Oct 12, 2015

King Tut's Beard To Be Fixed

Restorers are at work on King Tutankhamun’s beard, Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA said.

According to the report, the restoration began on Saturday and is being carried out by a German-Egyptian team of restorers led by specialist Christian Eckmann.

“Tutankhamun’s mask has been transferred from its exhibition hall to another room in the museum that has been turned into a restoration laboratory,” antiquities department spokeswoman Mushira Mussa told Middle East online.

The intervention takes place more than a year after the long, narrow, blue and gold beard suffered a botched repair.

Braided like a pigtail with the end jutting forward, the beard was unintentionally severed from the chin in August 2014 by workers adjusting the lighting in the case holding the priceless artifact.

Panicked curators did further damage by hastily gluing the beard back onto the fragile 3,300-year-old mask with fast-drying epoxy normally used for wood or metal.

Moreover, the glue was used abundantly, causing it to flow along the beard and chin.

News about the botched repair broke in January, followed by a press conference by Egypt’s antiquities ministry. At the news conference German restorer Christian Eckmann told reporters that the mask can be properly restored after the glue is removed.

One of the top attractions at the museum, the mask is made of gold and inlaid with stone, faience and glass. It was placed over the boy king’s face after his death around 1323 B.C. at the age of 19.

The beard was loose when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s treasure-packed tomb in 1922 in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. It was re-affixed with adhesive in 1941.

Read more at Discovery News

One of Henry V's Ships Likely Found

A timber vessel believed to be one of celebrated English king Henry V’s “great ships” has been found in a river in southern England, heritage group Historic England announced Monday.

Experts from Historic England believe the wreck that lies buried in mud in the River Hamble near Southampton is the “Holigost” (Holy Ghost).

A major part of Henry V’s war machine, the ship played a key role in two sea battles that enabled him to conquer territory in France in the early 15th century.

“To investigate a ship from this period is immensely exciting,” said Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England.

“It holds the possibility of fascinating revelations in the months and years to come.”

The announcement comes two weeks before events to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

On Oct. 25, 1415, Henry led his troops to a major English victory in the Hundred Years’ War near what is now called Azincourt in northern France — a battle immortalized by William Shakespeare in Henry V.

The 600-year old ship was discovered next to the king’s flagship, the “Grace Dieu” — itself found in the 1930s — by historian Ian Friel after examining aerial photographs of the “medieval breaker’s yard.”

“There is the real possibility that the remains of this ship still survive in the river Hamble,” he told BBC Radio 4 on Monday.

Historic England will conduct a sonar survey and timber sampling “to confirm or not if it’s the Holigost,” he added.

The Holigost joined the royal fleet on Nov. 17, 1415, and suffered serious damage at the battle of Harfleur in 1416.

It was rebuilt from a captured Spanish ship, the Santa Clara, and was named to reflect Henry V’s personal devotion to the Holy Trinity.

It was deliberately docked after 11 years of service having sprung several leaks, according to Friel.

Read more at Discovery News

Do We All Hallucinate?

Every year around this time, mice find their way into our 110-year-old home. They’re sneaky, of course, so a pretty rare event, perhaps once a season, to clearly see one skitter toward the basement.

Every day, though, I whip my head around at every shadow and creak, convinced I’m seeing a mouse out of the corner of my eye.

Am I hallucinating? According to a study published today in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), my brain is, in fact, acting in much the same manner as someone with psychosis, using my prior experience of actually seeing a mouse to imagine one into my pantry.

“To my knowledge this is the first direct demonstration (within one study) that there is a continuity between perception in the healthy and in psychopathology,” said Dr. Predrag Petrovic, an associate professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden who wasn’t involved in the study.

Researchers were able to demonstrate how we all rely on prior experience to shape our perceptions by showing images to two groups of people.

First, they asked a group of healthy individuals and a group of who showed early signs of psychosis whether they could see anything in the following black and white image:

Most people saw black and white blobs. Then, they showed this image to both groups:

After studying the color photo, most people could make out the shapes in the first image. But those prone to psychosis were able to see it better.

Perhaps, then, relying on prior experience can be advantageous in certain circumstances, said senior author Professor Paul Fletcher from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, but might also make one more prone to developing psychosis under the wrong circumstances, such as stress.

Past research has focused on people who see things that aren’t there. For example, people prone to hallucinations are more likely to hear snatches of songs in white noise if you tell them it’s there, even when the noise is actually just static. In fact, until this study, there was an idea that suggested prior knowledge actually had a lesser effect on people with psychosis, says Chris Frith, an emeritus professor of neuropsychology at University College London who wasn’t involved in the current study.

A famous optical illusion test known as the Hollow-Mask Illusion, in which people tend to see a convex face even though the mask is concave, shows that people with schizophrenia are less likely to see the illusion.

In this case, though, “we say they can better spot patterns that ARE there,” Fletcher says.

Because vision is a constructive process, it makes sense that the process could be greatly exaggerated to result in hallucinations (one of the key symptoms of psychosis, Fletcher notes).

“Our normal perceptual system is almost on the verge of hallucination all of the time,” Fletcher said. “You have to put a little of what you already know to perceive things. I suspect when you see the mouse, it’s just a little noise, a flicker or a shadow, and you have an expectation that gives it a mouse-like shape.”

Read more at Discovery News

As Kilogram Model Shrinks, Alternatives Sought

What is a kilogram?

Easy. It’s 2.2 pounds.

This humble measurement is hugely important in certain fields — think medicine, engineering and technology — that keep our world turning. So if the official standard by which it is determined gets off by a few ticks, it could throw a huge wrench in those wheels.

And that's exactly what’s happening: the standardized weight that represents the true kilogram – a table tennis-sized cylinder made of platinum and iridium that sits in a vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in France – is shrinking.

Le Grand K, as the orb is called, is the only physical object still used to measure a standardized weight or measurement. The remaining six – the second, the meter, the kelvin, the mole, the candela and the ampere – are measured relative to a fundamental natural constant, National Geographic reports.

Now scientists want to make the same shift for the kilogram, because if the weight didn’t depend on a physical object it wouldn’t be subject to the environmental forces around it.

It's not clear whether Le Grand K itself is shrinking – perhaps due to outgassing – or the official replicas are gaining weight because they come into contact with outside world more often.

Le Grand K currently weighs about one grain of sand less than its twins, reports Mental Floss.

“The big joke is, if someone were to sneeze on the kilogram, there are about 10 fundamental constants that would change, because they’re all tied to its value,” optics and mechanical engineering professor Jonathan Ellis said in a release.

The question is: how?

Two possible methods are under investigation. One uses a watt balance, which is a device that determines mass by calibrating mechanical and electrical power. But it has real world limitations. Scientists are actively working to find a way to overcome those.

The second is called Avogadro’s Number. It involves a very large group of atoms that can be translated into grams and used to determine the mass of a kilogram.

Read more at Discovery News

Oct 11, 2015

Peeking into our galaxy's stellar nursery

Astronomers have long turned their telescopes, be they on satellites in space or observatories on Earth, to the wide swaths of interstellar medium to get a look at the formation and birth of stars. However, the images produced over the last 50 years look more like weather maps showing storm systems instead of glittering bursts of light that the untrained observer might expect of a "star map." That is, until now.

Led by University of Florida astronomer Peter Barnes and Erik Muller at the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan, a team of international researchers has just released the most comprehensive images anyone has ever seen of the Milky Way's cold interstellar gas clouds where new stars and solar systems are being born.

"These images tell us amazing new things about the Milky Way's star-forming clouds," said Peter Barnes. "For example, they show that we have probably underestimated the amount of material in these clouds by a factor of two or three. This has important consequences for how we measure the star formation activity, not only throughout the Milky Way, but also for all other galaxies beyond. Additionally, it gives us important new insights into the circumstances of the birth of our own solar system, such as the overall temperature, density and mass distribution in these clouds."

The complexity of the images was made possible because of the telescope used for the study, the Mopra radio telescope located in Australia. The mapping survey itself is called "ThrUMMS," which stands for the Three-mm Ultimate Mopra Milky Way Survey. The interstellar clouds that this survey targeted are so cold that they are made up molecules of hydrogen, rather than much warmer clouds where the hydrogen may be atomic or ionized.

"Only the molecular clouds are cold enough to allow gravity to collect material to form stars, but in fact, they are so cold that the hydrogen itself is undetectable by telescopes," said Barnes.

The Mopra telescope was critical to the project's success, because it can map several molecules at once, such as carbon monoxide and cyanogen, which act as tracers for the otherwise hard-to-see hydrogen. Simultaneously mapping multiple tracers allows astronomers to deduce the conditions in these clouds much more reliably and efficiently than if they had to map them separately.

Read more at Science Daily

Breakthrough to the development of energy-saving devices for the next generation

Wide-gap semiconductors such as gallium nitride (GaN) are widely used for optical devices such as blue LED and are also anticipated as materials for next-generation energy saving power devices and solar cells. However, the quality of GaN crystals does not come up to that of conventional semiconductor materials such as silicon (Si) and this prevents GaN from being used for power devices.

For that reason, the establishment of technology for producing high-quality crystals with fewer defects and rearrangement is expected, and the development of a new evaluation technology is crucial.

A group of researchers led by Iwao Kawayama, an associate professor of the Institute of Laser Engineering at Osaka University, in cooperation with Screen Holdings Co., Ltd., succeeded in visualizing changes in defect density on the surface of GaN through the laser terahertz emission microscope (LTEM) which measures THz waves generated by laser emission. This group's discovery shows that LTEM is useful as a new method for evaluating the quality of wide-gap semiconductors and it is also expected that LTEM will bring a breakthrough in the development of next-generation optical devices, super high frequency devices, and energy devices.

The group examined the intensity distribution of THz generated by radiating ultraviolet femtosecond laser pulses on the surface of GaN crystal through LTEM. As a result, it was found that there were regions with high intensity of THz emission and ones with low intensity of THz emission.

Additionally, when the LTEM image was compared with the image obtained through photoluminescence (PL) using a conventional method, it was found that there was a strong correlation between the distribution of emission intensity due to lattice defects and the intensity distribution of THz wave emission.

Furthermore, from results measurement through modification of excited lasers, it was confirmed that THz emission needs excitation light with larger energy than the band gap energy.

From Science Daily

Oct 10, 2015

New clues about how humans become tool users

New research from the University of Georgia department of psychology gives researchers a unique glimpse at how humans develop an ability to use tools in childhood while nonhuman primates -- such as capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees -- remain only occasional tool users.

Dorothy Fragaszy, a psychology professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Primate Behavior Laboratory at UGA, created two studies to look at how nonhuman primates and human children differ in completing simple spatial reasoning tasks.

Much like a game of Operation, human children ages 2, 3 and 4 and adult nonhuman primates were asked to fit a stick, a cross and a tomahawk into a matching cutout space on a tray. Children were also given an opportunity to complete this task by placing the sticks on a mat with a drawing of the matching shape, as well as into a space on a tray.

"We did the study with nonhuman primates specifically to look at the management of objects in space," Fragaszy said. "I wanted to give them a spatial reasoning task that was not a tool-using task. We wanted to look at how they worked with these objects and arranged them in relation to features of another surface and from that gain some insight as to how they use objects as tools.

"In the case of the children, we wanted to see how they completed the same spatial reasoning task, but with a developmental dimension to it that is not present with our study of nonhuman primates because they were all adults."

What they found, she said, was a clear age effect in the children. Two-year-olds were able to fit the straight stick and the cross-shaped stick properly into the cutout most of the time. Three- and 4-year-olds were even better at it. However, when it came time to fit the tomahawk stick into the cutout, 2-year-olds were unable to complete the task most of the time, while 3- and 4-year-olds were also challenged.

Children were adept at using sight to help figure out how an object should be aligned to fit it into the space. Sometimes some of the 3- and 4-year-olds would hold the object, especially the cross or tomahawk stick, a little bit above the tray and move it in the air as if they were aligning it visually before they put it down.

Instead of depending on sight, nonhuman primates often used their sense of touch, known as their haptic senses, to feel how the object fit into the space.

"Adult chimps and capuchin monkeys are among the most accomplished spatial problem solvers among the nonhuman primates, but even the 2-year-olds are much better than they are at alignment," Fragaszy said.

Between 16-18 months and 2 years, humans develop a new relationship between vision and action. Prior to this development, they have trouble orienting another object that's not their own body in space.

When asked to complete the task in a two-dimensional version that involved visually aligning an object in the correct place, children were less successful and made fewer attempts than with the three-dimensional tasks.

"This makes sense if you think about the contribution of haptic perception to what's going on," Fragaszy said. "You can feel when a three-dimensional object hits the edge of a cutout. You don't feel anything with a flat two-dimensional object such as a disk. It indicates again that vision is not enough for young children. The haptic component is also helpful for them. For nonhuman primates, the haptic component is essential."

Humans use what's known as a vision for action system. Visual information is integrated into planning action and guiding movements of the body in space, especially to use the hands to reach for and grasp objects and manipulate them in space. Researchers have studied what happens if part of that system doesn't work very well, but researchers haven't known much about how that system develops until now.

Read more at Science Daily

New York to London by Car?

If you’re into road trips, here’s something that will blow your mind.

The Russian government has proposed building a cross-country superhighway that would link to both European and U.S. highway systems. If the Trans-Eurasian Belt Development, which would also include a high-speed rail system, eventually becomes a reality, it might be possible someday to drive from London to New York, by way of Siberia.

That’s about 13,000 miles, so be prepared to stop for a couple of oil changes along the way

Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin unveiled the idea this spring, at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Science, according to the English-language website Siberian Times.

Yakunin didn’t specify exactly how cars would get across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska, a distance of  47 miles across an expanse of water often filled with ice flows and buffeted by powerful winds. But others have proposed a variety of solutions, including a bridge supported by 200 piers made from a special type of concrete that could withstand the incredible pressures generated by the ice.

An underwater tunnel is another possibility, but constructing beneath the hard, uneven sea floor of the strait would be one of the most difficult public works projects in history. Massive machines would be employed to drill deep into the rock, and the tunnel would have to be sufficiently reinforced to withstand a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in the seismically volatile region.

It’s hard to say how much the superhighway and bridge or tunnel would cost. Global Construction Review vaguely estimated the budget as “trillions of dollars.” Where Russia, whose total annual gross economic output is about $2.1 trillion, would get the funding is unclear.

If the road is ever built, it hopefully will be an improvement over the existing Trans-Siberian Highway, which is only partially paved and has a reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous routes.

From Discovery News

Oct 9, 2015

Smallest Free-Living Insect Confirmed: Meet the Beetle

It's a small world, after all. A featherwing beetle named Scydosella musawasensis has just been confirmed, with new measurements, as the world-record title holder for the smallest recorded free-living insect.

That's according to Lomonosov Moscow State University scientist Alexey Polilov, who took new measurements of the tiny bug. Polilov writes in the journal Zookeys that S. musawasensis measured just 325 micrometers (0.325 millimeters, 0.0127 inches).

S. musawasensis is yellowish-brown, with a stretched oval body and 10-segmented antennae, and it's been down the measurement road before.

It was first described in 1999, when a specimen measured at 300 micrometers (0.30 millimeters, 0.0118 inches) took the "smallest" crown. But those readings, Polilov writes, were of insects embedded in preparations for microscopy study, making precise measurements difficult.

New measurements, then, were needed to accurately confirm S. musawasensis's state of extreme tininess. Polilov collected 85 new samples of the insect from Colombia and then took new measurements of his own, using a scanning electron microscope and specialized software.

When all of the measurements were in, "the smallest beetle and the smallest known free-living insect has a body length of 325 ┬Ám," Polilov wrote.

The "free-living" part of the beetle's title differentiates it from parasitic insects, the smallest of which, the male Dicopomorpha eschmepterigis , is understood to be the smallest parasitoid, at 139 micrometers.

From Discovery News

Extendable Jaws Gave Fish an Evolutionary Edge

Taking your mouth to your plate might not be accepted practice at the human dinner table, but in the fish world it is a winner.

The ability, known as protrusion, allows fish to extend their jaw and snap up otherwise elusive prey, making them effective hunters.

Now an Australian study has tracked the evolution of this trait and suggests it may have been the catalyst for evolutionary change among other marine animals.

Professor David Bellwood, of James Cook University, said protrusion was one of the key traits that made fish efficient hunters with some fish today able to extend their jaws by up to 20 per cent of their body length.

"When we eat a meal we've got to use our hands and forks to bring the food up and push it into our mouth," Professor Bellwood said.

"What the fish can do is take their mouth and put it on to the food.

"It's a huge advantage if you are trying to feed on something that is elusive and fast moving if you are chasing something on the bottom and you've got to get your whole body on to it, then it's like smashing on to a wall.

"We take it for granted that all fishes can snap up elusive prey, but it wasn't like that millions of years ago."

Professor Bellwood, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and his colleagues examined 73 fish from 60 modern species.

The team found the length of a bone in the fish's head - known as the premaxilla - determined its ability to stick its jaws and teeth out.

"There is a strong relationship between the size of that bone and the amount of protrusion," Professor Bellwood said.

"The longer the bone the more protrusion you can do."

The researchers used this marker to then track the evolution of the trait in the fossil record.

"The skeleton of a fish is a little bit like the Rosetta stone of history," Professor Bellwood said.

"If you can read the language of fishes' bones you can then understand their abilities."

He said the trait first appeared around 140 million years, with the appearance of a new group of fish known as acanthomorphs.

However he said the best examples were most evident in fossils around 100 million years old.

"So when the dinosaurs were running around on land, fishes were beginning to play at sticking their lips out," Professor Bellwood said.

Since that time there has been a five-fold increase in the average and maximum jaw protrusion in fish, the researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

Professor Bellwood said this was driven by the increase in acanthomorphs, known as spiny-rayed fish, which are today make up more than one-third of all fish species.

He said protrusion helped acanthomorphs succeed in the evolution arms race.

"They've got this really neat innovation called protrusion and it probably gave them an advantage over a lot of other groups," he said.

Read more at Discovery News