Feb 26, 2011

The Iceman Mummy: Finally Face to Face

Brown-eyed, bearded, furrow faced, and tired: this is how Ötzi the Iceman might have looked, according to the latest reconstruction based on 20 years of research and investigations.

Realized by two Dutch experts,  Alfons and Adrie Kennis, the model was produced with the latest in forensic mapping technology that uses three-dimensional images of the mummy's skull as well as infrared and tomographic images.

The new reconstruction shows a prematurely old man, with deep-set eyes, sunken cheeks, a furrowed face and ungroomed beard and hair.

Although he looks tired, Ötzi has vivid brown eyes. Indeed, recent research on the 5,300-year-old mummy has shown that the Stone Age man did not have blue eyes as previously thought.

Believed to have died around the age of 45, Ötzi was about 1.60 meters (5 foot, 3 inches) tall and weighed 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The model will go on display beginning March 1 to Jan. 15, 2012, at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

Read more at Discovery News

Tiniest Computer in the World

See it now, folks! Between the Bearded Lady and the Monster Spider –- the World's Smallest Computer!

Seriously, the world's smallest computer. It barely covers the “N” on a penny. The prototypical sensor device developed by researchers at the University of Michigan is intended to monitor eye pressure for glaucoma patients. It connects wirelessly to other computers and is charged with a solar cell, needing just 1.5 hours of sunlight or 10 hours of indoor light to reach full power.

The mini-computer has potential for a plethora of applications, from sensing pollution, structural integrity, tracking and surveillance -- virtually any way one could think of to make an object “smart.” Furthermore, researchers can control the size and shape of the computer's antenna, dictating how it communicates with other devices. So the chip's radio doesn't need tuning from the outside; a number of the tiny computers could automatically start talking to each other as soon as they turn on then, as long as they are built to pick up the same frequency.

Read more at Discovery News

Capuchin monkeys and other bizarre animal mating rituals

Animals have all manner of strange and surprising mating rituals – here are some of the most bizarre.  

Capuchin monkeys 

Male Capuchin monkeys urinate in their hands before rubbing the liquid all over their body, like a primitive form of aftershave.

Scientists, who have been baffled by the behaviour for years, now believe the smell is attractive to females, conveying the monkey’s social or sexual status.

Male anglerfish are poorly equipped for survival. Not only are they much smaller than females and worse hunters, many find their digestive system becomes stunted as they develop, preventing them from feeding.

They survive by finding themselves a female and biting her, in the process releasing an enzyme that fuses their bodies together. The male then slowly wastes away until nothing is left but its testicles, which periodically release sperm whenever the female is fertile.


Thanks to Messrs Flanders and Swann it is commonly held that, for a hippopotamus at least, there is nothing quite like “mud, mud, glorious mud.”

Except for faeces, it would appear. Because the most sure-fire way for a male hippo to attract a mate is to stand atop an enormous pile of fresh dung and use his tail to spray it in all directions.

Red-sided Garter Snake
As the weather turns cold and the hibernation season begins, these snakes have developed an ingenious method of keeping warm – they gather in groups of thousands and share body heat.

Males tend to awaken first but stay nearby, meaning that when females finally emerge they can suddenly find themselves the target of hundreds of males, resulting in “mating balls” of up to 25 at a time.

White-fronted Parrots
When these birds prepare to mate they cuddle up close and lock beaks in a behaviour similar to kissing in humans.

Where they differ from our species is that in between kissing and mating is an intermediate stage of the ritual – vomiting over one another.


Like Capuchin monkeys porcupines have a mating ritual involving urine, but rather than use it on themselves the males prefer to cover their partner with it.

Rather than getting up close to their partner they shoot a stream of urine from up to six feet away – hardly surprising given the huge spikes on their partner’s backs.

In a remarkable pre-mating dance that has been compared to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, the male Manakin will leap forward before gliding backwards again with a series of tiny steps reminiscent of the King of Pop.

While doing so they raise their tail and beat their wings against their sides to tell their partner they are ready to mate.

Read more at The Telegraph

Feb 25, 2011

Evolution, Creationism, and the ‘Cautious 60 Percent’

“The recent headlines were disturbing:

13% of H.S. Biology Teachers Advocate Creationism in Class
Troubling: 13% of Biology Teachers Supporting Creationism
13% of US biology teachers advocate creationism: Welcome to 2011

These articles were responding to a commentary in Science by Penn State political scientists Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer (“Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom”; 28 January 2011). Berkman and Plutzer’s research — detailed in several articles and a book–involves large surveys of science teachers. In this most recent study, 926 public high school biology teachers were surveyed, and 13 percent reported “explicitly advocat[ing] creationism or intelligent design.”

The 13 percent number is bad — 1 in 8 public school biology instructors teaches creationism. As the headlines above show, most reporting focused on this 13 percent. But Berkman and Plutzer identified an even greater problem: a “cautious 60 percent” of teachers who, while not preaching creationism, nevertheless fail to be “strong advocates for evolutionary biology.”

Berkman and Plutzer write,

The cautious 60 percent may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists.

There are more of these cautious teachers, and their reluctance to present evolution forthrightly not only impedes their students in learning biology, but also undermines understanding of the nature of science. They fail to teach evolution in the way recommended by the nation’s leading scientific organizations, such as the National Research Council — as the central, unifying principle of the life sciences.

Why is “neutrality” toward evolution such a disaster for college-bound kids?

Evolution is the foundation of biology. Just as geologists cannot decipher the earth’s features without plate tectonics, and physicists cannot understand the interaction of light and matter without quantum electrodynamics, biologists cannot explain the diversity of life on earth without evolution. Trying to teach biology without evolution is like teaching auto mechanics without discussing engines. Teachers should not be neutral toward evolution because scientists are not neutral about evolution.”

Read more at Huffington Post

How Joshua trained his brain and became a world-class memory athlete

“Sitting to my left was Ram Kolli, an unshaven 25-year-old business consultant from Richmond, Va., who was also the defending United States memory champion. To my right was the lens of a television camera from a national cable network. Spread out behind me, where I couldn’t see them and they couldn’t disturb me, were about 100 spectators and a pair of TV commentators offering play-by-play analysis. One was a blow-dried mixed martial arts announcer named Kenny Rice, whose gravelly, bedtime voice couldn’t conceal the fact that he seemed bewildered by this jamboree of nerds. The other was the Pelé of U.S. memory sport, a bearded 43-year-old chemical engineer and four-time national champion from Fayetteville, N.C., named Scott Hagwood. In the corner of the room sat the object of my affection: a kitschy, two-tiered trophy of a silver hand with gold nail polish brandishing a royal flush. It was almost as tall as my 2-year-old niece (if lighter than most of her stuffed animals).

The audience was asked not to take any flash photographs and to maintain total silence. Not that Kolli or I could possibly have heard them. Both of us were wearing earplugs. I also had on a pair of industrial-strength earmuffs that looked as if they belonged to an aircraft-carrier deckhand (in the heat of a memory competition, there is no such thing as deaf enough). My eyes were closed. On a table in front of me, lying face down between my hands, were two shuffled decks of playing cards. In a moment, the chief arbiter would click a stopwatch, and I would have five minutes to memorize the order of both decks.”

Read the rest at NY Times

Self-Doubting Monkeys Know What They Don’t Know

“The number of traits chalked up as “distinctly human” seem to dwindle each year. And now, we can’t even say that we’re uniquely aware of the limits of our knowledge: It seems that some monkeys understand uncertainty too.

A team of researchers taught macaques how to maneuver a joystick to indicate whether the pixel density on a screen was sparse or dense. Given a pixel scenario, the monkeys would maneuver a joystick to a letter S (for sparse) or D (for dense). They were given a treat when they selected the correct answer, but when they were wrong, the game paused for a couple seconds. A third possible answer, though, allowed the monkeys to select a question mark, and thereby forgo the pause (and potentially get more treats).

And as John David Smith, a researcher at SUNY Buffalo, and Michael Beran, a researcher at Georgia State University, announced at the AAAS meeting this weekend, the macaques selected the question mark just as humans do when they encounter a mind-stumping question. As Smith told the BBC, “Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error…. They seem to know when they don’t know.””

Read more at Discover

Feb 24, 2011

Neanderthals Wore Feathers as Fashion Accessories

Neanderthals living in what is now Italy may have used feathers as fashion accessories, according to a study on 44,000-year-old bird bones.

While investigating Neanderthal remains in the Fumane Cave near Verona in northern Italy, paleoanthropologist Marco Peresani from the University of Ferrara and colleagues discovered 660 bird bones in layers that were dated to around 44,000 years ago.

Belonging to 22 species of birds, the remains included several wing bones which, according to the researchers, were deliberately cut to take the feathers off.

"Cut, peeling and scrape marks are observed exclusively on wings, indicating the intentional removal of large feathers," Peresani and colleagues wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The 22 species of birds included bearded lammergeiers, red-footed falcons, Eurasian black vultures, golden eagles, common wood pigeons, and Alpine choughs.

The colors of the plumage ranged from black, gray, blue-gray, and orange-slate gray.

"The Neanderthals from Fumane removed the remiges, which are the longest and more beautiful feathers," Peresani said.

Alpine chough

In line with previous research suggesting that Neanderthals may have worn brightly colored mollusc shells as jewelry, the researchers believe the feathers were used as ornaments.

Read more at Discovery News

Charges initiated against Pope for crimes against humanity

Irish Times: TWO GERMAN lawyers have initiated charges against Pope Benedict XVI at the International Criminal Court, alleging crimes against humanity.

Christian Sailer and Gert-Joachim Hetzel, based at Marktheidenfeld in the Pope’s home state of Bavaria, last week submitted a 16,500-word document to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Hague, Dr Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Their charges concern “three worldwide crimes which until now have not been denounced . . . (as) the traditional reverence toward ‘ecclesiastical authority’ has clouded the sense of right and wrong”.

They claim the Pope “is responsible for the preservation and leadership of a worldwide totalitarian regime of coercion which subjugates its members with terrifying and health-endangering threats”.

They allege he is also responsible for “the adherence to a fatal forbiddance of the use of condoms, even when the danger of HIV-Aids infection exists” and for “the establishment and maintenance of a worldwide system of cover-up of the sexual crimes committed by Catholic priests and their preferential treatment, which aids and abets ever new crimes”.

They claim the Catholic Church “acquires its members through a compulsory act, namely, through the baptism of infants that do not yet have a will of their own”. This act was “irrevocable” and is buttressed by threats of excommunication and the fires of hell.

Full article over at Irish Times

Feb 23, 2011

How Low Can a Dark Matter Halo Go?

With all the splendor and beauty of the galaxies around us, it is easy to forget that such "normal" matter only makes up about fifteen percent of the matter in the universe.

The rest is a form of matter that does not interact with light at all, conveniently called "dark matter." Even though we cannot see it directly, it has helped to shape the universe into what we see today, and we can trace it using what we can see.

The most successful model of the universe's structure to date has dark matter forming "halos," or spherical constructs, coalescing at the junctions of a vast cosmic web, shown in blue above.

In many of these halos, "normal" matter would clump together as well, forming the stars and galaxies with which we are so familiar. However, it has long been thought that some halos are too small to support star formation, and are thus barren of tell-tale stars and galaxies. How small is too small?

Astronomers using the ESA's Herschel Space Observatory came up with a clever way to answer that question. Herschel scans the sky from orbit in the far-infrared and sub-millimeter wavelengths, those longer than what our eyes can see. They looked at the most prolific star-forming galaxies at the most active time in the universe's history.

These starburst galaxies are aptly named, as they can form on average hundreds or thousands of stars per year, whereas our Milky Way puts out just about one per year. These galaxies are often dusty, so that the starlight is reprocessed by the dust grains and shines out with infrared light.

These galaxies are also at high redshift, falling smack into Herschel's sweet spot, and appearing as they did just a few billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was booming with star formation.

There are SO many of these galaxies that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other in an image. However, these astronomers looked at the power spectrum of the signal from all of them across two fields of view in the sky.

A power spectrum measures the clumpiness of a signal in space, or, it tells you how large and small your typical sources are, in a statistical way. (For some reason, the spinning spheres on the Wikipedia page for spherical harmonics always helped me visualize this, if you want to get a deeper understanding.)

Read more at Discovery News

Feb 22, 2011

China tells living Buddhas to obtain permission before they reincarnate

“Tibet’s living Buddhas have been banned from reincarnation without permission from China’s atheist leaders. The ban is included in new rules intended to assert Beijing’s authority over Tibet’s restive and deeply Buddhist people.

“The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid,” according to the order, which comes into effect on September 1.

The 14-part regulation issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs is aimed at limiting the influence of Tibet’s exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, and at preventing the re-incarnation of the 72-year-old monk without approval from Beijing.

It is the latest in a series of measures by the Communist authorities to tighten their grip over Tibet. Reincarnate lamas, known as tulkus, often lead religious communities and oversee the training of monks, giving them enormous influence over religious life in the Himalayan region. Anyone outside China is banned from taking part in the process of seeking and recognising a living Buddha, effectively excluding the Dalai Lama, who traditionally can play an important role in giving recognition to candidate reincarnates.

For the first time China has given the Government the power to ensure that no new living Buddha can be identified, sounding a possible death knell to a mystical system that dates back at least as far as the 12th century.”

Read more at The Times

Inkjet Printers Inspire Scientists to Make Skin

Ink-jet printing technology has inspired scientists to look for ways to build sheets of skin that could one day be used for grafts in burn victims, experts said Sunday.

One technique involves a portable bioprinter that could be carried to wounded soldiers on the battlefield where it would scan the injury, take cells from the patient and print a section of compatible skin.

Another uses a three-dimensional printer combining donor cells, biofriendly gel and other materials to build cartilage.

The 3-D printer was shown at work, building a prototype of an ear during a half-hour demonstration at a Washington science conference.

Hod Lipson of Cornell University in New York said it worked much like an ink-jet printer.

"It spits out plastic to gradually build an object layer by layer... after a couple of hours you end up with a real physical object that you can hold in your hand," he said.

"Just imagine -- if you could take cells from a donor, culture them, put them into an ink and recreate an implant that is alive and made of the original cells from the donor -- how useful that would be in terms of avoiding rejection," said Lipson.

"That is where we are going. Let's see how far we can go."

Studies using the technology in animals have shown promise, particularly with printed cartilage, which is relatively simple in its construction and is tough so it can withstand the rigors of printing.

"There are very severe limitations," Lipson said. "We are right now limited to cells... that can handle being printed."

Scientist James Yoo of Wake Forest University in North Carolina said his team's approach to printing skin has shown positive results in repairing skin in mouse and pig models.

"One approach is to directly deploy cells to the wound site and the other approach is to build a tissue construct outside the body and transfer it into the body," said Yoo.

Read more at Discovery News

Indian man with 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren

They all live in a four storied building with 100 rooms in a mountainous village in Mizoram state, sharing borders with Burma and Bangladesh, according to reports.

"I once married 10 women in one year," Ziona Chana said.

His wives share a dormitory near Ziona's private bedroom and locals said he likes to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

The sons and their wives, and all their children, live in different rooms in the same building, but share a common kitchen.

The wives take turns cooking, while his daughters clean the house and do washing. The men do outdoor jobs like farming and taking care of livestock.

The family, all 167 of them, consumes around 200lb of rice and more than 130lb of potatoes a day. They are supported by their own resources and occasional donations from followers.

"Even today, I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry," Ziona said.

"I have so many people to care (for) and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man."

Mr Chana met his oldest wife, who is three years older than he is, when he was 17.

Read more at The Telegraph

Supernova-creating particle accelerators will make the biggest bangs we have ever known

Every inch of your body – as well as the screen you are reading, the chair you are sitting on and the entire world around you – is made up of a combination of fewer than 100 basic chemical building blocks. These will be familiar to every student who has seen the periodic table hanging on a classroom wall: they are the elements, the various atoms that make up the universe around us.

The periodic table is meant to be an authoritative list, but scientists believe there are a few elements missing. Well, not exactly a few – more likely between 3,500 and 7,000. And now they are preparing to build a series of giant new machines to find them. This new breed of atom-smashers, billed as the successors to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern in Geneva, will recreate some of the most extreme conditions found in the universe, creating miniature supernovae (huge explosions triggered when stars collapse), neutron stars and even the mysterious vampire stars right here on planet Earth.

Inside the replicas of these cataclysmic cosmic explosions, scientists expect to find atoms that have never been seen before winking in and out of existence. It is a search for what nuclear physicists describe as terra incognita, an unknown land of atomic science.

"Nobody knows exactly how many elements are out there waiting to be discovered," explains Professor Guenther Rosner, a physicist at Glasgow University who sits on the committee at the European Science Foundation that has just published the long-term plan for a new generation of giant experimental facilities. "The estimate is that there are at least another 4,000 or 5,000. They are thought to be generated in supernova explosions, so we are sure they are out there. Unfortunately, these atoms are also going to be extremely short-lived, lasting just a trillionth of a trillionth of a second before disappearing.

While the 16-mile LHC has been searching for the elusive subatomic particles that make up atoms and give them mass, these new experiments will aim to answer fundamental questions about atoms themselves by revealing how they are created.

After the Big Bang, just a handful of elements were brought into existence, namely the lightest and simplest atoms like hydrogen and helium. It was not until these were subjected to the furnaces of the first stars and the massive heat of supernovae, which explode with temperatures in excess of 180 billion degrees Fahrenheit (100 billion Kelvin), that larger atoms began to emerge.

Under the plans set out by the European Science Foundation's Nuclear Physics Collaboration Committee, two "next-generation" super-accelerators have now been approved to reproduce these extreme conditions.

The first, the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (Fair), which is to be sited in Darmstadt in Germany, will accelerate atoms inside a double ring with a circumference of more than 3,000 feet before smashing them into a fixed target that causes them to fragment. The fragments will then be accelerated and smashed into a second target to produce temperatures more than a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun. Scientists say the intense and dense explosions generated will produce conditions thought to exist inside neutron stars – the remnants of massive stars that have collapsed under their own gravity during an supernova explosion.

"Fair will generate matter that is about 10 times denser than is possible at the LHC, so that it resembles the matter at the centre of neutron stars," says Prof Rosner. "We don't know what the interior of a neutron star is, but it is probably not normal matter – it will be strange and very exciting."

The £1 billion facility will also be able to produce beams of antimatter that can be collided with ordinary matter to produce entirely new types of particles. Among the exotic objects they will be looking for are bizarre balls of energy that behave like particles known as "glueballs". These hypothetical particles are made up of gluons, one of the elementary particles thought to hold the nucleus of atoms together.

"We will be able to address a very broad spectrum of science that will answer some really fundamental questions," explains Professor Martin Freer, a nuclear physicist at Birmingham University who is involved in one of the experiments at Fair. "Things like how atoms first formed, what happens to terra incognita elements and what sits at the heart of neutron stars that we have only been able to see at the centre of echoes left behind by supernova explosions."

Read more at The Telegraph

Feb 21, 2011

A Universe Stranger Than We Can't Imagine

Ever looked up at the night sky and wondered: What is up there?

Like your ancestors before you, you would be mistaken if you thought that it's just the Earth down here and the stars up there. Instead, the night sky encompasses everything that is, or ever was, in the Universe. You see, the really wacky thing about looking up at the sky is that you are looking not just into the depths of space, but also the depths of time.

Let me explain. Light travels at about 300,000 kilometers per second (186,000 miles per second) -- that's pretty fast. In our day-to-day lives, this doesn't pose a problem; the light entering my eyes from the display in the coffee shop window takes an almost immeasurably small period of time to get to me. To all intents and purposes, I see the display as it is right now.

However, the distances in space are so vast that it takes more time for light to reach us.

We see the Moon as it was 1.3 seconds ago; the sun as it was 8.3 minutes ago; the nearest star 4.2 years ago; the most distant galaxy as it was about 13.3 billion years ago. The most distant object you can see with your naked eye is the Andromeda Galaxy and even that is about 2.3 million light-years away which means you see it as it was 2.3 million years ago. Just by looking up, you can see back in time. Crazy.

So all those tiny points of light represent different points of time in the history of the Universe and that's how astronomers can build a picture of how the Universe has evolved. But the tiny points of light you see aren't all just stars, certainly the vast majority is, but turn a telescope to the sky and you will find an entire cosmic zoo of objects just waiting to be explored.

Starting closer to home, our local star, the sun, is about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) away and it's the energy generated in its core from the fusion of hydrogen into helium that makes life on Earth possible.

Moving away from the Sun are four tiny rocky planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Interestingly Mercury isn't the hottest planet even thought it's closest to the sun; it's Venus that has the highest temperatures and the reason is simple. Due to its dense atmosphere, heat that reaches Venus from the sun can't escape into space. Surface temperatures can reach around 500 degrees Celsius -- hot enough to melt lead!

Moving on through the asteroid belt we enter the realms of the gas giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, all of which dwarf the Earth. Jupiter itself, the largest of the planets could consume about 1300 Earths and still have a little room for dessert! For the main part, that's it for the solar system -- including a whole host of satellites orbiting the main planets and countless minor planets (including Pluto) and comets.

The nearest star to our own is Proxima Centuari and it lays just over 4 light-years away. Depending on the method of transport, if we were to use today's technique of gravitational slingshots around other planets, the quickest transit time would be 19,000 years!

If we continued on through the stars, we would be able to see newly-formed clusters of stars and ghostly glowing clouds of gas and dust where stars are either forming or have recently died.

Eventually though, after many millions of years, we would pop out of our own and start a very long haul through the vast empty space between galaxies. Looking back at the Milky Way we would see something that resembled a big spiral of glittering stars.

Read more at Discovery News

Ugly Lord Voldemort cat finally finds home

Rescue-centre staff said 14-year-old Charlie's strange appearance scared people off.

Vets had removed both his ears and nose in a bid to clear him of skin cancer.

And, although the operation was a success, poor Charlie was left bearing an uncanny resemblance to the evil character, played by Ralph Fiennes in the blockbuster films.

People were so put off, staff at The Blue Cross animal centre in Southampton, Hants, struggled to rehome him.

But things are now finally looking up for the ugly moggy - he's got a new owner after he won over the hearts of the nation.

Harry Potter fan Sarah Gaden was just one of thousands of people who fell in love with Charlie after reading his heart-wrenching story.

And the 45-year-old property lawyer was the first one to contact the centre with an offer to take him under her wing.

Miss Gaden, who lives alone in Worthing, West Sussex, said it must have been magic that had brought her and Charlie together.

She explained: "I had to have my cat, Tom, put down in January after 16 years together and I vowed I'd never have another.

"But fate or magic must have brought Charlie to me.

"When I read his heart-breaking story I fell in love with him immediately and was desperate to give him a loving home.

"I think the Harry Potter films are fantastic and I noticed the resemblance to Voldemort but it didn't put me off.

"I didn't think he was ugly - he looked like he had character and he just needed someone to love and care for him.

"I knew I could give him a good home and he'd be such good company for me - my house had been so empty since Tom had died.

"I contacted the centre immediately after spotting Charlie's story and they responded the same day.

"I was delighted when they told me I was the first person to make an offer for him and asked if would like to come and meet him.

"It really was love at first sight. He may look at bit different but he's so friendly and I think he's beautiful.

"Charlie seems to be a bit of a celebrity now and it's a bit of a big responsibility giving him a new home.

"But I'm confident we're going to get on just fine. I'm going to make him feel welcome and loved."

Read more at The Telegraph

Large Hadron Collider to prove 'God Particle theory within two years'

Officials at the Swiss-based accelerator have announced that the £5bn machine’s closure had been put back by a year because it was running so well.

Scientists had been due to shut down the accelerator at the end of this year for a major refit but that has been put back until the end of 2012.

The decision means that scientists will have another year to carry out physics experiments while the machine is running at half power. It will then shut for 15 months before reopening to run at full capacity.

The beam energy for 2011 will be 3.5 TeV (trillion electron volts). It is designed to run at a maximum of 7 TeV.

Scientists believe that it may even be possible to fulfil some of its major aims – to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson or a theory called supersymmetry – at the lower power.

On Monday, researchers disclosed that they had hoped to have compiled enough data by the end of the year to confirm or reject claims about the Higgs Boson.

They also hope to produce data pointing to the nature of dark matter, the discovery of a whole “new class of unanticipated subatomic curiosities” or the existence of extra dimensions, the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Washington was told.

heard that if the “Higgs” was not found, physicists would have to reassess the “Standard Model”, or the theory of subatomic structure that ranks as one of physics' biggest achievements.

"By the end of next year, we hope very much that we will be able to say something about the Higgs," Felicitas Pauss, head of international relations at the CERN nuclear research centre, told the conference.

Some scientists say that failing to find the Higgs boson would “actually be more intriguing than finding it”.

Nicholas Hadley, from the University of Maryland's who is a member of the research team for the LHC's Compact Muon Solenoid detector, told reporters: "If we don't see it, we will be very excited, because it means that there's something very brand-new.

"But to say we looked and we didn't find anything ... we'll probably volunteer to have other people stand up here in front of you if that day comes."

Read more at The Telegraph

Feb 20, 2011

'Anti-laser' built for first time

An anti-laser – which absorbs light rather than emitting it – has been built for the first time.

A laser shines by producing a cascade of photons that bounce around inside a light-amplifying material before exiting from one or both ends. In 2010, Douglas Stone at Yale University and colleagues devised a way to reverse the process, with a material that absorbs rather than amplifies light.

The researchers calculated that if they used a light-absorbing material like silicon, then at certain wavelengths, two identical laser beams shone directly at each other would cancel out inside the material.

Now, a team led by Hui Cao of Yale has done just that using a 110-micrometre-wide slab of silicon.

The researchers chose the wavelength of the laser light so that light waves hitting the outside of the slab from the laser beams were in just the right phase with the waves transmitted through the material to trap the light inside the slab.

The silicon absorbed 99.4 per cent of near-infrared light with a wavelength of 998.5 nanometres, turning it into heat. "Theory and experiment matched very well," says Stone. "We couldn't have expected to do any better."

Read more at New Scientist

Sheep are far smarter than previously thought

They are an animal so apparently dim-witted that they have become a byword for stupidity and mindlessly following the crowd. New research, however, reveals that sheep are far more intelligent than they have been given credit for.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the creatures have the brainpower to equal rodents, monkeys and, in some tests, even humans.

The results suggest that sheep have relatively advanced learning capabilities, are adaptable, can map out their surroundings mentally and may even be able to plan ahead.

The findings will surprise any motorist who has had to follow a stray sheep trying to escape oncoming traffic by running down the middle of a country road.

The animals' tendency to blindly follow the flock has led to sheep becoming enshrined in the English language as a description for unquestioningly doing what others are doing.

In George Orwell's Animal Farm they were portrayed as easily-led and of lowest intelligence of all the farmyard inhabitants. Even the look the animals adopt when chewing grass has led to the phrase "sheepish".

But professor Jenny Morton, a neuroscientist at University of Cambridge, said sheep had been greatly undervalued for their intelligence.

She said: "They have a reputation for being extremely dim and their flock behaviour backs that up as they are very silly animals when in a group – if there is a hole they will fall into it, if there is something to knock over, then they will knock it over.

"So I didn't expect them to be so amenable to testing and certainly didn't expect them to be so smart. In our tests they performed at a level very similar to monkeys and humans in the initial learning tasks.

"When we then changed the rules they still performed as well as monkeys and better than rodents.

"They are quite intelligent animals – they seem to be able to recognise people and even respond when you call their name."

Professor Morton, whose research is published in the journal Public Library of Science One, was studying sheep intelligence in the hope that they may be useful as an animal model of Huntington's Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to dementia and affects muscle control.

Researchers in Australia have created a genetically-modified sheep that displays symptoms similar to Huntington's Disease in humans, but it is unclear whether the animals would undergo the same cognitive decline that would make them useful for testing potential treatments.

Professor Morton put a flock of seven normal Welsh Mountain sheep through a series of tests to examine their learning ability as a mark of their intelligence.

Read more at The Telegraph