Category: Science

NASA experiments with X-ray networking

x-rayNASA is researching new technology to transmit data at high rates over vast distances in outer space, as well as enable communications with hypersonic vehicles during re-entry.

At the moment such radio communications are impossible, but NASA boffins think that using X-rays could be just the ticket.

The science is based on the concept that other forms of light can carry data as well. Fibre-optics uses visible and near-infrared light. So NASA started to think about X-rays.

Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, thought of developing X-ray emitters that these spacecraft could use as navigational beacons to make sure they stayed in position relative to one another. The system would keep them aligned down to a precision of just 1 micron.

Gendreau then reasoned that by modulating or varying the strength or frequency of these X-ray transmissions on and off many times per second, these navigational beacons could also serve as a communication system. Such X-ray communication (XCOM), might, in theory, permit gigabit-per-second data rates throughout the solar system, he said

X-rays have shorter wavelengths than the visible or infrared light typically used in laser communication. This means that, XCOM can transmit more data for the same amount of power that laser communication requires, Gendreau said.

X-rays have shorter wavelengths, they can be transmitted in tighter beams than visible or infrared light, so less energy is wasted in trying to communicate over vast distances, he added.

A new toy called the Modulated X-ray Source, or MXS, which generates rapid-fire X-ray pulses. MXS is slated to get installed on an experimental pallet that will be deployed outside the International Space Station in 2018.

MXS will transmit data via X-rays about 165 feet to the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), which is designed to study neutron stars and their rapidly spinning relatives, pulsars, and will launch to the International Space Station in early 2017

Boffins create bionic willy

sixmillion-splshIf “Six million dollar man” Steve Austin ever had erectile dysfunction he would have been out on a limb like the rest of mankind, however boffins think they could rebuild him with the world’s first bionic willy.

Experts at the University of Wisconsin in America created a remote-controlled device which lengthens to eight inches when heated to 42C.

Surgically inserted in the base of the penis through an incision, the one inch metal coil can be turned on by a remote held over the groin, generating a metal field which triggers a current. While this sounds a rather good way to avoid thinking about sex ever again, apparently the coil then warms the implant, making it expand and fully erect.

So far it has been tested on animals and could be available to men within a few years.

The device is made using nitinol, which rather than being a pill to make you sleep, is  a metal alloy of nickel and titanium which can change shape in different temperatures.

Asif Muneer from the British Association of Urological Surgeons, told The Sun the device had potential to benefit thousands of men suffering with erectile dysfunction.

‘There are fewer components than with existing inflatable implants and that reduces the chances of infection,’ he said.

Bionic penises are apparently not that new, although right now they cost an arm and a leg. Mohammad Abad, 44, from Edinburgh was fitted with the £70,000 replacement in 2012 after losing his penis and testicle when he was run over by a car at age six.

In that case the penis, which was constructed using skin from his forearm rolled up like a ‘sausage roll’ but now he gets erections at the touch of a button.

Trump to scrap NASA’s climate change funding

Donald-Trump-funnyDonald “Prince of Orange” Trump is going to scrap NASA’s funding for climate change and is telling it to focus on space research instead.

According to his senior adviser it is all part of a crack-down on “politicised science”.

Trump wants to have explored the entire solar system by the end of the century.

However, this cunning plan would mean the end of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. NASA’s network of satellites provides a wealth of information on climate change.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring. We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research. Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission”.

Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicised science, Walker claimed. Walker is a retired US politician who will be dead in a few years, before politicised climate change starts killing his children and grandchildren.  Of course, he might have figured out that sticking them on a Mars colony is the only safe way to avoid the end of the world.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, said NASA has a “critical and unique role” in observing Earth and climate change.

“Without the support of Nasa, not only the US but the entire world would be taking a hard hit when it comes to understanding the behavior of our climate and the threats posed by human-caused climate change,” he said.

“It would be a blatantly political move, and would indicate the president-elect’s willingness to pander to the very same lobbyists and corporate interest groups he derided throughout the campaign.”

Nasa has appointed two officials, Tom Cremins and Jolene Meidinger, to lead the transition to the new Trump administration. However, the president-elect’s team has yet to formally review the space agency. A NASA spokesman said:

“The Nasa community is committed to doing whatever we can to assist in making the executive branch transition a smooth one. The agency remains focused on the future, a future that will improve our understanding of our changing home planet from Nasa’s unique platforms in space.”

IBM wants to make the internet from tubes


Biggish Blue claims to have made a breakthrough in carbon nanotubes which could revolutionise microchip design.

Nanomaterials are incredibly small, which makes it incredibly hard to chisel patterns into them to make them into something useful.

IBM Research materials scientist George Tulevsk and his team have worked out how to “coax” the nanotubes into specific structures using chemistry in a similar way that you grow a crystal in a primary school science experiment.

“We’re trying to tackle that problem by borrowing from nature, because nature builds everything that way. We think that’s one of the key missing pieces.”

Tulevsk has managed to do that but is still years away from being able to manufacture nanotube-based chips at scale. And because silicon chips are still getting faster, the IBM team needs to not only create a process for reliably manufacturing nanotube-based processors, but to make the processors faster than silicon chips will be in a decade.

String theory might be about to finally be killed off

schrodingers_catThe world’s top boffins are debating finally killing off one of the more elegant scientific theories about the nature of reality.

For ages the world’s cleverest physicists have been divided over the concept of  supersymmetry– a theory which stipulates that all known fundamental particles have heavier, supersymmetric counterparts called sparticles. It appears to be based on the theory that the universe is made out of string which was teased into shape by cats which are potentially dead or alive [are you sure about this? Ed.]

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment still has not found anything that supersymmetry predicts, and it is getting to the threshold where the theory should be declared dead and buried. However it still has fans, because if it is true, then it could solve many physical puzzles such as dark matter and some aspects of the Higgs boson.

After the LHC failed to find evidence for supersymmetry, more physicists are arguing that the field’s obsession with the theory is a waste of time and effort. Scientists at the LHC filter the data they record by looking first for particles predicted by favoured theories, including supersymmetry. Less popular ideas get a smaller share of the resources. Fans of supersymmetry think that if Higgs is made up of even smaller particles, then supersymmetry should get more attention.

Other boffins want to see experiments conducted on how gravity behaves at the very small scales of quantum mechanics. If the LHC finds no trace of sparticles in this year’s data they think that last thing the field needs is another round of supersymmetry model adjustments.


Smartphones keep you awake

Iranian MPs sleeping in Majlis ParliamentExposure to smartphone screens will stuff up your sleep, according to a new study.

Writing in the science journal PLOS ONE, which sounds more like a mathematics magazine for dyslexics, Matthew Christensen from the University of California, San Francisco and his chums wondered what the physical effects of increased smartphone use was having on the great unwashed.

Christensen and colleagues tested the hypothesis that increased screen-time may be associated with poor sleep by analysing data from 653 adult individuals across the United States participating in the Health eHeart Study.

Participants installed a smartphone application which recorded their screen-time, defined as the number of minutes in each hour that the screen was turned on, over a 30-day period. They also recorded their sleeping hours and sleep quality.

Each participant used their phones 38.4 hours over this period, with smartphones being activated on average for 3.7 minutes in each hour. Longer average screen-time was associated with poor sleep quality and less sleep overall, particularly when smartphones were used near participants’ bedtime.

The first to measure smartphone exposure prospectively, but caution that the study also had some limits which means that the authors cannot show causation or exclude the “effect-cause” that poor sleep could lead to more screen time. What they did find was a theory that bedtime smartphone use may negatively impact sleep.


iOS writes nonsensical science paper but gets accepted

mad scientistA Kiwi boffin was somewhat surprised when a paper, which he wrote using Apple’s auto-correct formula was accepted for a prestigious science conference.

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received an email inviting him to submit a paper to the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics in the US in November.

Since he had no knowledge of nuclear physics he used iOS autocomplete function to help him write  the paper.

“I started a sentence with ‘atomic’ or ‘nuclear’ and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions… The text really does not make any sense.”

For example:

“The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids,”

The conclusion of the paper was that “Power is not a great place for a good time” which is a lesson for us all.

The paper “Atomic Energy will have been made available to a single source” was illustrated using the first graphic on the Wikipedia entry for nuclear physics and he submitted it under a fake identity – associate professor Iris Pear.

But when he submitted the paper it was not only accepted three hours later but he got an email asking if he could do an oral presentation on the paper at the international conference.  All he had to do was pay a grand to register.

“I did not complete this step since my university would certainly object to me wasting money this way,. My impression is that this is not a particularly good conference.”

The International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics will be held on 17-18 November in Atlanta, Georgia, and is organised by ConferenceSeries: “an amalgamation of Open Access Publications and worldwide international science conferences and events” and was established in 2007.

Human drivers will bully self-drive cars

classic car, wikimedia commonsTechnology experts are starting to worry that human drivers will bully self-drive cars – simply because they can.

While self-driving cars promise to bring increased safety, comfort and speed to our roads. The rest of the road will be populated by men in white vans, BMW drivers and Italians who will make life hell for automated roadsters.

The London School of Economics and Goodyear conducted a study into social attitudes to self-driving technology. Drivers who are more “combative” will welcome the adoption of self-driving technology, because they assume it will be easier to “bully” self-driving cars than actual humans.

Self-driving cars will be programmed to avoid accidents, just as they should be. So given the choice between driving timidly or causing an accident just to prove a point, the self-driving car will slam on the brakes every time. The more aggressive drivers in this survey said that they’d treat self-driving cars like “learner drivers” and mess with their automatic heads.

One respondent he would be overtaking all the time because they’ll be sticking to the rules,” one Another said robot cars are going to stop. “So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip around.”

So those who really should be self-driving are exactly the sort of people who should not be behind the wheel.  It is only a matter of time before self-driving will require a psyche-test to see if they should be allowed to drive.


Humans make better quacks than computers

rubber-duck-robotWhile the tech world gets enthusiastic about computers working out what is wrong with your health, a new study suggests that it is probably better to let a human decide.

There are lots of apps or other symptom based checkers to help self-diagnose diseases. Over the last 20 computer-based checklists and other fail-safe digital apps have been increasingly used to reduce medication errors or streamline infection-prevention protocols.  Yet the first direct comparison shows human doctors outperform digital ones in diagnostic accuracy.

A new study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School show that physicians’ performance is vastly superior and that doctors make a correct diagnosis more than twice as often as 23 commonly used symptom-checker apps.

Diagnostic errors stem from failure to recognize a disease or to do so in a timely manner. Physicians make such errors roughly 10 to 15 percent of the time, researchers say.

In the study, 234 internal medicine physicians were asked to evaluate 45 clinical cases, involving both common and uncommon conditions with varying degrees of severity. For each scenario, physicians had to identify the most likely diagnosis along with two additional possible diagnoses. Each clinical vignette was solved by at least 20 physicians.

The physicians outperformed the symptom-checker apps, listing the correct diagnosis first 72 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent of the time for the digital platforms. Eighty-four percent of clinicians listed the correct diagnosis in the top three possibilities, compared with 51 percent for the digital symptom-checkers.

The sicker you are the more likely the quack will be to spot it over a computer. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of health care policy at HMS said that while the computer programs were clearly inferior to physicians in terms of diagnostic accuracy, it will be critical to study future generations of computer programs that may be more accurate.

Physicians still made mistakes in about 15 percent of cases. Researchers say developing computer-based algorithms to be used in conjunction with human decision-making may help further reduce diagnostic errors.

Tech billionaires want out of the matrix

matrixTwo billionaires with more money than sense are spending a fortune to get scientists to help us break out of the matrix.

The theory that we might all be living in a computer simulation has gotten so popular among Silicon Valley’s tech elites that two unnamed billionarres are stumping up the cash to help boffins prove and come up with ways of escaping it.

Elon Muskand and Peter Thiel  have been suggested as the two billionarres who are investing in the break out plan, forgetting for a moment that if they are right they could be cashless nobodies if the theory is true.

According to The New Yorker in an article about Y Combinator’s Sam Altman is the source of the theorys and is convinced that we are controlled by technology. His idea delves into the simulation theory, which is the idea that human beings are unwittingly just the characters in someone else’s computer simulation.

Musk and Thiel are likely candidates as they are mates with Altman. According to Musk, it’s the most popular topic of conversation right now.

“…it got to the point where basically every conversation was the AI slash simulation conversation and my brother and I finally agreed that we’d ban any such conversations if we’re ever in a hot tub. Because that really kills the magic,” Musk said on stage at Vox Media’s Code Conference in June.