Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Why so cold? The last refuge of Antarctica’s forests

28 Jun

We know Antarctica as an unfathomably cold wasteland, suitable for little beyond penguins and foolhardy researchers. But it hasn’t always been like that. At times in the distant past, plate tectonics and warmer climates have combined to cover Antarctica with lush forests, dinosaurs, and even marsupials. A paper published in PNAS details the final transition from habitable continent to the inhospitable ice cap that has developed over the past 40 million years. Its results describe the ecosystems that survived in the last unglaciated corner of Antarctica before the ice sheet swept away the last remnants of terrestrial life.

To accomplish this, the team behind the paper set out to read the history recorded in the sediment around the Antarctic Peninsula (Antarctica’s "tail"), which would have been the last piece of the continent to be covered by an ice sheet. They used seismic imaging of the sedimentary layers offshore to identify locations with sediment from the desired age range.

Read the rest of this article...

Read the comments on this post


Detroit DIYer cooks up stronger, lighter steel, shames scientists

11 Jun
Flash Bainite
You'd be forgiven for dismissing an amateur metallurgist if he claimed to have improved upon the presumably perfected technology of steel making. But Flash Bainite, the creation of Detroit entrepreneur Gary Cola, wowed a team of Ohio State University engineers by turning centuries of alloy processing on its head. Instead of heating the metal for hours or days, this well-equipped DIYer boosted the temperature -- quickly baking, then cooling sheets of steel that are 7-percent stronger than other forms and tougher than some titanium alloys. Flash Bainite is also more ductile than other steels, allowing it to crumple more before breaking -- perfect for absorbing impacts. Obviously this means stronger and lighter cars, laptops, and armored vehicles but, since the process takes all of about 10 seconds, it's also more energy efficient and cheaper than traditional steel making. Now, who has the number for the Nobel Prize committee?

Detroit DIYer cooks up stronger, lighter steel, shames scientists originally appeared on Engadget on Sat, 11 Jun 2011 17:02:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink   |  sourceEurekAlert  | Email this | Comments

Cows In China Are Now Producing Human Breast Milk [Video]

08 Jun
Amidst all the concern going around that cows' milk is bad for you, Chinese scientists have found a way to fix the problem: By genetically engineering cows to produce human breast milk. Is soy milk just not in favor yet? More »


The Moon may have the same proportion of water as Earth does [Video]

26 May
Today, a group of scientists announced that beneath the surface of the Moon there may be as much water as we have on Earth. This revelation could change everything we know about the Moon — and pave the way for lunar colonies in the next twenty years. More »

60 million chemicals

23 May

There are now 60 million chemicals in the CAS Registry, that’s a number equivalent to 3G users in China, the population of the Roman Empire in 70 BC, the age of the Rocky Mountains in years, the number of casualties in WWII, and the votes cast in American Idol. The last time I mentioned the CAS count was September 2009, when it reached 50 million entries. I remember it reaching the 10 million mark in 1990 (a year or so after I’d started working for the Royal Society of Chemistry, RSC). That seemed like a major achievement given that it had taken CAS 33 years to go from 0 to 10 million.



The 60-millionth substance in the CAS registry is a putative antiviral agentt and has the CAS # 1298016-92-8. It was discovered by researchers at the Institute of Materia Medica, in China and is a patent pending derivative of 2-amino-1,3,4-thiadiazine.

60 million chemicals is a post from: Sciencebase Science Blog


Learning how the brain does its coding

06 May

Most organisms with brains can store and process a staggering range of information. The fundamental unit of the brain, a single neuron, however, can only communicate in the simplest of manners, by sending a simple electrical pulse. The challenge of understanding how information is contained in the pattern of these pulses has been bothering neurobiologists for decades, and has been given its own name: neural coding.

In principle, there are two ways coding could be handled. In dense coding, a single neuron would convey lots of information through a complex series of voltage spikes. To a degree, however, this creates as many problems as it solves, since the neuron on the receiving end will have to be able to interpret this complex series properly, and separate it from operating noise.

The alternative, sparse coding, tends to be used for memory recall and sensory representations. Here, a single neuron only conveys a limited amount of information (i.e., there's something moving horizontally in the field of vision) through a simple pulse of activity. Detailed information is then constructed by aggregating the inputs of lots of these neurons.

A study released in yesterday's Science provides some perspective on just how flexible this sort of system can be. Researchers worked with the olfactory system of insects, where structures in the brain called mushroom bodies integrate the inputs from sensory neurons. (they're called mushroom bodies for the highly technical reason that they're shaped kind of like a mushroom.) The mushroom bodies use sparse coding to interpret and recall odors, with most neurons only firing a few times in response to a scent.

The authors of the paper traced the connections among the neurons in the mushroom body, and found that most were contacted by a single, giant interneuron that sent them inhibitory signals. By toning all the other neurons down, this giant cell enforces sparse coding by limiting the amount of activity that is elicited by a new odor. It also allows the fine tuning of activity for the entire mushroom body. Increasing its activity is sufficient to shut the entire system down, essentially making the insect blind to smells, while decreasing its activity will make the insect hypersensitive to scents.

Although us mammals don't have neurons of this sort—they appear to be an innovation exclusive to the insects—the authors predict that a system that functions similarly may be found in vertebrates, simply because it's so simple and functional.

Science, 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1201835  (About DOIs).

Read the comments on this post


The first sign that humans are on the verge of evolving into another species [Evolution]

28 Apr
A scientist who studies the small, silver elephantfish may have stumbled on the key to speciation, the process that allows one species to evolve into two or more. And it's all about developing new sensory perceptions. More »

How to raise a language from the dead [Linguistics]

27 Apr
How do we know what ancient Egyptian sounded like, or Old English? Linguistics gives us the tools to reconstruct lost languages from the words we speak today. Here's how it's done. More »

It’s official – most people can’t taste the difference

14 Apr

In a blind taste test, volunteers were unable to distinguish between expensive and cheap wine

An expensive wine may well have a full body, a delicate nose and good legs, but the odds are your brain will never know.

A survey of hundreds of drinkers found that on average people could tell good wine from plonk no more often than if they had simply guessed.

In the blind taste test, 578 people commented on a variety of red and white wines ranging from a £3.49 bottle of Claret to a £29.99 bottle of champagne. The researchers categorised inexpensive wines as costing £5 and less, while expensive bottles were £10 and more.

The study found that people correctly distinguished between cheap and expensive white wines only 53% of the time, and only 47% of the time for red wines. The overall result suggests a 50:50 chance of identifying a wine as expensive or cheap based on taste alone – the same odds as flipping a coin.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at Hertfordshire University, conducted the survey at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

"People just could not tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine," he said. "When you know the answer, you fool yourself into thinking you would be able to tell the difference, but most people simply can't."

All of the drinkers who took part in the survey were attending the science festival, but Wiseman claims the group was unlikely to be any worse at wine tasting than a cross-section of the general public.

"The real surprise is that the more expensive wines were double or three times the price of the cheaper ones. Normally when a product is that much more expensive, you would expect to be able to tell the difference," Wiseman said.

People scored best when deciding between two bottles of Pinot Grigio, with 59% correctly deciding which was which. The Claret, which cost either £3.49 or £15.99, fooled most people with only 39% correctly identifying which they had tasted.

In 2008, a study led by Adrian North, a psychologist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, claimed that music helped boost the flavour of certain wines. North, who was commissioned by a Chilean winemaker, reported that Cabernet Sauvignon was most affected by "powerful and heavy" music, while Chardonnay benefited from "zingy and refreshing" sounds. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Meet the future of the space program: Artificially-intelligent satellites [Video]

24 Mar
We're about to put smart robots in space. A new system in development at the University of Southampton in the UK could allow spacecraft to go beyond simply obeying commands, instead developing and reacting to knowledge about their missions. More »