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United Kingdom

Submission + - UK research funders adopt open liberated access policy (nature.com)

scibri writes: The UK's research councils have put in place an open access policy similar to the one used by the US NIH. From April 2013, science papers must be made free to access within six months of publication if they come from work paid for by one of the UK’s seven government-funded grant agencies, the research councils, which together spend about £2.8 billion each year on research (press release).

The councils say authors should shun journals that don't allow such policies, though they haven't said how those who don't comply with the rules will be punished.

Science

Submission + - Natural fluorine does exist...in smelly rocks (nature.com)

scibri writes: Chemists have proved that a smelly rock is the only known place on Earth where fluorine exists in its elemental form, F2 (Abstract). The rock is antozonite, a calcium fluoride (fluorite) mineral that is dark violet or even black in colour, also known as fetid fluorite or stinkspar. Needless to say, this rock stinks. The pungent smell is given off when antozonite is crushed, and chemists and mineralogists have argued over the origin of the stench since the early nineteenth century. It turns out French chemist Henri Moissan, who first isolated fluorine in 1886, was right. The rock contains pockets of fluorine that are released on crushing.
Earth

Submission + - Has a biochem undergrad solved a cosmic radiation mystery? (nature.com)

scibri writes: A few weeks ago, reports of a mysterious spike in carbon-14 levels in Japanese tree rings corresponding to the year 775 intrigued astronomers.

Such a spike could only have been caused by a massive supernova or solar flare, but there was no evidence of either of these at that time. Until Jonathon Allen, a biochem undergrad at UC Santa Cruz googled it.

He found a reference in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to a "red crucifix" appearing in the sky in 774, and speculates that it could have been a supernova hidden behind a cloud of dust, which could mask the remnants of the exploded star from astronomers today.

Science

Submission + - Fossil turtles caught in flagrante delicto (nature.com)

scibri writes: Several pairs of 47-million-year-old fossil turtles found in Germany provide the first direct evidence for prehistoric vertebrate sex (the first indirect evidence being, presumably, that turtles exist).

Besides science writers a chance to have a bit of fun with the intro to their stories, the researchers also say the fossils can tell us about about the ecology of the ancient German lake where the turtles lived (Abstract).

Like their living cousins, the fossil turtles probably stopped swimming when they started mating. The pairs then sank through the water column, but Messel Lake held a hidden danger. Below the surface waters, palaeontologists have hypothesized, was a layer poisoned by volcanic gases or rotting organic material. Since the skin of some turtles can act as a respiratory membrane, the turtles were killed as the poisons accumulated in their bodies.

United Kingdom

Submission + - UK goes for gold in open access (nature.com)

scibri writes: A report commissioned by the UK government has recommended that the country jump straight to "gold" open access: making all scientific papers open access from the start, with authors paying publishers up-front to make their work free to read.

But some advocates of the quicker, and cheaper, option, putting papers in open repositories a few months after publication (green open access) say the report's enthusiasm for gold shows that the authors are more concerned with protecting the profits of the publishing industry than promoting greater access to publicly funded research.

Biotech

Submission + - Monsanto may have to repay 10 years of GM soya royalties in Brazil (nature.com)

scibri writes: Biotech giant Monsanto is one step closer to losing billions of dollars in revenues from its genetically-modified Roundup Ready soya beans, after the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled the company must repay royalties collected over the past decade.

Since GM crops were legalized in 2005, Monsanto has charged Brazilian farmers royalties of 2% on their sales of Roundup Ready soya beans. The company also tests Brazilian soya beans that are sold as non-GM — if they turn out to be Roundup Ready, the company charges the farmers 3%. Farmers challenged this as an an unjust tax on their business.

In April a regional court ruled against Monsanto, though that ruling has been put on hold pending an appeal. The Supreme Court, meanwhile has said that whatever the final ruling is, it will apply throughout the whole country.

NASA

Submission + - Planetary scientists hold bake sale for NASA budget (nature.com)

scibri writes: Planetary scientists across the United States hawked baked goods, washed cars and shined shoes on Saturday in an effort to drum up awareness of their field’s dwindling financial support. They were protesting plans in US President Barack Obama's 2013 budget request to cut 21% from NASA's planetary-science budget, and 38% from its Mars projects.

The planetary scientists weren't hoping to fill their coffers with the revenue from the sale; instead, they offered free sweets and services in return for signatures on letters beseeching Congress to reverse the cuts.

Science

Submission + - Genetic testing for ancestry goes for pinpoint accuracyhttp://slashdot.org/ (nature.com)

scibri writes: Commercial ancestry testing, once the province of limited information of dubious accuracy, is taking advantage of whole-genome scans, sophisticated analyses and ever-deeper databases of human genetic diversity to provide more detailed insight for individuals.

Personal genomics company 23andMe is working with Henry Louis Gates Jr's PBS series Finding Your Roots, using techniques like chromosome painting to determine, for example, that nearly half of Condoleeza Rice's genetic ancestry is European.

Space

Submission + - Milky Way's black hole wasn't always such a wimp (nature.com)

scibri writes: Sagittarius A*, the dormant supermassive black hole that lies at the centre of our galaxy, was much more active than today not that long ago. Astronomers using the the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have picked up some faint gamma-ray signals that suggest that Sagittarius A* was emitting a pair of powerful gamma-ray jets like other galactic black holes as recently as 20,000 years ago (Arxiv paper).

If our black hole was more active in the past, it could explain why Sagittarius A* seems to be growing about 1,000 times too slowly for it to have reached its current mass of about four million solar masses since the Galaxy formed about 13.2 billion years ago.

Science

Submission + - Armed extremists targeting nuclear and nanotech workershttp://slashdot.org/ (nature.com)

scibri writes: A loose coalition of eco-anarchist groups is increasingly launching violent attacks on scientists.

A group calling itself the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front has claimed responsibility for the non-fatal shooting of a nuclear-engineering executive on 7 May in Genoa. The same group sent a letter bomb to a Swiss pro-nuclear lobby group in 2011; attempted to bomb IBM’s nanotechnology laboratory in Switzerland in 2010; and has ties with a group responsible for at least four bomb attacks on nanotechnology facilities in Mexico.

Another branch of the group attacked railway signals in Bristol, UK, last week in an attempt to disrupt employees of nearby defence technology firms (no word on whether anyone noticed the difference between an anarchist attack and a normal Wednesday on the UK's railways).

A report by Swiss intelligence says such loosely affiliated groups are increasingly working together.

Technology

Submission + - Aging eyes stymie biometric iris scans (nature.com)

scibri writes: The iris scanners that are used to police immigration in some countries, like the UK, are based on the premise that your irises don't change over your lifetime. But it seems that assumption is wrong.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame have found that irises do indeed change over time, enough so that the failure rate jumps by 153% over three years. While that means a rise from just 1 in 2 million to 2.5 in two million, imagine how that will affect a system like India's — which already has 200 million people enrolled — over 10 years.

Space

Submission + - SETI pioneer Jill Tarter retires (nature.com)

ananyo writes: After 35 years, astronomer Jill Tarter is retiring from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) — a field she helped pioneer and popularize, most recently at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Tarter, who inspired the late Carl Sagan to create the fictional character Ellie Arroway, heroine of the book and movie ‘Contact’, says she will instead focus her efforts on what she calls “the search for intelligent funding.”
Science

Submission + - Everything you know about electrostatics is wrong (nature.com)

scibri writes: Bring two positively charged spheres together and what happens? They repel, right? Wrong.

Physicist John Lekner, has proven mathematically that they will attract when they get close enough together (paper's not live yet, but the link where it will eventually live is here). A region of positive charge on one sphere can cause the positive charge on the other to retreat, piling up further away and leaving a patch of negative charge behind.

English scientist William Snow Harris, who invented lightning conductors for ships, saw something like this in 1836 with charged disks. So now all that remains is for someone to prove Lekner's math experimentally today.

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