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Future Space Travel Engines | Knowledge is key

Future Space Travel Engines | Knowledge is key | naif | Scoop.it

To take space travel seriously we need to up our game... Future space travel engines need to be more efficient...

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Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality

Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality | naif | Scoop.it
Nearly a century after it was theorized, Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating the rarest - and potentially one of the most valuable - materials on the planet.

 

The material - atomic metallic hydrogen - was created by Thomas D. Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Isaac Silvera and post-doctoral fellow Ranga Dias. In addition to helping scientists answer fundamental questions about the nature of matter, the material is theorized to have a wide range of applications, including as a room-temperature superconductor. The creation of the rare material is described in a January 26 2017 paper published in Science.

 

"This is the holy grail of high-pressure physics," Silvera said. "It's the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you're looking at it, you're looking at something that's never existed before."

 

To create it, Silvera and Dias squeezed a tiny hydrogen sample at 495 gigapascal, or more than 71.7 million pounds-per-square inch - greater than the pressure at the center of the Earth. At those extreme pressures, Silvera explained, solid molecular hydrogen -which consists of molecules on the lattice sites of the solid - breaks down, and the tightly bound molecules dissociate to transforms into atomic hydrogen, which is a metal.

 

While the work offers an important new window into understanding the general properties of hydrogen, it also offers tantalizing hints at potentially revolutionary new materials.


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John Myrick's curator insight, January 27, 2017 9:23 AM
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Quantum computers can talk to each other via a photon translator

Quantum computers can talk to each other via a photon translator | naif | Scoop.it

Different kinds of quantum computers encode information using their own wavelengths of light, but a device that modifies their photons could allow them to network.

Quantum computers are theoretically capable of running calculations exponentially faster than classical computers, and can be made by exploiting atoms, superconductors, diamond crystals and more. Each of these has its own strengths: atoms are better at storing information, while superconductors are better at processing it. A device linking these diverse systems together would combine their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. Once linked, these systems would talk to each other by sending and receiving photons. The photons would encode quantum states but, unlike the voltages and currents interpreted by a classical computer chip, they cannot be transmitted via copper wires.

What’s more, quantum rules require that a single photon must essentially carry a spread of frequencies, rather than a single frequency. For different components to talk to each other using photons, the spread of the sender’s photons must therefore be converted to the spread that the receiver can handle. That requires a device in the middle that can convert photons from one spread of frequencies to another, while still preserving their delicate quantum state.

Christine Silberhorn of the University of Paderborn in Germany and her colleagues have designed such a system. It includes a converter that “translates” photons emitted from one component into the infrared. That infrared photon is then transmitted over a fibre optic cable connected to a second component. Finally, the photon is translated into another frequency that the receiving component can read.

Only part of the system has been built so far: the researchers have managed to convert infrared photons to a visible wavelength – while leaving their quantum state intact – with a success rate of about 75 per cent. But the technique could be adapted to build the full system, Silberhorn says.

Once that is done, the next step would be to figure out how to fit the device on a chip that could be manufactured easily and cheaply in large quantities, says Arka Majumdar of the University of Washington in Seattle. “The science works,” he says. “But scalability is the biggest problem. Making the same device 1000 times is extremely difficult.”


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Scientists use DNA to build the world's tiniest thermometer

Scientists use DNA to build the world's tiniest thermometer | naif | Scoop.it

Researchers at University of Montreal have created a programmable DNA thermometer that is 20,000x smaller than a human hair. This scientific advance reported this week in the journalNano Letters may significantly aid our understanding of natural and human designed nanotechnologies by enabling to measure temperature at the nanoscale.

Over 60 years ago, researchers discovered that the DNA molecules that encode our genetic information can unfold when heated. "In recent years, biochemists also discovered that biomolecules such as proteins or RNA (a molecule similar to DNA) are employed as nanothermometers in living organisms and report temperature variation by folding or unfolding," says senior author Prof. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle. "Inspired by those natural nanothermometers, which are typically 20,000x smaller than a human hair, we have created various DNA structures that can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures."

One of the main advantages of using DNA to engineer molecular thermometers is that DNA chemistry is relatively simple and programmable. "DNA is made from four different monomer molecules called nucleotides: nucleotide A binds weakly to nucleotide T, whereas nucleotide C binds strongly to nucleotide G," explains David Gareau, first author of the study. "Using these simple design rules we are able to create DNA structures that fold and unfold at a specifically desired temperature." "By adding optical reporters to these DNA structures, we can therefore create 5 nm-wide thermometers that produce an easily detectable signal as a function of temperature," adds Arnaud Desrosiers, co-author of this study.

These nanoscale thermometers open many exciting avenues in the emerging field of nanotechnology, and may even help us to better understand molecular biology. "There are still many unanswered questions in biology," adds Prof. Vallée-Bélisle, "For example, we know that the temperature inside the human body is maintained at 37° C, but we have no idea whether there is a large temperature variation at the nanoscale inside each individual cell." One question currently under investigation by the research team is to determine whether nanomachines and nanomotors developed by nature over millions years of evolution also overheat when functioning at high rate. "In the near future, we also envision that these DNA-based nanothermometers may be implement in electronic-based devices in order to monitor local temperature variation at the nanoscale," concludes Prof. Vallée-Bélisle.


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NASA will let you walk on Mars using Microsoft's HoloLens

NASA will let you walk on Mars using Microsoft's HoloLens | naif | Scoop.it

NASA is teaming up with Microsoft to give you a glimpse of the Red Planet. A new exhibition called "Destination: Mars" will let visitors use Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headsets to take a virtual stroll on Mars, alongside a "holographic" tour guide, astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The exhibition, which will open this summer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, uses OnSight, a mission operations tool co-developed by Microsoft and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Basically, OnSight will take the data and images collected by the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since August 2012, and use HoloLens to turn a room into the surface of the Red Planet for you to walk around.

OnSight is a tool that NASA scientists use to virtually explore Mars and make recommendations about where Curiosity should go next. For the first time, the exhibition will allow regular people to use that same tool and get "a glimpse of Mars as seen by mission scientists," NASA said in a press release.


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Mystery of how snakes lost their legs solved by reptile fossil

Mystery of how snakes lost their legs solved by reptile fossil | naif | Scoop.it
“Fresh analysis of a reptile fossil is helping scientists solve an evolutionary puzzle -- how snakes lost their limbs. The findings show snakes did not lose their limbs in order to live in the sea, as was previously suggested.”

The 90 million-year-old skull is giving researchers vital clues about how snakes evolved. Comparisons between CT scans of the fossil and modern reptiles indicate that snakes lost their legs when their ancestors evolved to live and hunt in burrows, which many snakes still do today.

The findings show snakes did not lose their limbs in order to live in the sea, as was previously suggested.

Scientists used CT scans to examine the bony inner ear of Dinilysia patagonica, a 2-meter long reptile closely linked to modern snakes. These bony canals and cavities, like those in the ears of modern burrowing snakes, controlled its hearing and balance. They built 3D virtual models to compare the inner ears of the fossils with those of modern lizards and snakes. Researchers found a distinctive structure within the inner ear of animals that actively burrow, which may help them detect prey and predators. This shape was not present in modern snakes that live in water or above ground.

The findings help scientists fill gaps in the story of snake evolution, and confirm Dinilysia patagonica as the largest burrowing snake ever known. They also offer clues about a hypothetical ancestral species from which all modern snakes descended, which was likely a burrower.

Reference:

- - H. Yi, M. A. Norell. The burrowing origin of modern snakes. Science Advances, 2015; 1 (10): e1500743 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500743


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Russian Scientists Create Artificial Brain that can Educate Itself

Russian Scientists Create Artificial Brain that can Educate Itself | naif | Scoop.it

Russian scientists are one step closer to crafting full artificial intelligence. A physical model of a brain has been designed, with the ability to educate itself. Tomsk State University in western Siberia housed an international team of scientists who “built mathematical and computer models of the human brain,” said the head of the laboratory, Professor FIT Vladimir Syryamkin.

“After that it was designed radio-electronic device comprising perceptrons. It is capable of handling various information (video, audio, etc.) Now we are working to establish the basic system robotic system, which is an intelligent control center.” Though, full brain replication isn’t an easy task, as scientists need to copy 100 million neurons in the brain and one trillion compounds.

“This physical model is capable of self-learning and life experience. This mechanism is both simple and complex. The artificial medium of natural intelligence takes external stimuli such as light, sound, etc. Through trial and error, he tries to find a solution that helps to avoid the impact of the stimulus. For example, when exposed to a bright light source will first try to look away, if it does not help, move away from him. As long as the brain will not find the right solution, its neurons (perceptrons) will be in an excited state. When the artificial intelligence that decision will, he will remember it and will be used in similar situations,” reads the press release.

The main developer Vladimir Shumilov believes, “In the end, an artificial brain should be analogous to the biological model. We have a tremendous amount of work, but a very important step has been taken – we were able to reveal the secret of brain neural network. In our physical model, as in the human brain, the formation of new neural connections and damping existing. In humans, it is the process of forgetting.”

The team hopes its artificial intelligent brain will have medical applications, like helping drug correction for patients with various dementias. Additionally, the scientists hope to integrate their AI brain into robotic systems and neurocomputers.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Lucile Debethune's curator insight, August 20, 2015 10:16 AM

Dans le même mouvement que d'autre recherche, à la fois sur la modélisation du cerveau, sur l'autoapprentissage des IA... et lutter contre les démences 

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Horses Smile and Pout Just Like Humans, Study Says

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

Horse faces share some surprising similarities to human faces, shows a curious new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. After 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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Scientists Discuss How to Create Matter from Pure Light

Scientists Discuss How to Create Matter from Pure Light | naif | Scoop.it
“Creating matter from light? It sounds like something out of science fiction, right? Well scientists have managed to take something that seems improbable and devise an experiment to make it possible.”

Creating matter from light with todays high-tech methods would physically prove a theory first devised by scientists Breit and Wheeler in 1934.

Breit and Wheeler suggested that it should, in theory, be possible to turn light into matter by smashing together only two particles of light, called photons, in order to create an electron and a positron. Yet this has never physically been demonstrated.

In order to take theory into practice, the researchers devised a method that could potentially turn light into matter. They created the idea of a "photon-photon collider," which would convert light directly into matter using technology that is already available. The experiment itself would actually recreate a process that was important in the first 100 seconds of the beginning of the universe.

The experiment itself involves two key steps. First, the researchers would use an extremely powerful, high-intensity laser in order to speed up electrons to just below the speed of light. Then, they would fire these electrons into a slab of gold. This would create a beam of photons about a billion times more energetic than visible light. After that, the researchers would fire a high-energy laser at the inner surface of a tiny gold can called a hohlraum in order to create a thermal radiation field and generate light similar to the light emitted by stars. Then, they would need to direct the photon beam from the first stage of the experiment through the center of the can, causing the photons from the two sources to collide and form matter.

"Despite all physicists accepting the theory to be true, when Breit and Wheeler first proposed the theory, they said that they never expected it to be shown in the laboratory," said Steve Rose, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Today, nearly 80 years later, we prove them wrong. What was so surprising to us was the discovery of how we can create matter directly from light using the technology that we have today. As we are theorists, we are now talking to others who can use our ideas to undertake this landmark experiment."

While this is only theory, it could certainly be taken into practice. Researchers are now looking for ways to create this experiment and prove this theory to, in fact, be true.


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Fairy Lights in Femtoseconds: Scientists have created a hologram that can be touched

Fairy Lights in Femtoseconds: Scientists have created a hologram that can be touched | naif | Scoop.it
“Hologram technology already exists. Whatever is not yet sufficiently advanced, however, we have witnessed some progress in this area as: hologram created in mid air by laser, 3D hologram displays, holograms in the toy industry and the like. Unfortunately Hologram display can not be touched and interaction with it would feel more natural.That at least was true till now when a Japanese team of scientists from Digital Nature Group managed to create a hologram display that you can touch. The concept is similar to the hologram which was created in mid air (also in Japan). Namely, the laser is used to create display emits superfast and supershort radiation (measured in femtoseconds). These radiations wiggle molecules of air, while helping to ionize (resulting in their lighting). As we know, a set of ionized particles to a place called plasma, which is generated by the laser.”

The very fact that the molecules are forced to move in the air is causing the ability to touch them. Namely, when you put a finger in the hologram air, molecules are hitting your skin and you feel like it you touched something. According to lead author of the study it feels like you're touching sand paper or electrostatic shock. Additionally, by using a camera which is placed under the display you can recognize when you touched the display and where, and to convey the command somewhere in the software.

Scientists say that they have chosen femtosecond display nanoseconds because it is safer for the skin because there is not enough time to warm up and damage. This will allow interactive 3D holograms that can be touched, which will contribute to significant progress in hologram technology. The projection of such holograms may allow upgrading of our reality in the case if these kind of devices are placed all around us and project images and objects that we could touch.

This femtosecond laser-based volumetric display will be demonstrated to the public as a part of the Siggraph 2015 exhibition in August.


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Scientists have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics

Scientists have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics | naif | Scoop.it

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics. This artificial neuron contain no ‘living’ parts, but is capable of mimicking the function of a human nerve cell and communicate in the same way as our own neurons do.

Neurons are isolated from each other and communicate with the help of chemical signals, commonly called neurotransmitters or signal substances. Inside a neuron, these chemical signals are converted to an electrical action potential, which travels along the axon of the neuron until it reaches the end. Here at the synapse, the electrical signal is converted to the release of chemical signals, which via diffusion can relay the signal to the next nerve cell.

To date, the primary technique for neuronal stimulation in human cells is based on electrical stimulation. However, scientists at the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Centre (SMNC) at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Neuroscience in collaboration with collegues at Linköping University, have now created an organic bioelectronic device that is capable of receiving chemical signals, which it can then relay to human cells.

“Our artificial neuron is made of conductive polymers and it functions like a human neuron”, says lead investigator Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, professor of cellular microbiology. “The sensing component of the artificial neuron senses a change in chemical signals in one dish, and translates this into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is next translated into the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in a second dish, whose effect on living human cells can be monitored.“


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The bullet that can change direction mid-air: US military develops self-guided 'smart bullet'

The bullet that can change direction mid-air: US military develops self-guided 'smart bullet' | naif | Scoop.it

You know the phrase "dodging a bullet"? Forget about it. Probably not going to happen anymore. The U.S. military said this week it has made great progress in its effort to develop a self-steering bullet. In February, the "smart bullets" -- .50-caliber projectiles equipped with optical sensors -- passed their most successful round of live-fire tests to date, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. In the tests, an experienced marksman "repeatedly hit moving and evading targets," a DARPA statement said. "Additionally," the statement said, "a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target." In other words, now you don't even have to be a good shot to hit the mark.


The system has been developed by DARPA's Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance program, known as EXACTO. "True to DARPA's mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target," said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager.


"This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. Fitting EXACTO's guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers," Dunn said.


Videos supplied by DARPA show the bullets making sharp turns in midair as they pursue their targets. It all conjures up images of a cartoon character frantically fleeing a bullet that follows him wherever he goes. Only, these bullets are traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. And even the Road Runner can't run that fast. DARPA says the smart bullets will also help shooters who are trying, for example, to hit targets in high winds. The goals of the EXACTO program are giving shooters accuracy at greater distances, engaging targets sooner and enhancing the safety of American troops, DARPA said.


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After The Nepal Earthquake, Everest Is A Little Shorter

After The Nepal Earthquake, Everest Is A Little Shorter | naif | Scoop.it

The world’s tallest mountain is a little shorter after the newly-named Gorka earthquake that hit Nepal in late April, 2015.


The Nepal earthquake that hit just before noon on Saturday, April 26, 2015 officially has a name: it’s the Gorkha earthquake. The sudden slip of the tectonic plates during the earthquake literally reshaped the land. In a continent-continent collision like this one, the area closest to the fault rupture is uplifted, while the previously-buckled plate interior slaps flat, subsiding in the release of stress. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A satellite tracked both uplift [blue] and subsidence [yellow], recording elevation changes of up to 1 meter, and a horizontal north-south shift of up to 2 meters.


They’ve used the same data to createinterferograms of how the region has changed in consecutive measurements before and after the earthquake. Each coloured fringe represents about 10 centimeters of displacement. Overall, Kathmandu is little taller and Mount Everest is a tiny bit shorterthan it was a month ago. Poor weather not only made things a little bit more miserable on the ground, but also limited the utility of fly-overs from NASA’s satellite network.


In related news, as part of efforts to increase access to hazard mitigation and risk reduction research, the Seismological Society of America has temporarily opened access to their collection of articles on tectonics, structure, and earthquake history of the Himalayas.

 

Check out more ways satellite imagery has been used in the response to the Gorkha earthquake on the American Geophysical Union’s Trembling Earth.


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Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, June 1, 2015 1:51 AM

Australian Curriculum

The causes, impacts and responses to a geomorphological hazard (ACHGK053)


GeoWorld 8

Chapter 4: Hazards: causes, impacts and responses

(4.5 - 4.6 Earthquakes)

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Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality

Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality | naif | Scoop.it
Nearly a century after it was theorized, Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating the rarest - and potentially one of the most valuable - materials on the planet.

 

The material - atomic metallic hydrogen - was created by Thomas D. Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Isaac Silvera and post-doctoral fellow Ranga Dias. In addition to helping scientists answer fundamental questions about the nature of matter, the material is theorized to have a wide range of applications, including as a room-temperature superconductor. The creation of the rare material is described in a January 26 2017 paper published in Science.

 

"This is the holy grail of high-pressure physics," Silvera said. "It's the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you're looking at it, you're looking at something that's never existed before."

 

To create it, Silvera and Dias squeezed a tiny hydrogen sample at 495 gigapascal, or more than 71.7 million pounds-per-square inch - greater than the pressure at the center of the Earth. At those extreme pressures, Silvera explained, solid molecular hydrogen -which consists of molecules on the lattice sites of the solid - breaks down, and the tightly bound molecules dissociate to transforms into atomic hydrogen, which is a metal.

 

While the work offers an important new window into understanding the general properties of hydrogen, it also offers tantalizing hints at potentially revolutionary new materials.


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John Myrick's curator insight, January 27, 2017 9:23 AM
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Neuroscientists Wirelessly Control the Brain of a Scampering Lab Mouse

Neuroscientists Wirelessly Control the Brain of a Scampering Lab Mouse | naif | Scoop.it

Researchers use tiny LED devices implanted in a mouse’s head and on a nerve in its leg [middle] to stimulate genetically altered neurons that respond to flashes of light. This optogenetic technology gives researchers a way to “turn on” precise groups of neurons and study the results. These wirelessly powered implants are about the size of peppercorns, so they don’t weigh down the mice or change their behavior.


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Scientists make 3D holograms of atoms inside molecular structures

Scientists make 3D holograms of atoms inside molecular structures | naif | Scoop.it

"Researchers have developed the first imaging technique that can clearly see inside molecular structures, and have used it to create 3D holograms of the atomic arrangements inside these structures.

Before now, reliable imaging techniques (for example, scanning tunneling microscopy) could only scan the surfaces of molecules. The ability to peer deep inside a molecular structure and see all of the individual atoms will be essential for developing new materials and understanding their unique physical and chemical properties.

The researchers, Tobias Lühr et al., have published a paper on the new imaging technique in a recent issue of Nano Letters.

The new holographic imaging method significantly improves upon the previous methods: It almost completely eliminates image artifacts, has the ability to image thousands of atoms, and can also distinguish between different types of atoms.

The researchers demonstrated the technique by creating 3D holograms of pyrite (FeS2).

The holography method works by scattering electron waves off a molecule's atoms. Interference between the emitted and scattered electron waves creates diffraction patterns. This information is then used to reconstruct 3D holographic images showing the atoms' true locations."


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NASA will let you walk on Mars using Microsoft's HoloLens

NASA will let you walk on Mars using Microsoft's HoloLens | naif | Scoop.it

NASA is teaming up with Microsoft to give you a glimpse of the Red Planet. A new exhibition called "Destination: Mars" will let visitors use Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headsets to take a virtual stroll on Mars, alongside a "holographic" tour guide, astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The exhibition, which will open this summer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, uses OnSight, a mission operations tool co-developed by Microsoft and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Basically, OnSight will take the data and images collected by the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since August 2012, and use HoloLens to turn a room into the surface of the Red Planet for you to walk around.

OnSight is a tool that NASA scientists use to virtually explore Mars and make recommendations about where Curiosity should go next. For the first time, the exhibition will allow regular people to use that same tool and get "a glimpse of Mars as seen by mission scientists," NASA said in a press release.


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Newly discovered bacteria can eat plastic bottles

Newly discovered bacteria can eat plastic bottles | naif | Scoop.it
“A team of Japanese scientists has found a species of bacteria that eats the type of plastic found in most disposable water bottles.”

The discovery, published Thursday in the journal Science, could lead to new methods to manage the more than 50 million tons of this particular type of plastic produced globally each year.

The plastic found in water bottles is known as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. It is also found in polyester clothing, frozen-dinner trays and blister packaging.

"If you walk down the aisle in Wal-Mart you're seeing a lot of PET," said Tracy Mincer, who studies plastics in the ocean at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Part of the appeal of PET is that it is lightweight, colorless and strong. However, it has also been notoriously resistant to being broken down by microbes-what experts call "biodegradation." Previous studies had found a few species of fungi can grow on PET, but until now, no one had found any microbes that can eat it.

To find the plastic-eating bacterium described in the study, the Japanese research team from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University collected 250 PET-contaminated samples including sediment, soil and wastewater from a plastic bottle recycling site.

Next they screened the microbes living on the samples to see whether any of them were eating the PET and using it to grow. They originally found a consortium of bugs that appeared to break down a PET film, but they eventually discovered that just one of bacteria species was responsible for the PET degradation. They named it Ideonella sakainesis.

Further tests in the lab revealed that it used two enzymes to break down the PET. After adhering to the PET surface, the bacteria secretes one enzyme onto the PET to generate an intermediate chemical. That chemical is then taken up by the cell, where another enzyme breaks it down even further, providing the bacteria with carbon and energy to grow.


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Elon Musk: Fully autonomous cars with 1,000km electric range are coming in 2017

Elon Musk: Fully autonomous cars with 1,000km electric range are coming in 2017 | naif | Scoop.it

Elon Musk believes Tesla cars will be fully autonomous by 2018, and have an all-electric range of more than 1,000km, double what it is today. He also predicts that by 2035 all new cars will not require a driver.

A renowned futurist and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk predicts that the range of the Model S can be increased by between 5% and 10% every year, as battery technology improves. He also claims the AutoPilot self-driving feature currently being beta tested by Tesla will be rolled-out to all compatible Model S vehicles by the end of October. AutoPilot provides automatic steering, accelerating and braking on motorways, but only in countries which have updated their road laws to allow it.

In an interview on Dutch television, Musk said: "My guess is that we could probably break 1,000km within a year or two. I'd say 2017 for sure...in 2020 I guess we could probably make a car go 1,200km. I think maybe 5-10% a year [improvement], something like that." A Model S was recently driven 452 miles (723km) on a single charge, but drove at an average speed of just 24mph. Musk says his predictions account for driving at a more realistic speed. Musk added that AutoPilot will be switched on in a month's time, adding: "My guess for when we'll have full autonomy is about three years, approximately three years." This is much sooner than 2020, when analysts had expected to see autonomous cars from Google - and possible Apple - go on sale.

But this is with a caveat. "Regulators will not allow full autonomy for one to two years – maybe one to three years – after that," Musk said. "It depends on the particular market; in some markets the regulators will be more forward leaning than others. But in terms of when [full autonomy] will be technologically possible, I think three years."

Looking even further ahead, Musk predicts that – providing "civilisation is still around" – by 2035 "we'll see a very large percentage of cars being electric [on the road] probably all cars being built will have full autonomy in 20 years." Again, however, a caveat exists, in that cars are not replaced as often as smartphones, so it will take a considerable amount of time for all vehicles on the world's roads (around 2.5 billion) to become electric and autonomous. Musk reckons it would take another 20 years to fully replace all cars and trucks being used in 2035 with electric vehicles.


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Horses Smile and Pout Just Like Humans, Study Says

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

Horse faces share some surprising similarities to human faces, shows a curious new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. After 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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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 | naif | 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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The LHC Has Discovered a New Sub-Atomic Particle Called a Pentaquark

The LHC Has Discovered a New Sub-Atomic Particle Called a Pentaquark | naif | Scoop.it

After restarting to run at higher power than ever, the Large Hadron Collider has made its first proper discovery. Today, a team of scientists announced that they have found a new class of sub-atomic particles known as pentaquarks.

Quarks are a series of charged sub-atomic particles that come together to form larger particles—such as protons and neutrons, which are each made of three of the things (a class of particle referred to as baryons). First proposed in 1964 by American physicist Murray Gell-Mann, their existence changed the way people thought about particle physicists.

But quarks can come together to form other entities, too. For a long time, people have speculated that another class of quark ensemble, called the pentaquark, could in theory exist. The pentaquark is, perhaps unsurprisingly, supposed to be made up of five smaller entities—four quarks and an anti-quark. Now, for the first time, researchers working on the LHCb experiment at the Collider have found evidence for their existence.

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said Guy Wilkinson from the LHCb in a press release. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”

The team has identified the existence of the pentaquark by watching for the decay of a baryon known as Lambda b. As it split up into three well-known particles: a J-psi, a proton and a charged kaon—the scientists observed a transition state in which two previously unobserved particles could be identified.

“Benefiting from the large data set provided by the LHC, and the excellent precision of our detector, we have examined all possibilities for these signals, and conclude that they can only be explained by pentaquark states”, says LHCb physicist Tomasz Skwarnicki in a press release. “More precisely the states must be formed of two up quarks, one down quark, one charm quark and one anti-charm quark.”

Now, the scientists will study study the finer structure of the pentaquarks, to understand exactly how they’re bound together. It’s not the dark matter that CERN researchers are eventually hoping to find with the newly high-powered Collider, but it’s still another milestone in particle physics.


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Quanta: A New Physics Theory of Life

Quanta: A New Physics Theory of Life | naif | Scoop.it
“An MIT physicist has proposed the provocative idea that life exists because the law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire lifelike physical properties.”

Why does life exist? Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His idea, detailed in a recent paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

England has taken “a very brave and very important step,” said Alexander Grosberg, a professor of physics at New York University who has followed England’s work since its early stages. The “big hope” is that he has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life, Grosberg said.

England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab. “He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.”

At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.” Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses. Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated. Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will, through sheer chance, tend to adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out. Eventually, the system arrives at a state of maximum entropy called “thermodynamic equilibrium,” in which energy is uniformly distributed. A cup of coffee and the room it sits in become the same temperature, for example. As long as the cup and the room are left alone, this process is irreversible. The coffee never spontaneously heats up again because the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against so much of the room’s energy randomly concentrating in its atoms.

Although entropy must increase over time in an isolated or “closed” system, an “open” system can keep its entropy low — that is, divide energy unevenly among its atoms — by greatly increasing the entropy of its surroundings. In his influential 1944 monograph “What Is Life?” the eminent quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger argued that this is what living things must do. A plant, for example, absorbs extremely energetic sunlight, uses it to build sugars, and ejects infrared light, a much less concentrated form of energy. The overall entropy of the universe increases during photosynthesis as the sunlight dissipates, even as the plant prevents itself from decaying by maintaining an orderly internal structure.


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Scientists have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics

Scientists have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics | naif | Scoop.it

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics. This artificial neuron contain no ‘living’ parts, but is capable of mimicking the function of a human nerve cell and communicate in the same way as our own neurons do.

Neurons are isolated from each other and communicate with the help of chemical signals, commonly called neurotransmitters or signal substances. Inside a neuron, these chemical signals are converted to an electrical action potential, which travels along the axon of the neuron until it reaches the end. Here at the synapse, the electrical signal is converted to the release of chemical signals, which via diffusion can relay the signal to the next nerve cell.

To date, the primary technique for neuronal stimulation in human cells is based on electrical stimulation. However, scientists at the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Centre (SMNC) at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Neuroscience in collaboration with collegues at Linköping University, have now created an organic bioelectronic device that is capable of receiving chemical signals, which it can then relay to human cells.

“Our artificial neuron is made of conductive polymers and it functions like a human neuron”, says lead investigator Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, professor of cellular microbiology. “The sensing component of the artificial neuron senses a change in chemical signals in one dish, and translates this into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is next translated into the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in a second dish, whose effect on living human cells can be monitored.“


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Astronomers find most distant galaxy ever

Astronomers find most distant galaxy ever | naif | Scoop.it

Astronomers have located the most distant galaxy ever measured in the universe, some 13.1 billion light-years from Earth. The galaxy, called EGS-zs8-1, is one of the brightest and most massive objects in the early universe, the scientists report in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. The finding pushes back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5 per cent of its present age of 13.8 billion years. The galaxy existed so long ago, it appears to be only 100 million years old.

The team of astronomers from Yale and the University of California, Santa Cruz say that EGS-zs8-1 is still forming stars rapidly, about 80 times faster than our galaxy, the Milky Way, which has a star formation rate of one star per year.

"It has already grown more than 15 per cent of the mass of our own Milky Way today," says Pascal Oesch, lead author of the study from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. "But it had only 670 million years to do so. The universe was still very young then."

Only a handful of galaxies currently have accurate distances measured in this very early universe. "Every confirmation adds another piece to the puzzle of how the first generations of galaxies formed in the early universe," says study co-author Pieter van Dokkum of Yale.

"Only the most sensitive telescopes are powerful enough to reach to these large distances." The galaxy was first spotted in images from NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes.

Calculating its exact distance from Earth was possible using the MOSFIRE instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory's 10-meter telescope in Hawaii, researchers say.


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