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Jan 17

Scientific Doomsday: Ways the World Could Actually End.

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Reported by Daniela Hernandez, in Wired Science, 17 Jan. 2012.

2012 is sure to be filled with too many end-of-the-world jokes, and probably a fair amount of genuine fear as well.

But assuming the Mayans were wrong and doomsday isn’t on Dec. 21 this year, you may be wondering how the world as we know it might really end. We’ve collected several scientifically valid scenarios for you to worry about.


The chances of an earthquake unzipping the world’s fault system are negligible, says seismologist Thorne Lay of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Continue reading »

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Jan 16

Here comes the sun.

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Reported by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office, 11 Jan. 2012.

A new sunflower-inspired pattern increases concentrated solar efficiency.

Just outside Seville, in the desert region of Andalucia, Spain, sits an oasis-like sight: a 100-meter-high pillar surrounded by rows of giant mirrors rippling outward. More than 600 of these mirrors, each the size of half a tennis court, track the sun throughout the day, concentrating its rays on the central tower, where the sun’s heat is converted to electricity — enough to power 6,000 homes.

The sprawling site, named PS10, is among a handful of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants in the world, although that number is expected to grow. CSP proponents say the technology could potentially generate enough clean, renewable energy to power the entire United States, provided two factors are in ample supply: land and sunlight.

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Jan 15

Coding – the new Latin.

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Reported by Rory Cellan-Jones, in BBC news, 26 Nov. 2011.

The campaign to boost the teaching of computer skills – particularly coding – in schools is gathering force.

Today the likes of Google, Microsoft and other leading technology names will lend their support to the case made to the government earlier this year in a report called Next Gen. It argued that the UK could be a global hub for the video games and special effects industries – but only if its education system got its act together.

The statistics on the numbers going to university to study computing make sobering reading. In 2003 around 16,500 students applied to UCAS for places on computer science courses.

By 2007 that had fallen to just 10,600, and although it’s recovered a little to 13,600 last year, that’s at a time in major growth in overall applications, so the percentage of students looking to study the subject has fallen from 5% to 3%. What’s more, computing science’s reputation as a geeky male subject has been reinforced, with the percentage of male applicants rising over the period from 84% to 87%.

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Jan 14

I Recognise You! But How Did I Do It?

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Reported by Alpha Galileo from University of Nottingham, 13 Jan. 2012.

Are you someone who easily recognises everyone you’ve ever met? Or maybe you struggle, even with familiar faces? It is already known that we are better at recognising faces from our own race but researchers have only recently questioned how we assimilate the information we use to recognise people.

New research by the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus has shown that when it comes to recognising people the Malaysian Chinese have adapted their facial recognition techniques to cope with living in a multicultural environment.

The study ‘You Look Familiar: How Malaysian Chinese Recognise Faces’ was led by Chrystalle B.Y. Tan, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. The results have been published online in the scientific journal PLoS One, This research is the first PhD student publication for Nottingham’s School of Psychology in Malaysia. Continue reading »

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Jan 13

IBM Research Determines Atomic Limits of Magnetic Memory.

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Reported by Ari Entin and Christina Howell, in IBM News, 12 Jan. 2012.

IBM scientists create the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit using only 12 atoms. First-ever demonstration of engineered atomic-scale structures storing information magnetically at low temperatures. New experimental atomic-scale magnet memory is at least 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.

Punctuating 30 years of nanotechnology research, scientists from IBM Research (NYSE: IBM) have successfully demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms. This is significantly less than today’s disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information. The ability to manipulate matter by its most basic components – atom by atom – could lead to the vital understanding necessary to build smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices.

While silicon transistor technology has become cheaper, denser and more efficient, fundamental physical limitations suggest this path of conventional scaling is unsustainable. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the rapid pace of computing innovation.

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Jan 12

World’s Largest Quantum Computation Uses 84 Qubits.

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Reported by kfc, in The Physics Arxiv Blog, 11 Jan. 2012.

The most extensive quantum computation in history took just 270 milliseconds, say quantum physicists.

Quantum computers are in danger of losing their lustre. These machines exploit the strange rules of quantum mechanics to carry out calculations that are vastly more powerful than anything that conventional computers can do.

Or so we’re told. Quantum computers in one form or another have been carrying out calculations for more than a decade. But far from putting conventional computers to shame, these devices have yet to outperform the calculating abilities of a primary school child.

Ten years ago, physicists used a quantum computer to factorise the number 15 using seven quantum bits or qubits. The result received great acclaim. Last year, they beat this record by factorising the number 143 using four qubits. Hardly a meteoric improvement.

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Jan 11

NASA Wants to Power Robots With Microbes.

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Reported by Mark Brown, Wired UK, 4 Jan. 2012.

For NASA’s Martian rovers, it seems that bigger is better. The $2.5 billion (£1.6 billion) Curiosity — which is currently whizzing towards the red planet following its November 2011 launch — is five times bigger than twin predecessors Spirit and Opportunity.

In fact it’s taller than most basketball players at 2.2 meters high, and is about the size of a small SUV with its three-meter length. Add on its humongous robot arm, which can reach out another 2.2 meters, and you’ve got only seriously huge rover.

To power such a beast needs a lot of energy and the robot packs a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. It will fuel the enormous rover for at least 687 Earth days (one Martian year).

But at the US Naval Research Laboratory, space roboticists are researching planetary explorers at the other end of the size spectrum. While Curiosity weighs about the same as a giraffe (900kg), these autonomous micro-rovers would be lighter than a bag of sugar, at just one kilogram. Continue reading »

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Jan 10

Top Scientific Discoveries of 2011.

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Reported by Wired Science Staff, in Wired Science, 27 Dec. 2011.

From emotional honeybees to particles flying faster than Einstein’s theory of relativity ought to allow, 2011 abounded in findings that posed new questions and expanded frontiers of possibility. Here are Wired Science’s favorites.

Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Detected — or Not

Neutrino tracks. (CERN)

In September, researchers from the OPERA collaboration in Italy provided fodder for a thousand articles when they announced the measurement of neutrinos flying faster than that killjoy Albert Einstein would permit. Most physicists dismissed the finding, suggesting some error in the measurement or analysis, but that didn’t stop millions of people from hoping that they’d witnessed the start of a new scientific revolution.

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Jan 09

Nanoscale wires defy quantum predictions.

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Reported by Edwin Cartlidge, in Nature News, 5 Jan. 2012.

Atomic electrical components conduct just like conventional wires, giving a new lease of life to Moore’s law.

Microchips could keep on getting smaller and more powerful for years to come. Research shows that wires just a few nanometres wide conduct electricity in the same way as the much larger components of existing devices, rather than being adversely affected by quantum mechanics.

As manufacturing technology improves and costs fall, the number of transistors that can be squeezed onto an integrated circuit roughly doubles every two years. This trend, known as Moore’s law, was first observed in the 1960s by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of chip manufacturer Intel, based in Santa Clara, California. But transistors have now become so small that scientists have predicted that it may not be long before their performance is compromised by unpredictable quantum effects. Continue reading »

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Jan 08

Mathematician claims breakthrough in Sudoku puzzle

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Reported by Brian Owens (on behalf of Eugenie Samuel Reich), in Nature blogs, 06 Jan 2012.

An Irish mathematician has used a complex algorithm and millions of hours of supercomputing time to solve an important open problem in the mathematics of Sudoku, the game popularized in Japan that involves filling out a 9X9 grid of squares with the numbers 1-9 according to certain rules.

Gary McGuire of University College Dublin shows in a proof posted online 1 January that the minimum number of clues – or starting digits – needed to complete a puzzle is 17 (see sample puzzle, pictured, from McGuire’s paper), as puzzles with 16 clues or less do not have an unique solution. In comparison most newspaper puzzles have around 25 clues, with the difficulty of the puzzle decreasing as more clues are given.

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