Science & Technology

Cow Skull

Fossil find is oldest European yet

Spanish jawbone is earliest human remains from Western Europe.

Spanish palaeontologists have dug up the remains of a 1.2-million-year-old humanlike inhabitant of Western Europe. The fossil find shows that members of our genus, Homo , colonized this region far earlier than many experts had thought.

The primitive hominin - represented by just a fragment of jawbone bearing a handful of wobbly-looking teeth - lived in what is now the Sierra de Atapuerca region of northern Spain, an area already known as a treasure trove of early human remains.

©EIA/Jordi Mestre
The petite jaw suggests the oldest-found European was probably female.


Saturn Moon Resembles Comets

Saturn's bizarre moon Enceladus is a little more mysterious after the recent Cassini flyby found it to be remarkably like a comet in its internal chemistry.

"A completely unexpected surprise is that the chemistry of Enceladus, what's coming out from inside, resembles that of a comet," says Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute, principal investigator for the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer. "To have primordial material coming out from inside a Saturn moon raises many questions on the formation of the Saturn system."


Rats capable of simple problem-solving: study

Rats can learn rules and apply them to new situations, an ability which is thought to be a keystone of human thought, according to a study released Thursday.

Toddlers, primates and even birds have been known to solve problems by applying rules learned from experience in a new context, but some scientists have argued that other non-primates lack this rudimentary skill.

But in a paper in the journal Science, British researchers at University College London and Oxford University reported that rats also have some capacity for abstract thought.

©AFP/File/Alexander Joe
An African rat. Rats can learn rules and apply them to new situations, an ability which is thought to be a keystone of human thought, according to a study released Thursday.


NASA science director quits

The chief executive of NASA's science mission directorate has decided to quit the agency after less than a year in the post. Alan Stern will be replaced temporarily by Edward Weiler, the director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre. Stern, who declined to comment, has not yet publicly revealed the reasons behind his decision.

Alan Stern


French recording may be world's first

SAN FRANCISCO - At first listen, the grainy high-pitched warble doesn't sound like much, but scientists say the French recording from 1860 is the oldest known recorded human voice.

The 10-second clip of a woman singing "Au Clair de la Lune," taken from a so-called phonautogram, was recently discovered by audio historian David Giovannoni. The recording predates Thomas Edison's "Mary had a little lamb" - previously credited as the oldest recorded voice - by 17 years.


US biologists shed light on how deadly virus becomes infectious

CHICAGO - Biologists have mapped how a deadly class of viruses including dengue, West Nile, yellow fever and encephalitis become infectious in a pair of studies published in the journal Science.

"This is possibly the most detailed understanding of how any virus matures," said study author Michael Rossmann of Purdue University in Indiana.


Climate Threat: Thawing Tundra Releases Infected Corpses

Yards and yards of clear plastic sheeting line the cellar floor, dwarfing the corpse: headless, frail, supine. The young bony arms - covered in fine black powder from centuries of immobility in the frozen tundra - are crossed at rest, reminiscent of a ceremonial burial. Camera flashes illuminate the scene. Several dozen scientists stand around the body, murmuring in Russian and English about the find of the day.

How long do you think it was buried? Do you think it's male or female? How did they get it back to camp? And the pervasive thought: I don't think we should touch it. He could have died of smallpox.


Astronomers Coordinating International Observatories In White-dwarf Watch

Judi Provencal is star-struck, but not so much by the glitz and glam of Hollywood. You have to look heavenward through a telescope to see the object of her fascination--to pale stars called white dwarfs, their brilliance faded because all of their nuclear fuel has been burned up.

A white dwarf is a star that is "dying," cooling down in the twilight of its life. It's what the sun will become in about 4 billion years, according to Provencal.

white dwarf
©University of Delaware
A white dwarf is in the center of planetary nebula NGC6751. Near the ring of gas is a foreground star.


Exquisite Photon Control On A Silicon Chip Is Major Advance Toward Quantum Computing

A team of physicists and engineers has demonstrated exquisite control of single particles of light -- photons -- on a silicon chip to make a major advance towards the long sought after goal of a super-powerful quantum computer.

single photons
©Carmel King
Generating and detecting single photons.

The team's chips, fabricated at CIP Technologies, have dimensions measured in millimetres.

This impressive miniaturisation was permitted thanks to the silica-on-silicon technology used in commercial devices for modern optical telecommunications, which guides light on a chip in the same way as in optical fibres.


Biosensing Nanodevice To Revolutionize Health Screenings

One day soon a biosensing nanodevice developed by Arizona State University researcher Wayne Frasch may eliminate long lines at airport security checkpoints and revolutionize health screenings for diseases like anthrax, cancer and antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Even more incredible than the device itself, is that it is based on the world's tiniest rotary motor: a biological engine measured on the order of molecules.

©Wayne Frasch and David Spetzler
Composition of the nanodevice.