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How Computer Scientists Cracked a 50-Year-Old Math Problem ( 46

An anonymous reader writes: Over the decades, the Kadison-Singer problem had wormed its way into a dozen distant areas of mathematics and engineering, but no one seemed to be able to crack it. The question "defied the best efforts of some of the most talented mathematicians of the last 50 years," wrote Peter Casazza and Janet Tremain of the University of Missouri in Columbia, in a 2014 survey article.

As a computer scientist, Daniel Spielman knew little of quantum mechanics or the Kadison-Singer problem's allied mathematical field, called C*-algebras. But when Gil Kalai, whose main institution is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, described one of the problem's many equivalent formulations, Spielman realized that he himself might be in the perfect position to solve it. "It seemed so natural, so central to the kinds of things I think about," he said. "I thought, 'I've got to be able to prove that.'" He guessed that the problem might take him a few weeks.

Instead, it took him five years. In 2013, working with his postdoc Adam Marcus, now at Princeton University, and his graduate student Nikhil Srivastava, now at the University of California, Berkeley, Spielman finally succeeded. Word spread quickly through the mathematics community that one of the paramount problems in C*-algebras and a host of other fields had been solved by three outsiders — computer scientists who had barely a nodding acquaintance with the disciplines at the heart of the problem.


2015 'Dance Your PhD' Winner Announced ( 8

sciencehabit writes: Jargon seems unavoidable in science. When you try to explain your work, it becomes a minefield of technical concepts and abstract reasoning. But what if we just want the gist of what you do, the essence of your research? Oh, and make it a dance. The results are in from Science magazine's annual 'Dance Your PhD' contest. The winners include a ballet about a protein, a tango about entangled photons, a Bollywood spectacle about the immune system and, this year's top prize-winner, a dance by Florence Metz of the University of Bern, Switzerland, who combined hip hop, salsa, and acro-yoga to explain her PhD on the intricacies of water protection policies. She goes home with $1000 and a trip to Stanford University in the spring to screen her PhD dance and give a talk — hopefully jargon-free.

Hospitals Can 3D Print a Patient's Vasculature For Aneurysm Pre-Op Practice ( 15

Lucas123 writes: University of Buffalo physicians and researchers from two institutes working with 3D printer maker Stratasys have successfully 3D-printed anatomically correct models of patients' vascular systems — from their femoral artery to their brain — in order to test various surgical techniques prior to an actual operation. The new 3D printed models not only precisely replicate blood vessels' geometry, but the texture and tissue tension, allowing surgeons a realistic preoperative experience when using catheterization techniques. The printed models are also being used by physicians in training.

Lori Garver Claims That NASA Is 'Wary' of Elon Musk's Mars Plans ( 67

MarkWhittington writes: Ars Technica reports that former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver claimed, during a panel discussion at the Council for Foreign Relations, that many at NASA are "wary" of the Mars ambitions of SpaceX's Elon Musk. While the space agency has yielded low Earth operations to the commercial sector as part of the commercial crew program, it reserves for itself deep space exploration. Garver herself disagrees with that sentiment: "I thought, fundamentally, you just don’t understand. We’re not in a race in a swimming pool where everyone is racing against one another. We're in a cycling race where the government is riding point and the others are drafting behind us, and if someone comes alongside us and can pass us because they’ve found a better way, we don’t get out our tire pump and stick it between their spokes."

Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again ( 111

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s. Check out the videos at various places on the web.

Gene Drive Turns Mosquitoes Into Malaria Fighters ( 66

sciencehabit writes: The war against malaria has a new ally: a controversial technology for spreading genes throughout a population of animals. Researchers report today that they have harnessed a so-called gene drive to efficiently endow mosquitoes with genes that should make them immune to the malaria parasite—and unable to spread it. On its own, gene drive won't get rid of malaria, but if successfully applied in the wild the method could help wipe out the disease, at least in some corners of the world. The approach "can bring us to zero [cases]," says Nora Besansky, a geneticist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, who specializes in malaria-carrying mosquitoes. "The mosquitoes do their own work [and] reach places we can't afford to go or get to."

Understanding the Antikythera Mechanism ( 74

szczys writes: We attribute great thinking to ancient Greece. This is exemplified by the Antikythera Mechanism. Fragments of the mechanism were found in a shipwreck first discovered in 1900 and visited by researchers several times over the next century. It is believed to be a method of tracking the calendar and is the first known example of what are now common-yet-complicated engineering mechanisms like the differential gear. A few working reproductions have been produced and make it clear that whomever designed this had an advanced understanding of complex gear ratios and their ability to track the passage of time and celestial bodies. Last year research by two scientists suggested that the device might be much older than previously thought.

NASA Contracting Development of New Ion/Nuclear Engines ( 70

schwit1 writes: NASA has awarded three different companies contracts to develop advanced ion and nuclear propulsion systems for future interplanetary missions, both manned and unmanned. These are development contacts, all below $10 million. However, they all appeared structured like NASA's cargo and crew contracts for ISS, where the contractor does all of the development and design, with NASA only supplying some support and periodic payments when the contractor achieves agreed-upon milestones. Because of this, the contractors will own the engines they develop, and will be able to sell them to other customers after development, thereby increasing the competition and innovation in the field.

Ransomware Expected To Hit 'Lifesaving' Medical Devices In 2016 ( 107

An anonymous reader writes: A surge in ransomware campaigns is expected to hit the medical sector in 2016, according to a recent report published by forecasters at Forrester Research. The paper 'Predictions 2016: Cybersecuirty Swings To Prevention' suggests that the primary hacking trend of the coming year will be "ransomware for a medical device or wearable," arguing that cybercriminals would only have to make mall modifications to current malware to create a feasible attack. Pacemakers and other vital health devices would become prime targets, with attackers toying with their stability and potentially threatening the victim with their own life should the ransom demands not be met.

How Close Are We To a Mars Mission? ( 163

destinyland writes: NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s," reads the official NASA web site. But National Geographic points out that "the details haven't been announced, in large part because such a massive, long-term spending project would require the unlikely support of several successive U.S. presidents." And yet on November 4th, NASA put out a call for astronaut applications "in anticipation of returning human spaceflight launches to American soil, and in preparation for the agency's journey to Mars," and they're currently experimenting with growing food in space. And this week they not only ordered the first commercial mission to the International Space Station, but also quietly announced that they've now partnered with 22 private space companies.

Telemedicine: The State of Telepresence In Healthcare ( 34

Hallie Siegel writes: Telemedicine can let doctors and nurses check in on patients who might be recovering at home, or monitor people in remote locations where it's hard to access physician services. This article gives an overview of the different systems that are out there, what are some of the legal obstacles, and how various countries are investing in the technology. From the article: "The Japanese government has allocated about $23M USD to the core technology market in an effort to develop products for its aging population. Toyota, for example, is focusing on home living assistance robots that will allow those with limited mobility the opportunity to live at home. While Japan might have the largest market in the world of 65+ citizens (over 30 million as of 2014), South Korea is estimated to be allocating nearly $6B USD to their own robotics research. The Koreans are taking a different approach, using robots for mundane tasks of delivering food, allowing humans to provide care."

The Moon's Two Sides Look So Different Thanks To 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Physics ( 93

StartsWithABang writes: 4.5 billion years ago, a giant object collided with our proto-Earth, kicking up debris that eventually coalesced into the Moon. While the near side contains dark maria and lunar lowlands, the far side is almost exclusive heavily cratered, high-mountainous regions. This was a mystery for a long time, but it appears that heating from the hot, young Earth caused a chemical and crustal difference between the two faces.

Pesticides Turn Bumblebees Into Poor Pollinators ( 93

MTorrice writes about a new study that suggests neonicotinoids, one of the most widely used insecticides in the world, turn bumblebees into poor pollinators, leading to lower yields of apples and other plants. Chemical & Engineering News reports: "Neonicotinoid pesticides have been blamed for declines in bee populations worldwide. The chemicals don't kill bees, instead neonicotinoids impair the insects' abilities to learn, navigate, forage for nectar, and reproduce, according to studies published over the past several years. Now, researchers report that bees exposed to the pesticides also become less effective pollinators for crops. The study is the first to demonstrate that neonicotinoids can decrease the quality of a food crop by affecting bee pollination. About 30% of our food comes from crops, including fruits, nuts, seeds, and oils, that depend on insect pollinators, according to Dara A. Stanley of Royal Holloway, University of London, who led the new study. 'Basically,' she says, 'you can't have a balanced diet without insect pollination.'"
United States

US and China Setting Up "Space Hotline" ( 15

Taco Cowboy writes: Washington and Beijing have established an emergency 'space hotline' to reduce the risk of accidental conflict. Several international initiatives are already in train to seal a space treaty to avoid a further build-up of weapons beyond the atmosphere. However, security experts say the initiatives have little chance of success. A joint Russia-China proposal wending its way through the UN was not acceptable to the US. An EU proposal, for a "code of conduct" in space, was having diplomatic "difficulties" but was closer to Washington's position.

A Post-Antibiotic Future Is Looming ( 133

New submitter radaos writes: A gene enabling resistance to polymyxins, the antibiotics of last resort, has been found to be widespread in pigs and already present in some hospital patients. The research, from South China Agricultural University, has been published in The Lancet. According to research Jian-Hua Liu, "Our results reveal the emergence of the first polymyxin resistance gene that is readily passed between common bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Klesbsiella pneumoniae, suggesting that the progression from extensive drug resistance to pandrug resistance is inevitable." Work on alternatives is progressing — Dr. Richard James, former director of the University of Nottingham's center for healthcare associated infections, writes, "Until last month I was still pessimistic about our chances of avoiding the antibiotics nightmare. But that changed when I attended a workshop in Beijing on a new approach to antibiotic development based on bacteriocins – protein antibiotics produced by bacteria to kill closely related species, and exquisitely narrow-spectrum."

New Spectroscope Perfect For Asteroid Mining, Planetary Research ( 56

Science_afficionado writes: Scientists at Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities are developing a new generation of gamma-ray spectroscope that is light weight, compact and don't require much power but have the capability for detecting veins of gold, platinum, rare earths and other valuable materials hidden within asteroids, comets, moons and other airless objects floating about the solar system. "A gamma-ray spectroscope records the intensity and wavelengths of the gamma rays coming from a surface. This spectrum can be analyzed to determine the concentration of a number of important, rock-forming elements ... The key to the new instrument is a recently discovered material, europium-doped strontium iodide (SrI2). This is a transparent crystal that can act as an extremely efficient gamma-ray detector. It registers the passage of gamma rays by giving off flashes of light that can be detected and recorded."

Florida Group Wants To Make Space a 2016 Presidential Campaign Issue ( 118

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story on News 13, an Orlando TV station, Space Florida is working to make space a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. Thus far the campaign for the presidency has been dominated by more mundane issues such as the economy, illegal immigration, and the threat of terrorism. Space Florida, which is "the State of Florida's aerospace economic development agency," is said to be "working with three other battleground states to make sure America's space program is a part of the campaign for president." Presumably one of those states is Texas, which has lots of electoral votes
The Military

Satellite Wars ( 98

schwit1 writes: Sixty years after the space race began, an orbital arms race is again in development. Military officials from the U.S., Europe and Asia confirm in private what the Kettering Group and other amateur stargazers have been watching publicly. Almost every country with strategically important satellite constellations and its own launch facilities is considering how to defend — and weaponize — their extraterrestrial assets. "I don't think there is a single G7 nation that isn't now looking at space security as one of its highest military priorities and areas of strategic concern," says one senior European intelligence official.

The U.S. is spending billions improving its defenses — primarily by building more capacity into its constellations and improving its tracking abilities. A $900m contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2014 to develop a radar system capable of tracking objects as small as baseballs in space in real time. But there are also hints that the U.S. may be looking to equip its satellites with active defenses and countermeasures of their own, such as jamming devices and the ability to evade interceptions. A purely offensive anti-satellite program is in fast development as well. High-energy weapons and maneuverable orbiters such as space planes all open the possibility of the U.S. being able to rapidly weaponize the domain beyond the atmosphere, should it feel the need to do so.


Researchers Create Plant-Circuit Hybrid ( 39

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have crafted flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. Eventually such circuitry may help farmers eavesdrop on their crops and even control when they ripen. The advance may even allow people to harness energy from trees and shrubs not by cutting them down and using them for fuel, but by plugging directly into their photosynthesis machinery. The researchers used "an organic electronic building block called PEDOT-S:H. Each of these building blocks consists of a short, repeating chain of a conductive organic molecule with short arms coming off each link of the chain. Each of the arms sports a sulfur-containing group linked to a hydrogen atom. Berggren's group found that when they placed them in the water, the rose stems readily pulled the short polymer chains up the xylem channels (abstract). ... The upshot was that the myriad short polymer chains quickly linked themselves together into continuous strings as long as 10 centimeters. The researchers then added electronic probes to opposite ends of these strings, and found that they were, in fact, wires, conducting electricity all down the line."

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission To International Space Station ( 69

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has placed its first mission order for SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. SpaceX is now in a race with Boeing, who received a similar order in May, to see which private space company can deliver astronauts to the ISS first. NASA said, "Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America's human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory." They anticipate dramatic reductions in cost for launching astronauts to orbit compared to similar missions aboard Russian rockets. "Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions. A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time."