Science & Technology


Huge hole in the cosmos disappears as a 'statistical artefact'

Now you see it, now you don't. A giant hole in the cosmos that shocked astrophysicists last year may not exist after all. A re-examination of the area has found that the 'void', which supposedly contained far fewer stars and galaxies than expected, could be a statistical artefact.

The apparent void was spotted by Lawrence Rudnick and colleagues at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Rudnick had become intrigued by another puzzling finding: a cold spot in the cosmic microwave background measured by the WMAP spacecraft. He used data from the Very Large Array telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory near Socorro, New Mexico, to study the area and concluded that the cold spot coincided with a void almost 1 billion light years across, the largest anyone had ever seen.


Genealogical Conclusions

EECS and statistics professor Yun Song studies computing problems related to the human genome.

There are about six billion base pairs in the human genome, and our family tree includes about six billion living humans. For other species, these numbers are also enormous. So, although DNA sequencing begins in a laboratory, it requires research-level computer science and statistics to crunch the resulting mass of data and make sense of the results, which have applications ranging from medicine and biology to anthropology and history. As EECS and statistics professor Yun Song remarks, "Just 15 years ago, it was very difficult for population genetics researchers to run their computationally intensive analyses on desktop computers. It's thanks to relatively recent improvements in computers and algorithms that these problems have become tractable."


Code crackers wanted!

A little over a year ago, the Fermilab Office of Public Affairs received a curious letter in code (see the image below). It has been sitting in our files all that time and we haven't had much of a chance to look into breaking the code, nor are we particularly expert at this!

If you have a cryptological bent, perhaps you'd take a crack at this code and email us anything you find at [email protected]

Note that this scan is from a fax of the original. The holes punched in it were not in the original and a tiny sliver has been cut off the top of the page where the fax information was printed. I'm hoping that the precise positioning on the page isn't relevant!


Bizarro Earth

Life Falling Back to Earth

Asteroid and comet impacts on Earth can cause catastrophic extinction events. They can also bring life back, new research shows.

Many scientists believe that a massive rock from space came crashing down 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The resulting blast set forests ablaze. The skies of Earth were filled with ash that blocked out the sun and the planet went cold. Vegetation died in the absence of sunlight. Shortly thereafter, the dinosaurs and many other life forms on Earth went extinct. Millions of years of evolution were wiped clean in an instant.


Interior Of Mars Is Colder Than Previously Thought, So Any Possible Liquid Water Would Be Deep Underground

New observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that the crust and upper mantle of Mars are stiffer and colder than previously thought.The findings suggest any liquid water that might exist below the planet's surface and any possible organisms living in that water, would be located deeper than scientists had suspected.

©NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
New observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that the crust and upper mantle of Mars are stiffer and colder than previously thought.

"We found that the rocky surface of Mars is not bending under the load of the north polar ice cap," said Roger Phillips of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. Phillips is the lead author of a new report appearing in the online version of Science. "This implies that the planet's interior is more rigid, and thus colder, than we thought before."

Eye 1

Crystal (Eye) Ball: Visual System Equipped With 'Future Seeing Powers'

Catching a football. Maneuvering through a room full of people. Jumping out of the way when a golfer yells "fore." Most would agree these seemingly simple actions require us to perceive and quickly respond to a situation. Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Mark Changizi argues they require something more - our ability to foresee the future.

Hering illusion
©Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
The Hering illusion is exemplified by the perceived curvature of the straight lines near the vanishing point in the center of the drawing. The optical illusion occurs because our brains are predicting the way the underlying scene would project in the next moment if we were moving in the direction of the vanishing point.


Rapid, Dramatic 'Reverse Evolution' Documented In Tiny Fish Species

Evolution is supposed to inch forward over eons, but sometimes, at least in the case of a little fish called the threespine stickleback, the process can go in relative warp-speed reverse, according to a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published online ahead of print in the May 20 issue of Current Biology.

"There are not many documented examples of reverse evolution in nature," said senior author Catherine "Katie" Peichel, Ph.D., "but perhaps that's just because people haven't really looked."

©iStockphoto/Shelly Hokanson
Ironically, the effort to clean up Lake Washington may have sparked a 'reverse evolution' in the threespine stickleback fish, scientists have found.

Peichel and colleagues turned their gaze to the sticklebacks that live in Lake Washington, the largest of three major lakes in the Seattle area. Five decades ago, the lake was, quite literally, a cesspool, murky with an overgrowth of blue-green algae that thrived on the 20 million gallons of phosphorus-rich sewage pumped into its waters each day. Thanks to a $140 million cleanup effort in the mid-'60s -- at the time considered the most costly pollution-control effort in the nation -- today the lake and its waterfront are a pristine playground for boaters and billionaires.


'Mitochondrial Eve' Research: Humanity Was Genetically Divided For 100,000 Years

The human race was divided into two separate groups within Africa for as much as half of its existence, says a Tel Aviv University mathematician. Climate change, reduction in populations and harsh conditions may have caused and maintained the separation.

©U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services/National Institutes of Health
Electron micrograph of a single mitochondrion showing the organized arrangement of the protein matrix and the inner mitochondrial membranes.

Dr. Saharon Rosset, from the School of Mathematical Sciences at Tel Aviv University, worked with team leader Doron Behar from the Rambam Medical Center to analyze African DNA. Their goal was to study obscure population patterns from hundreds of thousands of years ago.


Simple Artificial Cell Created From Scratch To Study Cell Complexity

A team of Penn State researchers has developed a simple artificial cell with which to investigate the organization and function of two of the most basic cell components: the cell membrane and the cytoplasm--the gelatinous fluid that surrounds the structures in living cells. The work could lead to the creation of new drugs that take advantage of properties of cell organization to prevent the development of diseases. The team's findings will be published later this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

©Christine Keating, Penn State
The model cell developed in the lab of Christine D. Keating at Penn State uses as the cytoplasm a solution of two different polymers, PEG and dextran (Panel A). The image in Panel B is the image in Panel A highlighted with fluorescent dyes. The blue region is PEG, which is concentrated in the outer polymer solution; the green area is the portion of the membrane that contains PEG groups, which interact with the contents of the cell; and the red area is the portion of the membrane with fewer PEG groups, which interact with the contents of the cell to a lesser extent. After exposure to a concentrated solution of sugar, the cell converted to a budded form (Panel C). A dextran-rich mixture filled the bud, while a PEG-rich mixture remained inside the body of the cell. Panel D shows the image in Panel C highlighted with fluorescent dyes. The blue area is the PEG-rich region. This new structure exhibits polarity both in the membrane and in the aqueous interior of the model cell.


Online device checks carbon dioxide impact

A new online tool has been created to provide companies in Reading with a clear picture of the extent of their environmental impact.