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Sleepy Port of Dunwich Is about to Yield Its Secrets

from the Times (London)

As a great port on the East of England, Dunwich was nothing short of a medieval metropolis. Eight churches, eighty ships, five religious orders - including the Benedictines, Dominicans and Franciscans - and prosperity to rival London from its trade in wool, grain, fish and furs.

Such was the city's prestige that, under Edward I, it was granted two seats in Parliament.

But that was before Dunwich was swallowed by the sea. [Last week], more than five centuries after the last of a succession of storms and sea surges battered the Suffolk city into little more than a village, a research team will set sail to discover the secrets of a British Atlantis.

Using the latest acoustic imaging technology ... the researchers hope to reveal Dunwich in its prime.

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Military Supercomputer Sets Record

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

SAN FRANCISCO - An American military supercomputer, assembled from components originally designed for video game machines, has reached a long-sought-after computing milestone by processing more than 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second.

The new machine is more than twice as fast as the previous fastest supercomputer, the I.B.M. BlueGene/L, which is based at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The new $133 million supercomputer, called Roadrunner in a reference to the state bird of New Mexico, was devised and built by engineers and scientists at I.B.M. and Los Alamos National Laboratory, based in Los Alamos, N.M. It will be used principally to solve classified military problems to ensure that the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons will continue to work correctly as they age. The Roadrunner will simulate the behavior of the weapons in the first fraction of a second during an explosion.

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Natural Lab Shows Sea's Acid Path

from BBC News Online

Natural carbon dioxide vents on the sea floor are showing scientists how carbon emissions will affect marine life.

Dissolved CO2 makes water more acidic, and around the vents, researchers saw a fall in species numbers, and snails with their shells disintegrating.

Writing in the journal Nature, the UK scientists suggest these impacts are likely to be seen across the world as CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere. Some of the extra CO2 emitted enters the oceans, acidifying waters globally.

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Iran Makes the Sciences A Part of Its Revolution

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

TEHRAN - As Burton Richter, an American Nobel laureate in physics, entered the main auditorium of Tehran's prestigious Sharif University, hundreds of students rose to give him a loud and lengthy ovation. But Richter, wearing a white suit and leaning on a cane, said he was the one who should be awed.

"The students here are very impressive," Richter said, lauding the high level of education at Sharif. "I expect to hear a lot more from you all in the future."

The students ... giggled in their seats. A woman took pictures of the Stanford professor emeritus, whose visit last month was part of a privately funded academic program run by the National Academies of the United States and universities in Iran.

http://snipurl.com/2elbv

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Unknown Problem Interrupts Mars Lander's Task

from the San Francisco Examiner

PHOENIX (Associated Press) - The first sample of Martian dirt dumped onto the opening of the Phoenix lander's tiny testing oven failed to reach the instrument and scientists said Saturday they will devote a few days to trying to determine the cause.

Photos released by the University of Arizona team overseeing the mission showed a scoopful of dirt sitting on and around the open oven door after being dumped by the craft's 8-foot robot arm.

But none of it made it past a screen and into the tiny chamber, one of eight on the craft designed to heat soil and test gasses for signs of water or organic compounds that could be building blocks for life.

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Stem Cells Apparently Cure Boy's Fatal Disease

from the Los Angeles Times

Using stem cells from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow, researchers have apparently cured a fatal genetic disease in a 2-year-old Minneapolis boy, which could open the door for other stem cell treatments.

For the first time in his life, Nate Liao is wearing normal clothes, eating food that has not been pureed, and playing with his siblings.

... Nate suffers from recessive epidermolysis bullosa, which affects 1 in 100,000 children. They lack a critical protein called collagen type VII that anchors the skin and lining of the gastrointestinal system to the body. Their skin is extraordinarily fragile.

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Running in Circles Over Carbon

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON - Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is a fine idea, and a lot of companies would be proud to do it. But they would prefer to be second, if not third or fourth. This is not a good way to get started in fighting global warming.

As efforts to pass a global warming bill collapsed in the Senate last week, companies that burn coal to make electricity were looking for a way to build a plant that would capture its emissions. There is a will and a way - several ways, in fact - to do just that.

Capturing carbon from these plants may become a lot more important soon. Emissions from coal-fired power plants already account for about 27 percent of American greenhouse emissions, but as prices for other fuels rise, along with power demand, utilities will burn more coal.


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Brighter Future for Solar Panels: Silicon Shortage Eases

from the Christian Science Monitor
 
Quartz, the raw material for solar panels, is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. But for years, the solar industry has faced a bottleneck in processing quartz into polysilicon, a principal material used in most solar panels. The problem stalled a steady decline in prices for solar panels.
 
Now the silicon shortage may be coming to an end, predict some solar analysts, thanks to new factories coming online.
 
If true, the price for solar panel modules could start falling by as much as a third by 2010, says Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development in Cambridge, Mass. That’s good news for an industry that remains one of the most expensive power sources.

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Decline in Teen Sex Levels Off, Survey Shows

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)
 
The nation's campaign to get more teenagers to delay sex and to use condoms is faltering, threatening to undermine the highly successful effort to reduce teen pregnancy and protect young people from sexually transmitted diseases, federal officials reported yesterday.
 
New data from a large government survey show that by every measure, a decade-long decline in sexual activity among high school students leveled off between 2001 and 2007, and that the rise in condom use by teens flattened out in 2003.
 
Moreover, the survey found disturbing hints that teen sexual activity may have begun creeping up and that condom use among high school students might be edging downward, though those trend lines have not yet reached a point where statisticians can be sure, officials said.

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Egypt Uncovers 'Missing' Pyramid of a Pharaoh

from the San Francisco Examiner
 
Egyptian archaeologists unveiled on Thursday a 4,000-year-old "missing pyramid" that is believed to have been discovered by an archaeologist almost 200 years ago and never seen again.
 
Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, said the pyramid appears to have been built by King Menkauhor, an obscure pharaoh who ruled for only eight years.
 
In 1842, German archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius mentioned it among his finds at Saqqara, referring to it as number 29 and calling it the "Headless Pyramid" because only its base remains. But the desert sands covered the discovery, and no archaeologist since has been able to find Menkauhor's resting place.

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Study Secretly Tracked Cellphone Users

from the Seattle Times
 
Researchers secretly tracked the locations of 100,000 people outside the United States through their cellphone use and concluded that most people rarely stray more than a few miles from home.
 
The first-of-its-kind study by Northeastern University raises privacy and ethical questions for its monitoring methods, which would be illegal in the United States.
 
It also yielded somewhat surprising results that reveal how little people move around in their daily lives. Nearly three-quarters of those studied mainly stayed within a 20-mile-wide circle for half a year.

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Ancient "Human Sacrifices" Found in Peru, Expert Says

from National Geographic News
 
Three possible human sacrifice victims have been found at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in Peru, an archaeologist says.
 
The apparently mutilated, partial skeletons could overturn the peaceful reputation of the Pre-Ceramic period (3000 B.C. to 1800 B.C.) in the Andes mountains -- a time generally seen as free of ritualized killing and warfare.
 
Outside experts caution, however, that such claims remain unproven. Alejandro Chu Barrera, who led the dig, said: "We found two pairs of legs -- probably young females around their 20s -- and the decapitated body of a young male in his 20s. They appear to have been ritually killed." Chu directs the Archaeological Project of Bandurria at the 133-acre site 90 miles (140 kilometers) outside of present-day Lima.
 
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'Herds' of Wary Cars Could Keep an Eye Out for Thieves

from New Scientist
 
A new approach to car alarms gets vehicles to watch each others' backs like a herd of animals under threat from predators.
 
The security system relies on networks of cars constantly gossiping with their neighbours using concealed wireless transmitters. The cars raise the alarm when a thief tries to make a getaway with any of their number.
 
"Multiple sensors hidden within the car would make it difficult, if not impossible, for a car thief to disable the system in a short period of time," says Hui Song from Frostburg State University, Maryland, US, who designed the system -- called SVATS (Sensor-network-based Vehicle Anti-theft System) -- with colleagues at Pennsylvania State University.
 
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Gamma-Ray Telescope to Open New Window on Cosmic Explosions

from Scientific American
 
NASA on Saturday is set to launch the next generation of space-based gamma-ray detectors. If all goes as planned, GLAST - for Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope - will within months begin to send back detailed, real-time data on the most energetic explosions and flare-ups the cosmos has to offer.
 
You may think of gamma rays as tools for scorching tumors or maybe as the stuff of comic book and TV lore .... In fact, gamma rays are very high energy x-rays produced when powerful energetic forces strongly accelerate electrons and send them hurtling through space.
 
GLAST will fill a blind spot in researchers' view of the heavens by scanning a wide swath of gamma rays, including a stretch of spectrum never before observed by ground- or space-based telescopes.
 
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Research Finds Wide Disparities in Health Care by Race and Region

from the New York Times (Registration Required)
 
Race and place of residence can have a staggering impact on the course and quality of the medical treatment a patient receives, according to new research showing that blacks with diabetes or vascular disease are nearly five times more likely than whites to have a leg amputated and that women in Mississippi are far less likely to have mammograms than those in Maine.
 
The study, by researchers at Dartmouth, examined Medicare claims for evidence of racial and geographic disparities and found that on a variety of quality indices, blacks typically were less likely to receive recommended care than whites within a given region. But the most striking disparities were found from place to place.
 
For instance, the widest racial gaps in mammogram rates within a state were in California and Illinois, with a difference of 12 percentage points between the white rate and the black rate.
 
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Blood-Sucking Device Saves Heart Patients, Study Shows

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)
 
A vacuum-cleaner-like device that sucks blood clots out of the arteries of heart attack victims before angioplasty reduces the death rate in the following year by nearly half, researchers reported today.
 
By physically removing clots, the device prevents loose fragments from breaking off, flowing through the bloodstream and blocking other vessels.
 
Based on preliminary results from this study and others, cardiovascular surgeons in many large centers are already using the technique to improve outcomes for their patients.
 
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Plan for Quake 'Warning System'

from BBC News Online

Nasa scientists have said they could be on the verge of a breakthrough in their efforts to forecast earthquakes. Researchers say they have found a close link between electrical disturbances on the edge of our atmosphere and impending quakes on the ground below.

Just such a signal was spotted in the days leading up to the recent devastating event in China. They have teamed up with experts in the UK to investigate a possible space-based early warning system.

Many in the scientific community remain deeply sceptical about whether such signals are indeed indicators of an approaching earthquake. But Minoru Freund, a physicist ... at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California, told BBC News: "I do believe that we will be able to establish a clear correlation between certain earthquakes and certain pre-earthquake signals, in an unbiased way."

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Bees Translate Dances of Foreign Species

from the Guardian (UK)

Honeybees can communicate with others from far-off continents by learning to interpret their dance moves, scientists have found.

The world's nine species of honeybee separated about 30m years ago and have since developed their own diverse dances, which are used like languages.

One of the most important moves is the waggle dance, which foraging honeybees use to tell workers back at the nest how far away and in which direction they will find a new source of nectar. In the dance, bees shake rapidly from side to side as they move forward, before looping around and starting again.

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Synthetic Yeast to Brew Up Vital Malaria Drug

from New Scientist

A synthetic organism could be producing enough of a key malaria drug to treat the world within three years.

A species of yeast has been fitted with synthetic genes that make a compound called artemisinin, which is used to treat multi-drug resistant strains of malaria. The chemical is currently extracted from a Chinese wormwood shrub called Artemisia annua, but this is a relatively expensive process.

Jay Keasling, of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues announced 2 years ago that they had engineered artimisinic acid-producing yeast by inserting around 12 synthetic genes which had been copied from A. annua and several other species. They have now optimised the process and are scaling it up for industrial production in partnership with drugs giant Sanofi-Aventis.

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Microsoft, Google Fighting for Unused Spectrum between TV Channels

from Scientific American

Microsoft, Google and several more of the world's largest and most influential technology companies have found a way to provide wireless Internet access that is so fast it makes today's Wi-Fi networks seem as sluggish as dial-up service.

The prospect, however, has big media broadcasters up in arms, because this blazing-fast network access may hamper television signals when they go digital next year. In a test conducted last year by the Federal Communications Commission, wireless devices blanked out digital programming on nearby television sets.

At the heart of the dilemma are so-called white spaces, the chunks of unused bandwidth layered between TV channels that are designed to keep broadcast signals from interfering with one another. These spaces will get even bigger on February 17, 2009, the legally mandated day for TV broadcasts to go completely digital, freeing up more of the airwaves.

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Drug Companies Drain Scientific Brains from FDA

from USA Today

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - When pharmaceutical consulting firm Quintiles wants to hire a new employee, the first place it looks is the Food and Drug Administration. These former insiders bring critical expertise to the consultant and clients like Merck & Co. and Pfizer, but there is also an unintended downside.

As companies siphon off FDA's most experienced scientists, they leave an increasingly leaner, less confident staff that is hesitant to put new drugs on the market, analysts say.

FDA's staffing pains -- exacerbated by the departure of a baby boomers and increasing competition for science graduates -- has caught the attention of lawmakers and consumers, who blame declining inspections for a string of problems with tainted food and drugs.

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New Milky Way Map Created; Shows Fewer Main Arms

from National Geographic News

Astronomers unveiled [Tuesday] what they are calling the best map ever produced of the Milky Way galaxy. The new view shows our spiral galaxy as it would look face-on to a very distant observer.

The map is based on findings about the structural evolution of the Milky Way presented this week at the 212th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Missouri.

Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was among the scientists who presented results at a briefing [Tuesday] with reporters. The researchers determined that the Milky Way actually has two fewer major arms than previously believed.

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Marked-Up Birds Become Sexier, Exude Testosterone

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - A little strategically placed makeup quickly turns the wimpiest of male barn swallows into chick magnets, amping up their testosterone and even trimming their weight, new research shows. It's a "clothes make the man" lesson that -- with some caveats -- also applies to human males, researchers say.

Using a $5.99 marker, scientists darkened the rust-colored breast feathers of male New Jersey barn swallows, turning lighter birds to the level of those naturally darkest.

They had already found, in a test three years ago, that the marked-up males were more attractive to females and mated more often. This time they found out that the more attractive appearance, at least in the bird world, triggered changes to the animals' body chemistry, increasing testosterone.

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New Hints Seen That Red Wine May Slow Aging

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Red wine may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan, researchers say in a new report that is likely to give impetus to the rapidly growing search for longevity drugs.

The study is based on dosing mice with resveratrol, an ingredient of some red wines. Some scientists are already taking resveratrol in capsule form, but others believe it is far too early to take the drug, especially using wine as its source, until there is better data on its safety and effectiveness.

The report is part of a new wave of interest in drugs that may enhance longevity. On Monday, Sirtris, a startup founded in 2004 to develop drugs with the same effects as resveratrol, completed its sale to GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million.

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Japan Space Lab Anchored to ISS

from BBC News Online

A team of astronauts has attached a $1-billion Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS). The 15-tonne Kibo lab was delivered by the shuttle Discovery. It will be the station's biggest room, for the study of biomedicine and material sciences.

Astronauts Akihiko Hoshide and Karen Nyberg manoeuvred Kibo into place, using the space station's robotic arm. The lab was anchored after two crew members had made preparations during a spacewalk lasting more than six hours.

Discovery docked at the ISS on Monday after a two-day voyage. As well as the Japanese laboratory, the shuttle has also brought a new pump for the station's toilet, which broke nearly two weeks ago.

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Time Warner's Net-Metering Precedent

from BusinessWeek

The decision by Time Warner Cable (TWC) to charge some Internet customers based on how much information they download was greeted with disdain by consumer groups and bloggers. Critics said the new pricing plan, to be tested in Beaumont, Tex., would discourage data usage and even stifle innovation.

But Time Warner's trial wasn't universally reviled. Other providers of Internet access said they would watch it closely and didn't rule out the prospect that they, too, might experiment with charges based on bandwith consumption.

Comcast (CMCSA), the largest U.S. cable company, said it's evaluating "a variety of models, including consumption-based billing." Verizon Communications (VZ) said it also sees the potential value of billing customers based on the volume of their Web use.

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Opponents of Evolution Adopting a New Strategy

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

DALLAS - Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to "creation science," which became "intelligent design," which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. ... Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution should be taught.

The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.

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Tight Arms Linked to Bigger Black Holes in Galaxies

from National Geographic News

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed an important relationship between supermassive black holes and spiral galaxies: The more massive the black hole, the tighter the host galaxy's arms.

"This means that to determine the mass of a supermassive black hole, you only need an image of a galaxy," said Marc Seigar of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Within the past decade astronomers have determined that almost every galaxy has a black hole lurking at its center that can range from ten thousand times to a billion times the mass of the sun.

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Of Two Minds When Making a Decision

from Scientific American

One of the more enduring ideas in psychology ... is the notion that human behavior is not the product of a single process, but rather reflects the interaction of different specialized subsystems.

These systems, the idea goes, usually interact seamlessly to determine behavior, but at times they may compete. The end result is that the brain sometimes argues with itself, as these distinct systems come to different conclusions about what we should do. The major distinction responsible for these internal disagreements is the one between automatic and controlled processes.

System 1 is generally automatic, affective and heuristic-based, which means that it relies on mental "shortcuts." It quickly proposes intuitive answers to problems as they arise. System 2, which corresponds closely with controlled processes, is slow, effortful, conscious, rule-based and also can be employed to monitor the quality of the answer provided by System 1. If it's convinced that our intuition is wrong, then it's capable of correcting or overriding the automatic judgments.

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Layoffs at Nuke Lab Stir Fears of a Brain Drain

from the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Registration Required)

SAN FRANCISCO (Associated Press) - The nation's top nuclear weapons design lab has laid off hundreds of workers, raising concerns about a brain drain and stirring fears that some of these highly specialized scientists will sell their expertise to foreign governments, perhaps hostile ones.

Because of budget cuts and higher costs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory laid off 440 employees May 22 and 23. Over the past 2 1/2 years, attrition and layoffs have reduced the work force of 8,000 by about 1,800 altogether.

According to a list obtained by The Associated Press, about 60 of the recently laid-off workers were engineers, around 30 were physicists and about 15 were chemists. Some, but not all, were involved in nuclear weapons work or nonproliferation efforts, and all had put in at least 20 years at the lab.

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