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The Quest For the Ultimate Vacuum Tube ( 108

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."

Engineers Create the Blackest Material Yet ( 176

schwit1 writes: Researchers have created the least reflective material ever made, using as inspiration the scales on the all-white cyphochilus beetle. The result was an extremely tiny nanoparticle rod resting on an equally tiny nanoparticle sphere (30 nm diameter) which was able to absorb approximately 98 to 99 percent of the light in the spectrum between 400 and 1,400nm, which meant it was able to absorb approximately 26 percent more light than any other known material — and it does so from all angles and polarizations.

A Tower of Molten Salt Will Deliver Solar Power After Sunset ( 139

schwit1 sends this report from IEEE Spectrum: Solar power projects intended to turn solar heat into steam to generate electricity have struggled to compete amid tumbling prices for solar energy from solid-state photovoltaic (PV) panels. But the first commercial-scale implementation of an innovative solar thermal design could turn the tide. Engineered from the ground up to store some of its solar energy, the 110-megawatt plant is nearing completion in the Crescent Dunes near Tonopah, Nev. It aims to simultaneously produce the cheapest solar thermal power and to dispatch that power for up to 10 hours after the setting sun has idled photovoltaics. ... [The system] heats a molten mixture of nitrate salts that can be stored in insulated tanks and withdrawn on demand to run the plant’s steam generators and turbine when electricity is most valuable. ... Eliminating the heat exchange between oil and salts trims energy storage losses from about 7 percent to just 2 percent. The tower also heats its molten salt to 566 degrees C, whereas oil-based plants top out at 400 degrees C.

Dutch Researchers Show Connected Cars Can Be Cheaply Tracked ( 25

schwit1 writes to point out an experiment undertaken on the campus of the Netherlands' University of Twente, in which two wireless sensing stations were able to cheaply pinpoint a target vehicle equipped with "smart" V2X systems nearly half the time, and track it (albeit less precisely) even more, according to Jonathan Petit, Principal Scientist at software security company Security Innovation. "You can build a real-time tracking system using off-the-shelf devices with minimum sophistication," says Petit. In a paper to be presented at the Black Hat Europe security conference in November, he describes being able to place a security vehicle within either the residential or the business zones of the campus with 78 percent accuracy, and even locate it on individual roads 40 percent of the time. The tracking here was accomplished by listening for transmissions emitted over using 802.11p at 5.9 GHz. Says the article: Petit is now working with Ford, GM, and other carmakers to develop strategies to help secure connected cars. One interesting finding from his experiment was that a Manhattan-style grid of roads makes it difficult for potential attackers because there are more connections between the intersections. "This raises the idea of privacy-enhancing road networks, where cities are designed with the concept of privacy at their core," he says.

Why Cybersecurity Experts Want Open Source Routers ( 177

derekmead writes: A coalition of 260 cybersecurity experts is taking advantage of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public comment period to push for open source Wi-Fi router firmware.

The cybersecurity experts asked the FCC on Wednesday to require router makers to open-source their firmware, or the basic software that controls its core functionality, as a condition for it being licensed for use in the US. The request comes amid a wider debate on how the FCC should ensure that Wi-Fi routers' wireless signals don't "go outside stated regulatory rules" and cause harmful interference to other devices like cordless phones, radar, and satellite dishes.


Orange County Developer To Install Tesla Batteries In Two Dozen Buildings ( 89

Lucas123 writes: The Irvine Company, a Newport Beach-based real estate developer that is a dominant landlord in Orange County, plans to install Tesla commercial batteries in two dozen of its buildings around Irvine Spectrum and John Wayne Airport. The project is the first of its kind of that size. The batteries will charge during non-peak hours and distribute power to the buildings during peak hours, a process that's expected to save the developer up to 10% of its energy costs or about $1 million a year.

In 26 Hours, Sick Newborns Go From Genome Scan To Diagnosis ( 92

the_newsbeagle writes: Parsing the first human genome took a decade, but times have changed. Now, within 26 hours, doctors can scan a sick baby's entire genome and analyze the resulting list of mutations to produce a diagnosis. Since genetic diseases are the top cause of death for infants (abstract), rapidly diagnosing a rare genetic disease can be life-saving. The 26-hour pipeline results from automated technologies that handle everything from the genome sequencing to the diagnosis, says the doctor involved: "We want to take humans out of the equation, because we're the bottleneck."

Scientists Control a Fly's Heartbeat With a Laser ( 17

the_newsbeagle writes: Researchers have demonstrated a laser-based pacemaker in fruit flies, and say that a human version is "not impossible."

The invention makes use of optogenetics, a technique in which the DNA that codes for a light-sensitive protein is inserted into certain cells, enabling those cells to be activated by pulses of light. Researchers often use this method to study neurons in the brain, but in this case the researchers altered flies' heart cells. Then they activated those cardiac cells using pulses of light, causing them to contract in time with the pulses (abstract). Voila, they had an optical pacemaker that worked on living adult fruit flies.

Don't worry, no one can control your heartbeat with a laser just yet. That would require inserting foreign DNA into your heart cells, and also finding a way to shine light through the impediment of your flesh and bones. But lead researcher Chao Zhou of Lehigh University is working on it.


DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets 34

the_newsbeagle writes: DARPA is sinking some cash into the buzzy new research field of "electroceuticals," which involves stimulating nerves to control the activity of organs or bodily systems. The newest techniques have little in common with electroshock therapy, which sends a strong current broadly through the brain tissue; today's cutting-edge methods can target individual neurons, and turn them "on" and "off" with great precision. Under DARPA's new ElectRx program, seven research teams will explore different ways to modulate activity of the peripheral nervous system. Some will stimulate neurons directly with electricity, while others will take more roundabout routes involving light, acoustics, and magnetic fields.

Worries Mount Over Upcoming LTE-U Deployments Hurting Wi-Fi 173

alphadogg writes: LTE-U is a technology developed by Qualcomm that lets a service provider broadcast and receive signals over unlicensed spectrum, which is usable by anybody – specifically, in this case, the spectrum used by Wi-Fi networks in both businesses and homes. By opening up this new spectrum, major U.S. wireless carriers hope to ease the load on the licensed frequencies they control and help their services keep up with demand. Unsurprisingly, several outside experiments that pitted standard LTE technology or 'simulated LTE-U' technology, in the case of one in-depth Google study, against Wi-Fi transmitters on the same frequencies found that LTE drastically reduced the throughput on the Wi-Fi connection.