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“If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers we call him crazy. If a woman has a trailer house full of cats we call her nuts. But when people pathologically hoard so much cash that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend that they are role models.”
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 Science News: Scant Testing For Arctic Blowout Capping System

Safety Agency Can Produce Only One Page of Notes to Demonstrate Cap Reliability

From: Peer.org

Washington, DC — The key system for preventing a repeat of the massive Gulf of Mexico blowout in the sensitive waters of the Arctic underwent only partial and cursory testing with no independent analysis of the results, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which obtained the federal testing data. As a result, federal overseers are again completely relying upon industry assurances of safety as Royal Dutch Shell prepares to begin drilling in the remote Chukchi Sea.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all “records pertaining to results of Shell oil company’s testing of its well-head capping stack that would be used in response to a well-head blowout in its Arctic drilling program,” the Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement (BSSE is an arm of the Interior Department, formerly within the Minerals Management Service) could produce only one document – a one-page set of notes. This slim production belied the agency’s claim in press statements that it had conducted “comprehensive” testing to meet “rigorous new standards.”

The testing took place over less than two hours in the Puget Sound on June 25th and 26th and involved only two BSSE officials and Shell. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Wednesday, September 05 @ 19:56:41 EDT (668 reads)
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 Science News: Tomato Tampering

Scientists have figured out a way to genetically engineer the flavor back into industrial tomatoes that taste no better than their shipping cartons.

By Jim Hightower

Some people are too smart for their own good.

Food geneticists, for example. These technicians have the smarts to tinker with the inner workings of Momma Nature's own good foods — but not the smarts to leave well enough alone.

During the past half-century, their productive tinkering devolved into outright tampering with our food, mostly to serve big agribusiness corporations that wanted nature's design altered in ways that would fatten their bottom lines. Never mind that the products created by these smart people were no good. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Monday, July 23 @ 20:28:16 EDT (4841 reads)
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 Science News: Self-sculpting Sand

Press Release

New algorithms could enable heaps of ‘smart sand’ that can assume any shape, allowing spontaneous formation of new tools or duplication of broken mechanical parts.

Written by: Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Imagine that you have a big box of sand in which you bury a tiny model of a footstool. A few seconds later, you reach into the box and pull out a full-size footstool: The sand has assembled itself into a large-scale replica of the model.

That may sound like a scene from a Harry Potter novel, but it’s the vision animating a research project at the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. At the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May — the world’s premier robotics conference — DRL researchers will present a paper describing algorithms that could enable such “smart sand.” They also describe experiments in which they tested the algorithms on somewhat larger particles — cubes about 10 millimeters to an edge, with rudimentary microprocessors inside and very unusual magnets on four of their sides. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Thursday, April 05 @ 20:29:12 EDT (560 reads)
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 Science News: How Now, Brown Cloud: What Smog Hath Wrought

Environmentby: Michael Winship, Truthout | News Analysis

Have you heard about the great brown cloud? No, it's not a new nickname for Donald Trump (his cloud is more an intergalactic nimbus of Aqua Velva and Tang), or the ominous menace in a new Stephen King novel. It's almost as nasty, though.

The Atmospheric Brown Cloud, formerly known as the Asian Brown Cloud, is a mass of air pollution hovering over northern India along the southern Himalayas and down across Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. The cloud began growing shortly after World War II, a smoggy mass of soot and sulfates from diesel emissions, wood fires and other burning stuff that's almost two miles thick.

A new study by scientists from a number of research organizations - including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography - finds that the cloud's pollutants are making cyclones in the Arabian Sea more intense.

This is a very big deal, because, as Dean Kuipers writes in The Los Angeles Times: "After the apparent recent increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, including the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, climate watchers everywhere have speculated whether these storms were made stronger by industrial or man-made emissions. This is reportedly the first study to indicate that human activity may, in fact, affect large storms."

Wind shear turbulence can help break up cyclones and keep them from becoming bigger storm systems. But shade created by the great brown cloud lowers water temperature, which in turn cuts down wind shear, allowing more powerful storms to form. Since 1998, according to NOAA, there have been five storms in the region with winds greater than 120 miles per hour - killing more than 3,500 people and generating $6.5 billion worth of damage. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, December 17 @ 16:59:33 EST (1222 reads)
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 Science News: The too-smart-for-its-own-good grid

Press Release
New technologies intended to boost reliance on renewable energy could destabilize the power grid if they’re not matched with careful pricing policies.

Written by: Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In the last few years, electrical utilities have begun equipping their customers’ homes with new meters that have Internet connections and increased computational capacity. One envisioned application of these “smart meters” is to give customers real-time information about fluctuations in the price of electricity, which might encourage them to defer some energy-intensive tasks until supply is high or demand is low. Less of the energy produced from erratic renewable sources such as wind and solar would thus be wasted, and utilities would less frequently fire up backup generators, which are not only more expensive to operate but tend to be more polluting, too.

Recent work by researchers in MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, however, shows that this policy could backfire. If too many people set appliances to turn on, or devices to recharge, when the price of electricity crosses the same threshold, it could cause a huge spike in demand; in the worst case, that could bring down the power grid. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, August 05 @ 21:13:43 EDT (634 reads)
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 Science News: Connecting Extreme Weather Dots Across the Map

EnvironmentTalking about the weather isn't small talk any more.

By Janet Redman

I took a cross-country road trip in late June that became a race to outrun the triple-digit heat waves that have literally buckled highways between the Midwest and the East Coast.

The record-breaking scorcher was an apt send-off. As I weaved my way across the United States, I found the consequences of extreme weather everywhere I looked.

After the heat, the first sign of something unusual came in Iowa. There, every creek I crossed seemed to overflow its banks. Water pooled in cornfields.

By the time I reached Nebraska, radio advisories warning about bridges closed due to swollen waterways seemed routine.

Late one night, I pulled under an overpass between Sydney and Potter, Nebraska to find refuge from hail big enough that it cracked my windshield. There, I met an off-duty police officer who said he's spending more and more time cleaning up after an increasing number of tornados and micro-bursts like the one we were trapped in.

Meanwhile, the drought-wracked southwest was blazing. New Mexico was experiencing the largest wildfire in state history, and an all-out battle was being waged by firefighters to steer the flames away from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where radioactive material for making nuclear weapons is housed. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Monday, July 18 @ 22:07:40 EDT (846 reads)
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 Science News: Meditation may help the brain 'turn down the volume' on distractions

HealthEnhanced control of alpha rhythms may underlie some effects of mindfulness meditation

From: MIT News Office

BOSTON — The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to "turn down the volume" on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal Brain Research Bulletin and has been released online.

"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. "Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts."

Brain cells use particular frequencies or waves to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, May 06 @ 00:17:23 EDT (1462 reads)
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 Science News: Radiation, Japan and the Marshall Islands

Internationalby: Glenn Alcalay, Truthout

When the dangerous dust and gases settle and we discover just how much radiation escaped the damaged Fukushima reactors and spent fuel rods, we may never know how many people are being exposed to radiation from the burning fuel rods and reactor cores or how much exposure they will receive over time. Minute and above-background traces of iodine-131 are already showing up in Tokyo's water supply - 150 miles southwest of the leaking reactors - and in milk and spinach (with a dash of cesium-137) from 75 miles away. The Japanese government has recently warned pregnant women and children to avoid drinking Tokyo tap water, and I-131 levels 1,200 above background levels were recorded in seawater near the reactors.

Aside from sharing the dubious distinction of having been at the receiving end of America's nuclear weapons, Japan and the Marshall Islands now share another dubious distinction. The unleashed isotopes of concern from the damaged Japanese reactors - iodine-131, cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-239 - are well known to the Marshall Islanders living downwind of the testing sites at Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Central Pacific following 67 A- and H-bombs exploded there between 1946 and 1958. In fact, it is precisely these isotopes that continue to haunt the 80,000 Marshallese 53 years after the last thermonuclear test in the megaton range shook their pristine coral atolls and contaminated their fragile marine ecosystems. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, April 08 @ 20:46:17 EDT (672 reads)
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 Science News: Hawaii Tsunami Response Gets Mixed Federal Signals

The News
NOAA Wants Tsunami Warning Center Relocated Where Navy Says to Evacuate

from Peer.org

Washington, DC — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is relocating its Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to an island in the middle of Pearl Harbor which the U.S. Navy says should be evacuated following any tsunami warning, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Navy is under orders to close the only bridge accessing the island housing the new NOAA regional facility, thus compromising the ability of the tsunami warning center to function in the event of a threatened tsunami.

Under the Navy protocol that has been in effect for the past year, all naval vessels will be evacuated from Pearl Harbor following a tsunami warning. The Navy will also close the Ford Island Bridge, the only access to the new NOAA center. That bridge may be raised to allow ships out that cannot get out the other entrance, making egress to and from the NOAA offices impossible.

NOAA, on the other hand, insists that the risk of tsunami inundation at Ford Island is low despite being on the south coast of Oahu, a location with a high tsunami danger. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Monday, March 14 @ 21:24:17 EDT (663 reads)
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 Science News: Geoengineering is a Recipe for Disaster

EnvironmentThis Climate Plan B approach could cause wars and mass starvation.

By Diana Bronson

Think you've heard enough about climate change? Chances are you haven't heard anything about the dangerous and costly sci-fi climate fixes known as geoengineering.

Geo-what? Geoengineering is a set of speculative, massive-scale technologies that would have humans intentionally modify the climate--rather than accidentally, as we've been doing since the Industrial Revolution. Many U.S. lawmakers are starting to take it seriously as a climate change Plan B.

Yet, proposed geoengineering schemes are absurd and potentially devastating for the Earth.

Here are a few examples of how you could make the Earth cooler by "managing solar radiation" (i.e. manipulating the sun):

•Put trillions of tiny mirrors between Earth and sun to reflect sunlight back to space.
•Whiten the clouds over our oceans by increasing the droplet size, making the Earth more reflective.
•Blast sulphate particles into the stratosphere to simulate volcanic eruptions, again to block sunlight and diminish warming. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Wednesday, December 01 @ 18:51:31 EST (670 reads)
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 Science News: Research From RPI Professor Offers Clues to Alzheimer’s Disease

HealthNews Release: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

An organic compound found in red wine — resveratrol — has the ability to neutralize the toxic effects of proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease, according to research led by Rensselaer Professor Peter M. Tessier. The findings, published in the May 28 edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, are a step toward understanding the large-scale death of brain cells seen in certain neurodegenerative diseases.

“We’ve shown how resveratrol has very interesting selectivity to target and neutralize a select set of toxic peptide isoforms,” Tessier said. “Because resveratrol picks out the clumps of peptides that are bad and leaves alone the ones that are benign, it helps us to think about the structural differences between the peptide isoforms.”

Isoforms are different packing arrangements of a particular peptide. Deformations of a particular peptide — the Aβ1-42 peptide — have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Improperly folded peptides have been shown to collect in accumulations called “plaques” within the brain. Those plaques are often found near areas of cell death in diseased brains. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Tuesday, June 22 @ 21:57:34 EDT (1080 reads)
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 Science News: ‘Tattoo’ may help diabetics track their blood sugar

HealthCarbon nanotubes could be injected under the skin to measure blood glucose levels

written by: Anne Trafton, MIT News Office

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Paul Barone, a postdoctoral researcher in MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, and professor Michael Strano are working on a new type of blood glucose monitor that could not only eliminate the need for finger pricks but also offer more accurate readings.

“Diabetes is an enormous problem, global in scope, and despite decades of engineering advances, our ability to accurately measure glucose in the human body still remains quite primitive,” says Strano, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering. “It is a life-and-death issue for a growing number of people.”

Strano and Barone’s sensing system consists of a “tattoo” of nanoparticles designed to detect glucose, injected below the skin. A device similar to a wristwatch would be worn over the tattoo, displaying the patient’s glucose levels. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, June 18 @ 21:53:02 EDT (975 reads)
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 Science News: Mesoamericans perfected rubber processing 3,000 years ago

History / Culturewritten by: David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

Spanish explorers encountering an advanced civilization in Mesoamerica in the 16th century had plenty of things to be astonished about, but one type of object in particular was unlike anything they had ever seen before: rubber balls. No such stretchy, bouncy material existed in the Old World, and they had to struggle to find words to describe it.

New research from MIT indicates that not only did these pre-Columbian peoples know how to process the sap of the local rubber trees along with juice from a vine to make rubber, but they had perfected a system of chemical processing that could fine-tune the properties of the rubber depending on its intended use. For the soles of their sandals, they made a strong, wear-resistant version. For the rubber balls used in the games that were a central part of their religious ceremonies, they processed it for maximum bounciness. And for rubber bands and adhesives used for ornamental wear and for attaching blades to shafts, they produced rubber optimized for resilience and strength. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Wednesday, June 09 @ 22:10:55 EDT (579 reads)
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 Science News: MIT study: Wind power could make sense for utility companies

Business NewsKey is to connect rural wind farms to power-storage devices near cities, rather than locating storage devices near wind farms.

written by: Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office

When the federal government approved the Cape Wind project in April, allowing 130 power-generating turbines to be placed in the waters off Cape Cod, it gave a significant boost to the prospects of wind energy. But the comparatively high costs of wind power remain a problem. However in a new study, MIT researchers have concluded that some of the price problems associated with wind power can be remedied right now, given a couple of changes to the electricity grid.

A key insight of the study is that wind’s apparent drawbacks as a power source — it only blows intermittently, and in many places blows harder at night than during the day — could actually be used to the advantage of power companies, with one condition. If power grids were equipped with large storage batteries that are commercially available right now, placed near urban areas, they could accumulate energy via wind power during off-peak night hours, then discharge the saved power during peak afternoon hours (when people have their air-conditioning on during the summer, for instance). That would make economic sense for the power-grid operators, which pay higher rates to generators during peak hours, while keeping consumer prices intact. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Saturday, May 29 @ 08:39:39 EDT (599 reads)
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 Science News: New Insights into the Mystery of Natural HIV Immunity

HealthFindings may have implications for designing effective AIDS vaccine

written by: Anne Trafton, MIT News Office

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — When people become infected by HIV, it’s usually only a matter of time, barring drug intervention, until they develop full-blown AIDS. However, a small number of people exposed to the virus progress very slowly to AIDS — and some never develop the disease at all.

In the late 1990s, researchers showed that a very high percentage of those naturally HIV-immune people, who represent about one in 200 infected individuals, carry a gene called HLA B57. Now a team of researchers from the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard has revealed a new effect that contributes to this gene’s ability to confer immunity.

The research team, led by MIT Professor Arup Chakraborty and Harvard Professor Bruce Walker at MGH, found that the HLA B57 gene causes the body to make more potent killer T cells — white blood cells that help defend the body from infectious invaders. Patients with the gene have a larger number of T cells that bind strongly to more pieces of HIV protein than people who do not have the gene. This makes the T cells more likely to recognize cells that express HIV proteins, including mutated versions that arise during infection. This effect contributes to superior control of HIV infection (and any other virus that evolves rapidly), but it also makes those people more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, in which T cells attack the body’s own cells. ...

Posted by Blue1moon on Friday, May 07 @ 13:24:44 EDT (1199 reads)
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