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Oct 28

Reported by Mark Brown, Wired UK, 26 Oct. 2011.

Copiale cipher. (University of Southern California and Uppsala University)

Computer scientists from Sweden and the United States have applied modern-day, statistical translation techniques — the sort of which that are used in Google Translate — to decode a 250-year old secret message.

The original document, nicknamed the Copiale Cipher, was written in the late 18th century and found in the East Berlin Academy after the Cold War. It’s since been kept in a private collection, and the 105-page, slightly yellowed tome has withheld its secrets ever since.

But this year, University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering computer scientist Kevin Knight — an expert in translation, not so much in cryptography — and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden, tracked down the document, transcribed a machine-readable version and set to work cracking the centuries-old code.

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Oct 26

Reported by Ewen Callaway, Nature News, 25 October 2011.

The genome of a 660-year-old bacterium is revealing secrets from one of Europe’s darkest chapters.


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Oct 23

Reported by Imperial College London News and Events, 18 Oct. 2011.

Scientists have successfully demonstrated that they can build some of the basic components for digital devices out of bacteria and DNA, which could pave the way for a new generation of biological computing devices, in research published today in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers, from Imperial College London, have demonstrated that they can build logic gates, which are used for processing information in devices such as computers and microprocessors, out of harmless gut bacteria and DNA. These are the most advanced biological logic gates ever created by scientists.

Professor Richard Kitney, co-author of the paper from the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation and the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, says:

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Oct 22

Reported by Olivia Solon Wired UK, Wired Science, 19 Oct. 2011.

The accelerometers in many smartphones could be used to decipher what you type into your PC keyboard — including passwords and e-mail content — according to computer scientists at Georgia Tech.

The technique depends on the person typing at their computer with their mobile phone on the desk nearby. The vibrations created by typing onto the computer keyboard can be detected by the accelerometer of the phone and translated by a program into readable sentences with as much as 80 percent accuracy.

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Oct 13

Reported by The Lay Scientist, Martin Robbins, hosted by Guardian, 11 Sep. 2011

Like Nostradamus the Nautilus supercomputer is brilliant at predicting events, as long as they have already happened!

The best predictions are always made in hindsight. Nostradamus achieved fame by writing down a lot of vague bollocks about the future, and relying on the human brain’s incredible ability to spot links and patterns – even where none exist – to do the rest. His legacy is a pile of prophecies that are absolutely brilliant at predicting events, as long as they have already happened.

Now Nostradamus has a silicon rival, but while the French seer generated only 900 or so of his quatrains, the University of Tennessee’s “Nautilus” supercomputer is capable of spewing out countless millions of predictions – enough to keep an army of cherry-pickers beavering away from now until eternity.

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Oct 12

Reported by PhysOrg, 11 Oct. 2011.

Chance and probability play a natural role in statistical physics. Inspired by confetti, researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, gain better understanding of random phenomena and refine the tools that can be used to study them.

“The result of small disturbances to random systems can be illustrated by throwing confetti. If simple rules are constructed at a small scale, it is possible to study the characteristics at a broad level. Small changes at local level can result in widely differing phenomena at global level,” says Daniel Ahlberg at the Department of of the University of Gothenburg.

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Oct 11

Reported by Melissa Van De Werfhorst, University of California – Santa Barbara, 11 Oct. 2011.

New equation developed by UCSB chemical engineers solves the mystery of forces between water-repelling and water-attracting molecules that are critical to industrial and medical applications.

(Santa Barbara, Calif. – ) The physical model to describe the hydrophobic interactions of molecules has been a mystery that has challenged scientists and engineers since the 19th century. Hydrophobic interactions are central to explaining why oil and water don’t mix, how proteins are structured, and what holds biological membranes together. Chemical engineering researchers at UC Santa Barbara have developed a novel method to study these forces at the atomic level, and have for the first time defined a mathematical equation to measure a substance’s hydrophobic character.

“This discovery represents a breakthrough that is a culmination of decades of research,” says Professor Jacob Israelachvili. “The equation is intended to be a tool for scientists to begin quantifying and predicting molecular and surface forces between organic substances in water.” Continue reading »

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Oct 10

Reported by Science Daily, 9 Oct. 2011.

The world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, discovered in 2004 at the University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov, has the potential to revolutionize material science.

Demonstrating the remarkable properties of graphene won the two scientists the Nobel Prize for Physics last year and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has just announced plans for a £50m graphene research hub to be set up.

Now, writing in the journal Nature Physics, the University of Manchester team have for the first time demonstrated how graphene inside electronic circuits will probably look like in the future. Continue reading »

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Oct 09

Reported by Gretchen Cuda Kroen, in ScienceNow, on 7 October 2011.

It’s something we all take for granted: our ability to look at an object, near or far, and bring it instantly into focus. The eyes of humans and many animals do this almost instantaneously and with stunning accuracy. Now researchers say they are one step closer to understanding how the brain accomplishes this feat.

Wilson Geisler and Johannes Burge, psychologists at the Center for Perceptual Systems at the University of Texas, Austin, have developed a simple algorithm for quickly and accurately estimating the focus error from a single blurry image-something they say is key to understanding how biological visual systems avoid the repetitive guess-and-check method employed by digital cameras. The discovery may advance our understanding of how nearsightedness develops in humans or help engineers improve digital cameras, the researchers say.

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Oct 07

Reported by Brandon Keim, in Wired Science, 7 Oct. 2011.

Forensic DNA databases are a potentially powerful law enforcement tool, but may disproportionately target poor and dark-skinned wrongdoers, biotechnologically magnifying flaws in criminal justice systems.

“Forensic DNA databases are growing to mirror racial disparities in arrest practices and incarceration rates,” write sociologists Troy Duster and Peter Chow-White in an Oct. 4 Public Library of Science Medicine essay.

In the last decade, as DNA became the gold standard of forensic evidence, DNA collection by law enforcers became routine. At least 56 countries have a national DNA database. In the United States, the FBI’s database contains 5 million profiles, and DNA is also gathered at state and local levels, where a patchwork of laws govern how it’s collected and managed. Some states gather DNA from anyone arrested for a felony, or use so-called “DNA dragnets” to gather samples from anyone in geographical proximity to a crime. And samples may be kept indefinitely, even if suspects are cleared of charges.

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