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Sun, 14 Feb 2016
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Light Saber

Think big! Meet the Robin Hood of science

© jeanbaptisteparis/Flickr
Robin Hood of Science, Alexandra Elbakyan
The tale of how one researcher has made nearly every scientific paper ever published available for free to anyone, anywhere in the world.

On the evening of November 9th, 1989, the Cold War came to a dramatic end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Four years ago another wall began to crumble, a wall that arguably has as much impact on the world as the wall that divided East and West Germany. The wall in question is the network of paywalls that cuts off tens of thousands of students and researchers around the world, at institutions that can't afford expensive journal subscriptions, from accessing scientific research.

On September 5th, 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it. The website works in two stages, firstly by attempting to download a copy from the LibGen database of pirated content, which opened its doors to academic papers in 2012 and now contains over 48 million scientific papers. The ingenious part of the system is that if LibGen does not already have a copy of the paper, Sci-hub bypasses the journal paywall in real time by using access keys donated by academics lucky enough to study at institutions with an adequate range of subscriptions. This allows Sci-Hub to route the user straight to the paper through publishers such as JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier. After delivering the paper to the user within seconds, Sci-Hub donates a copy of the paper to LibGen for good measure, where it will be stored forever, accessible by everyone and anyone.

This was a game changer. Before September 2011, there was no way for people to freely access paywalled research en masse; researchers like Elbakyan were out in the cold. Sci-Hub is the first website to offer this service and now makes the process as simple as the click of a single button.

As the number of papers in the LibGen database expands, the frequency with which Sci-Hub has to dip into publishers' repositories falls and consequently the risk of Sci-Hub triggering its alarm bells becomes ever smaller. Elbakyan explains, "We have already downloaded most paywalled articles to the library ... we have almost everything!" This may well be no exaggeration. Elsevier, one of the most prolific and controversial scientific publishers in the world, recently alleged in court that Sci-Hub is currently harvesting Elsevier content at a rate of thousands of papers per day. Elbakyan puts the number of papers downloaded from various publishers through Sci-Hub in the range of hundreds of thousands per day, delivered to a running total of over 19 million visitors.

© Sci-hub


City dwellers might want to open a window: Walls of our homes act as traps for human bacteria

© Humberto Cavallin/ University of Puerto Rico
In this photo provided by Science Advances shows microbiologist Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, collecting temperature information of the floor at one of the Checherta huts. Whether it's a jungle hut or a high-rise apartment, your home is covered in bacteria, and new research from the Amazon suggests city dwellers might want to open a window.
Whether it's a jungle hut or a high-rise apartment, your home is covered in bacteria, and new research from the Amazon suggests city dwellers might want to open a window.

Scientists traveled from remote villages in Peru to a large Brazilian city to begin tracking the effects of urbanization on the diversity of bacteria in people's homes. It's a small first step in a larger quest—understanding how different environmental bugs help shape what's called our microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that share our bodies and play a critical role in our health.

"Very little is known about the microbes of the built environment," microbiologist Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello of New York University, who led the pilot study, said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Her team found that as people living in the Amazon rainforest become more urbanized, the kinds of bacteria in their homes change from the bugs mostly found in nature to those that typically live on people, she reported Friday.

Comment: Lack of adequate ventilation also increases the toxicity of the products in our homes:


Rare supernova 'impostor' found in nearby galaxy

© .Breanna Binder/NASA/Royal Astronomical Society
An image obtained by UW astronomer Breanna Binder’s group using the Hubble Space Telescope, showing the supernova impostor SN 2010da circled in green and the X-ray emission indicated by a white cross. Reproduced from a Royal Astronomical Society publication.
Breanna Binder, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astronomy and lecturer in the School of STEM at UW Bothell, spends her days pondering X-rays.

As she and her colleagues report in a new paper published Feb. 12 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, they recently solved a mystery involving X-rays — a case of X-rays present when they shouldn't have been. This mystery's unusual main character — a star that is pretending to be a supernova — illustrates the importance of being in the right place at the right time.

Such was the case in May 2010 when an amateur South African astronomer pointed his telescope toward NGC300, a nearby galaxy. He discovered what appeared to be a supernova — a massive star ending its life in a blaze of glory.

"Most supernovae are visible for a short time and then — over a matter of weeks — fade from view," said Binder.

After a star explodes as a supernova, it usually leaves behind either a black hole or what's called a neutron star — the collapsed, high-density core of the former star. Neither should be visible to Earth after a few weeks. But this supernova — SN 2010da — still was.

"SN 2010da is what we call a 'supernova impostor' — something initially thought to be a supernova based on a bright emission of light, but later to be shown as a massive star that for some reason is showing this enormous flare of activity," said Binder.

Many supernova impostors appear to be massive stars in a binary system — two stars in orbit of one another. Stellar astrophysicists think that the impostor's occasional flare-ups might be due to perturbations from its neighbor.

For SN 2010da, the story appeared to be over until September 2010 — four months after it was confirmed as an impostor — when Binder pointed NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory toward NGC300 and found something unexpected.

"There was just this massive amount of X-rays coming from SN 2010da, which you should not see coming from a supernova impostor," she said.

Ice Cube

New form of frozen water discovered?

© Chandler/University Communications/University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Researchers (from left) Chongqin Zhu, Yingying Huang and Xiao Cheng Zeng co-authored a study that has predicted the existence of a new form of ice.
Amid the season known for transforming Nebraska into an outdoor ice rink, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln-led research team has predicted a new molecular form of the slippery stuff that even Mother Nature has never borne.

The proposed ice, which the researchers describe in a Feb. 12, 2016 study in the journal Science Advances, would be about 25 percent less dense than a record-low form synthesized by a European team in 2014.

If the ice can be synthesized, it would become the 18th known crystalline form of water -- and the first discovered in the United States since before World War II.

"We performed a lot of calculations (focused on) whether this is not just a low-density ice, but perhaps the lowest-density ice to date," said Xiao Cheng Zeng, an Ameritas University Professor of chemistry who co-authored the study.

"A lot of people are interested in predicting a new ice structure beyond the state of the art."

This newest finding represents the latest in a long line of ice-related research from Zeng, who previously discovered a two-dimensional "Nebraska Ice" that contracts rather than expands when frozen under certain conditions.

Zeng's newest study, which was co-led by Dalian University of Technology's Jijun Zhao, used a computational algorithm and molecular simulation to determine the ranges of extreme pressure and temperature under which water would freeze into the predicted configuration. That configuration takes the form of a clathrate -- essentially a series of water molecules that form an interlocking cage-like structure.


A new Maunder Minimum? Solar cycle 24 activity continues to be lowest in nearly 200 years

It has been a couple of months since WUWT has checked in on the progress of solar cycle 24. Right now, the sun is in "cue ball" mode, with no large visible sunspots as seen below in the most recent Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) photo:
© Solar Dynamics Observatory
Since there is a new analysis out at Pierre Gosselin's website by Frank Bosse and Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt, I thought it would be a good time to do an update. They write:
[The sun was] rather quiet in January. The determined solar sunspot number (SSN) was 56.6, which is 71% of the mean this far into the period, calculated using the 23 previously measured solar cycles.

Figure 1: Plot of the monthly sunspot number so far for the current cycle (red line) compared to the mean solar cycle (blue line) and the similar solar cycle no. 5 (black).
The earlier peak occurring at month number 35 (fall 2011) signaled the time of the SSN maximum at the sun's northern hemisphere. The later peaks occurring at about month no. 68 (mid 2014) are the SSN maximum for the sun's southern hemisphere.They also have a prediction, read about it here. Full report (in German) here.
As you can see from the plots in Figure 1, the current level of activity of solar cycle 24 seems close to that of solar cycle number 5, which occurred beginning in May 1798 and ending in December 1810 (thus falling within the Dalton Minimum). The maximum smoothed sunspot number (monthly number of sunspots averaged over a twelve-month period) observed during the solar cycle was 49.2, in February 1805 (the second lowest of any cycle to date, as a result of being part of the Dalton Minimum), and the minimum was zero.(ref: Wikipedia)

Comment: Sunspots (or lack thereof) seem to have a strong historical correlation with climate states on Earth. It's not looking good.


Neanderthal DNA found to impact human traits

Since 2010 scientists have known that people of Eurasian origin have inherited anywhere from 1 to 4 percent of their DNA from Neanderthals.

The discovery spawned a number of hypotheses about the effects these genetic variants may have on the physical characteristics or behavior of modern humans, ranging from skin color to heightened allergies to fat metabolism—and generated dozens of colorful headlines including "Neanderthals are to blame for our allergies" and "Did Europeans get fat From Neanderthals?"

Now, scientists have conducted the first study to directly compare Neanderthal DNA in the genomes of a significant population of adults of European ancestry with their clinical records.

Comment: For more on this topic see:

Alarm Clock

Physicists build the most accurate clock on earth

© Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt
Physicists in Germany have built the most accurate timepiece on Earth, achieving unprecedented levels of accuracy with a new atomic clock that keeps time according to the movements of ytterbium ions.

Called an optical single-ion clock, the device works by measuring the vibrational frequency of ytterbium ions as they oscillate back and forth hundreds of trillions times per second between two different energy levels. These ions are trapped within an 'optical lattice' of laser beams that allows scientists to count the number of ytterbium 'ticks' per second to measure time so accurately, the clock won't lose or gain a second in several billion years.

Until very recently, our most accurate time-keepers were caesium atomic clocks - devices that contain a 'pendulum' of atoms that are excited into resonance by microwave radiation. It's on these clocks that the official definition of the second - the Standard International (SI) unit of time - is based.

Comment: Previous record holders in the atomic clock world:


Don't tell the Banderites! Genetic tests show Ukrainians and Russians are the same

A leading representative of the scientific study of "DNA genealogy", doctor of chemical sciences, Professor of Moscow State University and Harvard University, Anatole Klyosov, gave an exclusive interview to KM.RU, in which he refuted claims about genetic differences between Russians and Ukrainians.

Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are a set of the same genera

The nationalist school of west Ukraine promotes the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are closely related people. This view is "based" on the fact that although once a long time ago the Russians resettled from the territory of modern Ukraine, then allegedly heavily intermingled with the representatives of the Mongoloid race and ceased to be Slavs.

There is practically no truth in this statement. Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are a set of the same genera, and are the same people from a genetic point of view. The origins they have also almost the same. The ethnic Russians are of three main kinds: R1a, I and N. The haplogroup R1a are 48% of Russians and 45% of Ukrainians. Haplogroup I are 22% Russians and 24% Ukrainians. Depending on the sample, these figures vary up to 4%.


NASA released 360-degree view of Mars from perspective of 'Curiosity' rover

If you want to go to Mars, you should probably hurry up and apply to be an astronaut. But if you want to explore Mars, there's another (much easier) way. The video above gives you a 360-degree view of Mars from the perspective of NASA's Curiosity rover.

The video is made from stitched-together images taken by the rover on Dec. 18. You can see the still version here. According to NASA, the image shows the downwind face of Namib Dune. Curiosity is investigating these dunes — the first studied anywhere other than Earth — on its way to Mount Sharp. Namib is about 23 feet away from the rover in the video and rises about 16 feet off the ground.

Orbiter photos suggest that the dunes in this field move as much as three feet every Earth year.

Launched in 2012, the Curiosity rover had a two-year primary science mission. At this point it has just about doubled its expected lifespan and will continue to carry out scientific missions indefinitely.


'We proved Einstein right!': Gravitational waves confirmed in breakthrough research

© Michael Koppitz / aei
Gravitational waves are invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time caused by the movement of dense objects, like black holes. These waves spread out across the universe but have never been seen by scientists. Fresh rumours, however, suggest detectors in the US have picked up signals that may be gravitational waves
Scientists at Washington's National Science Foundation and Moscow State University have confirmed the discovery of Albert Einstein's gravitational waves. The breakthrough, possibly the biggest in physics in a century, could be the key to new understanding of the universe. Recent rumors of the success in detecting gravitational waves, or as some scientists put it "very weak space-time wiggles which propagate at the speed of light" were officially confirmed Thursday.

These ripples in the fabric of space-time are one of the most important variables in Einstein's theory of relativity and it took astronomers decades to detect them, although they were pretty sure that gravitational waves existed.

Comment: About a hundred years ago, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but until now, they were undetectable.See also:Gravity Probe B Confirms Two of Einstein's Space-Time Theories