Category Archives: Science

Japan to be completely without nuclear power

Japan will be fully without nuclear power on Sunday as Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi No. 4 reactor is shut down for regular safety inspections, officials said.

This will be the first time Japan is without nuclear power since July 2012, The Japan Times reported.

Inspections of nuclear reactors normally take four to six weeks.

“Safety is important, but if you waste time, that too has an effect on safety. The Fukui nuclear power plant sites have a long history and respond to risks. My position is therefore different from other prefectural governors,” said Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who has said he would like to see the inspection be completed as soon as possible.

Japan relies on nuclear power for about 32 percent of its electricity prior to the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Copyright 2013 by United Press International

Fossil from northwestern China is new species of meat-eating dinosaur

A fossil uncovered in northwestern China has been identified as a new species of small bipedal theropod dinosaur, probably carnivorous, researchers said.

George Washington University biologist James Clark and a team of international researchers, found the dinosaur specimen in a remote region of Xinjiang province in China in 2006.

Writing in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, Clark and fellow GWU researcher Jonah Choiniere the skull, mandible and partial skeleton of the dinosaur showed the new theropod was just more than 3 feet long and probably weighed about 3 pounds, walking on its hind legs.

Members of the new species, dubbed Aorun zhaio, weren’t necessarily small dinosaurs, they said, because the fossil uncovered was that of a youngster.

“We were able to look at microscopic details of Aorun’s bones and they showed that the animal was less than a year old when it died on the banks of a stream,” Choiniere said.

“All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg,” Clark said. “We were pleasantly surprised to find a skull buried in the rock, too.”

Aorun lived more than 161 million years ago and its small, numerous teeth suggest it would have eaten prey such as lizards and small relatives of modern mammals, the researchers said. Most species of theropods were carnivorous, although some were herbivores.

Copyright 2013 by United Press International

Heavy texting linked to lesser ethics, greater prejudice, study finds

Young people who send more than 100 texts a day are more likely than others to be shallow and uninterested in living an ethical life, Canadian researchers said.

Psychologists in Winnipeg, Manitoba, conducted surveys for three consecutive years with freshmen psychology students at the University of Winnipeg. They found people who said they text more than 100 times per day are 30 percent less likely to feel strongly about leading an “ethical, principled life” than those who send 50 or fewer text messages per day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said Thursday.

Heavy texters — 30 percent of respondents reported sending at least 200 texts per day; 12 percent said it was 300 or more — are also statistically more likely to hold ethnic prejudices, the study found.

“The values and traits most closely associated with texting frequency are surprisingly consistent with Carr’s conjecture that new information and social media technologies may be displacing and discouraging reflective thought,” said psychologist Paul Trapnell, one of the study’s authors. “We still don’t know the exact cause of these modest but consistent associations, but we think they warrant further study. We were surprised, however, that so little research has been done to directly test this important claim.”

Copyright 2013 by United Press International

Medical sensor is temporary skin tattoo

A medical sensor attached to the skin like a temporary tattoo could help doctors detect metabolic problems, University of California, San Diego researchers say.

The sensor that comes in a thin, flexible package shaped like a smiley face could also help coaches fine-tune athlete’s training routines, they said.

The sensor can detect changes in the skin’s pH levels in response to metabolic stress from exertion during exercise, but can also give clues to underlying metabolic diseases such as Addison’s disease, a university release said Monday

Existing devices to accomplish this can be bulky or hard to keep adhered to sweating skin, researchers said, which led them to develop a sensor using standard screen printing techniques and commercially available transfer tattoo paper.

“We wanted a design that could conceal the electrodes,” said doctoral candidate Vinci Hung at the University of Toronto, who helped create the new sensor in the UCSD lab of Joseph Wang. “We also wanted to showcase the variety of designs that can be accomplished with this fabrication technique.”

In the “Happy face” sensor, the “eyes” function as the working and reference electrodes while the “ears” are contacts for a measurement device to connect to.

Copyright 2012 by United Press International

SciTechTalk: NASA says ‘hold on a minute!’


This image was taken by Navcam Left A onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on September 16, 2012.  Curiosity landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT).    UPI/NASA/JPL-Caltech

When a NASA official said last week data from an instrument on the Mars Curiosity rover suggested something “for the history books,” many people thought an announcement was imminent of the possible discovery of life on the Red Planet — until the space agency began to seriously backpedal on the story.

It may be a case of once bitten twice shy as NASA has been through this before — a hotly anticipated and heavily hyped bit of news that only disappoints in the end.

The current excitement began when Curiosity mission lead scientist John Grotzninger started receiving data on his computer from the rover”s on-board chemistry lab while in the presence of a reporter from National Public Radio.

The instrument known as Sam, sample analysis at Mars, has been analyzing a Martian soil sample.

“This data is going to be one for the history books. It”s looking really good,” Grotzinger told NPR.

Grotzinger would not reveal anything more, saying it could be several more weeks while NASA scientists went over the data to make sure it wasn”t a glitch or something from earth contaminating the instrument sample.

Still, a lot of people thought “one for the history books” could only mean SAM had found something suggesting evidence of life on Mars at some point.

SAM is in fact designed to look for organic molecules and while organic molecules would be important, it is not the same thing as “life on Mars.” NASA quickly began downplaying talk of a major discovery.

“It won”t be earthshaking but it will be interesting,” said spokesperson Guy Webster of NASA”s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

NASA”s caution is understandable; it has been through this before.

In 2010 researchers led by then NASA astrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon said they had discovered a form of “alien life” right here on Earth, bacteria found in a California lake whose DNA they claimed contained arsenic — highly poisonous — rather than phosphorus.

Announced with much publicity and fanfare at a NASA news conference, the finding intrigued astrobiologists, who”d previously speculated extraterrestrial life might survive in unexpected and extreme environments if it were based on something other than phosphorus or carbon — something like arsenic.

But the finding was controversial, and soon other researchers said they were unable to duplicate the results Wolfe-Simon said she had discovered at California”s Mono Lake.

Many scientists responded by saying the data made no sense, were inconsistent with well-established chemical principles and did not support the interpretation and conclusions in the study published in Science.

There was general disagreement with the original authors” contention that arsenic was incorporated into the DNA. The bacteria were highly resistant to arsenate, other researchers said, but they were still a phosphorus-based and thus a terrestrial life form.

The studies left astrobiologists disappointed and left NASA with a bit of egg on its face for having made initial “alien life” comments in its run-up to the very public introduction of Wolfe-Simon”s original research. A suggestion by one of the coauthors of the Science article of a “shadow bioshpere” based on chemistry other than that found in life on earth has failed to gain any traction with biologists.

The “arsenic” episode is likely one reason NASA has in speculation about the Mars Curiosity discovery, to avoid a repeat of the embarrassment.

NASA now says it will be repeating tests to conclusively confirm its still-secret findings — whatever they are — and will not officially release them until December, at the next meeting of the American Geophysical Union, set for Dec. 3-7 in San Francisco.

Not “earthshaking,” NASA reminds us — just “interesting.”

Copyright 2012 by United Press International

U.N. observes World Science Day

The United Nations, observing international World Science Day for Peace and Development Saturday, called for a greater global focus on scientific development.

The day’s theme this year is ‘Science for Global Sustainability Interconnectedness, Collaboration, Transformation,” the U.N. News Center reported.

“Science is our best asset for supporting inclusive and equitable development, and for building global sustainability at a time of uncertainty, and faced with biophysical limits of the planet,” said United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Director-General, Irina Bokova.

“We must also place science at the service of all, while observing the fundamental rights of the individual,” Bokova said. “Above all, we must open a new chapter in scientific integration.”

World Science Day for Peace and Development was established in 2001 with the purpose of renewing a global commitment to science as a tool to benefit society.

Copyright 2012 by United Press International

China to launch manned spacecraft

China is set to launch a manned spacecraft in June 2013, a space program official said Saturday.

The spacecraft, Shenzhou-10, will likely have a crew of two male astronauts and one female astronaut, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

“They will stay in space for 15 days, operating both automated and manual space dockings with the target orbiter Tiangong-1, conducting scientific experiments in the lab module and giving science lectures to spectators on the Earth,” said Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program.

Shenzhou-10 will connect with China’s Tiangong-1 space lab module, where the astronauts’ abilities of working and living in space, as well as the functions of the lab module, will be tested, Niu said.

“The success of this mission might enable China to construct a space lab and a space station,” Niu said.

“After more than a year of operation in space, Tiangong-1 is still in good condition,” Niu said. “Tiangong-1, with a design life of two years, will likely remain in orbit for further operation after the space docking with Shenzhou-10.”

Copyright 2012 by United Press International

Ancient flying reptile needed a runway

The giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus may have sported a 34-foot wingspan, but it needed to taxi down a slope to take off, U.S. researchers say.

With that huge wingspan and a weight of 155 pounds the ancient flying reptile is the largest flying animal ever discovered — any larger, and it would have had to walk, scientists at Texas Tech University say.

Researcher Sankar Chatterjee used computer simulations to find out how such a heavy animal with relatively flimsy wings could become airborne, TG daily reported Thursday.

“This animal probably flew like an albatross or a frigate bird in that it could soar and glide very well. It spent most of its time in the air. But when it comes to takeoff and landing, they’re so awkward that they had to run,” he said.

“If it were taking off from a cliff, then it was OK. But if Quetzalcoatlus were on the ground, it probably had to find a sloping area like a riverbank, and then run quickly on four feet, then two to pick up enough power to get into the air. It needed an area to taxi.

“With a slight headwind and as little as a 10-degree downhill slope, an adult would be able to take off in a bipedal running start to pick up flying speed, just like a hang glider pilot,” Chatterjee said.

Like today’s condors and other large birds, Quetzalcoatlus probably relied on updraft to remain in the air, he said.

Copyright 2012 by United Press International

Microsoft holds Windows Phone 8 hopes

The Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone entered the U.S. market Friday, giving Microsoft another chance to garner some elusive smartphone market share, analysts say.

The Nokia device is the first phone to be available with the Windows Phone 8 operating system on which Microsoft has spent hundreds of millions of dollars — with little result so far, CNN Money reported.

While Microsoft’s smartphone sales are slowly improving, they’re falling behind Android and iOS competitors whose sales are growing much faster.

Microsoft’s smartphone market share dropped to just 3.6 percent in September, down about two-thirds from where it stood when Windows Phone was first launched.

The best hope for Windows Phone, analysts say, lies in the fate of Microsoft’s flagship product, Windows 8.

If the expected hundreds of millions of users of current Windows versions migrate to Windows 8 over the next several years, it could make the very similar Windows Phone 8 a more attractive prospect for consumers, analysts say.

“Once Windows 8 is on laptops, PCs and tablets, consumers are significantly more likely to adopt Windows Phone 8,” Frost & Sullivan analyst Brent Iadarola said.

Copyright 2012 by United Press International

Corals use chemicals as 911 calls to fish

Corals attacked by toxic seaweed send out chemical calls for help to fish “bodyguards” that respond to trim back the poisonous seaweed, U.S. researchers say.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology said these “mutualistic” inch-long fish called gobies respond to the chemical signals from the coral in a matter of minutes.

“These little fish would come out and mow the seaweed off so it didn’t touch the coral,” biology Profess Mark Hay said. “This takes place very rapidly, which means it must be very important to both the coral and the fish. The coral releases a chemical and the fish respond right away.”

Gobies spend their entire lives in the crevices of specific corals, receiving protection from their own predators while removing threats to the corals, the researchers said.

This symbiotic relationship between the fish and the coral in which they live is the first known example of one species chemically signaling another species to remove competitors, a university release said.

The researchers studied Acropora nasuta, a species of coral important to reef ecosystems because it grows rapidly and provides much of the structure for reefs.

“This species of coral is recruiting inch-long bodyguards,” Hay said. “There is a careful and nuanced dance of the odors that makes all this happen. The fish have evolved to cue on the odor released into the water by the coral, and they very quickly take care of the problem.”

Copyright 2012 by United Press International