Science & Technology


UNC Researchers identify seventh and eighth bases of DNA

For decades, scientists have known that DNA consists of four basic units -- adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. In recent history, scientists have expanded that list from four to six. Now researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have discovered the seventh and eighth bases of DNA.

Control Panel

Fermilab Scientists Discover New Particle

Fermilab today announced that scientists working at the CDF (Collision Detector at Fermilab) experiment confirmed the observation of a new particle, the Xi-sub-b.
© ConcievablyTech
Collision Detector at Fermilab

The Xi-sub-b is categorized as are baryon, which are formed of three quarks. Commonly known baryons include the proton ( two up quarks and one down quark) as well as the neutron (two down quarks and one up quark). The existence of the Xi-sub-b has been predicted for some time, but it has been observed for the very first time just recently. It is described as a heavy relative of the neutron and is six times heavier than the proton or neutron. Conclusively, it is a member of the bottom baryons.

Arrow Down

Washing Away Good and Bad Luck: People Believe It Works

© Aramanda / Fotolia
Do people believe good and bad luck can be washed away? Yes, according to a new study.

Do people believe good and bad luck can be washed away? Yes, according to an advanced online publication in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that was co-authored by Rami Zwick, a University of California, Riverside marketing professor in the School of Business Administration.

Zwick, working with Alison Jing Xu of the University of Toronto, and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan, designed two experiments that showed risk taking depends on whether participants recalled a past episode of good or bad luck and whether they washed their hands before engaging in a risky decision making task.

The experimental findings, in the paper "Washing Away Your (Good or Bad) Luck: Physical Cleansing Affects Risk-Taking Behavior," converge with anecdotal reports of superstitious practices, such as an athlete wearing the same unwashed shirt during a winning streak, and show that magical beliefs about luck have behavioral consequences.

Magical beliefs are exhibited, for example, by having confidence in one's ability to predict the outcome of a random event beyond the known probabilities if one can exert irrelevant control on the situation. For example, research has shown people are more confident they will have a winning scratch-off lottery ticket if they pick the ticket instead of being given one by a clerk.

Cow Skull

As a mysterious skeleton is washed up on a British beach... Do sea monsters REALLY exist?

For centuries they've been a part of maritime legend, inspiring curiosity and terror in equal measure. Lurking in the depths of the oceans, shocking in size and appearance, gigantic serpents and prehistoric monsters are as much a source of fascination as ever, especially in Hollywood.

In the past two or three years alone, attacks by huge undersea beasts have provided the centrepiece battles at the ends of blockbusters such as Pirates Of The Caribbean, Clash Of The Titans and The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader.

But are such tales of strange sea beasts more than mythology? Is there any evidence to suggest that some of these monsters of the watery deep - from Jules Verne's giant squid in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea to the legendary Kraken, a leviathan sending sailors to their doom - might actually exist?

© Unknown
Mysteries of the deep: Only this week, Margaret Flippence stumbled upon this skeleton while strolling along the beach near Aberdeen. Experts were still trying last night to work out what the mystery 30ft washed-up remains are
Certainly, the study of the possible existence of sea monsters and other creatures of legend - known as cryptozoology - remains an area that captures the imagination of scientists and laymen alike.

Comment: Consider the following excerpts from Superluminal Communications:

October 23, 1994:
Q: (L) *** wants to know what the Loch Ness Monster is.
A: Serpent. 40 feet long average. There are 51 in the lake. They live in underwater cavern system and are leftovers from pre-cataclysmic times.
Q: (L) Are there any huge monsters at the bottom of the ocean?
A: Giant squid about 1000 feet long. There are about 20,000 of them more or less.
Q: (L) Are there any leftover dinosaurs in the jungles of Africa or South America?
A: No.
October 25, 1994:
Q: (L) The kids want to know what the giant squids eat?
A: Various things.
Q: (L) Do they have a purpose for being on the planet?
A: Does anything?
Q: (L) Does it?
A: We asked you. Rhetorical question.
Q: (L) The kids also want to know how long it takes a squid to grow that big and how long they live?
A: 200 to grow and live up to 700 years.


NIST Posts Adjusted Values of the Physical Constants, Tweaking Gravity to Make Science More Precise

© GregL / Wikimedia
The Precisely Milled International Prototype Kilogram. Don't you go a'changin'.

Did you feel that? Gravity just got a little weaker. The National Institute of Standards and Technology and has just posted the latest internationally recommended adjustments to the values for the fundamental constants of nature. The results: Gravity is a bit weaker, the electromagnetic force a smidgeon stronger, and the whole of physics a little less uncertain.

The NIST and its international partners reconsider the values placed upon the fundamental constants every four years to take into account advances in technology and science that beget better, more accurate values for things like the speed of light, the Newtonian constant of gravitation (G), the Planck constant, and other values preceded by famous names.

The real news here isn't really that we've discovered anything new but that science on the whole has reduced uncertainty, and that in turn impacts all physical science going forward. For instance, uncertainty in the constant alpha (that's the fine-structure constant or the electromagnetic constant) has been reduced by 0.3 parts per billion, or cut in half based on the last evaluation of the constants in 2006.


The Next Climate Debate Bombshell

Get ready for the next big bombshell in the man-made warming debate. The world's most sophisticated particle study laboratory - CERN in Geneva - will soon announce that more cosmic rays do, indeed, create more clouds in earth's atmosphere. More cosmic rays mean a cooler planet. Thus, the solar source of the earth's long, moderate 1,500-year climate cycle will finally be explained.

Cosmic rays and solar winds are interesting phenomena - but they are vastly more relevant when an undocumented theory is threatening to quadruple society's energy costs. The IPCC wants $10 gasoline, and "soaring" electric bills to reduce earth's temperatures by an amount too tiny to measure with most thermometers.

In 2007, when Fred Singer and I published Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years, we weren't terribly concerned with cosmic rays. We knew the natural, moderate warming/cooling cycle was real, from the evidence in ice cores, seabed sediments, fossil pollen and cave stalagmites. The cycle was the big factor that belied the man-made warming hysteria of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Magic Wand

Mutant Sperm May Explain Mysterious Cases of Male Infertility

© Theodore L. Tollner, 2011
Sperm from human donors with just the mutated DEFB 126 gene have fewer negatively charged sugars (green fluorescence) on their surfaces, and have difficulty swimming through the female cervix.
Many enigmatic cases of infertility could be explained by a newfound mutation that keeps sperm from reaching eggs, a new study suggests.

These findings could improve screening and treatment of infertile couples, an international team of researchers said.

Infertility affects 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population, with about half of those cases involving problems with male fertility. One of the mysteries of infertility is that sperm quality and quantity seem to have little to do with whether or not a man is fertile.


Four Unusual Views of the Andromeda Galaxy

© NASA, ESA and T.M. Brown (STScI)
A small part of the disc of the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Hubble’s position above the distorting effect of the atmosphere, combined with the galaxy’s relative proximity, means that the galaxy can be resolved into individual stars, rather than the cloudy white wisps usually seen in observations of galaxies. A galaxy’s disc is the area made up of its spiral arms, and the darker areas between them. After the galaxy’s central bulge, this is the densest part of a galaxy. However, these observations are made near the edge, where the star fields are noticeably less crowded. This lets us see glimpses through the galaxy into the distant background, where the more diffuse blobs of light are actually faraway galaxies.
The Andromeda Galaxy is revealed in unprecedented detail in four archive observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. They show stars and structure in the galaxy's disc, the halo of stars that surrounds it, and a stream of stars left by a companion galaxy as it was torn apart and pulled in by the galaxy's gravitational forces.

These four observations made by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys give a close up view of the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as Messier 31 (M 31). Observations of most galaxies do not show the individual stars - even the most powerful telescopes cannot normally resolve the cloudy white shapes into their hundreds of millions of constituent stars.

In the case of the Andromeda Galaxy, however, astronomers have a few tricks up their sleeves. Firstly, images from Hubble Space Telescope have unparalleled image quality as a result of the telescope's position above the atmosphere. Secondly, M 31 is closer to our own galaxy than any other spiral galaxy (so close that it can even be seen with the naked eye on a very dark night). And thirdly, these observations avoid the crowded centre of the galaxy, where the stars are closest together and hardest to separate from each other.

The resulting images offer a different perspective on a spiral galaxy. Far from being an opaque, dense object, Hubble reminds us that the dominant feature of a galaxy is the huge voids between its stars. Thus, these images do not only show stars in the Andromeda Galaxy (and a handful of bright Milky Way stars that are in the foreground): they also let us see right through the galaxy, revealing far more distant galaxies in the background.


US: Skull Found in Pearl Harbor Could Belong to Japanese Pilot

© Reuters
The U.S. Navy battleship USS West Virginia sinks after an attack by Japanese aircraft on the Hawaiian port of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
An excavation crew have unearthed a skull at the bottom of Pearl Harbor that archeologists suspect is from a Japanese pilot who died in the historic attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Archaeologist Jeff Fong of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific said the early analysis has made him "75 percent sure" that the skull belongs to a Japanese pilot.

The items found with the skull provided some clues to its origin: forks, scraps of metal and a Coca-Cola bottle from the 1940s.

Fifty-five Japanese airmen were killed and 29 of their aircraft were shot down in the attack, while some 2,400 US service members died. No Japanese remains have been found at Pearl Harbor since the Second World War.

Pearl Harbor is home to the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits on top of the battleship that sank during the attack. It still holds the bodies of more than 900 men.


Fast-Evolving Brains Helped Humans out of the Stone Age

© iStockphoto / lolloj
Prehistoric sensibilities?: Earlier evolutionary psychology suggested that changes in the human brain lagged behind changes in our environment, but the field itself has been undergoing some rapid evolution.

Just like our animal skin - clad ancestors, we gather food with zeal, lust over the most capable mates, and have an aversion to scammers. And we do still wear plenty of animal skins. But does more separate us from our Stone Age forebears than cartoonists and popular psychologists might have us believe?

At first blush, parsing the modern human in terms of behaviors apparently hardwired into the brain over eons of evolution seems like a tidy, straightforward exercise. And 30 years ago, when the field of evolutionary psychology was gaining steam, some facile parallels between ancient and modern behaviors lodged themselves in the popular conceptions of human evolution. "It's very easy to slip into a very simplistic view of human nature," says Robert Kurzban, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, citing the classic Flintstones stereotype.

Advances in neuroscience and genetics now suggest that the human brain has changed more rapidly - and in different ways - than was initially thought, according to a new paper published online July 19 in PLoS Biology.

"There's been a lot of recent evolution - far more than anyone envisioned in the 1980s when this idea came to prominence," says Kevin Laland, a professor at the University of Saint Andrew's School of Biology in Scotland and co-author of the new paper. He and his colleagues argue that today's better understanding of the pace of evolution, human adaptability and the way the mind works all suggest that, contrary to cartoon stereotypes, modern humans are not just primitive savages struggling to make psychological sense of an alien contemporary world.