Japan

Japanese Scientists Invent Floating 'Firefly' Light (reuters.com) 26

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2 mg, has a diameter of 3.5 mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. It took two years for Luciola to get this far, said circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya, a member of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project that developed the device. The developers expect Luciola to find applications in the so-called Internet of Things, in which regular objects, such as cars, or domestic appliances such as air-conditioners, are connected to networks to send and receive data. Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events.
Education

The College Board Pushes To Make Computer Science a High School Graduation Requirement 129

theodp writes: Education Week reports that the College Board wants high schools to make it mandatory for students to take computer science before they graduate. The call came as the College Board touted the astonishing growth in its Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses, which was attributed to the success of its new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) class, a "lite" alternative to the Java-based AP CS A course. "The College Board is willing to invest serious resources in making this viable -- much more so than is in our economic interest to do so," said College Board President David Coleman. "To governors, legislators, to others -- if you will help us make this part of the life of schools, we will help fund it."

Just two days before Coleman's funds-for-compulsory-CS offer, Education Week cast a skeptical eye at the tech sector's role in creating a tremendous surge of enthusiasm for K-12 CS education. Last spring, The College Board struck a partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with a goal of making AP CSP available in every U.S. school district. Also contributing to the success of the College Board's high school AP CS programs over the years has been tech-bankrolled Code.org, as well as tech giants Microsoft and Google. The idea of a national computer programming language requirement for high school students was prominently floated in a Google-curated Q&A session with President Obama (video) following the 2013 State of the Union address.
Science

The 'Loudness' of Our Thoughts Affects How We Judge External Sounds (sciencedaily.com) 33

The "loudness" of our thoughts -- or how we imagine saying something -- influences how we judge the loudness of real, external sounds, a team of researchers from NYU Shanghai and NYU has found. From a report: Its study, titled "Imagined Speech Influences Perceived Loudness of Sound" and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, offers new insights into the nature of brain activity. The research project was conducted by Tian Xing and Bai Fan from NYU Shanghai with, David Poeppel and Teng Xiangbin from NYU, and Ding Nai from Zhejiang University. "Our 'thoughts' are silent to others -- but not to ourselves, in our own heads -- so the loudness in our thoughts influences the loudness of what we hear," says Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neural science. Using an imagery-perception repetition paradigm, the team found that auditory imagery will decrease the sensitivity of actual loudness perception, with support from both behavioural loudness ratings and human electrophysiological (EEG and MEG) results.
Medicine

Major New Study Confirms Antidepressants Really Do Work (theguardian.com) 229

According to authors of a groundbreaking study, antidepressants really do work in treating depression, though some are more effective than others. "Millions more people around the world should be prescribed pills or offered talking therapies, which work equally well for moderate to severe depression, say the doctors, noting that just one in six people receive proper treatment in the rich world -- and one in 27 in the developing world," reports The Guardian. From the report: "Antidepressants are an effective tool for depression. Untreated depression is a huge problem because of the burden to society," said Andrea Cipriani of the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, who led the study. The debate over antidepressants has unfortunately often been ideological, said Cipriani. Some doctors and patients have doubts over whether they work at all and point to the big placebo effect -- in trials, those given dummy pills also improve to some degree. Some people suspect drug companies of fiddling trial results. Some patients simply do not want to take pills for a mental health condition. The study published in the Lancet took six years, Cipriani said, and included all the published and unpublished data that the scientists could find. It was carried out by a team of international experts. They looked at results after eight weeks of more than 500 trials involving either a drug versus placebo or comparing two different medicines. The most famous antidepressant of them all, Prozac -- now out of patent and known by its generic name, fluoxetine -- was one of the least effective but best tolerated, measured by a low drop-out rate in the trials or fewer side-effects reported. The most effective of the drugs was amitriptyline, which was the sixth best tolerated.
Space

Amateur Astronomer Spots Supernova Right As It Begins (gizmodo.com) 51

New submitter Rotten shares a report from Gizmodo: Amateur astronomer Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour and a half, taking short exposures to keep out the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realized he'd captured a potential supernova -- an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star. Buso took more data and informed Argentine observatories, who announced the outcome of their follow-up observations today: "the serendipitous discovery of a newly born, normal type IIb supernova," according to the paper published in Nature. Not only did this demonstrate the importance of amateur astronomy, but Buso's images also provided evidence of the brief initial shockwave from the supernova, a phenomenon that telescopes rarely capture, since they'd have to be looking at the exact right place in the sky at the right time. Buso didn't just discover a supernova, though. He also presented evidence for the "long-sought shock-breakout phase," as the scientists write, an explosion of energy theorized to emanate from a shock wave at the supernova's source. The researchers point out that it's hard to generalize from a single supernova.
Earth

Antarctica Is Losing Ice Faster Every Year (qz.com) 262

A survey of satellite data published in the journal Cryosphere confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: ice loss from the critical region of Antarctica is happening at an increasingly fast pace. Quartz reports: In total, researchers found that Antarctica lost roughly 1,929 gigatons of ice in 2015, which amounts to an increase of roughly 36 gigatons per year every year since 2008. (A gigaton is one billion tons.) Nearly 90% of that increase in loss occurred in West Antarctica, "probably in response to ocean warming," according to NASA. The new data analysis mostly confirms other recent research, but does so with a higher degree of precision by using a new technique that can process a larger amount of satellite data than was possible before.

West Antarctica has been losing a lot of ice in recent years, and at an ever-growing pace, while East Antarctica is losing ice more steadily. The West Antarctic ice sheet is of particular concern because, like a building that stands on an uneven foundation, it is inherently unstable, making it especially vulnerable to the warming climate. If the entire ice sheet were destabilized and melted into the sea, researchers estimate it would lead to 3 meters (9 feet) of sea level rise globally. Models suggest that under a low-emissions scenario, where the world commits to "peaking" and then steadily reducing emissions in the near future, complete destabilization of the West Antarctic ice sheet is possible to avoid. But under medium- or high-emissions scenarios, the loss of the ice sheet becomes inevitable.

Cellphones

Nearly Half of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Devices, Study Finds (usatoday.com) 127

According to a new survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey, 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device. By comparison, only 32% of parents say they're addicted themselves. USA Today reports: Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids' mental health. Nearly one in five say they're "extremely" or "very" concerned. According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it's up to them to curb their children's smartphone usage. The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data. Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube -- which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos -- offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before. Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it's the parents' job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.
Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon 9 Carrying Starlink Demo Satellites (techcrunch.com) 51

SpaceX has successfully launched a Falcon 9 from SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base today, its first launch since its successful Falcon Heavy test earlier this month. The launch took off early Wednesday morning, after being rescheduled a couple of times from an initial target of this past weekend. From a report: The launch was primarily designed to bring the PAZ satellite to orbit (which was deployed as planned into a low Earth, sun-synchronous polar orbit), a satellite for a Spanish customer that's designed to provide geocommunications and radar imaging for both government and private commercial customers. This launch had a secondary purpose, however, and one that might ultimately be more important to SpaceX's long-term goals. SpaceX packed two demonstration micro satellites for its planned internet broadband service (which Elon Musk confided via tweet it will call 'Starlink'). These will perform tests required before it's certified to operate the service, which it hopes to use to generate revenue by signing up subscribers to its internet service, which will hopefully be globe-spanning once complete.
Science

A Biohacker Regrets Publicly Injecting Himself With CRISPR (theatlantic.com) 129

Sarah Zhang, reporting for The Atlantic: When Josiah Zayner watched a biotech CEO drop his pants at a biohacking conference and inject himself with an untested herpes treatment, he realized things had gone off the rails. Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking -- loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He's sterilized his body to "transplant" his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He's squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He's extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles -- in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event during an October conference. (Experts say -- and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded -- it's unlikely to work.) So when Zayner saw Ascendance Biomedical's CEO injecting himself on a live-stream earlier this month, you might say there was an uneasy flicker of recognition.

Ascendance Bio soon fell apart in almost comical fashion. The company's own biohackers -- who created the treatment but who were not being paid -- revolted and the CEO locked himself in a lab. Even before all that, the company had another man inject himself with an untested HIV treatment on Facebook Live. And just days after the pants-less herpes treatment stunt, another biohacker who shared lab space with Ascendance posted a video detailing a self-created gene therapy for lactose intolerance. The stakes in biohacking seem to be getting higher and higher. "Honestly, I kind of blame myself," Zayner told me recently. He's been in a soul-searching mood; he recently had a kid and the backlash to the CRISPR stunt in October had been getting to him. "There's no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually," he said.

ISS

Bigelow Launching New Company To Sell Private Space Stations (popularmechanics.com) 57

hyperclocker shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The future of spacecraft in lower Earth orbit (LEO) looks to be an increasingly commercial affair. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that builds livable space habitats, has now created a spinoff company known as Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). BSO will market and operate any space habitats that Bigelow sells. The creation of BSO signals that Bigelow is preparing for a future of commercial space living. Recently leaked NASA documents show that the Trump Administration wants to convert the International Space Station into a commercial venture, and BSO is betting that businesses including private scientific ventures and hotels will be interested in creating a profit above the Earth. A prototype Bigelow habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been connected to the ISS since 2016. It's proven such a successful addition that last year NASA extended its contract for an additional three years. But Bigelow is thinking past the BEAM. In its press release announcing BSO, it highlights its planned launches of the B330-1 and B330-2, spacecraft with 6-person capacity, in 2021.
Data Storage

Scientists Discover a New Way To Use DNA As a Storage Device (betanews.com) 68

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria. The Novablue bacteria has a fixed location, making it viable for storage, and the data can be transferred by releasing a mobile HB101 strain of E Coli which uses a process called conjugation to extract the data. The antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin are used to control this process. The method is currently not only expensive, but also slow. Data retrieval takes up to three days at the moment, but researchers believe it should be possible to dramatically speed up this process. Equipment already exists that can be used to write to DNA in seconds. Stability and security are also an issue right now, but it is very early days for the technique, and these current downsides are not viewed as being significant enough to write it off. Potential uses for this method of data storage that have been suggested include the recording of medical records in human DNA, and increasing the traceability of the food chain.
Science

Matching DNA To a Diet Doesn't Work (statnews.com) 70

DNA testing won't guide dieters to the weight-loss regimen most likely to work for them, scientists reported on Tuesday. From a report: Despite some earlier studies claiming that genetic variants predict whether someone has a better chance of shedding pounds on a low-carbohydrate or a low-fat diet, and despite a growing industry premised on that notion, the most rigorous study so far found no difference in weight loss between overweight people on diets that "matched" their genotype and those on diets that didn't. The findings make it less likely that genetics might explain why only some people manage to lose weight on a low-carb diet like Atkins and why others succeed with a low-fat one (even though the vast majority of dieters don't keep off whatever pounds they lose). Unlike cancer treatments, diets can't be matched to genotype, the new study shows. The results underline "how, for most people, knowing genetic risk information doesn't have a big impact," said Timothy Caulfield, of the University of Alberta, a critic of quackery.
Communications

Researchers Develop Online Game That Teaches Players How To Spread Misinformation 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Cambridge researchers have built an online game, simply titled Bad News, in which players compete to become "a disinformation and fake news tycoon." By shedding light on the shady practices, they hope the game will "vaccinate" the public, and make people immune to the spread of untruths. Players of the fake news game must amass virtual Twitter followers by distorting the truth, planting falsehoods, dividing the united, and deflecting attention when rumbled. All the while, they must maintain credibility in the eyes of their audience. The game distills the art of undermining the truth into six key strategies. Once a player has demonstrated a knack for each, they are rewarded with a badge. In one round, players can opt to impersonate the president of the United States and fire off a tweet from a fake account. It declares war on North Korea complete with a #KimJongDone hashtag. At every step, players are asked if they are happy with their actions or feel, perhaps, the twinge of shame, an emotion that leads to the swift reminder that "if you want to become a master of disinformation, you've got to lose the goody two-shoes attitude." The work is due to be published in the Journal of Risk Research.
Science

Ocean-wide Sensor Array Provides New Look at Global Ocean Current (nature.com) 73

An anonymous reader shares a Nature article: The North Atlantic Ocean is a major driver of the global currents that regulate Earth's climate, mix the oceans and sequester carbon from the atmosphere -- but researchers haven't been able to get a good look at its inner workings until now. The first results from an array of sensors strung across this region reveal that things are much more complicated than scientists previously believed. Researchers with the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) presented their findings this week at an ocean science meeting in Portland, Oregon. With nearly two years of data from late 2014 to 2016, the team found that the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation -- which pumps warm surface water north and returns colder water at depth -- varies with the winds and the seasons, transporting an average of roughly 15.3 million cubic metres of water per second. The measurements are similar in magnitude to those from another array called RAPID, which has been operating between Florida and the Canary Islands since 2004. But scientists say they were surprised by how much the currents measured by the OSNAP array varied over the course of two years.
Space

Humanity's Biggest Machines Will Be Built in Space (popularmechanics.com) 146

When rockets can no longer hold oversize payloads, building in space might be the best way to go. Popular Mechanics: Headquartered in Mountain View, California, Made In Space is working to make that dream a reality. For the past few years, they've operated the Additive Manufacturing Facility, one of the only 3D printers in space. While the AMF sits comfortably aboard the International Space Station, Made In Space has plans to launch a new printer that would operate exclusively in the vacuum of space. Their prototype, called Archinaut, is scheduled to launch later this year. Future machines like Archinaut will be able to print nearly everything in orbit -- where there's no limit on size. "We can manufacture a structure that couldn't support its own mass if it were on Earth," says Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush. "The only practical limitation you have is how much material you're providing to the system." The first Archinaut prototype is mostly just a proof-of-concept and won't be constructing mile-wide satellites anytime soon. "First you crawl, then you walk, then you run," says Rush. "We'll start out with manufacturing space-optimized trusses and booms and reflectors to provide a supply capability that we can't currently achieve." But once this tech gets off the ground, it can be used to build structures as big as their owners want them.
Science

Scientists Grow Sheep Embryos Containing Human Cells (theguardian.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists say growing human organs inside animals could not only increase supply, but also offer the possibility of genetically tailoring the organs to be compatible with the immune system of the patient receiving them, by using the patient's own cells in the procedure, removing the possibility of rejection. "Even today the best matched organs, except if they come from identical twins, don't last very long because with time the immune system continuously is attacking them," said Dr Pablo Ross from the University of California, Davis, who is part of the team working towards growing human organs in other species. Ross added that if it does become possible to grow human organs inside other species, it might be that organ transplants become a possibility beyond critical conditions.

Ross and colleagues have recently reported a major breakthrough for our own species, revealing they were able to introduce human stem cells into early pig embryos, producing embryos for which about one in every 100,000 cells were human. These chimeras -- a term adopted from Greek mythology -- were only allowed to develop for 28 days. Now, at this week's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas, the team have announced that they have managed a similar feat with sheep embryos, achieving an even higher ratio of human to animal cells. "About one in 10,000 cells in these sheep embryos are human," said Ross. The team are currently allowed to let the chimeric embryos develop for 28 days, 21 of which are in the sheep. While that might be sufficient to see the development of the missing organ when human cells are eventually combined with the genetically modified embryo, Dr Hiro Nakauchi of Stanford University, who is part of the team, said a longer experiment, perhaps up to 70 days, would be more convincing, although that would require additional permission from institutional review boards.

Science

New Scanning Technique Reveals Secrets Behind Great Paintings (bbc.com) 26

Researchers in the US have used a new scanning technique to discover a painting underneath one of Pablo Picasso's great works of art, the Crouching Woman (La Misereuse Accroupie). From a report: Underneath the oil painting is a landscape of Barcelona which, it turns out, Picasso used as the basis of his masterpiece. The new x-ray fluorescence system is cheaper than alternative art scanning systems -- and it is portable, making it available to any gallery that wants it. Details were revealed at the American Association for the Advancement for Science in Austin, Texas. The Crouching Woman is a painting from Picasso's blue period.

What is remarkable is that the landscape painting beneath -- probably by a student artist -- is turned 90 degrees. The contour of the hills in the background becomes the crouching woman's back. She takes on the shape and form of the Catalan countryside. Kenneth Brummel, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, said that he was "excited" when he first learned what lay underneath the Crouching Woman. "It helps to date the painting and it also helps to determine where the painting was made," he told BBC News. "But it also gives a sense of the artists with whom the painter was engaging. And these insights help us ask new, more interesting and scientifically more accurate questions regarding an artist, their process and how they arrived at the forms that we see on the surface of a painting."

Earth

73 Percent of Fish In the Northwestern Atlantic Have Microplastics In Their Guts 86

According to a new study published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, microplastics have been found in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic. "These findings are worrying, as the affected fish could spread microplastics throughout the ocean," reports Phys.Org. "The fish are also prey for fish eaten by humans, meaning that microplastics could indirectly contaminate our food supply through the transfer of associated microplastic toxins." From the report: Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution. These fragments can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss. Microplastic contamination may also spread from organism to organism when prey is eaten by predators. Since the fragments can bind to chemical pollutants, these associated toxins could accumulate in predator species. Mesopelagic fish serve as a food source for a large variety of marine animals, including tuna, swordfish, dolphins, seals and sea birds. Typically living at depths of 200-1,000 meters, these fish swim to the surface at night to feed then return to deeper waters during the day.

The researchers caught mesopelagic fish at varying depths, then examined their stomachs for microplastics back in the lab. They used a specialized air filter so as not to introduce airborne plastic fibers from the lab environment. The team found a wide array of microplastics in the fish stomachs -- with a whopping 73% of the fish having ingested the pollutants.
Sci-Fi

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? (cnet.com) 225

If you've ever watched a science fiction movie about aliens, you'll know that humans tend to freak out and destroy everything when faced with incontrovertible proof of the existence of alien life. But a new analysis from Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum and his colleagues suggests that humans might actually remain pretty calm and collected when that big news breaks. CNET reports: Varnum makes this conclusion based on an analysis of newspaper articles covering past potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, he and his colleagues looked at articles about the weird dimming of so-called "Tabby's Star," Earth-like planets around the star Trappist-1, and the potential discovery of Martian microbe fossils from 1996. They found language in the stories demonstrated much more positive emotion than fear or other negative emotions. In a second study, the team also surveyed over 500 people, asking them to guess how they and humanity would react to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered. In the case of both their own reaction and everyone else's, the participants hypothesized responses that were more positive than negative. The research was published last month in Frontiers in Psychology.
Earth

Coffee Beans Are Good For Birds, Fancy Brew Or Not (sciencedaily.com) 32

Zorro shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source ): Birds are not as picky about their coffee as people are. Although coffee snobs prefer arabica beans to robusta, a new study in India found that growing coffee does not interfere with biodiversity -- no matter which bean the farmer chooses. In the Western Ghats region of India, a mountainous area parallel to the subcontinent's western coast, both arabica and robusta beans are grown as bushes under larger trees -- unlike in South America, where the coffee plants themselves grow as large as trees, said Krithi Karanth, who helped lead the study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Arabica and robusta farms proved equally good for these creatures. "Some birds do better with arabica than robusta, but overall, they're both good for wildlife," she said. The difference is important, because data shows that more farmers in the area have been shifting to robusta in recent years, as prices rise for the variety, which is easier to grow. The researchers counted 106 species of birds on the coffee plantations, including at-risk species, such as the alexandrine parakeet, the breyheaded bulbul and the nilgiri woodpigeon. The findings show that farming is not incompatible with wildlife protection, said Jai Ranganathan, a conservation biologist and senior fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research.

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