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Scientists Explain Why Greenwich Prime Meridian Moved 102 Meters Since 1884

Scientists Explain Why Greenwich Prime Meridian Moved 102 Meters Since 1884 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The ‘Prime Meridian’ that’s been running through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, UK, since 1884 is now located 335 feet (102 meters) east of its historic spot. Dr Ken Seidelmann from the University of Virginia and his colleagues investigated the cause of this apparent discrepancy.


In 1884, the International Meridian Conference recommended that Earth’s prime meridian “to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time-reckoning throughout the globe” pass through the “center of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich.”


This instrument – named the Airy Transit Circle for its designer, British Astronomer Royal Sir George Biddell Airy – is a nineteenth-century telescopic device for measuring star positions, and could be used for determining local time. Today, tourists visiting its meridian line must walk east approximately 335 feet before their satellite-navigation receivers indicate zero longitude.


Why? Because newer technologies – primarily the superb accuracy of GPS, which uses satellites to precisely measure grid coordinates at any point on the Earth’s surface – replaced the traditional telescopic observations used to measure the Earth’s rotation.


“With the advancements in technology, the change in the prime meridian was inevitable. Perhaps a new marker should be installed in the Greenwich Park for the new prime meridian,” said Dr Seidelmann, who is a co-author of the paper published in the Journal of Geodesy.


Dr Seidelmann and co-authors concluded that a slight deflection in the natural direction of gravity at Greenwich is responsible for the offset, along with the maintenance of continuity of astronomical time. According to the team, the 335-foot offset can be attributed to the difference between two conventional methods of determining coordinates: astronomical versus geodetic, which refers to a set of reference points used to locate places on the Earth.


Their difference is known as ‘deflection of the vertical,’ and high-resolution global gravitational models confirm that the east-west component of this deflection is of the proper sign and magnitude at Greenwich to account for the entire shift. Because our planet is not perfectly round, and because different locations on Earth have different terrain features affecting gravitational pull, traditional ways to measure longitude have built-in variations, or errors, based on the specific location where measurements are taken.


The observations were based on a vertical determined from a basin of mercury and were dependent on local conditions.

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Polyera announces truly flexible display

Polyera announces truly flexible display | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Polyera today announced the release of the Wove™ Band, the world's first flexible display product. The Wove Band features a flexible display which can either be flat or wrap around a wrist. Submissions for free developer units will open in September with the first units shipping in December to a select group of artists and developers. A commercial launch is planned for mid-2016. Additional details will be available at www.wove.com. The Wove Band is made possible by Polyera Digital Fabric Technology™ and E Ink® flexible electronic ink film.


Polyera Digital Fabric Technology™ is a unique set of materials, tools, and know-how designed to enable the production of flexible electronic products at scale. This platform is the result of 10 years of development, spanning fundamental science, engineering, and design.


Most attempts at making flexible displays have relied on traditional electronics materials, such as silicon, being deposited on plastic substrates. This approach allows the creation of products with fixed curved screens, but the brittleness of these electronics layers makes them unsuitable for products which are dynamically flexible such as the Wove Band.  Polyera Digital Fabric Technology, by contrast, uses proprietary electronic materials to enable displays that are flexible, robust, and can be manufactured in traditional display fabrication plants with minimal capital investment. The Polyera Digital Fabric Technology platform also addresses the integration of these displays into end products, by incorporating proprietary engineering and design solutions.


The Wove Band will feature a flexible, low-power touch display combining Polyera Digital Fabric Technology with E Ink's flexible and reflective electronic ink film. E Ink's film has been proven in production and used in millions of displays. The bi-stable nature of E Ink's electronic ink allows displays to consume no energy while holding a static image. The combination of Polyera's and E Ink's technologies enables the Wove Band to have a display which is both large and always-on, while consuming less power than smartwatches with far smaller displays. 


Beyond the Wove Band, Polyera is actively working on a variety of flexible electronics components, such as flexible OLED displays, flexible sensors and flexible logic circuits, which will enable devices delivering unprecedented form factors and experiences.

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New Molecule That Mimics Exercise May Help Diabetics

New Molecule That Mimics Exercise May Help Diabetics | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that affects an estimated 390 million people worldwide, with that figure expected to rise by over 50% by 2035. This potentially deadly ailment results in the failure of glucose to reach the interior of cells to be processed for energy, and is most commonly found in two closely linked forms. In type 1 diabetes (DM1), the pancreas ceases to produce insulin, the hormone responsible for triggering cellular glucose uptake. In type 2 diabetes (DM2), the issue is that the cells become insensitive to the presence of insulin. While DM1 is most commonly caused by an autoimmune response, DM2 is generally, but not always, caused by poor diet and obesity.


Exogenous insulin is required for the control of DM1, whereas medication for DM2 centres on drugs that serve to lower blood sugar, and increase cellular uptake. Roughly two-thirds of DM2 sufferers are put on at least one drug, with the most common being metformin. One job that metformin does well is to reduce glucose production in the liver, which is up-regulated in diabetes, primarily as a response to low intracellular glucose levels. Metformin’s other mechanism, the increased cellular uptake of blood sugars, is not fully understood. However, the mechanism most favoured by theorists is the increased activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), and there is some evidence to support this.


The formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the end goal of all energy systems, and it is the breakdown of this molecule that allows the body to function. ATP is eventually cleaved to ADP, and then AMP (Adenosine diphosphate and monophosphate, respectively) before being re-phosphorylated back to ATP. AMPK is a heterotrimeric enzyme that plays a key role in the regulation of many catabolic (energy producing) processes, including cellular glucose uptake. Activation of AMPK is primarily triggered by an increase in the AMP:ATP ratio, which is essentially an indicator of cellular starvation. It is believed that mysterious metformin activates AMPK by increasing the concentration of cytosolic AMP.


Now, new research at the University of Southampton, England, has uncovered another potential pathway to AMPK activation. For now, they are simply calling this molecule ‘compound 14’. This compound acts by inhibiting a cellular enzyme known as ATIC; the effect of this is the build up of a molecule called ZMP (an analogue of AMP). It would seem that this increase in ZMP initiates the same reaction as an increase in AMP; activation of AMPK. So, it appears that compound 14 causes a very similar response to metformin, but possibly via a slightly different mechanism. In this new study, two groups of mice, one normal weight and one obese, were given compound 14, daily for one week. While the weight and blood sugar of the standard mice remained stable, as it was before drug administration, the obese mice lost approximately 5% body weight, matched by a coinciding drop in blood sugar levels. This shows great promise for compound 14, which will now enter the next stage of its trials, a study of long term effects.

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Search for Immortality: Google Says Humans Could Live to be 500 Years Old

Search for Immortality: Google Says Humans Could Live to be 500 Years Old | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Google has invested in taxi firms, smart thermostats and even artificial intelligence but it is also setting its sights on immortality - or at least increasing our lives five-fold. In an interview with Bloomberg, Google Ventures' president Bill Maris said he thinks it's possible to live to 500 years old. And this will be helped by medical breakthroughs as well as a rise in biomechanics. Bill Maris has $425 million to invest this year, and the freedom to invest it however he wants. He's looking for companies that will slow aging, reverse disease, and extend life.


He has already sank money into genetics firms and cancer diagnostic startups and said: 'We have the tools in the life sciences to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision. I just hope to live long enough not to die.' Mr Maris has advised Aurolab in the development of a hydrophobic acrylic lens for cataract blindness, and helped develop Google’s Calico project.


Calico is a research and development company set up in 2013 by Google and Apple to tackle 'aging and associated diseases.'


Google co-founder Larry Page said the project would focus on 'health, wellbeing and longevity' and last September Calico partnered with AbbVie to open a research centre into neurodegeneration and cancer. Although these firms are focused on extending life naturally, there is also a group that believes machines will be the key to extending lives beyond 120 - an age that has been quoted as the 'real absolute limit to human lifespan'.


Maris has a team of 70, most of whom are in the room this day or patched in by phone or video. The group includes the fund’s 17 investing partners, who are in charge of finding startups. Among the investing partners are Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite; Rich Miner, co-founder of Android; and David Krane, employee No. 84 at Google.


The mood in the room is casual. Some staffers sit cross-legged on the floor; others curl up on soft felt couches. There are a lot of jokes. One partner starts his presentation with a slide entitled “Secret Project”—which most people in the room already know about—and concludes it with a doctored-up photo of Maris’s head superimposed on the body of someone playing tambourine. It’s a jab at the boss, who married the singer-songwriterTristan Prettyman last August and recently went on tour with her. Everyone laughs. Maris smiles, but immediately he’s back to business. “Time is the one thing I can’t get back and can’t give back to you,” he says, turning to an agenda on the screen behind him.


“I know you’re all aware of the conference happening this week,” Maris says. An hour away in San Francisco, JPMorgan Chase is hosting its annual health-care confab, nicknamed the Super Bowl of Health Care.


Thousands of pharmaceutical executives and investors have gathered for what has become a huge part of the industry’s dealmaking. Most of Google Ventures’ life sciences startups are attending. One,Foundation Medicine, which uses genetic data to create diagnostic oncology tools, is generating huge buzz this year. In January, Roche Holding announced plans to take a majority stake in the company, in a transaction valued at $1 billion. The stock more than doubled the next day. Google Ventures has a 4 percent stake in the company.


For Maris, Foundation Medicine represents the beginning of a revolution. “The analogy I use is this,” he says, holding up his iPhone 6. “Even five years ago, this would have been unimaginable. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to talk to anyone on this.”

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What Makes a Human Brain Unique? Experiment compares the way monkey and human brains process abstract information

What Makes a Human Brain Unique? Experiment compares the way monkey and human brains process abstract information | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Neuroscientists have identified an area of the brain that might give the human mind its unique abilities, including language. The area lit up in human, but not monkey, brains when they were presented with different types of abstract information.


The idea that integrating abstract information drives many of the human brain's unique abilities has been around for decades. But a paper published in Current Biology, which directly compares activity in human and macaque monkey brains as they listen to simple auditory patterns, provides the first physical evidence that a specific area for such integration may exist in humans. Other studies that compare monkeys and humans have revealed differences in the brain’s anatomy, for example, but not differences that could explain where humans’ abstract abilities come from, say neuroscientists.


“This gives us a powerful clue about what is special about our minds,” says psychologist Gary Marcus at New York University. “Nothing is more important than understanding how we got to be how we are.”


A team of researchers headed by Stanislas Dehaene at the INSERM Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit at Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris, looked at changing patterns of activation in the brain as untrained monkeys and human adults listened to a simple sequence of tones, for example three identical tones followed by a different tone (like the famous four-note opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony: da-da-da-DAH).


The researchers played several different sequences with this structure—known as AAAB—and other sequences to the subjects while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The fMRI technique picks up changes in blood flow in the brain that correlate with regional brain activity.


The team wanted to know whether the subjects of both species could recognize two different features of the sequences: the total number of tones, indicating an ability to count, and the way the tones repeat, indicating an ability to recognize this type of algebraic pattern.


In both monkeys and humans, an area of the brain, part of which has been associated with numbers, lit up in the fMRI scanner when the subjects identified a change in the number of tones. Both species also registered the repetition pattern in specific brain areas, which are known to be equivalent in humans and monkeys. But only the human brains showed a unique response to the combined changes in number and sequence, in the form of intense activation in an additional brain area called the inferior frontal gyrus.


“It is like the monkey recognizes a pattern but does not realize it is interesting and take it no further—only humans take it on to the next level of analysis,” says Marcus. The inferior frontal gyrus is a part of the cortex that is greatly expanded in humans compared with monkeys. Moreover, the inferior frontal gyrus in humans contains the Broca’s area, which processes language. And when Dehaene’s team read sentences to the humans, the language areas activated in each individual overlapped with those activated by the tone sequences.


But abstract information integration may be significant beyond language. “We had expected that humans have brain areas that put together information,” says cognitive biologist Tecumseh Fitch from the University of Vienna.“This type of computation may turn out to be also relevant to other characteristics that make humans unique, like music appreciation.”


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DIY photonics: Optical chip allows for reprogramming quantum computer in seconds

DIY photonics: Optical chip allows for reprogramming quantum computer in seconds | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Linear optics processor (credit: University of Bristol) - A fully reprogrammable optical chip that can process photons in quantum computers in an infinite small amount of time.


A fully reprogrammable optical chip that can process photons in quantum computers in an infinite number of ways have been developed by researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in Japan.


The universal “linear optics processor” (LPU) chip is a major step forward in creating a quantum computer to solve problems such as designing new drugs, superfast database searches, and performing otherwise intractable mathematics that aren’t possible for supercomputers — marking a new era of research for quantum scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of quantum technologies, the researchers say.


The chip solves a major barrier in testing new theories for quantum science and quantum computing: the time and resources needed to build new experiments, which are typically extremely demanding due to the notoriously fragile nature of quantum systems.


“A whole field of research has essentially been put onto a single optical chip that is easily controlled,” said University of Bristol research associate Anthony Laing, PhD, project leader and senior author of a paper on the research in the journal Science today (August 14, 2015).


“The implications of the work go beyond the huge resource savings. Now anybody can run their own experiments with photons, much like they operate any other piece of software on a computer. They no longer need to convince a physicist to devote many months of their life to painstakingly build and conduct a new experiment.”


The team demonstrated that by reprogramming it to rapidly perform a number of different experiments, each of which would previously have taken many months to build.


“Once we wrote the code for each circuit, it took seconds to reprogram the chip, and milliseconds for the chip to switch to the new experiment,” explained Bristol PhD student Jacques Carolan, one of the researchers. “We carried out a year’s worth of experiments in a matter of hours. What we’re really excited about is using these chips to discover new science that we haven’t even thought of yet.”


The University of Bristol’s pioneering Quantum in the Cloud is the first service to make a quantum processor publicly accessible. They plan to add more chips like the LPU to the service “so others can discover the quantum world for themselves.”

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Technology demonstrated for first time: Device delivers drugs to brain via remote control​​

Technology demonstrated for first time: Device delivers drugs to brain via remote control​​ | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of researchers has developed a wireless device the width of a human hair that can be implanted in the brain and activated by remote control to deliver drugs.


The technology, demonstrated for the first time in mice, one day may be used to treat pain, depression, epilepsy and other neurological disorders in people by targeting therapies to specific brain circuits, according to the researchers atWashington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


The research is a major step forward in pharmacology and builds on earlier work in optogenetics, a technology that makes individual brain cells sensitive to light and then activates those targeted populations of cells with flashes of light. Because it’s not yet practical to re-engineer human neurons, the researchers made the tiny wireless devices capable of delivering drugs directly into the brain, with the remote push of a button.


“In the future, it should be possible to manufacture therapeutic drugs that could be activated with light,” said co-principal investigator Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology at Washington University. “With one of these tiny devices implanted, we could theoretically deliver a drug to a specific brain region and activate that drug with light as needed. This approach potentially could deliver therapies that are much more targeted but have fewer side effects.”


Previous attempts to deliver drugs or other agents, such as enzymes or other compounds, to experimental animals have required the animals to be tethered to pumps and tubes that restricted their movement. But the new devices were built with four chambers to carry drugs directly into the brain. By activating brain cells with drugs and with light, the scientists are getting an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the brain.


“This is the kind of revolutionary tool development that neuroscientists need to map out brain circuit activity,” said James Gnadt, PhD, program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “It’s very much in line with the goals of the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative.”

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Trans fats, but not saturated fats, linked to greater risk of death and heart disease

Trans fats, but not saturated fats, linked to greater risk of death and heart disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A study led by researchers at McMaster University has found that that trans fats are associated with greater risk of death and coronary heart disease, unlike saturated fats, which are also not associated with an increased risk of stroke or Type 2 diabetes. These findings were recently published in an open-access paper August 12 by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).


“For years everyone has been advised to cut out fats,” said lead author Russell de Souza, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics with the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. But there are different “fats.”


Saturated fats come mainly from animal products, such as butter, cows’ milk, meat, salmon, and egg yolks, and some plant products such as chocolate and palm oils. Trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) are mainly produced industrially from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation) for use in margarine, snack foods and packaged baked goods.


Trans fats have no health benefits and pose a significant risk for heart disease, but the case for saturated fat is less clear,” said de Souza. “That said, we aren’t advocating an increase of the allowance for saturated fats in dietary guidelines, as we don’t see evidence that higher limits would be specifically beneficial to health.”


Saturated fats are limited to less than 10 per cent of energy, and trans fats to less than one per cent of energy, to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, guidelines cited in the BMJ paper (citations 14 to 19) currently recommend.


Contrary to prevailing dietary advice, a recent evidence review found no excess cardiovascular risk associated with intake of saturated fat. In contrast, research suggests that industrial trans fats may increase the risk of coronary heart disease.


To help clarify these controversies, de Souza and colleagues analyzed the results of 50 observational studies assessing the association between saturated and/or trans fats and health outcomes in adults. Study design and quality were taken into account to minimize bias, and the certainty of associations were assessed using a recognized scoring method developed at McMaster.


The team found no clear association between higher intake of saturated fats and death for any reason, coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), ischemic stroke or type 2 diabetes.

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3D-printed device helps computers solve cocktail-party problem

3D-printed device helps computers solve cocktail-party problem | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Artificial-intelligence researchers have long struggled to make computers perform a task that is simple for humans: picking out one person’s speech when multiple people nearby are talking simultaneously. It is called the ‘cocktail-party problem’. Typical approaches to solving it have either involved systems with multiple microphones, which distinguish speakers based on their position in a room, or complex artificial-intelligence algorithms that try to separate different voices on a recording. But the latest invention, described in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, is a simple 3D-printed device that can pinpoint the origin of a sound without the need for any sophisticated electronics.


The device is a thick plastic disk, about as wide as a pizza. Openings around the edge channel sound through 36 passages towards a microphone in the middle. Each passage modifies the sound in a subtly different way as it travels towards the center — roughly as if an equalizer with different settings were affecting the sound in each slice, explains senior author Steven Cummer, an electrical engineer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.


The way the disk works is simple, he says. If you speak across the top of a bottle that is partially filled with water, the air inside will resonate with the sound of the voice and attenuate certain frequencies, depending on the amount of water in the bottle. In the plastic disk, the innards of each sector are patterned with a honeycomb-shaped structure in which each hexagonal cell is cut to a different height. The result, Cummer says, is like having an array of bottles filled with different amounts of water.


The human ear is not able to distinguish how the sound is altered by different passages, says lead author Yangbo Xie, also at Duke. But the team wrote an algorithm that, by analysing each sound, can almost always tell which direction it came from.


The device is an 'acoustic metamaterial’: a structure patterned with smaller features and designed to affect the acoustic waves that pass through it. Bruce Drinkwater, a mechanical engineer at the University of Bristol, UK, calls the idea “a really nice one”. He says that the device’s bulk could be a limitation to its practical use, and that this version works only at relatively high frequencies. However, he adds that “there could be plenty of room to optimize the design for size in the future”.


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Super Yeast Helps Remove Toxic Waste

Super Yeast Helps Remove Toxic Waste | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Searching through the Western Siberian peat bogs intrepid microbiologists have discovered a new strain of yeast. Taking the yeast back to the laboratory, it has been found that the yeast is very effective at waste water treatment – a natural cleaning-up agent.


The new yeast is termed Yarrowia lipolytica Y-3492 and the discovery was made by field researchers from Kazan Federal University. Tests have shown the yeast to be effective at dealing with nitrogen based compounds. These are waste products that pollute the water. Nitrogen comes from explosives, herbicides, insecticides, polymers, dyes, and medications.


In industry, different strains of the yeast are used for the production of specialty lipids. To treat waste, the yeast goes through different phases including fatty-acid bioconversion, substrate valorization and single-cell oil production.


Sources of nitrogen pollution include oil refineries and weapons manufacturing facilities. Some of these establishments off-load their waste material into rivers and streams.


To demonstrate the effectivity of the yeast, researchers tested it out in water tainted with trinitrotoluene (TNT). TNT is a common type of explosive and the basis of dynamite. A long-term study showed that the yeast reduced TNT levels by 50fold over a four month period. Compared with chemical agents (sorbents) the biological entity was more efficient and it did not produce a toxic by-product of its own.


The research is important because removing nitrogen from water intended as drinking water is a key health initiative. If TNT was present, for example, it would lead to poisoning of the body. The main body part affected is the eyes, with cataracts the most serious outcome.


The conclusion of the research is that Yarrowia lipolytica can be considered as an agent for the bioremediation of waste-water. The researchers plan to test out the yeast on a larger scale using a semi-continuous cultivation technique. It may also be possible to use the yeast as a means of ‘sniffing out’ contamination. By noting how the yeast behaves biochemically, a fast test for pollutants could be developed.

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HIV spreads like computer worms, say scientists

HIV spreads like computer worms, say scientists | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

HIV spreads throughout the body in a similar way to some computer worms, according to a new model, which also suggests that early treatment is key to finding a cure to the disease.


HIV specialists and network security experts at University College London (UCL) have found that HIV progresses both via the bloodstream and directly between cells – akin to computer worms spreading themselves through two routes to infect as many computers as possible.


Prof Benny Chain, from UCL’s infection and immunity division, the co-senior author of the research, said: “I was involved in a study looking in general at spreading of worms across the internet and then I realised the parallel. They have to consistently find another computer to infect outside. They can either look locally in their own networks, their own computers, or you could remotely transmit out a worm to every computer on the internet. HIV also uses two ways of spreading within the body.”


The model was inspired by similarities between HIV and computer worms such as the highly damaging “Conficker” worm, first detected in 2008, which has infected military and police networks across Europe and is still active today.


The researchers’ findings, published on Thursday, told them that just as computer worms spread most efficiently by a combination of two routes, so must HIV – enabling the researchers to create a model for this “hybrid spreading”, which accurately predicted patients’ progression from HIV to Aids.


Detailed sample data from 17 HIV patients from London were used to verify the model, suggesting that hybrid spreading provides the best explanation for HIV progression and highlighting the benefits of very prompt treatment.


Chain said the model provided strong evidence of cell-to-cell spread, which he said some HIV scientists remained sceptical about, as it is difficult to observe in human beingsbecause it occurs in tissue.

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The Universe is Slowly Fading, Astronomers Discovered

The Universe is Slowly Fading, Astronomers Discovered | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A group of astronomers studying 221,000 galaxies has measured the energy generated within a large portion of space more precisely than ever before.


Their study, which is part of the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, the largest multi-wavelength survey ever put together, involved many of the world’s most powerful telescopes, including ESO’s VISTA and VST survey telescopes at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, NASA’s orbiting telescopes GALEX and WISE, and ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory.


“We used as many space and ground-based telescopes as we could get our hands on to measure the energy output of over 200,000 galaxies across as broad a wavelength range as possible,” said team leader Prof Simon Driver from the University of St Andrews, UK, and ICRAR.


The survey data, released to scientists around the world today, includes measurements of the energy output of each galaxy at 21 wavelengths, from the ultraviolet (UV) to the far infrared (IR). This dataset will help them to better understand how different types of galaxies form and evolve.


All energy in the Universe was created in the Big Bang with some portion locked up as mass. Stars shine by converting this mass into energy as described by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2.


The GAMA study sets out to map and model all of the energy generated within a large volume of space today and at different times in the past.


“While most of the energy sloshing around was created in the aftermath of the Big Bang, additional energy is constantly being released by stars as they fuse elements like hydrogen and helium together,” said Prof Driver, who is the first author of a paper submitted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Octopuses Are Brilliant. Now We Know Why: First Octopus Genome Gets Sequenced

Octopuses Are Brilliant. Now We Know Why: First Octopus Genome Gets Sequenced | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The first octopus genome is now fully sequenced, according to a new study in Nature. Scientists stitched together the complex genome of the California two-spot octopus, and analyzed 12 different tissues in search of the genes that allow these unique cephalopods to change skin color and control eight arms independently. The findings may help explain how an ancient, ocean-dwelling invertebrate evolved into one of the most intelligent species on the planet.


“The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even other molluscs, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving capabilities,” said Clifton Ragsdale, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago and coauthor on the study, in a prepared statement. “The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the octopus is an alien. In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”


Aristotle was not enthusiastic about octopus intelligence. “The octopus is a stupid creature,” he wrote, “for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water.” Nonetheless, we now know that octopuses are the most intelligent invertebrates on the planet—as demonstrated by real science as well as viral videos of whip-smart cephalopods escaping from jars. Since cephalopods have been around for at least 500 million years, scientist suspect that “they were the first intelligent beings on the planet,” said Sydney Brenner, Nobel Laureate and coauthor on the study, in a prepared statement.


But until now, we simply didn’t know much about octopus intelligence. Scientists already knew that they had enormous brains and way too many neurons, but nowadays experts agree that you don’t really know an organism until you’ve sequenced its genome. And it turns out that octopuses have weird genomes. The 2.7 billion base-pairs that make up the octopus genome look a lot like that of other invertebrates—except, mixed up.


“The octopus basically has a normal invertebrate genome that’s just been completely rearranged, like it’s been put into a blender and mixed,” said Caroline Albertin, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and coauthor on the study.


The octopus also has an abnormal number of genes controlling neuron development and interactions between neurons—processes likely associated with learning and intelligence. The octopus genome contains 168 of these special genes, known as protocadherins, twice the amount found in most mammals. Researchers suspect that the extra genes help bridge gaps between neurons, allowing octopuses to make better use of their complex, but limited nervous systems.

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High Pressure Compound Makes Superconductor at 203 kelvin (-70˚C)

High Pressure Compound Makes Superconductor at 203 kelvin (-70˚C) | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Hydrogen sulfide—the chemical compound that emits a powerful rotten egg smell—is a superconductor with enormous potential. The compound conducts electricity with no resistance at temperatures as high as 203 kelvin (–70 °C), physicists reported in Nature this week.That means hydrogen sulfide is the highest-temperature superconductor known to man, besting the previous record-holder by about 40 ºC. And that matters because it’s a big step toward finding a room temperature superconductor, which could revolutionize electronics, making everyday electricity generation and transmission vastly more efficient.


Superconductors — materials that can channel electric current with no resistance — were first discovered in the early 20th century. They’re used in some of the most important technologies of the modern world, from MRI machines and particle accelerators to microwave ovens and mobile phones. But there’s one persistent problem: It takes extraordinarily low temperatures and lots of energy to form these magical materials. And some of the highest-temperature superconductors are unusual, expensive substances. An exotic, copper-containing class of compounds called “cuprates” can superconduct at 164 K (–109 °C) if first subjected to very high pressures.


Now, cuprates have to take a backseat to something much more pedestrian. When Mikhail Eremets and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany squeezed tiny amounts of hydrogen sulfide to almost 1.6 million times atmospheric pressure, the common material was transformed. It became superconductive at temperatures that actually exist (albeit in places no one would ever want to live) on the surface of the Earth. That’s a first, and it could mean that an entire class of perfectly natural, hydrogen-bearing compounds are good candidates for high-temperature superconductivity.


Some scientists are thrilled at the news: Igor Mazin of the Naval Research Laboratory, calls hydrogen sulfide “the holy grail of superconductors.” Others are keeping their shirts on until the find is independently confirmed. According to Nature News, a group at Osaka University has so far been able to reproduce the electrical but not the magnetic properties of a superconductor in hydrogen sulfide, while others groups have yet to confirm any superconductivity at all.

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New internet routing method allows users to avoid sending data through undesired countries

New internet routing method allows users to avoid sending data through undesired countries | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Censorship is one of the greatest threats to open communication on the Internet. Information may be censored by a user's country of residence or the information's desired destination. But recent studies show that censorship by countries through which the data travels along its route is also a danger.


Now, computer scientists at the University of Maryland have developed a method for providing concrete proof to Internet users that their information did not cross through certain geographic areas. The new system offers advantages over existing systems: it is immediately deployable and does not require knowledge of—or modifications to—the Internet's routing hardware or policies.


"With recent events, such as censorship of Internet traffic, suspicious 'boomerang routing' where data leaves a region only to come back again, and monitoring of users' data, we became increasingly interested in this notion of empowering users to have more control over what happens with their data," says project lead Dave Levin, an assistant research scientist in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).


This new system, called Alibi Routing, will be presented on August 20, 2015, at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Data Communication (ACM SIGCOMM) conference in London. Levin teamed with associate professor Neil Spring and professor Bobby Bhattacharjee, who have appointments in UMD's Department of Computer Science and UMIACS, on the paper.


Information transmitted over the Internet, such as website requests or email content, is broken into packets and sent through a series of routers on the way to its destination. However, users have very little control over what parts of the world these packets traverse.


Some parts of the world have been known to modify data returned to users, thus censoring content. In 2012, researchers demonstrated that Domain Name System (DNS) queries that merely pass through China's borders are subject to the same risk as if the requests came from one of the country's own residents.


To evaluate their Alibi Routing method, the researchers simulated a network with 20,000 participants and selected forbidden regions from the 2012 "Enemies of the Internet" report published by Reporters Without Borders—China, Syria, North Korea and Saudi Arabia—as well as the three other countries with the highest number of Internet users at the time of the study—the United States, China and Japan.

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Horses Smile and Pout Just Like Humans, Study Says

Horses Smile and Pout Just Like Humans, Study Says | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Horse faces share some surprising similarities to human faces, shows a curious new study published in the journal PLOS ONEAfter dissecting a horse head, analyzing its musculature, and scrutinizing 15 hours of horse video footage, a group of researchers managed to map out every possible facial expression a horse could make. It turns out our faces are a lot more similar than we think.


“Horses and humans are distantly related and have such differently shaped faces that I personally thought there would be really no similarities,” says study author Jennifer Wathan, a PhD candidate in social cognition and communication in horses at the University of Sussex in the U.K. “But there was a surprising amount of similarities.”


For the first time, Wathan and her colleagues created a full map of a horse face using a technique called the Facial Action Coding Systems (FACS). It’s a tool for objectively measuring facial movement, without letting subjective interpretations of facial expressions get in the way.


Humans have a FACS (we make 27 separate facial movements), and so do chimpanzees (they make 13) and dogs (16 for them). But horses had even more: 17 facial movements in total. “Most people who have horses know they are expressive and use their ears a lot, but I’ve got to admit, I was really surprised by the extent to which they use their face,” Wathan says. “They’ve got a huge facial repertoire.”


Humans also pull the corners of their lips back—also known as smiling—sort of like horses do. “It seems to be part of the submissive gesture,” she says, and younger horses tend to do it to older horses. Finally, both humans and horses widen their eyes in fear.


Findings like these can help us understand the evolution of complex communication between species—and they may suggest that using complex facial expressions to communicate is an ancient ability we shared with our last common ancestor with horses, or that the ability has evolved under the social pressure to communicate with important social partners, Wathan says.” Horses, like us, have a rich social life where effective communication would be to their advantage, she says.

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How aging cripples the immune system

How aging cripples the immune system | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Aging cripples the production of new immune cells, decreasing the immune system’s response to vaccines and putting the elderly at risk of infection, but antioxidants in the diet may slow this damaging process.

That’s a new finding by scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), published in an open-access paper in the journal Cell Reports. The problem is focused on an organ called the thymus, which produces T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) — critical immune cells that must be continuously replenished so they can respond to new infections. “The thymus begins to atrophy rapidly in very early adulthood, simultaneously losing its function,” said TSRI Professor Howard Petrie“This new study shows for the first time a mechanism for the long-suspected connection between normal immune function and antioxidants.”


Scientists have been hampered in their efforts to develop specific immune therapies for the elderly by a lack of knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of this process. To explore these mechanisms, Petrie and his team developed a computational approach for analyzing the activity of genes in two major cell types in the thymus — stromal cells and lymphoid cells — in mouse tissues, which are similar to human tissues in terms of function and age-related atrophy. The team found that stromal cells were specifically deficient in an antioxidant enzyme called catalase. That resulted in elevated levels of the reactive oxygen byproducts of metabolism, which cause accelerated metabolic damage.*


Taken together, the findings provide support for the “free-radical theory” of aging, which proposes that reactive oxygen species (such as hydrogen peroxide), produced during normal metabolism (and from other sources) cause cellular damage that contributes to aging and age-related diseases. Free radicals are especially reactive atoms or groups of atoms that have one or more unpaired electrons.  Besides those produced in the body as a by-product of normal metabolism, they can also be introduced from an outside source, such as tobacco smoke or other toxins.


Other studies have suggested that sex hormones, particularly androgens such as testosterone, play a major role in the aging process. But according to the researchers, those studies have failed to answer the key question: why does the thymus atrophy so much more rapidly than other body tissues?


“There’s no question that the thymus is remarkably responsive to androgens,” Petrie noted, “but our study shows that the fundamental mechanism of aging in the thymus, namely accumulated metabolic damage, is the same as in other body tissues. However, the process is accelerated in the thymus by a deficiency in the essential protective effects of catalase, which is found at higher levels in almost all other body tissues.”

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'Natural' selection of robots: On the origin of (robot) species

'Natural' selection of robots: On the origin of (robot) species | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have observed the process of evolution by natural selection at work in robots, by constructing a ‘mother’ robot that can design, build and test its own ‘children’, and then use the results to improve the performance of the next generation, without relying on computer simulation or human intervention.


Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have built a mother robot that can independently build its own children and test which one does best; and then use the results to inform the design of the next generation, so that preferential traits are passed down from one generation to the next.


Without any human intervention or computer simulation beyond the initial command to build a robot capable of movement, the mother created children constructed of between one and five plastic cubes with a small motor inside.


In each of five separate experiments, the mother designed, built and tested generations of ten children, using the information gathered from one generation to inform the design of the next. The results, reported in the open access journal PLOS One, found that preferential traits were passed down through generations, so that the ‘fittest’ individuals in the last generation performed a set task twice as quickly as the fittest individuals in the first generation.


“Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on,” said lead researcher Dr Fumiya Iida of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who worked in collaboration with researchers at ETH Zurich. “That’s essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species.”


For each robot child, there is a unique ‘genome’ made up of a combination of between one and five different genes, which contains all of the information about the child’s shape, construction and motor commands. As in nature, evolution in robots takes place through ‘mutation’, where components of one gene are modified or single genes are added or deleted, and ‘crossover’, where a new genome is formed by merging genes from two individuals.


In order for the mother to determine which children were the fittest, each child was tested on how far it travelled from its starting position in a given amount of time. The most successful individuals in each generation remained unchanged in the next generation in order to preserve their abilities, while mutation and crossover were introduced in the less successful children.


The researchers found that design variations emerged and performance improved over time: the fastest individuals in the last generation moved at an average speed that was more than twice the average speed of the fastest individuals in the first generation. This increase in performance was not only due to the fine-tuning of design parameters, but also because the mother was able to invent new shapes and gait patterns for the children over time, including some designs that a human designer would not have been able to build.


“One of the big questions in biology is how intelligence came about – we’re using robotics to explore this mystery,” said Iida. “We think of robots as performing repetitive tasks, and they’re typically designed for mass production instead of mass customization, but we want to see robots that are capable of innovation and creativity.”

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Newly discovered brain network recognizes what’s new, what’s familiar

Newly discovered brain network recognizes what’s new, what’s familiar | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

New research from Washington University in St. Louis has identified a novel learning and memory brain network, dubbed the Parietal Memory Network (PMN), that processes incoming information based on whether it’s something we’ve experienced previously or appears to be new and unknown — helping us recognize, for instance, whether a face is that of a familiar friend or a complete stranger.


The study pulls together evidence from multiple neuroimaging studies and methods to demonstrate the existence of this previously unknown and distinct functional brain network, one that appears to have broad involvement in human memory processing.


“When an individual sees a novel stimulus, this network shows a marked decrease in activity,” said Adrian Gilmore, first author of the study and a fifth-year psychology doctoral student at Washington University. When an individual sees a familiar stimulus, this network shows a marked increase in activity.”


The new memory and learning network shows consistent patterns of activation and deactivation in three distinct regions of the parietal cortex in the brain’s left hemisphere — the precuneus, the mid-cingulate cortex, and the dorsal angular gyrus. Activity within the PMN during the processing of incoming information (encoding) can be used to predict how well that information will be stored in memory and later made available for successful retrieval.


Researchers identified interesting characteristics of the PMN by analyzing data from a range of previously published neuroimaging studies. Using converging bits of evidence from dozens of fMRI brain experiments, their study shows how activity in the PMN changes during the completion of specific mental tasks and how the regions interact during resting states when the brain is involved in no particular activity or mental challenge.


This study builds on research by Marcus Raichle, MD, the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Medicine, and other neuroscience researchers at Washington University, which established the existence of another functional brain network that remains surprisingly active when the brain is not involved in a specific activity, a system known as the Default Mode Network.


Like the Default Mode Network, key regions of the PMN were shown to hum in a similar unison while the brain is in relative periods of rest. And while key regions of the PMN are located close to the Default Mode Network, the PMN appears to be its own distinct and separate functional network, preliminary findings suggest.

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Electric evolution: Fish that have their own fish finders and social networks

Electric evolution: Fish that have their own fish finders and social networks | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The more than 200 species in the family Mormyridae communicate with one another in a way completely alien to our species: by means of electric discharges generated by an organ in their tails.


In a 2011 article in Science that described a group of mormyrids able to perceive subtle variations in the waveform of electric signals, Washington University in St. Louis biologist Bruce Carlson, PhD, noted that another group of mormyrids are much less discriminating (see illustration).


The fish with nuanced signal discrimination can glean a stunning amount of information from electric signals, including the signaler’s species, sex, age, relative dominance status, and possibly even individual identity. They can also detect emotional states, such as aggression, submission, courtship and active exploration. The fish with the simpler communication system were less studied and less well understood. 


In the August 4 issues of the online journal eLIFE, Carlson and graduate student Christa Baker describe how they discovered the basis for the perceptual differences between the two groups of fish by studying the fish’s sensory receptors.


“There had to be a neural correlate for the perceptual differences, so we looked to see if something was happening ‘out in the periphery’ where the signals are originally detected and encoded for processing in the brain,” Carlson said.


The receptors in the less discriminating fish encode signals very differently than do the receptors in the more discriminating fish. Further, the receptors of the less discriminating fish are tuned to the collective signals from schools or shoals of fish rather than to those from individual fish.


“As far as we know, this is the first time anyone has found a receptor tuned to group communication signals rather than those coming from individuals,” Carlson said.


Weakly electric fish have sensory receptors in their skin, called knollenorgans, that detect electric pulses from their neighboring fish. The receptors are broadly distributed over the bodies of the discriminating fish, but in the less discriminating fish they are grouped into three clusters, or rosettes, on both sides of the head.


“We knew from work in the 1960s that there were differences in the physiology, or electrical behavior, of the sensory receptors,” Baker said. “The broadly distributed receptors fire spikes, or action potentials, whereas the clustered receptors produce oscillating potentials at a constant frequency.”


“We learned that when the oscillating recepters receive an electric signal, they reset their oscillation to a particular point in the cycle,“ she said. “This phase reset briefly syncrhonizes the oscillations of different receptors.”


“No one had ever described anything like this in a sensory system before,” Carlson said. “This is the first sensory receptor we know of that encodes stimuli by resetting the phase of ongoing oscillations.”

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NASA Dawn’s Flight over Dwarf Planet Ceres and Its Bright Spots

NASA Dawn’s Flight over Dwarf Planet Ceres and Its Bright Spots | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Explore the craters, bright spots, mountains and other features of Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


According to Dr Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, a scientist for the Dawn mission: “the craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres.”


Occator, the crater containing Ceres’ famed bright spots, is fascinating to Dawn team members. Named after the Roman agriculture deity of harrowing, the crater has a diameter of 60 miles (90 km) and a depth of two miles (4 km). A new animation simulates the experience of a close flyover of the crater.


In examining the way Occator’s bright spots reflect light at different wavelengths, the Dawn scientists have not found evidence that is consistent with ice. The spots’ albedo is also lower than predictions for concentrations of ice at the surface.


“The science team is continuing to evaluate the data and discuss theories about these bright spots at Occator. We are now comparing the spots with the reflective properties of salt, but we are still puzzled by their source. We look forward to new, higher-resolution data from the mission’s next orbital phase,” said Dr Chris Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles, Dawn’s principal investigator. What is also fascinating is a prominent mountain with bright streaks on its steep slopes.


The peak’s shape has been likened to a cone or a pyramid. It appears to be about 4 miles (6 km) high, with respect to the surface around it. This means the mountain has about the same elevation as Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska, the highest point in North America. “This mountain is among the tallest features we have seen on Ceres to date. It is unusual that it’s not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don’t know yet, but we may find out with closer observations,” Dr Schenk said.

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Memories Cemented by Flux of Prion-Like Proteins

Memories Cemented by Flux of Prion-Like Proteins | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Persistent memories are doubly paradoxical. They are stable because they are built on physical connections that are dynamically maintained. Also, long-term memories are maintained through the work of prion-like proteins, even though prions are notorious for their contribution to neurodegenerative diseases—Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's—and the destruction of memory.


Prion-like proteins, assert researchers at Columbia University, can have a functional role within neurons instead of contributing to disease. These researchers first identified a functional prion within Aplysia, a giant sea slug. Then they found a similar prion within mice. And now, in a new study, the researchers have proposed a mechanism for how this prion maintains long-term memories.


The new study—“The Persistence of Hippocampal-Based Memory Requires Protein Synthesis Mediated by the Prion-like Protein CPEB3”—appeared June 17 in the journal Neuron. It explains how CPEB3, which stands for cytoplasmic polyadenylation element-binding protein, can account for the persistence of memory even though memories are built on molecular substrates that undergo rapid turnover.


A similar protein exists in humans, suggesting that human memories, too, rely on functional prions. This protein, said Eric Kandel, M.D., the leader of the Columbia team, may have the same role in memory. “Until this has been examined,” he prudently added, “we won't know.”


When disease-causing prions form within a neuron, they cause damage by grouping together in sticky aggregates that disrupt cellular processes. Prion aggregates are highly stable and accumulate in infected tissue, causing tissue damage and cell death. The dying cell releases the prion proteins, which are then taken up by other cells—and are thus considered infectious.


Surprisingly, the very features that make prions so dangerous—the ability to self-propagate and the ability to induce other proteins to take on their alternative shape—can serve useful ends. To show how, the Columbia team challenged mice to repeatedly navigate a maze, allowing the animals to create a long-term memory. But when the researchers knocked out the animal's CPEB3 gene two weeks after the memory was made, the memory disappeared.


“Both memory storage and its underlying synaptic plasticity are mediated by the increase in level and in the aggregation of the prion-like translational regulator CPEB3,” the authors of the Neuron study wrote. “Genetic ablation of CPEB3 impairs the maintenance of both hippocampal long-term potentiation and hippocampus-dependent spatial memory.”

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Top 500 Supercomputer List Reflects Shifting State of Global HPC Trends

Top 500 Supercomputer List Reflects Shifting State of Global HPC Trends | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

If the bi-annual list of the world’s fastest, most powerful supercomputers was used as indicator of key technological, government investment, and scientific progress, one could make some striking predictions about where the next centers of worldwide innovation are likely to rest.


With China clinging to its dramatic top placement on the list for the fifth consecutive iteration of the list, which was just announced at the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, the U.S. position only just holding steady, and Japan’s new wave of systems taking hold, the global playing field at the highest end of computing is set for some interesting times.


Interestingly, despite its far-and-away win with the Tianhe-2 supercomputer, the number of systems in China has dropped significantly over the last year. In November of 2014, the country claimed 61 systems on the Top 500—a number that has plummeted to 37 with the retirement of several systems that were toward the bottom. The United States is holding steady with 230 machines on the Top 500—an impressive number, but this is the fewest supercomputers on U.S. soil outside of one other drop (down to 226) in the early 2000s.


The stunning supercomputing story of late has been in Japan (and as an up-and-comer, South Korea), which is the #2-ranked user of HPC on the planet. In June 2010, Japan had 18 systems on the list. By 2012, there were 35 (including the K Computer, which is still top-ranked), in 2013 there were 30. And in the list for this summer there were a total of 39. In addition to the successful Fujitsu-built K Computer, the TSUBAME 2.5 machine and the upcoming (2016) TSUBAME 3.0 system will take top spots on the list, rounding out the hardware and software investments of Japan’s HPCI program, which is the nation’s umbrella for reaching eventual exascale targets in the post-2020 timeframe.


The share of European systems is quite large as well—and growing slightly. On the November list there were 130 systems, which has jumped to 141. And while Asian machines are the topic of a great deal of conversation (and an upcoming panel that we will be covering this week) there are 107 systems from Asia now, down from 120 in November.


While developments in Japan, South Korea, Russia are noteworthy, to be fair, only a relatively small fraction of high performance computing sites run the LINPACK benchmark (estimates are between 15-20%), which is the metric by which Top 500 placement is determined. To make economic and competitiveness predictions on this alone would be laden with caveats. However, one of the biggest trends of note is that the list overall, across countries and systems types, is in a rut with unprecedented low replacement rates and old systems that are still running the benchmark and keeping the list essentially where it was in late 2013-early 2014.


While there might not be any earth-shattering new supercomputers to surprise and awe us on the latest round of the Top 500 fastest systems announcement today, the relative calm of the list speaks a great deal, even for those who do not regularly follow advances in supercomputer performance. Investments and progress toward ever-faster Top 500 machines is an indicator (and outcome) of economic, scientific, and industrial growth, so for this June’s list, it is useful focus a bit less than usual on the systems themselves and more on some of the key movements that define supercomputing in 2015.


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Earth’s Population Will Reach 11 Billion by 2100, United Nations Experts Say

Earth’s Population Will Reach 11 Billion by 2100, United Nations Experts Say | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The world’s population, now 7.3 billion, is expected to reach the 11 billion mark by 2100, according to the United Nations (UN) Population Division.


“According to models of demographic change derived from historical experience, it is estimated the global population will be between 9.5 and 13.3 billion people in 2100,” UN Population Division Director John Wilmoth said August 10 at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings.


“In the United States, the population is projected to add 1.5 million people per year on average until the end of the century, pushing the current count of 322 million people to 450 million.”


The primary driver of global population growth is a projected increase in the population of Africa. The continent’s current population of 1.2 billion people is expected to rise to between 3.4 billion and 5.6 billion people by the end of this century. The growth is due to persistent high levels of fertility and the recent slowdown in the rate of fertility decline.


The total fertility rate (TFR) has been declining on the continent over the past ten years, but has been doing so at one-quarter of the rate at which it declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s.


In some African countries, the TFR decline appears to have stalled. For instance, in Nigeria – the continent’s most-populous country – the high fertility rate would result in a more than fourfold projected increase in total population by 2100, from 182 million to 752 million people.


“Although there is considerable uncertainty about these future trends, there is a 90 percent chance Nigeria’s population will exceed 439 million people in 2100, which is nearly 2.5 times its current size,” Wilmoth said.


Asia, with a current population of 4.4 billion, is likely to remain the most populous continent, with its population expected to peak around the middle of the century at 5.3 billion, and then to decline to around 4.9 billion people by 2100.


The report also examines the level of population aging in different countries. One such measure is the potential support ratio (PSR), which is equal to the number of people aged 20 to 64 divided by the number of people aged 65 or over and is frequently considered the number of workers per retiree. Japan currently has the lowest PSR at 2.1, followed by Italy at 2.6.

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Scientists Find Evidence for Ancient Lake in Meridiani Planum on Mars

Scientists Find Evidence for Ancient Lake in Meridiani Planum on Mars | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists have discovered evidence of an ancient lake that likely represents some of the last potentially habitable surface water ever to exist on Mars.


Their study, published online in the journal Geology, examined an 18 sq. mile chloride salt deposit in Meridiani Planum, the location of NASA’s Opportunity rover.


“This chloride deposit likely formed from fluvio-lacustrine processes, implying an active hydrologic cycle. Late-stage activity led to valley incision in the surrounding highlands and ponding of water to form a lake in a local basin,” Dr Hynek and co-authors said.


“The lake level eventually rose and breached the drainage divide, leading to significant outflow. The remaining water evaporated and eventually precipitated the chlorides at the lowest levels.”


Digital terrain mapping and mineralogical analysis of the features surrounding the deposit indicate that this one-time lakebed is no older than 3.6 billion years old, well after the time period when Mars is thought to have been warm enough to sustain large amounts of surface water planet-wide.


“This was a long-lived lake, and we were able to put a very good time boundary on its maximum age. We can be pretty certain that this is one of the last instances of a sizeable lake on Mars,” Dr Hynek said.


Based on the extent and thickness of the salt, Dr Hynek and his colleagues estimate that the lake was only about 8% as salty as the Earth’s oceans and therefore may have been hospitable to microbial life.


“By salinity alone, it certainly seems as though this lake would have been habitable throughout much of its existence,” Dr Hynek said. “However, other factors such as acidity levels were not included in the scope of the study,” he added.

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