Science & Technology
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Bug

Trail-blazing ants show hints of metacognition when seeking food

© FLPA/Rex
I think, therefore I ant sure.
Do they know they don't know? Ants seem to examine their knowledge, a little like humans do when unsure of which route to take.

Tomer Czaczkes and Jürgen Heinze from the University of Regensburg in Germany let black garden ants find food on a T-shaped maze, with the food always in one arm. Then they switched the food to the other arm, creating uncertainty for the ants.

Ants that headed in the wrong direction were less likely to leave a trail for the other ants to follow.

"It makes, sense," says Czaczkes. "You don't want to give your sisters wrong information."

He says this might show that ants can question their own knowledge, a basic facet of higher metacognition - awareness of one's own thoughts - although it doesn't prove this.

If true, these ants would be just the second reported case of an insect showing such advanced cognitive behaviour.

Browsing through our memories and reflecting on their quality and strength, to double check what we know and then make the best decision, is an everyday task for us.

But it has been confirmed only for relatively advanced species, such as mammals and a few birds. Recent research has shown that bees, when faced with a particularly difficult task, simply opt out of doing it - a behaviour that may be interpreted as a form of metacognition.

Now, it seems that ants might be capable of a similar mental feat, despite their tiny and simple brain.

Snowflake Cold

At near absolute zero, molecules may start to exhibit 'exotic states of matter'

© Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT
MIT researchers have successfully cooled a gas of sodium potassium (NaK) molecules to a temperature of 500 nanokelvin. In this artist's illustration, the NaK molecule is represented with frozen spheres of ice merged together: the smaller sphere on the left represents a sodium atom, and the larger sphere on the right is a potassium atom.
The air around us is a chaotic superhighway of molecules whizzing through space and constantly colliding with each other at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour. Such erratic molecular behavior is normal at ambient temperatures.

But scientists have long suspected that if temperatures were to plunge to near absolute zero, molecules would come to a screeching halt, ceasing their individual chaotic motion and behaving as one collective body. This more orderly molecular behavior would begin to form very strange, exotic states of matter—states that have never been observed in the physical world.

Now experimental physicists at MIT have successfully cooled molecules in a gas of sodium potassium (NaK) to a temperature of 500 nanokelvins—just a hair above absolute zero, and over a million times colder than interstellar space. The researchers found that the ultracold molecules were relatively long-lived and stable, resisting reactive collisions with other molecules. The molecules also exhibited very strong dipole moments—strong imbalances in electric charge within molecules that mediate magnet-like forces between molecules over large distances.

Martin Zwierlein, professor of physics at MIT and a principal investigator in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics, says that while molecules are normally full of energy, vibrating and rotating and moving through space at a frenetic pace, the group's ultracold molecules have been effectively stilled—cooled to average speeds of centimeters per second and prepared in their absolute lowest vibrational and rotational states.

"We are very close to the temperature at which quantum mechanics plays a big role in the motion of molecules," Zwierlein says. "So these molecules would no longer run around like billiard balls, but move as quantum mechanical matter waves. And with ultracold molecules, you can get a huge variety of different states of matter, like superfluid crystals, which are crystalline, yet feel no friction, which is totally bizarre. This has not been observed so far, but predicted. We might not be far from seeing these effects, so we're all excited."

Zwierlein, along with graduate student Jee Woo Park and postdoc Sebastian Will—all of whom are members of the MIT-Harvard Center of Ultracold Atoms—have published their results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Jupiter

Jupiter's Great Red spot is shrinking temporarily?

© Damian Peach
Graphical comparison showing how Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has shrunk in the past 125 years using photographs taken in 1890. See below for details on how it was done.
Maybe it's too soon for a pity party, but the profound changes in the size and prominence of Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS) in the past 100 years has me worried. After Saturn's rings, Jupiter's big bloody eye is one of astronomy's most iconic sights.

This titanic hurricane-like storm has charmed earthlings since Giovanni Cassini first spotted it in the mid-1600s. Will our grandchildren turn their telescopes to Jove only to see a pale pink oval like so many others rolling around the planet's South Tropical Zone?

Maybe.

Light Saber

Fungi expert holds the patent that could destroy Monsanto and change agriculture forever

Image

Paul Stamets
If there's anything you read - or share - let this be it. The content of this article has potential to radically shift the world in a variety of positive ways.

And as Monsanto would love for this article to not go viral, all we can ask is that you share, share, share the information being presented so that it can reach as many people as possible.

In 2006, a patent was granted to a man named Paul Stamets. Though Paul is the world's leading mycologist, his patent has received very little attention and exposure. Why is that? Stated by executives in the pesticide industry, this patent represents "the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed." And when the executives say disruptive, they are referring to it being disruptive to the chemical pesticides industry.

What has Paul discovered? The mycologist has figured out how to use mother nature's own creations to keep insects from destroying crops. It's what is being called SMART pesticides. These pesticides provide safe & nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects - and all thanks to the 'magic' of mushrooms.

Comment: Unfortunately these techniques will never be allowed to develop until we as a society can reign in psychopathic corporations (like Monsanto) and their psychopathic minions in the halls of academia, finance and government. We can all boycott, tweet and share articles like the above in order to help facilitate real change though.


Health

Data scientists find connections between birth month and health

© Dr. Nick Tatonetti/Columbia University Medical Center
This data visualization maps the statistical relationship between birth month and disease incidence in the electronic records of 1.7 million New York City patients.
Columbia University scientists have developed a computational method to investigate the relationship between birth month and disease risk. The researchers used this algorithm to examine New York City medical databases and found 55 diseases that correlated with the season of birth. Overall, the study indicated people born in May had the lowest disease risk, and those born in October the highest. The study was published this week in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association.

"This data could help scientists uncover new disease risk factors," said study senior author Nicholas Tatonetti, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and Columbia's Data Science Institute. The researchers plan to replicate their study with data from several other locations in the U.S. and abroad to see how results vary with the change of seasons and environmental factors in those places. By identifying what's causing disease disparities by birth month, the researchers hope to figure out how they might close the gap.

Earlier research on individual diseases such as ADHD and asthma suggested a connection between birth season and incidence, but no large-scale studies had been undertaken. This motivated Columbia's scientists to compare 1,688 diseases against the birth dates and medical histories of 1.7 million patients treated at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/CUMC between 1985 and 2013.

Bulb

Scientists get first-ever visual glimpse into how new concepts form inside brain

© Wikipedia.org
Scientists have figured out how newly learned concepts form in the human brain by visualizing how new information gets filed. They say this is the first time science visually witnessed how and where specific objects are coded in the brain.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have managed to observe how different new knowledge is stored and how combinations of different pieces of this fresh information affect different parts of the brain. This is eventually used to tell the observer what the person is thinking about.

The accompanying research is published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

University neuroscientist Marcel Just used the example of the 2013 discovery by the Smithsonian Institute of an entirely new species - an olinguito, which is a small South American carnivorous mammal. Those learning about the animal were able to immediately pickup new information for the first time, such as its habitat, diet, behaviour and so on.

"Millions of people read the information about the olinguito and in doing so permanently changed their own brains," Just explained.

"Our research happened to be examining this process precisely at that time in a laboratory setting. When people learned that the olinguito eats mainly fruit instead of meat, a region of their left inferior frontal gyrus—as well as several other areas—stored the new information according to its own code."


Info

Saturn's outermost ring stuns astronomers

© NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
The biggest planetary ring in the solar system is much bigger than previously thought, say scientists.

A new study, reported today in Nature, has found that Saturn's outermost ring is nearly 300 times the size of the planet it orbits.

That's more than 30 per cent larger than scientists had thought.

"Nobody expected [planetary] rings to ever be this large," says lead author, Professor Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland.

"The textbooks all say that rings are small, located close to their planet."

Saturn's largest was originally discovered by Hamilton and colleagues in 2009, and is named after the Saturnian moon Phoebe, which is the source of the particles that make up the ring.

In the previous study the ring was detected between distances of 128 and 207 Saturn radii, but new measurements using NASA's WISE spacecraft have given the researchers a better picture and increased its size by 30 percent.

"Before we knew [the Phoebe ring] was big, but we didn't know exactly how big, and now we have that answer. It's nearly 300 times the size of the planet Saturn," says Hamilton.

Bulb

Engineer develops inexpensive, bacteria-powered origami battery

© Jonathan Cohen, Binghamton University Photographer
Origami batteries like this one, developed by Binghamton University researcher Seokheun Choi, could one day power biosensors for use in remote locations.
Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, can be used to create beautiful birds, frogs and other small sculptures. Now a Binghamton University engineer says the technique can be applied to building batteries, too.

Seokheun "Sean" Choi developed an inexpensive, bacteria-powered battery made from paper, he writes in the July edition of the journal Nano Energy.

The battery generates power from microbial respiration, delivering enough energy to run a paper-based biosensor with nothing more than a drop of bacteria-containing liquid. "Dirty water has a lot of organic matter," Choi says. "Any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism."

The method should be especially useful to anyone working in remote areas with limited resources. Indeed, because paper is inexpensive and readily available, many experts working on disease control and prevention have seized upon it as a key material in creating diagnostic tools for the developing world.

"Paper is cheap and it's biodegradable," Choi says. "And we don't need external pumps or syringes because paper can suck up a solution using capillary force."

Sherlock

Paleontologist discovers blood and soft tissue preserved in dinosaur fossils

© Reuters / Charles Platiau
Tyrannosaurus rex
An amazing discovery could rewrite textbooks, after a paleontologist accidentally found blood and soft tissue preserved in tattered dinosaur fossils. If proven, science expects answers to age-old questions, including: "Can we resurrect dinosaurs?"

The red blood cells and collagen fibers were discovered by chance when Imperial College London's Sergio Bertazzo and Susannah Maidment were examining the buildup of calcium in human blood vessels. Bertazzo wanted to perform a few tests using electronic microscopes and ended up asking the Natural History Museum for some fossils to test his findings, according to the IB Times.

They received eight pieces, all estimated at 75 million years old.

What the pair found could prove we've consistently been looking at dinosaurs in the wrong way: it suggests that nearly every fossil science studied in the past century could contain similarly well-preserved blood and tissue samples, answering questions on dinosaur evolution, physiology, behavior, and whether their DNA could also be intact. From there on in, we're entering sci-fi territory.

Satellite

ISS shifts position due to abnormal engine start

© Reuters / NASA
Thrusters of the Soyuz spacecraft docked at the International Space Station (ISS) misfired on Tuesday, Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said. The incident slightly changed the station's position, but no threat to ISS or the crew was reported.

The incident happened during standard testing of the Soyuz's docking system, Roscosmos press service reported on Tuesday. The spacecraft was being tested ahead of its planned return to Earth on June 11.


"Today, on June 9, 2015 at 18:32 MSK (15:32 GMT) during a scheduled testing of radio approach and docking system between the International Space Station and Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz's engines started inadvertently, which led to a slight change of ISS position," Roscosmos said.