Longest Floating Structure in History Sets Out To Clean the Ocean-in-2016

Courtesy of True Activist:

An ambitious new project is hoping to help clean the world’s oceans with a trash collector that is reportedly the longest floating structure in recorded world history.

Back in 2013 we reported that a 19-year-old developed a plan to clean up the world’s oceans in just 5 years, removing 7,250,000 tons of plastic. However, last week, Boyan Slat (now 20), founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, announced that this awesome project will be deployed in 2016.

Slat’s invention consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Working with the flow of nature, his solution to the problematic shifting of trash is to have the array span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel as the ocean moves through it. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from smaller forms, such as plankton, and be filtered and stored for recycling. The issue of by-catches, killing life forms in the procedure of cleaning trash, can be virtually eliminated by using booms instead of nets and it will result in a larger areas covered. Because of trash’s density compared to larger sea animals, the use of booms will allow creatures to swim under the booms unaffected, reducing wildlife death substantially.

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Image Credit: theoceancleanup.com Continue reading

Researchers Find Textbook-Altering Link Between Brain, Immune System

Courtesy of University of Virginia:

In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.

That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.

“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?,’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?,’ now we can approach this mechanistically – because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in U.Va.’s Department of Neuroscience and director of U.Va.’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions.”

He added, “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. [It’s] hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a [neurological] disease with an immune component.”

Kevin Lee, who chairs the Department of Neuroscience, described his reaction to the discovery by Kipnis’ lab: “The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks.’ There has never been a lymphatic system for the central nervous system, and it was very clear from that first singular observation – and they’ve done many studies since then to bolster the finding – that it will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system.” Continue reading

Chemists Discover Key Reaction Mechanism Behind the Highly Touted Sodium-Oxygen Battery

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Chemists at the University of Waterloo have discovered the key reaction that takes place in sodium-air batteries that could pave the way for development of the so-called holy grail of electrochemical energy storage. The key lies in Nazar’s group discovery of the so-called proton phase transfer catalyst. By isolating its role in the battery’s discharge and recharge reactions, Nazar and colleagues were not only able to boost the battery’s capacity, they achieved a near-perfect recharge of the cell. When the researchers eliminated the catalyst from the system, they found the battery no longer worked. Unlike the traditional solid-state battery design, a metal-oxygen battery uses a gas cathode that takes oxygen and combines it with a metal such as sodium or lithium to form a metal oxide, storing electrons in the process. Applying an electric current reverses the reaction and reverts the metal to its original form.
Credit: University of Waterloo

Courtesy of Science Daily:

Chemists at the University of Waterloo have discovered the key reaction that takes place in sodium-air batteries that could pave the way for development of the so-called holy grail of electrochemical energy storage.

Researchers from the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, led by Professor Linda Nazar who holds the Canada Research Chair in Solid State Energy Materials, have described a key mediation pathway that explains why sodium-oxygen batteries are more energy efficient compared with their lithium-oxygen counterparts.

Understanding how sodium-oxygen batteries work has implications for developing the more powerful lithium-oxygen battery, which is has been seen as the holy grail of electrochemical energy storage.

Their results appear in the journal Nature Chemistry.

“Our new understanding brings together a lot of different, disconnected bits of a puzzle that have allowed us to assemble the full picture,” says Nazar, a Chemistry professor in the Faculty of Science. “These findings will change the way we think about non-aqueous metal-oxygen batteries.”

Sodium-oxygen batteries are considered by many to be a particularly promising metal-oxygen battery combination. Although less energy dense than lithium-oxygen cells, they can be recharged with more than 93 per cent efficiency and are cheap enough for large-scale electrical grid storage. Continue reading

Quantum Scientists Break Aluminium ‘Monopoly’

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Credit: TUDelft/Tremani

Courtesy of Phys.org:

A Majorana fermion, or a Majorana particle, is a fermion that is its own antiparticle. Discovering the Majorana was the first step, but utilizing it as a quantum bit (qubit) still remains a major challenge. An important step towards this goal has just been taken by researchers from TU Delft in today’s issue of Nature Physics. It is a nearly thirty-year-old scientific problem that has just been resolved: demonstrating the difference between the even and odd occupation of a superconductor in high magnetic fields. Thus far, this was only possible in aluminium, which is incompatible with Majoranas. This result enables the read out and manipulation of quantum states encoded in prospective Majorana qubits.

Qubit

Qubits store information similarly to normal (digital) bits. While a bit represents either 0 or 1, a qubit utilizes the laws of quantum mechanics, making it possible to be in a superstate of 0 and 1 simultaneously. This enables solving several mathematical problems much faster than the most capable supercomputers ever built. Several research groups and companies around the globe are pursuing the development and prototyping of such a powerful quantum computer, including QuTech at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands.

Majoranas

A qubit encoded by Majorana’s is a promising building block for a practical quantum computer. Until now, it was a major challenge to read out such a Majorana qubit. In order to do so, one needs to determine whether the number of the electrons is even or odd, or, in other words, what the parity state is. The measurement of the parity of superconductors has been performed for the last thirty years, however, successful experiments were exclusively done on aluminium while all attempts addressing different superconducting materials, such as vanadium or niobium, have failed. This is a major issue for Majorana research as superconductivity is required to survive in high magnetic fields, at which aluminium ceases to be a superconductor. Continue reading

Why Do Most Galaxies Die? It’s A Case Of Strangulation, Scientists Say

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Courtesy of NPR:

Scientists think they may finally be resolving a decades-old cold case as to what is killing galaxies: They’re being strangled.

Astronomers have long known that galaxies fall into two main categories — those that spawn new stars (like our own Milky Way) and those that don’t.

One hypothesis is that the light elements hydrogen and helium are slowly choked off, essentially closing the tap on the fuel needed to form stars. A second hypothesis is that those same star-forming gases are stripped away, perhaps by the gravitational pull of another nearby galaxy.

Publishing in Nature this week, Yingjie Peng, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in England, says his team compared 3,905 star-forming galaxies with 22,618 galaxies that had shut down star formation. They determined that the vast majority of the star-formers contained less of the heavier elements — forged by dying stars as they fuse hydrogen and helium into everything up to and including iron — than those galaxies not forming new stars.

Science magazine notes: “This is just the pattern expected if infalling gas sustains their star-forming careers, because this gas has little iron and therefore dilutes a galaxy’s iron abundance; once the gas stops falling in, the iron abundance rises as exploding stars forge the element. The study finds that about 4 billion years elapse between when the gas stops falling in and when stars stop forming. In the Milky Way’s case, lots of gas is raining onto it, so our galactic home won’t go from sizzle to fizzle any time soon.” Continue reading

TTIP: Transatlantic Trade Deal Text Leaked to BBC

Which ever ist or ism you want to apply, it solidifies the power of a few. Courtesy of Glenn Campbell @ BBC Scotland:

A leaked draft of what the European Union wants excluded from a new trade deal with the United States has been obtained by the BBC.

The document describes itself as the EU’s “initial offer” in negotiations over the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).

It includes the wording that UK ministers have said will protect the NHS from privatisation.

Anti-TTIP campaigners say a specific exemption for the NHS is still needed.
The 103-page document is headed “trade in services and investment: schedule of specific commitments and reservations”.

It was produced before the most recent round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels were held at the beginning of this month.

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On health, the document states: “The EU reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all health services which receive public funding or State support in any form”.

The wording is the same as that used in a similar free trade agreement between the EU and Canada (CETA).

The UK trade minister, Lord Livingston, said last week that this text ensured “publicly funded health services are excluded”.

The European Commission has also previously said TTIP would not affect how NHS services are provided, whether in Scotland or the rest of the UK.

But Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has called for the NHS to be specifically excluded from the deal. Continue reading

Fossil Pushes Back Human Origins 400,000 Years

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This partial lower jaw from Ethiopia is the oldest example of our genus Homo.

Courtesy of Ann Gibbons @ Sciencemag.org:

On a hot January morning 2 years ago, Chalachew Seyoum was searching for fossils at a desolate site in Ethiopia called Ledi-Geraru, where no human ancestor had turned up in a decade of searching. But Seyoum, an Ethiopian graduate student at Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, was upbeat after a week off. “I had a lot of energy and fresh eyes,” he says. “I was running here and there. I went up a little plateau and over the top when I spotted this specimen popping right out.”

He sat down and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he could more clearly see the gray fossil poking out of the bleached sand and mudstone, and he realized that he had found the jawbone of a hominin—a member of the human family. He called out for the ASU expedition leader: “Kaye Reeeed!” Reed scrambled up the steep slope on her hands and knees, saw the fossil, and yelled “Woo-hoo!”

Their excitement was justified. In two papers online this week in Science, the ASU team and co-authors introduce the partial lower jaw as the oldest known member of the genus Homo. Radiometrically dated to almost 2.8 million years ago, the jaw is a window on the mysterious time when our genus emerged. With both primitive and more modern traits, it is a bridge between our genus and its ancestors and points to when and where that evolutionary transition took place. As a transitional form “it fits the bill perfectly,” says paleontologist Fred Spoor of University College London.

Together with a reassessment of known fossils, published in Nature this week by Spoor and colleagues, the find is stimulating new efforts to sort out the mixed bag of early Homo remains and to and to work out which forms emerged first. “This causes us to rethink early Homo,” says paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Continue reading

Researchers Confirm That Neonicotinoid Insecticides Impair Bee’s Brains

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Credit: Lilla Frerichs/public domain

Courtesy of Grant Hill @ Phys.org

Research at the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee has confirmed that levels of neonicotinoid insecticides accepted to exist in agriculture cause both impairment of bumblebees’ brain cells and subsequent poor performance by bee colonies.

The contribution of the neonicotinoids to the global decline of insect pollinators is controversial and contested by many in the agriculture industry. However, the new research, published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, demonstrates for the first time that the low levels found in the nectar and pollen of plants is sufficient to deliver neuroactive levels to their site of action, the bee brain.

Dr Chris Connolly, a Reader in the Division of Neuroscience at Dundee’s School of Medicine, has spent several years examining the risk from neonicotinoids and other commonly used classes of pesticides on both honeybees and bumblebees.

He and his colleagues at Dundee carried out combined laboratory and field studies and the data was analysed by Professor Steve Buckland at St Andrews. The results showed very low levels of neonicotinoids caused bumblebee colonies to have an estimated 55 per cent reduction in live bee numbers, a 71 per cent reduction in healthy brood cells, and a 57 per cent reduction in the total bee mass of a nest.

Dr Connolly says the paper represents the best scientific evidence to date connecting neonicotinoid consumption to poor performance of bees and that the effects of the pesticide must be considered by policy makers seeking to protect the abundance and diversity of insect pollinators.

Continue reading

Cold Is Contagious

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Courtesy of Ross Pomeroy @ Real Clear Science:

As the heart of the United States braces for a wicked cold snap next week, there’s also chilling news coming out of the journal PLoS ONE. On Wednesday, neuroscientists from the United Kingdom reported that cold is contagious. Yes, just looking at someone who’s shivering or experiencing frigid temperatures can cause parts of your own body to become colder.

For the study, the researchers had 36 participants sit in a temperature-controlled room and watch videos of actors placing one of their hands in either visibly steaming water, ice water, or neutral still water. Each subject watched ten total videos, four each featuring warm and cold water with different actors who used either their left or right hand, as well as two control videos. All of the videos lasted two minutes.

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What Does It Mean To Be ‘Star Stuff’?

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The Tycho supernova remnant. This type of structure is all that remains after a massive star dies, releasing the chemical building blocks of life and planetary systems into space. Credit: NASA/CXC/Chinese Academy of Sciences/F. Lu et al.

Courtesy of Vanessa Janek @ Universe Today:

At one time or another, all science enthusiasts have heard the late Carl Sagan’s infamous words: “We are made of star stuff.” But what does that mean exactly? How could colossal balls of plasma, greedily burning away their nuclear fuel in faraway time and space, play any part in spawning the vast complexity of our Earthly world? How is it that “the nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies” could have been forged so offhandedly deep in the hearts of these massive stellar giants?

Unsurprisingly, the story is both elegant and profoundly awe-inspiring.

All stars come from humble beginnings: namely, a gigantic, rotating clump of gas and dust. Gravity drives the cloud to condense as it spins, swirling into an ever more tightly packed sphere of material. Eventually, the star-to-be becomes so dense and hot that molecules of hydrogen in its core collide and fuse into new molecules of helium. These nuclear reactions release powerful bursts of energy in the form of light. The gas shines brightly; a star is born.

The ultimate fate of our fledgling star depends on its mass. Smaller, lightweight stars burn though the hydrogen in their core more slowly than heavier stars, shining somewhat more dimly but living far longer lives. Over time, however, falling hydrogen levels at the center of the star cause fewer hydrogen fusion reactions; fewer hydrogen fusion reactions mean less energy, and therefore less outward pressure.

At a certain point, the star can no longer maintain the tension its core had been sustaining against the mass of its outer layers. Gravity tips the scale, and the outer layers begin to tumble inward on the core. But their collapse heats things up, increasing the core pressure and reversing the process once again. A new hydrogen burning shell is created just outside the core, reestablishing a buffer against the gravity of the star’s surface layers.

While the core continues conducting lower-energy helium fusion reactions, the force of the new hydrogen burning shell pushes on the star’s exterior, causing the outer layers to swell more and more. The star expands and cools into a red giant. Its outer layers will ultimately escape the pull of gravity altogether, floating off into space and leaving behind a small, dead core – a white dwarf. Continue reading