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"Dancing" muscle-controlled chromatophores to allow the squid to blend in with its environment

Chromatophores -- in this example from Loligo pealeii -- are muscle-controlled pigment cells in the skin of cephalopods, such as squid, octopus, and cuttlefish. These chromatophores expand and contract on command in order to help the animal blend in with its surroundings, or to communicate with other animals.

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

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In the Deep of the Oceans, Clues Hide about How Life Makes Light

In the Deep of the Oceans, Clues Hide about How Life Makes Light | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Bioluminescent organisms have evolved dozens of times over the course of life’s history. Recent studies are narrowing in on the complicated biochemistry needed.

 

Dive deep enough under the surface of the ocean, and light reigns. Some 90 percent of the fish and crustaceans that dwell at depths of 100 to 1,000 meters are capable of making their own light. Flashlight fish hunt and communicate with a flashing Morse code sent by light pockets that pulse under their eyes.

 

Tubeshoulder fish shoot luminous ink at their attackers. Hatchetfish make themselves appear invisible by generating light on their underbellies to mimic downwelling sunlight; predators prowling below look up to see only a continuous glow.

Scientists have indexed thousands of bioluminescent organisms across the tree of life, and they expect to add many more. Yet researchers have long wondered how bioluminescence came to be. Now, as explained in several recently released studies, researchers have made significant progress in understanding the origins of bioluminescence — both evolutionary and chemical. The new understanding may one day allow bioluminescence to be used as a tool in biology and medical research.

 

One longstanding challenge has been determining how many separate times bioluminescence arose. How many species came to the same conclusion, independent of one another Though some of the most familiar examples of light from living organisms are terrestrial — think of fireflies, glowworms and foxfire — the bulk of evolutionary events involving bioluminescence took place in the ocean. Bioluminescence is in fact markedly absent from all terrestrial vertebrates and flowering plants.

 

In the deep ocean, light gives organisms a unique way to attract prey, communicate and defend themselves, said Matthew Davis, a biologist at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. In a study released in June, he and his colleagues found that fish that use light for communication and courtship signaling were especially diverse. Over a period of about 150 million years — brief by evolutionary standards —such fish proliferated into more species than other groups of fish. Bioluminescent species that used their light exclusively for camouflage, on the other hand, were no more diverse.

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Physicists confirm the precision of magnetic fields in the most advanced stellarator in the world

Physicists confirm the precision of magnetic fields in the most advanced stellarator in the world | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Physicist Sam Lazerson of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has teamed with German scientists to confirm that the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device called a stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, produces high-quality magnetic fields that are consistent with their complex design.

The findings, published in the November 30 issue of Nature Communications , revealed an error field—or deviation from the designed configuration—of less than one part in 100,000. Such results could become a key step toward verifying the feasibility of stellarators as models for future fusion reactors.

 

W7-X, for which PPPL is the leading U.S. collaborator, is the largest and most sophisticated stellarator in the world. Built by the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald, it was completed in 2015 as the vanguard of the stellarator design. Other collaborators on the U.S. team include DOE's Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories, along with Auburn University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Xanthos Technologies.

 

Stellarators confine the hot, charged gas, otherwise known as plasma, that fuels fusion reactions in twisty—or 3-D—magnetic fields, compared with the symmetrical—or 2D —fields that the more widely used tokamaks create. The twisty configuration enables stellarators to control the plasma with no need for the current that tokamaks must induce in the gas to complete the magnetic field. Stellarator plasmas thus run little risk of disrupting, as can happen in tokamaks, causing the internal current to abruptly halt and fusion reactions to shut down.

 

PPPL has played key roles in the W7-X project. The Laboratory designed and delivered five barn door-sized trim coils that fine-tune the stellarator's magnetic fields and made their measurement possible. "We've confirmed that the magnetic cage that we've built works as designed," said Lazerson, who led roughly half the experiments that validated the configuration of the field. "This reflects U.S. contributions to W7-X," he added, "and highlights PPPL's ability to conduct international collaborations." Support for this work comes from Euratom and the DOE Office of Science.


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High-precision magnetic field sensing

High-precision magnetic field sensing | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists have developed a highly sensitive sensor to detect tiny changes in strong magnetic fields. The sensor may find widespread use in medicine and other areas.

 

Researchers from the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, which is operated jointly by ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, have succeeded in measuring tiny changes in strong magnetic fields with unprecedented precision. In their experiments, the scientists magnetised a water droplet inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, a device that is used for medical imaging. The researchers were able to detect even the tiniest variations of the magnetic field strength within the droplet. These changes were up to a trillion times smaller than the seven tesla field strength of the MRI scanner used in the experiment.

 

"Until now, it was possible only to measure such small variations in weak magnetic fields," says Klaas Prüssmann, Professor of Bioimaging at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. An example of a weak magnetic field is that of the Earth, where the field strength is just a few dozen microtesla. For fields of this kind, highly sensitive measurement methods are already able to detect variations of about a trillionth of the field strength, says Prüssmann. "Now, we have a similarly sensitive method for strong fields of more than one tesla, such as those used, inter alia, in medical imaging."

 

The scientists based the sensing technique on the principle of nuclear magnetic resonance, which also serves as the basis for magnetic resonance imaging and the spectroscopic methods that biologists use to elucidate the 3D structure of molecules.

 

However, to measure the variations, the scientists had to build a new high-precision sensor, part of which is a highly sensitive digital radio receiver. "This allowed us to reduce background noise to an extremely low level during the measurements," says Simon Gross. Gross wrote his doctoral thesis on this topic in Prüssmann's group and is lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature Communications.


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Map of drugs reveals uncharted waters in search for new treatments

Map of drugs reveals uncharted waters in search for new treatments | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have created a map of all 1,578 licensed drugs and their mechanisms of action - as a means of identifying 'uncharted waters' in the search for future treatments.

Their analysis of drugs licensed through the Food and Drug Administration reveals that 667 separate proteins in the human body have had drugs developed against them - just an estimated 3.5% of the 20,000 human proteins. And as many as 70 per cent of all targeted drugs created so far work by acting on just four families of proteins - leaving vast swathes of human biology untouched by drug discovery programs.

 

The study is the most comprehensive analysis of existing drug treatments across all diseases ever conducted. It was jointly led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, which also funded the research.

 

The new map reveals areas where human genes and the proteins they encode could be promising targets for new treatments - and could also be used to identify where a treatment for one disease could be effective against another.

 

The new data, published in a paper in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, could be used to improve treatments for all human aliments - as diverse as cancer, mental illness, chronic pain and infectious disease.

 

Scientists brought together vast amounts of information from huge datasets including the canSAR database at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), the ChEMBL database from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) in Cambridge and the University of New Mexico's DrugCentral database. They matched each drug with prescribing information and data from published scientific papers, and built up a comprehensive picture of how existing medicines work - and where the gaps and opportunities for the future lie.

 

The researchers discovered that there are 667 unique human proteins targeted by existing approved drugs, and identified a further 189 drug targets in organisms that are harmful to humans, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.


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Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy ever discovered

Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy ever discovered | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An international team of astronomers led by Yale University and the University of California-Santa Cruz have pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5% of its present age.

 

The team discovered an exceptionally luminous galaxy more than 13 billion years in the past and determined its exact distance from Earth using the powerful MOSFIRE instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory’s 10-meter telescope, in Hawaii. It is the most distant galaxy currently measured.

 

The galaxy, EGS-zs8-1, was originally identified based on its particular colors in images from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. It is one of the brightest and most massive objects in the early universe.

 

Age and distance are vitally connected in any discussion of the universe. The light we see from our Sun takes just eight minutes to reach us, while the light from distant galaxies we see via today’s advanced telescopes travels for billions of years before it reaches us — so we’re seeing what those galaxies looked like billions of years ago.

 

“It has already built more than 15% of the mass of our own Milky Way today,” said Pascal Oesch, a Yale astronomer and lead author of a study published online May 5 in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “But it had only 670 million years to do so. The universe was still very young then.” The new distance measurement also enabled the astronomers to determine that EGS-zs8-1 is still forming stars rapidly, about 80 times faster than our galaxy.

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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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Naive T Cells Find Homes in Lymphoid Tissues

Naive T Cells Find Homes in Lymphoid Tissues | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The human lymph nodes and spleen maintain unique, compartmentalized sets of naive T cells well into old age.

 

At birth, the human body is brimming with naive T cells, immune cells generated in the thymus that have yet to encounter a pathogen. Production of these cells declines with age, but they persist in the body to muster an immune response against novel invaders. In a Science Immunology paper published December 2, 2016, Columbia University researchers explore the mechanisms behind such persistence, showing that these cell populations are sequestered in lymphoid tissue and that each lymphoid site maintains a unique set of naive T cell clones.

 

“It’s really nice to have this in the human and across all of these different tissues. The authors confirm many of the things that were established in different models,” said Janko Nikolich-Zugich, an immunologist and gerontologist at the University of Arizona who was not involved with the research. “The compartmentalization of naive T cells is the biggest story.”

Previous studies of immune cell populations in people relied on blood samples to pick up circulating T cells, but the Columbia team took a different approach. In partnership with an organ procurement organization in New York City called LiveOnNY, the researchers obtained donor tissue from the thymus, lymph nodes, and spleen, then analyzed the cell content.

 

“After the teams come to get organs for lifesaving transplantation, we come in at the end and get organs and tissues for research,” explained coauthor Donna Farber, an immunologist at Columbia. “We’ve been doing this for almost six years now, so we’ve got donors from infancy to old age. It’s allowed us to ask questions about how your immune system changes or is maintained over the course of a lifetime.”

 

Naive T cells freshly produced from the thymus are marked by the presence of extrachromosomal DNA, which is gradually diluted out of the cell population with each division. By tracking these markers, Farber and colleagues demonstrated that various lymphoid sites from a single donor accumulated new naive T cells, to varying degrees. “The thymus is pumping out new T cells, but they don’t go everywhere,” said Farber. “They may go where they’re needed more. We don’t know what drives that.” The team also saw that the level of new naive T cells in lymphoid sites sharply declined in donors older than 40, around the time the thymus started to atrophy. As thymic production fell, however, naive T cells were still maintained in various lymphoid tissues.

 

The decline in thymic production of naive T cells after age 40 has been suggested in previous work using blood samples, and studies on mouse models have indicated lymph nodes are key for naive T cell maintenance. These latest results confirm previous findings, said Nikolich-Zugich. “The information is great, both technically and conceptually,” he added.

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Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature” | University of Basel

Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature” | University of Basel | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A research team at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum has investigated the expression of ribosomal proteins in a wide range of human tissues including tumors and discovered a cancer type specific signature. As the researchers report in “Genome Biology” this “cancer signature” could potentially be used to predict the progression of the disease.
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Singularity 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal Or Is No Longer Needed

Singularity 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal Or Is No Longer Needed | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

We're fast approaching the moment when humans and machines merge. Welcome to the Singularity movement.

 

On Feb. 15, 1965, a diffident but self-possessed high school student named Raymond Kurzweil appeared as a guest on a game show called I've Got a Secret. He was introduced by the host, Steve Allen, then he played a short musical composition on a piano. The idea was that Kurzweil was hiding an unusual fact and the panelists — they included a comedian and a former Miss America — had to guess what it was. On the show (the clip on YouTube), the beauty queen did a good job of grilling Kurzweil, but the comedian got the win: the music was composed by a computer. Kurzweil got $200. (Watch TIME's video "Singularity: How Scared Should We Be?")

 

Kurzweil then demonstrated 'the computer', which he built himself — a desk-size affair with loudly clacking relays, hooked up to a typewriter. The panelists were pretty blasé about it; they were more impressed by Kurzweil's young age than by anything he had actually done. They were ready to move on to Mrs. Chester Loney of Rough and Ready, Calif., whose secret was that she'd been President Lyndon Johnson's first-grade teacher.

 

But Kurzweil would spend much of the rest of his career working out what his demonstration meant. Creating a work of art is one of those activities we reserve for humans and humans only. It's an act of self-expression; you're not supposed to be able to do it if you don't have a self. To see creativity, the exclusive domain of humans, usurped by a computer built by a 17-year-old is to watch a line blur that cannot be unblurred, the line between organic intelligence and artificial intelligence.

 

That was Kurzweil's real secret, and back in 1965 nobody guessed it. Maybe not even him, not yet. But now, 46 years later, Kurzweil believes that we're approaching a moment when computers will become intelligent, and not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans. When that happens, humanity — our bodies, our minds, our civilization — will be completely and irreversibly transformed. He believes that this moment is not only inevitable but imminent. According to his calculations, the end of human civilization as we know it is about 35 years away.

(See the best inventions of 2010.)

 

Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they're getting faster is increasing. True? True. So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. That 'something' is Artificial intelligence or often called AI. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.

 

If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other very smart people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there's no reason to think computers would stop getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn't even take breaks to play Farmville. (See the best inventions of 2010.)

 

Probably. But it's impossible to predict the behavior of these smarter-than-human intelligences with which (with whom?) we might one day share the planet, because if you could, you'd be as smart as they would be. But there are a lot of theories about it. Maybe we'll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely. Maybe we'll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.

 

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you're talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn't, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It's not a fringe idea; it's a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There's an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it's an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.

 

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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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Bringing silicon to life

Bringing silicon to life | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Living organisms have been persuaded to make chemical bonds not found in nature, a finding that may change how medicines and other chemicals are made in the future.

 

A new study is the first to show that living organisms can be persuaded to make silicon-carbon bonds--something only chemists had done before. Scientists at Caltech "bred" a bacterial protein to make the man-made bonds--a finding that has applications in several industries.

 

Molecules with silicon-carbon, or organosilicon, compounds are found in pharmaceuticals as well as in many other products, including agricultural chemicals, paints, semiconductors, and computer and TV screens. Currently, these products are made synthetically, since the silicon-carbon bonds are not found in nature.

 

The new study demonstrates that biology can instead be used to manufacture these bonds in ways that are more environmentally friendly and potentially much less expensive. "We decided to get nature to do what only chemists could do--only better," says Frances Arnold, Caltech's Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, and principal investigator of the new research, published in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Science.

 

The study is also the first to show that nature can adapt to incorporate silicon into carbon-based molecules, the building blocks of life. Scientists have long wondered if life on Earth could have evolved to be based on silicon instead of carbon. Science-fiction authors likewise have imagined alien worlds with silicon-based life, like the lumpy Horta creatures portrayed in an episode of the 1960s TV series Star Trek. Carbon and silicon are chemically very similar. They both can form bonds to four atoms simultaneously, making them well suited to form the long chains of molecules found in life, such as proteins and DNA.

 

"No living organism is known to put silicon-carbon bonds together, even though silicon is so abundant, all around us, in rocks and all over the beach," says Jennifer Kan, a postdoctoral scholar in Arnold's lab and lead author of the new study. Silicon is the second most abundant element in Earth's crust.

 

The researchers used a method called directed evolution, pioneered by Arnold in the early 1990s, in which new and better enzymes are created in labs by artificial selection, similar to the way that breeders modify corn, cows, or cats. Enzymes are a class of proteins that catalyze, or facilitate, chemical reactions. The directed evolution process begins with an enzyme that scientists want to enhance. The DNA coding for the enzyme is mutated in more-or-less random ways, and the resulting enzymes are tested for a desired trait. The top-performing enzyme is then mutated again, and the process is repeated until an enzyme that performs much better than the original is created.

 

Directed evolution has been used for years to make enzymes for household products, like detergents; and for "green" sustainable routes to making pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, and fuels.

 

In the new study, the goal was not just to improve an enzyme's biological function but to actually persuade it to do something that it had not done before. The researchers' first step was to find a suitable candidate, an enzyme showing potential for making the silicon-carbon bonds.

 

"It's like breeding a racehorse," says Arnold, who is also the director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center at Caltech. "A good breeder recognizes the inherent ability of a horse to become a racer and has to bring that out in successive generations. We just do it with proteins."


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Theory that challenges Einstein’s physics could soon be put to the test

Theory that challenges Einstein’s physics could soon be put to the test | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists behind a theory that the speed of light is variable – and not constant as Einstein suggested – have made a prediction that could be tested.

 

Einstein observed that the speed of light remains the same in any situation, and this meant that space and time could be different in different situations. The assumption that the speed of light is constant, and always has been, underpins many theories in physics, such as Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In particular, it plays a role in models of what happened in the very early universe, seconds after the Big Bang.

 

But some researchers have suggested that the speed of light could have been much higher in this early universe. Now, one of this theory’s originators, Professor João Magueijo from Imperial College London, working with Dr Niayesh Afshordi at the Perimeter Institute in Canada, has made a prediction that could be used to test the theory’s validity.

 

Structures in the universe, for example galaxies, all formed from fluctuations in the early universe – tiny differences in density from one region to another. A record of these early fluctuations is imprinted on the cosmic microwave background – a map of the oldest light in the universe – in the form of a ‘spectral index’.

 

Working with their theory that the fluctuations were influenced by a varying speed of light in the early universe, Professor Magueijo and Dr Afshordi have now used a model to put an exact figure on the spectral index. The predicted figure and the model it is based on are published in the journal Physical Review D.


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YEC Geo's curator insight, November 27, 10:37 AM
Really interesting--hadn't heard of this before.
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A New Spin on the Quantum Brains

A New Spin on the Quantum Brains | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new theory explains how fragile quantum states may be able to exist for hours or even days in our warm, wet brain. Experiments should soon test the idea now.

 

The mere mention of “quantum consciousness” makes most physicists cringe, as the phrase seems to evoke the vague, insipid musings of a New Age guru. But if a new hypothesis proves to be correct, quantum effects might indeed play some role in human cognition. Matthew Fisher, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, raised eyebrows late last year when he published a paper in Annals of Physics proposing that the nuclear spins of phosphorus atoms could serve as rudimentary “qubits” in the brain — which would essentially enable the brain to function like a quantum computer.

 

As recently as 10 years ago, Fisher’s hypothesis would have been dismissed by many as nonsense. Physicists have been burned by this sort of thing before, most notably in 1989, when Roger Penrose proposed that mysterious protein structures called “microtubules” played a role in human consciousness by exploiting quantum effects. Few researchers believe such a hypothesis plausible. Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher at the University of California, San Diego, memorably opined that one might as well invoke “pixie dust in the synapses” to explain human cognition.

 

Fisher’s hypothesis faces the same daunting obstacle that has plagued microtubules: a phenomenon called quantum decoherence. To build an operating quantum computer, you need to connect qubits — quantum bits of information — in a process called entanglement. But entangled qubits exist in a fragile state. They must be carefully shielded from any noise in the surrounding environment. Just one photon bumping into your qubit would be enough to make the entire system “decohere,” destroying the entanglement and wiping out the quantum properties of the system. It’s challenging enough to do quantum processing in a carefully controlled laboratory environment, never mind the warm, wet, complicated mess that is human biology, where maintaining coherence for sufficiently long periods of time is well nigh impossible.

 

Over the past decade, however, growing evidence suggests that certain biological systems might employ quantum mechanics. In photosynthesis, for example, quantum effects help plants turn sunlight into fuel. Scientists have also proposed that migratory birds have a “quantum compass” enabling them to exploit Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation, or that the human sense of smell could be rooted in quantum mechanics.

 

Fisher’s notion of quantum processing in the brain broadly fits into this emerging field of quantum biology. Call it quantum neuroscience. He has developed a complicated hypothesis, incorporating nuclear and quantum physics, organic chemistry, neuroscience and biology. While his ideas have met with plenty of justifiable skepticism, some researchers are starting to pay attention. “Those who read his paper (as I hope many will) are bound to conclude: This old guy’s not so crazy,” wrote John Preskill, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, after Fisher gave a talk there. “He may be on to something. At least he’s raising some very interesting questions.”

 

Senthil Todadri, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fisher’s longtime friend and colleague, is skeptical, but he thinks that Fisher has rephrased the central question — is quantum processing happening in the brain? — in such a way that it lays out a road map to test the hypothesis rigorously. “The general assumption has been that of course there is no quantum information processing that’s possible in the brain,” Todadri said. “He makes the case that there’s precisely one loophole. So the next step is to see if that loophole can be closed.” Indeed, Fisher has begun to bring together a team to do laboratory tests to answer this question once and for all.

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Fine-Tuning of Our Universe: Are We Special?

Fine-Tuning of Our Universe: Are We Special? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Why do the deep physical laws of our universe seem just right for our existence? What does a "fine-tuned" universe mean? What is the far future of intelligence, human or alien, in the universe?
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Exotic insulator may hold clue to key mystery of modern physics

Exotic insulator may hold clue to key mystery of modern physics | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Experiments using laser light and pieces of gray material the size of fingernail clippings may offer clues to a fundamental scientific riddle: what is the relationship between the everyday world of classical physics and the hidden quantum realm that obeys entirely different rules?

"We found a particular material that is straddling these two regimes," said N. Peter Armitage, an associate professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University who led the research for the paper just published in the journal Science. Six scientists from Johns Hopkins and Rutgers University were involved in the work on materials called topological insulators, which can conduct electricity on their atoms-thin surface, but not in their insides.

 

Topological insulators were predicted in the 1980s, first observed in 2007 and have been studied intensively since. Made from any number of hundreds of elements, these materials have the capacity to show quantum properties that usually appear only at the microscopic level, but here appear in a material visible to the naked eye.

 

The experiments reported in Science establish these materials as a distinct state of matter "that exhibits macroscopic quantum mechanical effects," Armitage said. "Usually we think of quantum mechanics as a theory of small things, but in this system quantum mechanics is appearing on macroscopic length scales. The experiments are made possible by unique instrumentation developed in my laboratory."

 

In the experiments reported in Science, dark gray material samples made of the elements bismuth and selenium – each a few millimeters long and of different thicknesses—were hit with "THz" light beams that are invisible to the unaided eye. Researchers measured the reflected light as it moved through the material samples, and found fingerprints of a quantum state of matter.


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Magic mushroom's ingredient could help terminal cancer patients to face death

Magic mushroom's ingredient could help terminal cancer patients to face death | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A science group are proposing that a psychedelic trip is the optimal way to end life. Here a single dose of psilocybin has been shown to increase the feeling of well-being with those with terminal cancer.

 

Psilocybin is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms and recent trials have shown the chemical, when combined with psychotherapy helps to reduce depression and anxiety for those with cancer. In addition the chemical and pyschological therpay helps to increase feelings of wellbeing in people, with the effects lasting for up to six-moths.

 

Studies of psilocybin formed part of legitimate scientific research until the early 1970s, when a reversal in U.S. policy brought studies to an end (this moratorium has recently been reversed.) Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms. Once ingested, psilocybin is transformed in the human body to psilocin, a compound that has has mind-altering effects which are similar to drugs like LSD, mescaline, and DMT.

 

The new research stems from studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) and Langone Medical Center (New York), where researchers undertook trials of 80 people with cancer and symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to New Scientist, one of the the trials involved the volunteers laying on a couch wearing a blindfold and listening to music. Some subjects were given psilocybin and others placebos. Different psychological and physiological tests were performed.

 

With the subjects who were given psilocybin, there were notable decreases in depression and anxiety, accompanied by increases in measures of quality of life, life meaning, death acceptance and optimism. The lead researcher, Dr. Roland Griffiths explains: "fter this kind of experience, people feel that they’ve learned something that’s of deep meaning and value to them. They attribute changes in how they approach life, interact with people and to their value systems to that experience."


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Checkpoint Inhibitors at Work: Beating Cancer at Its Own Game

Checkpoint Inhibitors at Work: Beating Cancer at Its Own Game | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
How an iconoclastic cancer researcher gamed the immune system and unleashed a potent new weapon against the disease.
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Global warming will drive the loss of 55 billion tons of carbon from the soil by 2050

Global warming will drive the loss of 55 billion tons of carbon from the soil by 2050 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A new global analysis finds that warming temperatures will trigger the release of trillions of kilograms of carbon from the planet’s soils, driven largely by the losses of carbon in the world’s colder

 

For decades scientists have speculated that rising global temperatures might alter the ability of soils to store carbon, potentially releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and triggering runaway climate change. Yet thousands of studies worldwide have produced mixed signals on whether this storage capacity will actually decrease — or even increase — as the planet warms. It turns out scientists might have been looking in the wrong places.

 

A new Yale-led study in the journal Nature finds that warming will drive the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century, or about 17% more than the projected emissions due to human-related activities during that period. That would be roughly the equivalent of adding to the planet another industrialized country the size of the United States.

 

Critically, the researchers found that carbon losses will be greatest in the world’s colder places, at high latitudes, locations that had largely been missing from previous research. In those regions, massive stocks of carbon have built up over thousands of years and slow microbial activity has kept them relatively secure.

 

Most of the previous research had been conducted in the world’s temperate regions, where there were smaller carbon stocks. Studies that focused only on these regions would have missed the vast proportion of potential carbon losses, said lead author Thomas Crowther, who conducted his research while a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

 

“Carbon stores are greatest in places like the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, where the soil is cold and often frozen,” Crowther said. “In those conditions microbes are less active and so carbon has been allowed to build up over many centuries. “But as you start to warm, the activities of those microbes increase, and that’s when the losses start to happen,” Crowther said. “The scary thing is, these cold regions are the places that are expected to warm the most under climate change.”

 

The results are based on an analysis of raw data on stored soil carbon from dozens of studies conducted over the past 20 years in different regions of the world. The study predicts that for one degree of warming, about 30 petagrams of soil carbon will be released into the atmosphere, or about twice as much as is emitted annually due to human-related activities (A petagram is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 kilograms). This is particularly concerning, Crowther said, because previous climate studies predicted that the planet is likely to warm by 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century.

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Evolution occurs rapidly enough to be observed inside the laboratory

Evolution occurs rapidly enough to be observed inside the laboratory | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Biologists have discovered that the evolution of a new species can occur rapidly enough for them to observe the process in a simple laboratory flask.

 

In a month-long experiment using a virus harmless to humans, biologists working at the University of California San Diego and at Michigan State University documented the evolution of a virus into two incipient species—a process known as speciation that Charles Darwin proposed to explain the branching in the tree of life, where one species splits into two distinct species during evolution.

 

“Many theories have been proposed to explain speciation, and they have been tested through analyzing the characteristics of fossils, genomes, and natural populations of plants and animals,” said Justin Meyer, an assistant professor of biology at UC San Diego and the first author of a study that will be published in the December 9 issue of Science.“However, speciation has been notoriously difficult to thoroughly investigate because it happens too slowly to directly observe. Without direct evidence for speciation, some people have doubted the importance of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

 

Meyer’s study, which also appeared last week in an early online edition of Science, began while he was a doctoral student at Michigan State University, working in the laboratory of Richard Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology there who pioneered the use of microorganisms to study the dynamics of long-term evolution.

 

“Even though we set out to study speciation in the lab, I was surprised it happened so fast,” said Lenski, a co-author of the study. “Yet the deeper Justin dug into things—from how the viruses infected different hosts to their DNA sequences—the stronger the evidence became that we really were seeing the early stages of speciation.”

 

“With these experiments, no one can doubt whether speciation occurs,” Meyer added. “More importantly, we now have an experimental system to test many previously untestable ideas about the process.”

 

To conduct their experiment, Meyer, Lenski and their colleagues cultured a virus—known as “bacteriophage lambda”—capable of infecting E. coli bacteria using two receptors, molecules on the outside of the cell wall that viruses use to attach themselves and then infect cells.

 

When the biologists supplied the virus with two types of cells that varied in their receptors, the virus evolved into two new species, one specialized on each receptor type.

 

“The virus we started the experiment with, the one with the nondiscriminatory appetite, went extinct. During the process of speciation, it was replaced by its more evolved descendants with a more refined palette,” explained Meyer.

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New astronomical measurements suggest existence of supergalaxies

New astronomical measurements suggest existence of supergalaxies | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Galaxies are usually grouped into clusters, huge systems comprising up to  thousands of millions of these objects, in whose interior are found the most massive galaxies in the universe. Until now scientists believed that these “supergalaxies” formed from smaller galaxies that grow closer and closer together until they merge, due to gravitational attraction. “In the local universe we see galaxies merging” says Bjorn Emonts, the first author of the article and a researcher at the Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA) in Madrid “and we expected to observe that the formation of supergalaxies took place in the same way, in the early (now distant) universe."

 

To investigate this, telescopes were pointed towards an embryonic galaxy cluster 10 thousand million light years away, in whose interior the giant Spiderweb galaxy is forming, and discovered a cloud of very cold gas where the galaxies were merging. This enormous cloud, with some 100 thousand million times the mass of the Sun, is mainly composed of molecular hydrogen, the basic material from which the stars and the galaxies are formed. Previous studies had discovered the mysterious appearance of thousands of millions of young stars throughout the Spiderweb, and for this reason it is now thought that this supergalaxy condensed directly from the cold gas cloud.

 

Instead of observing the hydrogen directly, they did so using carbon monoxide, a tracer gas which is much easier to detect. “It is surprising”, comments Matthew Lehnert, second author of the article and researcher at the Astrophysics Institute of Paris, “how cold this gas is, at some 200 degrees below zero Celsius. We would have expected a lot of collapsing galaxies, which would have heated the gas, and for that reason we thought that the carbon monoxide would be much more difficult to detect".

 

However, combining the interferometers VLA (Very Large Array) in New Mexico (USA) and the ATCA (Australia Telescope Compact Array) in Australia, they could observe and found that the major fraction of the carbon monoxide was not inthe small galaxies. “With the VLA”, explained Helmut Dannerbauer, another of the authors of the article and researcher at the IAC who contributed to the detection of the molecular gas, “we can see only the gas in the central galaxy, which is one third of all the carbon monoxide detected with the ATCA. This latter instrument, which is more sensitive for observing large structures, revealed an area of size 70 kiloparsecs (some 200,000 light years) with carbon monoxide distributed around the big galaxy, in the volume populated by its smaller neighbors. Thanks to the two interferometers, we discovered the cloud of cosmic gas entangled among them”. Ray Norris, another of the authors of the study and researcher at the CSIRO and Western Sydney University underlined that “this finding shows just what we can manage to do from the ground with international collaboration”.

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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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West Antarctic ice shelf breaking up from the inside out

West Antarctic ice shelf breaking up from the inside out | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A key glacier in Antarctica is breaking apart from the inside out, suggesting that the ocean is weakening ice on the edges of the continent.

 

The Pine Island Glacier, part of the ice shelf that bounds the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is one of two glaciers that researchers believe are most likely to undergo rapid retreat, bringing more ice from the interior of the ice sheet to the ocean, where its melting would flood coastlines around the world.

 

A nearly 225-square-mile iceberg broke off from the glacier in 2015, but it wasn't until Ohio State University researchers were testing some new image-processing software that they noticed something strange in satellite images taken before the event.

 

In the images, they saw evidence that a rift formed at the very base of the ice shelf nearly 20 miles inland in 2013. The rift propagated upward over two years, until it broke through the ice surface and set the iceberg adrift over 12 days in late July and early August 2015. They report their discovery in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

 

"It's generally accepted that it's no longer a question of whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt, it's a question of when," said study leader Ian Howat, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State. "This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes."

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Captain Cook's detailed 1778 records confirm global warming today in the Arctic

Captain Cook's detailed 1778 records confirm global warming today in the Arctic | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Passengers simmered in Jacuzzis and feasted on gourmet cuisine this summer as the 850-foot cruise ship Crystal Serenity moved through the Northwest Passage.

 

But in the summer of 1778, when Capt. James Cook tried to find a Western entrance to the route, his men toiled on frost-slicked decks and complained about having to supplement dwindling rations with walrus meat.

 

The British expedition was halted north of the Bering Strait by "ice which was as compact as a wall and seemed to be 10 or 12 feet high at least," according to the captain's journal. Cook's ships followed the ice edge all the way to Siberia in their futile search for an opening, sometimes guided through fog by the braying of the unpalatable creatures the crew called Sea Horses.

 

More than two centuries later, scientists are mining meticulous records kept by Cook and his crew for a new perspective on the warming that has opened the Arctic in a way the 18th century explorer could never have imagined. Working with maps and logs from Cook's voyage and other historical records and satellite imagery, University of Washington mathematician Harry Stern has tracked changes in ice cover in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia, over nearly 240 years.

 

The results, published this month in the journal Polar Geography, confirm the significant shrinkage of the summer ice cap and shed new light on the timing of the transformation. The analysis also extends the historical picture back nearly 75 years, building on previous work with ships' records from the 1850s.

 

"This old data helps us look at what conditions were like before we started global warming, and what the natural variability was," said Jim Overland, a Seattle-based oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved in Stern's project.

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NASA: It’s not snow: pictures of the world’s largest gypsum dune field

NASA: It’s not snow: pictures of the world’s largest gypsum dune field | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

These white mounds are the world’s largest gypsum dune field, centerpiece of the White Sands National Monument.

 

The white hills sprawling in every direction look like mounds built by snow plows, or massive hills of sugar. In fact, they’re the world’s largest gypsum dune field: the White Sands National Monument, located in southern New Mexico.

 

During the last Ice Age, melting snow and ice from the San Andres Mountains (west of the dunes) and the Sacramento Mountains (to the east) eroded minerals from the hillsides and carried them downhill to the basin below. Lake Otero formed on the spot. As the climate warmed and the water evaporated, the basin remained full of selenite (the crystalline form of gypsum) and created the Alkali Flats. Over time, winds broke the crystals into sand grains, which built up into the dunes visible in this mosaic of photographs taken by an astronaut from the International Space Station on June 20, 2016.

 

Today, that geological process continues. Gypsum-rich mountain waters flow down into the basin below, where the hot desert sun dries the water and winds break up newly formed selenite crystals. At the south end of the monument, occasional rains cause water to accumulate in Lake Lucero before evaporating. Because the basin has no outlet, gypsum here accumulates instead of getting pushed downstream and dissolving.


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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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