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  • richardmitnick 7:06 pm on November 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , IBM Just Announced an Insanely Powerful 50-Qubit Quantum Computer, , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “IBM Just Announced an Insanely Powerful 50-Qubit Quantum Computer” 


    Science Alert


    11 NOV 2017

    Published on Nov 10, 2017
    At the IEEE Industry Summit on the Future of Computing in Washington DC on Friday, IBM announced the development of a quantum computer capable of handling 50 qubits (quantum bits)….

    At the IEEE Industry Summit on the Future of Computing in Washington DC on Friday, IBM announced the development of a quantum computer capable of handling 50 qubits (quantum bits).

    This breakthrough puts IBM on the cutting edge of quantum computing research, as a 50-qubit machine is so far the largest and most powerful quantum computer ever built.

    Seen by experts as the future of advanced computing, a quantum computer performs rather differently compared to traditional computers. Instead of processing information using binary bits of 0s and 1s, a quantum computer uses qubits, which can simultaneously be a 0 and/or a 1.

    This is made possible by the quantum effects known as entanglement and superposition.

    Aside from their 50-qubit machine, IBM also has a 20-qubit quantum computing system that’s accessible to third-party users through their cloud computing platform.

    IBM managed to maintain the quantum state for both systems for a total of 90 microseconds. That may seem short – because it is – but it’s already a record feat in this growing industry, where one of the biggest challenges is sustaining the life of qubits.

    “We are really proud of this; it’s a big frickin’ deal,” IBM’s director for AI and quantum computing Dario Gil, who made Friday’s announcement, told the MIT Technology Review.

    A step closer

    IBM has been making significant advances in quantum computing ever since their researchers helped to create the field of quantum information processing. But they aren’t the only one in on the race to build working quantum computers.

    Google and Intel are also developing their own quantum computing systems, and San Francisco-based startup Rigetti wants to revolutionise the field.

    Meanwhile, Canadian quantum computing company D-Wave has already developed a couple of quantum computers which have been used by NASA and Google.

    A 50-qubit machine can perform extremely difficult computational tasks, but with Google suggesting that this many qubits could outclass the most powerful supercomputers, IBM’s machine isn’t yet ready for widespread, commercial, or personal use.

    Like all of today’s quantum computers, IBM’s 50- and 20-qubit systems still require highly specialised conditions to operate.

    Furthermore, as University of Maryland professor Andrew Childs pointed out to MIT Tech Review, IBM hasn’t yet published the details of their new machine in a peer-reviewed journal.

    “IBM’s team is fantastic and it’s clear they’re serious about this, but without looking at the details it’s hard to comment,” he said, adding that more qubits doesn’t necessarily translate to a leap in computational ability.

    “Those qubits might be noisy, and there could be issues with how well connected they are.”

    At the very least, this development is bringing us one step closer to a future where quantum computing transforms how we process information and helps us to solve many of the world’s most difficult problems.

    IBM is set on making their quantum computer work, and they’re expected to announce an upgrade to their quantum cloud software today. “We’re at world record pace. But we’ve got to make sure non-physicists can use this,” Gil told the MIT Tech Review.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:36 am on November 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Astronomers Are Puzzled by a Huge Object at The Centre of Our Galaxy” 


    Science Alert

    10 NOV 2017

    (Nostalgia for Infinity/Shutterstock)

    Planet? Dead star? It’s so massive!

    The Universe is full of oddball objects that simply don’t sit neatly into categories. Take a hint, Pluto.

    Astronomers have used the light-warping effects of gravity to spot a massive object that could be a huge planet or a failed star, right in the centre of our galaxy.

    Gravitational Lensing NASA/ESA

    Not only is it a fun astronomical puzzle, but it’s also pushing the limits of the tools we have for watching space.

    NASA’s Spitzer space telescope has been following Earth’s orbit around the Sun since 2003, using its infrared camera to capture stunning images of the heavens.

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    One task for astronomers has been to use Spitzer’s images to find exoplanets; a goal nobody had considered when it launched. The more ‘traditional’ approach is to watch for the dimming of a star as a planet passes in front of it.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    But Spitzer has another trick up its sleeve – microlensing.

    Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

    Gravity is the warping of space, which means a massive object can bend space into what is effectively a lens. Spitzer has been used to find a few exoplanets this way.

    But this one takes the cake. If not the whole buffet. (That is, if it’s a planet at all.)

    Its name is OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb, and this beast is a whopping 13 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits a star about 22,000 light years away, in the busy neighbourhood of the Milky Way’s centre.


    OGLE might not quite as big as the record-breaking behemoth DENIS-P J082303.1-491201 b, which is 29 times the mass of Jupiter. But it’s up there.

    Before we get too excited, it could still be a brown dwarf star – a boring wannabe that isn’t even big enough to spark a serious nuclear furnace. While tiny stars aren’t unknown, OGLE’s mass puts it at the lower limit of what’s needed to get the party started.

    So why should we care?

    The interesting thing is OGLE sits on the edge of what’s known as the brown dwarf desert – a range of orbits described as a zone devoid of failed stars.

    Astronomers have noticed there’s a distinct lack of brown dwarfs within 5 AU of other stars. For perspective, the distance from Earth to the Sun is 1AU, or about 150 million kilometres.

    OGLE has an orbit roughly 5 AU from its companion star that takes about three years to complete. If it is a planet, it’s grown to mammoth proportions.

    If it’s a small brown dwarf, the fact it sits on the border could help us understand more about the ways cosmic objects grow into stars.

    More information is clearly needed, and microlensing as a technique is still in its infancy. But it could be powerful, identifying details about stars, planets, and even galaxies other methods can’t.

    By perfecting processes that can pull more details from the warped light, especially viewed using different satellites from different positions, we should be able to gain a better understanding of the relationship between stars and their orbiting family members.

    So here’s to you, OGLE. Whatever the hell you are.

    This research has been submitted to The Astronomical Journal

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:36 am on November 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bárðarbunga is also a subglacial stratovolcano, Bárðarbunga on Iceland, Science Alert, The pressure of magma in the magma chamber is increasing,   

    From Science Alert: “Iceland’s Biggest Volcano Is Getting Ready to Erupt Again” 


    Science Alert

    (Paddy Scott/Shutterstock)

    2 NOV 2017

    At least it’s easier to pronounce than Eyjafjallajökull.

    Earthquake rumbles under the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland could be signs of an impending eruption by the country’s biggest volcano.

    Bárðarbunga, which stands 2,009 metres (6,591 ft) above sea level, is one of a number of volcanoes that geologists are carefully monitoring after a spate of recent earthquake activity – indicating that the pressure in the volcano is increasing.

    Bárðarbunga. Pictures taken by Peter Hartree between 14.30 and 15.00 on September 4th 2014.

    “The reason for the earthquakes in this place is that the volcano Bárðarbunga is inflating, i.e. the pressure of magma in the magma chamber is increasing,” volcano expert Páll Einarsson at the University of Iceland told the Daily Star.

    “The volcano is clearly preparing for its next eruption, that may happen in the next few years. The earthquakes last week are just the symptoms of this process, they do not cause the volcano to erupt.”

    Bárðarbunga has been rumbling, he said, since February 2015 – when the volcano’s last eruption, beginning August 2014, ended. Prior to that event, the volcano had been causing earthquakes with increasing frequency since 2007 – and the eruption itself was preceded by a swarm of 1,600 eruptions within 48 hours.

    The 2014-2015 eruption of Bárðarbunga was relatively light in consequences compared to the earlier 2010 eruption of the smaller Eyjafjallajökull. A subglacial stratovolcano, Eyjafjallajökull’s modest-sized eruption caused unusual and disproportionate havoc.

    The heat of the volcano melted the ice cap, which caused floods. Then it spewed ash several kilometres into the atmosphere – where it was carried thousands of kilometres over Europe by the jet stream above.

    So thick and far-reaching was the ash that air travel all over Europe was disrupted for weeks after the eruption.

    Bárðarbunga is also a subglacial stratovolcano, and although a repeat of Eyjafjallajökull’s havoc is possible, it’s unlikely – as demonstrated by the volcano’s 2014-15 eruption.

    Disaster expert Simon Day of University College London told the Daily Star that Bárðarbunga “is statistically unlikely to do so.”

    There are other rumblings in Iceland too – earlier this year, Einarsson told the Iceland Monitor that four volcanoes were on the path to eruption sometime in the next few years.

    The other three are Grímsvötn, Hekla, and Katla – the latter of which is considered the most dangerous volcano in Iceland.

    But the world has also been waiting on an eruption from Katla for decades.

    The Iceland Meteorological Office is not concerned yet. All four volcanoes – in fact, most of the country’s volcanoes – are marked green under the aviation colour code map. This denotes that the volcanoes are “in a normal, non-eruptive state.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:12 am on November 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth's Sloshing Molten Core Could Give Us Earthquake Warnings 5 Years Ahead, , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Earth’s Sloshing Molten Core Could Give Us Earthquake Warnings 5 Years Ahead” 


    Science Alert

    (Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock)

    Changes in the flow of iron around Earth’s outer core are thought to contribute to very small fluctuations in the length of our days.
    Now researchers say the sloshing of our planet’s core could also be used for potential earthquake warnings, possibly even years ahead.

    You’ve probably never noticed variations in the length of a day, as they’re measured in milliseconds, but they represent very slight slowdowns in the speed that the world is spinning at.

    Two geophysicists have found a correlation between day length variations over the last 100 years and major magnitude 7 earthquakes. They think the same root cause could be behind both – that molten iron sloshing around in Earth’s core.

    If the hypothesis holds up, we have a new earthquake predictor that could give us as much as five years of advance warning about the risk of increased tremors – way more warning than what we have right now.

    “The Earth offers us a five-year heads up on future earthquakes, which is remarkable,” suggests one of the researchers, Roger Bilham from the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder.

    “The correlation they’ve found is remarkable, and deserves investigation,” Peter Molnar from CU, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Paul Voosen at Science A FIVE YEAR FORECAST FOR INCREASED GLOBAL SEISMIC HAZARD (Invited Presentation).

    No one’s quite sure how this sloshing action works, though it also affects slight changes in Earth’s magnetic field as well as day length, so we know it’s happening.

    One idea is that part of the molten outer core sticks to the mantle above, changing the flow of liquid, and checking Earth’s momentum – it’s a bit like a loose cannon rolling across the deck of a ship, suggest the researchers.

    In a study published in August [Geophysical Research Letters], Bilham and Rebecca Bendick from the University of Montana found clusters of serious earthquakes happening at roughly 32-year intervals. In their latest work, they’ve also matched those clusters with peaks in the fluctuation in day lengths – and so maybe also with activity deep within Earth.

    With Earth spinning at some 465 metres (1,509 feet) per second, the researchers say some kind of sloshing action could plausibly trigger a season of earthquake activity.

    In fact, since 1900, more than 80 percent of all earthquakes measuring a magnitude 7 or above on the eastern Caribbean plate boundary have occurred within five years of one of these changes in Earth’s speed and day length, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

    It’s still early days for the hypothesis, but having five or six years advance warning of increased earthquake risk could make a big difference to preparations, and other experts are cautiously optimistic.

    “I’ve worked on earthquakes triggered by seasonal variation, melting snow,” Michael Manga of the University of California, Berkeley, told Science. “[This] correlation is much better than what I’m used to seeing.”

    If molten core activity some 2,900 kilometres (1,802 miles) underground is indeed triggering significant earthquakes, the next few years should help to prove it.

    We should be looking at between 17-20 heavy quakes per year from 2018, if the core sloshing and day length idea is correct.

    “The year 2017 marks six years following a deceleration episode that commenced in 2011,” write the researchers, “suggesting that the world has now entered a period of enhanced global seismic productivity with a duration of at least five years.”

    The research has yet to be peer-reviewed, but has been presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:42 am on October 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Science Alert, Stephen Hawking's PhD Thesis Was Just Made Available Online For The First Time   

    From Science Alert: “Stephen Hawking’s PhD Thesis Was Just Made Available Online For The First Time” 


    Science Alert

    23 OCT 2017

    Liam White

    The original version of Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis has been made freely available online for the first time.


    The 119-page document was submitted by Hawking, then a 24-year-old graduate student at Trinity Hall college, part of the University of Cambridge.

    Its title is “Properties of an Expanding Universe”, and in the abstract Hawking promises to examine “some implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe”. By page three he is picking holes in Einstein.

    An official stamp from Cambridge University dates the document to February 1, 1966, the year Hawking was awarded his doctorate. It is now hosted here, on Cambridge’s Apollo catalogue of academic work.

    At the time, Hawking was beginning to suffer from the motor neuron disease which would eventually leave him unable to move almost any part of his body.

    However, he was at that point still able to write. He signed the thesis several times, and included a hand-written declaration that the document was his own, original work.

    Stephen Hawking/Cambridge University Library/Business Insider

    Several pages also feature complicated mathematical equations which were written out by hand.

    Stephen Hawking/Cambridge University Library

    The document helped launch Hawking’s career, and formed the bedrock of his reputation as one of the world’s most famous scientists.

    Shortly after his thesis was accepted, Hawking became a fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge. He remains a professor there to this day.

    Like all PhD theses, Hawking’s work has technically been available ever since it was accepted by Cambridge, so that other scholars could read and cite his work.

    However, people wanting to see it would have had to go to Cambridge, or pay the university to receive a copy.

    Cambridge was able to make the document publicly available once Hawking gave his personal permission to change the document’s status to “Open Access” as part of a wider push by the university to broaden the reach of its academic work.

    In a statement accompanying the release, Hawking said he hopes the document will inspire more people to pursue science. He said:

    “By making my PhD thesis Open Access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos.

    Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and inquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.

    “Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, just as I did as a young PhD student in Cambridge, inspired by the work of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein.

    It’s wonderful to hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis – hopefully they won’t be disappointed now that they finally have access to it.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:32 pm on October 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Juan Valderrama y Aguilar, Science Alert, Solar flare,   

    From Science Alert: “A 17-Year-Old Astronomer Recorded an Astonishing Rare Solar Flare Back in 1886” 


    Science Alert

    And then history forgot about him.

    20 OCT 2017

    Vaquero et al, Sol Phys (2017)

    If you’ve never heard of Juan Valderrama y Aguilar, you’re not alone. As it turns out, this amateur astronomer from Spain made history when he was just 17 years old.

    Back in 1886, Valderrama observed the third-ever recorded instance of an exceptionally bright solar flare, and even got his results published in an academic journal. But due to historical circumstance, we’re only hearing about this more than 100 years after his death.

    There’s plenty of turbulent magnetic activity happening on the surface of our Sun. Concentration of that energy can cause dark sunspots, characterised by a dip in the surface temperature. And when that magnetic energy suddenly explodes, we get fantastic solar flares.

    Despite risking damage to their retinas, humans have been watching sunspots for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until 1859 – more than 200 years after the advent of the telescope – when English astronomer Richard Carrington lucked out and became the first human in history to observe a solar flare.

    The following solar storm was the biggest one recorded to this day – and if it were to happen today, it would wipe out a great deal of our communications technology.

    Thirteen years later, Italian astronomer Pietro Angelo Secchi scored a glimpse at a solar flare as well, thus joining Carrington’s extremely exclusive club.

    The third man to set his eyes on this remarkable sight was an unknown teen from Madrid, Spain. Unlike the fancy astronomers before him, all Valderrama had was a small backyard telescope with an aperture of just 6.6 centimetres (2.6 inches) and a strong filter to allow a look at the Sun.

    He kept detailed logs of his sunspot observations. And then on 10 September 1886, his amateur efforts were rewarded with something truly spectacular.

    “In the eastern region of the southern hemisphere a huge, beautiful sunspot was formed from yesterday to today,” he wrote in his logbook.

    “By looking at it carefully I noticed an extraordinary phenomenon on her, on the penumbra to the west of the nucleus, and almost in contact with it, a very bright object was distinguishable, producing a shadow clearly visible on the sunspot penumbra.

    “This object had an almost circular shape, and a light beam came out from its eastern part that crossed the sunspot to the south of the nucleus.”

    Astonished by the bright flash he’d seen, Valderrama captured the details in a meticulous drawing, and sent the information to an academic journal in France, L’Astronomie.

    Valderrama’s drawing. (Vaquero et al., Sol Phys 2017)

    But despite earning this publication, his achievement was lost in the annals of history and we probably still wouldn’t know about it, if a team of Spanish researchers hadn’t been researching historical records of solar observations.

    “The case of Valderrama is very unique, as he was the only person in the world more than a century ago to observe a relatively rare phenomenon: a white-light solar flare. And until now no one had realised,” says one of the team, José Manuel Vaquero from the University of Extremadura in Spain.

    Back then, these white-light flares were considered exceptional, and it’s only with the advent of modern, much more sensitive telescopes that we know that most solar flares are actually accompanied with such bright emissions of light.

    “It is extraordinary that in the Spain of the 19th century, a 17-year old kid would make such a scientific discovery, and it is even more impressive that he had the courage of submitting it for publication to a foreign scientific journal,” says one of the researchers, Jorge Sánchez Almeida from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain.

    Photo from Ogyalla observatory dating to 10 Sept 1886, marked up by researchers to show the flare. (Vaquero et al, Sol Phys 2017)

    Valderrama’s logbooks, spanning observations from December 1885 to April 1888, were preserved at the library of IAC, but very little is known about his life.

    According to Almeida’s personal website, the team is currently working on publishing a biography of Valderrama. “Who was this guy? If you are interested … stay tuned,” writes Almeida.

    We’re certainly interested.

    The findings were published in Solar Physics earlier this year.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:08 am on October 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Atlas of The Underworld, , , Science Alert,   

    From Science Alert: “Scientists Are Mapping an Atlas of The Underworld Hidden Far Beneath Our Feet” 


    Science Alert

    21 OCT 2017

    Utrecht University

    For as long as humans have been around we’ve been fascinated by the world hiding underneath the surface of the Earth, and now scientists are systematically mapping the positions of the tectonic plates that have been pushed deeper into the planet’s core.

    It’s called the Atlas of the Underworld and you can view it online – measurements go down up to 2,900 kilometres (1,800 miles) in some cases. The focus is on ‘dead’ tectonic plates, pushed down to the bottom of the Earth’s mantle and no longer part of the surface.

    The Atlas has been produced through 15 years of work by the team from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, pulling together data from multiple sources as well as from their own seismic scans, using sound waves to measure the geological make-up of the ground.

    “This is the first time that the slabs all over the world have been mapped,” says one of the researchers, Wim Spakman. “Much of the information was already available, but mostly in the form of more or less isolated research projects. We have put all the pieces together, rather like a jigsaw.”

    Credit: Atlas of the Underworld

    As tectonic plates of crust and mantle shift on the surface of the Earth, they’re causing volcanic activity and earthquakes, and sometimes triggering a process called subduction, where one plate is forced down into the Earth as it moves.

    The part of the plates being subducted are then termed “slabs”, as Spakman mentions above. These slabs can exist for millions of years without being melted by the heart of the Earth’s core, and the new Atlas tracks 94 of them across the globe.

    “Now we can trace not only how plates move over the surface, but how they sink to the core-mantle boundary,” one of the team, Douwe van Hinsbergen, told Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo. “That’s the cool thing for me – we can learn about the physics inside the Earth.”

    The researchers have been able to tie slabs to their period of subduction, as well as to associated volcanic activity on the surface, or to mountain ranges still visible today, like the Andes or the Himalayas.

    Not only is it an impressive catalogue of the subterranean world, the Atlas can also teach scientists about how the mantle works – the pressures and timescales and movements involved in this hidden underworld.

    We can learn more about how the planet is evolving and how all of us living on the surface could be affected in the future: the Atlas has already been used to calculate CO2 emitted by volcanic activity, for instance, and how sea levels have changed over millions of years.

    Through the Atlas, the scientists have also discovered a Slab Deceleration Zone some 1,500-2,000 kilometres (932-1,243 miles) below the surface, where slabs slow down but don’t stop, before later accelerating towards the core.

    And the team is hoping many more discoveries like this will happen in the future as the underworld map gets refined and expanded.

    “Making an atlas is a long-term work of precision, and the end result may at first sight look like a coffee table book,” says van Hinsbergen.

    “But it should be remembered how often people use world atlases for purposes that never crossed the maker’s mind. We expect the same to be true of the Atlas of the Underworld for geoscientists.”

    The research has been published in Tectonophysics.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:06 am on October 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Gitanjali Rao, Gitanjali Rao an 11-year-old from Lone Tree Colorado is the winner of this year's Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her sensor that can detect lead levels in water better than tradi, Science Alert, The device which Rao named Tethys uses carbon nanotubes, The ongoing water crisis in Flint Michigan,   

    From Science Alert: Women in STEM “An 11-Year-Old Just Became ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’ With This Clever Invention” Gitanjali Rao 


    Science Alert

    Gitanjali Rao

    19 OCT 2017

    Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Lone Tree, Colorado, is the winner of this year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her sensor that can detect lead levels in water better than traditional methods.

    Rao, whose victory was announced late in the evening of Tuesday 17 October, will take home US$25,000 for the idea, which she said she developed approximately five months ago in response to learning about the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

    “The idea just came to me when I saw my parents testing for lead in our water,” Rao, a seventh-grader, told Business Insider.

    “I went, ‘Well, this is not a reliable process and I’ve got to do something to change this’.”

    Andy King, Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

    Lead-contaminated water is a problem for more than 5,300 water systems in the US, according to 2016 data. If people want to test their water, they generally rely on one of two methods.

    They can either use lead-testing strips, which are fast but not entirely accurate; or they can send the water to the EPA for analysis, which is time-consuming and requires expensive equipment, Rao explained. She wanted to devise a smarter, more effective solution.

    Over the course of the summer, Rao worked with 3M scientists to bring her proposed sensor to life. The device, which Rao named Tethys after the Greek goddess for water, uses carbon nanotubes to detect the presence of lead.

    She tuned, or “doped,” the carbon nanotubes specifically to detect lead, pairing the device with a mobile app displaying the water’s status.

    Andy King, Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

    Now that she’s won, Rao said she hopes to refine the device further. Eventually, she hopes to sell the sensor to anyone living in an area where lead contamination is a problem.

    Rao wants to be either a geneticist or epidemiologist (someone who studies the spread of disease) when she grows up. Lead contamination was interesting to her, she said, because it combines both disciplines.

    “If you take a shower in contaminated water, you do get rashes and that can easily be studied by an epidemiologist,” she said. “And if somebody drinks lead in their water, their children might have small, minor defects.”

    In either case, she said the goal with Tethys was simply to reach as many people as possible.

    “I studied a little bit of both of these topics since I was really interested in these fields,” she said, “and then I came up with this device to help save lives.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:55 am on October 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biomedical science, HeLa cells, Immortal cells contaminating other research cultures in the lab, Misidentified cell lines, Over 30000 Published Studies Could Be Wrong Due to Contaminated Cells, Science Alert, There are currently 451 cell lines on this list   

    From Science Alert: “Over 30,000 Published Studies Could Be Wrong Due to Contaminated Cells” 


    Science Alert

    16 OCT 2017

    HeLa cells. Credit: NIH

    Researchers warn that large parts of biomedical science could be invalid due to a cascading history of flawed data in a systemic failure going back decades.

    A new investigation reveals more than 30,000 published scientific studies could be compromised by their use of misidentified cell lines, owing to so-called immortal cells contaminating other research cultures in the lab.

    The problem is as serious as it is simple: researchers studying lung cancer publish a new paper, only it turns out the tissue they were actually using in the lab were liver cells. Or what they thought were human cells were mice cells, or vice versa, or something else entirely.

    If you think that sounds bad, you’re right, as it means the findings of each piece of affected research may be flawed, and could even be completely unreliable.

    “Most scientists don’t intentionally publish findings on the wrong cells,” explains one of the researchers, Serge Horbach from Radboud University in the Netherlands.

    “It’s an honest mistake. The more concerning problem is that the research data is potentially invalid and impossible to reproduce.”

    Horback and fellow researcher Willem Halffman wanted to know how extensive the phenomenon of misidentified cell lines really was, so they searched for evidence of what they call “contaminated” scientific literature.

    Using the research database Web of Science, they looked for scientific articles based on any of the known misidentified cell lines as listed by the International Cell Line Authentication Committee’s (ICLAC) Register of Misidentified Cell Lines.

    There are currently 451 cell lines on this list, and they’re not what you think they are – having been contaminated by other kinds of cells at some point in scientific history. Worse still, they’ve been unwittingly used in published laboratory research going as far back as the 1950s.

    “After an extensive literary study, we believe this involves some 33,000 publications,” Halffman explains.

    “That means there are more than 30,000 scientific articles online that are reporting on the wrong cells.”

    Radboud University

    Of the 451 cell lines known to be compromised, the most famous contaminating source is what’s known as HeLa cells, named after their source, Henrietta Lacks.

    In 1951, this 31-year-old mother of five from Virginia died from cervical cancer. But during treatment before her death, cells were taken from Lacks’ cervix in a biopsy without her consent.

    Later, cell biologist George Otto Gey discovered these cells could be kept alive and grow indefinitely in a lab – as such, HeLa cells became the first immortalised cell line, meaning they didn’t eventually die due to cellular senescence.

    That everlasting quality made them a valuable research specimen that was distributed across the world, ultimately contributing to the development of cell cloning, the polio vaccine and many other firsts.

    It’s estimated as many as 20 tonnes of HeLa cells were ultimately grown, with the discovery featuring in a stunning 11,000 patents, but the cells’ undying nature came with a hidden cost.

    Not only do the cells proliferate, they can also contaminate other exposed cell cultures in laboratory setting, and due to decades of use and misuse in the lab, HeLa cells and other contaminating and immortal cells have been estimated to have tainted up to 36 percent of cell lines scientists use in research.

    “It’s astonishingly easy for cell lines to become contaminated,” ICLAC chair Amanda Capes-Davis explained in 2015 at Retraction Watch.

    “When cells are first placed into culture, they usually pass through a period of time when there is little or no growth, before a cell line emerges. A single cell introduced from elsewhere during that time can outgrow the original culture without anyone being aware of the change in identity.”

    Over decades, these cases of mistaken identity have in turn contaminated some 33,000 scientific papers by Horback and Halffman’s count, and it’s something that not enough in the research community know about.

    “Employees at [biomedical cell distribution] centres recognise the problem, but claim no one will listen to them,” says Halffman.

    “Sometimes it involves semi-private companies that refuse to disclose anything for fear of reputation or financial damage. The biggest factor by far is pride and fear of reputation damage.”

    Another contributing issue is pressure to publish, with researchers not having the time or money to verify their cell cultures adequately before they begin their research.

    Of course, the tendency to skip that all-important verification is only something that worsens the broader reproducibility crisis plaguing science.

    The researchers suggest published research using misidentified cell lines could be clarified with notices that highlight the issue, and say future publications need to implement systems that make the source of the cell lines investigated more transparent.

    Whatever course of action the research community decides upon, it’s a huge problem to fix – but it’s not something we can ignore.

    “Nearly half a century after the first concerns about misidentified cell lines, the initiatives to improve authentication need to be complemented by attention to the already contaminated literature,” the authors write.

    “Our analysis shows that the task is sizeable and urgent.”

    The findings are reported in PLOS ONE.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 7:13 am on October 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , PSR J1859-01 and PSR J1931-01 a.k.a FP1 and FP2, , Science Alert, World's Newest Ridiculously Big Radio Telescope Has Made Its First Discovery   

    From Science Alert: “World’s Newest Ridiculously Big Radio Telescope Has Made Its First Discovery” 


    Science Alert

    11 OCT 2017

    FAST radio telescope, now operating, located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China

    A little over a year since its completion, China’s 500-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST for short) has just made its first confirmed discovery.

    Astronomers used the giant dish to spot a pair of pulsars thousands of light years away, heralding big things for what is now the world’s largest single dish radio telescope.

    The stars, called PSR J1859-01 and PSR J1931-01, were detected by the telescope back in August, but it took a few extra months until the Parkes telescope in Australia could confirm them as the real deal.

    Both objects are dense, rapidly spinning stars surrounded by strong magnetic fields. These fields channel electromagnetic radiation into a beam that describes a circle with every rotation, much like a cosmic lighthouse.

    Seen from Earth, the stars seem to pulse with every sweep, giving them their name pulsar. Their positions and timing make for useful landmarks in space, not to mention handy cosmic clocks for testing general relativity.

    The pair discovered by FAST – also dubbed FP1 and FP2 – don’t stand out in terms of size, speed, or distance.

    “FP1 is a pulsar with a spin period of 1.83 second and an estimated distance of 16 thousand light-years, and FP2, is a pulsar with a spin period of 0.59 second and an estimated distance of 4,100 light years,” says deputy chief engineer of FAST, Li Di.

    For a comparison, the fastest pulsar turns on its axis an insane 642 times per second.

    In February the European Space Agency found a pulsar that was a thousand times brighter than ever thought possible, 50 million light years away.

    But give it a chance – FAST exceeds the 305 metre wide Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as the largest dish of its kind, so far more impressive discoveries are surely yet to come.

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

    “The two new discovered pulsars symbolise the dawn of a new era of systematic discoveries by Chinese radio telescopes,” says Yan Jun, director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China.

    The US$185 million facility was built to collect radio waves washing over the planet from the far reaches of deep space, allowing researchers to pick up faint traces of radiation from ancient clouds of hydrogen gas, distant black holes, pulsars, or … just maybe … alien wifi.

    The dish sits inside a giant sinkhole in Guizhou Province, southwest China, where limestone has dissolved away to leave a massive depression.

    The stats are impressive; 4,450 panels give the dish a collection area of 196,000 square metres (about 2,109,700 square feet), more than doubling Arecibo’s coverage.

    A bigger dish can collect more radio waves, which means detecting fainter signals; just the thing we need to see deeper into space, and therefore further back in time.

    This hollow amid the surrounding hills provides a natural shelter from more Earthly radio waves, giving FAST a quiet spot to stare at the heavens.

    Closer to home, the giant dish could also be used to track spacecraft travelling to Mars as part of China’s burgeoning space program.

    China has been making extraordinary leaps in space-based technology in recent years, such as facilitating the first quantum-encrypted satellite link-up just a few weeks ago.

    Earlier this year the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced it would be conducting a record 30 launches into space this year, maintaining a trend in recent years that could see it meet its goal of landing technology on Mars by 2020.

    FAST is just one more example of the nation’s rapid progress in space technology. While it still has a few more tests to conduct to fine tune its processes, it won’t be long before the facility is available to astronomers all over the globe.

    We can’t wait to see what else it discovers.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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