Feb 5, 2011

The last uncontacted tribe in Brazilian Jungle under threat

Video of an uncontacted tribe spotted in the Brazilian jungle has been released, bringing them to life in ways that photographs alone cannot.

The tribe, believed to be Panoa Indians, have been monitored from a distance by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, a government agency charged with handling the nation’s indigenous communities. Many of the world’s 100 or so uncontacted tribes live in the Amazon.

Until 1987, it was government policy to contact such people. But contact is fraught with problems, especially disease; people who have stayed isolated from the mainstream world have stayed isolated from its pathogens, and have little immunity to our diseases. Brazilian government policy is now to watch from afar, and — at least in principle — to protect uncontacted tribes from intrusion.

Via Wired Science

Why Letting Yourself Make Mistakes Means Making Fewer of Them

“Think back to the last time your boss assigned you a new project or task at work, or the last time you tried to tackle something really difficult in your personal life. How did it feel? I’m guessing scary, right?

While some people seem eager to tackle new challenges, many of us are really just trying to survive without committing any major screw-ups. Taking on something totally new and unfamiliar is understandably frightening, since the odds of making a mistake are good when you are inexperienced. Small wonder that we greet new challenges with so little enthusiasm.

How can we learn to see things differently? How can we shift our thinking, and approach new responsibilities and challenges with more confidence and energy?

The answer is simple, though perhaps a little surprising: Give yourself permission to screw-up. Start any new project by saying “I’m not going to be good at this right away, I’m going to make mistakes, and that’s okay.”
So now you’re probably thinking, “If I take your advice and actually let myself screw up, there will be consequences. I’m going to pay for it.” Fair enough. But you really needn’t worry about that, because studies show that when people are allowed to make mistakes, they are significantly less likely to actually make them! Let me explain.”

Read more at Psychology Today

Feb 4, 2011

How Meditation May Change the Brain

“Over the December holidays, my husband went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Not my idea of fun, but he came back rejuvenated and energetic.

He said the experience was so transformational that he has committed to meditating for two hours daily, one hour in the morning and one in the evening, until the end of March. He’s running an experiment to determine whether and how meditation actually improves the quality of his life.

I’ll admit I’m a skeptic.

But now, scientists say that meditators like my husband may be benefiting from changes in their brains. The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.”

Read more at NY Times

Meet the Woman Who Eats Couch Cushions

“Compulsions drive people to do very strange and unusual things. But eating couch cushions? That may very well be the strangest yet.

Adele, a 30-year-old woman from Bradenton, Fla., recently came forward on a TV show about her bizarre taste for foam materials.

The woman is featured on the TLC program “My Strange Addiction” munching on bite-sized pieces of sofa stuffing — and even going so far as to prepare snack-sized servings of couch cushions.

The show has already highlighted people who are addicted to tanning booths, ventriloquism and rock collecting, and others who eat any manner of strange things, including toilet paper and kitchen cleanser, but the episode on Adele’s couch-consuming habit might be the most compelling yet.

According to psychologist Jason Mihalko, Adele’s behavior presents very much like a condition called pica.
“[Pica is] characterized by an individual having a desire to eat nonfood substances,” Mihalko told AOL News. “It’s most often seen in young children and women.”"

Read more at AOL News

DIY Medicine: Motivated Engineer Designs His Own Heart Implant

“What to you do if a doctor says your heart’s aortic root had ballooned to nearly two inches, and that a heart attack is imminent unless you receive a mechanical valve–a fix that requires blood-thinning drugs for the rest of one’s life? Easy–just invent your own heart implant.

This was the scenario facing Tal Golesworthy in 2000. An engineer from Tewkesbury, England, Golesworthy has the same tissue disorder that afflicts over 12,000 people in the UK: Marfan syndrome. But Golesworthy decided that the valve wasn’t his only option. As The Engineer reports:

What excited him was the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer-aided design (CAD). He believed that by combining these technologies with rapid prototyping (RP) techniques he could manufacture a tailor-made support that would act as an internal bandage to keep his aorta in place…. “It seemed to me to be pretty obvious that you could scan the heart structure, model it with a CAD routine, then use RP to create a former on which to manufacture a device,” explained Golesworthy. “In a sense, conceptually, it was very simple to do. Actually engineering that was significantly more complex.”

The main difficulty was that the scanners had trouble imaging his beating heart, and since you can’t tell your heart to “hold still” for the camera, Golesworthy did the next best thing: he created multiple images of his heart at the same cardiac cycle. With CAD helping him design the implant, the next obstacle was how to translate a digital design to a workable heart implant. As The Engineer reports:

The team looked at a number of different processes, such as 3D embroidery, but ended up using a standard medical polymer, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in a textile solution that allowed them to form a mesh directly onto the former. The mesh weighed less than 5g, was an exact fit for the ascending aorta and could be sutured into place by the surgeon. The process, from proposal to final product, took just under two years.

All the while, Golesworthy was working against the clock, knowing that a heart attack could rear its head at any point. From The Engineer:

“My aorta was dilating all through that period,” said Golesworthy. “When you’ve got the scalpel of Damocles hanging over your sternum, it motivates you into making things happen and so they do…”

And they did. Golesworthy created his implant and surgeons implanted it into his heart in 2004. Since then 23 other patients have had the same surgery, and the implant has the potential to become the standard for valve-surgery in the coming years–all thanks to a man who could have died from a big heart, but instead decided to share it.”

Read more at Discover Magazine

Feb 3, 2011

Invisibility Crystals Make Small Objects Disappear

Professor Snape beware — invisibility cloaks aren’t just for the microscopic anymore.

sciencenewsUsing natural crystals, two independent research teams have designed “carpet cloaks” that can abracadabra 3-D objects as big as an ant or a grain of sand seemingly into nothing. Up to now, making things invisible has relied on tiny structures called metamaterials. These fabrications are often a mix of stacks and crisscrosses of nano-sized metals and other materials that can guide electromagnetic rays, such as microwaves or infrared and visible light, around objects. If researchers tweak metamaterials just right, they can make tiny things disappear — at certain light wavelengths and from certain angles, at least.

But now two teams, including an MIT group that published its results in Physical Review Letters in January and another from England and Denmark that published Tuesday in Nature Communications, didn’t bother with metamaterials. They adopted calcite prisms, a type of naturally occurring crystal, to build carpet cloaks. Carpet cloaks aren’t true now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t apparatuses. The bottom of the cloaking device is notched with a small triangle that looks like a bent mirror. Thanks to the optical properties of metamaterials or, in this case, calcite, the bent mirror can look like a flat plane when viewed from some angles. Anything hiding in the notch vanishes.

This low-tech design sidesteps some of the limitations of metamaterial invisibility cloaks, says Ulf Leonhardt, a physicist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who was not involved in either study. His landmark 2006 paper in Science helped to launch invisibility research. Because metamaterials require intricate sculpting by lasers or other tools, scientists can make them only so big. Harry Potter would need to be more than paper-thin to hide under early carpet cloaks. The calcite shields, on the other hand, can disappear objects 1 to 2 millimeters tall. Metamaterial designs “liberated the imaginations,” he says. “Now, it’s time to come back to reality.”

But with such tricky optical sleight of hand, reality may seem like a misnomer. With the right type of light, calcite prisms can bend laser beams in different directions based on the crystal’s orientation. Light enters the cloak — a triangle or trapezoid made of two prisms glued together — and bounces off the bent mirror at the bottom into the second prism, then out. By the time the beams leave the cloak, they look like they changed direction only once, says George Barbastathis of MIT, coauthor of the Physical Review Letters article. His team used the cloak to hide a small metal wedge. “Putting calcite on top of the wedge, the light goes back into the same direction that it would have with a flat mirror,” he says. But it’s not just the same direction — the light looks exactly like it bounced off a flat mirror. The metal wedge vanishes.

“It’s not a Harry Potter cloak,” says Shuang Zhang, a physicist at the University of Birmingham in England and one of the Nature Communications study coauthors. The cloak works only under one light polarization. And while it works at all angles, it’s not three-dimensional. It only cloaks when Zhang aims the light source dead-on at the crystals. But, he says, scaling up to 3-D isn’t too big of a leap from 2-D. Zhang imagines similar technology one day concealing submarines on the sea floor.

Read more at Wired

Tomb of Prophet Zechariah Found?

Israeli archaeologists unveiled on Wednesday the remnants of a newly discovered Byzantine-era church they suspect is concealing the tomb of the biblical prophet Zechariah.

The church, with intricate and well-preserved mosaic floors, was discovered on the slopes of the Judaean hills at Horbat Midras, the site of a Jewish community in Roman times, southwest of Jerusalem.

Underneath is a second layer of mosaics dating from the Roman period, with a cave complex still further below which archaeologists think could be Zechariah's tomb.

"Researchers believe that in light of an analysis of the Christian sources ... the church at Horbet Madras is a memorial church designed to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah," the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

A statement noted, however, that more work is needed to confirm the hypothesis.

A Jewish prophet of the late sixth century before Christ, Zechariah is associated with the book of the Old Testament that refers to four horsemen and other visions prefiguring the coming of God in judgment.

The church at Horbat Midras was discovered after a gang of tomb raiders was found to be in possession of the church lintel -- part of the door structure -- which they said came from an underground location.

"Following the discovery, an excavation was carried out with the aim of revealing the secrets of the monumental building which the lintel belonged to," added the statement

Read more at Discovery News

Skin Cells Switch to Beating Heart Cells

Skin cells can be converted directly into beating heart cells, a new study shows.

The transformation occurs with a little help from cellular reprogramming factors that are usually used to make embryonic-like stem cells, scientists from the Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego report online January 30 in Nature Cell Biology.

Instead of taking mouse skin cells all the way back to a stem cell state and then coaxing the cells to form heart tissue, the researchers switched the cells directly from skin to heart cells. The team briefly introduced the reprogramming factors and then gave the skin cells a bath in chemicals that induce heart development.

Other researchers have converted skin cells directly into nerve cells, and previous studies have worked out ways to grow heart cells from embryonic-like stem cells. But the new process is faster. It took only five to six days to make beating cells with the new protocol, whereas it could take weeks to convert skin cells to an embryonic-like state and then more time to develop those cells into heart cells.

Read more at Discovery News

Feb 2, 2011

Vatican to launch dialogue with atheists

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican announced a new initiative aimed at promoting dialogue between theists and atheists to be launched with a two-day event this March in Paris.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture will sponsor a series of seminars on the theme of “Religion, Light and Common Reason,” at various locations in the city, including Paris-Sorbonne University.

The events will conclude with a party for youth in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, followed by prayer and meditation inside the cathedral.

The initiative, called “Courtyard of the Gentiles,” takes its name from a section of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem accessible to non-Jews, which Pope Benedict XVI has used as a metaphor for dialogue between Catholics and non-believers.

“I believe that the church should also today open a sort of `courtyard of the gentiles’ where men can in some way hook on to God, without knowing him and before having gained access to his mystery,” Benedict said in Dec. 2009.

The pope has made turning back the tide of Western secularism one of the major campaigns of his papacy. The Vatican last year established the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization to focus especially on promoting Christianity in Europe.

We say good luck to him on that one.

Via ChristianCentury

Feb 1, 2011

South Carolina scientist works to grow meat in lab

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) – In a small laboratory on an upper floor of the basic science building at the Medical University of South Carolina, Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., has been working for a decade to grow meat.

A developmental biologist and tissue engineer, Dr. Mironov, 56, is one of only a few scientists worldwide involved in bioengineering “cultured” meat.

It’s a product he believes could help solve future global food crises resulting from shrinking amounts of land available for growing meat the old-fashioned way … on the hoof.

Growth of “in-vitro” or cultured meat is also under way in the Netherlands, Mironov told Reuters in an interview, but in the United States, it is science in search of funding and demand.

The new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, won’t fund it, the National Institutes of Health won’t fund it, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration funded it only briefly, Mironov said.

“It’s classic disruptive technology,” Mironov said. “Bringing any new technology on the market, average, costs $1 billion. We don’t even have $1 million.”

Director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center in the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology at the medical university, Mironov now primarily conducts research on tissue engineering, or growing, of human organs.

“There’s a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab. They don’t like to associate technology with food,” said Nicholas Genovese, 32, a visiting scholar in cancer cell biology working under a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals three-year grant to run Dr. Mironov’s meat-growing lab.


China Sets Record For World’s Longest Sea Bridge at 26 Miles Long

The world’s largest bridge stretches more than 26 miles long and is five miles longer than the Dover-Calais crossing and almost three miles longer than the previous record-holder, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana. This bridge is also 174 times longer than London’s Tower Bridge over the Thames River.

At the cost of $8.5 billion, the bridge is specifically designed to withstand an earthquake of 8 magnitude and tropical typhoons with winds up to 125mph. Initiated back in 2006 with two separate groups of workers building the different ends of the structure, the six-lane expressway stretches from Qingdao to Huangdao and the Pearl River Delta city of Zhuhai.

Slated to carry over 30,000 cars per day when it opens to commuters at the end of 2011, it is expected that this bridge will dramatically reduce travel distance along the route between Qingdao and Huangdao by 30km (more than 18 miles) and shave about 20 minutes off the total travel time.

Although everything went well when construction was completed in December, there were still concerns.
“The computer models and calculations are all very well but you can’t really relax until the two sides are bolted together. Even a few centimeters off would have been a disaster,” commented one engineer.

Fame however, is fleeting, and this bridge will only remain the world’s largest for a few years when it is expected that its length will be bested by still another Chinese bridge that will link southern Guangdong province with Hong Kong and Macau. This one is set for completion in 2016 and will span nearly 50 km (30 miles).


Jan 31, 2011

The President of Malawi wants to make farting illegal

Breaking wind is set to be made a crime in an African country. The government of Malawi plan to punish persistent offenders ‘who foul the air’ in a bid to ‘mould responsible and disciplined citizens.’

But locals fear that pinning responsibility on the crime will be difficult – and may lead to miscarriages of justice as ‘criminals’ attempt to blame others for their offence. One Malawian told the website Africanews.com: ‘My goodness. What happens in a public place where a group is gathered. Do they lock up half a minibus?

‘And how about at meetings where it is difficult to pinpoint ‘culprits’?

‘Children will openly deny having passed bad air and point at an elder. Culturally, this is very embarrassing,’ she said.

Another said: ‘We have serious issues affecting Malawians today. I do not know how fouling the air should take priority over regulating Chinese investments which do not employ locals, serious graft amongst legislators, especially those in the ruling party, and many more.’

Via BusinessMail

Research Finds that Atheists are Most Hated and Distrusted Minority

“Intolerance is a bitter beast. There are many groups in America that are subject to discrimination and prejudice, but none are more hated than atheists. Research conducted a couple years ago at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found that atheists are more distrusted than muslims or homosexuals in the US.
Austin Cline from about.com writes, “Every single study that has ever looked at the issue has revealed massive amounts of bigotry and prejudice against atheists in America. The most recent data shows that atheists are more distrusted and despised than any other minority and that an atheist is the least likely person that Americans would vote for in a presidential election. It’s not just that atheists are hated, though, but also that atheists seem to represent everything about modernity which Americans dislike or fear.

The most recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, which found that atheists ranked lower than “Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.” The results from two of the most important questions”

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society…
Atheist: 39.6%
Muslims: 26.3%
Homosexuals: 22.6%
Hispanics: 20%
Conservative Christians: 13.5%
Recent Immigrants: 12.5%
Jews: 7.6%

I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group….
Atheist: 47.6%
Muslim: 33.5%
African-American 27.2%
Asian-Americans: 18.5%
Hispanics: 18.5%
Jews: 11.8%
Conservative Christians: 6.9%
Whites: 2.3%”

Read more at News Junkie Post

The Spanish village where no one is younger than 65

The village is auctioning off its abandoned plots for only €2,000 euros (£1,700) in a desperate attempt to attract young blood and revive a community that is in danger of dying out within a decade.

With only 15 permanent residents, the youngest of whom is 65 years old, Olmeda de la Cuesta, 100 miles east of Madrid in the arid plains of Castilla-La Mancha, has earned the sobriquet of Spain's "most aged village".

"It's a very different place to that of my youth," explained 82-year-old Arturo Regacho Mateo, surveying the abandoned children's playground in front of the village's 16th century church. "In 1940 there were 500 people living here but over the years they left to find work and didn't come back, now only the old are left."

The school closed in 1973 effectively sealing the fate of the village, whose population has declined drastically over the last four decades, leaving dozens of empty homes dangerously crumbling to the ground.

"People used to work the fields but that way of life ceased to exist and there was nothing to keep families here," he said.

The village made headlines earlier this month when the office of national statistics revealed its population had the oldest average age in all of Spain – 82 per cent of the 35 people on the electoral roll are over 65 years of age yet the majority only visit at weekends and in the summer months.

The mayor hopes that will all change with an offer by the council to clear disused plots within the village and auction them off for a starting price of just 2,000 euros.

"We're hoping to attract young people with families – the sort of people with their own businesses who can work from home, like web designers, artists or writers," said Jose Luis Regacho, 43, the socialist mayor who was born in the village but now lives in the regional capital of Cuenca, 32 miles away.

"If we get four children, we can open the school again and breathe life into the village. If not the community may cease to exist within ten years or so."

He also hopes that the place will prove a draw to those looking for a weekend or holiday bolt hole. "It's a real retreat, great for nature lovers and for those who like hunting, and less than two hours drive from Madrid."

Read more at The Telegraph

Jan 30, 2011

Dinosaurs: whacky and interesting facts about ancient reptiles

The Heaviest Dinosaur
The heaviest dinosaur was Brachiosaurus at 80 tonnes. It was the equivalent to 17 African Elephants. Brachiosaurus was 16m tall and 26m long and is the largest dinosaur skeleton to be mounted in a museum.
The Smallest Dinosaur 

The smallest fully-grown fossil dinosaur is the little bird-hipped plant-eater like lesothosaurus, which was only the size of a chicken. Smaller fossilised examples have been found but these are of baby dinosaurs.

The Smallest Dinosaur Egg 

The smallest dinosaur egg so far found is only 3cm long. It is not known what species it was from.

The Most Brainy Dinosaur 

One of the most intelligent dinosaurs was Troodon. It was a hunting dinosaur, about 2 metres long, and had a brain size similar to that of a mammal or bird of today, stereoscopic vision, and grasping hands.

The Dumbest Dinosaur 

Stegosaurus had a brain the size of a walnut - only 3 centimetres long and weighing 75 grams. However comparing brain size to body size sauropodomorphs, like Plateosaurus, were probably one of the dumbest dinosaurs.

The Tallest Dinosaur
The tallest dinosaurs were the Brachiosaurid group of sauropods. Their front legs were longer than the rear legs giving them a giraffe-like stance. This combined with their extremely long necks, which were held vertically, meant they could browse off the tallest trees. Brachiosaurus - the most well known of the group - was 13 metres tall. Sauroposeidon was massive and probably grew to 18.5 metres tall making it the tallest dinosaur.

The Fastest Running Dinosaur 

The speediest dinosaurs were the ostrich mimic ornithomimids, such as Dromiceiomimus, which could probably run at speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour.

The Oldest Dinosaur 

The oldest dinosaurs known are 230 million years old, and have been found in Madagasgar. As yet they have not been formally named. Before this Eoraptor, meaning "dawn thief" had held the title at 228 million years.

The Longest Dinosaur Name 

The dinosaur with the longest name was Micropachycephalosaurus meaning "tiny thick-headed lizard". Its fossils have been found in China, and it was named in 1978 by the Chinese palaeontologist Dong.

Read more at The Telegraph