Archive | Science

Is String Theory About to Unravel?

trailfan (CC BY 2.0)

trailfan (CC BY 2.0)

via Smithsonian:

In October 1984 I arrived at Oxford University, trailing a large steamer trunk containing a couple of changes of clothing and about five dozen textbooks. I had a freshly minted bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard, and I was raring to launch into graduate study. But within a couple of weeks, the more advanced students had sucked the wind from my sails. Change fields now while you still can, many said. There’s nothing happening in fundamental physics.

Then, just a couple of months later, the prestigious (if tamely titled) journal Physics Letters B published an article that ignited the first superstring revolution, a sweeping movement that inspired thousands of physicists worldwide to drop their research in progress and chase Einstein’s long-sought dream of a unified theory. The field was young, the terrain fertile and the atmosphere electric. The only thing I needed to drop was a neophyte’s inhibition to run with the world’s leading physicists.

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NASA Rover Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

The first definitive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, "Cumberland." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The first definitive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, “Cumberland.” Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

via Nasa from December 16:

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere.

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Is This a Dream? The Hitchhikers’ Guide to Lucid Dreaming

via Good Times Weekly:

A beginner’s guide to understanding and exploring the uncanny world of lucid dreams.

“Are you dreaming right now?” asks science writer and dream researcher David Jay Brown. We are sitting in the ivy-draped courtyard of Laili, next to a babbling fountain and a rowdy dinner party of 10.

“No!” I say, sure of the answer to such an absurd question.

“But how do you know?” he asks.

“I just know.”

“Well, have you tested it?” He picks up a fork and taps the wall. In a dream, maybe the tines would bend, he says. In a dream, the words on the menu would scramble the minute you looked away and looked back again. And if you plugged your nose and breathed out, you’d feel the air leaving your nostrils, even though they were plugged.

“Nope, not dreaming,” I say, through a pinched nose. But there’s an epiphany scratching around inside his point: even when fork tines bend with no effort and landscapes transform at the mere suggestion of thought, we accept what we’re experiencing in a dream as real.

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Double amputee controls two robotic arms with his mind

via Engadget:

Here’s one other DARPA-funded robotic limb controlled by thoughts alone — actually make that two, because Colorado man Les Baugh had two bionic arms attached from shoulder level. Baugh got them this summer, 40 years after losing both arms, as part of aRevolutionizing Prosthetics Program test run at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The project’s researchers have been developing these Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPL) over the past decade, but they say Baugh is the “first bilateral shoulder-level amputee” to wear two MPLs at the same time. Unlike Jan Scheuermann who controlled a robotic arm with a pair of neural implants, though, Baugh had to undergo a procedure called targeted muscle reinnervation, which reassigned the nerves that once controlled his arms and hands.

Read More: http://www.engadget.com/2014/12/18/double-amputee-mind-controlled-robot-arms

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Remarkable Stories of Humans Who Hibernated

Shane Gorski (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Shane Gorski (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Mysterious Universe:

In the winter of 1981, teenager Jean Hilliard was on her way home at around midnight when the family car she was driving ran off the road near Lengby, Minnesota. Unable to free the vehicle, she made the dangerous decision to leave the car on foot, and attempt to walk to the nearby home of her friend, Wally Nelson.

Hilliard trudged along in the snow, her cowboy boots slipping occasionally and slowing her progress. She began to grow tired, and was nearly to the point of collapsing by the time she could see the shape of Wally’s home off in the distance.

Whether or not Hilliard could make it or not in those final moments may have been far from her mind, but there in the frigid early morning hours, she collapsed into the snow, only 15 feet from Nelson’s front door.

The following morning, Wally was leaving his home at approximately 7 am when he saw Hilliard’s body in the snow.

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These 10 companies make a lot of the food we buy. Here’s how we made them better.

Behind-the-brands-illusion-of-choice-graphic-2048x1351

via OxFam America:

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s true: There really are 10 companies that control most of the food and drinks you’ll find in the grocery store. Between them, these giants—whose revenues add up to more than a billion dollars a day—own hundreds of common brands, from Cheerios to Ben & Jerry’s, Odwalla to Tropicana. (See the infographic above to learn more.)

So why should these huge companies care about doing business responsibly? First, because their global operations touch countless lives. “These corporations are so powerful that their policies can have a major impact on the diets and working conditions of people worldwide, as well as on the environment,” wrote Alexander E.M. Hess in USA Today.

Second, because shoppers these days think about factors like fairness and sustainability—and we’re increasingly (and successfully) demanding that the brands we buy do the same. These food companies may be big, but no company is too big to listen to its customers.

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2 Futures Can Explain Time’s Mysterious Past

In the evolution of cosmic structure, is entropy or gravity the more dominant force? The answer to this question has deep implications for the universe's future, as well as its past.  Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team

In the evolution of cosmic structure, is entropy or gravity the more dominant force? The answer to this question has deep implications for the universe’s future, as well as its past.
Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team

via Scientific American:

Physicists have a problem with time.

Whether through Newton’s gravitation, Maxwell’s electrodynamics, Einstein’s special and general relativity or quantum mechanics, all the equations that best describe our universe work perfectly if time flows forward or backward.

Of course the world we experience is entirely different. The universe is expanding, not contracting. Stars emit light rather than absorb it, and radioactive atoms decay rather than reassemble. Omelets don’t transform back to unbroken eggs and cigarettes never coalesce from smoke and ashes. We remember the past, not the future, and we grow old and decrepit, not young and rejuvenated.

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Scientists tallied up all the advice on Dr. Oz’s show. Half of it was baseless or wrong.

via Vox:

For years, I’ve been looking at some of the dubious and harmful health claims TV doctors make on their talk shows. In carefully examining Dr. Oz, unpicking the evidence behind the ideas he peddles, I came to the conclusion that, on balance, the bulk of what he has to say is misleading at best, and total nonsense at worst.

He is, after all, in the business of entertainment. Real, evidence-based medicine isn’t often entertaining, especially on the subjects — weight loss, diets — he tends to cover.

Now, science has confirmed my suspicions.

Researchers writing in the British Medical Journal examined the health claims showcased on 40 randomly selected episodes of the two most popular internationally syndicated health talk shows, The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors.

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Should we criminalise robotic rape and robotic child sexual abuse?

Editor’s note: We want to thank John Danaher for publishing his thought provoking work under a Creative Commons License. Support him by following his blog or following him on Twitter. If you like his essays, you’ll love his Twitter account.

Also, take a look through his recent posts (either republished on Disinformation or not) and let John know which ones you liked best.

I recently published an unusual article. At least, I think it is unusual. It imagines a future in which sophisticated sex robots are used to replicate acts of rape and child sexual abuse, and then asks whether such acts should be criminalised. In the article, I try to provide a framework for evaluating the issue, but I do so in what I think is a provocative fashion. I present an argument for thinking that such acts should be criminalised, even if they have no extrinsically harmful effects on others.… Read the rest

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15 Ongoing Space Missions You Should Know About

Akatsuki via Nasa.

Akatsuki via Nasa.

via Mental Floss:

Last month, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a robot on a comet. While the exciting news seemed to come out of nowhere, you can be forgiven for sleeping through the initial launch—it happened in 2004. Scientists and engineers at space agencies around the world play very long games. Rosetta traveled 6.4 billion kilometers before rendezvousing with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Even on the starship Enterprise, that’s well over an hour away at warp speed. This raises the question: what else is going on up there? Here are 15 ongoing space missions you might not know about.

1. AKATSUKI

2. JUNO

3. DAWN

4. NEW HORIZONS

5. ROSETTA

6. CASSINI

7. HAYABUSA 2

8. PIONEER 10 & PIONEER 11

9. VOYAGER 1

10. VOYAGER 2

11. KEPLER

12. STEREO

13. MARS ORBITER MISSION

14. VENUS EXPRESS

15. INTERNATIONAL COMET EXPLORER

To read an in-depth overview of each mission, head over to Mental Floss.… Read the rest

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