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Sat, 25 Mar 2017
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Tiny satellite with miniature laboratory helps scientists carry out remote experiments in space

© Amir Cohen / Reuters
Israeli-Swiss company SpacePharma's miniature laboratory is seen at their research and development site in Herzliya, Israel
Orbiting the earth at more than 500 kilometres (300 miles), a tiny satellite with a laboratory shrunk to the size of a tissue box is helping scientists carry out experiments that take gravity out of the equation.

The technology was launched into space last month by SpacePharma, a Swiss-Israeli company, which on Thursday announced that its first experiments have been completed successfully.

In space, with hardly any interference from earth's gravity, cells and molecules behave differently, helping researchers make discoveries in fields from medicine to agriculture.

Nestle turned to zero gravity - or what scientists refer to as microgravity - to perfect the foam in its chocolate mousse and coffee, while drugmakers like Eli Lilly have used it to improve drug designs.

Evil Rays

Mind-controlled cats?! Incredible spy technologies that are real

© Stokkete/Shutterstock
Bond, James Bond

Killer umbrellas, stick-on fingerprints and lock-picking cellphones — James Bond and his nemeses certainly used their share of bizarre spy gadgets over the years.

But many of the most far-out devices seen in old movies have been made obsolete by incredible leaps in today's consumer technology, said Vince Houghton, a historian and curator at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

"A modern smartphone does more than most people could do 10 years ago on 10 different things," Houghton told Live Science.

For instance, nowadays, "wires," like those used to catch mobsters plotting on tape, are now entirely wireless, and they're so tiny that they can be concealed in earrings, buttons and even patches under the skin, Houghton said.

And although most of today's cutting-edge spy technology is classified, knowledge of a few bizarre techniques does get leaked. From eavesdropping techniques to programmed kitties, here are some of the most incredible real-world spy technologies.


Clean meat? Memphis Meats serves up chicken produced from cells in lab

© Quartz
To lure people put off by the freakiness of lab-made meat, the industry wants to call it "clean food"
'Clean meat' developers say it avoids towering costs of feeding, caring for livestock; Tyson Foods takes note

A Bay Area food-technology startup says it has created the world's first chicken strips grown from self-reproducing cells without so much as ruffling a feather.

And the product pretty much tastes like chicken, according to people who were offered samples Tuesday in San Francisco, before Memphis Meats Inc.'s formal unveiling on Wednesday.

Scientists, startups and animal-welfare activists believe the new product could help to revolutionize the roughly $200 billion U.S. meat industry. Their goal: Replace billions of cattle, hogs and chickens with animal meat they say can be grown more efficiently and humanely in stainless-steel bioreactor tanks.

Comment: Inside the meat lab: The future of food


Spiders eat astronomical numbers of insects keeping countless pests and disease-carriers at bay

© David E. Hill, Peckham Society, Simpsonville, South Carolina
A jumping spider Phidippus regius preying on a bush cricket (Tettigoniidae). There are some 45,000 known spider species, all of them meat-eating.
The world's spiders eat 400-800 million tonnes of insects every year -- equivalent to the amount of meat and fish that humans consume over the same period, a study said Tuesday.

In the first analysis of its kind, researchers used data from 65 previous studies to estimate that a total of 25 million metric tonnes of spiders exist on Earth.

Taking into account how much food spiders need to survive, the team then calculated the eight-legged creatures' annual haul of insects and other invertebrates.

"Our estimates... suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons," they wrote in the journal The Science of Nature.

This showed just how big a role spiders play in keeping pests and disease-carriers at bay -- especially in forests and grasslands where most of them live.

Comment: Scientist have discovered only one species of spider that feeds predominantly on plant food - the Bagheera kiplingi, a small Central American jumping spider that survives mostly on bits of acacia trees.


Conducting the Milgram experiment in Poland, psychologists show people still obey

© Andrey Kuzmin / Fotolia
The Milgram experiment tested people's willingness to deliverer electric shocks to another person when encouraged by an experimenter. While no shocks were actually delivered in any of the experiments, the participants believed them to be real.
The title is direct, "Would you deliver an electric shock in 2015?" and the answer, according to the results of this replication study, is yes. Social psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland replicated a modern version of the Milgram experiment and found results similar to studies conducted 50 years earlier.

The research appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.



Starquakes: Surprises revealed about the birth of stars in our galaxy

© phys.org
Study shows star alignments for the angle of spin.
A study of the internal sound waves created by starquakes, which make stars ring like a bell, has provided unprecedented insights into conditions in the turbulent gas clouds where stars were born 8 billion years ago.

The spins of about 70% of the red giant stars observed in the clusters were strongly aligned in a study by researchers including Dr Dennis Stello. Astronomers used this asteroseismology approach to work out the orientation of the angle of spin of 48 stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

"The results were unexpected," says study team member UNSW's Dr Dennis Stello. "We found that the spins of most of the stars were aligned with each other. Previously it had been assumed that massive turbulence would have scrambled the rotational energy of the clouds where the stars were born, and prevented this alignment.

Comment: See also:

Cell Phone

Researchers show how to hack a smartphone using sound waves

© Joseph Xu/University of Michigan
Kevin Fu and other researchers have found a way to take control of or influence devices using a standard component in cellphones and other gadgets
A security loophole that would allow someone to add extra steps to the counter on your Fitbit monitor might seem harmless. But researchers say it points to the broader risks that come with technology's embedding into the nooks of our lives.

On Tuesday, a group of computer security researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of South Carolina will demonstrate that they have found a vulnerability that allows them to take control of or surreptitiously influence devices through the tiny accelerometers that are standard components in consumer products like smartphones, fitness monitors and even automobiles.

In their paper, the researchers describe how they added fake steps to a Fitbit fitness monitor and played a "malicious" music file from the speaker of a smartphone to control the phone's accelerometer. That allowed them to interfere with software that relies on the smartphone, like an app used to pilot a radio-controlled toy car.

"It's like the opera singer who hits the note to break a wine glass, only in our case, we can spell out words" and enter commands rather than just shut down the phone, said Kevin Fu, an author of the paper, who is also an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan and the chief executive of Virta Labs, a company that focuses on cybersecurity in health care. "You can think of it as a musical virus."


3D Images provide first look at how DNA shapes itself inside cells

© University of Cambridge
For the first time, scientists have been able to model the physical structure of mammalian genomes from individual cells, giving us a unique 3D perspective on how DNA packages itself inside our cells.

Through the new technique, scientists can see how the arrangement of cell chromosomes (DNA strands) are designed to keep some cells active or inactive at any one time.

The procedure, which so far has been conducted on mice cells, could help us understand more about how animals grow, as well as how cell malfunction can lead to disease.

"Knowing where all the genes and control elements are at a given moment will help us understand the molecular mechanisms that control and maintain their expression," says one of the researchers, Ernest Laue from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

Cell Phone

Swedish App may mean an end to physical contraception methods

© Natural Cycles App
The "fertility awareness" contraceptive method - timing unprotected sex to coincide with less fertile portions of a menstrual cycle - is an enduring means of avoiding pregnancy, although far from effective. Now, a Swedish startup claims it has created an app to help men and women "perfect" the process, greatly increasing its preventative efficacy.

While reliable data on its modern usage is unforthcoming, it's safe to say women counting the days in between periods and avoiding sex when they're most fertile is a fairly well-known family planning method.

Ova (female eggs) only live for about a day, meaning if someone has sex after one expires and before another is created, they will not get pregnant. However, if someone has sex before they ovulate, they can get pregnant, as sperm can stay alive in a uterus for around a week.


NASA's Cassini detects heat of ocean on Saturn moon Enceladus

© NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Bluish "tiger stripe" fractures can be seen ripping across Enceladus' south polar region.
Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed evidence of heat close to the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The latest discovery shows the moon as being warmer than expected with an ocean of water closer to the surface than previously believed.

The excessive heat is prominent in fractures in the moon's south pole, known as "tiger stripes," dormant venting fractures as seen in an image of the planet taken by Cassini. A study published in the journal Nature of microwave radiometry observations by Cassini of the stripes revealed a heating in temperature a few meters below the surface.

The results indicate an ocean of liquid water believed to be beneath Enceladus' surface may be at a depth of a mere couple of miles, closer than previously believed.