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Fri, 21 Jul 2017
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Science & Technology


The Rhythm of Our Star

© Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias
An image taken at dusk with TON (Taiwan oscillations of networks). The profile of the house is real.
When we look at the Sun we cannot penetrate beyond its outer surface, the photosphere, which emits the photons that make up the radiation we can see. So how can we find out what is inside it?

Imagine a metal box. If it is a long way from us we cannot tell whether it is full or empty. Yet if we can tap it, the sound that we hear will tell us about its contents: it will be deeper if the box is full, and hollow-sounding if not. The human brain can tell one substance from another, and gain information about what it is, from the sound it makes.

Seismology works in a similar way: the way that waves travel through the interior of an object tells us about its structure. The "signature" of sound waves as they travel through a particular type of material is unique, and it changes as the material changes. This makes it easy to tell whether a sound is travelling through air or water, for example. The science of Seismology is not earthbound -- it has travelled to the stars. The methods it uses to gather information about stars are basically the same as they are on Earth. The first sound to be heard was the "song" of the Sun, because it is near to us and therefore easy to observe. That is how Helioseismology was born.


Dig Finds Medieval Monk was Living It Up in Kilkenny 'Pad'

© Dylan Vaughan
Archaeologist Coilin O'Drisceoil holds up a monk's belt buckle discovered in a 14th-century primitive garderobe toilet during excavations at Rothe House in Kilkenny.
Archaeologists in Kilkenny have discovered new evidence of the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by a medieval Irish monk.

This was unearthed recently during ongoing excavations that prove at least some senior clergy feasted on roast swan, T-bone steaks and imported fine French wines. This, despite their public image as men who professed poverty and who were supposed to be devoted to "the simple life".

A 14th-century toilet, known as a "garderobe", was also excavated.


3-D, Interactive Board Games Will Come to Life

© Michael Rooke/Roel Vertegaal
Interactive tiles could form the basis for futurisitic board games.
Get ready to give the gaming console or computer a break, because the future of board games may transform static 2-D cardboard into interactive tile-based displays that mimic the action of video games.

Canadian researchers built a prototype whereby simply touching tiles together or "pouring" the contents of a tile onto another could make virtual villages rise up from the ground or soldiers swarm off a ship to do battle.

Such interactive board games could encourage families to get "back together in a sociable environment rather than each being separated in space by displays and tech," said Roel Vertegaal, a computer scientist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario who headed the effort.


Digging deep into diamonds, applied physicists advance quantum science and technology

© Illustrated by Jay Penni.
A diamond-based nanowire device. Researchers used a top-down nanofabrication technique to embed color centers into a variety of machined structures. By creating large device arrays rather than just "one-of-a-kind" designs, the realization of quantum networks and systems, which require the integration and manipulation of many devices in parallel, is more likely.
Cambridge, Massachusetts -- By creating diamond-based nanowire devices, a team at Harvard has taken another step towards making applications based on quantum science and technology possible.

The new device offers a bright, stable source of single photons at room temperature, an essential element in making fast and secure computing with light practical.

The finding could lead to a new class of nanostructured diamond devices suitable for quantum communication and computing, as well as advance areas ranging from biological and chemical sensing to scientific imaging.


Brain-controlled cursor doubles as a neural workout

Harnessing brain signals to control keyboards, robots or prosthetic devices is an active area of medical research. Now a rare peek at a human brain hooked up to a computer shows that the two can adapt to each other quickly, and possibly to the brain's benefit.

Researchers at the University of Washington looked at signals on the brain's surface while using imagined movements to control a cursor. The results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that watching a cursor respond to one's thoughts prompts brain signals to become stronger than those generated in day-to-day life.


Suspended Animation Coming to Life

Lab mice. A gas proven deadly in chemical weapons could one day be used to put people into life-saving suspended animation.
Long Beach, California - A gas proven deadly in chemical weapons could one day be used to put people into life-saving suspended animation.

While hydrogen sulfide is toxic in large doses, small amounts of the gas have the potential to make animals appear dead for a while then allow them to wake up unharmed, according to biochemist Mark Roth.

"I think we are on the path of understanding metabolic flexibility in a significant way," said Roth, whose work at an eponymous lab in Washington State has gotten funding from a research arm of the US Department of Defense.

"In the future an emergency medical technician might give hydrogen sulfide to someone suffering serious injuries and they might become a little more immortal giving them time to get the care they need."


The Academic-Motherhood Handicap

One afternoon in the spring of 2005, after coming up dry in my second year of pursuing a tenure-track position, I typed the following words into Google: "female academic second child effect career." My firstborn was about to turn 2, I wanted him to have a sibling, and I needed guidance on this choice.

What Google made clear: Having children can devastate the career prospects of female academics, but the academic profession seems remarkably complacent about this handicap.

Although some research universities have instituted important family-friendly initiatives (which are economically out of reach for the majority of colleges and universities, especially now), even the most well-endowed universities practice hiring and promotion policies that actively - yet not deliberately - discriminate against academic mothers. Should the best-educated people on the planet simply accept unequal career prospects that clash with academics' own stated values of fairness?


Scientists Freeze Water With Heat

Imagine water freezing solid even as it's heating up. Such are the bizarre tricks scientists now find water is capable of.

Popular belief contends that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). Surprisingly, if water lies in a smooth bottle and is free of any dust, it can stay liquid down to minus 40 degrees F (minus 40 degrees C) in what's called "supercooled" form. The dust and rough surfaces that water is normally found in contact with in nature can serve as the kernels around which ice crystals form.

Now researcher Igor Lubomirsky at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues have discovered another way to control the freezing point of water - via what are called quasi-amorphous pyroelectric thin films. These surfaces change their electrical charge depending on their temperature.

When pyroelectic surfaces are positively charged, water becomes easier to freeze, and when they have a negative charge, it becomes harder to freeze.


Study Maps Effects of Acupuncture on the Brain

© iStockphoto
When a patient receives acupuncture treatment, a sensation called deqi can be obtained; scientific analysis shows that this deactivates areas within the brain that are associated with the processing of pain.
Important new research about the effects of acupuncture on the brain may provide an understanding of the complex mechanisms of acupuncture and could lead to a wider acceptability of the treatment.

The study, by researchers at the University of York and the Hull York Medical School published in Brain Research, indicates that acupuncture has a significant effect on specific neural structures. When a patient receives acupuncture treatment, a sensation called deqi can be obtained; scientific analysis shows that this deactivates areas within the brain that are associated with the processing of pain.

Dr Hugh MacPherson, of the Complementary Medicine Research Group in the University's Department of Health Sciences, says: "These results provide objective scientific evidence that acupuncture has specific effects within the brain which hopefully will lead to a better understanding of how acupuncture works."

Better Earth

New Picture of Ancient Ocean Chemistry Argues for Chemically Layered Water

© Chao Li/UC Riverside
The Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation and overlying Dengying Formation crop out in the background above the Yangtze River near Yichang city and the Three Gorges Dam, Hubei Province, China.
A research team led by biogeochemists at the University of California, Riverside has developed a detailed and dynamic three-dimensional model of Earth's early ocean chemistry that can significantly advance our understanding of how early animal life evolved on the planet.

Working on rock samples from the Doushantuo Formation of South China, one of the oldest fossil beds and long viewed by paleontologists to be a window to early animal evolution, the research team is the first to show that Earth's early ocean chemistry during a large portion of the Ediacaran Period (635-551 million years ago) was far more complex than previously imagined.

Their work is the first comprehensive geochemical study of the Doushantuo Formation to investigate the structure of the ocean going from shallow to deep water environments. It is also one of the most comprehensive studies for any Precambrian interval. (The Precambrian refers to a stretch of time spanning from the inception of the Earth approximately 4.5 billion years ago to about 540 million years ago. It was in the Precambrian when the first single-celled microbes evolved 3.5 billion years ago or earlier, followed by the first multicellular animals much later, around 700 million years ago.)