Bad luck may play a big role in cancer—but prevention tactics still matter

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 16:14:59 Source: arstechnica

What causes cancer? High-profile culprits obviously include bum genes inherited from parents and harmful environmental and lifestyle factors, such a smoking or not wearing sunscreen. But in a new study in Science, researchers yet again say a big factor is random mutations—those that naturally and unavoidably occur as our error-prone cells go about the normal process of replication.

In fact, two-thirds of the mutations behind cancer are random—not inherited or induced by our environment—researchers at Johns Hopkins conclude from a fresh statistical analysis. But, they caution, the contribution of genetic bad luck doesn’t mean that many cancers aren’t preventable. It’s a point they emphasize carefully after their previous work set off fiery controversy on the matter.

Back in early 2015, the lead researchers of the new study, Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, published a straightforward hypothesis (also in Science) that the risk of cancers can, in part, be explained by simple stem cell replication. The idea being that the more stem cells a tissue type has and the faster those cells make copies of themselves, the more chances for mutations from sheer cellular sloppiness—thus, more chances for cancer. So, if a tissue type has a lot of fast-replicating stem cells, it would have a higher risk of developing cancer over a person's lifetime. This could help explain why different tissue types do have different risks of cancer. Lung and thyroid cancer are far more common than brain and pelvic bone cancer, for instance.

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X-rays let you see the smallest feature buried in your CPU

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 12:45:01 Source: arstechnica

The semiconductor industry is beyond remarkable when it comes to the the complexity and precision of the processes. A modern integrated circuit is not a single layer of circuitry, but many layers, all stacked on top of each other. This is all done through photolithography, where a pattern is imaged on a silicon wafer. Each layer requires a separate image, and all the images have to be aligned. If you take the 14nm number seriously (a nanometer is 1/1,000,000th of a millimeter), then wafers and masks, which are seriously hold-in-two-hands-big, have to be aligned with a precision that is better than the feature size. But, how do you know you've done it right?

The obvious answer is whether or not the chip works. But it would be nice to image the circuit so that it can be compared to the design. Apart from detecting problems during manufacturing, being able to image the final product would also allow for the design to be improved, since it would let you identify areas of a chip that consistently cause problems. But, how do you image structures that might be as small as 14nm that are buried under other structures that you also want to image.

The answer, it seems, is a form of X-ray tomography.

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Bright X-rays reveal 3D structure of processors—and defects lurking within

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 12:30:00 Source: arstechnica

The semiconductor industry is beyond remarkable when it comes to the the complexity and precision of the processes. A modern integrated circuit is not a single layer of circuitry, but many layers, all stacked on top of each other. This is all done through photolithography, where a pattern is imaged on a silicon wafer. Each layer requires a separate image, and all the images have to be aligned. If you take the 14nm number seriously (a nanometer is 1/1,000,000th of a millimeter), then wafers and masks, which are seriously hold-in-two-hands-big, have to be aligned with a precision that is better than the feature size. But, how do you know you've done it right?

The obvious answer is whether or not the chip works. But it would be nice to image the circuit so that it can be compared to the design. Apart from detecting problems during manufacturing, being able to image the final product would also allow for the design to be improved, since it would let you identify areas of a chip that consistently cause problems. But, how do you image structures that might be as small as 14nm that are buried under other structures that you also want to image.

The answer, it seems, is a form of X-ray tomography.

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Streaks on Martian slopes might not be caused by water

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 11:45:00 Source: arstechnica

The evidence for liquid water on the surface of Mars in the distant past is strong, but a discovery a few years ago provided a glimmer of hope that the wet stuff might still be making occasional appearances on the Red Planet. Fresh, dark streaks show up on steep slopes during the “warm” season, almost as if something wet is trickling downhill. To some researchers, however, these “recurring slope lineae,” which are a few meters wide and a few hundred meters long, look more like downward slides of destabilized sediment.

The question is, what could destabilize the sediment? The presence of briny water? (Water has been detected as a component of some of the minerals present, at least.) Could the thawing of carbon dioxide ice play a role? There is debate about which of these explanations can work and where water could possibly be coming from.

A new study led by Frédéric Schmidt of the University of Paris-Sud throws out a possible alternative that doesn’t involve thawing anything. If you’re holding out for water, you might consider that bad news, but it is at least a satisfyingly weird process.

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Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun'

science - Posted On:2017-03-23 11:30:01 Source: slashdot

German scientists are switching on "the world's largest artificial sun" in the hope that intense light sources can be used to generate climate-friendly fuel. From a report: The Synlight experiment in Julich, about 19 miles west of Cologne, consists 149 souped-up film projector spotlights and produces light about 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth. When all the lamps are swivelled to concentrate light on a single spot, the instrument can generate temperatures of around 3,500C -- around two to three times the temperature of a blast furnace. "If you went in the room when it was switched on, you'd burn directly," said Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber. The aim of the experiment is to come up with the optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has a problem with its cooling system

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 10:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Launched to the International Space Station in 2011 on the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has quietly been collecting data during the last six years, observing more than 100 billion cosmic ray events. Although it has yet to produce any major scientific findings, physicists believe the steady accumulation of data will eventually yield insights about dark matter and other cosmic mysteries.

But for that to happen, the instrument has to continue to take data. In recent months, scientists monitoring the $2 billion AMS instrument have noticed an increase in the "degradation" of one of several pumps that operate its thermal cooling system. The AMS has redundant systems, however, and could switch to a different pump if needed.

Nevertheless, there appears to be an overall concern that if this degradation is not an isolated incident, it could begin to affect other cooling pumps within the AMS thermal system. (Despite several requests for information in recent weeks from Ars, NASA officials have remained cagey about the overall threat this problem presents to the instrument. The scope of repairs they're contemplating suggests that the problem could eventually become serious, however.)

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NASA contemplating “Hubble-esque” spacewalks to fix physics experiment

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 09:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Launched to the International Space Station in 2011 on the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has quietly been collecting data during the last six years, observing more than 100 billion cosmic ray events. Although it has yet to produce any major scientific findings, physicists believe the steady accumulation of data will eventually yield insights about dark matter and other cosmic mysteries.

But for that to happen, the instrument has to continue to take data. In recent months, scientists monitoring the $2 billion AMS instrument have noticed an increase in the "degradation" of one of several pumps that operate its thermal cooling system. The AMS has redundant systems, however, and could switch to a different pump if needed.

Nevertheless, there appears to be an overall concern that if this degradation is not an isolated incident, it could begin to affect other cooling pumps within the AMS thermal system. (Despite several requests for information in recent weeks from Ars, NASA officials have remained cagey about the overall threat this problem presents to the instrument. The scope of repairs they're contemplating suggests that the problem could eventually become serious, however.)

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Researchers Develop App That Accurately Determines Sperm Quality

science - Posted On:2017-03-23 09:14:57 Source: slashdot

New submitter omaha393 writes: A team of researchers at Harvard Medical School have developed a point-of-care microfluidic detector capable of determining sperm quality using the simple device and a standard smartphone. Typical male fertility screens require a team of trained laboratory professionals and a screening process taking days to weeks and incurring high costs. The alternative home sperm measuring kits rely on chemical probes and only give measurements of quantity, not quality.The new method offers an easier, cheaper approach, with processing time taking about 5 seconds with no sample processing or wash steps required. The team found their device meets WHO guidelines with 98% accuracy of sperm quality measurements and is comparable to clinical results. The new device uses 35 microliters of sample to accurately measure both concentration and motility at a manufacturing cost of less than $5 per device. The device must still undergo FDA evaluations before being available to consumers, and the technology has yet to be named. The results of the study were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Further reading: NPR, Ars Technica, Scientific American Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Scammy science: 40 journals appointed a fake person as editor

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-23 08:29:57 Source: arstechnica

Anna O. Szust is not a real person. She is, literally, a fraud: oszust means “fraud” in Polish. Nonetheless, Szust has been appointed as an editor at 40 bogus academic journals. After sending out her fake application for an editorial role, the researchers responsible for the world’s nerdiest sting operation began to receive responses almost immediately. “Four titles immediately appointed Szust editor-in-chief,” report Piotr Sorokowski and colleagues in Nature this week.

At legitimate journals, editors play an important role in quality control. They decide whether a paper is worth sending out for peer review, and, if so, who is best qualified to review it. Then they decide whether to publish it, based on the advice of the reviewers. A high-quality journal has rigorous editors who work to ensure higher-quality science, which helps to stop bad science—ranging from the silly to the truly dangerous—from getting the approval stamp of publication and peer review.

Bogus, predatory journals, on the other hand, are not concerned with quality; they’re concerned with making a buck or ten thousand. They take advantage of legitimate open access scientific journals, which often charge a fee for publication in order to cover their costs; papers are then made available without a subscription.

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SpaceX Disappointed In Lack of NASA Mars Funding; Starts Looking For Landing Sites For Its Own Mars Missions

science - Posted On:2017-03-23 06:14:57 Source: slashdot

frank249 writes: Elon Musk says that the new NASA authorization legislation "changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars." From a report via Ars Technica: "Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an 'authorization' bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program." In other news, SpaceNews reports that "SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft (starting in 2020) and future human missions." From the report: "Paul Wooster of SpaceX said the company, working with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising -- Arcadia Planitia. Those landing sites are of particular interest, he said, for SpaceX's long-term vision of establishing a human settlement on Mars, but he said the company wouldn't rule out sending Red Dragon spacecraft elsewhere on the planet to serve other customers. 'We're quite open to making use of this platform to take various payloads to other locations as well,' he said. 'We're really looking to turn this into a steady cadence, where we're sending Dragons to Mars on basically every opportunity.' The Red Dragon spacecraft, he said, could carry about one ton of useful payload to Mars, with options for those payloads to remain in the capsule after landing or be deployed on the surface. 'SpaceX is a transportation company,' he said. 'We transport cargo to the space station, we deliver payloads to orbit, so we're very happy to deliver payloads to Mars.'" Fans of the book/movie "The Martian" would be happy if SpaceX does select Arcadia Planitia for their first landing site as that was the landing site of the Ares 3. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Mars Rover Spots Clouds Shaped By Gravity Waves

science - Posted On:2017-03-23 03:14:57 Source: slashdot

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: NASA's Curiosity rover has shot more than 500 movies of the clouds above Mars, including the first ground-based view of martian clouds shaped by gravity waves, researchers reported this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The shots are the best record made so far of a mysterious recurring belt of equatorial clouds known to influence the martian climate. Understanding these clouds will help inform estimates of ground ice depth and perhaps recurring slope lineae, potential flows of salty water on the surface, says John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who led the study with his graduate student, Jake Kloos. "If we wish to understand the water story of Mars's past," Moores says, "we first need to [separate out] contributions from the present-day water cycle." Using Curiosity's navigation camera, Moores and Kloos recorded eight-frame movies of this wispy cloud belt for two martian years. They've used two angles to capture the clouds: one pointed directly up, to see wind direction and speed, and another that keeps the rover's horizon in the frame, allowing a view into the clouds' depth. Given the limited water vapor, solar energy, and atmosphere, the martian clouds lack the variety of shapes seen on Earth. But during one day of cloud gazing -- Curiosity's 1302th martian day, to be precise -- the team got lucky and saw something unusual. That day, when Curiosity looked to the horizon, it saw a sequence of straight, parallel rows of clouds flowing in the same direction: the first ground-based view of a gravity wave cloud. Similar to the waves that follow a pebble tossed into a pond, gravity waves are created when some unknown feature of the martian landscape causes a ripple in the atmosphere that is then seen in clouds. Such waves are common at the edge of the martian ice caps, but thought to be less frequent over its equator. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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With racy sperm pics on a smartphone, men can easily test fertility

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-22 18:29:59 Source: arstechnica

The male equivalent of the at-home pregnancy test may have just landed.

With a simple smartphone device and a chip that slurps up sperm, men can easily and cheaply measure the count and motility of their swimmers. The test is about 98 percent accurate, takes less than five seconds, and requires no training to run, Harvard researchers report Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. It’s also cheap—the device and the microfluidic chip cost just $4.45 total to manufacture.

Researchers are hopeful that the invention will help couples trying to have children—as well as those trying not to. Worldwide, it's estimated that more than 30 million men face fertility issues at some point. And couples in developing countries or remote areas may not have easy access to fertility clinics. On the flip side, those who undergo vasectomies are encouraged to monitor their sperm counts afterward to make sure the procedure worked. A simple, mobile phone-based test could help both groups.

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At-home male fertility test uses semen-sucking chip and a smartphone

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-22 18:14:59 Source: arstechnica

The male equivalent of the at-home pregnancy test may have just landed.

With a simple smartphone device and a chip that slurps up sperm, men can easily and cheaply measure the count and motility of their swimmers. The test is about 98 percent accurate, takes less than five seconds, and requires no training to run, Harvard researchers report Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. It’s also cheap—the device and the microfluidic chip cost just $4.45 total to manufacture.

Researchers are hopeful that the invention will help couples trying to have children—as well as those trying not to. Worldwide, it's estimated that more than 30 million men face fertility issues at some point. And couples in developing countries or remote areas may not have easy access to fertility clinics. On the flip side, those who undergo vasectomies are encouraged to monitor their sperm counts afterward to make sure the procedure worked. A simple, mobile phone-based test could help both groups.

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Putting light in a spin generates a ring of fire on gold film

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-22 17:00:00 Source: arstechnica

The late 20th and early 21st century have seen a revolution in the study of light. Far from the old days of seeing things dimly through microscopes, we are now in the position to freeze light, use it to make materials transparent, and watch it spiral around on a gold surface.

Watching light do its thing is very difficult. This sounds a bit silly, as we observe the world through the effects of light. But what we actually see is an average effect. Light, shade, colors, and texture all come to us via the intensity of light, provided by lots of individual photons. We are in no position to see the femtosecond flickering of the field that averages to our spectacular view of the world.

All the interesting stuff we see is related to the amplitude and phase of the light field, though. And the amplitude of a light wave changes very fast, going through a complete cycle in two to three femtoseconds. The wavefront (phase) also travels very fast, moving around 300 nanometers every femtosecond. Tracking this sort of motion is tricky, but it reveals all sorts of intriguing stuff.

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'Extreme and Unusual' Climate Trends Continue After Record 2016

science - Posted On:2017-03-22 14:45:00 Source: slashdot

From a report on BBC: In the atmosphere, the seas and around the poles, climate change is reaching disturbing new levels across the Earth. That's according to a detailed global analysis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It says that 2016 was not only the warmest year on record, but it saw atmospheric CO2 rise to a new high, while Arctic sea ice recorded a new winter low. The "extreme and unusual" conditions have continued in 2017, it says. Reports earlier this year from major scientific bodies - including the UK's Met Office, Nasa and NOAA -- indicated that 2016 was the warmest year on record. The WMO's State of the Global Climate 2016 report builds on this research with information from 80 national weather services to provide a deeper and more complete picture of the year's climate data. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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“Startlingly effective” TV ads for testosterone helped lead to over-prescription

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-22 14:00:00 Source: arstechnica

With little evidence of health benefits, television advertisements for testosterone were very successful at persuading men to seek treatments for a questionable disorder, a new study in JAMA suggests. The potent commercials may have been a significant driver in the boom in testosterone use, which launched sales ten-fold in the US between 2000 and 2011.

The study, led by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examined insurance claims of around 17.2 million American men in 75 television markets between 2009 to 2013. During that time, more than a million of the men got their testosterone levels tested and more than 283,000 started treatment.

Looking at advertising patterns, the researchers calculated that a single ad aired to a million men was linked to 14 new tests, five new prescriptions following testing, and two new prescriptions given without testing. Ad exposure varied by market, with some seeing as many as 200 ads during the study period.

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Japanese company develops a solar cell with record-breaking 26%+ efficiency

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-22 12:45:00 Source: arstechnica

Solar panels are cheaper than ever these days, but installation costs can still be considerable for homeowners. More efficient solar panels can recapture the cost of their installation more quickly, so making panels that are better at converting sunlight into electricity is a key focus of solar research and development.

The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it’s just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won.

Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

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No, We Probably Don't Live in a Computer Simulation, Says Physicist

science - Posted On:2017-03-22 11:30:00 Source: slashdot

Science doesn't have all the answers. There are plenty of things it may never prove, like whether there's a God. Or whether we're living in a computer simulation, something proposed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. From an article on Gizmodo: This kind of thinking made at least one person angry, theoretical physicist and science writer Sabine Hossenfelder from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. Last week, she took to her blog Backreactions to vent. It's not the statement "we're living in a simulation" that upsets Hossenfelder. It's the fact that philosophers are making assertions that, if true, should most certainly manifest themselves in our laws of physics. "I'm not saying it's impossible," Hossenfelder told Gizmodo. "But I want to see some backup for this claim." Backup to prove such a claim would require a lot of work and a lot of math, enough to solve some of the most complex problems in theoretical physics. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Elon Musk on new NASA legislation: “This bill changes almost nothing”

Scientific Method - Posted On:2017-03-22 09:14:56 Source: arstechnica

SpaceX founder Elon Musk criticizes NASA and Congress in public only very rarely—which isn't surprising given that NASA has supported his company with more than $3 billion in contracts for cargo and crew delivery to the International Space Station. But he broke that rule on Tuesday night when asked on Twitter about the new NASA authorization legislation.

"This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars," Musk tweeted. "Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it," he added.

Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an "authorization" bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program.

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A New Definition Would Add 102 Planets To Our Solar System -- Including Pluto

science - Posted On:2017-03-22 03:14:57 Source: slashdot

The Grim Reefer quotes a report from The Washington Post: Is Pluto a planet? It's not a question scientists ask in polite company. "It's like religion and politics," said Kirby Runyon, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University. "People get worked up over it. I've gotten worked up over it." For years, astronomers, planetary scientists and other space researchers have fought about what to call the small, icy world at the edge of our solar system. Is it a planet, as scientists believed for nearly seven decades? Or must a planet be something bigger, something more dominant, as was decided by vote at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006? The issue can bring conversations to a screeching halt, or turn them into shouting matches. "Sometimes," Runyon said, "it's just easier not to bring it up." But Runyon will ignore his own advice this week when he attends the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. In a giant exhibit hall crowded with his colleagues, he's attempting to reignite the debate about Pluto's status with an audacious new definition for planet -- one that includes not just Pluto, but several of its neighbors, objects in the asteroid belt, and a number of moons. By his count, 102 new planets could be added to our solar system under the new criteria. USA Today reports: "In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies," the proposal states. "In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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