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FDA Panel Backs First Rapid, Take Home HIV Test

from USA Today

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - American consumers may soon be able to test themselves for the virus that causes AIDS in the privacy of their own homes, after a panel of experts on Tuesday recommended approval of the first rapid, over-the-counter HIV test.

The 17 members of the federal Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously that the benefits of the OraQuick HIV test outweigh its potential risks for consumers. While the test, which uses a mouth swab to return a result in 20 minutes, does not appear to be as accurate as professionally-administered diagnostics, panelists said it could provide an important way to expand HIV testing.

The FDA will make its final decision on whether to approve the product later this year, weighing the opinion of the panel. Government officials estimate one-fifth, or about 240,000 people, of the 1.2 million HIV carriers in the U.S. are not aware they are infected. Testing is one of the chief means of slowing new infections, which have held steady at about 50,000 per year for two decades.

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Milestone for Wi-Fi with 'T-Rays'

from BBC News Online

Researchers in Japan have smashed the record for wireless data transmission in the terahertz band, an uncharted part of the electro-magnetic spectrum. The data rate is 20 times higher than the best commonly used wi-fi standard.

As consumers become ever more hungry for high data rates, standard lower-frequency bands have become crowded. The research, published in Electronics Letters, adds to the idea that this "T-ray" band could offer huge swathes of bandwidth for data transmission.

The band lies between the microwave and far-infrared regions of the spectrum, and is currently completely unregulated by telecommunications agencies. Despite the name, the band informally makes use of frequencies from about 300 gigahertz (300GHz or about 60 times higher than the current highest wi-fi standard) to about 3THz, 10 times higher again.

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Robots Are Coming to a Farm Near You

from NPR

In the Star Wars movies, moisture farmers on dry planets like Tattoine use droids to help with the repetitive, back-breaking labor, but that's in a galaxy far, far away. There's no doubt that robots are cool, but are robots on farms far off in our future?

Actually, the future is already here, with highly advanced milking machines on some dairy farms and a fully automated robot tractor set to hit the market this fall.

To be sure, today's farmers already rely on advanced technology, like GPS systems to help with planting and automatic milkers. That makes the jump to robotics pretty easy, says Jeremy Brown, president of Jaybridge Robotics. His Massachusetts-based company makes software that helps turn regular machinery into robotic machinery for commercial use.

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Earthquakes in a Box

from ScienceNOW Daily News

As a first step toward predicting earthquakes, geophysicists are using computers to simulate the behavior of the world's most studied 25 kilometers of fault, the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas fault in central California. This storied bit of fault ruptures every 20 years on average in quakes of magnitude 6.0, causing minor damage in California cattle country and fascinating seismologists.

Now, researchers report that a relatively sophisticated model of the Parkfield segment can produce quakes that bear a striking resemblance to real ones. The simulations even suggest why the only official U.S. quake forecast ever made failed to get the timing of the latest Parkfield temblor right.

The trick to getting a computer to correctly forecast the time, place, and magnitude of a coming earthquake is giving a computer model's fault enough of the real fault's physical properties. To make their simulations reasonably realistic, geophysicists Sylvain Barbot, Nadia Lapusta, and Jean-Philippe Avouac of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena constructed a fault model based on both a century's worth of seismological theory and decades of Parkfield observations.

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Bringing Back San Juan Capistrano's Swallows Is One Tough Mission

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

A bird's call rings endlessly inside the adobe walls at Mission San Juan Capistrano as tourists wander through the courtyard--ablaze with flowers in full bloom--and a handful of fourth-graders snap pictures and take notes for class projects.

Hardly the sweet song of the nightingale, the sound is more like the croak of a distressed frog--or, by an expert's own description, a "rusty, squeaky door."

It's a last-ditch effort to lure back the cliff swallow, which put San Juan Capistrano on the map but has snubbed the mission in recent years. The mission has tried drawing them back with food. It has tried shelter. Now, it's trying seduction.

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Method to Find New Moons Uncovers Hidden Planet

from the San Francisco Chronicle

The search for distant planets in the Milky Way is now so sophisticated that astronomers are searching for unseen moons around the planets that the Kepler mission's scientists have discovered.

A team of astronomers hunting for those moons reports that in their quest they have unexpectedly detected a hidden planet--and probably two--by using a technique that promises to aid the search for smaller planets much like Earth.

The technique is already in use by the Kepler team at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, and was being used by astronomers at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado and Harvard when they detected a curious kink in the orbit of one planet they were tracking in search of a possible "exo-moon."

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Vesta Confirmed as a Venerable Planet Progenitor

from Nature News

NASA's Dawn spacecraft won't end its 13-month-long visit to Vesta, the Solar System's second-biggest asteroid, until August, but researchers have now solidified the rock's reputation as an archetype for understanding planetary evolution. In six reports in the 11 May edition of Science, Dawn mission scientists have confirmed several long-held assumptions about Vesta, and detailed some puzzles about the roughly 520-kilometre-diameter body.

Dawn, which began orbiting Vesta last July and lowered itself to within 200 kilometres of the asteroid over the following months, has gathered strong evidence that Vesta is indeed the source of the 'Vestoid' family of asteroids as well as the howardite-eucrite-diogenite meteorite family, which accounts for 6% of meteorites.

The craft's observations reveal that the surface composition of Vesta matches that of the Vestoids, and that a collision that gouged a large crater at the asteroid's south pole could have blasted enough chunks into space to account for the Vestoids and the meteorites.

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Viruses Used to Power Tiny Device

from BBC News Online

Scientists in the US have developed a way to generate electricity using viruses. The researchers built a generator with a postage stamp-sized electrode and based on a small film of specially engineered viruses. When a finger tapped the electrode, the viruses converted the mechanical energy into electricity.

The research by a team in California has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Materials that can convert mechanical energy into electricity are known as "piezoelectric."

"More research is needed, but our work is a promising first step toward the development of personal power generators, actuators for use in nano-devices, and other devices based on viral electronics," said Dr Seung-Wuk Lee at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Testing a Drug That May Stop Alzheimer's Before It Starts

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

In a clinical trial that could lead to treatments that prevent Alzheimer's disease, people who are genetically guaranteed to suffer from the disease years from now--but who do not yet have any symptoms--will for the first time be given a drug intended to stop them from developing it, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Experts say the study will be one of only a very few ever conducted to test prevention treatments for any genetically predestined disease. In Alzheimer's research, the trial is unprecedented, "the first to focus on people who are cognitively normal but at very high risk for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Most of the study's participants will be drawn from an extended family of 5,000 people who live in Medellín, Colombia, and remote mountain villages outside that city.

The family is believed to have more members who suffer from Alzheimer's than any other in the world. Those who possess a specific genetic mutation begin showing cognitive impairment around age 45, and full-blown dementia around age 51. The 300 family members who participate in the initial phase of the trial will be years away from developing symptoms. Some will be as young as 30.

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The Kilogram, Reinvented

from IEEE Spectrum

Once a year, three officials bearing three separate keys meet at the bottom of a stairwell at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, in Sèvres, France. There they unlock a vault to check that a plum-size cylinder of platinum iridium alloy is exactly where it should be. Then they close the vault and leave the cylinder to sit alone, under three concentric bell jars, as it has for most of the past 125 years.

This lonely cylinder is the International Prototype of the Kilogram, known colloquially as Le Grand K, and it is the last remaining physical object to define a unit of measure. It's a quaint throwback to a time when people compared the ocean's depth to the span of a man's outstretched arms and the second to a tiny fraction of a year.

Now we fix our rulers to the speed of light and our clocks to a spectral property of cesium. By thus linking measurement to fundamental and unchanging phenomena, scientists have paved the way for GPS satellites, gravity-wave detectors, and many other precision technologies that simply wouldn't have been possible before.

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Amber Preserves Insect Pollen Carriers

from BBC News Online

What may be the earliest direct example of insect pollination has been identified by scientists. The evidence is seen in 100-million-year-old amber blocks from Spain that include tiny invertebrates whose bodies are coated with pollen grains.

The role of insects in fertilising plants was one of the great steps in the evolution of life on Earth. Today, most flowering plants, including many food crops, could not reproduce without the insect transport of pollen.

The discovery is reported in the American journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Science (PNAS). Amber, the fossilised remnant of tree resin, is a wonderful preservation medium, freezing in time the exquisite detail of insects that got caught up in the once sticky mess. The translucent pieces described by the researchers in their PNAS paper come from the Basque Country.

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DNA Sequencing of Sick Children Reinforces Wisconsin Work

from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Researchers at Duke University have given a powerful new demonstration of the gene sequencing technique used successfully in Wisconsin to diagnose and treat Nic Volker, the young boy from Monona who suffered from a never-before-seen intestinal disease.

The team at Duke worked for more than two years, sequencing a dozen children with different unknown diseases. By sequencing all of their genes, researchers were able to reach a likely genetic diagnosis for half of the children, according to work detailed in the Journal of Medical Genetics.

The Duke study bolsters what Nic's doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin have been saying since his landmark case in 2009: The sequencing of our genetic script can solve the riddle of some unknown illnesses, giving hope to families who have spent thousands of dollars and sought numerous medical opinions without success.

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Geoengineering Experiment Cancelled Amid Patent Row

from Nature News

A field trial for a novel UK geoengineering experiment has been cancelled amid questions about a pre-existing patent application for some of the technology involved.

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project is a collaboration among several UK universities and Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace to investigate the possibility of spraying particles into the stratosphere to mitigate global warming. Such particles could mimic the cooling produced by large volcanic eruptions, by reflecting sunlight before it reaches the Earth's surface.

But the field-trial arm of SPICE--which would have seen around 150 litres of water pumped into the atmosphere via a 1-kilometre hosepipe attached to a balloon--has now been abandoned.

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Dam Project Threatens a Way of Life in Peru

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

BOCA SANIBENI, Peru -- Along the murky waters of the Ene River, in a remote jungle valley on the verdant eastern slopes of the Andes, the rhythmic humming of an outboard motor draws the stares of curious Ashaninka children.

With encroachment from settlers and speculators, and after a devastating war against Shining Path rebels a decade ago, the indigenous Ashaninkas' hold is precarious. And they are now facing a new peril, the proposed 2,200-megawatt Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam, which would flood much of the Ene River valley.

The project is part of a proposal for as many as five dams that under a 2010 energy agreement would generate more than 6,500 megawatts, primarily for export to neighboring Brazil. The dams would displace thousands of people in the process.

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Manta Rays Tracked by Satellite

from Discovery News

Very little is known about giant manta rays, the world's largest of the ray species reaching up to 25 feet wide. Now, in the first study using satellite tracking of the creatures, scientists have teased out a few secrets, including that the beasts travel a lot.

The new study tracked six manta rays--four females, one male and a juvenile (undetermined sex)--for 13 days off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"The satellite tag data revealed that some of the rays traveled more than 1,100 kilometers (621 miles) during the study period," study team member Matthew Witt, of the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute, said in a statement. "The rays spent most of their time traversing coastal areas plentiful in zooplankton and fish eggs from spawning events."

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Maya Artwork Uncovered in a Guatemalan Forest

from NPR

Archaeologists working in one of the most impenetrable rain forests in Guatemala have stumbled on a remarkable discovery: a room full of wall paintings and numerical calculations.

The buried room apparently was a workshop used by scribes or astronomers working for a Mayan king. The paintings depict the king and members of his court. The numbers mark important periods in the Maya calendar.

The room is about the size of a walk-in closet. It's part of the buried Maya city of Xultun. There are painted murals on three walls, depicting a resplendent king wearing a feather and four other figures. Maya paintings this old--the site dates to the ninth century--are very rare; tropical weather usually destroys them.

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'Sustainable' Seafood Labels Come Under Fire

from Scientific American

About one-quarter of seafood sold as `sustainable' is not meeting that goal, according to an analysis taking aim at the two leading bodies that grant this valuable label to fisheries.

In an online paper in Marine Policy and at a conference this week in Edinburgh, UK, fisheries biologist Rainer Froese of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, launched a stinging attack on the schemes by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the marine-conservation organization Friend of the Sea (FOS) to certify fisheries as sustainable. Such schemes aim to help consumers and retailers to support fisheries that are sustainable and not exploited by overfishing.

Both organizations approve certain stocks of fish and seafood to carry their logo, designating these species as environmentally friendly, and both say that their certification processes are scientifically credible. The presence of the logos can result in higher prices and increased consumer demand for food products that carry them.

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Quake Study Offers New Clues on a California Fault's Mystery

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Thanks to a new method of modeling earthquakes, scientists may now understand why the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas Fault--a carefully studied region known for producing moderate temblors every 20 years or so--has been behaving unexpectedly since around the time Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Taking data collected by sensors on the ground and in space and combining them with observations from laboratory physics experiments, Caltech researchers conducted a computer simulation of tectonic events at Parkfield and discovered that a series of small quakes there may have staved off a larger shaker that geologists predicted would occur in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Instead, the fault produced a magnitude 6.0 quake in 2004, more than a decade behind schedule.

Someday, exercises like this could help scientists make predictions about the worst-case scenario for different spots along a fault line, said Nadia Lapusta, coauthor of a study about the research published Thursday in the journal Science.

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Mathematicians Come Closer to Solving Goldbach's Weak Conjecture

from Nature News

One of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics is also among the easiest to grasp. The weak Goldbach conjecture says that you can break up any odd number into the sum of, at most, three prime numbers (numbers that cannot be evenly divided by any other number except themselves or 1).

Mathematician Terence Tao of the University of California, Los Angeles, has now inched toward a proof. He has shown that one can write odd numbers as sums of, at most, five primes--and he is hopeful about getting that down to three. Besides the sheer thrill of cracking a nut that has eluded some of the best minds in mathematics for nearly three centuries, Tao says, reaching that coveted goal might lead mathematicians to ideas useful in real life--for example, for encrypting sensitive data.

The weak Goldbach conjecture was proposed by 18th-century mathematician Christian Goldbach. It is the sibling of a statement concerning even numbers, named the strong Goldbach conjecture but actually made by his colleague, mathematician Leonhard Euler. The strong version says that every even number larger than 2 is the sum of two primes. As its name implies, the weak version would follow if the strong were true: to write an odd number as a sum of three primes, it would be sufficient to subtract 3 from it and apply the strong version to the resulting even number.

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Rise and Fall of Underwater Volcano Revealed

from BBC News Online

The violent rise and collapse of an underwater volcano in the Pacific Ocean is captured in startling clarity for the first time.

Researchers studying the Monowai volcano, near Tonga, recorded huge changes in height in just two weeks. The images, gathered by sonar from a research ship, shed new light on the turbulent fate of submarine mountains.

Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the findings were made during a seabed survey last year. Lead author Tony Watts of Oxford University told the BBC that the revelation was "a wake-up call that the sea-floor may be more dynamic than we previously thought."

"I've spent my career studying the seabed and have generally thought it pretty stable so it's stunning to see so much change in such a short space of time."

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A Play about Astronomer Caroline Herschel Sets the Record Straight

from the Guardian (UK)

One of the least expected successes in London's West End last week was Stella by the Take the Space theatre company. The three actors wore their own clothes, hadn't learned any lines, and there were only about 20 people in the invited audience who met in a circular room high above the Aldwych.

Moreover, the show was hardly a barrel of laughs, being about female astronomers--notably the tiny, forgotten, angry 18th century Caroline Herschel. But I have to admit, the audience choked on the bared emotions and the wonderment of people seeing deep space for the first time.

This was a performed, one-off reading of Stella, a new play by Irish actor-playwright Siobhán Nicholas, who appears to be inventing a new theatre form that we might call "revelatory early science." After their show about 18th century Royal Society chair and diarist Samuel Pepys, she and Chris Barnes--a former National Theatre actor and Barnum and Bailey circus clown--have been touring a play about "England's Leonardo": Robert Hooke.

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Sweden's Enormous Education Experiment Improved Longevity

from Nature News

Shortly after the Second World War, the Swedish government conducted a vast social experiment to decide whether to implement educational reform. An examination of data from people who took part in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has revealed that those lucky enough to have experienced the eformed system have been more likely than their contemporaries to live a long life.

Governments across northern Europe reformed their education systems in the wake of the Second World War, searching for ways to regain economic strength. "There was an international trend inspired by the United States to go for more comprehensive schooling," says Anton Lager, a co-author of the research, who studies young people's health at the Centre for Health Equity Studies of Stockholm University. As well as starting to teach all children equally, many countries introduced longer schooling. The United Kingdom, for instance, raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1944, and to 16 in 1972.

In Sweden, the government decided to undertake a controlled study of its proposed new school system--so, from 1949 to 1962, all 1.2 million children in the Swedish state education system were set on one of two paths. In a slowly increasing proportion of the school districts across the country, it became compulsory for children to attend a comprehensive school for 9 years. The rest of Sweden provided a control group, in which children stuck to the existing system: mandatory schooling for 8 years, with the most academically gifted children remaining in school for up to 10 years.

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A Global Standard for Peer Review

from ScienceInsider

Increasing collaboration between U.S. scientists and their counterparts in other countries has been a priority for Subra Suresh since he became director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in October 2010. But one thing about negotiating such bilateral agreements has frustrated him: The time it takes to reach an agreement on the scientific rules of the road. There may be haggling over how to handle intellectual property and access to data, for example, but Suresh says the biggest bugaboo is often agreeing on common standards for peer review.

"We keep repeating the same thing over and over," says Suresh about the discussions over how each side would select the most worthy proposals. "Having to start from scratch causes considerable delay, and it is a big waste of time."

So Suresh decided to do something about it. After winning the strong backing of the White House, Suresh this weekend convened a meeting of 47 leaders of research funding agencies from 44 countries. And tomorrow, at the conclusion of closed-door sessions, the group will issue the first-ever global statement on the principles of merit review. Although the actual statement is embargoed until then, it is expected to touch on the importance of using experts in conducting a confidential yet transparent process to identify the highest-quality proposals.

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The Noah's Ark of Plants and Flowers

from Smithsonian

Down a spiral staircase, deep inside the Millennium Seed Bank in West Sussex, an hour or so from London, you'll find the heart of the facility. Behind a massive airlock door you enter four 516-square-foot cold-room chambers, maintained at minus-20 degrees Celsius--sufficiently frigid to preserve botanical treasure, depending on the species, for 500 years.

Dozens of shipments arrive weekly from every corner of the globe--seeds air-freighted from far-flung locations: the deserts of Kyrgyzstan, the Dominican Republic's tropical valleys, the alpine meadows of China, the plains of Oklahoma. In more than 50 countries, hundreds of researchers are engaged in one of the most ambitious undertakings in the history of field science: The goal is to collect 25 percent of the planet's 400,000 plant species by 2020.

Scientists are racing against time: 100,000 species of flora--imperiled by habitat destruction, overharvesting and climate change--are threatened with extinction. "Even if we know that plants are being lost in the wild," says Paul Smith, head of seed conservation, "if we can get them into the seed bank, we can regenerate them in the future."

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Pill Used to Treat HIV May Also Help Prevent It

U.S. drug regulators last week affirmed landmark study results showing that a popular HIV-fighting pill can also help healthy people avoid contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

In other biomedical news, researchers reported that a three-pronged strategy--to knock out renegade immune cells, replace them and revitalize other cells that make insulin--appeared to cure type 1 diabetes in seven out of 12 diabetic mice.

Doctors on a panel revising psychiatry's influential diagnostic manual have backed away from two controversial proposals that would have expanded the number of people identified as having psychotic or depressive disorders.

Elsewhere, researchers have found a set of gene mutations that seem to play a part in some cases of melanoma.

By inserting a mutated gene into cancer patients, researchers have found a way to protect them against the side effects of chemotherapy and boost their odds of surviving a particularly aggressive type of cancer, glioblastoma, a fast-growing and usually fatal brain cancer.

Finally, scientists say that psychopaths have a distinct brain structure. They reached this conclusion after scanning the brains of men convicted of murder, rape and violent assaults. The study showed that psychopaths, who are characterized by a lack of empathy, had less gray matter in the areas of the brain important for understanding other peoples' emotions.

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Data Pile-Up at the Large Hadron Collider

The world's largest particle accelerator is delivering torrents of data to physicists. But the hundreds of millions of collisions happening inside the machine every second are now growing into a thick fog that, paradoxically, threatens to obscure a fabled quarry: the Higgs boson.

In other technology news, scientists say microbes that eat iron create tiny magnets inside themselves, similar to those in PC hard drives. The research may lead to the creation of much faster hard drives.

Japan is switching off its last working nuclear reactor, as part of the safety drive since the March 2011 tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima plant. The third reactor at the Tomari plant, in Hokkaido prefecture, is shutting down for routine maintenance. It leaves Japan without energy from atomic power for the first time in more than 40 years.

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An Online Tool for Analyzing Biodiversity

Launched last week, Map of Life is an interactive resource for global biodiversity analysis that promises a new era in the visualization of species distributions. Map of Life will soon allow users to add or update species data.

In other environmental news, researchers say the great Pacific garbage patch is giving sea striders a place to breed out on the open ocean, changing the natural environment there.

Scientific maverick James Lovelock says climate catastrophe is not as certain as he once thought. Lovelock, one of the world's leading environmental thinkers, once warned climate change would reduce mankind to a few breeding pairs in the Arctic.

For geophysical scientists, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 on the Philippine island of Luzon provided the best model in at least a century to help us understand what might happen if humans attempted to ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth. The eruption reduced global temperatures by nearly three-quarters of a degree Celsius in a single year.

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Space Station Enters Research Phase Under Criticism

After more than a dozen years and at least $100 billion in construction costs, NASA says the International Space Station finally is ready to become the orbiting laboratory that the agency envisioned more than two decades ago.

In other space news, one of Europe's main contributions to the James Webb Space Telescope has been completed and is ready to ship to the U.S. The Mid-Infrared Instrument will gather key data as the $9 billion observatory seeks to identify the first starlight in the universe.

There is a new wrinkle in the search for life elsewhere in the universe. Scientists say a previously little-considered heating effect called tidal heating could shrink estimates of the habitable zone of the Milky Way's most numerous class of stars--'M' or red dwarfs--by up to one half.

The Fermi space telescope has recorded hundreds of gamma-ray bursts, flashes of light that, for just a few seconds or minutes, are the brightest objects in the universe. And now the telescope is yielding data that is starting to explain the mechanisms that unleash these beam-like jets of light.

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A 'More Nuanced Picture' of the Dinosaurs' End

Three young scientists examined the fossil record over the 12 million years leading up to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous geological period and concluded that a huge asteroid is still the central villain in the dinosaurs' extinction.

In other news of the ancient past, the smallest mammoth ever known roamed the island of Crete millions of years ago, researchers say. Adults were roughly the size of a modern baby elephant.

A newfound crocodile species may have been the largest to ever roam the Earth. Some 25 feet long, it trolled East African waters between 4 million and 2 million years ago and may have snacked on human ancestors, researchers said.

For centuries, scientists trying to describe the earliest life have relied on evidence provided by biology, studying what features modern life-forms have in common to deduce the most primitive components of cells. By working backward, biologists have developed proposals describing when and where such simple forms of life could have arisen.

Putting a place and date on the domestication of horses has been a challenge for archaeologists. Now a team of geneticists studying modern breeds of the animal has assembled an evolutionary picture of its storied past. Horses, the scientists conclude, were first domesticated 6000 years ago in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe, modern-day Ukraine and West Kazakhstan.

Dinosaurs may well have been tortured by large, flealike bloodsucking insects. Scientists in China have discovered Pseudopulex jurassicus and its cousin, Pseudopulex magnus--magnus as in "great."

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Font for Digits Lets Numbers Punch Their Weight

from New Scientist

THE symbols we use to represent numbers are, mathematically speaking, arbitrary. Now there is a way to write numbers so that their areas equal their numerical values. The font, called FatFonts, could transform the art of data visualisation, allowing a single infographic to convey both a visual overview and exact values.

"Scientific figures might benefit from this hybrid nature because scientists want both to see and to read data," says Miguel Nacenta, a computer scientist at the University of St Andrews, UK, who developed the concept with colleagues at the University of Calgary, Canada.

Infographics are all the rage as a means to display information now that computers can gather and sort vast reams of data. However, fancy charts and images often obscure the actual data behind them. To get the best of both worlds, Nacenta's team designed a font in which a 2 has an area exactly twice that of a 1, a 3, triple, and so on.

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