Science & Technology


Japanese company plans 9 mile long undersea city

Japanese firm devises plan for an Ocean Spiral community that descends nine miles to the seabed.

ocean spiral
© Shimizu Corp/AFP/Getty Images
An artist impression of Ocean Spiral.
With dry land increasingly at a premium, a Japanese construction company has come up with a plan to sink a spiralling city into the depths of our oceans.

Each Ocean Spiral will be home to about 5,000 people, according to Shimizu Corp., with each structure also incorporating business and office facilities, hotel and entertainment facilities.

A blueprint for the city of the future was unveiled in Tokyo this week, with Shimizu confidently predicting that the first of its underwater cities would be ready for residents to move in as early as 2030.

At the surface, the city will have a vast floating dome that could be made watertight and retracted beneath the surface in bad weather.

Comment: Good luck with that.


Lake effect snow: Nature's greatest snow machine

Buffalo snowstorm
© Jeff Suhr
The above photo, taken from a plane above Buffalo yesterday by photographer Jeff Suhr, shows the brutal lake effect snow storm in effect over Western New York right now. Some areas are expecting up to six feet of snow by the end of the week. These snowstorms are among the most intense in the world, and the processes that create them are pretty spectacular.

The Great Lakes

Lake effect snow is possible in cold spots around the world, but this post will focus on the extreme weather that's often centered around the Great Lakes. The five lakes in the Upper Midwest - Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario - are the perfect size and in the perfect location to maximize the impact of this annual snow bonanza.

As prevailing winds are most commonly from the north and west, the southern and eastern shores of each respective lake are known as the "snowbelt" because they take the brunt of most heavy lake effect snow events.

Comment: The articles below show the effects of nature's snow machine on Buffalo, NY this week:


Tapeworm lives 4 years in British man's brain

© Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon
A British man has become the first person in the country to be diagnosed with a rare tapeworm in his brain. The worm was discovered after the 50-year-old man complained about headaches and strange smells.

The rare type of parasitic worm had burrowed its way from one side of the man's brain to the other, and had been there for four years. Doctors treating the man were puzzled by the ring-like patterns moving through the patient's brain.

A series of scans revealed the 1cm worm had been slowly tunneling through the man's brain. It was extracted during a biopsy at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Experts identified the parasite as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei; an extremely rare tapeworm.

According to the health service tapeworms are parasites that can live in a person's intestine (bowel). They don't always cause symptoms and when they do they are often mistaken for another illness.

Parasitic worms are most common in developing countries and are rare in the UK.

Tapeworms can be caught be touching or consuming anything containing contaminated feces, or by eating raw contaminated pork, beef or fish, and can grow up to 9 meters in length.

Han purple, a 2,000 year old pigment that can propagate waves in only two dimensions, eliminating third dimension

Terracotta Army
© David Castor
Terracotta Army
Han purple is an ancient pigment that wasn't reconstructed by modern chemists until 1992. After the chemists got done with it, it was the physicists' turn. Han purple, they found, eliminates an entire dimension. It makes waves go two-dimensional!

The Chemistry of Han Purple

You'll see Han purple on the famous terracotta warriors surrounding the tomb of the first emperor of China, or on ancient pottery and other works of art. Where you won't see it is on anything made between 220 A.D. and 1992, because after the pigment disappeared it took 1700 years to re-discover it. Elisabeth FitzHugh, a conservator at the Smithsonian, pinned down the chemical composition of the pigment and announced it was a barium copper silicate. (The paper describing the discovery is a fun read. It starts by pointing out the inferiority of other ancient purple pigments, which tended to be closer to red than purple. It also stresses that Tyrian purple, made from sea snails, was a textile dye, not a pigment, and that it could range anywhere from "reddish-blue to purplish-violet." Take that, Phoenicians!)
Cloud Lightning

Electric universe? "Spooky" alignment of quasars across billions of light-years

quasar alignments
© ESO/M. Kornmesser
This artist's impression shows schematically the mysterious alignments between the spin axes of quasars and the large-scale structures that they inhabit
The large-scale structure is shown in blue and quasars are marked in white with the rotation axes of their black holes indicated with a line.
New observations with ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside.

Comment: A preprint of the paper "Alignment of quasar polarizations with large-scale structures" by D. Hutsemékers et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics" can be read here

Cloud Lightning

Claim: Lightning will increase by 50 percent with 'global warming'

US lightning flashes 2011
© Credit: Data from National Lightning Detection Network, UAlbany, and analyzed by David Romps, UC Berkeley.
This graphic shows the intensity of lightning flashes averaged over the year in the lower 48 states during 2011.
Today's climate models predict a 50 percent increase in lightning strikes across the United States during this century as a result of warming temperatures associated with climate change.

Comment: Global warming is a hoax. More scientists are waking up to this fact.

Reporting in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Science, University of California, Berkeley, climate scientist David Romps and his colleagues look at predictions of precipitation and cloud buoyancy in 11 different climate models and conclude that their combined effect will generate more frequent electrical discharges to the ground.

"With warming, thunderstorms become more explosive," said Romps, an assistant professor of earth and planetary science and a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "This has to do with water vapor, which is the fuel for explosive deep convection in the atmosphere. Warming causes there to be more water vapor in the atmosphere, and if you have more fuel lying around, when you get ignition, it can go big time."

More lightning strikes mean more human injuries; estimates of people struck each year range from the hundreds to nearly a thousand, with scores of deaths. But another significant impact of increased lightning strikes would be more wildfires, since half of all fires - and often the hardest to fight - are ignited by lightning, Romps said. More lightning also would likely generate more nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere, which exert a strong control on atmospheric chemistry.

While some studies have shown changes in lightning associated with seasonal or year-to-year variations in temperature, there have been no reliable analyses to indicate what the future may hold. Romps and graduate student Jacob Seeley hypothesized that two atmospheric properties - precipitation and cloud buoyancy - together might be a predictor of lightning, and looked at observations during 2011 to see if there was a correlation.

"Lightning is caused by charge separation within clouds, and to maximize charge separation, you have to loft more water vapor and heavy ice particles into the atmosphere," he said. "We already know that the faster the updrafts, the more lightning, and the more precipitation, the more lightning."

Comment: Lightning discharge events are increasing in intensity and frequency because the solar wind is being grounded while comet dust loading of the atmosphere increases nucleation and resistance, leading to greater precipitation and greater charge-rebalancing respectively.

Precipitation - the total amount of water hitting the ground in the form of rain, snow, hail or other forms - is basically a measure of how convective the atmosphere is, he said, and convection generates lightning. The ascent speeds of those convective clouds are determined by a factor called CAPE - convective available potential energy - which is measured by balloon-borne instruments, called radiosondes, released around the U.S. twice a day.

Comment: As Earth 'opens up' we are seeing an increase and intensification of lightning strikes, and other natural phenomena too - such as Jet stream meanderings, Gulf stream slow-downs, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, meteor fireballs, tornadoes, deluges, sinkholes and noctilucent clouds. See Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection for more in depth explanations of these related Earth changes, and how they may be connected to a common cause - the close approach of our Sun's 'twin' and an accompanying cometary swarm.


Imagination and reality flow in opposite directions in the brain

© Nick Berard
Electrical and computer engineering Professor Barry Van Veen wears an electrode net used to monitor brain activity via EEG signals. His research could help untangle what happens in the brain during sleep and dreaming.
As real as that daydream may seem, its path through your brain runs opposite reality.

Aiming to discern discrete neural circuits, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have tracked electrical activity in the brains of people who alternately imagined scenes or watched videos.

"A really important problem in brain research is understanding how different parts of the brain are functionally connected. What areas are interacting? What is the direction of communication?" says Barry Van Veen, a UW-Madison professor of electrical and computer engineering. "We know that the brain does not function as a set of independent areas, but as a network of specialized areas that collaborate."

Van Veen, along with Giulio Tononi, a UW-Madison psychiatry professor and neuroscientist, Daniela Dentico, a scientist at UW-Madison's Waisman Center, and collaborators from the University of Liege in Belgium, published results recently in the journal NeuroImage. Their work could lead to the development of new tools to help Tononi untangle what happens in the brain during sleep and dreaming, while Van Veen hopes to apply the study's new methods to understand how the brain uses networks to encode short-term memory.

Comment: From In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching - a 1949 book by Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky which recounts his meeting and subsequent association with G.I. Gurdjieff:
"He cannot stop the flow of his thoughts, he cannot control his imagination, his emotions, his attention. He lives in a subjective world of 'I love,' 'I do not love,' 'I like,' 'I do not like,' 'I want,' 'I do not want,' that is, of what he thinks he likes, of what he thinks he does not like, of what he thinks he wants, of what he thinks he does not want. He does not see the real world. The real world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination. He lives in sleep. He is asleep. What is called 'clear consciousness' is sleep and a far more dangerous sleep than sleep at night in bed." - G.I. Gurdjieff
"Let us take some event in the life of humanity. For instance, war. There is a war going on at the present moment. What does it signify? It signifies that several millions of sleeping people are trying to destroy several millions of other sleeping people. They would not do this, of course, if they were to wake up. Everything that takes place is owing to this sleep." - G.I. Gurdjieff

Light Saber

New devices in development could improve communications as well as free people from government internet control

internet, tastatur, keyboard, computer
© Gow27 / Shutterstock
If there is anything good to be said about mass surveillance, overcharging and monopolization by telecom/ISP companies, and government censorship including cell phone and Internet shutdowns as they see fit, it is that these heavy-handed measures only create a stronger desire for freedom.

For many in the modern world, open access to the World Wide Web is being viewed as an essential human right - it is a gateway to knowledge, peer-to-peer communication, innovation and economic opportunity. Basically: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. For the 5 billion people who still do not have access, it represents the universal dream of self-determination.

There are several devices in various stages of development that aim to rectify the gaps in knowledge and communication which keep large portions of humanity enslaved and threaten freedom for the rest of us if the restrictions mentioned above are permitted to flourish. It is clear that some, if not all, of what is mentioned below carry various hurdles and challenges that might be difficult to overcome if widespread adoption is a goal. However, the ideas are there to be expanded upon - and as we know: "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come."

Many older brains have plasticity, but in a different place

© 3D Slicer / Wikimedia Commons
An MRI image of the brain shows the structure of myelin-sheathed wiring (white matter).
Brain scientists have long believed that older people have less of the neural flexibility (plasticity) required to learn new things. A new study shows that older people learned a visual task just as well as younger ones, but the seniors who showed a strong degree of learning exhibited plasticity in a different part of the brain than younger learners did.

A widely presumed problem of aging is that the brain becomes less flexible -- less plastic -- and that learning may therefore become more difficult. A new study led by Brown University researchers contradicts that notion with a finding that plasticity did occur in seniors who learned a task well, but it occurred in a different part of the brain than in younger people.

When many older subjects learned a new visual task, the researchers found, they unexpectedly showed a significantly associated change in the white matter of the brain. White matter is the the brain's "wiring," or axons, sheathed in a material called myelin that can make transmission of signals more efficient. Younger learners, meanwhile, showed plasticity in the cortex, where neuroscientists expected to see it.

"We think that the degree of plasticity in the cortex gets more and more limited with older people," said Takeo Watanabe, the Fred M. Seed Professor at Brown University and a co-author of the study published in Nature Communications. "However, they keep the ability to learn, visually at least, by changing white matter structure."

'Philae' lander discovers organic molecules on Comet 67P

The Philae lander has managed to discover carbon-based organic molecules on a Comet 67P some 500 million kilometers from Earth before going into hibernation mode to preserve remaining power after extensive drilling on the surface and a rough landing.

"COSAC was able to 'sniff' the atmosphere and detect the first organic molecules after landing. Analysis of the spectra and the identification of the molecules are continuing," the German Aerospace Center (DLR) confirmed in a statement.

European Space Agency scientists are still interpreting the data the lander sent back after a 57-hour mission on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Before its primary battery died out, Philae was able to explore the comet using its 10 devices as the "mini laboratory sniffed the atmosphere, drilled, hammered and studied," DLR said.

"We have collected a great deal of valuable data, which could only have been acquired through direct contact with the comet. Together with the measurements performed by the Rosetta orbiter, we are well on our way to achieving a greater understanding of comets. Their surface properties appear to be quite different than was previously thought," DLR's director for the project, Ekkehard Kührt said.
While @Philae2014 takes time out to rest after #CometLanding I've still got a lot of this to do at #67P:

- ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) November 15, 2014
The European Space Agency (ESA) team found that the surface of the comet is "hard as ice," which made it difficult for the lander to dig into the surface especially after a harsh landing. The drilling has been dubbed a 'tough nut to crack'.