Sunday, October 29, 2006

Airborne Laser Closer To Completion

The US Missile Defense Agency rolled out an airborne laser aircraft on Friday, the latest development in a missile-defense system that was once ridiculed as a Star Wars fantasy. In a ceremony at the Boeing Co's Integrated Defense Systems facility in Wichita, the agency announced it was ready to flight test some of the low-power systems on the ABL aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400F designed to destroy enemy missiles. Lt. Gen Henry Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he embraced early critics' comparison of the laser-equipped plane to the Star Wars movies. The laser weapon's system is designed to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles in their boost flight phase. It will likely be 2008 before the program is ready to fire at a missile in flight, and it wouldn't be operational until the middle or late part of the decade.
For the bombs that do make it to US cities through increasingly advanced missile defense systems, see the damage radius here. Bin Laden plan accordingly ( lol, just kidding ;)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Genome Buzz: Honeybee DNA

Scientists have officially unveiled the DNA code of the western honeybee, the first genome to be sequenced for an animal with ultrastratified societies.

The bees are among the select species in which a few individuals reproduce while others in the colony raise the young and do the chores.

The honeybee genome, the whole sequence of its DNA building blocks, shows some patterns that fit old ideas of social living plus some patterns that demand new thinking, reports the consortium of bee-genome researchers.

The scientists report the genome's highlights in the Oct. 26 Nature. More than 40 other analyses also appeared in journals including Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Genome Research.

"The sequencing of the honeybee genome is unquestionably a historic event," comments Ben Oldroyd, a bee specialist at the University of Sydney in Australia.

The honeybee's genome is the fifth to be sequenced among insects, says Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a founding member of the bee consortium. Geneticists first did the lab fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and have since published reports on another fruit fly species, the malaria mosquito, and the silkworm.

Among the novelties of the honeybee, Apis mellifera, are its 170 genes for odor receptors. The lab fruit fly has 60. "Social life relies heavily on smell," notes Robinson.

The bees, however, carry fewer known immune system genes than the lab fruit fly or malaria mosquito does. That was a surprise, says Robinson, since social life brings extra risks of disease. Perhaps the honeybees compensate through particularly healthful behaviors, such as grooming, or perhaps some undiscovered genes drive their innate immunity. "Either way, it will be interesting," says Robinson.

The honeybees' famous royal jelly, the food that sets a larva on the road to becoming a queen instead of a worker, comes from proteins encoded by nine genes. The researchers compared them with other species' genes and concluded that they evolved from the so-called yellow gene, which plays a role in fruit fly pigment, for example.

In several groups of genes, such as those for circadian rhythms, the honeybee looks more like a vertebrate than the other sequenced insects. The honeybee also uses a full set of vertebratelike genes for enzymes that regulate the action of other genes. Lab fruit flies use a different system for regulating genes.

Even though honeybees differ radically from fruit flies in their sex determination—honeybee males develop from unfertilized eggs and thus have only one copy of each chromosome, whereas a fruit fly male gets chromosomes from both a father and mother—the two species' sex-related genes still show similarities.

Honeybees can perform remarkable feats of learning and memory, says Adrian Dyer of Monash University in Clayton, Australia. He predicts that having the honeybee genome in hand will spur "insight into how complex behavior patterns can arise in organisms with relatively simple brains."

The new research should also boost efforts to breed hardier honeybees, says Robinson. He says that U.S. commercial honeybee populations have shrunk by up to a third in the past 20 years, mostly because of an invasion of bee-killing mites.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oldest Complex Organic Molecules Found In Ancient Fossils

Ohio State University geologists have isolated complex organic molecules from 350-million-year-old fossil sea creatures - the oldest such molecules yet found.

The molecules may have functioned as pigments, but the study offers a much bigger finding: an entirely new way to track how species evolved.

Christina O'Malley, a doctoral student in earth sciences at Ohio State, found orange and yellow organic molecules inside the fossilized remains of several species of sea creatures known as crinoids. The oldest fossils in the study date back to the Mississippian period.

Crinoids still exist today. Though they resemble plants, they are marine animals. They cling to the seafloor and feast on plankton that float by.

The crinoids in this study had flower-like fronds capping skinny stalks about six inches high - a look resembling "starfish on a stick," said William Ausich, professor of earth sciences and O'Malley's co-advisor with Yu-Ping Chin, also a professor of earth sciences.

Today's crinoids display a range of colors, some variegated shades of red, orange, and yellow, so the geologists weren't surprised that some of those colors turned up in the 350-million-year-old crinoids, Ausich said.

"People have suspected for a long time that organic molecules could be found inside fossils," he added. "This is just the first time that scientists have succeeded in finding them."

Though the organic molecules could be classified as pigments, nobody can be sure that they functioned as pigments inside these ancient animals, the geologists emphasized. They may have served some other purpose besides coloration - perhaps to defend the animal from predators by making it less palatable.

Because the molecules appear to be a little different for each species of crinoid, scientists can now use the pigments as biomarkers to map relationships on the creatures' family tree. Until now, they could only infer crinoid lineage based on the size and shape of key features on the animals' skeletons.

"This could be a new tool for figuring out how long-dead creatures became so prolific and successful. We can't travel back in time, but now we can look for clues about these creature's lives in a way that hasn't been attempted or taken advantage of before," O'Malley said.

Scientists can only view fossilized plants and animals in the grays and tans of sedimentary rock, such as the limestone fossils in this study. Rock is inorganic, and replaces organic molecules such as pigments during fossilization. What O'Malley and her colleagues discovered is that some organic molecules occasionally survive the process.

"Crinoid skeleton is very porous, and we think that when inorganic molecules filled in the spaces of the skeleton during preservation, some of the organic molecules were trapped inside the fossil," she said.

O'Malley found pigments in every crinoid specimen that she sampled from three fossil sites, one in Switzerland and two in Indiana.

The Indiana samples date back to 350 million years ago, during the Mississippian period, when much of North America was covered by a shallow inland sea. The Switzerland fossils date back to 60 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. The sites preserved the crinoids exceptionally well, probably because a sudden storm buried them in sediment.

Should pigments be found in other fossils, the technique could prove to be a reliable way to trace species' evolution. So far, the crinoid biomarkers mesh well with scientists' concepts of how those species are related.

O'Malley isolated the pigments by grinding up small bits of fossil and dissolving the organic molecules into a solution. Then she injected a tiny sample of the solution into a machine called a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer. The machine vaporized the solution so that a magnet could separate individual molecules based on electric charge and mass. Computer software then identified the molecules.

Orange and yellow organic molecules emerged, along with several other molecules that the geologists have yet to identify. The off-the-shelf software was only designed to identify common laboratory compounds, O'Malley explained. She would like to generate her own database of fossil organic molecules, and also extract pigments from other marine fossils, including some from sites in Iowa.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Scientists Help NASA 'Follow The Sun' - In Stereo

Like geologists poring over seismograph records to identify the telltale signature of an imminent earthquake, University of Minnesota researchers are poised to probe the sun for a tipoff that a huge eruption of its corona is brewing. Called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, these solar castoffs can wreak havoc with satellites, whole nations' power grids and the well-being of astronauts. The university-designed and built instruments aboard the twin spacecraft of NASA's STEREO mission - currently scheduled for launch Oct. 25 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. - will detect waves of energy and charged particles emitted by the sun via processes that may help cause CMEs.

"As our society becomes more electronic and sophisticated, these outbursts become more disruptive," said Paul Kellogg, a retired physics professor who is part of the university's space physics team. "STEREO will allow us to see when one is coming to Earth."

The $400 million STEREO mission is the first to use the moon's gravity to "slingshot" more than one spacecraft into orbit. As the two spacecraft circle the moon, the moon will first throw one into orbit trailing Earth and then, a month later, hurl the second into orbit moving ahead of Earth. As the distance between the spacecraft widens, they will gain a stereoscopic perspective on the sun that will allow cameras and other instruments aboard to detect the direction in which any CMEs are traveling.

The University of Minnesota team has worked closely with researchers at the Paris Observatory to design and build instruments for their joint experiment, called S/WAVES (short for STEREO WAVES). The university's instruments will be able to track the shock wave that precedes a CME as it moves through space.

"It's all to understand and predict how the sun works," said university physicist Keith Goetz, the project manager for S/WAVES. "We hope to get moving pictures of CMEs and solar flares. We want to be able to look at the surface of the sun and say, for example, 'There's going to be an eruption-right there, in that spot.'"

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Breakthrough In Stem Cell Research

New stem cell research in rats may lead to treatments that slow amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Grafting human stem cells into the lower spine of rats bred to duplicate the neurological illness delayed the start of nerve cell damage associated with the disease and slightly prolonged the life of the rats, say scientists at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. The stem cells developed into nerve cells and created extensive connections with existing nerve cells in the rats' spines. The transplanted stem cells did not succumb to ALS, the Hopkins team found. The study was published in this week's issue of the journal Transplantation.
"We were extremely surprised to see that the grafted stem cells were not negatively affected by the degenerating cells around them, as many feared introducing healthy cells into a diseased environment would only kill them," researcher Dr. Vassilis Koliatsos, associate professor of pathology and neurosciences, said in a prepared statement. All the rats in this study did eventually die of ALS. However, the results provide "proof of principle" for stem-cell grafts, Koliatsos said. In the next phase of this research, his team plans to graft stem cells along the full length of the rats' spines to study the effect of the intervention on nerves and muscles in the rodents' upper body. In the current study, Koliatsos and his colleagues, "only injected cells in the lower spine, affecting only the nerves and muscles below the waist. The nerves and muscles above the waist were not helped by these transplanted stem cells ."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Invisibility Cloak Developed

Harry Potter and Captain Kirk would be proud. A team of British and American researchers has made a Cloak of Invisibility.
Before any perverts get their hopes up, it should be said that it's not perfect yet. But it is a start, since it did a pretty good job of hiding a copper cylinder. In this experiment, the scientists used microwaves to try to detect the cylinder. Like light and radar waves, microwaves bounce off objects making them visible and creating a shadow, though it has to be detected with instruments.
If you can hide something from microwaves, you can hide it from radar - a possibility that will fascinate the military. Cloaking differs from stealth technology, which doesn't make an aircraft invisible but reduces the cross-section available to radar, making it hard to track. Cloaking simply passes the radar or other waves around the object.
The new work points the way for an improved version that could hide people and objects from visible light. Conceptually, the chance of adapting the concept to visible light is good, cloak designer David Schurig, a research associate in Duke University's electrical and computer engineering department, said. But he added that from an engineering point of view it is very challenging.
Nonetheless, the cloaking of a cylinder from microwaves comes just five months after Schurig and colleagues published their theory that it should be possible. Their first success is reported in a paper in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
"We did this work very quickly and that led to a cloak that is not optimal," said co-author David R Smith, also of Duke. "We know how to make a much better one."
The first working cloak was in only two dimensions and did cast a small shadow, Smith acknowledged. The next step is to go for three dimensions and to eliminate any shadow.
Normally viewers can see things because objects scatter the light that strikes them, reflecting some of it back to the eye.
"The cloak reduces both, an object's reflection and it's shadow, either of which would enable it's detection," said Smith. In effect the device , made of meta-materials - engineered mixtures of metal and circuit board materials, which could include ceramic, Teflon or fibre composite materials - channels the microwaves around the object being hidden.
Just like when water flows around a rock, Smith explained, it recombines after it passes the rock and people looking at the water downstream would never know it had passed a rock.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cancer-killing Virus Developed

South Korean scientists have said they have developed a new genetically altered strain of virus which is highly efficient in targeting and killing cancer cells. The new therapy developed by the team from Yonsei University uses a genetically-engineered form of the adenovirus, which normally causes colds. The adenovirus was implanted with a human gene that is related to the production of relaxin, a hormone associated with pregnancy. When injected into cancerous tumours, the virus quickly multiplies in the cancer cells and kills them, the team said.
For more click here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scientists Make Atomic Clock Breakthrough

Andrei Derevianko, Kyle Beloy, and Ulyana Safronova sat down six months ago and began work on a calculation that will help the world keep better time. In competition with scientists at the University of New South Wales, the University team led by associate professor Derevianko conducted research that increased the accuracy of atomic clocks, and they did it without running a single experiment.

“Our findings didn’t take a lot of criticism,” Derevianko said. “The results are too clear and obvious to be disputed.”

In its research, the University team was able to isolate and explain a significant portion of the error in atomic clock output. The portion of error that the team studied has now been cut to one-fiftieth of its original size. The team’s research was based solely on calculations, many of which were conducted on high performance computers.

Kyle Beloy, a third-year graduate student in the University’s physics department, was the primary author of the paper containing the team’s results and he was thrilled to play a role in such a notable find. Ulyana Safronova, a University research professor, also contributed to the findings.

In 2004, an Italian research team found some convincing evidence that suggested that atomic clocks were less accurate then previously thought. This evidence concerned the scientific community and gave the theory behind atomic clocks renewed international attention.

“It seemed like a good time to reexamine the problem,” Derevianko said. “The uncertainty of the issue was a good primer for the research.”

Atomic clock technology is based on the fact that atoms emit a fixed frequency. Lasers, which also have operating frequencies, can be calibrated so that their frequencies match that of a given atom. Since atomic frequencies are constant, syncing a laser with an atom and counting the laser’s oscillations will always provide a steady measurement of time.

More accurate atomic clocks will lead to improved technologies. Most technical systems that employ satellites, including GPS technology, make use of atomic clocks; these technologies can now operate much more accurately.

The new findings are also paving the way for all kinds of new scientific experimentation. Extremely accurate measurements are required to make estimations about the behaviors of the universe. The extra time-keeping precision will allow scientists to explore hypotheses about the big-bang theory. The improved technology might even be accurate enough to provide evidence related to the controversial theory that universal constants, as in the amount of charge in an electron, are changing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Video Games By Thought And Music With Fingertips

Two developments recently which highlight an unconventional but futuristic way of doing things.
1> A breakthrough technique allowed a teenager to play the game Space Invaders using only signals from his brain. With a technique that takes data from the surface of the brain, a 14-yr-old boy from St Louis was able to play the two-dimensional Atari game without so much as lifting a finger, reported.
In Space Invaders, a popular game from the 1970's, players control a movable laser cannon in attempts to shoot rows of aliens that move back and forth across the screen. The objective is to kill the aliens before they have a chance to get to the bottom of the screen. Once they land, the game ends. The aliens can also shoot at the cannon, so the player has to try and evade the shots.
The boy, who already had grids implanted to monitor his brain for epilepsy, was connected to a computer program that linked the video game to the grids. He was then asked to move his hands, talk, and imagine things. The researchers correlated these movements to the different signals fired by the brain. They then asked the boy to play Space Invaders by moving his hand and tongue and then to imagine those movements without actually performing them.
"He cleared out the whole Level One basically on brain control," said Eric Leuthardt, a researcher at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
"He learned almost instantaneously. We then gave him a more challenging version in two dimensions and he mastered two levels there playing only with his imagination." A couple of years back, Leuthardt and colleagues performed this research on four adults. But they wanted to explore possible differences between teenagers and adults. Although it's too early to tell from testing just one teenager, Leuthardt thinks that teens may win this game.
"We observed much quicker reaction times in the boy and he had a higher level of detail of control - for instance, he wasn't moving just left and right, but just a little bit left, a little bit right," Leuthardt said.
Personally I would prefer to kick and punch my way through say, Mortal Combat, than use my imagination. I need the exercise lol. But this brain control thingy can have some pretty interesting applications. Use your imagination mate :P
2>Musicians can now make music by just flexing their fingers in the air, as an Australian researcher has developed a system that allows groups of people produce sound with a sensor mechanism that translates finger movement into sound. "It's a form of wearable instrument," Alistair Riddell at the Australian National University said. Riddell has already given performances with other musicians using the system. "It was a very strange kind of performance because people just looked at you and you were moving your hands in front of them and just basically staring at them," he said. Each musician has flexible sensors strapped to both thumbs and six of their fingers. As the sensors bend, this changes their electrical resistance, which communicates changes in sound properties such as the type of sound, it's pitch, volume and effects.
An advanced technology that will make concerts even more boring I guess. Oh well ^_^

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jupiter's Spot Changes Colour

Just a little more than a year ago, the small spot on Jupiter was a pale white; now it matches the reddish hue of it's bigger sibling, the Great Red Spot, and boasts 400mph winds, according to new data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Both spots are actually fierce storms in Jupiter's atmosphere. While the red spot - at three times the size of earth - is much more noticeable, strange things are happening to the smaller spot. Scientists aren't quite sure what's happening to the smaller storm, nicknamed the Little Red Spot or Red Spot Jr but officially called "Oval BA". It probably gained strength as it shrunk slightly, the same way spinning ice skaters go faster when they move their arms closer, said Nasa planetary scientist Amy Simon-Miller. Her findings from the Hubble data were published in the astronomical journal Icarus.
Some sexoid images of Jupiter here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Ig Nobels

Probably because of a lack of any significant breakthrough recently or Schumi's engine failure still hasn't sunk in or maybe because I'm just plain bored, but I feel like writing about this humorous event that took place last week.

For those not in the know Ig Nobels recognize findings that are based in science but are funny, bizarre, and sometimes downright disturbing such as a 2003 winner who documented duck necrophilia. They are bequeathed annually by the science humor journal The Annals of Improbable Research. An Ig Nobel is not quite a Nobel prize, but it's arguably more fun.

Scientists from Australia to Kuwait who descended on the Sanders Theater at Harvard University for the tongue-in-cheek 16th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony were honored for achievements ranging from blink-free photos to erudition.

Ivan Schwab of the University of California, Davis, accepted his Ornithology Prize replete in a beak and a giant plume of red, for his work explaining why woodpeckers don't get headaches. Their brains and eyes, Schwab claims, are very tightly compacted in their skulls according to modern packing theory, and therefore do not bounce around in their skulls as they peck. Emergency physician Frances Fesmire of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga earned the Medicine Prize for a technique he pioneered 18 years ago to eliminate intractable hiccups: digital rectal massage. In his acceptance speech, Fesmire told a rapt audience, "My son said it's sort of like winning a Darwin award, but you don't have to die to get it." Fesmire distributed Dr. Fran's Anti-Hiccup Kits after the ceremony.

The Peace Prize went to Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, for an invention dubbed The Mosquito, an acoustic teenager repellent that emits annoying high frequency sounds that only younger people can hear. The Acoustics award went to D. Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake, and James Hillenbrand of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, for showing that people wince at fingernails scraping across a blackboard because the sound is reminiscent of nonhuman primate vocalizations. Wasmia Al-Houty of Kuwait University and Faten Al-Mussalam of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority took the Nutrition Prize for showing that dung beetles distinguish among dung subtypes. The Physics Prize rewarded work that explored why uncooked spaghetti fractures into more than two pieces when broken. The presentation of this award, to Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, was followed by a demonstration of spaghetti-breaking on stage.

Cheese-based work fared especially well. Food technologists Antonio Mulet, José Javier Benedito and José Bon of the University of Valencia, Spain, and Carmen Rosselló of the University of Illes Balears, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, collected the Chemistry Prize for delving into how temperature affects the velocity of ultrasonic soundwaves through cheese. And the Biology Prize went to Bart Knols and Ruurd de Jong of Wageningen Agricultural University, the Netherlands, for demonstrating that malarial mosquitoes are equally attracted to smelly feet and limburger cheese. The Ig Nobel award categories change annually, depending on who the winners are.

The 2006 Ig Nobel prize winners as well as a list of previous years' winners is available here.

A video of the ceremony is available here. There is something wrong with the volume in the video I guess because I couldn't hear a thing. Either that or my speakers aren't working too well!Oh well....enjoy!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Robotic Spy Flies

UK military scientists are developing robot flies that can be sent in swarms to spy out enemy positions. Rafal Zbikowski, the project leader, believes the first machine insects could be buzzing around his lab within ten years. He has already produced a non-airborne prototype that mimics the wing-beats of a hover fly. Unlike conventional unmanned air vehicles(UAVs), Dr. Zbikowski's tiny drones could operate in confined and cluttered spaces within buildings, stairwells, tunnels or caves. They would be invaluable for rooting out hidden terrorists, or helping to locate victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes. Industrial applications might involve inspecting chemical pipes or mines.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Astronomers See Inside A Quasar For The First Time

For the first time, astronomers have looked inside quasars - the brightest objects in the universe - and have seen evidence of black holes.

The study lends further confirmation to what scientists have long suspected - that quasars are made up of super-massive black holes and the super-heated disks of material that are spiraling into them.

The results of the Ohio State University-led project were reported Thursday at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) High Energy Astrophysics Division in San Francisco.

"There are many models that try to describe what's happening inside a quasar, and before, none of them could be ruled out. Now some of them can," said Xinyu Dai, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State. "We can begin to make more precise models of quasars, and gain a more complete view of black holes."

Seen from Earth, quasars, or quasi-stellar objects, look like stars. They are extremely bright, which is why we can see them even though they are among the most distant objects in the universe. Astronomers puzzled over quasars for decades before deciding that they most likely contain super-massive black holes that formed billions of years ago.

Black holes cannot be directly observed, because they are so massive that even light cannot escape their gravity. The material that is falling into a black hole, on the other hand, glows brightly. In the case of quasars, the material shines across a broad range of energies, including visible light, radio waves, and X-rays.

Dai and Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy, and their colleagues studied the light emanating from two quasars.

Quasars are so far away that even in the most advanced telescopes, they look like a tiny pinpoint of light. The interior structures of the two quasars in this study only became visible when a galaxy happened to line up just right between them and the Earth, and magnified their light like a lens.

The astronomers likened the effect to being able to look at the quasars under a microscope.

Einstein predicted that massive objects in space can sometimes act like lenses, bending and magnifying light from objects that are behind them, as seen by an observer. The effect is called gravitational lensing, and it enables astronomers to study some objects in otherwise unattainable detail.

"Luckily for us, sometimes stars and galaxies act as very high-resolution telescopes," Kochanek said. "Now we're not just looking at a quasar, we're probing the very inside of a quasar and getting down to where the black hole is."

They were able to measure the size of the so-called accretion disk around the black hole inside each quasar.

In each, the disk surrounded a smaller area that was emitting X-rays, as if the disk material was being heated up as it fell into the black hole in the center.

That's what they expected to see, given current notions about quasars. But the inside view will help them begin to refine those notions, Dai said.

Key to the project was NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which allowed them to precisely measure the brightness of the X-ray emitting region of each quasar. They coupled those measurements to ones from optical telescopes which belong to the Small and Moderate Aperture Research Telescope System Consortium.

The astronomers studied the variability of both the X-rays and visible light coming from the quasars and compared those measurements to calculate the size of the accretion disk in each. They used a computer program that Kochanek created especially for such calculations, and ran it on a 48-processor computer cluster. Calculations for each quasar took about a week to complete.

The two quasars they studied are named RXJ1131-1231 and Q2237+0305, and there's nothing special about them, Kochanek said, except that they were both gravitationally lensed. He and his group are currently studying 20 such lensed quasars, and they'd like to eventually gather X-ray data on all of them.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

One Tiny Step Closer To Star Trek!

Beaming people in Star Trek fashion is still in the realms of science fiction but physicists in Denmark have teleported information from light to matter bringing quantum communication and computing closer to reality. Until now scientists have teleported similar objects such as light or single atoms over short distances from one spot to another in a split second.

But Eugene Polzik and his team at Niels Bohr Institute at Copenhagen University in Denmark have made a breakthrough by using both light and matter. "It is one step further because for the first time it involves teleportation between light and matter, two different objects. One is the carrier of information and the other one is the storage medium, " Polzik said.

The experiment involved a macroscopic atomic object containing thousands of billions of atoms. They also teleported the information a distance of half a meter but believe it can be extended further.

"Our method allows teleportation to be taken over longer distances because it involves light as the carrier of entanglement," Polzik explained. Quantum entanglement involves entwining two or more particles without physical contact.

Although teleportation is associated with the science-fiction series Star Trek, no one is likely to be beamed anywhere soon [:P]. But the achievement of Polzik's team, in collaboration with the theorist Ignacio Cirac of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, marks an advancement in the field of quantum information and computers, which could transmit and process information in a way that was impossible before.

" It is really about teleporting information from one site to another site. Quantum information is different from classical information in the sense that it cannot be measured. It has much higher information capacity and it cannot be eavesdropped on. The transmission of quantum information can be made unconditionally secure," said Polzik whose research is reported in the journal Nature.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Record Ozone Loss During 2006 Over South Pole

Ozone measurements made by ESA’s Envisat satellite have revealed the ozone loss of 40 million tonnes on 2 October 2006 has exceeded the record ozone loss of about 39 million tonnes for 2000.

Ozone loss is derived by measuring the area and the depth of the ozone hole. The size of this year’s ozone hole is 28 million square km, nearly as large as the record ozone hole extension during 2000, and the depth of the ozone hole is around 100 Dobson Units, rivalling the record low ozone values in 1998. This year’s record ozone loss was reached because these two measurements occurred during the same time period. (A Dobson unit is a unit of measurement that describes the thickness of the ozone layer in a column directly above the location being measured.)

"Such significant ozone loss requires very low temperatures in the stratosphere combined with sunlight. This year’s extreme loss of ozone can be explained by the temperatures above Antarctica reaching the lowest recorded in the area since 1979," ESA Atmospheric Engineer Claus Zehner said.

Ozone is a protective layer found about 25 kilometres above us mostly in the stratospheric stratum of the atmosphere that acts as a sunlight filter shielding life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. Over the last decade the ozone level has lowered by about 0.3% per year on a global scale, increasing the risk of skin cancer, cataracts and harm to marine life.

The thinning of the ozone is caused by the presence of pollutants in the atmosphere such as chlorine, originating from man-made pollutants like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which have still not vanished from the air despite being banned under the Montreal Protocol (1987).

During the southern hemisphere winter, the atmospheric mass above the Antarctic continent is kept cut off from exchanges with mid-latitude air by prevailing winds known as the polar vortex. This leads to very low temperatures, and in the cold and continuous darkness of this season, polar stratospheric clouds are formed that contain chlorine.

As the polar spring arrives, the combination of returning sunlight and the presence of polar stratospheric clouds leads to splitting of chlorine compounds into highly ozone-reactive radicals that break ozone down into individual oxygen molecules. A single molecule of chlorine has the potential to break down thousands of molecules of ozone.

The ozone hole, first recognised in 1985, typically persists until November or December, when the winds surrounding the South Pole (polar vortex) weaken, and ozone-poor air inside the vortex is mixed with ozone-rich air outside it.

Envisat, the largest Earth observation satellite ever built, can localise ozone depletion and track its changes, enabling the rapid estimation of UV radiation as well as providing forecasting. The three atmospheric instruments aboard Envisat are the Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Cartography (SCIAMACHY), the global ozone monitoring by occultation of stars (GOMOS) sensor and the Michelson interferometer for passive atmospheric sounding (MIPAS).

In the framework of GMES (Global Monitoring of the Environment and Security), ESA has backed a project named TEMIS (Tropospheric Emission Monitoring Internet Service) that provides operational ozone and UV radiation monitoring based on SCIAMACHY and GOME-1 data. The ozone-monitoring data provided by these instruments span a time period of 11 years, which will be extended by the upcoming MetOp satellite series.

The first MetOp satellite in the series of three is scheduled to be launched in 2006 and will assist climate researchers in monitoring ozone levels and other atmospheric parameters. MetOp – Europe’s first polar-orbiting satellite and a mission dedicated to operational meteorology – will include a next-generation ozone-monitoring instrument called GOME-2, intended to guarantee continuity of observation of this vital environmental factor well into the following decades.

"Long-term measurements of ozone levels are of key importance for being able to monitor the ozone’s predicted recovery, which is currently estimated to take place by around 2060," Zehner said.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Improbable 'Buckyegg' Hatched

An egg-shaped fullerene, or "buckyball egg" has been made and characterized by chemists at UC Davis, Virginia Tech and Emory and Henry College, Va. The unexpected discovery opens new possibilities for structures for fullerenes, which could have a wide range of uses.

"It was a total surprise," said Christine Beavers, a chemistry graduate student working with Professors Alan Balch and Marilyn Olmstead at UC Davis. Beavers is first author on the paper, published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Fullerenes, sometimes called "buckyballs," are usually spherical molecules of carbon, named after the futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome. The carbon atoms are arranged in pentagons and hexagons, so their structures can resemble a soccer ball. An important rule - until now - is that no two pentagons can touch, but are always surrounded by hexagons.

The "buckyegg" compound was made by collaborating scientists at Virginia Tech, led by Professor Harry Dorn. They heated a mixture of carbon and other ingredients under special conditions to make a mixture of fullerenes, then shipped the products to UC Davis, where Balch's group worked on characterizing their structures.

When Beavers started to map out the structure, she found two pentagons next to each other, making the pointy end of the egg. Initially she thought that the results were a mistake, but she showed the data to Marilyn Olmstead, an expert on X-ray crystallography, and they decided that the results were real. The egg contains a molecule of triterbium nitride inside.

The experiment was actually part of a project to find new, more predictable ways to make fullerenes, Beavers said. The researchers were trying to make fullerenes with atoms of terbium, a metal from the lanthanide series of the periodic table, trapped inside. Metals similar to terbium are used as contrast agents for some medical scanning procedures. By putting these metals inside fullerenes, the researchers hope to make compounds that could be both medically useful and well-tolerated in the body.