Thursday, 8 September 2011

Septembers Discussion Board Question

This months question is posed by IYSF.

Each year billions is spent on renewable energies and in sourcing new non-renewable energies. We are attempting to find a sustainable energy plan that can work. However it is difficult to stop using non renewable sources such as oil. How different is our energy expenditure in 2011 in comparison to what we could expect for 2050 ?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

NASA funded Maynooth research team makes evolutionary break through

An international research project led by a scientist at NUI Maynooth says it has made an important breakthrough in the study of animal evolution and origins.

Team leader , Maynooth-based evolutionary biologist Dr. Davide Pisani, says that previous research on the key relationships between animal groups was "flawed". 

Pisani and his team have developed a new system called "Signal Dissection" which the team has used to study a group of tiny animals known as "water bears" (or "tardigrades") which grow to about 1mm in length and have four pairs of clawed limbs:

The team has found that the animals, which have existed for over 600 million years, are related to  arthropods (such as insects) and not nemotoda (such as roundworms) as was previously thought.

Pisano added that 33 species of tardigrades were investigated for this study because “we knew that by focusing on the tardigrades we would be studying the most challenging species possible in terms of their genomic characters and the most difficult to analyse and classify as they evolve very fast”.

These findings have serious consequences for how groups of animals are classified and the understanding of how they have evolved. 

Lahcen Campbell, Pisano’s colleague says that the “potential for subsequent research using our findings is endless”:
"At a practical level, our research has the potential to lead to a greater knowledge of how organisms can survive in space, more effective combating of parasites and better methods to protect useful animals such as lobsters or honeybees".
The research team includes scientists from the National History Museum of London, University College London, the University of Montreal, and the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, and its paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). It is being funded by Science Foundation Ireland and NASA.

Monday, 5 September 2011

60% of deforested Amazon used for cattle: study

Over 60 percent of deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon forest are used for cattle grazing , with only five percent used for agriculture, a new government study reveals. 

By analyzing satellite imagery, Brazilian  officials  found of the 719,000 square kilometers (277,000 square miles) cleared up to 2008, a whopping 62 percent was left as just grass, and that the use amounted to on average one cow per hectare, roughly the size of a football field.

"Having less than one head of cattle per hectare is unacceptable," said Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira in comments quoted by the Brazilian press Saturday.
"It's a waste, because the forest is being replaced by something that does not generate income or growth," she added.

As five percent of the land goes to agriculture, some 21 percent is abandoned and left to its own regeneration.
Brazil which claims jurisdiction over the majority of the Amazon, the worlds largest rain forest has committed to reduce deforestation drastically by 80 percent by 2020, although current government figure indicate that the process has in fact increased by 15 percent. 

Motor created from single molecule

Scientists have created the worlds smallest electric motor, made from just a single molecule. 

The tiny device has the potential to lead the way for similar devices that could be used in medicine and engineering. At just 200 nanometers the microscopic motor is 60,000 times smaller than the width of human hair.

Leader of the research team Dr Charles Sykes, from Tufts University in Boston, US, said: "There has been significant progress in the construction of molecular motors powered by light and by chemical reactions, but this is the first time that electrically-driven molecular motors have been demonstrated, despite a few theoretical proposals.

"We have been able to show that you can provide electricity to a single molecule and get it to do something that is not just random."

This team, whose research has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, used a state-of-the-art low temperature scanning tunnelling microscope, which uses electrons instead of light to "see" molecules.
The metal tip of the microscope provided an electrical charge to a butyl methyl sulphide molecule placed on a conductive copper surface.
This resulted in the needle like arms of carbon and hydrogen to rotate around a central axis. 
Temperature was found to directly affect direction and speed. Minus 268C was also found to be ideal for tracking the motors motion . The motor span was much faster at higher temperatures , making it difficult to observe and control. 

According to Dr Sykes : "Once we have a better grasp on the temperatures necessary to make these motors function, there could be real-world application in some sensing and medical devices which involve tiny pipes. Friction of the fluid against the pipe walls increases at these small scales, and covering the wall with motors could help drive fluids along."

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The morning coffee kick ? Its all in the mind ..

Coffee is the only way to kick start the morning , right ? According to new research it may be all in your imagination. 

A study published in the journal Appetite finds that the effects of coffee could be as much about our expectations as the drink’s stimulating effects. One group of test volunteers for the University of East London research were given regular coffee, but told it was decaffeinated. The second group were handed cups of decaf, which they were told contained caffeine, the Times of India reports.

All the volunteers were then tested. Those who genuinely had caffeine showed improvement in one mental test, but the coffee did not help their reflex and reaction times. However, volunteers who had drunk decaf which they believed contained caffeine performed better in both the mental test and in reaction and reflex times.

“These results suggest caffeine expectation can affect mood and performance,” the researchers wrote – suggesting that expecting a boost from coffee may have more of an impact than the caffeine itself.

Irish scientists discover useful "Zombie" gene

A "zombie" gene which scientists believed to be dead and inactive, has in fact proved to be alive according to research by Irish scientists.

This research development will be of great relevance in the treatment of many common conditions including cancer and spina bifida. 

The research project, funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland, was led by Dr Anne Parle-McDermott of the School of Biotechnology in Dublin City University (DCU). The results have just been published in the prestigious US research journal, 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'.
 Scientists have known and been aware about these “zombie” or pseudogenes for decades but the genes were always considered dead and inactive, said Dr. Parle-McDermott.

Dr. Parle-Mc Dermott and her team investigated four "zombie" genes associated with the well known DHRF gene.

 According to Dr Parle-McDermott"Using advances in DNA analysis techniques and the completion of the Human Genome sequence, we have demonstrated that DHFRL1 is not a dead gene, but is very much 'alive' and functional. This now brings into question the many other so-called human pseudogenes, and whether or not they are also alive."
"Our findings call for a reassessment of many human pseudogenes and urges researchers to challenge the assumptions made in the past. It is possible that given the many of the thousands of known pseudogenes, many more may not be zombies at all', she said.

This finding may also have particular relevance in spina bifida research as the DHFR "zombie" gene affects the regulation of folic acid . This may make it possible to develop a test to warn if a woman is ta higher risk of having a baby with the condition. It could also represent a new drug target in chemotherapy regimes, that were not previously considered.  Cancer treatments may be more successful if drugs are designed to also deactivate the DHFR zombie gene.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Nuclear reactor destined for other planets

US engineers are working on a nuclear reactor that can be deployed on other planets.
The US Department of energy (DOE) and NASA have teamed up to build a technology demonstration unit scheduled in 2012 as reported by TheEngineer.

James E Werner leads the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory involvement in this effort, which includes participation in the reactor design and modelling teams, fuel development and fabrication and development of a small electrical pump for the liquid-metal cooled system.
Sunlight and fuel cells were the classic choice for generating electricity for space missions previously, but engineers realised that solar energy has limitations. Solar cells can supply electricity in near-Earth orbits and for satellite-borne equipment, but nuclear power is said to offer some unique capabilities that could support manned outposts on other planets or moons.

‘A fission power system on the moon could generate 40kW or more of electric power — approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth,’ said Werner at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.  
A fission power system is also more flexible in that it can be used in various locations such as in canyons craters or caves.

‘The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use,’ Werner said.

Werner contends that once this technology is developed tested and validated , it will prove as one of the most affordable and versatile options for providing long-term base power for the space exploration programmes.

NASA says "Space Junk" in earth`s orbit needs to be cleaned up

Space junk has made such a mess of the earths orbit that it now poses great risk to astronauts and satellites , experts say we finally need to think about cleaning it up. The area just above the atmosphere has become littered with scrap including old satellites and rocket boosters.

Scientists have warned that with  severity of the issue a major clean-up operation should be considered. That may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology — cosmic versions of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of an expert panel that issued a new report on the problem Thursday.
There are roughly 22,000 objects in orbit that are considered big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites. The International Space Station has to move out of the way of debris from time to time.
“We’ve lost control of the environment,” said retired NASA senior scientist Donald Kessler, who headed the National Academy of Sciences report.

Since the space age began 54 years ago civilization has intensely littered the earths orbit. Once this was discovered by scientists agreements were made to keep new space junk to a minimum.  However two events in the past four years have hindered this - a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite weapon test and a 2009 collision between two orbiting satellites.

“Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years,” Kessler said.

All that junk that means something has to be done, “which means you have to look at cleaning space,” said Kessler.
The study only briefly mentions the cleanup possibility, raising technical, legal and diplomatic hurdles. But it refers to a report earlier this year by a Defense Department science think-tank that outlines all sorts of unusual techniques. The report by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency is called “Catcher’s Mitt” and it mentions harpoons, nets, tethers, magnets and even a giant dish or umbrella-shaped device that would sweep up tiny pieces of debris.

While the new report does not recommend using the technology, Kessler said it is necessary. He likes one company’s idea of a satellite that is armed with nets that could be sprung on wayward junk. Attached to the net is an electromagnetic tether that could either pull the junk down to a point where it would burn up harmlessly or boost it to safer orbit.

NASA officials said they are examining the study.

The report is from the National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, which is an independent organisation chartered by Congress to advise the government on science.

This computer generated graphic provided by NASA shows images of objects in the earth`s orbit that are currently being tracked.

Eyeful Tower is Maths Marvel !

Some have called it a waste of money, whilst Mayor of London Boris Johnson has hailed it the "Hubble Bubble" tower for its likeness to a shisha pipe. 

What ever your opinion Anisha Kapoor`s big red much maligned Olympic mast is definitely "different". The Arcelor Mittal Orbit tower is currently under construction at the Olympic Park in Stratford and will be 115 metres (377 ft) tall upon completion and its design is definitely winning admirers. 

The tower which has also been nicknamed the "Eyeful" has been called a "marvel of Mathematics" by New Scientist magazine. The looping roller-coaster shape required engineers to develop complex mathematical formulae to calculate the effect of gravity and the wind. 
Orbit is described as "Designed by Anish Kapoor with Cecil Balmond/Arup". Kapoor is a Turner Prize winning sculptor, while Balmond is the head of the Arup consultancy's Advanced Geometry Unit (AGU). The AGU is described as a "quasi-academic research group which blends science, maths and architectural design to 'explore the impossible' in terms of structural engineering". 

The commendation from New Scientist will come as a relief to the two creators of the much criticised tower , and to the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal , who backed it with £19.6m. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

UN agency warns of new stain of Avian flu

A major warning has been issued by the United Nations` Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) about the possibility of a "major resurgence"  of avian flu, after a mutant strain of the virus was detected in Vietnam and China.

 The mutant strain H5N1, which seems resistant to vaccines, is thought to have spread by wild bird migrations, to previously virus free countries including Bulgaria , Israel, Romania, Mongolia and Nepal, according to FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth.

The death of a six year old Cambodian girl last week by the H5N1 strain was confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This brings the death toll this year in Cambodia, by this virus to eight - all cases discovered in the county in 2011 have proved fatal.

WHO figures show the H5N1 virus  has infected 565 people since 2003 when it first appeared, killing 331 of them. In 2006 at its peak, a total of 63 countries were affected by avian flu.
This has also resulted in the culling of more than  400 million domestic poultry causing an estimated $20 billion in economic damage worldwide.

Vietnam has suspended its springtime poultry vaccination campaign this year, and most of the northern and central parts of the country (where H5N1 is endemic) have been invaded by the new virus strain, known as H5N1 –, reports FAO

Vietnam's veterinary services are on high alert and reportedly considering a novel, targeted vaccination campaign this fall. Virus circulation in Vietnam poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan further afield. Wild bird migration can also spread the virus to other continents.

"The general departure from the progressive decline observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flareup of H5N1 this fall and winter, with people unexpectedly finding the virus in their backyard," Lubroth said.
"Preparedness and surveillance remain essential," Lubroth underlined. "This is no time for complacency. No one can let their guard down with H5N1."

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Astronomers find a new planet made entirely of diamond

Astronomers have discovered a new planet five times the size of Earth - and seemingly made of diamond.The previously unknown planet orbits a "pulsar" - a small, burnt-out  neutron star known as J1719-1438 some way towards the center of the Milky way from us on Earth. Composed mainly of carbon , the density of the planet  makes scientists believe it must exist in the form of a great diamond. 

“The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon – ie a massive diamond,” Matthew Bailes, of Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, said. However, the planet is around 4,000 light years away from Earth, which probably means we won’t be chipping chunks off it any time soon.According to the New Scientist, the unnamed planet is around 60,000km in diameter – around five times the size of Earth, which is 12,756km across. And yes, it glitters. Travis Metcalfe, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, told the magazine: “It’s highly speculative, but if you shine a light on it, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn't sparkle like a diamond.”

Mosquito`s dissapearing in some parts of Africa

Scientists have been left baffled as to why malaria- carrying mosquito's are disappearing in some parts of Africa.Controls such as anti-mosquito bed nets are having a significant impact on the incidence of malaria in some sub-Saharan countries figures show. However the incidence of mosquito's are also declining in areas with few controls as reported by Malaria journal researchers. It is unclear whether mosquito's are being eradicated completely or if their decline is due to environmental factors and they will then return. 

Data from Eritrea, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia shows the fast declining prevalence of mosquito's.Researchers are attributing this to effective implementation of control programmes such as  the deployment of bed nets treated with insecticide.However teams of Danish and Tanzanian scientists say this that this is not the whole story. For over 10 years their research teams have been collecting and counting the number of mosquito's caught in thousands of traps in Tanzania, with over 5,000 caught in 2004. This figure has dropped to just 14 in 2009. These figures reflect collections carried out in villages where bed nets are not used. 

Climate change has been considered as a major possibility for the major decline in numbers. Notably rainfall patterns were more chaotic in these regions of Tanzania and occurred outside rainfall season, which may have disrupted the natural cycle of mosquito development.Leading author of the study Professor Dan Meyrowitsch from  the University of Copenhagen is not convinced that changing climate is the only reason.

"It could be partly due to this chaotic rainfall, but personally I don't think it can explain such a dramatic decline in mosquitoes, to the extent we can say that the malaria mosquitoes are almost eradicated in these communities."What we should consider is that there may be a disease among the mosquitoes, a fungi or a virus, or they're may have been some environmental changes in the communities that have resulted in a drop in the number of mosquitoes"

The research team also found anecdotal evidence that their discovery was not an isolated case.Prof Meyrowitsch added: "Other scientists are saying they can't test their drugs because there are no children left with malaria."They observed this in communities with no large interventions against malaria or mosquitoes. It may be the same scenario that the specific mosquitoes that carry malaria are declining very fast now"

 Researchers are now unsure if mosquitoes will return to these regions. If they do, one particular cause for concern is the young people who have not been exposed to malaria over the past five or six years since the mosquitoes began to decline.

"If the mosquito population starts coming up again" says Professor Meyrowitsch "and my own assumption is that it will, it is most likely we will have an epidemic of malaria with a higher level of disease and mortality especially amongst these children who have not been exposed."

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

New Superdrug could cure all viral infections

MIT scientists in the US claim to have solved the problem of killing viral infections usually resistant to antibiotics.

The common cold, the`flu and more serious haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola are amongst the viruses that currently can`t be cured.

DRACO a new drug designed by US scientists is able to identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus , then zeroes to kill the infection , writes MIT News. It should work against all viruses and has already proven effective against 15 viruses , including polio, stomach viruses and dengue fever.

MIT`s Double-stranded RNA Activated Capase Oligomerizers (DRACO) is an anti-viral therapy, which causes cells to commit suicide, thus preventing the spread of infection. 

Time magazine explains that the drug works by using both a cell`s natural defence mechanism, and the virus`s attack mechanism. In this way it is able to find and disable the virus. 

It is thought that this new technology may even be used to work against new infections, like respiratory syndrome SARS, which caused a near-pandemic in 2002/2003. Popular science says the new treatment could be as effective as antibiotics fighting bacteria – a development that could revolutionize infectious disease medicine.
All of the testing has so far been carried out in mice, but the scientists behind DRACO are hoping to be licensed for trials in larger animals, and eventually in humans.

Monday, 25 July 2011

DNA suggests crocodiles swam the Atlantic to reach America

New findings from the most complete evolutionary tree of the genus Crocodylus, featuring all but one of the living crocodile species, has revealed that crocodiles swam thousands of kilometers from Africa to colonise the Americas.
Upon sequencing ther mitochondrial genomes of 11 species , eight of which had not been mitochondrial DNA sequenced before , Evon Hekkala of Forham University in New York and colleagues havd learned that all four American species are closely related to the Nile crocodiles of East Africa. It is suspected that these crocofiles must have split away roughly 7 million years ago after South America and Africa began drifting apart over 130million years ago. By 7 million years ago, over 2800 kilometres of ocean lay between the two continents.
For this study Hekkala and her team have been able to use genetic data from Egyptian crocodile mummies to try to identify the baseline distribution of unique evolutionary lineages in the Nile crocodile.
It has been long suspected by palaeontologists that crocodiles swam the Atlantic, but Hekkala”s finding is “strong evidence in support of that scenario”, said Christopher Brochu of the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Crocodiles are salt-tolerant and can go up to six months without eating and females can carry viable sperm for several months after mating, which means a single female could have crossed the Atlantic and produced a litter on the other side. It”s unlikely that a single such event would have given rise to all American crocodiles.
But Hekkala pointed out that animals that got lost at sea off the coast of Africa may well have been carried across on the westward-flowing equatorial currents.

Discussion Board Question

IYSF have invited Professor Steve Lloyd PhD (Lond) FinstP CPhys to pose the fist ever  debate question. 

Professor Lloyd currently works in the Physics department in Queen Mary University of London .
His expertise is in experimental particle physics; the ATLAS collaboration,  studying proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN; data produced by the LHC; development of the 'Grid' - a massive distributed computer system to analyse vast amounts of data that is being produced by the LHC.

Professor Lloyds question :

"Scientists at CERN in Geneva are using the Large Hadron Collider to search for a new fundamental particle called the Higgs particle (or Higgs boson). In the so called Standard Model of particle physics, the Higgs particle explains mathematically how all the other fundamental particles like quarks and leptons acquire mass. The theory is that the whole of space is filled with Higgs particles in the form of a Higgs field and that as the other particles pass through space they interact with this field and are slowed down such that they no longer travel at the speed of light, as massless particles would, and hence appear to have mass. How do you explain to a non-scientist what the Higgs particle is ?"