Science & Technology


Large Hadron Collider Set To Unveil A New World Of Particle Physics

The field of particle physics is poised to enter unknown territory with the startup of a massive new accelerator--the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)--in Europe this summer. On September 10, LHC scientists will attempt to send the first beam of protons speeding around the accelerator.

Large Hadron Collider
The massive ATLAS detector dwarfs a worker standing in front of it during installation at the Large Hadron Collider. UCSC physicists have been working on the ATLAS project since 1994.

The LHC will put hotly debated theories to the test as it generates a bonanza of new experimental data in the coming years. Potential breakthroughs include an explanation of what gives mass to fundamental particles and identification of the mysterious dark matter that makes up most of the mass in the universe. More exotic possibilities include evidence for new forces of nature or hidden extra dimensions of space and time.

"The LHC is a discovery machine. We don't know what we'll find," said Abraham Seiden, professor of physics and director of the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


Google buries $10m in underground power

Search and advertising giant Google is investing $10 million in a relatively new approach to producing electricity from underground heat which could make geothermal power possible in many more areas of the world.

Google's philanthropic arm,, has recently declared an interest in sustainable technology. It has already pumped tens of millions of dollars into solar thermal and high-altitude wind energy.

Dan Reicher, Google's head of climate and energy initiatives, said that new technology could make extracting heat from beneath the ground a massive contributor to US electricity supplies.

"It's 24-7, it's potentially developable all over the country, all over the world, and for all that we really do think it could be the 'killer app' of the energy world," says Reicher. "Killer app" is a term used in the tech industry to describe an application that revolutionises a field and creates new opportunities.


Galactic 'spaghetti monster' powered by magnetic fields

Long-lived magnetic fields are sustaining a mammoth network of spaghetti-like gas filaments around a black hole, a new study suggests. Previously, it was not clear what prevented the delicate filaments from being destroyed by competing gravitational forces.

galaxy NCG 1275
©Fabian et al./NASA
Filaments of gas ejected from the centre of the galaxy NCG 1275 may not be able to form stars, perhaps explaining why massive galaxies don't get as big as they should

The black hole lies at the heart of a large galaxy known as NGC 1275, which itself lies near the centre of a cluster of galaxies called Perseus.

As the black hole sucks in gas from its surroundings, it powers jets of matter that produce bubbles of energetic particles in the surrounding cluster gas. As these bubbles grow and rise, cooled gas from NGC 1275's core gets drawn into long tendrils in their wake, like the strings that trail behind balloons.

Until now, no one was sure quite how old these gas filaments were or how they avoided being torn apart by the galaxy cluster's immense gravitational forces. "Quite what the filaments are and how they are produced hasn't been known," says study author Andrew Fabian of Cambridge University in the UK.

But Hubble Space Telescope images used in the study, the most detailed yet taken of the galaxy, are changing that.


Phoenix microscope takes first image of Martian dust particle

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has taken the first-ever image of a single particle of Mars' ubiquitous dust, using its atomic force microscope.

The particle -- shown at higher magnification than anything ever seen from another world -- is a rounded particle about one micrometer, or one millionth of a meter, across. It is a speck of the dust that cloaks Mars. Such dust particles color the Martian sky pink, feed storms that regularly envelop the planet and produce Mars' distinctive red soil.

mars dust
This color image is a three dimensional (3D) view of a digital elevation map of a sample collected by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Atomic Force Microscope.


Hydrogels provide scaffolding for growth of bone cells

Hyaluronic hydrogels developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers may provide a suitable scaffolding to enable bone regeneration. The hydrogels, created by Newell Washburn, Krzysztof Matyjaszewski and Jeffrey Hollinger, have proven to encourage the growth of preosteoblast cells, cells that aid the growth and development of bone. Doctoral student Sidi Bencherif will present this research, Sunday, Aug. 17 at the 236th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.

Light Sabers

Army Moves Ahead With Mobile Laser Cannon

The Army is moving ahead with plans to mount a laser cannon on a massive, 35-ton-plus truck.

hell gun

The service just handed Boeing a $36 million contract to "continue developing a truck-mounted, high-energy laser weapon system that will destroy rockets, artillery shells and mortar rounds," according to a company statement.

Under the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) Phase II contract, awarded Aug. 15, Boeing will complete the design of, then build, test and evaluate, a rugged beam control system on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck. Boeing also will develop the system-engineering requirements for the entire HEL TD laser weapon system.


Stem cells could allow "blood farms," company says

Embryonic stem cells can be used to grow vats of red blood cells, which could lead to the creation of "farms" that could provide limitless sources of blood, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

The team at Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology hopes the finding might help save the struggling company, which is desperately seeking investors to keep it afloat.

"I think it's really a big break for us," said Dr. Robert Lanza, scientific director of the company, one of a few commercial ventures trying to make a business out of the emerging stem cell field.

Stem cells are the body's master cells, replenishing various cells and tissues as they die. Stem cells taken from days-old embryos are especially powerful, with the ability to produce any cell type.


Chemical Liberated By Leaky Gut May Allow HIV To Infect The Brain, Scientists Find

In up to 20 percent of people infected with HIV, the virus manages to escape from the bloodstream and cross into the brain, resulting in HIV-associated dementia and other cognitive disorders. Now, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found strong evidence that a component of the cell walls of intestinal bacteria - a chemical present in high levels in the blood of HIV-infected people - helps HIV to penetrate the usually-impregnable blood brain barrier (BBB).

©Albert Einstein College of Medicine
BBB breakdown: The slide at left, above, shows a brain section of a control (non-HIV-infected) mouse following exposure to LPS. Proteins (stained yellow) lining the BBB exhibit some breaks but are relatively uncompromised.

The findings, published in the August issue of the Journal of Virology, could lead to strategies for preventing HIV from entering the brain and causing serious complications.

"Previous research has suggested that it's not individual HIV viruses that get into the brain but rather HIV-infected immune cells known as monocytes," says Dr. Harris Goldstein, director of the Einstein-Montefiore Medical Center for AIDS Research and senior author of the study. "Using an animal model, we wanted to find out first of all whether being infected with HIV enables monocytes to do what they don't usually do - escape from blood vessels and enter brain tissue."


Astronomers Find Unusual New Denizen Of The Solar System

A "minor planet" with the prosaic name 2006 SQ372 is just over two billion miles from Earth, a bit closer than the planet Neptune. But this lump of ice and rock is beginning the return leg of a 22,500-year journey that will take it to a distance of 150 billion miles, nearly 1,600 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, according to a team of researchers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-II).

©N. Kaib
The orbit of the newly discovered solar system object SQ372 (blue), in comparison to the orbits of Neptune, Pluto, and Sedna (white, green, red). The location of the Sun is marked by the yellow dot at the center. The inset panel shows an expanded view, including the orbits of Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter inside the orbit of Neptune. Even on this expanded scale, the size of Earth's orbit would be barely distinguishable from the central dot.

The discovery of this remarkable object was reported today in Chicago, at an international symposium titled "The Sloan Digital Sky Survey: Asteroids to Cosmology." A paper describing the discovery technique and the properties of 2006 SQ372 is being prepared for submission to The Astrophysical Journal.

The orbital paths of the major planets are nearly circular, but the orbit of 2006 SQ372 is an ellipse that is four times longer than it is wide, said University of Washington astronomer Andrew Becker, who led the discovery team. The only known object with a comparable orbit is Sedna -- a distant, Pluto-like dwarf planet discovered in 2003 -- but 2006 SQ372's orbit takes it more than one-and-a-half times further from the Sun, and its orbital period is nearly twice as long.


Aboriginal Kids Can Count Without Numbers

Knowing the words for numbers is not necessary to be able to count, according to a new study of aboriginal children by UCL (University College London) and the University of Melbourne. The study of the aboriginal children - from two communities which do not have words or gestures for numbers - found that they were able to copy and perform number-related tasks.

©iStockphoto/Dan Talson
A new study of the aboriginal children -- from two communities which do not have words or gestures for numbers -- found that they were able to copy and perform number-related tasks.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that we possess an innate mechanism for counting, which may develop differently in children with dyscalculia.

Professor Brian Butterworth, lead author from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, says: "Recently, an extreme form of linguistic determinism has been revived which claims that counting words are needed for children to develop concepts of numbers above three. That is, to possess the concept of 'five' you need a word for five. Evidence from children in numerate societies, but also from Amazonian adults whose language does not contain counting words, has been used to support this claim.