Sep 7, 2012

World Record Set for Highest Surface Area Material

Northwestern University researchers have broken a world record by creating two new synthetic materials with the greatest amount of surface areas reported to date.

Named NU-109 and NU-110, the materials belong to a class of crystalline nanostructure known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that are promising vessels for natural gas storage for vehicles, catalysts, and other sustainable materials chemistry.

The materials' promise lies in their vast internal surface area. If the internal surface area of one NU-110 crystal the size of a grain of salt could be unfolded, the surface area would cover a desktop. Put another way, the internal surface area of one gram of NU-110 would cover one-and-a-half football fields.

A paper describing the findings, "Metal-organic Framework Materials with Ultrahigh Surface Areas: Is the Sky the Limit?" was published August 20 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The research team, led by Omar Farha, research associate professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, has synthesized, characterized, and computationally simulated the behavior of the two MOFs that display the highest experimental Brunauer-Emmett-Teller surface areas of any porous material on record, 7,000 m2/g; that is, one kilogram of the material contains an internal surface area that could cover seven square kilometers. (Brunauer-Emmett-Teller, or BET, is an analysis technique for measuring the surface area of a material.)

The extremely high surface area, which is normally not accessible due to solvent molecules that stay trapped within the pores, was achieved using a carbon dioxide activation technique. As opposed to heating, which can remove the solvent but also damage the MOF material, the carbon dioxide-based technique removes the solvent gently and leaves the pores completely intact.

The development could rapidly lead to further advances. MOFs are composed of organic linkers held together by metal atoms, resulting in a molecular cage-like structure. The researchers believe they may be able to more than double the surface area of the materials by using less bulky linker units in the materials' design.

The research comes from the labs of Joseph T. Hupp, professor of chemistry in Weinberg, and Randall Q. Snurr, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering.

Other authors include SonBinh Nguyen, professor of chemistry in Weinberg; Ibrahim Eryazici, Nak Cheon Jeong, Brad G. Hauser, Amy A. Sarjeant, and Christopher E. Wilmer, all of Northwestern; and A. Özgür Yazaydın of the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom.

Read more at Science Daily

Child Abuse and Discipline: What’s the Difference?

In life, there are directions for just about anything. Need to travel somewhere? Use a map. Want to cook a meal? Read a recipe. Want to be a great parent? There's no official handbook for that. In the end, all any parent can do is use their own judgment. And there is no single agreement as to how a parent should raise a child, particularly when it comes to differentiating child physical abuse (CPA) and physical discipline (PD) across cultures.

Using the book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" as a supplement to her ideas, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing PhD student Grace Ho is attempting to better define the line separating those two by evaluating Chinese-American mothers and pediatric nurses through a methodology that studies a person's perception.

As was done in the Tiger Mother book, her work is examining the vast differences between Eastern and Western parenting and their discipline strategies. Eastern parenting relies on obedience, respect, and character building, while Western parenting centers on embracing a child's individuality, parental warmth, and nurturing.

Ho's study, "Differentiating Physical Discipline from Abuse: A Comparison of Chinese-American Mothers and Mandated Nurse Reporters of Abuse," looks at how PD and CPA differ among cultures, between nurses and mothers of specific cultures, and how acculturation affects parental approaches for immigrants attempting to assimilate into a new society.

Ho is recruiting mothers from Chinese language schools, Chinese churches, and Asian grocery stores in Maryland counties with high Asian-American populations. Nurses who have worked in the pediatric field for at least two years are being recruited from inpatient and outpatient pediatric units at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Through interviews and an online questionnaire, Ho will gauge what separates child abuse and parental discipline.

Read more at Science Daily

Neil Armstrong To Be Buried At Sea

A different sort of sea of tranquility awaits Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died Aug. 25 following complications after heart surgery. He was 82.

The final resting place of the legendary Apollo 11 commander will be at sea, Armstrong's family said through a NASA spokesman on Thursday.

Armstrong and astronaut Buzz Aldrin landed their lunar module, named Eagle, on the moon's Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, and spent 2.5 hours exploring while crewmate Michael Collins orbited in the lunar command ship.

Details of Armstrong's interment, including whether it will be in the Atlantic or Pacific ocean, are pending, said NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs.

A national memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. EDT next Thursday at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC. The service will be carried live on NASA Television and streamed online at and

From Discovery News

Ivory: The New Blood Diamonds

Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, and Kurtz, the ivory trader in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, have much in common. Both led murderous armies of fanatically devoted followers deep in the African Congo. Both collected vast quantities of ivory and shipped it off to wealthy industrialized nations for use in a luxury goods.

The current slaughter of elephants by Kony's forces forms a small portion of what may be the largest extermination of elephants since the days of Kurtz and the great white hunters of classical European colonialism, reported the New York Times. Now, it is the booming economy of China that fuels the new horror in the heart of Africa.

Kony, unlike Kurtz, is real and uses the profits from selling illegal ivory to the Chinese to fuel his rampage in central Africa. Kony, who was made infamous earlier this year by a mock political ad, employs tactics worthy of his insane fictional predecessor including enslaving and brainwashing children, murdering entire families, mutilation and gang rape to establish himself as a demigod.

Psychopathic rebel leaders like Kony are joined in the slaughter of human and elephant alike by the Darfur-decimating janajaweed militia of Sudan, the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab of Somalia and even the armed forces of some African nations, according to the New York Times.

Ivory has replaced blood diamonds as a major source of cash for criminal armies. International organized crime syndicates serve as the middle men. Money flows through these mafias and into the pockets of Africa's worst murders, rapists and poachers largely because of the growth of the luxury good hungry middle and upper classes of China.

“China is the epicenter of demand,” Robert Hormats, a senior State Department official, told the New York Times. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been pushing the Chinese government to take action to staunch the flow of blood ivory out of Africa, according to Hormats.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 6, 2012

'I Knew It All Along ... Didn't I?' -- Understanding Hindsight Bias

The fourth-quarter comeback to win the game. The tumor that appeared on a second scan. The guy in accounting who was secretly embezzling company funds. The situation may be different each time, but we hear ourselves say it over and over again: "I knew it all along."

The problem is that too often we actually didn't know it all along, we only feel as though we did. The phenomenon, which researchers refer to as "hindsight bias," is one of the most widely studied decision traps and has been documented in various domains, including medical diagnoses, accounting and auditing decisions, athletic competition, and political strategy.

In a new article in the September 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientists Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Kathleen Vohs of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota review the existing research on hindsight bias, exploring the various factors that make us so susceptible to the phenomenon and identifying a few ways we might be able to combat it. This article is the first overview to draw insights together from across different disciplines.

Roese and Vohs propose that there are three levels of hindsight bias that stack on top of each other, from basic memory processes up to higher-level inference and belief. The first level of hindsight bias, memory distortion, involves misremembering an earlier opinion or judgment ("I said it would happen"). The second level, inevitability, centers on our belief that the event was inevitable ("It had to happen"). And the third level, foreseeability, involves the belief that we personally could have foreseen the event ("I knew it would happen").

The researchers argue that certain factors fuel our tendency toward hindsight bias. Research shows that we selectively recall information that confirms what we know to be true and we try to create a narrative that makes sense out of the information we have. When this narrative is easy to generate, we interpret that to mean that the outcome must have been foreseeable. Furthermore, research suggests that we have a need for closure that motivates us to see the world as orderly and predictable and to do whatever we can to promote a positive view of ourselves.

Ultimately, hindsight bias matters because it gets in the way of learning from our experiences.

"If you feel like you knew it all along, it means you won't stop to examine why something really happened," observes Roese. "It's often hard to convince seasoned decision makers that they might fall prey to hindsight bias."

Hindsight bias can also make us overconfident in how certain we are about our own judgments. Research has shown, for example, that overconfident entrepreneurs are more likely to take on risky, ill-informed ventures that fail to produce a significant return on investment.

While our inclination to believe that we "knew it all along" is often harmless, it can have important consequences for the legal system, especially in cases of negligence, product liability, and medical malpractice. Studies have shown, for example, that hindsight bias routinely afflicts judgments about a defendant's past conduct.

And technology may make matters worse. "Paradoxically, the technology that provides us with simplified ways of understanding complex patterns -- from financial modeling of mortgage foreclosures to tracking the flow of communications among terrorist networks -- may actually increase hindsight bias," says Roese.

Read more at Science Daily

Why We Sneeze Into Our Elbows

Elmo and President Barack Obama tell us to do it (see Elmo's demonstration here), but is sneezing into our elbows effective at preventing the spread of germs?

With the start of school in New York City and elsewhere today and this week, reminders about "covering your cough" are rampant. That used to mean coughing into your hands, but for the past five years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and most doctors and educators) have been encouraging kids to cough and sneeze into their elbows.

The reasoning makes sense: Kids touch a lot of things at school -- over 300 surfaces in 30 minutes, according to GermyWormy -- including their mouths, and most kids don't run to the bathroom to wash their hands every time they cough or sneeze.

Some argue that attempting to sneeze into an elbow often fails and germs could be spread further. In fact, the CDC's first recommendation seems to be the most failsafe: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away.

Most discouraging, perhaps, is the result of one of the only known studies on sneezing: Research during the 2009 swine flu pandemic found that only one in four people covered their sneezes at all.

Read more at Discovery News

Oldest Message in a Bottle Found

A Scottish skipper has found the oldest message ever in a bottle at sea, Guinness World Records said.

According to the record-keeping organization, Andrew Leaper, skipper of the Shetland fishing boat "Copious," made the discovery on April 12 when hauling in his nets in the North Sea off the coast of Shetland.

He later learned that the message in bottle had been adrift for 97 years and 309 days. This surpasses the previous record by more than five years.

Amazingly, it was Leaper's friend Mark Anderson who set the previous record in 2006 by retrieving another Scottish bottle as he was skippering the same boat.

"I spotted the bottle neck sticking out and I quickly grabbed it before it fell back into the sea," Leaper said.

"It was an amazing coincidence that the same Shetland fishing boat that found the previous record-breaking bottle six years ago also found this one. It's like winning the lottery twice," Leaper said.

Labeled as drift bottle 646B, the record-breaking bottle contained a postcard asking the finder to write down the date and location of the discovery and return it to the "Director of the Fishery Board for Scotland." The postcard promised a reward of six pence.

The water-tight glass bottle was released on June 10, 1914 by Captain C H Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation.

It was one of 1,890 scientific research bottles specially designed to sink downwards and float close to the seabed.

Each contained the same postcard asking the finder to record the date and location and return it for the six pence reward.

"Drift bottles gave oceanographers at the start of the last century important information that allowed them to create pictures of the patterns of water circulation in the seas around Scotland," Bill Turrell, head of Marine Ecosystems with Marine Scotland Science, said.

He added that the conclusions of those pioneering oceanographers were right in many respects.

"For example, they correctly deduced the clockwise flow of water around our coasts. However, it took the development of electronic instruments in the 1960s before the true patterns of current flows, and more importantly what causes them, were unlocked," Turrell said.

Of the batch released in 1914, 315 bottles have been found so far. Captain Brown's original log, now held by Marine Scotland Science in Aberdeen, is still updated each time a bottle is tracked down.

"It's amazing that nearly 98 years of bottles are still being returned to the Marine Laboratory -- and in such fantastic condition," Scottish environment secretary Richard Lochhead said.

Read more at Discovery News

The Depths of the Cosmos Under Yosemite Skies

Dark skies are often difficult to come by, especially if you, like the majority of the world's population, live near a sprawling metropolis. The increasingly acute scourge of light pollution is a pressing issue not only for amateur and professional astronomers, but for anyone who wants to look up on a cloudless night. But deep inside Yosemite National Park, astronomers flock with their increasingly sophisticated array of astronomical equipment to stare deep into space and bathe in the starry spectacle above them.

In this captivating short documentary, filmmaker Steven M. Bumgardner takes us on a high-definition tour of Yosemite at night, capturing some of the clearest views of the Milky Way and the countless stars, nebulae and other galaxies beyond. Be sure to switch the video to the HD version. This is part of a series of videos -- called Yosemite Nature Notes.

"The sense of scale involved in looking at the sky is enormous. You realize that we live on a tiny spaceship that's orbiting this average star in a galaxy full of 200 billion stars." -- Morris Jones, opening narration of "Night Skies"

From Discovery News

Sep 5, 2012

Ancient Mayan Theater Was Political Tool

A unique Mayan theater has been unearthed in Mexico, according to researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

Found at the archaeological site of Plan de Ayutla, in Ocosingo, Chiapas, the 1,200-year-old theater did not seem to be a place for art and culture, but was rather used by Mayan elite to legitimize their power and subjugate local minority groups.

"It was a unique theater, since it was found in an acropolis, 137 feet above the other plazas. The stage lay within a palace complex," Luis Alberto Martos López, director of the research project, said in a statement.

Located near the North Acropolis, the theater was enclosed by buildings dating to 250-550 B.C. on all sides. A 26-foot-long façade of one of these buildings was torn down around 850 A.D. to create the forum and make it work as an acoustic shell.

According to Martos López, the unusual architecture makes the theater stand out.

"It's different from all the other theaters that have already been studied. These theaters were usually located in plazas and were built to entertain the crowds," Martos López said.

In contrast, the newly unearthed theater seated 120 people at the most.

Near the amphiteater, Martos López's team found whistles, ocarinas and sculptures depicting Mayan deities. They most likely decorated the frieze below the building.

The scene probably represented the brutal ceremony of humiliation of prisoners, often ending in torture and decapitation.

Indeed, subjugation was the running theme at the theater. According to Martos López, around 850 A.D. a "multepal" or shared governance ruled in Plan de Ayutla and used political plays at the theater to impose their ideologies on local minority groups.

Read more at Discovery News

Medieval Church Discovered Beneath Parking Lot

The hunt for King Richard III's grave is heating up, with archaeologists announcing today (Sept. 5) that they have located the church where the king was buried in 1485.

"The discoveries so far leave us in no doubt that we are on the site of Leicester's Franciscan Friary, meaning we have crossed the first significant hurdle of the investigation," Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the dig, said in a statement.

Buckley and his colleagues have been excavating a parking lot in Leicester, England, since Aug. 25. They are searching for Greyfriars church, said to be the final resting place of Richard III, who died in battle during the War of the Roses, an English civil war. A century later, Shakespeare would immortalize Richard III in a play of the same name.

After his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard III was brought to Leicester and buried at Greyfriars. The location of the grave, and the church itself, was eventually lost to history, though University of Leicester archaeologists traced the likely location to beneath the parking lot for the Leicester City Council offices.

The team announced last week that their first two trenches turned up glazed floor-tile fragments, medieval roof tile and other building fragments, suggesting that they were digging in the right place to find Greyfriars. Now, a third trench has revealed the alignment of the building's walls.

"We now think we have evidence for a two-meter-wide [6.5 feet] north-south passageway, which originally had a tile floor — this may be a cloister walk on one side of a cloister garth or courtyard," Buckley said. "At right angles to this is an east-west aligned building some five meters [16 feet] wide, again with evidence for a tiled floor."

North of the building, there is an open space and then another large building with walls nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) thick, Buckley said. The archaeologists suspected that the thick wall might be the south wall of the church building, and now the third trench suggests that, indeed, the wall continues and meets up with another wall to the north with a mortar floor in between.

"The size of the walls, the orientation of the building, its position and the presence of medieval inlaid floor tiles and architectural fragments make this almost certainly the church of the Greyfriars," Buckley said.

Read more at Discovery News

Dog Archaeologist Digs for Bones (Not That Kind)

A three-year-old female black labrador cross named Migaloo has become the world's first trained archaeology dog. Working with Brisbane dog expert Gary Jackson, she is expected to help archaeologists uncover ancient grave sites across Australia. And looking to the future, it's expected that Migaloo and other archaeology dogs will work on excavations at ancient civilization sites in Egypt, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

And it's all because of the nose. Dogs have a sense of smell that's thousands of times more sensitive than a human's, allowing them to detect even the faintest of odors lying beneath the surface. For archaeology dogs, this means looking for bones. To that end, Migaloo was trained for six months, completing a curriculum that included field trials and a final search test in which she was expected to uncover a 250-year-old skeletal remain from a native burial site.

More impressively, Migaloo recently set a world record for the oldest bone discovered by a dog -- a 600-year-old human bone buried 2 meters (6.6 feet) underground. Her accomplishment beat the previous record by 425 years -- a remarkable achievement that also demonstrated the potential for dogs to locate very old bones at fairly reasonable depths.

Peter Michael of the Courier-Mail reports: "Dogs are known to have such sophisticated olfactory senses they can detect cancer or smell seizures in people, sniff out mobile phones in prisons, or help in therapy, find lost children, criminals, explosives, drugs or people buried under an avalanche of snow, he said.

"We can all see the potential commercial applications in finding animal or human remains going back hundreds and thousands of years, it is just astounding.

"Look at the money that goes into archaeological digs and native title claims.

 "SA Museum archaeology researcher Keryn Walshe, who observed the latest search, said the dog found the first of four burial sites within a minute.

"She is an extremely clever little dog, quite amazing, she is certainly on her way to fame and fortune "We gave absolutely no cues, the dog sniffed around and went stood over it, she was spot on.

"We've never heard of fossil dogs, nobody ever thought there would be any scent left on these old bones, nobody thought it could be done."

Read more at Discovery News

Birds Hold Funerals for Their Dead

Funerals by definition are ceremonies honoring a dead person, but researchers have just observed what appears to be the avian version of a funeral.

Teresa Iglesias and colleagues studied the western scrub jay and discovered that when one bird dies, the others do not just ignore the body. Multiple jays often fly down to gather around the deceased.

The subsequent ceremony isn't quiet either.

"Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation," Iglesias and her team wrote.

This part of the response is similar to how the birds react when they see a predator, such as a great horned owl.

The researchers explain that "all organisms must contend with the risk of injury or death; many animals reduce this danger by assessing environmental cues to avoid areas of elevated risk."

The "funerals" therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don't necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.

The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 4, 2012

Deadly Witch Hunts Targeted by Grassroots Women's Groups

Witch hunts are common and sometimes deadly in the tea plantations of Jalpaiguri, India. But a surprising source -- small groups of women who meet through a government loan program -- has achieved some success in preventing the longstanding practice, a Michigan State University sociologist found.

Soma Chaudhuri spent seven months studying witch hunts in her native India and discovered that the economic self-help groups have made it part of their agenda to defend their fellow plantation workers against the hunts.

"It's a grassroots movement and it's helping provide a voice to women who wouldn't otherwise have one," said Chaudhuri, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice. "I can see the potential for this developing into a social movement, but it's not going to happen in a day because an entire culture needs to be changed."

Witch hunts, she explained, are fueled by the tribal workers' belief in the existence of witches and the desperate need of this poor, illiterate population to make sense of rampant diseases in villages with no doctors or medical facilities. There are some 84 million tribal people in India, representing about 8 percent of the country's population.

In 2003, at a tea plantation in Jalpaiguri, five women were tied up, tortured and killed after being falsely accused of witchcraft in the death of a male villager who had suffered from a stomach illness.

Chaudhuri interviewed the villagers at length and found that such attacks are often impulsive and that the "witch" is often killed immediately. Widespread alcoholism is also a factor, she found.

But the study also documents examples of the women's groups stopping potential attacks. In one case, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock and an attack was planned. Members of the self-help groups gathered in a vigil around the woman's home and surrounded the accuser's home as well, stating their case to the accuser's wife. Eventually the wife intervened and her husband recanted and "begged for forgiveness."

Through the loan program, each woman is issued a low-interest, collateral-free "microcredit" loan of about 750 rupees ($18) to start her own business such as basket weaving, tailoring or selling chicken eggs. Participants meet in groups of about eight to 10 to support one another.

Chaudhuri said the loan program is run by nongovernmental activists who have been successful in encouraging the groups to look beyond the economic aspects and mobilize against domestic abuse, alcoholism and the practice of witch hunts.

Through the bonds of trust and friendship, group members have established the necessary social capital to collectively resist the deep-seated tradition of witch hunts, Chaudhuri said.

Read more at Science Daily

Syrian Obsidian Discovery Opens New Chapter in Middle Eastern Studies

An archaeologist from the University of Sheffield has revealed the origin and trading routes of razor-sharp stone tools 4,200 years ago in Syria.

Ancient sites and cultural heritage are under threat in Syria due to the current conflict. An interdisciplinary research team hopes this new discovery, which has major implications for understanding the world's first empire, will help to highlight the importance of protecting Syria's heritage.

Obsidian, naturally occurring volcanic glass, is smooth, hard, and far sharper than a surgical scalpel when fractured, making it a highly desired raw material for crafting stone tools for most of human history. In fact, obsidian tools continued to be used throughout the ancient Middle East for millennia beyond the introduction of metals, and obsidian blades are still used today as scalpels in specialised medical procedures.

In an interdisciplinary collaboration, researchers from social and earth sciences studied obsidian tools excavated from the archaeological site of Tell Mozan, located in Syria near the borders with Turkey and Iraq. Using novel methods and technologies, the team successfully uncovered the hitherto unknown origins and movements of the coveted raw material during the Bronze Age, more than four millennia ago.

Most of the obsidian at Tell Mozan (and surrounding archaeological sites) originated from volcanoes 200km away in what is now eastern Turkey, as expected from models of ancient trade developed by archaeologists over the last five decades. However, the team discovered a set of exotic obsidian artefacts originating from a volcano in central Turkey, three times farther away. Just as important as their distant origin is where the artefacts were found: a royal palace courtyard. The artefacts were left there during the height of the world's first empire, the Akkadian Empire, which invaded Syria in the Bronze Age. The find has exciting implications for understanding links between resources and empires in the Middle East.

Dr Ellery Frahm, Marie Curie Experienced Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology, led the research. He said: "This is a rare, if not unique, discovery in Northern Mesopotamia that enables new insights into changing Bronze-Age economics and geopolitics. We can identify where an obsidian artefact originated because each volcanic source has a distinctive 'fingerprint'. This is why obsidian sourcing is a powerful means of reconstructing past trade routes, social boundaries, and other information that allows us to engage in major social science debates."

Not only did Frahm and his collaborators identify the particular volcano where the artefacts originated, they were able to pinpoint the exact flank of the volcano where the obsidian was collected and determine that the raw material was gathered from two different spots on its slopes. Such specificity was possible using a combination of scientific techniques, including a portable X-ray analyser that can be brought to archaeological sites and instruments that measure weak magnetic signals within rocks.

The earliest techniques of matching Middle East obsidian artefacts to their volcanic origins were developed partly at the University of Sheffield by famed archaeologist Colin Renfrew, Lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology from 1965 to 1972. Frahm said: "Decades later, we are continuing to refine their original techniques. New technologies allow us to try new approaches. Powerful analytical tools can now be brought with us to sites, and sensitive magnetic instruments enable us to distinguish quarries, a level of specificity not previously possible. Our findings at Tell Mozan reveal that, even in the Middle East, the birthplace of obsidian sourcing, there are still surprises."

Frahm points out: "Studying the use and origin of obsidian reveals some compelling parallels with modern-day Middle East and has resonance with issues that the region faces today. For example, we think that invading powers, intent on controlling access to valuable resources, would have faced resistance to occupation from small states across the region ruled by peoples who were ethnic minorities elsewhere in the Middle East.

"A mountain insurgency could have resulted in a blockade of natural resources, and the colonisers may have been forced to instead seek resources from more distant sources and forge alliances with other regional powers to raise their status. This was 4,200 years ago during the Bronze Age -- the parallels to the recent history of the area are extraordinary."

Dr Frahm is also interested in the relationship between humanitarian and archaeological work in the region. He added: "I went to Syria as an American after the US had called Syria part of the 'Axis of Evil', and I only had positive experiences there. The degree of hospitality that I encountered was extraordinary. Perfect strangers took me into their home during my journey from Damascus to the site, which involved a nine-hour bus ride through the Syrian Desert. I was welcomed, fed, offered a shower and change of clothes, introduced to family and friends, and shown around town. Family members argued over whose house had the better accommodations for me to spend the night.

"The current situation in Syria is tragic and precarious. Because of both professional and personal interests, I follow developments in Syria closely. It can be so overwhelming and heartbreaking that I have to take a break from it, which, unlike the people who are living through the fighting, I have the luxury of doing. Whatever the future holds, there will be a lot of work to do there, both humanitarian and archaeological, and I'm very much interested in the interfaces between them. How can archaeology perhaps help Syria recover from this?"

His next study with Syrian obsidian artefacts explores what happened to trade and social networks when Bronze-Age cities were abandoned in the wake of a regional government collapse and increasing droughts due to climate changes.

Read more at Science Daily

Gardener's Delight Offers Glimpse Into the Evolution of Flowering Plants

The Pink Double Dandy peony, the Double Peppermint petunia, the Doubled Strawberry Vanilla lily and nearly all roses are varieties cultivated for their double flowers.

The blossoms of these and other such plants are lush with extra petals in place of the parts of the flower needed for sexual reproduction and seed production, meaning double flowers -- though beautiful -- are mutants and usually sterile.

The genetic interruption that causes that mutation helped scientists in the 1990s pinpoint the genes responsible for normal development of sexual organs stamens and carpels in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, long used as a plant model by biologists.

Now for the first time, scientists have proved the same class of genes is at work in a representative of a more ancient plant lineage, offering a glimpse further back into the evolutionary development of flowers.

"It's pretty amazing that Arabidopsis and Thalictrum, the plant we studied, have genes that do the exact same kind of things in spite of the millions of years of evolution that separates the two species," said Verónica Di Stilio, University of Washington associate professor of biology. She is the corresponding author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The function of these organ-identity genes appears to be highly conserved according to the new research, meaning the gene is essential and its function has been maintained despite the formation of new species.

Identifying the genetic and biochemical basis of double flowering in Thalictrum suggests the class of genes that likely underlie other widespread double-flower varieties, according to Kelsey Galimba, a UW doctoral student in the Di Stilio lab and lead author of the paper.

"Growers might be interested that we've figured out what's going on genetically. In terms of applications, you could potentially trigger this if you were interested in creating double flowers because you know which gene to treat to get that flower form," Di Stilio said.

Di Stilio's group studied Thalictrum thalictroides. Known in the nursery trade as Anemonella thalictroides and rue anemone, the spring-flowering plant is native to the woods of Northeastern U.S. It belongs to the family Ranunculaceae, a sister lineage of the Eudicots. Eudicots today include 70 percent of all flowering species.

"The plants we've chosen to study possess ancestral floral traits and are sister to the core Eudicots that have model plants used by biologists such as Arabidopsis thaliana and Antirrhinum majus, or snapdragon," Di Stilio said. "But the plants in our study belong to a more ancient lineage. We're interested in evolution of flowers so we want to look at something that is a little bit different, that might inform us about how development has been tweaked over time to produce change."

The scientists compared the class of genes that direct the development of certain sexual reproduction organs in wild-type Thalictrum with that of the cultivated double-flower version known as Double White. In the mutant, Galimba spotted part of a transposon, jumping genes that can move about the organism's genome, sitting in the gene that affects development of reproductive organs. The protein produced by the mutant gene lacks some of the amino acids found in wild-type plants and the scientists hypothesize that it's not the right length to interact with other proteins normally, Galimba said.

The researchers then did a second check on the findings by using a technique called viral induced gene silencing to knock down the properly functioning gene in a wild-type plant. The resulting blossom looked very similar to the Double White mutant.

"The flower is one of the key innovations of flowering plants. It allowed flowering plants to coevolve with pollinators -- mainly insects, but other animals as well -- and use those pollinators for reproduction," Di Stilio said. "Many scientists are interested in finding the genetic underpinnings of flower diversification. Just how flowering plants become so species rich in such a relatively short period of geologic time has been a question since Darwin."

Read more at Science Daily

Night-Shining Clouds Get Glow from Meteor Smoke

Rare and mysterious clouds that are so bright they can be seen at night have mystified people since they were first observed more than a century ago, but scientists have now discovered a key cosmic ingredient for these night-shining clouds: "smoke" from meteors as they burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Blue-white clouds that eerily glow in the twilight sky are called noctilucent clouds, or NLCs. They typically form about 50 to 53 miles (80 and 85 kilometers) above ground in the atmosphere, at altitudes so high that they reflect light even after the sun has slipped below the horizon.

In a new study, scientists found that noctilucent clouds have an extraterrestrial link.

"We've detected bits of 'meteor smoke' imbedded in noctilucent clouds," James Russell, an atmospheric scientist at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., said in a statement. "This discovery supports the theory that meteor dust is the nucleating agent around which NLCs form."

Russell is the principal investigator of NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission, which is designed to study the clouds at the edge of space in Earth's polar regions.

"Using AIM's Solar Occultation for Ice Experiment (SOFIE), we found that about 3% of each ice crystal in a noctilucent cloud is meteoritic," study leader Mark Hervig, of the aerospace company GATS Inc., said in a statement.

Smoke from meteors

Our inner solar system is full of meteoroids ranging from huge chunks of rock to microscopic flecks of dust. As Earth travels along its orbit, the planet scoops up material. As meteoroids hit Earth's atmosphere and burn up, they leave behind a cloud of tiny particles that float about 43 to 62 miles (70 to 100 kilometers) above the ground.

The researchers say it is no coincidence that noctilucent clouds form within this region of meteor smoke. The dusty particles attach to water molecules that assemble into ice crystals in a process known as "nucleation."

Nucleation is common in Earth's lower atmosphere, where dust can act as similar gathering points for ice crystals, drops of water and snowflakes to grow around them.

Scientists are particularly interested in studying nucleating agents for noctilucent clouds, since they form at the edge of space where the air pressure is verging on vacuum-state. In these conditions, it's unusual for two water molecules to meet, let alone stick together.

But meteor smoke may provide the missing link, the scientists said. Based on AIM data, the researchers determined that ice crystals can grow around meteor dust to sizes of approximately 20 to 70 nanometers. To put this in perspective, cirrus clouds found in the lower atmosphere, where water is abundant, contain crystals that are 10 to 100 times larger, according to NASA officials.

These tiny ice crystals also explain how noctilucent clouds get their electric-blue color. Small particles typically scatter short wavelengths of light (blue) more than longer wavelengths (red). So from our perspective on the ground, when a beam of sunlight hits a noctilucent cloud, the scattered blue color is what we see.

It started with an eruption

Noctilucent clouds have been a mystery since they were first detected in the late 19th century. In 1885, about two years after the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa erupted, night sky observers around the world were treated to spectacular sunsets.

A German named T.W. Backhouse is often credited with discovering noctilucent clouds after he stayed out later one night as twilight gave way to dark. Backhouse noticed ghostly filaments glowing blue against the black sky. At the time, scientists assumed the strange effect was caused by the volcanic dust.

When Krakatoa's ashes settled, and the supercharged sunsets faded, the noctilucent clouds persisted, and can be seen to this day. Researchers are still unsure whether Krakatoa's ashes played a role in the early sightings of noctilucent clouds, NASA officials said.

Other mysteries of these night-shining clouds have scientists scratching their heads, including why noctilucent clouds are brightening and spreading.

In the 19th century, noctilucent clouds were seen only at high latitudes, but more recently, they have been spotted as far south as Colorado, Utah and Nebraska, NASA officials said.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 3, 2012

Tigers Take the Night Shift to Coexist With People

Tigers aren't known for being accommodating, but a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the carnivores in Nepal are taking the night shift to better coexist with humans.

The revelation that tigers and people are sharing exactly the same space -- the same roads and trails -- of Chitwan National Park flies in the face of long-held convictions in conservation circles. It also underscores how successful conservation efforts need sciences that takes into account both nature and humans.

"As our planet becomes more crowded, we need to find creative solutions that consider both human and natural systems," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, the director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. "Sustainability can be achieved if we have a good understanding of the complicated connections between both worlds. We've found something very interesting is happening in Nepal that holds promise for both humans and nature to thrive."

Conventional conservation wisdom is that tigers need plenty of people-free space, which often leads to people being relocated or their access to resources compromised to make way for tigers.

Neil Carter, MSU doctoral student and one of the paper's co-authors, spent two seasons setting motion-detecting camera traps. His analysis of the images shows that people and tigers are walking the same paths, albeit at different times.

Tigers typically move around at all times of the day and night, monitoring their territory, mating and hunting. But in the study area, the tigers had become creatures of the night. People in Nepal generally avoid the forests at night. Essentially, quitting time for people signals starting time for Chitwan's tigers.

"It's a very fundamental conflict over resources," Carter said. "Tigers need resources, people need the same resources. If we operate under the traditional wisdom that tigers only can survive with space dedicated solely for them, there would always be conflict. If your priority is people, tigers lose out. If your priority is tigers, people lose out."

In Chitwan, tigers seem to be adapting to make it work, he added.

"There appears to be a middle ground where you might actually be able to protect the species at high densities and give people access to forest goods they need to live," Carter said. "If that's the case, then this can happen in other places, and the future of tigers is much brighter than it would be otherwise."

Additional co-authors of the paper include Binoj Shresthaof the Institute for Social and Environmental Research in Nepal, Jhamak Karkiof Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Narendra Man Babu Pradhan of the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal.

Read more at Science Daily

Peek-A-Blue Moon

Europe's latest weather satellite got a glimpse of the Moon before our celestial neighbour disappeared from view behind Earth on Friday. Since its launch two months ago, MSG-3 has been working well and is on its way to entering service.

The image shows the second full Moon of the month -- known as a 'blue' Moon -- just before it disappeared from the MSG-3 satellite's sight behind the southern hemisphere.

Brazil's eastern coast along the South Atlantic Ocean is also visible, with clouds forming over the water.

The image was captured by the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI) instrument at 11:20 GMT.

The imager scans Earth's surface and atmosphere every 15 minutes in 12 different wavelengths to track cloud development and measure temperatures.

Launched on 5 July, the third Meteosat Second Generation satellite is in a six-month commissioning phase by Eumetsat, the European Organisation for Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

This includes checking that the imaging service works fully and delivers high-quality products for weather forecasting.

ESA developed the satellite in close cooperation with Eumetsat, and was responsible for initial operations after launch. It was then handed over to Eumetsat on 16 July.

The first satellite in the series, MSG-1 -- also known as Meteosat-8 -- was launched in 2002. MSG-2 followed three years later. Both have continued the legacy of the operational meteorological satellites that started with Meteosat-1 in 1977.

Read more at Science Daily

Drinking Too Much? Blame Your Glass

Before you down that pint, check the shape of your glass — you might be drinking more beer than you realize. According to a new study of British beer drinkers, an optical illusion caused by the shape of a curved glass can dramatically increase the speed at which we swill.

Binge drinking is a growing problem in the United Kingdom, particularly among young people, says experimental psychologist Angela Attwood of the University of Bristol. The rise in drinking and associated criminal activity is so severe, she says, that “people are getting more and more reluctant to venture into city centers at night.” Aside from increases in crime, binge drinking is a public health risk: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the harmful use of alcohol — defined as drinking that damages health and has negative social repercussions — results in 2.5 million deaths per year worldwide and is the third largest factor in the global burden of disease. Although WHO describes legislative solutions such as raising the price of alcohol and increasing the drinking age as effective interventions, such measures are so unpopular that many governments are reluctant to implement them.

Given the difficulty of controlling drinking with legislation, Attwood and her colleagues hope to curb it through education. People don’t always realize how much or how fast they’re drinking, she explains. For example, a previous study by a team of researchers at Queen Margaret University in the United Kingdom found that the mean alcohol content in a “usual” single drink poured by subjects was actually twice that of the standard U.K. alcohol “unit” used to measure consumption. Attwood suspected that the shape of a beer glass, which can give the appearance of different volumes to the same amount of liquid, might also distort perception of how much alcohol is being consumed.

To test the hypothesis, she and her colleagues randomly divided 160 young, healthy people — students and faculty members of the University of Bristol, as well as some members of the general public — into eight groups. It wasn’t difficult to recruit participants, Attwood says. “People tend to be quite happy to get free lemonade or beer.” Using the standard WHO test for hazardous drinking, called AUDIT, the researchers screened the participants to include only “social beer drinkers,” not alcoholics. They assigned each group to drink either about 177 milliliters or about 354 milliliters of lager or soft drink from straight or curved glasses. While the participants drank, they watched a nature documentary deemed emotionally neutral, so that they wouldn’t be “sitting there with nothing to do but drink,” Attwood says. The team videotaped the drinkers over two sessions, disguising the real purpose of the test with a fake word search task at the end of each session.

After watching video of both sessions and recording how much time it took for the drinkers to finish their beer or sodas, Attwood’s team found that one group consistently drank much faster than the others: The group drinking a full glass of lager out of curved flute glasses. In a paper published this month in PLoS ONE, the team reports that whereas the group with straight glasses nursed their 354 milliliters of lager for about 13 minutes, the group with the same amount of beer served in curved glasses finished in less than 8 minutes, drinking alcohol almost as quickly as the soda-drinkers guzzled their pop. However, the researchers observed no differences between people drinking 177 milliliters of beer out of straight versus fluted glasses.

Attwood believes that the reason for the increase in speed is that the halfway point in a curved glass is ambiguous. Social beer drinkers, she says, naturally tend to pace themselves when drinking alcohol, judging their speed by how fast they reach half-full. Another experiment in which participants were asked to judge different levels of fluid in photographs of straight and curved glasses showed that people consistently misjudge the volume in fluted glasses, Attwood says. A simple solution to this problem would be to mark beer glasses with the accurate halfway point, she says. “We can’t tell people not to drink, but we can give them a little more control.”

Read more at Wired Science

Cheers! 5 Intoxicating Facts About Beer

If America, and American workers, had an official alcoholic beverage, it would probably be beer. According to the Brewers Association, the overall U.S. beer market was worth $96 billion in 2011, when some 200 million barrels of beer were sold (1 barrel equals 31 gallons of beer). In the same year, 1,989 breweries in the United States were fermenting everything from light lagers to chocolaty stouts.

In that spirit, and in salute to Labor Day, LiveScience proposes a toast to beer, that sudsy beverage that humans have brewed for millennia.

 1. What's in a glass?

Water, mostly. But also flowers, fungus and grains.

Beer gets much of its flavor from hops, which are vine-grown flowers that look more like mini-pinecones than daisies. The alcohol in beer comes from grain, usually barley, which is malted (or allowed to germinate) and then steeped in water to extract its sugars. Those sugars become a feast for yeast, the tiny, unicellular fungi that thrive on sugars and excrete alcohol. (More Fun Beer Facts)

Yeasts usually get filtered out of commercial beers before they're bottled, but they leave traces (and flavors) behind. A study published in August 2010 in the Journal of Proteome Research found that beers contain a surprising variety of proteins: at least 62, 40 of which come from yeast. These proteins are key in supporting beer's foamy head, the researchers noted.

 2. Who drank it then ...

Humans and yeast have been working together for millennia to create tasty brews. As early as the sixth millennium B.C., ancient Sumerians had discovered the art of fermentation. By the 19th century B.C., they were inscribing beer recipes into tablets in the form of a Hymn to Ninkasi, their female deity of beer.

Other cultures around the world developed beer independently, but the job of brewing often went to women. Tenenit, the Egyptian deity of beer, was female, as was the Zulu beer goddess Mbaba Mwana Waresa. A 2005 study found that among the Wari people of ancient Peru, elite women brewed the beer. Centuries later, women dominated the European brewing scene, according to a 1993 article in Yankee Brew News by late beer anthropologist Alan Eames. According to Eames, it wasn't until the late 1700s that beer became a male-dominated drink.

 3. And who drinks it now

Today, beer is the preferred beverage of men, according to data from a July 2010 Gallup poll. Of the 67 percent of U.S. adults who drink alcohol, 54 percent of men named beer as their top alcoholic beverage compared with 27 percent of women. (Liquor was equally preferred by both genders, while women heavily favored wine, a trend largely driven by women over 50.)

Beer is more popular among young people, with half of 18- to 34-year-olds listing it as their top intoxicating beverage. Midwesterners are the top beer-drinkers in the United States, but not by much. Forty-six percent of Midwesterners said beer was their favorite drink, compared with 42 percent of Easterners, 40 percent of Westerners and 37 percent of Southerners.

4. It's not just good for drinking

Beer isn't only enjoyable to drink. Cooks use beer to flavor barbecue sauce, season bread and moisten grilled chicken.

But that's nothing compared with the use John Milkovisch, a retired railroad upholsterer, put beer (or at least beer cans) to. Starting in 1968, Milkovisch spent 18 years lining the outside of his modest Houston home with flattened beer cans. He strung the lids from the eaves and turned them into chain-link fences.

Milkovisch died in 1988, and his home is now a museum. According to the Beer Can House website, the inspiration for the project was simple.

 "Well, I think it might have been the good Lord says 'Nut, it's time for you to build this crazy stuff,'" Milkovisch is quoted as saying. "So here I did, I built it."

5. What floats down

Observant beer drinkers might notice that when beer is poured into a glass, the bubbles seem to defy the laws of physics, floating down instead of up.

Turns out those people haven't had too much to drink. Beer bubbles really do float downward sometimes, according to a 2004 analysis by Stanford researchers. Because of the drag from the walls of the glass, they found, the beer bubbles float up more easily in the center of the glass. As those bubbles go up, they pull the surrounding liquid to the surface. When the bubbles join the froth, or "head" of the beer, the liquid begins to pour back down the sides of the glass, dragging smaller bubbles down with it. The researchers used a super-slow-motion camera to capture the bubbles' descent and figure out the mystery. (That's one way to win a bar bet.)

Research reported in June suggested the pint glasses in which stouts are typically enjoyed, which are narrower at the bottom, may be what makes beer bubbles trek downward in the first place.

From Discovery News

Sep 2, 2012

Flying High: Researchers Decipher Manic Gene

Flying high, or down in the dumps -- individuals suffering from bipolar dis­order alternate between depressive and manic episodes. Re­searchers from the University of Bonn and the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim have now discovered, based on patient data and animal models, how the NCAN gene results in the manic symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The results have been published in the current issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Individuals with bipolar disorder are on an emotional roller coaster. During depressive phases, they suffer from depression, diminished drive and often, also from suicidal thoughts. The manic episodes, however, are characterized by restlessness, euphoria, and delusions of grandeur. The genesis of this disease probably has both hereditary components as well as psychosocial environmental factors.

The NCAN gene plays a major part in how manias manifest

"It has been known that the NCAN gene plays an essential part in bipolar disorder," reports Prof. Dr. Markus M. Nöthen, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn. "But until now, the functional connection has not been clear." In a large-scale study, researchers led by the University of Bonn and the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim have now shown how the NCAN gene contributes to the genesis of mania. To do so, they evaluated the genetic data and the related descriptions of symptoms from 1218 patients with differing ratios between the manic and depressive components of bipolar disorder.

Comprehensive data from patients and animal models

Using the patients' detailed clinical data, the researchers tested statis­tically which of the symptoms are especially closely related to the NCAN gene. "Here it became obvious that the NCAN gene is very closely and quite specifically correlated with the manic symptoms," says Prof. Dr. Marcella Rietschel from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mann­heim. According to the data the gene is, however, not responsible for the depressive episodes in bipolar disorder.

Manic mice drank from sugar solution with abandon

A team working with Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer, Director of the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, examined the mole­cular causes effected by the NCAN gene. The researchers studied mice in which the gene had been "knocked out." "It was shown that these animals had no depressive component in their behaviors, only manic ones," says Prof. Zimmer. These knockout mice were, e.g., considerably more active than the control group and showed a higher level of risk-taking behavior. In addition, they tended to exhibit increased reward-seeking behavior, which manifested itself by their unrestrained drinking from a sugar solution offered by the researchers.

Lithium therapy also effective against hyperactivity in mice

Finally, the researchers gave the manic knockout mice lithium -- a stan­dard therapy for humans. "The lithium dosage completely stopped the animals' hyperactive behavior," reports Prof. Zimmer. So the results also matched for lithium; the responses of humans and mice regarding the NCAN gene were practically identical. It has been known from prior studies that knocking out the NCAN gene results in a developmental disorder in the brain due to the fact that the production of the neurocan protein is stopped. "As a consequence of this molecular defect, the individuals affected apparently develop manic symptoms later," says Prof. Zimmer.

Read more at Science Daily

Small Male Fish Use High Aggression Strategy

In the deserts of central Australia lives a tough little fish known as the desert goby, and a new study is shedding light on the aggressive mating behaviour of smaller nest-holding males.

Published in the PLoS ONE journal this month, a study led by Dr Andreas Svensson of Linnaeus University in Sweden in collaboration with Monash University and the University of Turku, Finland, investigated what determined such aggression observed in smaller nest-holding males.

In this species, the eggs are cared for by their father who will aggressively defend his nest against intruders. Once he attracts a female back to his nest to lay her eggs, he fans the eggs with his pectoral fins keeping them oxygenated. The researchers were surprised to find that small nesting males were more aggressive toward intruders than larger males.

Study co-author Dr Bob Wong, a Senior Lecturer at Monash University's School of Biological Sciences and an expert in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, said to attack early may be a beneficial strategy for small males, because they avoid revealing their inferiority to the intruder.

"In the animal world, competing males are expected to partake in a drawn out escalation of aggression, to avoid the risks of being injured by a superior opponent," Dr Wong said.

"We found the aggression of males was not affected by the presence of females and perceived mating opportunities or larger male intruders. Instead their aggression was related to their size.

"In particular, smaller males attacked sooner and with greater intensity compared to larger males, suggesting that nesting desert goby males used routine, rather than conditional, strategies for initiating aggression."

Dr Svensson said if intruders were more likely to flee than retaliate, small males could benefit from attacking intruders before they had an opportunity to assess them.

"The only hope for a small male may be that an intruder would then leave, without a fight," Dr Svensson said.

The overly aggressive males were dubbed 'the Napoleon complex' after the French general Napoleon Bonaparte who was thought to compensate his allegedly short stature with an aggressive personality.

Read more at Science Daily