An 18-year-old from Canada has invented a way to clean up the toxic waste produced from extracting oil from tar sands. Hayley Todesco used knowledge gained from fifth grade science to come up with a filtration system using sand and bacteria to quickly break down the waste.

This waste is usually stored in tailings ponds, where it will take centuries to break down. In 2010, tailings ponds took up about 68 square miles (176 square kilometers), but by 2020 that area is expected to grow to 96.5 square miles (250 square kilometers), all full of toxic waste.
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source: treehugger has a photo of her in her lab
13 September 2014 @ 01:43 pm
Bacteria living on human bodies contain genes that are likely to code for a vast number of drug-like molecules — including a new antibiotic made by bacteria that live in the vagina, researchers report in this week's issue of Cell1.

“They have shown that there is a huge diverse potential of the microbiome for producing antimicrobial molecules,” says Marc Ouellette, a microbiologist at the University of Laval's Hospital Centre (CHUL) in Quebec, Canada, who was not involved in the research.

Studies have suggested that the composition of our microbiomes — the whole suite of bacteria living on our bodies — has huge impacts on our health, but it has been difficult to show exactly how this works.

Michael Fischbach, a microbiologist and chemist at the University of California, San Francisco, led a team that aimed to fill in those blanks. The researchers built a machine-learning algorithm, training a computer program to recognize genes that are already known to make small molecules that could act as drugs. Then they asked the program to hunt for similar genes in the human microbiome. The search yielded thousands of these drug-making genes within microbes living on and in the body. Some are similar to drugs being tested in clinical trials, such as a class of antibiotics called thiopeptides.

“We used to think that drugs were discovered by drug companies and prescribed by a physician and then they get to you,” Fischbach says. “What we’ve found here is that bacteria that live on and inside of humans are doing an end-run around that process; they make drugs right on your body.”
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source: Nature
Conservationists will fall silent at noon today to mark the hundredth anniversary of the death of Martha, the last ever passenger pigeon – just as a new project is set up to bring the species back from the dead.

The iconic clock will stop at Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha died in her cage on September 1, 1914, ending a demise that was so dramatic that it represents the most extreme extinction in modern history.

The North American passenger pigeon – or wild pigeon – was once so abundant it accounted for 40 per cent of the continent’s birds when Europeans first arrived in the 16th Century, and even by the 1860s it still accounted for one in four birds.

One flock in southern Ontario was reported to be a mile wide, 300 miles long, containing 3.5 billion birds that took 14 hours to pass and eclipsed the sun from noon until nightfall.

However, in the following decades, messages sent across newly-installed telegraph lines enabled hunters to track the movements of a flock and set up ambushes in advance of its arrival, while the developing railroad made it easier to transport them to markets in the rapidly growing urban centres. The deforestation that resulted from agricultural and urban development also took its toll.

Less than 50 years later, not a single one of the multi-billion population remained.
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source: The Independent UK
India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), termed as Mangalyaan, launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on 5 November 2013 has completed 90% of its journey towards the Red Planet.

ISRO announced that Mangalyaan is close to reach its orbit. Remaining 10% of its journey will be completed in four weeks' time.
The mission holds a lot of importance for India. It is one of the most important and advanced space mission for India and its success will place India in the league of the US, Russia, European Union, Japan and China.

India is putting more money into its space projects. The MOM has cost India $75 million and is considered to be the most cost effective mission of such a nature in the history of space exploration. Similar US mission has cost NASA around $800 million.

Since its launch date, Mangalyaan has travelled around 680 million km. Though MOM has completed majority of its journey, ISRO said it would face difficulty in the next phase. As per ISRO, Mangalyaan will face problem in restarting the onboard liquid engine, as it is in slumber mode for around 10 months.

"However, necessary redundancy and other measures have been incorporated in the spacecraft design and we hope, not to face much problem in restarting the engine", affirmed the officials.

Mangalyaan was launched from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. By September 24, it will reach Mars atmosphere. ISRO said that on September 24, the manoeuvring of the spacecraft will start at around 7.30 am IST.

Its speed will be reduced, so that the spacecraft can enter into the orbit. Everything is going well and the spacecraft and its payloads are in good condition.
The ISRO has always regularly updated about the MOM's status as how far it is from earth and how much distance it has traveled to complete its Mars mission.

source: Austrian Tribune
In nearly 3 million data centers across the United States, some 12 million machines serve up the emails, web pages, and files we access online every day. They're the repositories of all our computerized information.

The high energy demand of those servers is well documented, but up to 30 percent of them are drawing power without actually doing anything.

These "zombie," or comatose, servers are among the examples of energy waste documented in a report about U.S. data centers released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). If those facilities were to cut electricity consumption by 40 percent—half of what is possible using the tools now available to improve efficiency—the electricity savings would amount to $3.8 billion and 39 billion kilowatt-hours, according to the report.

That's enough to power 3.5 million American homes.

Large companies such as Google, Facebook, eBay, and Microsoft are already highly efficient, a result of major resources and huge scale, but their share of electricity use is just 5 percent of total data center consumption in the United States.

"Our concern is more about the other 95 percent," said Pierre Delforge, who co-authored the new report, which focuses on corporate data centers, small- and mid-size server rooms, and firms that manage data for a variety of clients, which are called multi-tenant data centers.

Underworked Servers

One of the main ways that data centers use energy is to keep all those large, humming server machines cool. The industry has made significant progress in this area, some using upgraded systems that can generate power from waste heat or use outside air in cooler climates.

But how the machines themselves are being operated leaves a lot of room for improvement, the report finds. That millions of servers are running at only 10 to 15 percent capacity—or, in the case of zombie servers, at zero, is "one of the lesser known issues," Delforge said.
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source: National Geographic
Energy efficiency is pretty well the low hanging fruit of fighting global warming.
Oklahoma’s Geology Survey recorded an unprecedented 20 small earthquakes across the state on Tuesday, highlighting the dramatic increase of seismic activity that has occurred there as the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing — otherwise known as fracking — has spread across the state.

Though 18 out of the 20 earthquakes that occurred Tuesday were below Magnitude 3, rendering them mostly imperceptible, the largest one registered as a 4.3 near Guthrie, a city of more than 10,000 residents. And while U.S. Geological Survey scientists have said that Oklahoma is historically known as “earthquake country,” they also warn that quakes have been steadily on the rise; from 1978 until 2008, the average rate of earthquakes registering a magnitude of 3.0 or more was only two per year.

“No documented cases of induced seismicity have ever come close to the current earthquake rates or the area over which the earthquakes are occurring,” the Oklahoma Geology Survey said in a recent presentation addressing the alarming increase in quakes. By “induced seismicity,” the OGS is referring to minor earthquakes that are caused by human activity, whether that be fracking, mass removal mining, reservoir impoundment, or geothermal production — anything that could disrupt existing fault lines.

One of the most researched human activities that could be causing the dramatic increase in earthquakes is fracking. The process that could be causing the quakes is not the fuel extraction itself, but a process called “wastewater injection,” in which companies take the leftover water used to frack natural gas wells and inject it deep into the ground. Scientists increasingly believe that the large amount of water that is injected into the ground after a well is fracked can change the state of stress on existing fault lines to the point of failure, causing earthquakes.
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source: think Progress

A hitchhiking robot has completed a 3,700-mile journey across Canada Sunday, capping off a research project that explores the relationship between robots and humans.

A team of researchers from a group of Canadian universities created hitchBOT, a talking robot made out of a bucket, garden gloves and rain boots that set out on its coast-to-coast Canadian trip in Nova Scotia on July 26. It finished the journey in Victoria, British Columbia.

hitchBOT was brought to life to “explore topics in human-robot-interaction and to test technologies in artificial intelligence and speech recognition and processing,” researchers said in a press release.

“Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots,” said Dr. Frauke Zeller, Assistant Professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. “This project asks: can robots trust human beings?”
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source: PBS Newshour
The best mimic of a human brain we have to date isn’t a program running on a sophisticated supercomputer, but a blob of silk and collagen gel that more closely resembles a preschooler’s art project than a state-of-the-art neuroscience research program.

The blob, which contains live neurons that signal one another across the membrane’s center, is evidence that a brain-like substance can exist and survive outside of the body, and for quite some time. It’s also the first time scientists have been able to closely imitate mechanics of the brain in the laboratory. David Kaplan, a bioengineer at Tufts University, and his colleagues published their results Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

While the current model only uses rat neurons, adding human neurons to the mix could help scientists better understand various neurobiological functions. It could also aid important research on the effect of disease, trauma, and drugs on the brain.

This crafty doughnut-shaped blob contains rat neurons that communicate with one another in ways similar to the brain.
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source: NOVA
Once the figment of science fiction authors’ imaginations, tractor beams are inching closer to reality. Two techniques, published within two weeks of each other, detail researchers’ recent—and successful—attempts to manipulate objects without touching them. Both appear to use the same general principles, and the results are nothing short of surreal.

The first group, composed of researchers from four U.K. universities, spent nine months perfecting their tractor beam, which used sonic beams to guide a small, half-inch prism. Sound waves, like other waves, produce pressure, which can move an object away from the source of the sound. It’s how we hear—our eardrums are pushed away by the minute pulses of air that sound is composed of. Those vibrations are then reconstructed as sound by our brains.

But a real tractor beam can’t just push objects, it has to move them toward the source. To do that, the researchers focused ultrasonic waves just past the object. Laura Parker, reporting for the New Yorker:

“It’s a relatively simple concept, but it’s just obscured by complex math,” [co-author Christine Démoré] told me. “By shaping a beam of energy so that it goes around an object in some way, hitting it in the back, it’s possible to then pull the object instead of push it.”

The second group, this one from the Australian National University, used a similar approach. Rather than using sound waves, though, they produced waves in a tank of water. When the waves were small, they exerted positive pressure on a ping-pong ball floating in the tank. Like splashing at a beach ball in a pool, an outward flowing current carried the ping-pong ball away from the wave source.

But when the waves got bigger, the wave pattern started getting weird. Rather than successive rows of waves forming in front of the wave maker, an array of peaks started appearing. The current directly in front of the device, which had been flowing outward when the waves were small, started flowing in. By changing the amplitude of the waves, the researchers could move the ping-pong ball at will.

Jonathan Webb, reporting for BBC News:

“We can engineer surface flows of practically any shape,” said Prof Michael Shats, the paper’s senior author. “These could be vortices, these could be outward and inward jets – it’s a variety of different flow configurations.”

It will, of course, be several years before large ships are able to retrieve their dinghies via tractor beam, but the Australian team is confident that the technique could be used on open water, not just in a tank in a lab.

After that, who knows? Between early photon-powered tractor beams and these latest sonic and aquatic versions, tractor beams are seeming less fictional every day.

Source: NOVA
The silver-haired monster with the orange fangs hadn’t been seen in Ohio in more than 60 years, and some people wondered if it had been lost forever.

But this past weekend, a group of naturalists poking around the Edge of Appalachia preserve at the southern tip of Ohio peered into a burrow.

There it was. Fine, slate-gray fur. Black and white stripes along its belly. As big as your palm.

Jim McCormac, one of the naturalists who found the spider’s burrow, said the group knew immediately what it had discovered: A Carolina wolf spider — Hogna carolinensis — the largest wolf spider in America.

“It’s the holy grail of arachnids,” said McCormac, who works for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
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