile long, they’re also used to produce ultrashort X-rays. Last year, in Nature Communications, the same group of MIT and Hamburg researchersreported the prototype of a small “linear accelerator” that could serve the same purpose as the much larger and more expensive particle accelerator. That technology, together with a higher-energy version of the new “electron gun,” could bring the imaging power of ultrashort X-ray pulses to academic and industry labs.

 

Indeed, while the electron bursts reported in the new paper have a duration measured in hundreds of femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second (which is about what the best existing electron guns can manage), the researchers’ approach has the potential to lower their duration to a single femtosecond. An electron burst of a single femtosecond could generate attosecond X-ray pulses, which would enable real-time imaging of cellular machinery in action.

 

“We’re building a tool for the chemists, physicists, and biologists who use X-ray light sources or the electron beams directly to do their research,” says Ronny Huang, an MIT PhD student in electrical engineering and first author on the new paper. “Because these electron beams are so short, they allow you to kind of freeze the motion of electrons inside molecules as the molecules are undergoing a chemical reaction. A femtosecond X-ray light source requires more hardware, but it utilizes electron guns.”

 

In particular, Huang explains, with a technique called electron diffraction imaging, physicists and chemists use ultrashort bursts of electrons to investigate phase changes in materials, such as the transition from an electrically conductive to a nonconductive state, and the creation and dissolution of bonds between molecules in chemical reactions.

 

Ultrashort X-ray pulses have the same advantages that ordinary X-rays do: They penetrate more deeply into thicker materials. The current method for producing ultrashort X-rays involves sending electron bursts from a car-sized electron gun through a billion-dollar, kilometer-long particle accelerator that increases their velocity. Then they pass between two rows of magnets — known as an “undulator” — that converts them to X-rays.

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Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Are Remaking Themselves Around AI

Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Are Remaking Themselves Around AI | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Artificial intelligence is not only reshaping the technology these tech giants use but how they organize and operate their businesses.

 

Fei-Fei Li is a big deal in the world of AI. As the director of the Artificial Intelligence and Vision labs at Stanford University, she oversaw the creation of ImageNet, a vast database of images designed to accelerate the development of AI that can “see.” And, well, it worked, helping to drive the creation of deep learning systems that can recognize objects, animals, people, and even entire scenes in photos—technology that has become commonplace on the world’s biggest photo-sharing sites. Now, Fei-Fei will help run a brand new AI group inside Google, a move that reflects just how aggressively the world’s biggest tech companies are remaking themselves around this breed of artificial intelligence.

 

Alongside a former Stanford researcher—Jia Li, who more recently ran research for the social networking service Snapchat—the China-born Fei-Fei will lead a team inside Google’s cloud computing operation, building online services that any coder or company can use to build their own AI. This new Cloud Machine Learning Group is the latest example of AI not only re-shaping the technology that Google uses, but also changing how the company organizes and operates its business.

 

Google is not alone in this rapid re-orientation. Amazon is building a similar group cloud computing group for AI. Facebook and Twitter have created internal groups akin to Google Brain, the team responsible for infusing the search giant’s own tech with AI. And in recent weeks, Microsoft reorganized much of its operation around its existing machine learning work, creating a new AI and research group under executive vice president Harry Shum, who began his career as a computer vision researcher.

 

Oren Etzioni, CEO of the not-for-profit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, says that these changes are partly about marketing—efforts to ride the AI hype wave. Google, for example, is focusing public attention on Fei-Fei’s new group because that’s good for the company’s cloud computing business. But Etzioni says this is also part of very real shift inside these companies, with AI poised to play an increasingly large role in our future. “This isn’t just window dressing,” he says.


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How to See Living Machines

How to See Living Machines | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

XSEDE Stampede supercomputer models 3-D human pre-initiation complex.

 

It sounds like something out of the Borg in Star Trek. Nano-sized robots self-assemble to form biological machines that do the work that keeps one alive. And yet something like this really does go on.

Every cell in our body - be they flesh and blood, brain and everything in between - has identical DNA, the twisted staircase of nucleic acids uniquely coded to each organism. Complex assemblages that resemble molecular machines take pieces of DNA called genes and make a brain cell when needed, instead of, say, a bone cell. These molecular machines are so complex, yet so tiny, that scientists today are just starting to understand their structure and function using the latest microscopes and supercomputers. Biological molecular machines could lay the foundation for developing cures to diseases like cancer. How small can one see, and what will one find?

 

Cryo-electron microscopy combined with supercomputer simulations have created the best model yet, with near atomic-level detail, of a vital molecular machine, the human pre-initiation complex (PIC). A science team from Northwestern University, Berkeley National Laboratory, Georgia State University, and UC Berkeley published their results on the PIC May 2016 in the journal Nature.

 

"For the first time, structures have been detailed of the complex groups of molecules that open up human DNA," said study co-author Ivaylo Ivanov, associate professor of chemistry at Georgia State University. Ivanov led the computational work that modeled the atoms of the different proteins that act like cogs of the PIC molecular machine.

 

The PIC finds genes associated with making a specific protein, such as an antibody or an enzyme. There the PIC pulls apart the two strands of DNA and feeds the coding strand to the workhorse enzyme RNA polymerase II. This starts transcription, where DNA bits are copied by RNA polymerase II into a single strand of messenger RNA. The RNA makes its way to 'protein factories' in the cell called ribosomes that take them as orders for which protein to make. If DNA is like the blueprint of a new house, RNAs are instructions to the 'contractors' at the ribosome work station. The manufactured proteins are like the nails, wood, plaster, and just about everything else in the house.

 

The experiment began with images painstakingly taken of PIC. They were made by a group led by study co-author Eva Nogales, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Berkeley and also Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator.


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Researchers discover new antibiotics by sifting through the human microbiome 

Researchers discover new antibiotics by sifting through the human microbiome  | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Most antibiotics in use today are based on natural molecules produced by bacteria—and given the rise of antibiotic resistance, there’s an urgent need to find more of them. Yet coaxing bacteria to produce new antibiotics is a tricky proposition. Most bacteria won’t grow in the lab. And even when they do, most of the genes that cause them to churn out molecules with antibiotic properties never get switched on.

 

The researchers placed tiny droplets of 25 newly discovered antibiotics on a carpet of beta-lactam resistant S. aureus. They identified two compounds that generated circles of dead bacteria (dark spots) around each droplet.

 

Researchers at The Rockefeller University have found a way around these problems, however. By using computational methods to identify which genes in a microbe’s genome ought to produce antibiotic compounds and then synthesizing those compounds themselves, they were able to discover two promising new antibiotics without having to culture a single bacterium.

 

The team, which was led by Sean Brady, head of the Laboratory of Genetically Encoded Small Molecules, began by trawling publicly available databases for the genomes of bacteria that reside in the human body. They then used specialized computer software to scan hundreds of those genomes for clusters of genes that were likely to produce molecules known as non-ribosomal peptides that form the basis of many antibiotics. They also used the software to predict the chemical structures of the molecules that the gene clusters ought to produce.

 

The software initially identified 57 potentially useful gene clusters, which the researchers winnowed down to 30. Brady and his colleagues then used a method called solid-phase peptide synthesis to manufacture 25 different chemical compounds.

 

By testing those compounds against human pathogens, the researchers successfully identified two closely related antibiotics, which they dubbed humimycin A and humimycin B. Both are found in a family of bacteria called Rhodococcus—microbes that had never yielded anything resembling the humimycins when cultured using traditional laboratory techniques.

 

The humimycins proved especially effective against Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, which can cause dangerous infections in humans and tend to grow resistant to various antibiotics. Further experiments suggested that the humimycins work by inhibiting an enzyme that bacteria use to build their cell walls—and once that cell-wall building pathway is interrupted, the bacteria die.


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