Science & Technology


Welcome to the Matrix: Chinese scientist says technology is ready to replicate humans

© Stringer / Reuters
The Chinese scientist who led the development of the world's first cloning factory says he is now ready to replicate humans. His only fear is that the society is not ready to accept this, he told AFP.

The giant cloning facility is set to open within the next seven months, and plans to be cloning 1 million cows a year by 2020. Other animals to be cloned include racehorses and police dogs.

"Everything in the supermarket looks good - it's almost all shiny, good-looking, and uniformly shaped. For animals, we weren't able to do that in the past. But with our cloning factory, we choose to do so now," CEO Xu Xiaochun told AFP.

Comment: Human Cloning? Stem cell advance reignites ethics debate


ExoMars to leave Europe for launch site in Kazakhstan

Double robotic exploration of Mars.
The two ExoMars spacecraft of the 2016 mission are being prepared for shipping to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan ahead of their launch in March.
A joint endeavour with Russia's Roscosmos space agency, ExoMars comprises two missions. The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli make up the 2016 mission, while the 2018 mission will combine a rover and a surface science platform. Both missions will be launched on Russian Proton rockets from Baikonur.
TGO and Schiaparelli are undergoing final preparations at Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, where they were on display for media to view for the last time before they leave Europe. They will be shipped separately in the middle of next month, arriving at the cosmodrome on 21 and 23 December, respectively.

"It's been a long road for ExoMars to reach this point, but we are now ready to launch in spring next year," says Alvaro Gimenez, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. "We are about to begin a new era of Mars exploration for Europe and our Russian partners." Sergey Saveliev, Deputy General Director of Roscosmos, says: "ExoMars is a unique example of the Russian-European cooperation in deep-space exploration.

The first ExoMars is scheduled for launch on 14 March, at the start of a launch window that remains open until 25 March. After a cruise of almost seven months to Mars, Schiaparelli will separate from TGO on 16 October for its entry, descent and landing in the Meridani Planum region on 19 October.

Comment: Perhaps the "Final Frontier" is the final chance for mankind to cooperate and come together. It is not surprising that Mars, as well as Earth, is displaying a distribution of methane (an indicator of active biological and/or geological processes) at this point in time, most likely for the same reason...the cosmic changes afoot.


Rock salt used to contain radioactive waste may not be capable of isolating nuclear waste from groundwater

Research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that rock salt, used by Germany and the United States as a subsurface container for radioactive waste, might not be as impermeable as thought or as capable of isolating nuclear waste from groundwater in the event that a capsule or storage vessel failed.

A team of researchers from the university has used field testing and 3-D micro-CT imaging of laboratory experiments to show that rock salt can become permeable. Their findings, published in the Nov. 27 issue of Science, has implications for oil and gas operations, and, most notably, nuclear waste storage. The team includes researchers from the university's Cockrell School of Engineering and Jackson School of Geosciences.

"What this new information tells us is that the potential for permeability is there and should be a consideration when deciding where and how to store nuclear waste," said Maša Prodanovic, assistant professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering. "If it's an existing nuclear waste storage site, you may want to re-evaluate it with this new information."


Evil Rays

Spire: Wearable tech from Stanford Researcher aims to reduce your stress

In the fast-paced Bay Area, where life has gotten so expensive, commutes seem to last a lifetime and smartphones blur the boundaries between work and life, who doesn't feel a little anxious and stressed?

Smartphones are not going away, but some scientists here have found way to take the technology to help chill us out.

It's a new type of wearable technology called Spire.


Alternative energy: Filipino entrepreneur creates revolutionary lamp that runs on saltwater

Meet Aisa Mijeno, a Filipino architect and scientist who invented a revolutionary lamp that runs on a glass of saltwater instead of batteries. Her vision in creating the SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting) lamp was to "light up the rest of the Philippines sustainably," by finding an environment-friendly alternative light source suitable for people in coastal areas. She came up with the idea after spending time with the locals of the Butbut tribe in the Kalinga Province of Philippines, who had no access to electricity.

The lamp can apparently run for eight hours on just two tablespoons of salt and a glass of water. "It is made of tediously experimented and improved chemical compounds, catalysts, and metal alloys that when submerged in electrolytes will generate electricity," Mijeno explained. The idea behind it is the chemical conversion of energy, but while it works on the scientific principle of the galvanic cell, it makes use of a harmless, non-toxic saline solution instead of hazardous electrolytes.


Scientists unveil the world's first cyborg plant

The concept of "green energy" got a whole lot more literal this week, when scientists announced they'd successfully turned living roses into electronic circuits. That's right—cyborg flowers are now a thing.

Despite how it sounds, the aim isn't to create a race of leafy green borg that will one day rise up and enslave their human masters. Instead, think smart plants that can sense and display environmental changes, or crops whose growth can be regulated at the flick of a switch. Or plant-based fuel cells that convert the photosynthetic sugars into electricity. The very first electronic plant, developed by researchers at Linköping University in Sweden and described this week in Science Advances, is a step toward any one of those applications and many more.

"As far as we know, there are no previously published research results regarding electronics produced in plants," said study lead study author Magnus Berggren in a statement. "No one's done this before."

Alarm Clock

Dancing in time with others raises pain threshold, researchers report

A team from the University's Experimental Psychology and Anthropology Departments wanted to see whether our feelings of social closeness when dancing with others might be linked to endorphins - the body's 'feel good' chemicals.

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that form part of the brain's pain control system, but they are also implicated in social bonding. Dr Bronwyn Tarr explained: 'Dance is an important activity around the world, and it could be a way to connect with other people and feel socially bonded. We wanted to see the effect of high and low energy, and synchronised and unsynchronised dancing had on both pain threshold and the sense of bondedness to fellow group-members.'

Comment: Mental and cognitive benefits of dancing makes you smarter


Mars to lose its largest moon, Phobos, but gain a ring

© Tushar Mittal
Mars could gain a ring in 10-20 million years when its moon Phobos is torn to shreds by tidal forces due to Mars' gravitational pull.
In 10-20 million years, the moon will get so close to Mars that it'll be shredded into a ring

Mars' largest moon, Phobos, is slowly falling toward the planet, but rather than smash into the surface, it likely will be shredded and the pieces strewn about the planet in a ring like the rings encircling Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Though inevitable, the demise of Phobos is not imminent. It will probably happen in 20 to 40 million years, leaving a ring that will persist for anywhere from one million to 100 million years, according to two young earth scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a paper appearing online this week in Nature Geoscience, UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Benjamin Black and graduate student Tushar Mittal estimate the cohesiveness of Phobos and conclude that it is insufficient to resist the tidal forces that will pull it apart when it gets closer to Mars.


Birds and humans: Same physical mechanism for singing, talking

© Aaron Andalman
When birds and humans sing it sounds completely different, but now new research reported in the journal Nature Communications shows that the very same physical mechanisms are at play when a bird sings and a human speaks.

Birds and humans look different, sound different and evolved completely different organs for voice production. But now new research published in Nature Communications reveals that humans and birds use the exact same physical mechanism to make their vocal cords move and thus produce sound.

"Science has known for over 60 years that this mechanism - called the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory, or in short the MEAD mechanism- drives speech and singing in humans. We have now shown that birds use the exact same mechanism to make vocalizations. MEAD might even turn out to be a widespread mechanism in all land-dwelling vertebrates", says lead author of the paper, Associate Professor Dr. Coen Elemans, Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark. Co-authors of the paper are from Emory University, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Palacky University.

Over the last year Dr. Elemans and his colleagues studied six different species of bird from five avian groups. The smallest species, the zebra finch, weighs just 15 grams, and the largest one, the ostrich, weighs in at 200 kg. All studied birds were revealed to use the MEAD mechanism, just as humans do.

In the human voice box, or larynx, air from the lungs is pushed past the vocal cords, which then start moving back and forth sideways like a flag fluttering in the wind. With each oscillation the larynx closes and opens, making the airflow stop and start, which creates sound pulses. "Such vocal fold oscillations occur from about 100 times/sec in normal speech to one of the highest possible notes sung in opera at about 1400 times/sec, a F6 in Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte", adds voice expert and co-author Dr. Jan Švec of Palacky University in the Czech Republic.

Comment: Bird Brains Suggest How Vocal Learning Evolved

Snowflake Cold

Siberian cold: Yakutian horses adapted to -70C

Cold-adapted species survived Siberian extremes.
From an evolutionary perspective, it happened almost overnight. In less than 800 years Yakutian horses adapted to the extremely cold temperatures found in the environments of eastern Siberia. The adaptive process involved changes in the expression of a plethora of genes, including some also selected in human Siberian groups and the extinct woolly mammoth.

In a new scientific study, the comparison of the complete genomes of nine living and two ancient Yakutian horses from Far-East Siberia with a large genome panel of 27 domesticated horses reveals that the current population of Yakutian horses was founded following the migration of the Yakut people into the region in the 13-15th century AD. Yakutian horses, thus, developed their striking adaptations to the extreme cold climate present in the region in less than 800 years. This is one of the fastest examples of adaptation within mammals.

Comment: The Yakut horse is the only one that can survive within the Arctic Circle. The symbiosis of the Sakha people with their horses is one of the most perfect in existence. The horse isn't simply a tool or a friend, he is more than that. He is a free spirit, wild, who allows himself to serve Man so that the natural equilibrium can be maintained. The concept of man's domination of the animals simply isn't part of the Yakut's way of thinking.