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Sat, 01 Oct 2016
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Ice Cream Bar

Don't eat that! Researchers explore the 5 second rule

© Christin Lola / Fotolia
Turns out bacteria may transfer to candy that has fallen on the floor no matter how fast you pick it up.

Rutgers researchers have disproven the widely accepted notion that it's OK to scoop up food and eat it within a "safe" five-second window. Donald Schaffner, professor and extension specialist in food science, found that moisture, type of surface and contact time all contribute to cross-contamination. In some instances, the transfer begins in less than one second. Their findings appear online in the American Society for Microbiology's journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"The popular notion of the 'five-second rule' is that food dropped on the floor, but picked up quickly, is safe to eat because bacteria need time to transfer," Schaffner said, adding that while the pop culture "rule" has been featured by at least two TV programs, research in peer-reviewed journals is limited.


Move over Terminator: Russia rolls out Vikhr combat robot

© Sputnik/ Vasiliy Raksha
As self-sufficient combat systems gradually become more common and transition from the realm of sci-fi movies, Russia has unveiled the Vikhr robotic system which to a certain extent looks like the T1-8 from the film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

There is, however, a tangible difference: the Russian Vikhr already exists, unlike its fictional analogue, and was exhibited during the Army-2016 forum near Moscow. It was terrifying to see the robot's turret moving and aiming automatically - no tech-noir movie can hold a candle to it.

The 14.7-ton Vikhr is a scout-attack unit tasked with engaging ground and aerial targets, reinforcing operations, protecting strategic facilities and decreasing human losses. "This is a robotic system. It means, it can be either controlled by an operator or accomplish certain tasks autonomously. For example, it can reach a set destination without any human control and avoid obstacles on its own," Dmitry Bogdanov, deputy CEO at the Sevastopol-based Impulse-2 Scientific and Technical Center, told Sputnik.

Evil Rays

Scientist Henry Lai makes waves in the cell phone industry

A greeting card on bioengineering professor Henry Lai's office wall at the University of Washington contains this quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

This philosophy could well sum up Lai's work on the effects of low-level radiation on DNA, as well as what he believes should be the guiding principle of science: independent investigation and research leading to discovery for the public good. Yet the soft-spoken scientist's steadfast belief in that principle has placed his research at the center of a persistent global controversy and created powerful enemies that tried to get him fired and essentially succeeded in drying up the source of funding for the type of research he was doing.

Lai admits that he was naive. He came to the UW in 1972 and earned a doctorate in psychology. Two decades later, as a bioengineering researcher, he studied esoteric scientific topics in relative obscurity. He and a fellow researcher, Narendra "N.P." Singh, were looking at the effects of nonionizing microwave radiation—the same type of radiation emitted by cell phones—on the DNA of rats. They used a level of radiation considered safe by government standards and found that the DNA in the brain cells of the rats was damaged—or broken—by exposure to the radiation. Ironically, cell phones weren't even on Lai's mind when he performed the initial studies. Funded initially by the Office of Naval Research, Lai was investigating how radar, which emits radio-frequency radiation, affects the health of operators. "We did not really pay attention to the importance of this thing," he recalls. But during his research, cell phone giant Motorola Inc. indicated that someone had told the company about Lai's unpublished results. Motorola asked to meet with him in his lab and at a meeting in Copenhagen.


Toxic magnetic nanoparticles from air pollution have been found in human brains

Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been found embedded in people's brain tissue for the first time, and research has tentatively linked these particles to a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.

The particles were already known to be present in our brains, but researchers had assumed our bodies naturally produced them. Now a small study by UK researchers has found that they're the direct result of polluted air.

"This is a discovery finding, and now what should start is a whole new examination of this as a potentially very important environmental risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," one of the team, Barbara Maher from Lancaster University, told Damian Carrington at The Guardian.

"Now there is a reason to go on and do the epidemiology and the toxicity testing, because these particles are so prolific and people are exposed to them."

Maher and her team examined brain tissue from 37 people in Manchester, England, and Mexico City, aged between 3 years old and 92. Each of them contained particles of a type of iron oxide called magnetite, and not just traces of them - they were abundant.

"You are talking about millions of magnetite particles per gram of freeze-dried brain tissue - it is extraordinary," says Maher.

Comment: Research has shown that air pollution kills more people every year than Aids and malaria combined, and is associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular disease; respiratory illnesses, and cancer, among numerous other health issues:


Synesthesia: When Tuesday is the color red

© Vassily Kandinsky
There’s growing evidence that synesthesia could be more common than we think, and it’s my theory that everyone has some small form of synesthesia. For example, when most people hear nails on a chalkboard they involuntarily cringe.
When I told my doctor that the sight of a starfish tastes like copper she sat across from me in silence, waiting for the punchline.

"I'm dead serious." I laughed. "It tastes like a penny in my mouth."



SpaceX rocket exploded BEFORE it was powered up - 3rd party interference not ruled out says Elon Musk

© SpaceX
Conspiracy theorists claim SpaceX was 'attacked'
  • Musk tweeted on Friday asking for 'support and advice' on the blast
  • SpaceX CEO said engines were off at the time, with no known heat source
  • The September 1 blast destroyed Facebooks $200 million satellite
  • Some have claimed footage shows a drone, or even UFO, hitting rocket

Arrow Up

New flatworm parasite named after Obama

© Journal of Parasitology
The 2-inch long creature is approximately 30 to 50 times longer than it is wide and has “post-cecal terminal genitalia.” |
A new species of parasitic flatworm infecting turtles in Malaysia was named after outgoing US President Barack Obama. The scientist who discovered the worm says he has already named a number of species after people he "admires."

Baracktrema obamai was discovered in two species of freshwater turtles, the black marsh turtle (Siebenrockiella crassicollis) and the southeast Asian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis).

The worm is so unusual that the research team proposed giving it not only its own species, but also a new genus, which is the first time it has been proposed for this group of turtle parasites in 21 years.

The new species is believed to be the ancestor of the flatworms, commonly called blood flukes, that cause the deadly disease schistosomiasis.

Scientists discovered clusters of the parasite eggs in small vessels of turtle lungs, although how exactly they get outside to hatch is yet to be discovered.

The newly-discovered species was found by Thomas R. Platt, who spent decades studying turtle viruses before retiring recently from St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana. He said he was inspired to name the worm after President Obama when he discovered that he and the US head of state were distant relatives.

"I have named a number of species after people I admire, from my father-in-law, my Ph.D. adviser, and good friends who are academics and/or amateur naturalists," Platt said. "Baracktrema obamai will endure as long as there are systematists studying these remarkable organisms."

A paper describing the new discovery was published in the Journal of Parasitology.

President Obama has seven other species named after him, including another parasite, a trapdoor spider, an extinct insect-eating lizard and a fish.


Large earthquakes can trigger aftershocks on separate faults within moments causing greater damage

A large earthquake on one fault can trigger large aftershocks on separate faults within just a few minutes, scientists have found. The town of Pescara del Tronto was one of the worst hit with buildings flattened (pictured) by the magnitude 6.2 earthquake that occurred last month
It is well known that earthquakes can cause widespread destruction to buildings and settlements close to the fault lines they occur on.

But according to a new study, the damage can be spread far further by triggering a tidal wave of aftershocks on other faults elsewhere.

A large earthquake on one fault can trigger large aftershocks on separate faults within just a few seconds, scientists discovered.

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego discovered previously unidentified aftershocks that happened within minutes of big earthquakes.

The discovery is important for the safety of earthquake-prone regions like California - where ruptures on complex fault systems like the San Andreas fault may lead to mega-earthquakes.

In the study, published in the journal Science, geophysicist Professor Peter Shearer and graduate student Wenyuan Fan discovered 48 previously unidentified large aftershocks that occurred between 2004 and 2015.

In one instance along the Sundra arc subduction zone, where the magnitude 9 Sumatra-Andaman mega-earthquake occurred off the coast of Indonesia in 2004 (aftermath pictured), a magnitude 7 quake triggered two large aftershocks over 124 miles (200 kilometres) away


The case against trust in Big Data: 'It's like you're being put into a cult, but you don't actually believe in it'

© Adam Morganstern
Cathy O'Niel
If you've ever suspected there was something baleful about our deep trust in data, but lacked the mathematical skills to figure out exactly what it was, this is the book for you: Cathy O'Neil's "Weapons of Math Destruction" examines college admissions, criminal justice, hiring, getting credit, and other major categories. The book demonstrates how the biases written into algorithms distort society and people's lives.

But the book, subtitled "How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy," is also a personal story of someone who fell for math and data at an early age, but became harshly disillusioned. As she looked more deeply, she came to see how unjust and unregulated the formulas that govern our lives really are. Though the book mostly concerns algorithms and models, it's rarely dry.

We spoke to O'Neil, a data scientist, blogger, and former Wall Street quant, from New York City. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

So let's start from the beginning. You were attracted to math as a kid, and you later became a quant. What drew you to to data, and what did seem to promise when you were first becoming fascinated by it?

Well, I was drawn to mathematics because it seemed to me so clean, so true. So honest, like people who are examining their assumptions are being extremely careful with their reasoning. It's purely logical. And I had this extremely idealistic naive approach to leaving academic math and going into finance. I had this idea that we could bring this kind of true, pure logic into the real world. And I entered in 2007, just in the nick of time to get a front-row seat to the financial crisis.

Cell Phone

Driving or talking? The brain concentrates on one thing at a time

© sergeizubkov64 / Fotolia
Think you can text and drive just fine? New research confirms that our brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time.
When we are busy with something that requires the use of sight, the brain reduces hearing to make it easy for us. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by researchers from Linköping University in collaboration with others. The results give researchers a deeper understanding of what happens in the brain when we concentrate on something.

"The brain is really clever, and helps us to concentrate on what we need to do. At the same time, it screens out distractions that are extraneous to the task. But the brain can't cope with too many tasks: only one sense at a time can perform at its peak. This is why it's not a good idea to talk on the phone while driving," says Jerker Rönnberg of Linköping University, professor of psychology with a focus on disability research.

Comment: Our big brain still prefers to do one thing at a time
Americans admit to dangerous distractions while driving
Research: Brain can't cope with making a left-hand turn and talking on hands-free cell phone