How does Santa do it?

December 9, 2008

Well, from what I can tell from reading over at Newswise Science News it’s a combination of:

electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and computer science

Covering 200 million square miles delivering to 80 million homes can’t be easy but Santa manages it every time.

“Based on his advanced knowledge of the theory of relativity, Santa recognizes that time can be stretched like a rubber band, space can be squeezed like an orange and light can be bent,” Silverberg says. “Relativity clouds are controllable domains – rips in time – that allow him months to deliver presents while only a few minutes pass on Earth. The presents are truly delivered in a wink of an eye.”

You learn something new every day.


China's first space walk

September 27, 2008
Chinas First Space Walk

China's First Space Walk

It’s about time someone / a country took up where America left off in the late 70’s and pushed human exploration of space.  This isn’t outer space yet, but it seems like the Chinese are serious.  I can’t condone their human rights record, but in this instance I am full of praise.

Onwards and literally upwards China.

Read more here.


China’s first space walk

September 27, 2008
Chinas First Space Walk

China's First Space Walk

It’s about time someone / a country took up where America left off in the late 70’s and pushed human exploration of space.  This isn’t outer space yet, but it seems like the Chinese are serious.  I can’t condone their human rights record, but in this instance I am full of praise.

Onwards and literally upwards China.

Read more here.


The Climate Change Myth

May 28, 2008

This myth has been doing the rounds since the first time global warming surfaced as a possibility.  People who believe that the human race has nothing to do with the climate change or, even more unbelievably, that climate change is a myth altogether, can often spout an array of ‘facts’, ‘figures’ and studies to back up this insistence.

There are plenty of reasons why these misguided and misused facts and figures surface to be used by the naive.  A huge reason these misguided people have this ammunition is companies with a vested interest in the further proliferation of fossil fuel usage plow cash into ‘scientific’ studies to protect their interests.

The oil giant ExxonMobil has admitted that its support for lobby groups that question the science of climate change may have hindered action to tackle global warming…

…shareholders including the Rockefeller family will urge ExxonMobil to take the problem of climate change more seriously. Green campaigners accuse the company of funding a “climate denial industry” over the last decade, with $23m (£11.5m) handed over to groups that play down the risks of burning fossil fuels…

…A survey carried out by the UK’s Royal Society found that in 2005 ExxonMobil distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society said “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”.

Source: The Guardian

The reality is crystal clear I think.


Big Ideas

March 26, 2008

It seems to me that there are two major areas of understanding that we need to grasp as a species and explore, but the majority never do, being so wrapped up in the mundane task of living day to day.

We need to understand what goes on inside us and what goes on outside us.

I know that seems like a rather stupid and obvious statement, but I make it referring to Philosophy and Physics  and how they combine and where.

I want to see what the Kierkegaard’s, the Kant’s, the Nietzsche’s see along with the Hawking’s, the Einsteins and the Feynman’s.  It’s a lifelong quest I know, but it’s one I undertake every day with baited breath while dealing with the mundane politics of Socialism, the equisit words of Plath, the philosophy of Buddhism and the unending wonders of my partner and daughter / step daughters.  Each has it’s own importance and I hold each dear to me.  It’s the juggling that maybe teaches me the most.


Games consoles reveal the supercomputer within

February 16, 2008

WHEN Todd Martínez broke his son’s Sony PlayStation he didn’t realise this would change the course of his career as a theoretical chemist. Having dutifully bought a PlayStation 2 as a replacement, he was browsing through the games console’s technical specification when he realised it might have another use. “I noticed that the architecture looked a lot like high-performance supercomputers I had seen before,” he says. “That’s when I thought about getting one for myself.”

Six years on and Martínez has persuaded the supercomputing centre at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to buy eight computers each driven by two of the specialised chips that are at the heart of Sony’s PlayStation 3 console. Together with his student Benjamin Levine he is using them to simulate the interactions between the electrons in atoms. Scaled up over entire molecules, the results could pave the way to predicting how a protein will interact with a drug.

Martínez and Levine are not the only researchers who have turned to gaming hardware to do their number crunching. That’s because the kinds of calculations required to produce the mouth-wateringly realistic graphics now seen in high-end video games are similar to those used by chemists and physicists as they simulate the interactions between particles in systems ranging in scale from the molecular to the astronomical. Rotating, enlarging or reflecting an object from one frame to the next in a game, for example, requires a technique called matrix multiplication. Modelling the interactions between thousands of electrons in a molecule calls for similar techniques.

Such simulations are usually carried out on a supercomputer, but time on these machines is expensive and in short supply. By comparison, games consoles are cheap and easily available, and they come with the added bonus of some innovative hardware. For example, the Wii, made by Nintendo, has a motion-tracking remote control unit that is far cheaper than a comparable device would be if researchers had to build it from scratch.

One key advance is the ease with which scientists can now program games consoles for their own purposes. Although consoles do a great job of rendering images, games programs don’t require software to save data once it has been used to render the image. Scientists, by contrast, need to be able to store the results of the calculations they have fed into their machines.

Things started to get easier in 2002, when demand from computer enthusiasts who wanted to use their PlayStations as fully fledged desktop machines prompted Sony to release software that allowed the PlayStation 2 to run the Linux operating system. That allowed scientists to reprogram the consoles to run their calculations. Then in 2006 came the big breakthrough, with the launch by IBM, Sony and Toshiba of the Cell chip that now drives Sony’s PlayStation 3 (see Timeline). With one central processor and eight “servant” processors (New Scientist, 19 February 2005, p 23), it is vastly more powerful than the PS2 chip, and was designed from day 1 to run Linux.

The release of the Cell has accelerated  research into black holes by Gaurav Khanna, an astrophysicist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He has strung together 16 PS3 consoles to calculate the properties of the gravity waves that are expected to be produced when two black holes merge. Meanwhile, a collaboration between IBM and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is using the Cell’s ability to render high-resolution video graphics to do the same with data gathered by MRI and other medical scanning techniques. The aim is to make diagnosis easier and faster – by using the images to determine whether a tumour has grown or shrunk, for example.

Other researchers are pushing for even more speed. One of Martínez’s students, Ivan Ufimtsev, is experimenting with the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX graphical processing unit (GPU) for PCs, which was released in November 2006. The GPU has 128 processors – compared to the Cell’s eight – and when slotted into a PC, helps turn it into a high-quality gaming engine. To start with, these cards were hard to program, just like the PS2 without the Linux add-on, but NVIDIA soon cottoned on to the sales opportunities that scientists like Martínez could offer for its product. In February 2007 it released the Compute Unified Device Architecture, a software package that allows the C programming language to be used to program the GPUs.

The results were staggering. When Martínez used it to simulate the repulsion between two electrons in an atom, he found that the calculation ran 130 times faster than it did on an ordinary desktop computer (Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation, DOI: 10.1021/ct700268q). He is now calculating the energy of the electrons in 1000 atoms, which add up to the size of a small protein. “We can now do the things we were killing ourselves to do,” he says.

Martínez predicts that it will soon be possible to use the GPU to predict more accurately which drug molecules will most strongly interact with a protein and how they will react, which could revolutionise pharmaceutical research. Similarly, Koji Yasuda at Nagoya University in Japan reported in a paper published this month (Journal of Computational Chemistry, vol 29, p 334) that he used the same GPU to map the electron energies in two molecules: the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel and the cyclic peptide valinomycin.

Games hardware still isn’t perfect for science. The Cell’s eight processors and the NVIDIA GPUs are forced to round decimal numbers to seven decimal places. As numbers are repeatedly multiplied together, this small error becomes magnified. In a game, the result might be nothing more serious than a car appearing slightly closer to a wall than it should, but in research such inaccuracies can be show-stoppers.

It’s not just the chips that researchers can usefully borrow from gaming hardware. Take the Wii’s hand-held remote control, which contains an accelerometer that can sense in which direction it is being moved, and how vigorously. It transmits this information via a Bluetooth link to the console, where it is used to adjust the graphics to respond to the player’s movements in real time.
Monitoring Parkinson’s

The device recently grabbed attention as a tool for surgeons to improve their technique (New Scientist, 19 January, p 24). Meanwhile, neurologist Thomas Davis at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, is using it to measure movement deficiencies in Parkinson’s patients. By attaching up to four Wii remotes to different limbs, Davis captures data for tremor, speed and smoothness of movement, and gait. This data is then sent via the Bluetooth link to a laptop running software that allows Davis to assess quantitatively how well a patient can move. Davis hopes this can be used in clinical trials for Parkinson’s drugs to replace the scoring scales now used, which are based on a doctor observing a patient’s condition.

Others are using the console to assess the progress of patients who have had a stroke or a head injury by monitoring their performance as they play Wii games. Johnny Chung Lee at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is using the Wii remote as a virtual reality research tool. As the wearer’s head moves, the Wii tracks it and displays images dependent on where the wearer is looking. Meanwhile, a team at the University of Valladolid in Spain hopes to use the Wii remote to rotate and manipulate ultrasound images more intuitively.

Computer gamers have always hankered after the latest console or PC hardware to run ever more realistic-looking games. Now scientists are lining up right beside them.

From issue 2643 of New Scientist magazine, 16 February 2008, page 26-27

And not an xbox360 in sight….


Frightening

January 30, 2008

Science can be absolutely chilling at times.


Ethical storm as scientist becomes first man to clone himself

January 20, 2008

By FIONA MACRAE

A scientist has achieved a world first… by cloning himself.In a breakthrough certain to provoke an ethical furore, Samuel Wood created embryo copies of himself by placing his skin cells in a woman’s egg.

The embryos were the first to be made from cells taken from adult humans.

Although they survived for only five days and were smaller than a pinhead, they are seen as a milestone in the quest for treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

But critics fear the technology could be exploited by mavericks to clone babies and accused the scientists of reducing the miracle of human life to a factory of spare parts.

Researchers from the Californian stem cell research company Stemagen employed the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, to create the embryos.

They took eggs donated by young women having IVF and replaced genetic material with DNA from the skin cells of two men.

The eggs were then zapped with an electric current to induce fertilisation and the creation of embryos.

Some of the skin cells came from Dr Wood, Stemagen’s chief executive officer and a leading fertility specialist, while the others came from another member of staff.

The result was a handful of embryos, at least three of them clones of Dr Wood and the other man.

Although all were destroyed in the process, the technique is seen as a vital step in the creation of cloned embryos rich in stem cells, which are “master cells” capable of becoming any type of body tissue.

Such stem cells could be invaluable in the study of diseases and the testing of drugs.

They could ultimately be used to replace the damaged tissues behind diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes.

Stem cells taken from cloned embryos would be a perfect match to the patient, whose body would not reject them.

Dr Wood, who has degrees in medicine, psychology, biochemistry and molecular biophysics, called the research “a critical milestone” in the development of treatments.

The unmarried father of two, who is in his forties, is working on extracting stem cells from such embryos – a process that inevitably leads to the death of the embryo.

John Smeaton, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “We have got scientists wandering around in an ethical wilderness, forgetting about matters of justice relating to our fellow human beings.

“We have people creating human beings with the intention of destroying them. That’s appalling.”

And the Vatican condemned the cloning of human embryos, calling it the “worst type of exploitation of the human being”.

“This ranks among the most morally illicit acts, ethically speaking,” said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican department that helps oversee the Church’s position on bioethics issues.

Stem cell experts gave the U.S. breakthrough, published in the journal Stem Cells, a cautious welcome.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, said: “This is another step along what has turned out to be a tortuous road.

“However, it is still a long way from the goal of achieving embryonic stem cells.”

U.S. researcher Professor Robert Lanza questioned the validity of the research and said the embryos looked “very unhealthy”.

Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment On Reproductive Ethics, said: “Human cloning is unethical, unsafe, and completely unnecessary.

“It is time that scientists started to put some brakes on.”

Dr Calum MacKellar, of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said the creation and destruction of human embryos was “extremely offensive to millions in the UK”.

Although Dr Wood’s team is the first to create human embryos from adult cells, human embryos have been cloned before.

Scientists at Newcastle University created cloned human embryos in 2005 using cells from embryos rather than adults, seen as less useful in creating potential treatments.

British law says created embryos must be destroyed in 14 days and cannot be implanted in a woman.

The news came as it was revealed that animal-human hybrid embryos will be created in British laboratories within weeks after the research was allowed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Two teams have been licensed to make cow-human hybrids for research into incurable diseases.

Scientists say they are needed because of a shortage of human eggs for research.

The embryos would be more than 99 per cent human and would have to be destroyed after two weeks.

But Mr Smeaton said: “It is creating a category of beings regarded as sub-human who can be used as raw material to benefit other members of the human family.

“How wrong can something be before a scientist understands you cannot just do it because of the perceived good for human beings.”

I’m not sure where I stand on this.  I think the fact that we have the ability to do this is amazing.  As for the ethical aspects, I’ll have to reserve judgment.


The first ever image of the far side of Mercury

January 16, 2008

UPDATED 1/15/2008 6:34:00 PM –Since our first close-up glimpses of Mercury in the 1970s, we’ve been left to wonder: “What does the rest of Mercury look like?” When it imaged the first planet from the Sun in 1974, NASA’s Mariner 10 space probe was only able to capture 45 per cent of Mercury’s surface as it flew by. Now, the US space agency’s latest craft – MESSENGER – has photographed the planet closer and in more detail than ever before, revealing what looks to be an extreme version of Earth’s Moon, with craters inside craters, inside craters.

As of 2:00 pm ET on Jan 14, Messenger passed within 200 km of Mercury’s surface – far closer than the 700 km above the surface that Mariner 10 passed 33 years ago. NASA’s latest ambassador into the solar system will have far more advanced instruments trained on Mercury this time around, than its distant cousin did back in the Apollo era.

Unlike Mariner 10, MESSENGER will stop and stay a while, eventually settling into orbit in 2011. Before that, it will make two more flybys: later in 2008 and 2009. During this series of flybys and orbits, MESSENGER will try to solve more than a few mysteries about the closest planet to the Sun…

Amazing


Size isn’t everything

January 9, 2008

Came across the video on my travels. Not your average size of planets video, shows how insignificant we actually are.