To Respond To a Disease Outbreak, Bring In the Portable Genome Sequencers ( 33

the_newsbeagle writes: Epidemiologists working on Zika virus could benefit from portable genome sequencers, like these used during the Ebola outbreak. In spring 2015, researchers conducted the first experiment in real-time genetic surveillance during an infectious disease epidemic. The researchers packed all their equipment in a couple of suitcases and set up a mobile lab in Guinea, where they used palm-sized sequencing devices to analyze viral RNA from 142 patients. Genomic data can illuminate the chains of transmission in an outbreak, and can help scientists develop diagnostics and vaccines.

The Future of Astronomy: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope 117

An anonymous reader writes: In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched and deployed, becoming the first space-based observatory. In the years since, many others have followed, covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum, but with nothing superseding Hubble over the wavelengths it covers. That will all change with the James Webb Space Telescope, currently on schedule and almost ready for its October 2018 launch date. The science instruments are all complete, the final mirrors are being inserted into the optical assembly, the sunshield (a new, innovative component) is almost complete, and then it just needs assembly and launch. When it's all said and done, JWST will be orders of magnitude greater than all the other observatories that came before, and will finally allow us to truly see the first stars, galaxies and quasars in the Universe, not limited by the obscuring neutral gas that currently blocks our view with other observatories.

Sensors Slip Into the Brain, Then Dissolve When Their Job Is Done ( 20

An anonymous reader writes: Silicon-based electronic circuits that operate flawlessly in the body for some number of days--soon weeks--and then harmlessly dissolve: they're what University of Illinois professor John Rogers says is the next frontier of electronics. Today he released news of successful animal tests on such transient electronics designed for use in brain implants, but says they could be used just about anywhere in the body. As these devices move into larger animal and eventually human tests, Rogers says he'll be working on the next generation--devices that intervene to accelerate healing or manage medical conditions, not just monitor them.

Graphene Flakes Facilitate Neuromorphic Chips ( 22

An anonymous reader writes: One of the hot areas of semiconductor research right now is the creation of so-called neuromorphic chips — processors whose transistors are networked in such a way to imitate how neurons interact. "One way of building such transistors is to construct them of lasers that rely on an encoding approach called "spiking." Depending on the input, the laser will either provide a brief spike in its output of photons or not respond at all. Instead of using the on or off state of the transistor to represent the 1s and 0s of digital data, these neural transistors rely on the time intervals between spikes." Now, research published in Nature Scientific Reports has shown how to stabilize these laser spikes, so that they're responsive at picosecond intervals. "The team achieved this by placing a tiny piece of graphene inside a semiconductor laser. The graphene acts as a 'saturable absorber,' soaking up photons and then emitting them in a quick burst. Graphene, it turns out, makes a good saturable absorber because it can take up and release a lot of photons extremely fast, and it works at any wavelength; so lasers emitting different colors could be used simultaneously, without interfering with each other—speeding processing."

DNA Manufacturing Enters the Age of Mass Production ( 82

the_newsbeagle writes: Now that it's easy and cheap to build strands of DNA, what kinds of strange new organisms will scientists and start-ups build? That's the question raised as synthetic biology companies like Twist Bioscience and Zymergen start up their DNA manufacturing lines. Researchers who order DNA snippets typically pay on a cost-per-nucleobase basis. These companies say their mass-production techniques could bring prices down to 2 cents per base, which would allow researchers to scale up experiments and learn through trial and error.
Open Source

The Empathy Gap and Why Women Are Treated So Badly In Open Source Projects ( 786

Bruce Perens writes: There's no shortage of stories of horrible treatment of women in Open Source projects. But how did we get here? How did we ever get a community where a vocal minority of males behave in the most boorish, misogynistic, objectifying manner toward women? I have a theory: "It’s unfortunately the case that software development in general and Open Source communities are frequented by males who have social development issues. I once complained online about how offended I was by a news story that said many software developers were on the autism spectrum. To my embarrassment, there were many replies to my complaint by people who wrote 'no, I really am on the spectrum and I’m not alone here.'

It’s still an open issue whether males and females have built-in biases that, for example, lead fewer women to be programmers, or if such biases only develop as a response to social signals. There is more science to be done. But it’s difficult to do that sort of science because we can’t separate the individuals from the social signals they’ve grown up with. Certainly we can improve the situation for the women who would be programmers except for the social signals."


How Long Until the Cyborg Olympics Are Better Than the Traditional Games? ( 60

the_newsbeagle writes: In October 2016, a stadium in Zurich will host the world's first cyborg Olympics. During this event, more officially called the Cybathlon, people with disabilities will use advanced technologies such as exoskeletons and powered prosthetic limbs to compete in the games. This article chronicles one team's training for the bicycle race, where the athletes will be people with paralyzed legs. The team is composed of the paralyzed biker who has an electrical stimulation system implanted in his body, and the engineers who built the gear that energizes his nerves and muscles.

No More QA: Yahoo's Tech Leaders Say Engineers Are Better Off Coding With No Net ( 216

Tekla Perry writes: A year ago Yahoo eliminated its test and quality assurance team, as part of project Warp Drive, its move to continuous delivery of code. The shift wasn't easy, Yahoo tech execs say, and required some "tough parenting." But the result has been fewer errors because "when you have humans everywhere, checking this, checking that, they add so much human error into the chain that, when you take them out, even if you fail sometimes, overall you are doing better." And the pain wasn't as great as expected. Yahoo's chief architect and SVP of science and technology discuss the transition.

Tech Giant SAP Seeks To Hire More Autistic Adults ( 165

itwbennett writes: In May 2013, SAP launched its Autism at Work program, with the goal of recruiting and hiring 'hundreds of people' with autism worldwide. Now the company is expanding the program, and is looking to have people on the autism spectrum make up 1 percent of its total workforce (~650 people) by 2020, says José Velasco, head of the Autism at Work program at SAP. So far, autistic workers fulfill all kinds of roles in IT — from software testing, data analysis, quality assurance to IT project management, graphic design, finance administration and human resources, Velasco says, and the potential for new roles is expanding rapidly.

The Quest For the Ultimate Vacuum Tube ( 109

An anonymous reader writes: IEEE Spectrum reports on progress in the development of vacuum tube technology, which remains surprisingly relevant in 2015. "In the six decades since vacuum tubes lost out to solid-state devices in computers, receivers, and power supplies, vacuum technology has continued to evolve and branch out into new terrain, sustaining a small but skilled corps of engineers and scientists around the world, as well as a multibillion-dollar industry. That's because the traveling-wave tube and other vacuum devices continue to serve one purpose extremely well: as powerful sources of microwave, millimeter-wave, and submillimeter-wave radiation. And now, ongoing research into a new and potentially revolutionary kind of traveling-wave tube—the ultracompact and ultraefficient cold-cathode TWT—looks poised to deliver the first practical device by the end of this decade."

A Post-Antibiotic Future Is Looming ( 137

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."

How Hollywood's Hedy Helped Heighten Handhelds ( 67

szczys writes: Hedy Lamarr is a household name for the wrong reason. Her name is known as a Hollywood actress, but her legacy is in your pocket and reaches far more people than her movies. She was a brilliant thinker who plied her skills during World War II, developing technology that could help to win the war. Her patent wasn't used at the time, but is a foundation of spread-spectrum which is used in the radio modules of your cellphone: WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and others. This frequency hopping concept sat unused for decades before being added to the most ubiquitous of wireless connectivity methods.
United Kingdom

British Spaceplane Skylon Could Revolutionize Space Travel ( 226

MarkWhittington writes: The problem of lowering the cost of sending people and cargo into low Earth orbit has vexed engineers since the dawn of the space age. Currently, the only way to go into space is on top of multistage rockets which toss off pieces of themselves as they ascend higher into the heavens. The Conversation touted a British project, called Skylon, which many believe will help to address the problem of costly space travel. According to IEEE Spectrum, both BAE Systems and the British government have infused Skylon with $120 million in investment.

Jack McCauley's Next Challenge: the Perfect Head-Tracker For VR ( 25

Tekla Perry writes: He used a webcam and LEDs to do position tracking for the Oculus DK2, but Jack McCauley, co-founder of Oculus and now working independently, says that's the wrong approach. He likes the laser scanning system of the HTC Vive better, but says it's just not fast enough. McCauley thinks he can do better, using a design approach borrowed from picoprojectors. Speaking at this week's MEMS Executive Congress, he said better tracking of head position will solve the problem of VR sickness, not more expensive screen technologies.
United Kingdom

Huge Survey Shows Correlation Between Autistic Traits and STEM Jobs ( 345

Bruce66423 writes: A survey of more than 450,000 people in the UK has shown there is a significant correlation between a higher score on the Autism Quotient and being a scientist or engineer. AQ scores are also higher for men than for women. "On average, the male AQ score was 21.6, compared to a female score of 19.0. People work in a STEM-related job had an average AQ score of 21.9 compared to a score of 18.9 for individuals working in non-STEM jobs. This suggests autistic traits are linked to both sex and to having a ‘systems-thinking’ mind." A professor involved with the work said, "These may shed light on why we find males in the population on average have slightly more autistic traits than females do, and why fathers and grandfathers of children with autism are over-represented in STEM fields."

Lessons From a Decade of IT Failures ( 118

New submitter mixed_signal writes: IEEE Spectrum has an online set of articles, or "lessons," on why big IT projects have failed, including analysis of the impacts of failed systems and the life cycles of failed projects. From the summary: "To commemorate the last decade's worth of failures, we organized and analyzed the data we've collected. We cannot claim—nor can anyone, really—to have a definitive, comprehensive database of debacles. Instead, from the incidents we have chronicled, we handpicked the most interesting and illustrative examples of big IT systems and projects gone awry and created the five interactives featured here. Each reveals different emerging patterns and lessons. Dive in to see what we've found. One big takeaway: While it's impossible to say whether IT failures are more frequent now than in the past, it does seem that the aggregate consequences are worse."

Leap Second May Be On the Chopping Block ( 291

szotz writes: The days of 61-second minutes may be coming to an end. The World Radiocommunication Conference is meeting for nearly the entire month of November, and one of the hot-button issues is what to do about the leap second. The addition to UTC is supposed to keep atomic time aligned with Earth's rotation, but past leap seconds have caused server crashes, and some are worried that future problems could be even worse. Going into the conference, it doesn't look like there's much of a consensus on what to do. One official is expecting weeks of debate.

Two Radically Different Approaches to Private Access to Space ( 44

Zothecula writes: Commercial spaceflight company World View came a step closer to carrying tourists to the edge of space with a successful test flight last weekend. At Page, Arizona, a one-tenth scale replica spacecraft was carried by high-altitude ballon to a height of 100,475 ft (30,624 m) to demonstrate the technology that is intended for use in a full-size version slated to begin commercial flights next year. And with a note on the other end of the size spectrum for private access to space, reader Habberhead writes: As reported first by Wired Magazine and followed on by others including Discovery News, start-up company ThumbSat is aiming to provide turn-key access to space for students, experimenters and citizen scientists with a new femto-satellite and creative business model. Small payloads and experiments in space for $20k, including the launch? Sign me up!

First New US Nuclear Reactor In Two Decades Gets Permission To Begin Fueling ( 167

An anonymous reader writes: The Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar nuclear power plant began construction in 1973. The plant's first reactor was completed in 1996, and it began operation. Work on the second reactor paused in 1988, and only resumed in 2007. That reactor is now complete — the first newly-operational Generation II reactor since the 1990s. The new reactor has been granted an operational license, and it will soon begin fueling. While the Gen II reactors aren't unsafe, they're much less safe than the Gen III AP1000s. "Compared to a Westinghouse Gen II PWR, the AP1000 contains 50 percent fewer safety-related valves, 35 percent fewer pumps, 80 percent less safety-related piping, 85 percent less control cabling, and 45 percent less seismic building volume. ... If an accident happens, the AP1000 will shut itself down without needing any human intervention (or even electrical power) within the first 72 hours."

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