Archive for October, 2012


ROA Stacks African Animals on a Building Facade in Johannesburg street art murals Johannesburg animals

ROA Stacks African Animals on a Building Facade in Johannesburg street art murals Johannesburg animals

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“Be still
Wild and young
Long may your innocence reign
Like shells on the shore
And may your limits be unknown
And may your efforts be your own
If you ever feel you can’t take it anymore

Don’t break character
You’ve got a lot of heart
Is this real or just a dream?”

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DNA sequencing of 36 complete Y chromosomes has uncovered a previously unknown population explosion that occurred 40 to 50 thousand years ago, between the first expansion of modern humans out of Africa 60 to 70 thousand years ago and the Neolithic expansions of people in several parts of the world starting 10 thousand years ago. This is the first time researchers have used the information from large-scale DNA sequencing to create an accurate family tree of the Y chromosome, from which the inferences about human population history could be made.

“We have always considered the expansion of humans out of Africa as being the largest population expansion of modern humans, but our research questions this theory,” says Ms Wei Wei, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the West China University of Medical Sciences. “The out-of-Africa expansion, which happened approximately 60,000 years ago, was extremely large in geographical terms with humans spreading around the globe. Now we’ve found a second wave of expansion that is much larger in terms of human population growth and occurred over a very short period, somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.”There is no obvious archaeological event that would explain why this sudden expansion in the human population occurred. One possible theory is that during the original out-of-Africa expansion, humans moved along the coastlines of the world, settling as they went. Their origins and genetic makeup would mean that these people were suited to coastal life, but not to the demands of living inland. This would have prevented large population growth as the coasts could only sustain a certain number of people. Continue reading

Quantum entanglement stands as one of the strangest and hardest concepts to understand in physics. Two or more particles can interact in a specific ways that leave them entangled, such that a later measurement on one system identifies what the outcome of a similar measurement on the second system—no matter how far they are separated in space.

Repeated experiments have verified that this works even when the measurements are performed more quickly than light could travel between the sites of measurement: there’s no slower-than-light influence that can pass between the entangled particles. However, one possible explanation for entanglement would allow for a faster-than-light exchange from one particle to the other. Odd as it might seem, this still doesn’t violate relativity, since the only thing exchanged is the internal quantum state—no external information is passed.

But a new analysis by J-D. Bancal, S. Pironio, A. Acín, Y-C. Liang, V. Scarani, and N. Gisin shows that any such explanation would inevitably open the door to faster-than-light communication. In other words, quantum entanglement cannot involve the passage of information—even hidden, internal information, inaccessible to experiment—at any velocity, without also allowing for other types of interactions that violate relativity.

Experiments have definitively demonstrated entanglement, and ruled out any kind of slower-than-light communication between two separated objects. The standard explanation for this behavior involves what’s called nonlocality: the idea that the two objects are actually still a single quantum system, even though they may be far apart. That idea is uncomfortable to many people (including most famously Albert Einstein), but it preserves the principle of relativity, which states in part that no information can travel faster than light.

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You, uniquely you!

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

Martha Graham

Art by: Dunno. You know? Lemme know!

In a lab at MIT, a rat enters a T-shaped maze, hears a tone, and runs down the left arm towards a piece of chocolate. It’s a habit. The rat has done the same thing over so many days that once it hears the tone, it’ll run in the same direction even if there’s no chocolate to be found. Humans are driven by similar habits. Every morning, I hear my alarm go off, put some clothes on, and shamble into the kitchen to brew some coffee.

Habits, by their very nature, seem permanent, stable, automatic. But they are not, and the MIT rat tells us why. Earlier, Kyle Smith had added a light-sensitive protein to one small part of its brain – the infralimbic cortex (ILC). This addition allows Smith to silence the neurons in this one area with a flash of yellow light, delivered to the rat’s brain via an optic fibre. The light flashes for just three seconds, and the habit disappears. The rat hears the tone, but no longer heads down the chocolate arm.

The experiment shows that even though habits seem automatic, they still depend on ongoing supervision from the ILC and possibly other parts of the brain. They’re ingrained and durable, but subject to second-by-second control. And they can be disrupted in surprisingly quick and simple ways.

“We were all stunned by how immediate and on-line these effects really are,” says Smith. “Changing the activity of this small cortex area could profoundly change how habitual behaviour was, in a matter of seconds.”

By cutting out bits of a rodent’s brain, or inactivating them with chemicals, other scientists had already identified parts of the brain, including the ILC, that are important for habits. But these are somewhat clumsy methods. Smith’s team wanted some more refined, something that could inactivate the ILC on demand for short bursts of time.

They turned to optogenetics. This revolutionary technique takes light-sensitive proteins from around the tree of life, and uses viruses to introduce them into an animal’s neurons. By choosing the right protein, and targeting the right part of the brain, scientists can now excite or silence a chosen group of neurons with astounding precision, using little more than flashes of coloured light.

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Petroleum from Air

Green cars in the future may still run on gas, but instead of pulling petroleum from the ground the source of fuel may come from the air. Carbon capture techniques are still hugely expensive (about $650 per ton of carbon dioxide), but a small British Company claims to have produced five liters (1.3 gallons) of petrol since August by extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mixing it with hydrogen from water vapor.

How cool is that? “It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I’ve been up there myself and seen it,” reported Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, in the Independent.

“The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It’s a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work.”

The company, Air Fuel Synthesis, in Stockton-on-Tees, UK, still relies on electricity from Britian’s national grid for its power source, but aims to eventually take its power source from renewable energies such as wind farms. Over the next two years, Peter Harrison, the company’s chief executive, has ambitious plans of turning the prototype into a commercially viable product that could produce about 240 gallons of fuel a day. “We ought to be aiming for a refinery-scale operation within the next 15 years,” he said.

The Cathedral of Junk

Vince Hannemann (aka the Junk King) who since 1989 has been collecting thousands of discarded objects and turning them into a giant cathedral of junk.

An Austin Man Builds a Cathedral of Junk trash recycling installation documentaries

An Austin Man Builds a Cathedral of Junk trash recycling installation documentaries

An Austin Man Builds a Cathedral of Junk trash recycling installation documentaries

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Stephen Hawking warned recently that contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization could have dire consequences for the human species. Arthur C Clarke once made the famous observation that any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.

Following in their footsteps, world renowned experts from physicist Sir Martin Rees of Cambridge University to astrobiologist Paul Davis of Arizona State have asked if we were to encounter alien technology far superior to our own, would we even realize what it was. A technology a million or more years in advance of ours could appear miraculous.

In fact, Davies writes in his book, Eerie Silence, that advanced technology might not even be made of matter. That it might have no fixed size or shape; have no well-defined boundaries. Is dynamical on all scales of space and time. Or, conversely, does not appear to do anything at all that we can discern. Does not consist of discrete, separate things; but rather it is a system,or a subtle higher-level correlation of things.

Are matter and information, Davies asks, all there is? Five hundred years ago, he writes, ” the very concept of a device manipulating information, or software, would have been incomprehensible. Might there be a still higher level, as yet outside all human experience, that organizes electrons? If so, this “third level”  would never be manifest through observations made at the informational level, still less at the matter level.

We should be open to the distinct possibility that advanced alien technology a billion years old may operate at the third, or perhaps even a fourth or fifth level -all of which are totally incomprehensible to the human mind at our current state of evolution in 2012.

Magpie Polymers extracts a microgramme of gold per litre of water

A small French start-up company is selling a technology with a hint of alchemy: turning water into gold.

It does so by extracting from industrial waste water the last traces of any rare—and increasingly valuable—metal. “We leave only a microgramme per litre,” according to Steve van Zutphen, a Dutchman who founded Magpie Polymers last year with a fellow 30-year old Frenchman Etienne Almoric. “It’s the equivalent of a sugar lump in an Olympic swimming pool.” Magpie Polymers operates from slightly shabby premises at a factory at Saint-Pierre-les-Nemours 80 kilometres (50 miles) southeast of Paris. But it is at the leading edge of technology with a procedure developed at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique in 2007. The process is based on the use of tiny pellets of plastic resin through which waste water is pumped. Gold, platinum, palladium and rhodium, the world’s most precious metals, little by little stick to the pellets and are thus separated from the waste water. A single litre of this patented resin can treat five to 10 cubic metres of waste water and recover 50 to 100 grammes of precious metal, equivalent to “3,000 to 5,000 euros ($3,900 to $6,500),” Almoric said.

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Scientists have genetically modified mice in hopes of increasing their ability to smell TNT with 500 times the sensitivity of normal mice. If successful, the mice could provide a cheap and effective way to sniff out landmines and other explosive devices that haunt nations all over the world.

There are an estimated 45 to 100 million landmines buried around the world, according to the Red Cross, many of which are remnants of wars long since ended. The mines kill thousands each year and hamper development and economic growth. For many-war torn countries the cost of removing the mines is simply too much, and they’re left to suffer the occasional but inevitable consequences.

But a group of scientists at Hunter College in New York are trying to give them a lifesaving biosensor alternative. The group, led by Paul Feinstein, inserted a gene into odor sensing neurons in mice that could drastically increase their ability to smell TNT. Detecting an odor involves small molecules, called odorants, entering the nose and binding to receptors that sit on the ends of neurons there. Each neuron has a single type of receptor that binds to a specific odorant molecule, and when different odorant molecules bind to their receptors, they combine to generate the smells we’ve come to love, like coffee, and hate, like…decaf coffee.

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Shake your thing!

In what looks like a robot scene pulled from The Terminator, a government agency has released a video of a search-and-rescue robot that can do everything from climb stairs to crossing narrow passages

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — which is a part of the U.S. Department of Defense — uploaded the video to YouTube to bring attention to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). The contest is looking for robots who can maneuver and assist during dangerous and disaster relief situations. The winning team will be rewarded $2 million.

The robot in the video — which is called Pet-Proto and is the predecessor to DARPA’s Atlas robot — undergoes a series of obstacles similar to what robots will face in the challenge. The robot has decision-making abilities to determine the best route to go, when to jump and what to avoid.

From the Edge of Finland: New Photos by Mikko Lagerstedt  landscapes Finland

From the Edge of Finland: New Photos by Mikko Lagerstedt  landscapes Finland

From the Edge of Finland: New Photos by Mikko Lagerstedt  landscapes Finland

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Materialism is the doctrine that only matter is real. Hence minds are in brains, and mental activity is nothing but brain activity. This assumption conflicts with our own experience. When we look at a blackbird, we see a blackbird; we do not experience complex electrical changes in our brains. But most of us accepted the mind-within-the-brain theory before we ever had a chance to question it. We took it for granted as children because it seemed to be supported by all the authority of science and the educational system.

In his study of children’s intellectual development, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget found that before about the age of ten or eleven, European children were like “primitive” people. They did not know that the mind was confined to the head; they thought it extended into the world around them. But by about the age of eleven, most had assimilated what Piaget called the “correct” view: “Images and thoughts are situated in the head.”…

Not all philosophers and psychologists believe the mind-in-the- brain theory, and over the years a minority has always recognized that our perceptions may be just where they seem to be, in the external world outside our heads, rather than representations inside our brains. In 1904, William James wrote:

“[T]he whole philosophy of perception from Democritus’ time downwards has been just one long wrangle over the paradox that what is evidently one reality should be in two places at once, both in outer space and in a person’s mind. ‘Representative’ theories of perception avoid the logical paradox, but on the other hand they violate the reader’s sense of life which knows no intervening mental image but seems to see the room and the book immediately as they physically exist.”
As Alfred North Whitehead expressed it in 1925, “sensations are projected by the mind so as to clothe appropriate bodies in external nature.”

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Scientists at the UA and in California have completed the most challenging large astronomical mirror ever made. The mirror will be part of the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, which will explore planets around other stars and the formation of stars, galaxies and black holes in the early universe.

The Giant Magellan Telescope, against the southern Milky Way, as it will appear when it's completed. (Image: Todd Mason/Mason Productions and GMTO Inc.)

Scientists at the University of Arizona and in California have completed the most challenging large astronomical mirror ever made.

For the past several years, a group of optical scientists and engineers working at the UA Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory underneath the UA’s football stadium have been polishing an 8.4-meter (27 ½ feet) diameter mirror with an unusual, highly asymmetric shape.

By the standards used by optical scientists, the “degree of difficulty” for this mirror is 10 times that of any previous large telescope mirror. The mirror surface matches the desired prescription to a precision of 19 nanometers – so smooth that if it were the size of the continental U.S., the highest mountains would be little more than a half-inch high.

This mirror, and six more like it, will form the heart of the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, providing more than 380 square meters, or 4,000 square feet, of light-collecting area. The Giant Magellan Telescope will lead a next generation of giant telescopes that will explore planets around other stars and the formation of stars, galaxies and black holes in the early universe.

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Working in Progress…

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