suraj.sun writes: It's official: a new boson has been observed within 5 standard deviations of accuracy. The highly anticipated announcement came this morning direct from CERN's press conference (via ICHEP in Melbourne), and is the result of an intense, ongoing search for the elusive particle. The observation is of a boson particle with a mass of 125.3 ± 0.6 Gev, at a significance of 4.9 sigma. Joe Incandela — giving the presentation — said that this is "In agreement with the standard model at 95% confidence range." This is still a preliminary result, but by far the strongest case yet for the existence of the elusive Higgs.
suraj.sun writes: Political power has a similar effect on the brain to cocaine — and it's not surprising that, as the Leveson Inquiry shows, our political leaders are hooked on it, says Dr Ian Robertson. Democracy, the separation of judicial powers and the free press all evolved for essentially one purpose – to reduce the chance of leaders becoming power addicts. Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women. Testosterone and one of its by-products called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails. But too much power — and hence too much dopamine — can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.
suraj.sun writes: Our fond or fearful memories — that first kiss or a bump in the night — leave memory traces that we may conjure up in the remembrance of things past, complete with time, place and all the sensations of the experience. Neuroscientists call these traces memory engrams. In a new MIT study(http://www.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/conjuring-memories-artificially-0322.html), researchers used optogenetics to show that memories really do reside in very specific brain cells, and that simply activating a tiny fraction of brain cells can recall an entire memory.
"We demonstrate that behavior based on high-level cognition, such as the expression of a specific memory, can be generated in a mammal by highly specific physical activation of a specific small subpopulation of brain cells, in this case by light," says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at MIT and lead author of the study reported online today in the journal Nature. "This is the rigorously designed 21st-century test of Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield’s early-1900s accidental observation suggesting that mind is based on matter."
suraj.sun writes: The Tennessee legislature — apparently jealous that the people running Louisiana are hogging all the laughing stock — is possibly about to pass an antiscience bill designed specifically to make it easier for teachers to allow creationism in their classroom(http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/03/22/tennessee-legislature-boldly-sets-the-science-clocks-back-150-years/). The bill passed the House last year, but then a similar bill was put on hold in the Senate. Unfortunately, it was put to the Senate floor earlier this week and passed. It will have to be reconciled with the House bill, but it’s expected to pass.
Basically, the bill will make sure teachers can discuss creationism in the classroom, as well as global warming denialism. The House version states,
"This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming."
suraj.sun writes: After drilling for two decades through more than two miles of antarctic ice, Russian scientists are on the verge of entering a vast, dark lake that hasn’t been touched by light for more than 20million years.
Scientists are enormously excited about what life-forms might be found there but are equally worried about contaminating the lake with drilling fluids and bacteria, and the potentially explosive “de-gassing” of a body of water that has especially high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen.
Reaching Lake Vostok would represent the first direct contact with what scientists now know is a web of more than 200 subglacial lakes in Antarctica — some of which existed when the continent was connected to Australia and was much warmer. They stay liquid because of heat from the core of the planet.
suraj.sun writes: The Large Hadron Collider is constantly on the hunt for "new physics" — discoveries that confound and expand our current understanding of the universe... and it may have found one in the decay patterns of a subatomic particle and its antimatter counterpart.
Specifically, particles called D-mesons appear to decay in a slightly different way than their antiparticles, and this seemingly small finding could explain why the early universe became dominated by matter instead of antimatter. According to project physicist Matthew Charles, the results have a statistical certainty of 3.5 sigma — meaning there's a 99.95% chance that these results will hold up, but still short of the 5 sigma level needed to declare this a formal discovery.
However, the team still has a huge amount of data still to work through, so there's an excellent chance that we'll know one way or the other about this result in the near future.
suraj.sun writes: Three U.S.-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for a study of exploding stars that discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said American Saul Perlmutter would share the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award with U.S.-Australian Brian Schmidt and U.S. scientist Adam Riess "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae."
Their discoveries "have helped to unveil a universe that to a large extent is unknown to science," the citation said.
Perlmutter, 52, heads the Supernova Cosmology Project at the University of California, Berkeley. Schmidt, 44, is the head of the High-z Supernova Search Team at the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia. Riess, 42, is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
suraj.sun writes: Quantum communication could be an option for secure data transfer:
Quantum communication could be an option for the absolutely secure transfer of data. The key component in quantum communication over long distances is the special phenomenon called entanglement between two atomic systems. Entanglement between two atomic systems is very fragile and up until now researchers have only been able to maintain the entanglement for a fraction of a second. But in new experiments at the Niels Bohr Institute researchers have succeeded in setting new records and maintaining the entanglement for up to an hour. The results are published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
Entanglement is a curious phenomenon in quantum mechanics which Albert Einstein called ”spukhafte Fernwirkung” (spooky action at a distance). Two separate entangled systems have a ghostlike connection even when they are placed at a large distance without being directly connected to each other. It is said that their states are correlated. This means that if you read out the one system, the other system will ‘know’ about it. In the experiments at the Niels Bohr Institute, the spins of two gas clouds of caesium atoms are entangled.
suraj.sun writes: Louisiana-style "teach the controversy" bill advances in Tennessee:
Each year, dozens of states have bills introduced that target science education, mostly focused on the teaching of biology. Working off a template provided by a pro-intelligent design think tank, the bills would encourage the use of nonstandard teaching materials or targeted criticism of evolution; in some cases, they throw in climate change and the origin of life. In most states, they never make it out of committee, but Tennessee has made an exception this year, as the state's House passed a bill by a wide margin.
suraj.sun writes: Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, inspired by standard inkjet printers found in many home offices, are developing a specialized skin "printing" system that could be used in the future to treat soldiers wounded on the battlefield.
"We started out by taking a typical desktop inkjet cartridge. Instead of ink we use cells, which are placed in the cartridge," said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute. The device could be used to rebuild damaged or burned skin.
Other universities, including Cornell University and the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, are working on similar projects and will speak on the topic on Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington. These university researchers say organs — not just skin — could be printed using similar techniques.
suraj.sun writes: The hunt is on for a gas giant up to four times the mass of Jupiter thought to be lurking in the outer Oort Cloud, the most remote region of the solar system. The orbit of Tyche (pronounced ty-kee), would be 15,000 times farther from the Sun than the Earth's, and 375 times farther than Pluto's, which is why it hasn't been seen so far.
But scientists now believe the proof of its existence has already been gathered by a Nasa space telescope, Wise, and is just waiting to be analysed.
Whether it would become the new ninth planet would be decided by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The main argument against is that Tyche probably formed around another star and was later captured by the Sun's gravitational field.
suraj.sun writes: NASA is now conducting a study to examine the possibility of using beamed energy propulsion for space launches. The study is expected to conclude by March 2011.
Instead of explosive chemical reactions onboard a rocket, the new concept, called beamed thermal propulsion, involves propelling a rocket by shining laser light or microwaves at it from the ground. The technology would make possible a reusable single-stage rocket that has two to five times more payload space than conventional rockets, which would cut the cost of sending payloads into low-Earth orbit.
A beamed thermal propulsion system would involve focusing microwave or laser beams on a heat exchanger aboard the rocket. The heat exchanger would transfer the radiation's energy to the liquid propellant, most likely hydrogen, converting it into a hot gas that is pushed out of the nozzle.
suraj.sun writes: Astronomers have discovered that small, dim stars known as red dwarfs are much more prolific than previously thought—so much so that the total number of stars in the universe is likely three times bigger than realized.
When astronomers used powerful instruments on the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to detect the faint signature of red dwarfs in eight massive, relatively nearby galaxies called elliptical galaxies, which are located between about 50 million and 300 million light years away, they discovered that the red dwarfs, which are only between 10 and 20 percent as massive as the Sun, were much more bountiful than expected.
“This important study, which uses information at the red end of the optical spectrum, was aided by advances in detector technology that have been implemented at Keck,” said Keck Observatory Director Taft Armandroff.
“No one knew how many of these stars there were,” said Pieter van Dokkum, a Yale University astronomer who led the research, which is described in Nature’s Dec.1 Advanced Online Publication.
The team discovered that there are about 20 times more red dwarfs in elliptical galaxies than in the Milky Way, said Charlie Conroy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who was also involved in the research.
"This is the first major step in a long journey," Michio Kaku, physicist and author of Physics of the Impossible, told PCMag. "Eventually, we may go to the stars." Further into the future, he believes we may be able to use antimatter as the "ultimate rocket fuel," since it's 100 percent efficient – all of the mass is converted to energy. By contrast, thermonuclear bombs only use about 1 percent.
"One of the main uses of antimatter would be a starship," said Kaku "Because you want concentrated energy. And you can't get more concentrated than antimatter."
Producing large quantities of antimatter is impossible today, Kaku admits. But with the right developments, he thinks it could become a reality: "These machines were not specifically designed to create antimatter. These machines are all-purpose machines. But with time, price goes down, mass production, better technology, and dedicated machines we could reduce costs considerably."
suraj.sun writes: At last count, exoplanet hunters have dead-eyed 495 distant worlds. Granted, none of them are "Earth-like," but what will we do if such a world finally pops up? Will we be able to travel there in person or send a probe?
In order to speed the whole process up, physicist Robert Forward ( http://www.robertforward.com/ ) proposed pushing on the sail with a laser beam. "Some of Forward's designs got to speeds up to 10 percent of light speed," Gilster says. "And if you are talking about 4.3 light-years away from Earth, which is where the Centauri primary stars are, that gets you there in about 43 years."
Interstellar propulsion inevitably comes down to energy, and few future energy sources are as promising as fusion power ( http://science.howstuffworks.com/fusion-reactor.htm ), the joining of atomic nuclei to produce a single nuclei and a release of energy.
"Fusion is another possibility, particularly deuterium/helium-3 fusion," Gilster says. "We haven't yet figured out how to [initiate] this reaction on Earth, but it's possible that in the next 50 or 100 years we'll learn how to tap this kind of fusion for propulsion."