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Friday, December 31, 2010

Acetylene Around Jupiter's Poles, 10 Year Anniversary of Cassini Flyby

Ten years ago, on Dec. 30, 2000, NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter on its way to orbiting Saturn. The main purpose was to use the gravity of the largest planet in our solar system to slingshot Cassini towards Saturn, its ultimate destination. But the encounter with Jupiter, Saturn's gas-giant big brother, also gave the Cassini project a perfect lab for testing its instruments and evaluating its operations plans for its tour of the ringed planet, which began in 2004.

This true color mosaic of Jupiter was constructed from images taken by the narrow angle camera onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft on December 29, 2000, during its closest approach to the giant planet at a distance of approximately 10 million kilometers (6.2 million miles).

It is the most detailed global color portrait of Jupiter ever produced; the smallest visible features are approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) across. The mosaic is composed of 27 images: nine images were required to cover the entire planet in a tic-tac-toe pattern, and each of those locations was imaged in red, green, and blue to provide true color. Although Cassini's camera can see more colors than humans can, Jupiter's colors in this new view look very close to the way the human eye would see them.
This true color mosaic of Jupiter was constructed from images taken by the narrow angle camera onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft on December 29, 2000
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

"The Jupiter flyby allowed the Cassini spacecraft to stretch its wings, rehearsing for its prime time show, orbiting Saturn," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Ten years later, findings from the Jupiter flyby still continue to shape our understanding of similar processes in the Saturn system."

Cassini spent about six months - from October 2000 to March 2001 - exploring the Jupiter system. The closest approach brought Cassini to within about 9.7 million kilometers (6 million miles) of Jupiter's cloud tops at 2:05 a.m. Pacific Time, or 10:05 a.m. UTC, on Dec. 30, 2000.

Cassini captured some 26,000 images of Jupiter and its moons over six months of continual viewing, creating the most detailed global portrait of Jupiter yet.

Unexpected dynamics in Jupiter's upper atmosphere, or stratosphere, including the birth and motion of a dark vortex wider than Earth, appear in a movie clip spanning 11 weeks of ultraviolet imaging by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The development of the vortex resembles development of ozone holes in Earth's stratosphere in that both processes appear to occur only within confined masses of high-altitude polar air. That similarity may help scientists understand both processes better.


Credit: NASA/JPL/Southwest Research Institute

While Cassini's images of Jupiter did not have higher resolution than the best from NASA's Voyager mission during its two 1979 flybys, Cassini's cameras had a wider color spectrum than those aboard Voyager, capturing wavelengths of radiation that could probe different heights in Jupiter's atmosphere. The images enabled scientists to watch convective lightning storms evolve over time and helped them understand the heights and composition of these storms and the many clouds, hazes and other types of storms that blanket Jupiter.

The Cassini images also revealed a never-before-seen large, dark oval around 60 degrees north latitude that rivaled Jupiter's Great Red Spot in size. Like the Great Red Spot, the large oval was a giant storm on Jupiter. But, unlike the Great Red Spot, which has been stable for hundreds of years, the large oval showed itself to be quite transient, growing, moving sideways, developing a bright inner core, rotating and thinning over six months. The oval was at high altitude and high latitude, so scientists think the oval may have been associated with Jupiter's powerful auroras.

Bands of eastward and westward winds on Jupiter appear as concentric rotating circles in this movie composed of Cassini spacecraft images that have been re-projected as if the viewer were looking down at Jupiter's north pole and the planet were flattened.

The sequence covers 70 days, from October 1 to December 9, 2000. Cassini's narrow-angle camera captured the images of Jupiter's atmosphere in the near-infrared region of the spectrum.

What is surprising in this view is the coherent nature of the high-latitude flows, despite the very chaotic, mottled and non-banded appearance of the planet's polar regions. This is the first extended movie sequence to show the coherence and longevity of winds near the pole and the features blown around the planet by them.
Bands of eastward and westward winds on Jupiter appear as concentric rotating circles
Credit: NASA/JPL/Southwest Research Institute
video

The imaging team was also able to amass 70-day movies of storms forming, merging and moving near Jupiter's north pole. They showed how larger storms gained energy from swallowing smaller storms, the way big fish eat small fish. The movies also showed how the ordered flow of the eastward and westward jet streams in low latitudes gives way to a more disordered flow at high latitudes.

Meanwhile, Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer was able to do the first thorough mapping of Jupiter's temperature and atmospheric composition. The temperature maps enabled winds to be determined above the cloud tops, so scientists no longer had to rely on tracking features to measure winds. The spectrometer data showed the unexpected presence of an intense equatorial eastward jet (roughly 140 meters per second, or 310 mph) high in the stratosphere, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the visible clouds. Data from this instrument also led to the highest-resolution map so far of acetylene on Jupiter and the first detection of organic methyl radical and diacetylene in the auroral hot spots near Jupiter's north and south poles. These molecules are important to understanding the chemical interactions between sunlight and molecules in Jupiter's stratosphere.

As Cassini approached Jupiter, its radio and plasma wave instrument also recorded naturally occurring chirps created by electrons coming from a cosmic sonic boom. The boom occurs when supersonic solar wind - charged particles that fly off the sun - is slowed and deflected around the magnetic bubble surrounding Jupiter.

Because Cassini arrived at Jupiter while NASA's Galileo spacecraft was still orbiting the planet, scientists were also able to take advantage of near-simultaneous measurements from two different spacecraft. This coincidence enabled scientists to make giant strides in understanding the interaction of the solar wind with Jupiter. Cassini and Galileo provided the first two-point measurement of the boundary of Jupiter's magnetic bubble and showed that it was in the act of contracting as a region of higher solar wind pressure blew on it.

"The Jupiter flyby benefited us in two ways, one being the unique science data we collected and the other the knowledge we gained about how to effectively operate this complex machine," said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager based at JPL. "Today, 10 years later, our operations are still heavily influenced by that experience and it is serving us very well."

In celebrating the anniversary of Cassini's visit 10 years ago, scientists are also excited about the upcoming and proposed missions to the Jupiter system, including NASA's Juno spacecraft, to be launched next August, and the Europa Jupiter System Mission, which has been given a priority by NASA.

Acetylene around Jupiter's Poles

video
These images and movie show the distribution of the organic molecule acetylene at the north and south poles of Jupiter, based on data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in early January 2001. It is the highest-resolution map of acetylene to date on Jupiter. The enhanced emission results both from the warmer temperatures in the auroral hot spots, and probably also from an enhanced abundance in these regions. The detection helps scientists understand the chemical interactions between sunlight and molecules in Jupiter's stratosphere. 
These images and movie show the distribution of the organic molecule acetylene at the north and south poles of Jupiter, based on data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in early January 2001
Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC

These maps were made by NASA's composite infrared spectrometer. 

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. The composite infrared spectrometer team is based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., where the instrument was built. The radio and plasma wave science team is based at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, where the instrument was built.

Contacts and sources:
Jia-Rui Cook/Priscilla Vega 818-354-0850/354-1357
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov / Priscilla.r.vega@jpl.nasa.gov

United Technologies Develops Rare Earth Nanocoating for Engine Thermal Barriers

United Technologies Corporation (Hartford, CT) earned U.S. Patent 7,858,212 for dispersion strengthened rare earth stabilized zirconia.   The materials relate to a ceramic coating containing dispersion strengthened rare earth stabilized zirconia to be applied to a turbine engine component and a method for forming such a coating. 

According to inventors Kevin W. Schlichting, Paul H. Zajchowski and Susan Manning Meier they have developed a process for forming a coating on a substrate, such as a turbine engine component, is provided. The process comprises the steps of providing a rare earth oxide stabilized zirconia composition, blending the first rare earth oxide stabilized zirconia composition with at least one additional constituent selected from the group consisting of TiO2, Al2O3, a blend of Al2O3--TiO2, La2Zr2O7, and 20 wt % Yttria Stabilized Zirconia; and depositing the blended powder onto the substrate.  

The coatings may be applied to any component of an engine requiring a thermal barrier coating/abradable system or a clearance control system.

An additional benefit of the low thermal conductivity of the coatings is that the coating can be applied at lower thicknesses, thereby saving weight while maintaining equivalent thermal protection as compared to conventional coatings.

The coatings are called dispersion strengthened coatings because they contain a dispersed second phase which improves coating toughness. 


Ceramic thermal barrier coatings have been used for decades to extend the life of combustors and high turbine stationary and rotating components. Zirconia has typically been the base ceramic. Stabilizers have been added to prevent the deleterious phase transformation to the monoclinic phase from the high temperature stable cubic or tetragonal phase. 

Early stabilizers such as 22 wt % magnesia were utilized, but as turbine temperatures increased beyond 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, the durability of the magnesia stabilized zirconia deteriorated since magnesia stabilized zirconia crystallographically destabilizes above 1750 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Compositional improvements led to a 7 wt % yttria stabilized zirconia. With this composition, thermal barrier coatings attained a good balance between durability, i.e. thermal oxidative cycling; stability, i.e. sintering and phase stability; mechanical properties, i.e. fracture toughness, erosion resistance and adherence; and thermal properties, i.e. thermal conductivity and thermal expansion. 

As current engine models continue to increase temperatures and warrant decreased component weight, advanced ceramics are being pursued. A zirconia based coating, such as a gadolinia-zirconia coating as described in commonly owned U.S. Pat. No. 6,177,200 has been developed which provides a reduced thermal conductivity ceramic thermal barrier coating. However, such coating would benefit from improved mechanical properties, such as fracture toughness and erosion resistance. 

The United Technologies material provides a dispersion strengthened rare earth stabilized zirconia coating composition which exhibits desirable mechanical properties for use in jet engines and other high temperature environments. 

Nihon Micro Coating Reveals Nano-Diamond Polishing Material

Nihon Micro Coating Co., Ltd. (Tokyo, JP) earned U.S. Patent 7,857,876 for diamond clusters are used as a polishing material of free abrading particles. Each is  a combination of artificial diamond particles having primary particle diameters of 20 nm or less and impurities that are attached around these diamond particles.

According to inventors Noriyuki Kumasaka, Yuji Horie, Mitsuru Saito and  Kazuei Yamaguchi, the density of non-diamond carbon contained in the impurities is in the range of 95% or more and 99% or less, and the density of chlorine contained in other than non-diamond carbon in the impurities is 0.5% or more and preferably 3.5% or less. 

The diameters of these diamond clusters are in the range of 30 nm or more and 500 nm or less, and their average diameter is in the range of 30 nm or more and 200 nm or less.
Such polishing material is produced first by an explosion shock method to obtain diamond clusters and then removing the impurities such that density of non-diamond carbon contained in the impurities and density of chlorine contained in other than non-diamond carbon in the impurities become adjusted.

The object of this invention to provide a polishing material capable of producing with good reproducibility products of a specified level of accuracy without spots, as well as a method of producing such polishing material.

Spots come about for the following reasons. Diamond clusters are pressed against the surface of a target object to be polished only while they are being held in the surface portion of a polishing cloth which is pressed against the surface of the target object. Since this polishing cloth and the surface of the target object are moving relative to each other, the diamond clusters on the surface of the polishing cloth are caused to act on and polish the target object surface.

Particles of artificial diamond obtained by an explosion shock method have rounded corners, and there are no sharp edges. Diamond clusters are clusters of such diamond particles, having an indefinite shape without sharp edges, but they have protruding parts. During a texturing process, these protruding parts engage with the surface portion of the polishing cloth so as to support the clusters in the surface part of the polishing cloth. In other words, it may be thought that the diamond clusters are then temporarily attached to the surface portion of the polishing cloth.

Since diamond clusters have indefinite shapes as a whole, the force for attaching them temporarily to the polishing cloth is individually different. Moreover, the force for the attachment due only to the protruding parts of the diamond clusters is not sufficiently strong such that the density of diamond clusters supported in the surface part of the polishing cloth also varies locally, and this is believed to be the cause of spots that are generated. It is also believed that the diamond clusters in the slurry are in a condition of easily being taken into the internal part of the polishing cloth. 

Graphene Solar Cells Could Cut Production Costs to Less Than 50-Cents Per Watt

Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (Madison, WI) and University of Utah Research Foundation (Salt Lake City, UT) researchers have developed graphite-based photovoltaic cells and methods for generating electricity from these cells. Graphite based solar cells earned U.S. Patent 7,858,876 for the two universities. 

According to inventors Max Lagally (Madison, WI), Feng Liu(Salt Lake City, UT), in these photovoltaic cells, spatially separated stacks of graphite, each comprising a plurality of vertically stacked semiconducting graphene sheets, serve as a photovoltaic material bridging electrical contacts. The graphene sheets, or "nanoribbons," have nanoscale-width dimensions such that the band gap of each sheet depends on the width of the sheet.

Thus, by incorporating graphene sheets having different widths, and thereby different band gaps, into the photovoltaic cell, the cell can be designed to absorb efficiently across the solar spectrum. The result is a photovoltaic cell that is efficient and inexpensive to manufacture.

Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity through the interaction of photons and electrons within a photoconducting material. To create a photovoltaic cell, a photoconducting material, commonly silicon, is joined by electrical contacts to form a junction.

Presently, most silicon-based photovoltaic cells are silicon p-n junction devices. Photons striking the cell are absorbed and thus cause the formation of electron-hole pairs; electrons and holes moving in opposite directions across the junction create a current. A grid of these electrical contacts creates an array of cells from which the current is gathered. The DC current produced in the cell depends on the materials involved and the energy and intensity of the radiation incident on the cell.

Photovoltaic cells have been available for a number of years, and it has been predicted that the use of photovoltaics will continue to increase for years to come. The major obstacles to photovoltaic use throughout the world are cell efficiency and cell cost. Presently, the cost per watt for most photovoltaic cells is not low enough for these cells to be competitive with other energy sources.

Currently, the industry standard solar-cell material is crystalline Si. However, bulk Si is unlikely to achieve a cost lower than $1.00/watt because of the materials-intensiveness of the process that is used to produce it. Also, the intrinsic cell efficiency of Si is limited by thermodynamics to less than about 30%.

Solar-cell efficiency is limited by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic losses, such as loss due to reflection and transparency (small opacity) and incomplete collection of photogenerated carriers due to imperfect contacts and leakage, can be overcome by better design and manufacture of the cell modules. Intrinsic losses, however, must be overcome by the design of cell materials through energy band engineering.

For example, even if all the extrinsic losses can be eliminated, the highest efficiency of an ideal cell made from a single material is about 31%, with an optimal band gap of .about.1.35 eV, because solar photons with an energy smaller than the band gap cannot be adsorbed, while energy dissipation due to thermalization of generated electrons and holes for photons with higher energies can produce heat and thus waste energy. One strategy for improving cell efficiency is to use combinations of materials having multiple band gaps. The highest cell efficiency--close to 40%--has been achieved by multi-junction cells made from III-V and Ge thin films. However, these high-efficiency research cells are too expensive to penetrate the general power market.

More recently, a Schottky barrier cell based on single-walled carbon nanotubes has been proposed. However, inexpensive production of such cells may not be possible.

Thus, new materials are needed to increase cell efficiency and reduce cell cost to reach the goal of a production cost of less than $0.50/watt.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

NASA's Terra Satellite Sees a Snow-Covered Ireland; Emerald Isle Swathed in White

The Mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. are not the only areas dealing with holiday snowfall. Ireland was recently swathed in white on December 22, 2010. When NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument captured a true-color image of the snow. The overnight arrival of 15 cm (6 in) of snow at the Dublin airport forced its closure. Combined with the closure of the City of Derry airport, travel became quite difficult.

The Emerald Isle was swathed in white on December 22, 2010, when the MODIS instrument aboard the Terra satellite passed overhead, capturing this true-color image.
MODIS image of Ireland covered with snow
Credit: NASA Goddard/MODIS Rapid Response Team, Jeff Schmaltz

MODIS images are created by the MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The MODIS instrument flies onboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites.

Ireland enjoys a "temperate ocean climate" (Cfb) based on the Koopen climate classification system. Such climates normally enjoy cool, cloud-covered summers and mild winters. Ireland’s climate is also moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which flows off the western shore. Snow commonly falls only in the highest elevations; dustings may occur elsewhere a few times each year. Significant accumulations anywhere in the country are rare.

The winter of 2009-2010 was unusually cold and snowy. Called “The Big Freeze” by the British media, it brought widespread transportation problems, school closings, power failures and twenty five deaths. A low of -22.3°C (-8.1°F) was recorded on January 8, 2010, making it the coldest winter since 1978/79.

Although it has just begun, the winter of 2010-2011 threatens to be just as challenging. The earliest widespread snowfall since 1993 occurred on November 24, primarily affecting Great Britain and Scotland. Two days later snow began to cover Ireland, and the continuing severe weather has taken a toll. It has disrupted air, road and rail travel, closed schools and businesses, and caused power outages. Livestock and horses have had difficulty finding grass to eat, some relying on volunteer feeding efforts for survival. Local temperature records were broken, including a new record low for Northern Ireland of -18.7°C (-2°F) at Castlederg on December 23. As of that date, 20 deaths had been attributed to the winter weather and associated hazards.


Sources and contacts:
For more information and additional MODIS images, visit:
http://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/gallery/showall.php

Jeff Schmaltz
MODIS Land Rapid Response Team
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Prevention Of Bad Lifestyle Habits Should Be Tackled Even Before Age 13

Bad eating habits, ingestion of alcohol, sedentary lifestyles - all unhealthy life habits that are already being detected in early adolescence and that are especially predominant amongst women and young people between the ages of 19 and 26.

The prevention campaigns should take very much into consideration these groups at risk and even take into account those less than 13 years. These are some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the PhD thesis presented at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) by researcher Marta Arrue, with the title, Lifestyle habits and psychological factors in adolescence and youth in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAV-EAE).

Ms Arrue studied 2,018 young people from the CAV-EAE who were asked to fill in various questionnaires. With the gathered data, she collated and analysed habits of life according to sex and age (adolescents from 13 to 17; young persons from 18 to 26).
16 years, crucial

The data point to the fact that young persons show more risk behaviour than expected, more even than they themselves perceive, believing that they are healthier than they really are. The least healthy habits turn out to be eating ones, followed by ingestion of alcohol, sedentarism, risks involving sexual relations, the consumption of tobacco and drugs and, finally, low quality or insufficient sleep.

By age, it is notable that risk behaviour presents itself in early adolescence and that all the habits, except sleep, worsen with the passing of the years. Ms Arrue concluded that special attention has to be paid to adolescents of 16 years: this is the point of no return, as it were; the age in which either healthy activities are opted for or risk behaviour patterns arise.

With respect to gender, women show greater risk conduct than men. The weak point of women is sedentarism, tobacco, sleep, risk of becoming pregnant and sexually transmitted diseases. Men, on the other hand, show weaknesses with alcohol, illegal drugs and eating.

Ms Arrue also concluded that risk factors tend to be associated in a simultaneous manner, although healthy behaviour also. There is a correlation, for example, between physical activity or lack thereof with the consumption or otherwise of alcohol and tobacco. This means that the importance of a single risk habit by itself should not be minimised, as it can carry others along with it. But, at the same time, it also facilitates prevention campaigns, given that encouraging single healthy lifestyle habit can bring other good behaviour in its train.
Psychological factors

This thesis not only described habits of life, but also undertook a co-relational analysis between these and the psychological state of the persons studied, this being one of the main contributions of the PhD. The results show that adolescents and young people with healthy life habits have higher self-esteem, better psychological wellbeing, greater satisfaction with their bodies and fewer psychopathological indicators. Ms Arrue stated that there is a loop feedback effect between habits and psychological condition: good habits benefit psychological health; optimum psychological conditions facilitating having a healthy life.

Precisely, given positive correlations such as these, the researcher highlights the importance of taking into account the multiple variables surrounding the lifestyle habit when launching awareness/prevention campaigns. Apart from the psychological factor, she suggests that cultural and economic factors should be considered, as well as legal (the scant protection afforded to minors as regards alcohol and tobacco).

Ms Arrue reminds us that tendency to bad habits is not due to lack of information, as has been borne out by the numerous campaigns undertaken, and so other factors must be involved.

Thus, the fight against bad lifestyle habits requires a multifactorial and pluridisciplinary approach, and behoves us to detect the problem as early as possible, especially taking into account the groups at risk (women and young people).

About the author
Ms Marta Arrue Mauleon (San Sebastián, 1971) is a graduate in Contemporary History and qualified in Nursing. She drew up her PhD thesis under the direction of Ms Carmen Maganto Mateo and Ms Maite Garaigordobil Landazabal, professors respectively at the Department of Personality and Evaluation and of Psychological Treatment at the Psychology Faculty of the UPV/EHU. In order to undertake her thesis, the researcher studied samples from various schools in the three provinces of the CAV-EAE (Álava-Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa), as well as from the UPV/EHU and the University of Deusto. Currently Ms Arrue is lecturer at the School of Nursing in the Leioa campus of the UPV/EHU.

Sources and contacts:

As the World Turns to 2011 GOES Satellites Watch its Approach and Look Back at 2010

The GOES-13 satellite captured a "full-disk image" of North and South America in an image created December 30 at 1445 UTC (9:45 a.m. EST), as the world awaits the new year.
 GOES 13 image of Earth
Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project

The GOES series of satellites keep an eye on the weather happening over the continental U.S. and eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and had a busy time with wild weather in 2010. Today, GOES-13 captured one of the last images of North and South America in 2010 as the world continues to turn toward 2011.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite called GOES-13 satellite captured a "full-disk image" of North and South America in an image created December 30 at 1445 UTC (9:45 a.m. EST) as the world awaits the new year. The stunning image shows cloud cover associated low pressure areas over the upper Midwestern U.S. and Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

NASA's GOES Project, located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., procures and manages the development and launch of the GOES series of satellites for NOAA on a cost-reimbursable basis. NASA's GOES Project also creates some of the GOES satellite images and GOES satellite imagery animations. NOAA manages the operational environmental satellite program and establishes requirements, provides all funding and distributes environmental satellite data for the United States.

NASA's GOES Project was very busy this year. GOES-13 monitors the eastern continental U.S., Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, while GOES-11 monitors weather conditions over the western U.S. and the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

In 2010, GOES satellites were busy providing images and animations of weather systems from nor'easters to tropical cyclones that caused blizzards, flooding and wind damage.

Most recently, the GOES project used satellite data to create an impressive animation of the great Christmas weekend blizzard that pummeled the northeastern U.S. Prior to that, GOES imagery showed travel conditions for the holiday weekend when that low was over the Colorado Rockies.

On Dec. 19, the GOES-11 satellite captured an image of the famous "Pineapple Express." Occasionally in the winter, a large jet stream forms across the mid-Pacific, carrying a continuous flow of moisture from the vicinity of Hawaii to California, bringing heavy rain and snow to the Sierra-Nevada for several days.

On Dec. 8 GOES-13 satellite imagery revealed a snow-covered, winter-like upper Midwest, several weeks before astronomical winter. On Nov. 24, GOES satellites helped Thanksgiving travelers figure out where delays may be happening.

During the summer, on July 25, GOES-13 imagery tracked one of the most destructive storms in years to strike Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. Strong winds downed trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power, stopping elevators, and darkening malls and movie theaters. Falling trees killed at least two people. The NASA GOES Project created a satellite animation of the storm as moved through the region.

GOES-13 was busy in the Atlantic during the 2010 hurricane season. The Atlantic season started on June 1 and ended on November 30. The Atlantic season tied for third with two other years (1995 and 1887) as having the largest number of named storms at 19, and tied with two other seasons (1969 and 1887) for the second largest number of hurricanes, with 12. GOES-13 covered all of those tropical cyclones. GOES-11 didn't see the action in the Eastern Pacific tropics that GOES-13 did, however. Because of a La Niña event, the 2010 Pacific hurricane season (which began May 15 and ended Nov. 30) was the least active season in terms of the number of named storms and hurricanes on record. All tropical cyclones can be seen at NASA's Hurricane page archives for 2010 at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hurricanes/archives/index.html.

On April 14, months before hurricane season started, GOES-13 became the official GOES-EAST satellite. GOES-13 was moved from on-orbit storage and into active duty. It is perched 22,300 miles above the equator to spot potentially life-threatening weather, including tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico..

Before GOES-13 moved into the position previously occupied by GOES-12, GOES-12 captured a parade of three large storms the flooded the upper Midwest and Northeast in the second half of March. In the first half of March, GOES-12 covered storms as they dumped heavy rainfall in the Northeastern U.S.

On March 12, GOES-12 captured a very rare event in the tropics: the second–ever known tropical cyclone called Tropical Storm 90Q formed in the South Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina.

During the first two weeks of February 2010, the GOES-12 weather satellite also observed a record-setting series of "Nor'easter" snow storms which blanketed the mid-Atlantic coast in two blizzards.

Whatever and wherever the weather in 2011, the GOES series of satellites will always go.

Related Links:

› GOES-POES web site
› NOAA web site
 Rob Gutro
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

20 Programmable Robots Mimic Human Thought

In a new Cognitive Robotics Lab, students at Rensselaer are exploring how human thought outwits brute force computing in the real world. The lab’s 20 programmable robots allow students to test the real-world performance of computer models that mimic human thought.

“The real world has a lot of inconsistency that humans handle almost without noticing — for example, we walk on uneven terrain, we see in shifting light,” said Professor Vladislav Daniel Veksler, who is currently teaching Cognitive Robotics. “With robots, we can see the problems humans face when navigating their environment.”

Cognitive Robotics marries the study of cognitive science — how the brain represents and transforms information — with the challenges of a physical environment. Advances in cognitive robotics transfer to artificial intelligence, which seeks to develop more efficient computer systems patterned on the versatility of human thought.


The lab is equipped with five “Create” robots — essentially a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner paired with a laptop; three hand-eye systems; one Chiara (which looks like a large metal crab); and 10 LEGO robots paired with the Sony Handy Board robotic controller.


Professor Bram Van Heuveln, who organized the lab, said cognitive scientists have developed a suite of elements — perception/action, planning, reasoning, memory, decision-making — that are believed to constitute human thought. When properly modeled and connected, those elements are capable of solving complex problems without the raw power required by precise mathematical computations.

“Suppose we wanted to build a robot to catch fly balls in an outfield. There are two approaches: one uses a lot of calculations — Newton’s law, mechanics, trigonometry, calculus — to get the robot to be in the right spot at the right time,” said Van Heuveln. “But that’s not the way humans do it. We just keep moving toward the ball. It’s a very simple solution that doesn’t involve a lot of computation but it gets the job done.”

Robotics are an ideal testing ground for that principle because robots act in the real world, and a correct cognitive solution will withstand the unexpected variables presented by the real world.

“The physical world can help us to drive science because it’s different from any simulated world we could come up with — the camera shakes, the motors slip, there’s friction, the light changes,” Veksler said. “This platform — robotics — allows us to see that you can’t rely on calculations. You have to be adaptive.”

The lab is open to all students at Rensselaer. In its first semester, the lab has largely attracted computer science and cognitive science students enrolled in a Cognitive Robotics course taught by Veksler, but Veksler and Van Heuveln hope it will attract more engineering and art students as word of the facility spreads.

“We want different students together in one space — a place where we can bring the different disciplines and perspectives together,” said Van Heuveln. “I would like students to use this space for independent research: they come up with the research project, they say ‘let’s look at this.’”

The lab is equipped with five “Create” robots — essentially a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner paired with a laptop; three hand-eye systems; one Chiara (which looks like a large metal crab); and 10 LEGO robots paired with the Sony Handy Board robotic controller.

On a recent day, Jacqui Brunelli and Benno Lee were working on their robot “cat” and “mouse” pair, which try to chase and evade each other respectively; Shane Reilly was improving the computer “vision” of his robotic arm; and Ben Ball was programming his robot to maintain a fixed distance from a pink object waved in front of its “eye.”

“The thing that I’ve learned is that the sensor data isn’t exact — what it ‘sees’ constantly changes by a few pixels — and to try to go by that isn’t going to work,” said Ball, a junior and student of computer science and physics.

Ball said he is trying to pattern his robot on a more human approach.

“We don’t just look at an object and walk toward it. We check our position, adjusting our course,” Ball said. “I need to devise an iterative approach where the robot looks at something, then moves, then looks again to check its results.”

The work of the students, who program their robots with the Tekkotsu open-source software, could be applied in future projects, said Van Heuveln.

“As a cognitive scientist, I want this to be built on elements that are cognitively plausible and that are recyclable — parts of cognition that I can apply to other solutions as well,” said Van Heuveln. “To me, that’s a heck of a lot more interesting than the computational solution.”

In a generic domain, their early investigations clearly show how a more cognitive approach employing limited resources can easily outpace more powerful computers using a brute force approach, said Veksler.

“We look to humans not just because we want to simulate what we do, which is an interesting problem in itself, but also because we’re smart,” said Veksler. “Some of the things we have, like limited working memory — which may seem like a bad thing — are actually optimal for solving problems in our environment. If you remembered everything, how would you know what’s important?”

Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

New Technology To Speed Cleanup Of Nuclear-Contaminated Sites, Reduce Costs And Create Jobs

Members of the engineering faculty at Oregon State University have invented a new type of radiation detection and measurement device that will be particularly useful for cleanup of sites with radioactive contamination, making the process faster, more accurate and less expensive.

A patent has been granted on this new type of radiation spectrometer, and the first production of devices will begin soon. The advance has also led to creation of a Corvallis-based spinoff company, Avicenna Instruments, based on the OSU research. The market for these instruments may ultimately be global, and thousands of them could be built, researchers say.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on cleanup of some major sites contaminated by radioactivity, primarily from the historic production of nuclear weapons during and after World War II. These include the Hanford site in Washington, Savannah River site in South Carolina, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

“Unlike other detectors, this spectrometer is more efficient, and able to measure and quantify both gamma and beta radiation at the same time,” said David Hamby, an OSU professor of health physics. “Before this two different types of detectors and other chemical tests were needed in a time-consuming process.”

“This system will be able to provide accurate results in 15 minutes that previously might have taken half a day,” Hamby said. “That saves steps, time and money.”

The spectrometer, developed over 10 years by Hamby and Abi Farsoni, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, can quickly tell the type and amount of radionuclides that are present in something like a soil sample – contaminants such as cesium 137 or strontium 90 - that were produced from reactor operations. And it can distinguish between gamma rays and beta particles, which is necessary to determine the level of contamination.

“Cleaning up radioactive contamination is something we can do, but the process is costly, and often the question when working in the field is how clean is clean enough,” Hamby said. “At some point the remaining level of radioactivity is not a concern. So we need the ability to do frequent and accurate testing to protect the environment while also controlling costs.”

This system should allow that, Hamby said, and may eventually be used in monitoring processes in the nuclear energy industry, or possibly medical applications in the use of radioactive tracers.

The OSU College of Engineering has contracted with Ludlum Instruments, a Sweetwater, Texas, manufacturer, to produce the first instruments, and the OSU Office of Technology Transfer is seeking a licensee for commercial development. The electronic systems for the spectrometers will be produced in Oregon by Avicenna Instruments, the researchers said.

Source: Oregon State University

Researchers Debunk Theory That Neandertals’ Extinction Was Caused By Dietary Deficiencies

Researchers from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered evidence to debunk the theory that Neandertals’ disappearance was caused in part by a deficient diet – one that lacked variety and was overly reliant on meat.

After discovering starch granules from plant food trapped in the dental calculus on 40-thousand-year-old Neandertal teeth, the scientists believe that Neandertals ate a wide variety of plants and included cooked grains as part of a more sophisticated, diverse diet similar to early modern humans.

Neanderthal Teeth 

Credit: GWU

“Neandertals are often portrayed as very backwards or primitive,” said Amanda Henry, lead researcher and a post-doctoral researcher at GW. “Now we are beginning to understand that they had some quite advanced technologies and behaviors.”

Dr. Henry made this discovery together with Alison Brooks, professor of anthropology and international affairs at GW, and Dolores Piperno, a GW research professor and senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.

The discovery of starch granules in the calculus on Neandertal teeth provides direct evidence that they made sophisticated, thoughtful food choices and ate more nutrient-rich plants, for example date palms, legumes and grains such as barley. Until now, anthropologists have hypothesized that Neandertals were outlived by early modern humans due in part to the former’s primitive, deficient diet, with some scientists arguing Neandertals’ diets were specialized for meat-eating. As such, during major climate swings Neandertals could be outcompeted by early humans who incorporated diverse plant foods available in the local environment into their diets.

Drs. Henry, Brooks and Piperno’s discovery suggests otherwise. The researchers discovered starch granules in dental calculus, which forms when plaque buildup hardens, on the fossilized teeth of Neandertal skeletons excavated from Shanidar Cave in Iraq and Spy Cave in Belgium. Starch granules are abundant in most human plant foods, but were not known to survive on fossil teeth this old until this study.

The researchers’ findings indicate that Neandertals’ diets were more similar to those of early humans than originally thought. The researchers also determined from alterations they observed in the starch granules that Neandertals prepared and cooked starch-rich foods to make them taste better and easier to digest.

“Neandertals and early humans did not visit the dentist,” said Dr. Brooks. “Therefore, the calculus or tartar remained on their teeth, preserving tiny clues to the previously unknown plant portion of their diets.”

Dr. Henry is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Hominid Paleobiology program at the George Washington University, where she also received her Ph.D. in Jan. 2010. Her research focuses on the uses of plant foods by human ancestors. In Jan. 2011, Dr. Henry will begin leading an independent research group focusing on the evolution of human diet at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Dr Brooks’ research focuses on the evolution of modern human behavior. Dr. Piperno is a pioneer in the detection and study of plant microfossils and the evolution of human diets.

“This significant finding provides new insight on the plight of the Neandertals,” said Peg Barratt, dean of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s also an excellent example of our dynamic partnership with the Smithsonian to further advance learning and discovery.”

The article, "Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neandertal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium),” will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and will be published online Dec. 27. PNAS is a weekly journal that publishes research that spans the biological, physical, and social sciences.

The research was supported by a National Science Foundation IGERT award, a Wenner Gren Foundation doctoral dissertation award, a Smithsonian Institution pre-doctoral fellowship, a National Science Foundation HOMINID award to the Smithsonian Institution and a selective excellence award from the George Washington University.

GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is the largest of the university's academic units with more than 40 departments and programs for undergraduate, graduate and professional studies. Columbian College provides the foundation for GW's commitment to education, research and outreach, providing courses ranging from the traditional disciplines to a wide variety of interdisciplinary and applied fields for students in all the undergraduate degree programs across the university. An internationally recognized faculty and active partnerships with prestigious research institutions place Columbian College at the forefront in advancing policy, enhancing culture and transforming lives through scientific research and discovery.

The George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia and has additional programs in Virginia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 countries.

Source: George Washington University

2 Out of 3 Children Bullied On-Line Says Survey

Two out of three children have experienced bullying via the Internet or mobile phones according to a survey made by Telenor in 2008 in Norway. The survey also shows that parents are uncertain about what to do about this kind of bullying.

Illustration on digital bullying
Credit: Annlaug Auestad

Research Fellow Tove Flack at the Centre for Behavioural Research (SAF) at the University of Stavanger has extensive experience in counselling work in anti-bullying, which includes the centre's program zero, where zero tolerance for bullying and active involvement are important concepts. Zero gives schools advice on how to prevent, detect and solve problems and create continuity. She has also worked with cases of bullying and conducted bullying research in schools. In her research and practice, she has particularly focused on hidden bullying.

- For many victims of bullying cyber-bullying is just one of several ways in which they are being harassed. This may mean that they never have any protected place. At school, they are left out or maligned and when they come home they receive insults on mobile phones and net. Access to social media in recent years has unfortunately given us some new bullying tools," Flack says.

Lower Threshold
She explains that the term bullying means experiencing harassment on a regular basis over time. Also when it comes to cyber-bullying, it is important to distinguish between those who are often harassed and those who have experienced harassment only occasionally.

Cyber-bullying takes place both through image and text. Among today's youth many have experienced seeing a picture they would never have shown to anyone, spread to all and sundry. Images remain online forever. Others have had to read characterizations of themselves that are very offensive and know that such accounts are shared with the general public.

- The threshold to bully one another through social media might possibly be lower than to bully someone in more traditional ways. When friends sit together, it may seem easy and non-committal to send off an anonymous message with a disrespectful message to another person. It is not unknown that hate groups are formed online, where children or young people unite to hate a particular person. Digital bullying can result in a person being frozen out by having that individual deleted from Facebook or from the contact list on one's mobile," Flack says.

- For adults it can be difficult enough to discover traditional bullying. Digital media create new and demanding challenges. It is important to have zero tolerance for bullying via the Internet in the same way as there should be zero tolerance for all types of harassment, she points out.

Girls most affected
The Data Inspectorate launched in March 2010 the service slettmeg.no. The service will help those who have had their identity violated online. Of a total of 508 inquiries about the site in June, July and August this year, 39.7 percent were about Facebook , Google came second (7.9 percent) and the press came third with 7.7 percent.

Twice as many girls as boys report having been bullied digitally, according to a survey conducted by TNS Gallup in connection with the campaign dubestemmer.no. The survey shows that social networking, SMS and instant messaging are the most widely used bully channels.

- Children and young people are normally not aware of how strongly it may affect the receiver. They do not consider that what they broadcast can be tracked down and that they may be accountable for their actions online. Many do not realize that they may be prosecuted when they violate or threaten others via the net, she said.

Schools must take action
Flack emphasizes that schools must take steps to gain control of bullying situations. She insists that different expertise about different forms of bullying is needed in order to succeed. Knowledge about the handling of digital bullying is included in SAF's anti-bullying program Zero, in which zero tolerance of bullying and active involvement are important concepts. Zero gives schools advice on how to prevent, detect and solve problems and create continuity.

- In order to detect traditional forms of bullying, schools must develop their ability to see and understand what is happening in communication and interaction between pupils. When it comes to cyber-bullying, special strategies are required," Flack says.

- Although cyber-bullying is largely an after-school problem, the schools have a great responsibility to contribute to prevention, detection and the stopping of bullying. They should take up the netiquette rules at an early stage and inform about the dangers. That should of course also parents do," she adds.

Warns against data refusal
In his doctoral work Research Fellow Arne Olav Nygard at the Reading Centre has followed the teaching in secondary schools. From his seat at the back of the classroom he has gained an insight into students' use of computers and mobile phones. Social media are frequently open on small and large screens according to his observations.

- Surveys show that Facebook is very important right now, specially the chat and wall functions. In addition, young people often play online games together. The students have an almost constant social discourse going with friends in other classes and at other schools. This is an extension of existing social networks, Nygard explains.

He warns against easy solutions in the fight against cyber-bullying. To deny students the use of technology at school or at home, is the wrong way to go," Nygard says, who has taught courses to parents and given them some simple rules they can stick to.

- We must be careful to turn bullying into a technological question. In my view, bullying is first and foremost a social problem. To remove the PC and mobile phone is the easiest solution, but it should be the last one, for that is not where the problem is. The only thing parents and teachers achieve in this way is to remove themselves from the real issues. Moreover, the curriculum states that students must master data," the research fellow says.

Nygard realizes that bullying will find new channels in the digital networks, and that it may have other and unintended consequences. He still believes that adults also need to engage in, observe and learn the logic of the digital world. This will make it difficult for children to have a secret digital life," he believes.

- Parents can achieve a lot by being present. One measure might be to put the computer in the living room or in another central room. When the children have to sit near adults, they also see that the adults are included. Children should also learn to use their full names on the network," Nygard says.

- We need to set the limits for mobile and computer usage, but the technology is not something to be afraid of. As a parent you can start to become friends with your kids on Facebook, even if they think it isn't cool.

Five pieces of advice to avoid cyber-bullying:
1. Take bullying through social media seriously
2. Talk with children and young people about Internet use and netiquette
3. Get involved in the children's Internet use and become friends with your children on Facebook
4. Remember to save harassment and threats on the hard disc and mobile device
5. Contact the police on suspicion of offenses

Source:
The University of Stavanger

Was Israel The Birthplace Of Modern Man? Evidence Homo Sapiens Roamed Holy Land 400,000 Years Ago

It has long been believed that modern man emerged from the continent of Africa 200,000 years ago. Now Tel Aviv University archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Homo sapiens roamed the land now called Israel as early as 400,000 years ago — the earliest evidence for the existence of modern man anywhere in the world.

Prof. Avi Gopher holds a tooth found at the Qesem Cave.
Tooth found at Qesem Cave
Photo: AP Images/Oded Balilty

The findings were discovered in the Qesem Cave, a pre-historic site located near Rosh Ha'ayin that was first excavated in 2000. Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, who run the excavations, and Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the university's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Sackler School of Medicine, together with an international team of scientists, performed a morphological analysis on eight human teeth found in the Qesem Cave.

This analysis, which included CT scans and X-rays, indicates that the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. The teeth found in the Qesem Cave are very similar to other evidence of modern man from Israel, dated to around 100,000 years ago, discovered in the Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. The results of the researchers' findings are being published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Reading the past

Qesem Cave is dated to a period between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and archaeologists working there believe that the findings indicate significant evolution in the behavior of ancient man. This period of time was crucial in the history of mankind from cultural and biological perspectives. The teeth that are being studied indicate that these changes are apparently related to evolutionary changes taking place at that time.

Prof. Gopher and Dr. Barkai noted that the findings related to the culture of those who dwelled in the Qesem Cave — including the systematic production of flint blades; the regular use of fire; evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat; mining raw materials to produce flint tools from subsurface sources — reinforce the hypothesis that this was, in fact, innovative and pioneering behavior that may correspond with the appearance of modern man.

An unprecedented discovery

According to researchers, the discoveries made in the Qesem Cave may overturn the theory that modern man originated on the continent of Africa. In recent years, archaeological evidence and human skeletons found in Spain and China also undermined this proposition, but the Qesem Cave findings because of their early age is an unprecedented discovery.

Excavations at Qesem Cave continue and the researchers hope to uncover additional finds that will enable them to confirm the findings published up to now and to enhance our understanding of the evolution of mankind — especially the emergence of modern man.

Contacts and sources:
George Hunka
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

What Triggers Mass Extinctions? Study Shows How Invasive Species Stop New Life

An influx of invasive species can stop the dominant natural process of new species formation and trigger mass extinction events, according to research results published today in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study of the collapse of Earth's marine life 378 to 375 million years ago suggests that the planet's current ecosystems, which are struggling with biodiversity loss, could meet a similar fate.

The ocean in Devonian times: is past prologue in biodiversity collapse?
Illustration showing the ocean during the Devonian.
Credit: University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology

Although Earth has experienced five major mass extinction events, the environmental crash during the Late Devonian was unlike any other in the planet's history.

The actual number of extinctions wasn't higher than the natural rate of species loss, but very few new species arose.

"We refer to the Late Devonian as a mass extinction, but it was actually a biodiversity crisis," said Alycia Stigall, a scientist at Ohio University and author of the PLoS ONE paper.

Clockwise from upper right: bivalve; two brachiopods; crustacean from the distant past.
Photos of a bivalve on upper right, two brachiopods on bottom, and crustacean on upper left.
Credit: Alycia Stigall

"This research significantly contributes to our understanding of species invasions from a deep-time perspective," said Lisa Boush, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.&

"The knowledge is critical to determining the cause and extent of mass extinctions through time, especially the five biggest biodiversity crises in the history of life on Earth. It provides an important perspective on our current biodiversity crises."

The research suggests that the typical method by which new species originate--vicariance--was absent during this ancient phase of Earth's history, and could be to blame for the mass extinction.

Vicariance occurs when a population becomes geographically divided by a natural, long-term event, such as the formation of a mountain range or a new river channel, and evolves into different species.

New species also can originate through dispersal, which occurs when a subset of a population moves to a new location.

In a departure from previous studies, Stigall used phylogenetic analysis, which draws on an understanding of the tree of evolutionary relationships to examine how individual speciation events occurred.

Scientist Alycia Stigall studies fossils that tell us about biodiversity loss today.
Photo of scientist Alycia Stigall on the right and a computer monitor on the left.
Credit: Ohio University

She focused on one bivalve, Leptodesma (Leiopteria), and two brachiopods, Floweria and Schizophoria (Schizophoria), as well as a predatory crustacean, Archaeostraca.

These small, shelled marine animals were some of the most common inhabitants of the Late Devonian oceans, which had the most extensive reef system in Earth's history.

The seas teemed with huge predatory fish such as Dunkleosteus, and smaller life forms such as trilobites and crinoids (sea lilies).

The first forests and terrestrial ecosystems appeared during this time; amphibians began to walk on land.

As sea levels rose and the continents closed in to form connected land masses, however, some species gained access to environments they hadn't inhabited before.

The hardiest of these invasive species that could thrive on a variety of food sources and in new climates became dominant, wiping out more locally adapted species.

The invasive species were so prolific at this time that it became difficult for many new species to arise.

"The main mode of speciation that occurs in the geological record is shut down during the Devonian," said Stigall. "It just stops in its tracks."

Of the species Stigall studied, most lost substantial diversity during the Late Devonian, and one, Floweria, became extinct.

The entire marine ecosystem suffered a major collapse. Reef-forming corals were decimated and reefs did not appear on Earth again for 100 million years.

The giant fishes, trilobites, sponges and brachiopods also declined dramatically, while organisms on land had much higher survival rates.

The study is relevant for the current biodiversity crisis, Stigall said, as human activity has introduced a high number of invasive species into new ecosystems.

In addition, the modern extinction rate exceeds the rate of ancient extinction events, including the event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

"Even if you can stop habitat loss, the fact that we've moved all these invasive species around the planet will take a long time to recover from because the high level of invasions has suppressed the speciation rate substantially," Stigall said.

Maintaining Earth's ecosystems, she suggests, would be helped by focusing efforts and resources on protection of new species generation.

"The more we know about this process," Stigall said, "the more we will understand how to best preserve biodiversity."

The research was also funded by the American Chemical Society and Ohio University.

Source:
National Science Foundation

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fractal Antenna Video Shows First Working Invisibility Cloak

Can you see it? Researchers at Fractal Antenna Systems have written a new chapter in the science of making things disappears. Their wideband microwave invisibility cloak, first revealed in March 2009, now makes its debut for everyone to see in a new video, free to view online, and available at: http://fractenna.com/whats/whats.html.

“Other researchers are still hiding objects behind mirrors. What’s the point of a cloak if you are already hiding behind a mirror?”



The video conclusively shows that invisibility science has taken a huge leap with fractal design. Fractals are geometric patterns that have complex structure built from scaled repetition of a simple pattern. Fractals make up the cloak and its ‘object’ layer, producing a wideband invisibility that slipstreams microwaves around obstacles. The other side appears with good fidelity, without the detectable presence of the obstacle. Although a proof-of-concept of an invisibility cloak was shown in 2006 at Duke University, such non-fractal efforts had limitations. The Duke cloak worked in one narrow band, had many more cloaking layers, possessed a discernable shadow, and required the obstacle to already be hiding behind a mirror. All of those obstacles have been solved using fractals, in grids called fractal metamaterial, as the firm’s cloak reveals.

HOLY GRAIL OF CLOAK DESIGN

Notes the firm’s CEO and chief inventor Nathan Cohen: “In 2008, Chinese researchers said it was impossible to make a wideband invisibility cloak. We not only did it, but reduced the number of cloak layers, and, most importantly, made a cloak you can see out of. That means a sensor, for example, can be made to disappear into the background over a wideband, but still be able to see what’s outside. These attributes are really the ‘holy grail’ of cloak designs, and strongly point towards a bright future for invisibility science.”

The fractal cloak works at microwaves; radio waves used by cell phones and wireless devices. The technology directly applies to infrared, and with technology advances in nanotechnology, can be made to make visual light invisibility cloaks, although Cohen cautions that it will be many years before visual light invisibility cloaks are perfected. “Other researchers are still hiding objects behind mirrors. What’s the point of a cloak if you are already hiding behind a mirror?” asked Cohen.

The firm’s cloak also marks the steady and remarkable process of innovation afforded by fractals in antennas and electronics. Oddly, many American antenna researchers have shied away from fractal design, while interest in Asia and Europe bloomed, noted Cohen. However, as recently shown on PBS’s NOVA television program, fractals have a great impact on antennas and electronics, and researchers from all continents except Antarctica now boast many dozens of active research programs.

Cohen also believes that success in cloaking science requires a body of diverse knowledge, which in his case drew upon experience as an astronomer, and curiously, as a radio ham operator. “I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics and am a retired college professor. But the experience I gained as a young ham radio operator was invaluable in helping me make knowledge connections to make the cloak work. That’s, in part, why my research group did this first, and why we continue to lead in innovation in fractal electronics, both in basic research and application to products.”

Source: Fractal Antenna Systems, Inc

Fractal Antenna Systems, Inc. (http://www.fractenna.com) supplies products for the world's most demanding wireless, and electromagnetic applications. Backed by over three dozen U.S., and international patents, plus dozens of patents pending, Fractal Antenna Systems is the recognized pioneer in fractal technology, with extensive research and field experience over 15 years in business. The company is a privately held and headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA.

The Brain Under General Anesthesia Isn't "Asleep," It Is In A Reversible Coma

The brain under general anesthesia isn't "asleep" as surgery patients are often told -- it is placed into a state that is a reversible coma, according to three neuroscientists who have published an extensive review of general anesthesia, sleep and coma, in the Dec. 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. This insight and others reported in their review article could eventually lead to new approaches to general anesthesia and improved diagnosis and treatment for sleep abnormalities and emergence from coma.

The researchers explain that a fully anesthetized brain is much closer to the deeply unconscious low-brain activity seen in coma patients, than to a person asleep. Essentially, general anesthesia is a coma that is drug-induced, and, as a consequence, reversible. The states operate on different time scales -- general anesthesia in minutes to hours, and recovery from coma in hours to months to years, if ever. The study of emergence from general anesthesia and recovery from coma could help to better understand how both processes occur.

Understanding that these states have more in common with each other than differences -- that they represent a continuum of activity with common circuit mechanisms being engaged across the different processes of awakening from sleep or emerging from coma or general anesthesia -- "is very exciting, because it gives us new ways to understand each of these states," says study co-author, Dr. Nicholas D. Schiff, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College and a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Co-authors of the study are Dr. Emery Brown of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Ralph Lydic from the University of Michigan.

Knowing more about the brain circuit mechanisms may also help researchers develop therapeutic agents to "tweak the circuits as needed, to help us in the areas where we don't do well, such as abnormalities of sleep and, especially, emergence from a coma," Dr. Schiff says. "And while use of general anesthesia is an incredibly safe technique, it can have effects on the elderly, such as slower recovery time and impaired cognitive function afterwards."

In their review, which took three years to develop, the researchers synthesized the newest studies in these three areas, including work of their own. Among their other specialties, Dr. Brown's expertise is general anesthesia, Dr. Lydic's is sleep, and Dr. Schiff's is recovery from coma.

"We think this is, conceptually, a very fresh look at phenomena we and others have noticed and studied in sleep, coma and use of general anesthesia," Dr. Schiff says. "By reframing these phenomena in the context of common circuit mechanisms, we can make each of these states understandable and predictable."

"These findings show that general anesthesia is a reversible coma, and learning about the different ways we can safely place the brain into this state, with fewer side effects and risks, could be an important advance in general anesthesiology," explains Dr. Brown. "Also, in a scientific sense, monitoring brain function under general anesthesia gives us new insights into how the brain works in order to develop new sleep aids and new ways for patients to recover from coma."

Describing the Switching Circuit

One critically important circuit the authors describe involves specific brain areas. One major player is the cortex, which is made up of layers of neural tissue at the outer edge of the brain, and another is the thalamus, a ball of neural tissue at the center of the brain. These areas are connected to each other through nerve cell axons, which act like information highways, passing signals. The cortex and the thalamus "talk" to each other in different ways over a 24-hour cycle.

Also part of the circuit is the basal ganglia, within the front of the brain, which is used to control certain actions. It does this in part by setting up two feedback loops. One is a negative feedback release on behavior, and that part of the circuit is always active when overall brain activity is reduced, Dr. Schiff says. For example, it works to stop a sleeping person from physically acting out their dreams.

The second feedback loop, however, releases the brake imposed by the first feedback loop, the researchers say. Certain drugs, such as the sleep aid zolpidem (Ambien), and propofol, a powerful general anesthetic with similar pharmacologic properties, can trigger that loop to function, producing what is known as "paradoxical excitation."

This phenomenon described in transitions observed in the early stages of general anesthesia appears to be common across all three states, because the drugs are triggering this same feedback loop, the authors explain. Most people given propofol become agitated and confused shortly after falling unconscious. Some people who use Ambien walk, eat and carry out other complex behaviors in an altered state of consciousness arising from sleep. Surprisingly, Ambien has also been reported to restore communication and behavioral responsiveness in some severely brain injured patients. The linkage of these disparate observations within a common circuit model is one of the key insights in the authors' integrative review.

Eventually the brake is switched back on in these three states -- giving way to sedation and deeper sleep, or in the case of the severely brain patient, the return to a state of diminished responsiveness.

There is another phenomenon that results from this circuit, the authors say. "Emergence delirium is the flip side," says Dr. Brown. "For example, when bringing a person out of general anesthesia, the brain is woken up enough to be active, but it is not coherent or organized, which can explain the slower recovery time we see in some patients."

It is these two areas -- losing consciousness and returning to consciousness -- that the researchers believe they might be able to target to provide better therapies for sleep, emergence from coma, and general anesthesia with fewer side effects. And it is by studying general anesthesia -- a process that can be well controlled as well as monitored and studied -- that researchers will likely make progress in understanding all three states of mind, Dr. Schiff says. For example, because coma patients each have individualized damage to their brains due to injury or stroke or hemorrhages, studying recovery from general anesthesia may offer potential opportunities for developing general strategies for intervention, Dr. Schiff says.

"The quantitative neurobehavioral metrics used to monitor recovery from coma could be used to track the emergence from general anesthesia from a functional state that can approximate brain-stem death to states similar to a vegetative state and eventually to a minimally conscious state," the authors write.

"Moreover, understanding this circuit will help us understand the relationship of brain function to consciousness in general -- what it is, how it is produced, and what the variety of brain states truly are," Dr. Schiff says. "Consciousness is a very dynamic process, and now we have a good way of studying it."

Contacts and sources:



The study was supported by National Institutes of Health grants as well as a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award, and by grants from the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, located in New York City, is one of the leading academic medical centers in the world, comprising the teaching hospital NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical College, the medical school of Cornell University. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine, and is committed to excellence in patient care, education, research and community service. Weill Cornell physician-scientists have been responsible for many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer; the synthesis of penicillin; the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S.; the first clinical trial for gene therapy for Parkinson's disease; the first indication of bone marrow's critical role in tumor growth; and, most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital also comprises NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division and NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. Weill Cornell Medical College is the first U.S. medical college to offer a medical degree overseas and maintains a strong global presence in Austria, Brazil, Haiti, Tanzania, Turkey and Qatar. For more information, visit www.nyp.org and weill.cornell.edu.

Indoor Plant Intervention Speeds Pulmonary Patients Rehab

Could a plant "intervention" improve the well-being of patients in a difficult rehab process? Pulmonary rehab patients report increased well-being when interior plants are introduced.

Scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Sweden's Uppsala University investigated this question in a recent study of 436 coronary and pulmonary patients at a Norwegian rehabilitation center. The results were published in HortScience. Ruth Kjærsti Raanaas, Grete Grindal Patil, and Terry Hartig studied the effects of an indoor plant intervention during a 2-year study conducted at the Røros Rehabilitation Center.

This is the reception area of the Røros Rehabilitation center during the plant intervention.
Credit: Photo by Herman Tandberg, Tandberg Industridesign.

The experiment showed that patients' overall physical and mental health improved during the program, but the presence of new plants did not increase the degree of improvement. One encouraging finding: pulmonary patients in the "plant intervention group" reported a larger increase in well-being during their rehabilitation program more often than lung patients from the "no-plant" control group.

For the intervention, 28 new plants were placed in common areas at the rehab center, which had previously contained only a few poorly maintained plants. Aside from the introduction of the new plants and removal of some older plants, no other changes were made to the interior decoration during the study period.

Coronary and pulmonary patients completed self-assessments upon arrival at the center, after 2 weeks, and at the end of a 4-week program. The research project, designed to investigate whether the addition of indoor plants in the common areas would improve self-reported physical and mental health, subjective well-being, and emotions among patients over the course of their rehabilitation program, was funded by the Norwegian Foundation for Health and Rehabilitation, the Norwegian Gardener's Union, the Bank of Røros, Tropisk Design, and Primaflor.

According to Raanaas, the team found no "significant direct effects" of the plant intervention on change in either of the self-reported health outcomes. "The results did, however indicate that the plant intervention affected the degree of change in subjective well-being, although this effect was further contingent on patient group."

The team postulated that the study outcomes may have been limited by the rehab center's well-designed interior and location in a scenic mountain area, but noted that these features did not negate the potential for indoor plants to contribute to patient well-being. "One reason why the plant intervention did not influence the health outcomes in the present study may be that the participants were mobile and were exposed to a variety of treatments and activities at the center", the researchers concluded.

Contacts and sources:
Michael W. Neff
American Society for Horticultural Science


The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/45/3/387

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at ashs.org