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Tue, 25 Oct 2016
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Science & Technology


9th grader invents device to save children left in hot cars

© Mohammed Makboul
Sara Makboul works on her project in her home in Acworth, Ga.
In June 2014, Justin Ross Harris, then 33, left his 22-month-old son in the car during the workday. After he was charged with murder, the Georgia father's story became one of the most notorious cases highlighting a parent's worst nightmare: forgetting to take a child out of the backseat.

Even if Harris is found innocent, he isn't the only parent who will have to live with knowing his son would still be alive had Harris been more cognizant that day. About 37 children die annually of heatstroke after being left in a car - and the number has already climbed to 35 this year, according to the advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.

A ninth-grader from Acworth, Georgia, wants to ensure that other children won't become part of these statistics.

Sara Makboul, an outgoing, 15-year-old finalist in this year's Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, has created a system that could save an infant or child if he or she is left alone in a sweltering car.

Other people, including many young scientists, are trying to solve the same problem as Makboul, but they haven't been very successful, she tells U.S. News. "I realized after my research that people were not actually using [these scientists' inventions] and they weren't actually working."


Vitamin B12 deficiency can now be detected with an optical sensor

Australian researchers have developed a world-first optical sensor that can detect vitamin B12 in diluted human blood -- something they believe is a first step towards a low-cost and portable, vitamin B12 deficiency test.

Previous reviews have concluded that people following a vegan diet may require additional vitamin B12 supplementation to reduce an excess risk of heart disease. Now there's a test that may help.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and such a device would enable the tracking of vitamin B12 levels in high-risk patients and early intervention.

It is hoped this will help overcome the limitations of current testing methods which the researchers believe are time-consuming and costly.

The research, developed by academics at the University of Adelaide, uses biophotonics - optical technologies - to analyse and measure biological material.


Most of our history is 'the history of stupidity': Stephen Hawking lectures about artificial intelligence

© Martin Hoscik/Shutterstock
Stephen Hawking
In a lecture at the University of Cambridge this week, Stephen Hawking made the bold claim that the creation of artificial intelligence will be "either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity".

The talk was celebrating the opening of the new Leverhulme Centre of the Future of Intelligence, where some of the best minds in science will try to answer questions about the future of robots and artificial intelligence - something Hawking says we need to do a lot more of.

"We spend a great deal of time studying history," Hawking told the lecture, "which, let's face it, is mostly the history of stupidity."

But despite all our time spent looking back at past errors, we seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.

"So it's a welcome change that people are studying instead the future of intelligence," he explained.


Scientists discover genetic roots of schizophrenia

UCLA scientists have made a major advance in understanding the biology of schizophrenia.

Using a recently developed technology for analyzing DNA, the scientists found dozens of genes and two major biological pathways that are likely involved in the development of the disorder but had not been uncovered in previous genetic studies of schizophrenia. The work provides important new information about how schizophrenia originates and points the way to more detailed studies -- and possibly better treatments in the future.

Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling mental illness whose symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions and cognitive problems. The illness afflicts about 1 percent of the human population -- more than 50 million people worldwide. Because the causes of schizophrenia are poorly understood, current medications can help diminish the symptoms but do not cure the disorder.

The study, which is published online in the journal Nature, is likely to have an impact beyond schizophrenia research because it demonstrates a general and potentially powerful new strategy for illuminating the mechanisms of human disease.

Comment: Separate from the genetic causes of schizophrenia, there is much research to suggest that certain types of diet and supplementation could very well help ameliorate its effects now: And then there's vitamin B3.


Shenzhou-11 spacecraft delivers two astronauts to China's prototype 'space station'

© Reuters
The Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong successfully docked at the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab early on Wednesday, 19 October
The manned spacecraft launched by China on Monday (17 October) morning from the Gobi desert has successfully completed its docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab early on Wednesday, 19 October. The two astronauts on board the Shenzhou-11 monitored and reported the automated docking operation.

The Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) said the spacecraft began to approach the Tiangong-2 space lab automatically at 1.11am Beijing time on Wednesday (6.11pm BST on Tuesday) and made contact with the space lab at 3.24am. The spacecraft docked at 3.31am, the centre added.

Comment: 'Made in China' is not what it used to mean!

Just one month after getting the lab into orbit, they're sending astronauts there. And by 2023, China could have its own space station. What takes others decades, China seems capable of doing in just years.


Fossil fuels get a boost: Scientists accidentally convert CO2 into ethanol

© AP Photo/ Martin Meissner
Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a technology that turns carbon dioxide into ethanol, according to a study published in the Chemistry Select journal in September.

The discovery was made during an electrochemical process of reversing combustion, using copper and carbon nanospikes. The scientists were attempting to turn carbon dioxide, a waste byproduct of burning fossil fuels, into an organic element, when they realized that the first step of the experiment did the entire job. "We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked," said ORNL's Adam Rondinone, lead author of the study. "We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own."


Stephen Hawking's warning: Robots could be humanity's worst thing ever

© adebayobamitale.com
Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be the worst thing to ever happen to humanity, acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking has warned. The Cambridge University professor predicts robots could develop "powerful autonomous weapons" or new methods to "oppress the many."

His chilling prophecy was made on Wednesday at the launch of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), which has been created to monitor the implications of rapidly developing AI. "I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer," Hawking said. "It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence - and exceed it."

Hawking warned AI "could develop a will of its own - a will that is in conflict with ours. The rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity."

Last week, Parliament's Science & Technology Committee warned the government is not prepared for the arrival of robots, which will "fundamentally" change people's lives. AI such as driverless cars and supercomputers that can help doctors with medical diagnoses will soon be the norm, the committee said. MPs warned the government does not have a strategy in place for developing new skills to help workers succeed in a world with greater reliance on AI.

Earlier this month scientist's at Google's DeepMind division announced they have developed an AI computer program that uses basic reasoning to learn complex systems, such as the London Underground. The advancement could mark a major breakthrough in the development of AI, as the "differentiable neural computer" (DNC) can solve problems without any prior knowledge.


Our Neanderthal DNA might actually be doing us some good!

© Martin Meissner/AP
Reconstructions of a Neanderthal man, left, and woman at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany.
Most human genomes harbor small fragments of Neanderthal DNA, the legacy of prehistoric hanky-panky between our ancestors and their hominid cousins.

For the most part, that inheritance has been detrimental. Research suggests that as much as 10 percent of the human genome was inherited from archaic hominids other than Homo sapiens, but the majority of that material was weeded out by tens of thousands of years of natural selection. The DNA that does remain has been blamed for increasing risk of depression, Type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, lupus, allergies,addiction and more.

But geneticists Fernando Racimo, Davide Marnetto and Emilia Huerta-Sanchez wanted to find evidence that our archaic inheritance actually does us some good. They went looking for instances of adaptive introgression — a phenomenon in which a newly introduced piece of genetic material is so beneficial that it quickly radiates out into the entire population.


New fault connections in San Francisco Bay area, massive destruction looms ahead

© Robert Galbraith / Reuters
Warnings from beneath California are getting grimmer with each passing geological study. A previously unseen fault line has been spotted, doubling the length of existing faults and threatening an even more colossal quake.

The next 'Big One,' an earthquake of magnitude 7.0+, is generally expected in the US along the San Andreas line. Many geologists agree that the fault has reached such a level of stress that the new massive quake is a matter of when, not if. In June, large-scale motion was detected along the fault line, creating further panic in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the new phantom danger lies in the Bay Area, along two merged faults running parallel to San Andreas.

Upping the ante this week was the troubling discovery of a hidden 'bridge' between two volatile fault zones - Rodgers Creek and the Hayward fault - outlined on Thursday in the journal Science Advances. Together they stretch 115 miles (185km), from wine country in the northwest, down to Oakland, terminating just north of San Jose. They pose a big enough danger when unconnected. But this newly discovered connection effectively means they're a single fault now. This threatens to produce a 'rubber-band effect' twice the magnitude when the fault eventually ruptures.

"Because the longer a fault stretches, the bigger the earthquake it can produce. And here we've just doubled the length of this fault," explains David Ponce, a geologist with the research group, speaking to Popular Mechanics. According to Ponce, the combined fault zones "constitute one of the most dangerous earthquake risks in the nation."

Comment: For more information, see also:

2 + 2 = 4

Unusual cluster of gigantism in Ireland traced to ancient gene

© fujji / Shutterstock.com

Mid-Ulster in Northern Ireland is home to the highest proportion of people with gigantism than any other place on Earth, scientists say.
The land of giants. It sounds like something from a fairy tale, but it arguably exists in a region of Northern Ireland where a cluster of people with a genetic predisposition grow abnormally tall.

In Mid-Ulster, about 1 in 150 people carry a genetic mutation to the AIP gene that leads to an overproduction of growth hormone resulting in acromegaly, also known as gigantism. The hormone disorder is spurred by a tumor on the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ at the base of the brain.

Comment: Standing tall: The 1,500-year-old mutant giant gene that is still causing excessive growth in Northern Ireland