Robotics

Scientists Create World's First 'Molecular Robot' Capable of Building Molecules (scienmag.com) 12

New submitter re385 shares a report from Science Magazine: Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world's first "molecular robot" that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks. In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines. The research will be published in Nature on Thursday 21st September. "All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules," explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University's School of Chemistry. "Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks. The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientist. It is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level."
Medicine

E-Cigarettes With Nicotine Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study (theverge.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Even after puffing on just one electronic cigarette with nicotine, healthy non-smokers were found to have a biological marker known to increase the risk of heart disease in tobacco users, according to a new study. The research, published in Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that nicotine is not harmless, as many people believe. It can affect a smoker's health in more than one way, and not just by triggering addiction. Another study, conducted by Middlekauff that was published earlier this year, showed that people who use e-cigs almost every day have biological markers known to increase the risk of heart disease in tobacco users. These included an increase in adrenaline levels in the heart, which can predispose smokers to bad heart rhythms, heart attacks, and sudden death, as well as increased oxidative stress, an imbalance in the body's ability to defend itself against the damaging action of free radicals. Oxidative stress can lead to changes in blood fats and lead to arteriosclerosis.

That study, however, didn't show what exactly was causing those changes. E-cigarettes can have different flavoring and solvents, as well as nicotine. So to identify the culprit, Middlekauff brought 33 healthy non-smokers and non-vapers into the lab. On three different days, one month apart, the participants were asked to puff on three different kinds of e-cigarettes for 30 minutes: one with nicotine, one without nicotine, and a sham e-cig that was empty. The researchers did blood tests and measured the subjects' heart rhythms, and found that the participants had high levels of adrenaline in their hearts after they smoked the e-cig with nicotine, but not after they puffed on the e-cigarette without nicotine or the empty e-cig.

Education

Computer Science Degrees Aren't Returning On Investment For Coders, Research Finds (theregister.co.uk) 162

According to a new survey, coders with a bachelor's degree in computer science only earn 3,000 British Pounds (BP) more a year than those who don't have one. The survey of 4,700 developers in the UK was conducted by Stack Overflow, a community site frequented by developers for answers to technical questions. The Register reports the findings: This is despite the average degree now costing 9,000 BP a year in tuition fees alone. Average student debt is now more than 50,000 BP, according the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The research found that the median salary of those who did not have higher education was 35,000 BP per year, while those who gained a bachelor's degree earned 38,000 BP and postgraduates took home 42,000 BP. It found that 48 per cent of developers with less than four years of professional experience currently hold a Computer Science-related undergraduate degree, while 49 per cent had completed an online course instead. The research also found that JavaScript developers were most in demand, with almost 27 per cent of jobs advertised on Stack Overflow now requiring this skill, followed by Java (22 per cent), Python (16 per cent), C# (15 per cent) and ReactJS (9 per cent).
Earth

Seismologist Explains Mexico's Back-To-Back Earthquakes (theverge.com) 41

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The second major earthquake to strike Mexico in less than two weeks has caused catastrophic damage in the country's capital. The magnitude 7.1 temblor started at around 1:15PM -- cracking highways, collapsing buildings, and, so far, killing more than 200 people. Less than two weeks ago on September 7th (local time), a magnitude 8.1 quake struck roughly 400 miles southeast from today's. It's not common to hear of such strong earthquakes happening back-to-back so close to one another, says John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Usually you don't have large ones in the same general region right away," Bellini says. "But in highly [seismically] active regions of the world, it can happen."

Mexico qualifies as highly active. The country sits at the boundary of three pieces of the Earth's crust that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle -- called tectonic plates. Today's quake originated on a fault within the Cocos plate, which is on Mexico's western edge. "Whether or not faults rupture depends on the kind of stress that builds up," Bellini says. The Cocos plate scoots rapidly under the continental crust of the North American plate, which "builds up the stress and strain at a faster rate," Bellini says. "So you're liable to have more frequent earthquakes because of that." Mexico City is especially prone to severe damage because of the ground it sits on -- an ancient lakebed that quivers like jello, Bellini says. When earthquake waves pass through it, it jiggles, magnifying the vibrations. "So the reason that Mexico City seems susceptible to more damage is because of this amplification effect of the lake bed," Bellini says.

Earth

Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100 (vice.com) 287

Kate Lunau, writing for Motherboard: A new paper in Science Advances finds that a mass extinction period mirroring ones from our planet's ancient past could be triggered when humanity adds a certain amount of carbon to the oceans, which are home to the majority of all plants and animals on our planet. The paper pegs that amount at 310 gigatons. According to lead author Daniel Rothman of MIT, based on projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're on course to hit that number by 2100. After that, we enter "unknown territory." [...] Previous mass extinctions have happened over the course of thousands or millions of years, but the period of change we're in right now has lasted centuries at best, making it hard to compare them. Although plenty of experts say Earth is already experiencing a sixth mass extinction, that remains "a scientific question," Rothman, who is professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told me. Once our planet hits the threshold he identified in this paper, he explained, it will kickstart changes that will "amplify" everything that came before. These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth.
Science

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think (scientificamerican.com) 253

An anonymous reader shares a post from Scientific American, written by Bernardo Kastrup: An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: "When does your baby become conscious?" The premise, of course, was that babies aren't born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn. Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera -- albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don't become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go. The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word "consciousness" is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that "it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention." This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious.

Indeed, Jonathan Schooler has established a clear distinction between conscious and meta-conscious processes. Whereas both types entail the qualities of experience, meta-conscious processes also entail what he called re-representation. "Periodically attention is directed towards explicitly assessing the contents of experience. The resulting meta-consciousness involves an explicit re-representation of consciousness in which one interprets, describes or otherwise characterizes the state of one's mind.

NASA

NASA's Hubble Captures Blistering Pitch-Black Planet (scienmag.com) 102

schwit1 writes: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet's unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere. The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters," gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet's atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet's atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy. "We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet," said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. "Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight."
Data Storage

Google, Bing, Yahoo Data Retention Doesn't Improve Search Quality, Study Claims (theregister.co.uk) 35

A new paper released on Monday via the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that retaining search log data doesn't do much for search quality. "Data retention has implications in the debate over Europe's right to be forgotten, the authors suggest, because retained data undermines that right," reports The Register. "It's also relevant to U.S. policy discussions about privacy regulations." From the report: To determine whether retention policies affected the accuracy of search results, Chiou and Tucker used data from metrics biz Hitwise to assess web traffic being driven by search sites. They looked at Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Search during a period when Bing changed its search data retention period from 18 months to 6 months and when Yahoo! changed its retention period from 13 months to 3 months, as well as when Yahoo! had second thoughts and shifted to an 18-month retention period. According to Chiou and Tucker, data retention periods didn't affect the flow of traffic from search engines to downstream websites. "Our findings suggest that long periods of data storage do not confer advantages in search quality, which is an often-cited benefit of data retention by companies," their paper states. Chiou and Tucker observe that the supposed cost of privacy laws to consumers and to companies may be lower than perceived. They also contend that their findings weaken the claim that data retention affects search market dominance, which could make data retention less relevant in antitrust discussions of Google.
Medicine

Bacteria In Tumors Can Inactivate Common Chemotherapy Drugs, Study Suggests (arstechnica.com) 38

Researchers caught the bacteria Mycoplasma hyorhinis hiding out among cancer cells, thwarting chemotherapy drugs intended to treat the tumors they reside in. The findings have been published this week in Science. Ars Technica reports: Drug resistance among cancers is a "foremost challenge," according to the study's authors, led by Ravid Straussman at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Yet the new data suggest that certain types of drug-resistant cancers could be defeated with a simple dollop of antibiotics alongside a chemotherapy regimen. Dr. Straussman and his colleagues got a hunch to look for the bacteria after noticing that, when they grew certain types of human cancer cells together in lab, the cells all became more resistant to a chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine. This is a drug used to treat pancreatic, lung, breast, and bladder cancers and is often sold under the brand name Gemzar. The researchers suspected that some of the cells may secrete a drug-busting molecule. So they tried filtering the cell cultures to see if they could catch it. Instead, they found that the cell cultures lost their resistance after their liquid broth passed through a pretty large filter -- 0.45 micrometers. This would catch large particles -- like bacteria -- but not small molecules, as the researchers were expecting.

Looking closer, the researchers noticed that some of their cancer cells were contaminated with M. hyorhinis. And these bacteria could metabolize gemcitabine, rendering the drug useless. When the researchers transplanted treatable cancer cells into the flanks of mice -- some with and some without M. hyorhinis -- the bacteria-toting tumors were resistant to gemcitabine treatment.

United Kingdom

Diesel Cars Contribute To 5,000 Premature Deaths a Year In Europe, Says Study (phys.org) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Emissions from diesel cars rigged to appear eco-friendly may be responsible for 5,000 air pollution deaths per year in Europe alone, according to a study published on Monday. The numbers are in line with previous assessments of deaths due to the so-called "Dieselgate" scandal, which erupted when carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating on vehicle emissions tests. Many other carmakers have since fallen under suspicion. The researchers from Norway, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands calculated that about 10,000 deaths in Europe per year can be attributed to small particle pollution from light duty diesel vehicles (LDDVs). Almost half of these would have been avoided if emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from diesel cars on the road had matched levels measured in the lab. If diesel cars emitted as little NOx as petrol ones, almost 4,000 of the 5,000 premature deaths would have been avoided, said the authors. The countries with the heaviest burden are Italy, Germany, and France, the team added, "resulting from their large populations and high share of diesel cars in their national fleets." Touted as less polluting, the share of diesel cars in Europe rose fast compared to petrol since the 1990s, and now comprise about half the fleet. There are more than 100 million diesel cars in Europe today, twice as many as in the rest of the world together, said the study authors. Diesel engines emit less planet-warming carbon dioxide than petrol ones, but significantly more NOx. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Input Devices

Typing By Brain Arrives: No Surgery Necessary (wired.com) 93

mirandakatz writes: 2017 has been a coming-out year of sorts for the brain-machine interface. But the main barrier to adoption is the potentially invasive nature of a BMI: Not many people are going to want to get surgery to have a chip implanted in their brains. A New York company may have found a solution to that. It's created a BMI that works just by an armband -- and it works now, not in some far-off future.
Steven Levy describes a recent demo by the CEO of CTRL-Labs: After [typing] a few lines of text, he pushes the keyboard away... He resumes typing. Only this time he is typing on...nothing. Just the flat tabletop. Yet the result is the same: The words he taps out appear on the monitor... The text on the screen is being generated not by his fingertips, but rather by the signals his brain is sending to his fingers. The armband is intercepting those signals, interpreting them correctly, and relaying the output to the computer, just as a keyboard would have...

CTRL-Labs, which comes with both tech bona fides and an all-star neuroscience advisory board, bypasses the incredibly complicated tangle of connections inside the cranium and dispenses with the necessity of breaking the skin or the skull to insert a chip -- the Big Ask of BMI. Instead, the company is concentrating on the rich set of signals controlling movement that travel through the spinal column, which is the nervous system's low-hanging fruit. Reardon and his colleagues at CTRL-Labs are using these signals as a powerful API between all of our machines and the brain itself.

Earth

There's a Logic To How Squirrels Bury Their Nuts (berkeley.edu) 93

sandbagger shares an announcement from the University of California: Like trick-or-treaters sorting their Halloween candy haul, fox squirrels apparently organize their stashes of nuts by variety, quality and possibly even preference, according to new UC Berkeley research... Fox squirrels stockpile at least 3,000 to 10,000 nuts a year and, under certain conditions, separate each cache into quasi "subfolders," one for each type of nut, researchers said... Over a two-year period, the research team tracked the caching patterns of 45 male and female fox squirrels as the reddish gray, bushy-tailed rodents buried almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts in various wooded locations on the UC Berkeley campus...

Using hand-held GPS navigators, researchers tracked the squirrels from their starting location to their caching location, then mapped the distribution of nut types and caching locations to detect patterns. They found that the squirrels who foraged at a single location frequently organized their caches by nut species, returning to, say, the almond area, if that was the type of nut they were gathering, and keeping each category of nut that they buried separate. Meanwhile, the squirrels foraging in multiple locations deliberately avoided caching in areas where they had already buried nuts, rather than organizing nuts by type.

Space

Idaho Wants To Establish America's First 'Dark Sky Preserve' (idahostatesman.com) 136

schwit1 shares a story from the AP: Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way. The first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state's sparsely populated region that contains night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way... Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those problems, boost home values and draw tourists. Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the U.S. have come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations.

Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky. Central Idaho contains one of the few places in the contiguous United States large enough and dark enough to attain reserve status, Barentine said. Only 11 such reserves exist in the world... The proposed Idaho reserve is mainly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and contains the wilderness of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area... Leaders in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the tiny mountain town of Stanley, other local and federal officials, and a conservation group have been working for several years to apply this fall to designate 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) as a reserve. A final decision by the association would come about 10 weeks after the application is submitted.

Medicine

Chinese Scientists Are Developing A Vaccine Against Cavities (nature.com) 117

A vaccine against tooth decay "is urgently needed" writes Nature -- and a team of Chinese scientists is getting close. hackingbear writes: Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.
Medicine

Sedentary Lifestyle Study Called 'A Raging Dumpster Fire' (arstechnica.com) 153

Ars Technica's health reporter argues that a new study suggesting sitting will kill you "is kind of a raging dumpster fire. It's funded by Big Soda and riddled with weaknesses -- including not measuring sitting." An anonymous reader quotes this report: Let's start with the money: It was funded in part by Coca-Cola... [I]t's hard to look past the fact that this is exactly the type of health and nutrition research Coke wants. In fact, Coca-Cola secretly spent $1.5 million to fund an entire network of academic researchers whose goal was to shift the national health conversation away from the harms of sugary beverages. Instead, their research focused on the benefits of exercise -- i.e., the health risks of sedentary and inactive lifestyles. The research network disbanded after The New York Times published an investigation on the network's funding in 2015...

It didn't actually measure sitting... In their words, "Our study has several limitations. First, the Actical accelerometer cannot distinguish between postures (such as sitting vs. standing); thus, we relied on an intensity-only definition of sedentary behavior." The "intensity-only" definition of sedentary behavior is based on metabolic equivalents, basically units defined by how much oxygen a person uses up doing various activities. But those definitions are also not cut and dried. There are no clear lines between lying down, sitting, standing in place, or light movement... Then there's the participant data: It's not representative -- like, at all... At the time of wearing the accelerometer, the most active group's mean age was 65. The mean age of the least active group: 75.

Groups were assigned based on just a week's worth of data -- or less. And the people placed in the least-active group were already more likely to be smokers, to have diabetes and hypertension, and to have a history of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Education

2017 'Ig Nobel' Prizes Recognize Funny Research On Cats, Crocodiles, and Cheese (improbable.com) 20

An anonymous reader writes: "The 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony" happened Thursday at Harvard's Sanders theatre, recognizing real (but unusual) research papers from all over the world "that make people laugh, then think." This year's prize in the physics category went to Marc-Antoine Fardin, who used fluid dynamics to probe the question "Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?"

Six prize-winning Swiss researchers also demonstrated that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring, while two Australians tested how contact with a live crocodile affects a person's willingness to gamble. And five French researchers won the medicine prize for their use of advanced brain-scanning technology to investigate "the neural basis of disugst for cheese."

You can watch the ceremony online -- and Reuters got an interesting quote from the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, who founded the awards ceremony 27 years ago. "We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think."
Medicine

Poor Diet Is a Factor In One In Five Deaths, Global Disease Study Reveals (theguardian.com) 110

schwit1 shares a report from The Guardian: Millions of people are eating the wrong sorts of food for good health. Eating a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and fish oils and high in salt raises the risk of an early death, according to the huge and ongoing study Global Burden of Disease. The study, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, compiles data from every country in the world and makes informed estimates where there are gaps. Five papers on life expectancy and the causes and risk factors of death and ill health have been published by the Lancet medical journal. Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.
Earth

Elon Musk Releases Supercut of SpaceX Rocket Explosions (hardocp.com) 61

Eloking shares a report from HardOCP: Elon Musk is demonstrating how one should not land an orbital rocket booster: the video, currently trending on YouTube, is essentially a blooper reel of SpaceX rocket tests that went explosive. While the company has more or less perfected launching Falcon 9 rockets, it is still working hard on recovering as much of the multi-million-dollar system as possible.
The Military

Mystery of Sonic Weapon Attacks At US Embassy In Cuba Deepens (theguardian.com) 214

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he'd walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room. Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top U.S. diplomat has called them "health attacks." New details learned by the Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don't add up.

Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation. Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August -- nine months after symptoms were first reported.

Earth

Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Linked To a Whole Lot of Neurological Disorders (sciencealert.com) 209

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: The brain-dwelling parasite Toxoplasma gondii is estimated to be hosted by at least 2 billion people around the world, and new evidence suggests the lodger could be more dangerous than we think. While the protozoan invader poses the greatest risk to developing fetuses infected in the womb, new research suggests the parasite could alter and amplify a range of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, and also cancer. "This study is a paradigm shifter," says one of the team, neuroscientist Dennis Steindler from Tufts University. "We now have to insert infectious disease into the equation of neurodegenerative diseases, epilepsy, and neural cancers." The findings are part of an emerging field of research looking into how T. gondii, which is usually transmitted to humans via contact with cat faeces (or by eating uncooked meat), produces proteins that alter and manipulate the brain chemistry of their infected hosts.

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