"Issuing more concealed carry permits does not decrease crime, according to a new study published in the Journal of Criminology. Texas A&M professor Dr. Charles D. Phillips lead the study. He and his colleagues looked at more than a decade of data on changes in crime and concealed handgun licensing rates from more than 500 counties in four states: Texas, Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The findings come just after Texas passed legislation allowing concealed firearms on college campuses.
“The idea that concealed handguns lead to less crime is at the center of much firearms legislation, but the science behind that conclusion has been murky,” says Dr. Phillips, an emeritus regents professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “The results have been so inconclusive that the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 called for a new approaches to studying the issue, which is what we’ve done with this research.”
A new approach to studying concealed carry permits and crime
Dr. Phillips and his colleagues took a new approach to analyzing publicly available data for this study. Previous studies have looked primarily at crime rates before and after the passage of concealed carry legislation, Dr. Phillips’ team used county level data to analyze the relationship between changes in crime rates and concealed carry licensing, while controlling for differences among the four study states and changes in crime rates simply related to the passage of time.
“We believe that this research strategy is more likely to offer more useful insight into the relationship between concealed carry and crime than previous research that simply focused on the passage of concealed carry legislation,” Dr. Phillips says.
Do concealed carry rates reduce crime?
As the study notes, 46 out of 50 states have passed legislation allowing individuals to carry concealed handguns, in part due to the expectation that the legislation will reduce crime. In addition, much of the current drive to ease access to concealed carry permits and increase the settings where concealed carry is legal relies on the idea that such changes will reduce citizens’ likelihood of criminal victimization. However, Dr. Phillips’ study found no statistically significant correlation between changes in concealed carry licensing and crime rates, including the rates of violent personal crime such as the murder rate and robbery.
“What we found when we drilled down to the county level was that the changes in the number of concealed handgun permits in a county had no relationship to either an increase or decrease in the county crime rate.”
According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, crime, and specifically violent crime, has been decreasing nationally since 1993, with a similar decline in other Western nations. Some commentators claim the decline in the United States is attributed to the increase in concealed carry legislation. But criminologists point to a variety of factors that have lead to the drop in crime, including changes in policing, punishment, crime prevention technology and socio-economic factors.
Why do individuals seek concealed carry permits?
The study also looked at why individuals seek a concealed carry permit, which raised additional questions about perceptions of crime and the role of commerce in concealed carry permitting.
“People often think they acquire concealed carry licenses because of their likelihood of becoming a crime victim,” Dr. Phillips says. “We measured the rate of victimization at the county level, and we found no relationship between the actual crime rate and an increase in concealed carry permits.”
While crime rates did not affect concealed carry licensing, the results of the study by Dr. Phillips and his colleagues indicate that a major factor driving increases in concealed carry permits was the number of firearms retailers in a county. “That indicates there may be an issue of supply and demand going on with concealed carry licensing, with suppliers generating their own demand through advertising.”
Dr. Phillips says his study demonstrates new methods and research strategies that he and his co-authors hope other researchers will use when studying concealed handgun licensing and crime. They also hope their results will be used in policy debates concerning the expansion of concealed carry."
A new microscopy technique allows us to see the glue that holds molecules together. Viviane Richter reports.
Chemists in Europe can now snap images of single molecules that are so sharp you can not only see the individual atoms within the molecule, but also make out the electrons that bond the atoms together.
Jascha Repp from Germany’s University of Regensburg and his colleagues published their method in Physical Review Letters in August. They plan to use the technique to design more powerful solar cells, a technology that critically relies on electron flow to capture sunlight efficiently.
La Trobe University physicist David Hoxley says the technique is “pretty amazing”. “If you told chemists about this 20 years ago they would’ve given you 10,000 different reasons why you couldn’t do it.”
In 2009, IBM researchers stunned the world with their AFM image of pentacene (bottom), shown here next to a ball and stick sketch of the same moleculeCredit: IBM Research
In 2009, Zurich-based IBM researcher Leo Gross pushed atomic force microscopy (AFM) to a new limit when he was able to make out the individual atoms in a molecule. Astonishingly, his stunning images resembled the ball and stick pictures of molecules that we all learned at school.
His microscope worked by way of a metal probe that “scans” across a molecule’s surface like a finger running across Braille. The probe had an extraordinarily fine point, ending in a single carbon monoxide (CO) molecule.
The technique could resolve individual atoms – the balls in those ball and stick models. But what about the sticks? These bonds between the atoms are actually clouds of negatively charged electrons. “We know what the molecule looks like – now we want to see where the charge is,” says co-author Pavel Jelinek from the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic. Until now scientists have used theory to calculate how these charged clouds should look, but “theory is not precise – we can’t really trust it,” he says.
To find where electrons are located across the molecule, the team applied a small electric charge to the CO-tipped probe. As the charged tip scans a surface, it is pulled down by a negative charge, and pushed away by a positive one.
Mapping this ‘electrostatic force’ across the molecule should reveal where its electrons are. But as with human laws of attraction, the chemistry becomes complicated when you get too close. To see the charge between atoms, you need to be so close that the probe’s tip breaches the atom’s electron cloud. And that's a problem because, at that short distance, van der Waals forces kick in. This ‘sticky’ force (which geckos use to cling to walls) starts to tug on the AFM tip as it scans across the molecule. The van der Waals forces are relatively weak, but are still enough to skew the signals detected by the probe.
Repp, Jelinek and their team worked out how to disentangle the electrostatic forces they wanted to measure, from the van der Waals forces they didn’t. They realised the electrostatic attraction between tip and molecule would vary depending on the charge applied to the tip – but that the van der Waals attraction would be unaffected. So by scanning the molecule with one charge at the tip, then repeating the scan with a different charge, by applying a little maths they should be able to disentangle the different forces. “It’s kind of like filtering,” Jelinek explained.
The team tested their technique on two sets of hydrocarbon molecules, which differed only in the number of carbon-fluorine bonds in the molecule. According to theory, fluorine is very good at drawing electrons toward it – and that’s what the team saw. The electron clouds detected by their electrified probe were concentrated around the fluorine atoms.
Top: Sketch of the two molecules (fluorine, blue; carbon, dark grey; mercury [Hg], light grey; hydrogen, white). Below: AFM charge-distribution map for the same two molecules, showing the electron cloud (yellow) that forms around the fluorine atoms. Parts of the molecules are overlaid with models of the molecular structure as a guide for the eye. Credit: American Physical Society
These images still appear fuzzy. This is because electrons are so small that quantum mechanics is at play – the location of the electrons will always be blurred. “There’s an inherent uncertainty in the quantum mechanics of these system,” explains Hoxley. “The images are blurry because of this uncertainty – not because of the lack of resolution.”
Jelinek now wants to test the technique on molecules in an excited electronic state – which is what happens when photons of sunlight hit a photovoltaic cell. If you could watch how electrons jump around in these compounds when they’re struck by light, you could design them to be more efficient, Jelinek says.
Have Repp and Jelinek captured the sharpest pictures of molecules we’ll ever see? “I don’t think this is the last word,” says Hoxley. “But we’re pushing the limits.”
Researchers apply for licence months after Chinese team become first to announce they have altered DNA. Scientists in Britain have applied for permission to genetically modify human embryos as part of a research project into the earliest stages of human development.
The work marks a controversial first for the UK and comes only months after Chinese researchers became the only team in the world to announce they had altered the DNA of human embryos. Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, has asked the government’s fertility regulator for a licence to perform so-called genome editing on human embryos. The research could see the first genetically modified embryos in Britain created within months.
Donated by couples with a surplus after IVF treatment, the embryos would be used for basic research only. They cannot legally be studied for more than two weeks or implanted into women to achieve a pregnancy.
Though the modified embryos will never become children, the move will concern some who have called for a global moratorium on the genetic manipulation of embryos, even for research purposes. They fear a public backlash could derail less controversial uses of genome editing, which could lead to radical new treatments for disease.
Niakan wants to use the procedure to find genes at play in the first few days of human fertilization, when an embryo develops a coating of cells that later form the placenta. The basic research could help scientists understand why some women lose their babies before term.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has yet to review her application, but is expected to grant a licence under existing laws that permit experiments on embryos provided they are destroyed within 14 days. In Britain, research on embryos can only go ahead under a licence from an HFEA panel that deems the experiments to be justified.
Arterial wall stiffness and reduced arterial dilation are the first signs of cardiovascular diseases that can be measured. A new study carried out in Finland shows that low levels of physical activity, weaker physical fitness and higher body fat content are linked to arterial stiffness already in 6-8 year-old children.
New research enables "tailored" diet advice -- based on our personal gut microbiome -- for persons who want to lose weight and reduce the risk of disease. Systems biologists have, for the first time, successfully identified in detail how some of our most common intestinal bacteria interact during metabolism.
The pond algae Euglena gracilis has a surprising wealth of metabolic pathways for unexpected natural products, new research shows. Genes from this common single-celled organism could therefore be manipulated to synthesise a host of unusual, and potentially useful, compounds.
Euglenoids are a group of algae that grow abundantly in nutrient-rich freshwater environments, such as garden ponds. Euglena gracilis is known to produce many nutritional compounds including vitamins A, C and E, essential amino acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, sequencing its genome in a bid to unlock these valuable natural products has proved very challenging due to its large size, complexity and incorporation of the unusual nucleotide base J.
Researchers, led by Rob Field at the John Innes Centre in the UK, have tackled this problem by instead looking at Euglena’s transcriptome – the mRNA transcribed from the genome that shows what genes an organism is using at a given time.
The results are intriguing: this single celled organism possesses over 30,000 protein-encoding genes – significantly more than the 21,000 found in humans. Only a third of these genes were constantly active, while the rest seemed to be light-responsive. ‘Around 10,000 genes are switched on when the lights are on and 10,000 switched off, so it’s almost as if Euglena is two different organisms living in the same chassis,’ explains Field. A vast number of genes – nearly 60% – had no known match in other studied organisms, meaning we simply don’t know what they do.
There were some revelations among the genes that could be identified too, including unexpected genes for the production of a variety of potentially useful classes of natural products that have not been associated with Euglena before, such as polyketides and non-ribosomal peptides. This is a very interesting finding according to Wilfred van der Donk, a natural products biochemist at the University of Illinois, US, because ‘products of these types of genes have seldom or never been isolated from these organisms. Thus, these findings open the door to isolation and structural elucidation of these compounds, and investigation of their function.’
This transcriptome approach to studying Euglena could be applied to other related organisms too, such as algal blooms suffocating parts of the UK’s Norfolk Broads. Taking what they’ve learned from Euglena, Field’s group have now begun to study how algae produce toxic natural products and what environmental factors might trigger this production.
The robot moves slowly along its track, pausing regularly to reach out an arm that carefully scoops up a component. The arm connects the component to an elaborate construction on the robot's back. Then the robot moves forward and repeats the process — systematically stringing the parts together according to a precise design.
It might be a scene from a high-tech factory — except that this assembly line is just a few nanometres long. The components are amino acids, the product is a small peptide and the robot, created by chemist David Leigh at the University of Manchester, UK, is one of the most complex molecular-scale machines ever devised.
It is not alone. Leigh is part of a growing band of molecular architects who have been inspired to emulate the machine-like biological molecules found in living cells — kinesin proteins that stride along the cell's microscopic scaffolding, or the ribosomethat constructs proteins by reading genetic code. Over the past 25 years, these researchers have devised an impressive array of switches, ratchets, motors, rods, rings, propellers and more — molecular mechanisms that can be plugged together as if they were nanoscale Lego pieces. And progress is accelerating, thanks to improved analytical-chemistry tools and reactions that make it easier to build big organic molecules.
Now the field has reached a turning point. “We've made 50 or 60 different motors,” says Ben Feringa, a chemist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “I'm less interested in making another motor than actually using it.”
That message was heard clearly in June, when one of the influential US Gordon conferences focused for the first time on molecular machines and their potential applications, a clear sign that the field has come of age, says the meeting's organizer, chemist Rafal Klajn of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. “In 15 years' time,” says Leigh, “I think they will be seen as a core part of chemistry and materials design.”
Getting there will not be easy. Researchers must learn how to make billions of molecular machines work in concert to produce measurable macroscopic effects such as changing the shape of a material so that it acts as an artificial muscle. They must also make the machines easier to control, and ensure that they can carry out countless operations without breaking.
That is why many in the field do not expect the first applications to involve elaborate constructs. Instead, they predict that the basic components of molecular machines will be used in diverse areas of science: as light-activated switches that can release targeted drugs, for example, or as smart materials that can store energy or expand and contract in response to light. That means that molecular architects need to reach out to researchers who work in fields that might benefit from their machine parts, says Klajn. “We need to convince them that these molecules are really exciting.”
Ancient rocks harbored microbial life deep below the seafloor, reports scientists. This first-time evidence was contained in drilled rock samples of Earth's mantle -- thrust by tectonic forces to the seafloor during the Early Cretaceous period. The discovery confirms a long-standing hypothesis that interactions between mantle rocks and seawater can create potential for life even in hard rocks deep below the ocean floor.
Scientists have discovered that HIV does not cause AIDS by the virus's direct effect on the host's immune cells, but rather through the cells' lethal influence on one another. In a new study, the researchers revealed that the HIV 'death pathway' -- how 95 percent of cells die from the virus -- is only initiated if the virus is passed from cell-to-cell, not if cells are infected by free-floating viral particles.
Can events you endured as a child really impact your ability to have children yourself? New research examines the mechanism by which adverse experiences in childhood impact female fertility. Researchers explore the hypothesis that negative experiences in childhood can result in menstrual cycle irregularities, which consequently impact fertility. They relate their hypothesis to life-history theory, which talks of balancing the preservation of one’s health and the production of offspring that will survive to reproduce themselves."
xperiments at RHIC and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), near Geneva, Switzerland, have been chasing the formation of this primordial state of matter for some time. In 2013, LHC physicists also announced the discovery of these quark-gluon plasma droplets after slamming protons into lead ions.
But this is the first time that helium-3, a light ion, has been collided with heavy ions (gold), producing the signature of quark-gluon plasma. This indicates that the stuff can be produced at lower energies, opening a fascinating opportunity to study this quantum ‘goo’ that last existed in nature in the first moments of the birth of our universe, some 13.8 billion years ago.
While the U.S. Navy is busy with the development of a new bulletproof material called Spinel, Surmet Corporation is already commercially producing its own version called ALON®. Technically known as aluminum oxynitride, Star Trek fans may be more familiar with the term “transparent aluminum” first proposed by Scotty in the 1986 movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. While ALON isn’t quite what Scotty had in mind (it’s not truly a transparent metallic aluminum, but rather a transparent aluminum-based ceramic), it’s pretty darn close.
Developed by Raytheon, ALON begins as a powder, which is then molded and baked in very high heat. The heating process causes the powder to liquefy and cool quickly, leaving the molecules loosely arranged, as if still in liquid form. It is this crystalline structure that provides ALON its level of strength and scratch resistance comparable to rugged sapphire. Polishing the aluminum oxynitride strengthens the material and also makes it extremely clear.
Traditional bulletproof glass is comprised of multiple layers: polycarbonate sandwiched between two layers of glass. Similarly, transparent aluminum armor is also composed of three layers: an outer layer of aluminum oxynitride, a middle layer of glass and a rear layer of polymer backing. However, the similarities stop there. Aluminum armor can deflect the same rounds from small-caliber weapons as traditional bulletproof glass, but it will still be more clearly transparent even after being shot. Also, a .50-caliber armor-piercing bullet could sink nearly three inches into bulletproof glass before stopping. Aluminum armor can stop it in half the distance and yet is half the weight and thickness of traditional transparent armor.
In addition, transparent aluminum armor can be produced in virtually any shape and can also hold up to the elements much better than traditional bulletproof glass, which can be worn away by blowing desert sand or shrapnel.
Despite aluminum oxynitride’s ability to produce a superior transparent aluminum armor, this material has not been put into widespread use. The largest factor in this is cost. Transparent aluminum armor can be anywhere from three to five times as much to produce as traditional bulletproof glass. In theory, however, it would not need to be replaced as often, saving money in the long run. Further, there is no existing infrastructure to produce the material in large panes like the size of a front windshield of a vehicle. ALON is currently used for smaller applications, such as the lenses in battlefield cameras or the windows over the sensors in missiles.
Humans abound with remarkable skills: we write novels, build bridges, compose symphonies, and even navigate Boston traffic. But despite our mental prowess, we share a surprising deficit: our working memory can track only four items at one time.
“Would you buy a computer with a RAM capacity of 4?” asks David Somers, professor and chair of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. “Not 4 MB or GB or 4K—just 4. So how the heck do humans do all this stuff?”
“There’s so much information out there, and our brains are very limited in what we’re able to process,” adds Samantha Michalka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Computational Neuroscience & Neural Technology. “We desperately need attention to function in the world.”
Michalka is lead author and Somers is senior author of a new study that sheds light on this enduring mystery of neuroscience: how humans achieve so much with such limited attention. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the work identifies a previously unknown attention network in the brain. It also reveals that our working memory for space and time can recruit our extraordinary visual and auditory processing networks when needed. The research appeared on August 19, 2015, in the journal Neuron.
Prior to this work, scientists believed that visual information from the eyes and auditory information from the ears merged before reaching the frontal lobes, where abstract thought occurs. The team of BU scientists, which also included Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory Director Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, performed functional MRI experiments to test the conventional wisdom. The experiments revealed that what was thought to be one large attention network in the frontal lobe is actually two interleaved attention networks, one supporting vision and one supporting hearing. “So instead of talking about a single attention network,” says Somers, “we now need to talk about a visual attention network and an auditory attention network that work together.”
Although flightless in air, penguins have a number of adaptations which allow them glide effortlessly through the water. And some of these adaptations are in an unlikely part of their anatomy -- their brains. Recent finds of fossil penguins from 35-million-year-old sediments in Antarctica have begun to shed light on the changes in penguin brains that accompanied their transition to water.
Psychologists have presented a new theory for why neurotic unhappiness and creativity go hand-in-hand. The authors argue that the part of the brain responsible for self-generated thought is highly active in neuroticism, which yields both of the trait's positives (e.g., creativity) and negatives (e.g., misery).
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