Project Loon team gave Puerto Rico connectivity—and assembled a helicopter

Science - Posted On:2018-02-18 11:30:00 Source: arstechnica

AUSTIN, Texas—"So this happened—this is September 2017," Juan Ramírez Lugo, president of the AAAS Caribbean division, tells the audience at the 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference. The slide that soon greets the room depicts an almost surreal reality: the available power (or lack thereof) on the island of Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

"The island went dark; the Virgin Islands basically disappeared off the map. This blew my mind to not have my cell phone in this day and age," Ramírez Lugo continues. "The routine eventually became get up in the morning, then try to check the news and Status.pr to see how much service has returned to normal."

Ramírez Lugo cited estimates that the cost of Hurricane Maria's damage will total 34.1 percent of Puerto Rico's GDP, so calling the storm devastating almost seems like an understatement. The routine Ramírez Lugo shared highlighted another crucial (re)building block for disaster recovery, one that's now joined general infrastructure and health needs: connectivity. With the vast amount of electrical grid and ground towers damaged, FEMA estimates put cell service availability at a mere 60 percent an entire month after the storm.

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Project Loon engineer sees a tool for future disaster response in Puerto Rico

Science - Posted On:2018-02-18 11:15:00 Source: arstechnica

AUSTIN, Texas—"So this happened—this is September 2017," Juan Ramírez Lugo, president of the AAAS Caribbean division, tells the audience at the 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference. The slide that soon greets the room depicts an almost surreal reality: the available power (or lack thereof) on the island of Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

"The island went dark; the Virgin Islands basically disappeared off the map. This blew my mind to not have my cell phone in this day and age," Ramírez Lugo continues. "The routine eventually became get up in the morning, then try to check the news and Status.pr to see how much service has returned to normal."

Ramírez Lugo cited estimates that the cost of Hurricane Maria's damage will total 34.1 percent of Puerto Rico's GDP, so calling the storm devastating almost seems like an understatement. The routine Ramírez Lugo shared highlighted another crucial (re)building block for disaster recovery, one that's now joined general infrastructure and health needs: connectivity. With the vast amount of electrical grid and ground towers damaged, FEMA estimates put cell service availability at a mere 60 percent an entire month after the storm.

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To Fight Fatal Infections, Hospitals May Turn to Algorithms

science - Posted On:2018-02-18 09:29:56 Source: slashdot

The technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors combat one of the deadliest killers in American hospitals. From a report: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines. The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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New Scanning Technique Reveals Secrets Behind Great Paintings

science - Posted On:2018-02-17 12:15:00 Source: slashdot

Researchers in the US have used a new scanning technique to discover a painting underneath one of Pablo Picasso's great works of art, the Crouching Woman (La Misereuse Accroupie). From a report: Underneath the oil painting is a landscape of Barcelona which, it turns out, Picasso used as the basis of his masterpiece. The new x-ray fluorescence system is cheaper than alternative art scanning systems -- and it is portable, making it available to any gallery that wants it. Details were revealed at the American Association for the Advancement for Science in Austin, Texas. The Crouching Woman is a painting from Picasso's blue period. What is remarkable is that the landscape painting beneath -- probably by a student artist -- is turned 90 degrees. The contour of the hills in the background becomes the crouching woman's back. She takes on the shape and form of the Catalan countryside. Kenneth Brummel, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, said that he was "excited" when he first learned what lay underneath the Crouching Woman. "It helps to date the painting and it also helps to determine where the painting was made," he told BBC News. "But it also gives a sense of the artists with whom the painter was engaging. And these insights help us ask new, more interesting and scientifically more accurate questions regarding an artist, their process and how they arrived at the forms that we see on the surface of a painting." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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New studies zero in on roots of depression and why ketamine reverses it

Science - Posted On:2018-02-17 09:59:56 Source: arstechnica

While we have a number of treatments available for clinical depression, many of them have a significant side effects, and a lot of people struggle to find a drug that they respond to. The situation is made worse by our limited understanding of the biology underlying depression. We don't know how to create targeted drugs, so most of the available treatments are blunt instruments that can take weeks to months before having an effect.

In that light, it came as a bit of a shock when we discovered a drug we'd been using recreationally and for anesthesia could lift the symptoms of depression in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately, the drug in question, ketamine, also has a collection of unpleasant side-effects, and we had no idea how it was working.

But there's been significant progress in unravelling the confusion over ketamine, with researchers identifying a ketamine derivative that tackles depression with far fewer side effects. And this week, a team of researchers at China's Zhejiang University announced that they've figured out where in the brain ketamine acts when it blocks depression, a finding that gives us significant insights into the biology of the disorder.

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Coffee Beans Are Good For Birds, Fancy Brew Or Not

science - Posted On:2018-02-16 21:14:59 Source: slashdot

Zorro shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source ): Birds are not as picky about their coffee as people are. Although coffee snobs prefer arabica beans to robusta, a new study in India found that growing coffee does not interfere with biodiversity -- no matter which bean the farmer chooses. In the Western Ghats region of India, a mountainous area parallel to the subcontinent's western coast, both arabica and robusta beans are grown as bushes under larger trees -- unlike in South America, where the coffee plants themselves grow as large as trees, said Krithi Karanth, who helped lead the study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports. Arabica and robusta farms proved equally good for these creatures. "Some birds do better with arabica than robusta, but overall, they're both good for wildlife," she said. The difference is important, because data shows that more farmers in the area have been shifting to robusta in recent years, as prices rise for the variety, which is easier to grow. The researchers counted 106 species of birds on the coffee plantations, including at-risk species, such as the alexandrine parakeet, the breyheaded bulbul and the nilgiri woodpigeon. The findings show that farming is not incompatible with wildlife protection, said Jai Ranganathan, a conservation biologist and senior fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A solar panel on every roof in the US? Here are the numbers

Science - Posted On:2018-02-16 12:30:00 Source: arstechnica

When you’re scoping out possible futures, it’s useful to ask a lot of “what if?” questions. For example, what if we could install solar panels on every suitable roof in the United States? How much electricity would they generate?

Plenty of research has followed this line of thought, though much of it has necessarily focused on working out the details for individual cities or regions. But now with enough of these studies in the bank, a group of researchers from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory decided to take another whack at a national estimate.

There are a lot of things you need to know to do this: number of buildings, size of roofs, direction the roofs are facing, strength of sunlight, number of sunny days, and so on. So first off, the researchers take advantage of a Department of Homeland Security program laser-mapping buildings, which now covers almost a quarter of buildings in the US. From this, you can get roof area, roof tilt, roof direction, and whether the roof is shaded by trees. Roofs were tossed out if they were too small, too steep, north-facing, or otherwise would lose more than 20 percent of their possible solar output, but most roofs were suitable.

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Concussions Can Be Detected With New Blood Test Approved by FDA.

science - Posted On:2018-02-16 12:00:01 Source: slashdot

The Food and Drug Administration this week approved a long-awaited blood test to detect concussions in people and more quickly identify those with possible brain injuries [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The test, called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator, is also expected to reduce the number of people exposed to radiation through CT scans, or computed tomography scans, that detect brain tissue damage or intracranial lesions. If the blood test is adopted widely, it could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least a third of those with suspected brain injuries, the agency predicted. Concussion-related brain damage has become a particularly worrisome public health issue in many sports, especially football, affecting the ranks of professional athletes on down to the young children in Pop Warner leagues. Those concerns have escalated so far that it has led to a decline in children participating in tackle sports. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Oxygen ions may be an easy-to-track sign of life on exoplanets

Science - Posted On:2018-02-16 10:29:56 Source: arstechnica

The search for extraterrestrial life is fairly synonymous with the search for life as we know it. We're just not that imaginative—when looking for other planets that could host life, we don’t know what to look for, exactly, if not Earth-like conditions. Everything we know about life comes from life on Earth.

But conditions that clearly favor life here—liquid water, surface oxygen, ozone in the stratosphere, possibly a magnetic field—may not necessarily be prerequisites for its development elsewhere. Conversely, their presence does not guarantee life, either. So what can we look for that's an indication of life?

Most (about seventy percent) of the stars in our Galaxy are M dwarf stars, and many of them have associated planets. The search for signs of life has largely focused on these planets, primarily because there are so many of them. However, the environments do not seem to be especially welcoming. Because M dwarf stars are dim, the hospitable zones around them are very close to the star. As a result, the planets get stuck in a gravitational lock: their orbital period and their rotational period are the same. This means that (just like our moon) these planets always have the same hemisphere facing their sun.

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As satellite threat looms, Air Force moves to buy small rocket services

Science - Posted On:2018-02-16 09:44:56 Source: arstechnica

The U.S. military apparently wants to get into the business of launching smaller satellites on smaller rockets. In the administration's proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, the Air Force budget contains a new "Rocket Systems Launch Program" item for the purpose of buying "small launch services" for the timely delivery of smaller payloads into low-Earth and geostationary transfer orbit.

The new program, which must be approved by Congress, provides $47.6 million in fiscal year 2019 and a total of $192.5 million over the next five years. It deals with the delivery into space of payloads weighing up to 8,000 pounds (about 3,600kg)—considerably less than the capability of an Atlas V or Falcon 9 rocket. This program comes just as several new US-based companies, including Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, Vector, Stratolaunch Systems, and more have developed, or are in the midst of developing, small satellite launch boosters.

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Household Products Now Rival Cars As a Source of Air Pollution, Say Scientists

science - Posted On:2018-02-15 22:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, scientists say. Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic "volatile organic compounds", or VOCs, in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes. The compounds are an important contributor to air pollution because when they waft into the atmosphere, they react with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone or fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. Ground level ozone can trigger breathing problems by making the airways constrict, while fine airborne particles drive heart and lung disease. Writing in the journal Science, De Gouw and others report that the amount of VOCs emitted from household and industrial products is two to three times higher than official US estimates suggest. The result is surprising since only about 5% of raw oil is turned into chemicals for consumer products, with 95% ending up as fuel. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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DNA from the poop of extinct four-meter-tall birds reveals lost ecosystem

Science - Posted On:2018-02-15 16:44:59 Source: arstechnica

A thousand years ago, gigantic 12-foot-high flightless birds roamed New Zealand, snacking peacefully on plants and fungi. Then humans came along. Within two hundred years, the giant moa—along with a host of their close cousins—were dead at our species’ hands.

What did the world of the moa look like? Even though New Zealand has lots of well-preserved wilderness, studying that won't give us an answer. When a species disappears, it takes a chunk of its ecosystem with it, so understanding the ramifications of the moa extinction can help us better understand the environment that many surviving species—some of them critically endangered—evolved in.

Some important answers lie in something the moa left behind: ancient bird poop. It tells us that the moa were probably instrumental in spreading the fungi that play a critical role in New Zealand’s forests.

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What did New Zealand look like before humans came along?

Science - Posted On:2018-02-15 16:30:05 Source: arstechnica

A thousand years ago, gigantic 12-foot-high flightless birds roamed New Zealand, snacking peacefully on plants and fungi. Then humans came along. Within two hundred years, the giant moa—along with a host of their close cousins—were dead at our species’ hands.

What did the world of the moa look like? Even though New Zealand has lots of well-preserved wilderness, studying that won't give us an answer. When a species disappears, it takes a chunk of its ecosystem with it, so understanding the ramifications of the moa extinction can help us better understand the environment that many surviving species—some of them critically endangered—evolved in.

Some important answers lie in something the moa left behind: ancient bird poop. It tells us that the moa were probably instrumental in spreading the fungi that play a critical role in New Zealand’s forests.

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Imaging at 1,000fps with a single pixel

Science - Posted On:2018-02-15 13:30:00 Source: arstechnica

For the longest time, imaging was probably the most boring subject imaginable. Unless you were excited about comparing various mass-produced, brand-name lenses, there wasn't much to talk about. That changed briefly with the invention of the laser, but the actual imaging technology was still... yeah, boring.

In the last decade or so, though, things really have changed, in part because of new ways of thinking about what an image actually is. Among the many fascinating variations on traditional imaging is something called ghost imaging. The idea of ghost imaging was to use the quantum nature of light to image an object by detecting photons that had never actually encountered the object. This is a mind-blowing idea that has now been developed to the point where it might actually be practical in some circumstances—especially when you can acquire about 1,000 ghost images per second.

The original idea behind ghost imaging made use of something called quantum entanglement. Imagine that I have a single photon that I slice into two photons. Because the Universe doesn't create or destroy things like energy, momentum, or angular momentum, the energy contained in the two photons has to sum to the value of the energy contained by the first photon.

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As we age, cancer rates go up as immune system winds down

Science - Posted On:2018-02-15 11:30:01 Source: arstechnica

The dominant idea about how cancer gets started is called the "two-hit hypothesis." First proposed by Alfred Knudson in 1971, it holds that a cancer starts when one cell gets a mutation in both of its copies of a gene that normally blocks cancer formation (two hits). These two mutations disable the tumor-suppressing function in that cell, which then becomes cancerous. Eventually, the idea was expanded to include two hits not necessarily in the same gene but, rather, in genes controlling the same tumor-suppressing pathway.

But a new idea is challenging the two-hit hypothesis, shifting the focus to the role of the immune system in suppressing cancers. It's an idea that could have big implications for treatments.

Getting two hits in one cell was considered to be a random and unlucky event. Since mutations occur each time a cell divides, the more times each cell divides, the greater the chances that it would happen. This was why, it was thought, cancer incidence increases with age; the longer a cell has been around, and the more times it has divided, the more opportunities it has had to accrue the two requisite mutations in the same tumor-suppressor pathway.

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SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband

science - Posted On:2018-02-15 02:14:57 Source: slashdot

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said. Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Ultra-Processed Foods May Be Linked To Cancer, Says Study

science - Posted On:2018-02-14 22:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Ultra-processed" foods, made in factories with ingredients unknown to the domestic kitchen, may be linked to cancer, according to a large and groundbreaking study. Ultra-processed foods include pot noodles, shelf-stable ready meals, cakes and confectionery which contain long lists of additives, preservatives, flavorings and colorings -- as well as often high levels of sugar, fat and salt. They now account for half of all the food bought by families eating at home in the UK, as the Guardian recently revealed. A team, led by researchers based at the Sorbonne in Paris, looked at the medical records and eating habits of nearly 105,000 adults who are part of the French NutriNet-Sante cohort study, registering their usual intake of 3,300 different food items. They found that a 10% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods in the diet was linked to a 12% increase in cancers of some kind. The researchers also looked to see whether there were increases in specific types of cancer and found a rise of 11% in breast cancer, although no significant upturn in colorectal or prostate cancer. "If confirmed in other populations and settings, these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades," says the paper in the British Medical Journal. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years

science - Posted On:2018-02-14 17:30:00 Source: slashdot

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere. Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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More nightmare fuel: Bedbugs create cesspool of poop and histamine in your bed

Science - Posted On:2018-02-14 15:59:59 Source: arstechnica

It’s official: pooping the bed is not the worst thing you can do. Letting bedbugs do it is worse.

As the creepy critters bite you while you slumber, they also squeeze out poops loaded with histamine, a chemical that our own bodies push out during an inflammatory response to allergens. Histamine can trigger itchiness, watery eyes, sneezing, trouble breathing, headaches, and asthma attacks, among other things. Homes with bedbug infestations can become histamine Dutch ovens, according to a new study led by entomologists and health experts at North Carolina State University. The researchers found that histamine levels in infested homes were at least 20-times higher than levels in bed-bug free homes.

And that’s not all. Researchers writing in PLOS ONE also found that those histamine levels linger. In infested homes that were heat treated—which involves circulating hot air (~50 ̊C) into a home to wipe out the bugs—histamine levels remained high for months afterward.

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In wars with termites, ants rescue and care for their wounded

Science - Posted On:2018-02-14 13:00:01 Source: arstechnica

Deadly battles play out several times a day in the Ivory Coast’s Comoé National Park, leaving wounded behind. The fights break out when hundreds of African Matabele ants march off to raid a nearby termite mound to slaughter termite workers and haul them back to the nest to feed the colony. But termites, with their strong, sharp mandibles, aren’t easy prey, and raiders often get limbs bitten off in the fight.

In the aftermath of a raid, researchers are finding evidence that the ants care for their wounded. The wounded ants secrete a pheromone that calls other returning raiders to carry their injured comrades home. Back at the nest, healthy nest-mates clean the injured ants’ wounds. And the behavior of injured ants even creates a triage system so that only the ants that might actually be saved get rescued.

Ants that are only missing a leg or two can generally make the 50-meter trek back to the nest, but their injuries make them more vulnerable to predators, so about a third of injured ants who try to walk home won’t make it. So when nest-mates are nearby, injured ants slow down and even develop a sudden tendency to fall over.

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