Author and linguist John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, came to SUU on Tuesday to deliver a Convocation in which he informed students about how the English language came to be what it is today.
A new study supports Einstein's view over that of some quantum theorists.
A team of researchers came to this conclusion after tracing the long journey three photons took through intergalactic space. The photons were blasted out by an intense explosion known as a gamma-ray burst about 7 billion light-years from Earth. They finally barreled into the detectors of NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in May 2009, arriving just a millisecond apart.
Their dead-heat finish strongly supports the Einsteinian view of space-time, researchers said. The wavelengths of gamma-ray burst photons are so small that they should be able to interact with the even tinier "bubbles" in the quantum theorists' proposed space-time foam.
If this foam indeed exists, the three protons should have been knocked around a bit during their epic voyage. In such a scenario, the chances of all three reaching the Fermi telescope at virtually the same time are very low, researchers said.
So the new study is a strike against the foam's existence as currently imagined, though not a death blow. "If foaminess exists at all, we think it must be at a scale far smaller than the Planck length, indicating that other physics might be involved," study leader Robert Nemiroff, of Michigan Technological University, said in a statement. The Planck length is an almost inconceivably short distance, about one trillionth of a trillionth the diameter of a hydrogen atom.
"There is a possibility of a statistical fluke, or that space-time foam interacts with light differently than we imagined," added Nemiroff, who presented the results Wednesday (Jan. 9) at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.
An international team of astronomers, led by academics from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has found the largest known structure in the universe. The large quasar group (LQG) is so large that it would take a vehicle travelling at the speed of light some 4 billion years to cross it. The team publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Quasars are the nuclei of galaxies from the early days of the universe that undergo brief periods of extremely high brightness that make them visible across huge distances. These periods are 'brief' in astrophysics terms but actually last 10-100 million years. Since 1982 it has been known that quasars tend to group together in clumps or 'structures' of surprisingly large sizes, forming large quasar groups or LQGs.
The team, led by Dr. Roger Clowes from UCLan's Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, has identified the LQG which is so significant in size it also challenges the Cosmological Principle: the assumption that the universe, when viewed at a sufficiently large scale, looks the same no matter where you are observing it from.
The modern theory of cosmology is based on the work of Albert Einstein, and depends on the assumption of the Cosmological Principle. The Principle is assumed but has never been demonstrated observationally 'beyond reasonable doubt'.
To give some sense of scale, our galaxy, the Milky Way, is separated from its nearest neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, by about 0.75 Megaparsecs (Mpc) or 2.5 million light-years. Whole clusters of galaxies can be 2-3 Mpc across but LQGs can be 200 Mpc or more across. Based on the Cosmological Principle and the modern theory of cosmology, calculations suggest that astrophysicists should not be able to find a structure larger than 370 Mpc.
Dr. Clowes' newly discovered LQG however has a typical dimension of 500 Mpc. But because it is elongated, its longest dimension is 1200 Mpc (or 4 billion light years) - some 1600 times larger than the distance from the Milky Way to Andromeda.
Sea turtles are masters of navigation. It begins when hatchlings, only minutes old, find their way from the beach to the sea. Once in the water, they establish a course that will take them on an epic migration. They make this dangerous journey alone, following complex migratory pathways across huge expanses of open ocean without guidance or training.
Loggerhead sea turtles are among the animals that can detect the Earth's magnetic field. Could hatchlings be using this information to maintain their course in the absence of waves?
To answer this question, Lohmann and his colleagues needed hatchling sea turtles, a circular pool, tiny turtle harnesses, and a device that could reverse magnetic fields. Each turtle was fitted with a nylon-Lycra harness. The harness was connected to a monofilament line that tethered the turtle to an electronic tracking system in the center of a circular pool, allowing the turtles to swim in any direction. A large coil system surrounded the pool. The researchers could turn the coil system on to reverse the direction of the magnetic field around the swimming turtles.
Some of the tethered turtles were allowed to swim under normal magnetic field conditions. Others swam in a reversed magnetic field, turned 180° by the coil system. Hatchlings tested in the Earth's normal magnetic field tended to swim east to northeast, the direction they normally follow in their offshore migration. But the turtles tested in the reversed magnetic field swam in the opposite direction, indicating loggerhead hatchlings are able to detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it to orient themselves.
Compared to extreme drought, blistering heat, massive wildfires and tropical cyclones, the latest indicator of climate change is unexpectedly attractive: early spring flowers. Unusually warm spring weather in 2010 and 2012 at a pair of notable sites in the eastern U.S. led to the earliest spring flowering times on record—earlier than any other time in the last 161 years.
The researchers involved, from Boston University, the University of Wisconsin and Harvard, examined the flowers at two sites well-known for their roles in the early environmental movement: Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau started keeping flowering records back in 1852, and Dane County, Wisc., where Aldo Leopold first recorded flowering data in 1935.
“We were amazed that wildflowers in Concord flowered almost a month earlier in 2012 than they did in Thoreau’s time or any other recent year, and it turns out the same phenomenon was happening in Wisconsin where Aldo Leopold was recording flowering times,” lead author Elizabeth Ellwood of Boston University said in a statement. “Our data shows that plants keep shifting their flowering times ever earlier as the climate continues to warm.”
In Massachusetts, the team studied 32 native spring flowering plant species—such as wild columbine, marsh marigold and pink lady slipper—for which average flowering dates had been fairly well-documented between Thoreau’s time and our own. They found that the plants’ flowering dates had steadily moved earlier as temperatures increased—Thoreau saw them flower on May 15, while they flowered on April 25 and 24 in 2010 and 2012, respectively. In the two years studied, 27 of the 32 species had their earliest flowering date ever.
AIDA mission concept (credit: ESA) A space rock several hundred meters across is heading towards our planet and the last-ditch attempt to avert a disaster.
The first Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, designed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, will collide with the smaller of the two asteroids.
Meanwhile, ESA’s Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM) craft will survey these bodies in detail, before and after the collision.
The impact should change the pace at which the objects spin around each other, observable from Earth. But AIM’s close-up view will ‘ground-truth’ such observations.
“The advantage is that the spacecraft are simple and independent,” says Andy Cheng of Johns Hopkins, leading the AIDA project on the US side. “They can both complete their primary investigation without the other one.”
But by working in tandem, the quality and quantity of results will increase greatly, explains Andrés Gálvez, ESA AIDA study manager: “Both missions become better when put together — getting much more out of the overall investment.
“And the vast amounts of data coming from the joint mission should help to validate various theories, such as our impact modeling.”
In the chilly caverns of an old South Dakota gold mine, Case Western Reserve University physicists Dan Akerib and Tom Shutt are searching for something far more elusive than the shiny metal that once lured prospectors there.
“The last decade brought unprecedented heat waves; for instance in the US in 2012, in Russia in 2010, in Australia in 2009, and in Europe in 2003,” lead-author Dim Coumou says. “Heat extremes are causing many deaths, major forest fires, and harvest losses – societies and ecosystems are not adapted to ever new record-breaking temperatures.” The new study relies on 131 years of monthly temperature data for more than 12.000 grid points around the world, provided by NASA. Comprehensive analysis reveals the increase in records.
The researchers developed a robust statistical model that explains the surge in the number of records to be a consequence of the long-term global warming trend. That surge has been particularly steep over the last 40 years, due to a steep global-warming trend over this period. Superimposed on this long-term rise, the data show the effect of natural variability, with especially high numbers of heat records during years with El Niño events. This natural variability, however, does not explain the overall development of record events, found the researchers.
Australia experienced a wave of migration from India about 4,000 years ago, a genetic study suggests. It was thought the continent had been largely isolated after the first humans arrived about 40,000 years ago until the Europeans moved in in the 1800s.
But DNA from Aboriginal Australians revealed there had been some movement from India during this period. The researchers believe the Indian migrants may have introduced the dingo to Australia.
By looking at specific locations, called genetic markers, within the DNA sequences, the researchers were able to track the genes to see who was most closely related to whom.
They found an ancient genetic association between New Guineans and Australians, which dates to about 35,000 to 45,000 years ago. At that time, Australia and New Guinea were a single land mass, called Sahul, and this tallies with the period when the first humans arrived.
But the researchers also found a substantial amount of gene flow between India and Australia. Prof Stoneking from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said: "We have a pretty clear signal from looking at a large number of genetic markers from all across the genome that there was contact between India and Australia somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago."
Scientists have been able to document the exact structure of the backbone of the earliest four-legged animals, known as tetrapods, in an effort to understand how animals changed from moving in water, to moving on land.
About six months ago, Google introduced handwritten searching via your smartphone device. Instead of typing, speaking or taking a picture of your query – Google allowed you to write the query on the Google home page with the tip of your finger.
Electrical engineer and entrepreneur Louis Michaud's AVEtec company has received funding from PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs program to build an experimental Atmosphere Vortex Engine (AVE). The $300,000 in startup funds is to go towards building a working engine to dispel or prove the viability of using such technology to produce electricity with virtually no carbon footprint.
Michaud's idea is to use a fan to blow some of the excess heat produced by conventional power plants, into a cylindrical hollow tower, at an angle. Doing so should create a circular air current, which he says will grow stronger as it moves higher. The higher it goes the more energy it draws due to differences in temperature. The result would be a controlled man-made tornado. To put it to good user, turbines would be installed at the base of the vortex to create electricity. The original test will be conducted at Lambton College in Ontario – the tower will be 131 feet tall with a 26 foot diameter. That should be enough to create a vortex about a foot in diameter – enough to power a small turbine. It's just a proof of concept, Michaud notes on his site, a real-world tower would be about 25 meters in diameter, and would be capable of producing up to 200 megawatts of power using only the excess heat generated by a conventional 500 megawatt plant. Power goes up geometrically, he says, as the size of tower grows. He adds that the cost of producing electricity this way would be about 3 cents per kilowatt hour, well below the typical 4 or 5 cents for coal plants.
Michaud has been investigating the idea of harnessing the power of tornado's to provide electricity for several decades but until now has had problems being taken seriously by venture capitalists. He adds that his company built and successfully tested an AVE prototype in 2009, hinting that he has no doubts that the new tower and turbines will work as advertised.
Chemical and nanoengineers at Rice University have become the first team to create long (hundreds of meters), macroscopic, mass-producible carbon nanotube thread. This thread is about the thickness of a human hair, but has the conductivity of metal and the strength of carbon fiber. If you were looking for a material to fuel smart clothing and other digital textiles, this is it. An LED lamp is being suspended, and powered, by the tiny thread.
Astronomers have discovered a Methuselah of stars — a denizen of the Solar System's neighbourhood that is at least 13.2 billion years old and formed shortly after the Big Bang.
“We believe this star is the oldest known in the Universe with a well determined age,” says Howard Bond, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, who announced the finding on 10 January at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.
The venerable star, dubbed HD 140283, lies at a comparatively short distance of 190 light years from the Solar System and has been studied by astronomers for more than a century. Researchers have long known that the object consists almost entirely of hydrogen and helium — a hallmark of having formed early in the history of the Universe, before successive generations of stars had a chance to forge heavier elements. But no one knew exactly how old it was.
Scientists have discovered exoplanets where carbon, relatively rare on Earth, might be as common as dirt.
The study of exoplanets—worlds orbiting distant stars—is still in its early days. Yet already researchers have found hundreds of worlds with no nearby analogue: giants that could steamroll Jupiter; tiny pebbles broiling under stellar furnaces; puffy oddballs with the density of peat moss. Still other exoplanets might look familiar in broad-brush, only to reveal a topsy-turvy realm where rare substances are ordinary, and vice versa.
Take carbon, for instance: the key constituent of organic matter accounts for some of humankind's most precious materials, from diamonds to oil. Despite its outsize importance, carbon is uncommon—it makes up less than 0.1 percent of Earth's bulk.
On other worlds, though, carbon might be as common as dirt. In fact, carbon and dirt might be one and the same. An exoplanet 40 light-years away was recently identified as a promising candidate for just such a place—where carbon dominates and where the pressures in the planet's interior crushes vast amounts of the element into diamond.
The planet, known as 55 Cancri e, might have a crust of graphite several hundred kilometers thick. “As you go beneath that, you see a thick layer of diamond,” says astrophysicist Nikku Madhusudhan, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. The crystalline diamond could account for a third of the planet's thickness.
Carbon-based worlds would owe their distinct makeup to a planet-formation process very different from our own. If the composition of the sun is any indication, the cloud of dust and gas that coalesced into the planets of our solar system ought to have contained about twice as much oxygen as carbon. Indeed, Earth's rocks are mostly based on oxygen-rich minerals called silicates. Astronomers have determined that 55 Cancri e's host star, however, contains slightly more carbon than oxygen, which may reflect a very different planet-forming environment. And Madhusudhan and his colleagues calculated that the planet's bulk properties—denser than a water world but less dense than a world made of Earth-like minerals—match those predicted for a carbon planet.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a menu of 61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria that may improve the efficacy of vaccines for diseases such as flu, pertussis, cholera and HPV.
The strains of E. coli, which were described in a paper published this month in the journal PNAS, are part of a new class of biological "adjuvants" that is poised to transform vaccine design. Adjuvants are substances added to vaccines to boost the human immune response. "For 70 years the only adjuvants being used were aluminum salts," said Stephen Trent, associate professor of biology in the College of Natural Sciences. "They worked, but we didn't fully understand why, and there were limitations. Then four years ago the first biological adjuvant was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I think what we're doing is a step forward from that. It's going to allow us to design vaccines in a much more intentional way."
Adjuvants were discovered in the early years of commercial vaccine production, when it was noticed that batches of vaccine that were accidentally contaminated often seemed to be more effective than those that were pure. "They're called the 'dirty little secret' of immunology," said Trent. "If the vials were dirty, they elicited a better immune response." What researchers eventually realized was that they could produce a one-two punch by intentionally adding their own dirt (adjuvant) to the mix. The main ingredient of the vaccine, which was a killed or inactivated version of the bacteria or virus that the vaccine was meant to protect against, did what it was supposed to do. It "taught" the body's immune system to recognize it and produce antibodies in response to it. The adjuvant amplifies that response by triggering a more general alarm, which puts more agents of the immune system in circulation in the bloodstream, where they can then learn to recognize the key antigen. The result is an immune system more heavily armed to fight the virus or bacteria when it encounters it in the future.
The quest to determine if planets like Earth are rare or common is taking another stride forward on the journey. Using NASA's Kepler spacecraft, managed by NASA Ames Research Center, astronomers are beginning to find Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars. A new analysis of Kepler data shows that about 17 percent of stars have an Earth-sized planet in an orbit closer than Mercury. Since the Milky Way has about 100 billion stars, there are at least 17 billion Earth-sized worlds out there.
Francois Fressin, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), presented the analysis today in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif. A paper detailing the research has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
The research team found that 50 percent of all stars have a planet of Earth-size or larger in a close orbit. By adding larger planets detected in wider orbits up to the orbital distance of the Earth, this number increases to 70 percent.
Extrapolating from Kepler's currently ongoing observations and results from other detection techniques, scientists have determined that nearly all sun-like stars have planets.
Planets closer to their stars are easier to find because they transit more frequently. As more data are gathered, planets in larger orbits will be detected. In particular, Kepler's extended mission will enable the detection of Earth-sized planets at greater distances, including Earth-like orbits in the "habitable zone," the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet.
Over the past decade higher education policy in England has gradually switched from a stance of ‘government as purchaser’ to ‘government as informer’. During 2012 this policy stance has been intensified through new requirements for the advice provided by schools and the introduction of ‘Key Information Sets’ which are intended to ‘drive up quality’ through informed choice. This paper documents this policy shift and subjects it to critical scrutiny.
The University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) is pioneering research into developing the strongest silica nanofibers in the world.
Globally the quest has been on to find ultrahigh strength composites, leading ORC scientists to investigate light, ultrahigh strength nanowires that are not compromised by defects. Historically, carbon nanotubes were the strongest material available, but high strengths could only be measured in very short samples just a few microns long, providing little practical value.
Now research by ORC Principal Research Fellow Dr Gilberto Brambilla and ORC Director Professor Sir David Payne has resulted in the creation of the strongest, lightest weight silica nanofibers - 'nanowires' that are 15 times stronger than steel and can be manufactured in lengths potentially of 1000's of kilometers.
Their findings are already generating extensive interest from many companies around the world and could be set to transform the aviation, marine and safety industries. Tests are currently being carried out globally into the potential future applications for the nanowires.
Professor Payne explains: "Weight for weight, silica nanowires are 15 times stronger than high strength steel and 10 times stronger than conventional GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic). We can decrease the amount of material used thereby reducing the weight of the object.
"Silica and oxygen, required to produce nanowires, are the two most common elements on the earth's crust, making it sustainable and cheap to exploit. Furthermore, we can produce silica nanofibers by the tonne, just as we currently do for the optical fibers that power the internet."
Lawrence Berkeley Lab Scientist Andre Walker-Loud presents to high-school students and teachers, explaining the nature of the four fundamental forces, and how the standard model of particle physics relates to cosmology. He also talks about Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) and why his profession is both important and rewarding
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