Saturday, October 23, 2010

Scientists Open Electrical Link to Living Cells

"And now we might add something concerning a certain most subtle spirit which pervades and lies hid in all gross bodies; by the force and action of which spirit the particles of bodies attract one another at near distances, and cohere, if contiguous; and electric bodies operate to greater distances, as well repelling as attracting the neighboring corpuscles; and light is emitted, reflected, refracted, inflected, and heats bodies; and all sensation is excited, and the members of animal bodies move at the command of the will, namely, by the vibrations of this spirit, mutually propagated along the solid filaments of the nerves, from the outward organs of sense to the brain, and from the brain into the muscles. But these are things that cannot be explained in few words, nor are we furnished with that sufficiency of experiments which is required to an accurate determination and demonstration of the laws by which this electric and elastic spirit operates." -- Isaac Newton, alchemist/mathematician, Principia, 1687

Science Daily: Scientists Open Electrical Link to Living Cells.
ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2010) — The Terminator. The Borg. The Six Million Dollar Man. Science fiction is ripe with biological beings armed with artificial capabilities. In reality, however, the clunky connections between living and non-living worlds often lack a clear channel for communication. Now, scientists with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have designed an electrical link to living cells engineered to shuttle electrons across a cell's membrane to an external acceptor along a well-defined path. This direct channel could yield cells that can read and respond to electronic signals, electronics capable of self-replication and repair, or efficiently transfer sunlight into electricity.

"Melding the living and non-living worlds is a canonical image in science fiction," said Caroline Ajo-Franklin, a staff scientist in the Biological Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry. "However, in most attempts to interface living and non-living systems, you poke cells with a sharp hard object, and the cells respond in a predictable way -- they die. Yet, in Nature many organisms have evolved to interact with the rocks and minerals that are part of their environment. Here, we took inspiration from Nature's approach and actually grew the connections out of the cell."

Coaxing electrons across a cellular membrane is not trivial: attempts to pull an electron from a cell may disrupt its function, or kill the entire cell in the process. What's more, current techniques to transfer cellular electrons to an external source lack a molecular roadmap, which means even if electrons do turn up outside a cell, there is no way to direct their behavior, see where they stopped along the way, or send a signal back to the cell's interior.

"We were interested in finding a pathway that wouldn't kill the living systems we were studying," said Heather Jensen, a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley whose thesis work is part of this publication. "By using a living system in electronics, we can one day create biotechnologies that can repair and self-replicate."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Manned Mission To Moons of Mars

"We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects and it would take an act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity.... Anything you can imagine, we already know how to do." -- Benjamin R. Rich, aeronautical engineer, 1993

News: NASA preps '100-year spaceship' program to boldly go where none have gone before.
A SENIOR NASA official has promised to deliver a spaceship that will travel between alien worlds "within a few years".

Speaking at a conference in San Francisco on Saturday, NASA Ames director Simon Worden said his division had started a project with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called the "Hundred Year Starship”.

The project was kicked off recently with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA and hopes to utilise new propulsion ideas being explored by NASA.

Star Trek fans, prepare to get excited - electric propulsion is here, according to Mr Worden.

“Anybody that watches the (Star Trek) Enterprise, you know you don’t see huge plumes of fire," he said.

"Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”

Mr Worden said the space program was "now really aimed at settling other worlds”.
“You heard it here,” he told the crowd at the “Long Conversation”.

“Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.”

Mr Worden said he hoped to "inveigle some billionaires" such as Google founder Larry Page to help with further funding for the project.

Another possible source of propulsion being funded by NASA was by using microwave power from a planetary base to heat hydrogen propellants on board an orbiting spaceship.

"You don’t have to carry all the fuel," he said. "You use that energy from a laser or microwave power to heat a propellant; it gets you a pretty big factor of improvement. I think that’s one way of getting off the world.”

Mr Worden had an interesting take on how we would settle other worlds when we found them, suggesting it would be easier to adapt humans to an alien planet than changing the planet to suit humans.

“How do you live in another world? I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said.

“If you’re a conservative, you worry about it killing us; if you’re a liberal, you worry about us killing it."

Despite his ambitious vision to push further out into the galaxy, Mr Worden said there was still plenty of work to do in our own backyard first.

First stop, he said, was the moons of Mars, from where the planet itself can be explored using telerobotics.

“I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so," he said.

"Larry (Page) asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’

"So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”

One Way Ticket To Mars

Space.Com: Mars or Bust! One-Way Trip to the Red Planet Could Kick-start Colonization.
"We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only," said Schulze-Makuch, who is associate professor in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences Washington State University in Pullman. "One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two spacecraft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet."

On Oct. 11, President Obama signed a major NASA act into law that outlines the agency's future in space exploration. The signing paves the way for a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025, with an expedition to Mars to follow sometime in the 2030s. ...

A manned trip to Mars would take roughly six months using available launch options and current chemical rocket technology, according to the new study. The Red Planet has atmosphere, moderate surface gravity, abundant water and carbon dioxide, and range of essential minerals – making it an attractive target for potential human colonization.

A one-way mission to Mars would be accompanied by obvious risks. However, danger is often an inherent part of exploration, and has been throughout history, the researchers said.

"It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return," said Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University in Phoenix. "Explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt."

The scientists stress that such an expedition would not amount to a suicide mission, but would instead culminate in a series of missions over time, with an eye toward suffiently supporting long-term colonization.

The proposed project would begin with selecting an appropriate site for the Martian colony, ideally associated with a cave or other natural shelter, as well as other nearby resources, such as water, minerals and nutrients.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parting of the Red Sea Explained!

"And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go [back] by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry [land], and the waters were divided." -- Exodus 14:21


"If you are going to match the biblical account, you need the wind from the east," said researcher Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Drews has been studying the Red Sea story for years as a student and now has published a paper on the matter, which was his master's thesis, in the journal PloS One.

Drews took that east wind and tried to perform a computer simulation of the event in a couple of different places.

He found that a steady 63-mile-per-hour (100-kilometer-per-hour) wind over a digitally reconstructed east-west running lake at the Mediterranean end of the Nile, near today's Port Said, would push the water west to the far end of the lake, as well as south, up the river. ...

"The value of studying the event described in the Old Testament certainly lends support to the thesis that physics is a natural phenomenon, a normal part of our universe," said Stephen Baig, a researcher who has studied storm surges for the National Hurricane Center. "If there is a miracle, it is that we are able to describe such events with numbers."

Prehistoric Wonder Bread

Daily Mail: The Stone Age baker: Cavemen 'ate bread, not just meat'.
Gnawing on a hunk of meat as he sits by the fire, Stone Age man has always been viewed as the classic carnivore.

But new research suggests that a caveman's diet may have been far more balanced and that he ate bread at least 30,000 years ago.

The prehistoric hunters did not only rely on animals for their diet and also dined on processed plant-based foods, according to a new study.

Powerful microscopes discovered traces of starch grains on grinding stones recovered from archaeological sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Grains were thought to have been largely ignored by Stone Age humans, at least in part because they were difficult to process.

But the stones' wear patterns suggest they were used for grinding roots and grains in a manner similar to a pestle 18,000 years before that, according to Dr Anna Revedin and colleagues.

Grain residues on the stones seem to originate from mostly cattail and fern plants which are rich in starch - a dense source of carbohydrates and energy.

Researchers generally assume Palaeolithic European human diets consisted almost entirely of animal protein and fat, with rare plant consumption.

Dr Revedin, of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History in Florence, said: 'The discovery of grain and plant residues on grinding stones at the three sites suggests plant-based food processing, and possibly flour production, was common and widespread across Europe at least 30,000 years ago.'

Establishing these primitive people were processing plants rather intensively reinforces recent research that their diets were as a whole much more diverse than is generally believed.

'It’s like a flatbread, like a pancake with just water and flour,” said Laura Longo, a researcher on the team, from the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History.

'You make a kind of pita and cook it on the hot stone,' she said, describing how the team replicated the cooking process. The end product was 'crispy like a cracker but not very tasty,' she added.

Grinding plant matter into flour is time consuming - as is making the tools to do it - to produce high energy food rich in carbohydrates that was easily storable and transportable.

The inclusion of cereals in our diet is considered an important step in human evolution because of the technical complexity and the culinary manipulation that are required to turn grains into staples.

The researchers said: 'European Paleolithic populations are generally considered to have been predominantly carnivorous, because the evidence for plant subsistence is limited.

'We are now able to add evidence for plant food processing, on the basis of the recovery of flour residues on coarse heavy-duty tools across Europe up to 30,000 years ago.

'The flour would have undergone a multistep processing involving root peeling, drying and finally grinding using specific tools. After this, the flour needed to be cooked to obtain a suitable and digestible food.

'Studies of current human diets suggest cooking is essential because raw food, as such, cannot supply sufficient calories.'

The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Microbes May Consume Far More Oil-Spill Waste Than Earlier Thought

Science Daily: Microbes May Consume Far More Oil-Spill Waste Than Earlier Thought.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2010) — Microbes living at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico may consume far more of the gaseous waste from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill than previously thought, according to research carried out within 100 miles of the spill site.

A paper on that research, conducted before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded six months ago, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Deep-Sea Research II. It describes the anaerobic oxidation of methane, a key component of the Gulf oil spill, by microbes living in seafloor brine pools.

"Because of the ample oil and gas reserves under the Gulf of Mexico, slow seepage is a natural part of the ecosystem," says Peter R. Girguis, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University. "Entire communities have arisen on the seafloor that depend on these seeps. Our analysis shows that within these communities, some microbes consume methane 10 to 100 times faster than we've previously realized."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dark Lensing

I'm going camping in a remote wilderness for 3 weeks and will not have internet; I am still alive.

Steve Smith: Dark Lensing.

"Gravitational lensing" theory is currently in fashion among astronomers. They use it to explain the arcs of glowing material surrounding some galaxies. They also use it in conjunction with other theories to help deal with puzzling observations. One of those puzzles involves the so-called expanding Universe.

According to a recent press release, scientists have, for the first time, combined data from the Hubble Space Telescope with ground-based measurements to map the effect that gravity might have on light as it travels through space. Recent calculations seem to show that the Universe is expanding faster than it should, perhaps because there is a greater amount of mass than previously thought. In particular, the research group looked at previously catalogued redshift information from 194,000 galaxies, plugging the figures into a statistical model they designed.

Minute differences in how some galaxies are shaped point to what they claim is a "warping of spacetime" due to unseen conglomerations of matter. It is that space-bending effect that holds their hypothesis together. The intense gravity generated by the concentrations of invisible (or "dark") matter is said to cause light rays from remote objects to bend as if seen through a lens. However, it is a "weak gravitational lensing" effect, so the slight variations can only be identified statistically.

In the image at the top of the page, galactic redshift data was plotted against the altered shapes of distant galaxies due to weak gravitational lensing. Based on complex software programs, the gravity model produced galaxy cluster plots that indicate the presence of enough dark matter to account for the accelerated expansion of the Universe.

Conventional “gravity-only” astronomy sees the bending of light by gravitational "lensing." What is more important is that the entire premise depends on a single assumption, that higher redshift equals greater distance. Halton Arp has made several assertions that counter that assumption, however.

As Arp's galactic compendium grew, he noticed that there was something wrong with conventional time-speed-distance calculations—he found objects with higher redshift values in front of objects with lower redshift. Surely, such a conundrum should have immediately called into question the very nature of that "cosmological constant."

It is often written in the popular press that dark matter makes up “25% of the Universe” or that dark energy makes up “75% of the rest of the Universe.” To anyone familiar with plasma physics, it is well known that plasma makes up 99.99% of the Universe. It is a fascinating convergence that the amount of gravitational mass invented to save conventional theories is the same as the ionized plasma that is overlooked.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Funding The Tinfoil Hat Brigade

"It is claimed that the LIGO and LISA projects will detect Einstein's gravitational waves. The existence of these waves is entirely theoretical. Over the past forty years or so no Einstein gravitational waves have been detected. How long must the search go on, at great expense to the public purse, before the astrophysical scientists admit that their search is fruitless and a waste of vast sums of public money? The fact is, from day one, the search for these elusive waves has been destined to detect nothing." -- Stephen J. Crothers, astrophysicist, August 2009

New Scientist: Gravity Genius [sic]: How I Will Spend [i.e. waste] Half a Million Bucks [that could be used to save millions of people's lives in Africa].

Among this year's 23 recipients of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius award", who have won $500,000 each, no strings attached, is Nergis Mavalvala, a quantum physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a collaborator on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

LIGO is on the hunt for gravitational waves, as-yet unseen ripples in space-time that are predicted by Einstein's theory of relativity and should be particularly strong when neutron stars or black holes merge. So what does a gravity hunter spend half a million dollars on? And what do gravitational waves have to do with quantum mechanics? To find out, New Scientist visited Mavalvala in her office at MIT.

Congratulations on the award. Was it at all expected?

Oh my goodness, no. When I got the call I thought it was a prank. I really thought at some point somebody was going to say, "Gotcha!"

How do you plan on using the award money?

It's hard to answer, with the few days I've had to think about it. I'll almost certainly spend some of the money on trying out far-out ideas. Scientists always have some ideas that are very risky: you know that they may not pan out, but if they did – wouldn't that be awesome? Those ideas are sometimes hard to get funded because they're so speculative.

Are there any particular topics on your risky wish list?

There's this idea that if you make a measurement on a quantum state you destroy it. But there are ways to get around that problem called quantum non-demolition techniques – these include ways to detect single photons repeatedly without destroying their delicate quantum states. The ideas are very sound but the implementations are quite difficult. My guess is the most likely place where an award like this would be used is in trying out these implementations and in seeing if our current technologies and knowledge can get us there.

A lot of your work has focused on using quantum mechanics to improve LIGO's ability to detect gravitational waves. What's the basic idea behind the experiment?

You take two laser beams at right angles to each other and you shoot them toward two mirrors, each one 4 kilometres away. If there is a gravitational wave, the mirror positions will change and we'll see that the light will take either a longer or a shorter time to go out and come back. Each detector can detect mirror motion that is a thousand times smaller than the size of a proton.

Why is quantum mechanics important in taking these measurements?

This all comes down to the idea that you use a light beam to measure the position of the mirror. We have very powerful laser beams, so there are a lot of photons. These photons carry momentum and there's some uncertainty in the momentum because they are quantum particles. This makes some uncertainty in your mirror position. One of the things that my group has done in the past few years is learn how to optically trap and cool a mirror, just the way people do optical trapping and cooling of atoms.

No gravitational wave has been directly detected yet. Why are they so hard to find?

Gravitational waves are weak, and they don't interact very strongly with our detectors. So that's the fundamental reason why it's so hard to do. The other problem is that we live on a very vibrant planet filled with motion, so everything you can imagine wants to move our mirror more than the gravitational wave.

Do you ever think about what it will be like when you do find one?

Pure ecstasy, probably. I think it will be amazing. But I think the first detections will very much go in the direction of understanding whether we've understood our instrument and making sure it really is a detection. It will probably be very much strengthened if the event we see is also seen by telescopes.

LIGO has been hunting for gravitational waves since 2002, and so far you haven't detected any. Is that at all discouraging?

No. It shouldn't be discouraging to anyone. We've always known that this first generation of instruments we would build for LIGO would have the sensitivity to see a gravitational wave only if it came from one of the strongest sources, and it would have to be from a very nearby source. We've always known that it was a bit of a long shot. What's going on now at LIGO is a very major upgrade called Advanced LIGO [set to begin observations in 2015]. If we haven't detected anything with this improved detector then I think disappointment and head-scratching will set in.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Scientists Hunt for Aliens

Metro: UK Mission to Find Alien Life in Earth’s Atmosphere.

Scientists are launching a mission to search for alien life in Earth’s atmosphere that they believe could have hitched a ride on comets and asteroids.

in a joint £60,000 venture with the European Space Agency, British boffins will send a balloon 21 miles up above the Arctic this week to look for alien micro-organisms.

The device will Hoover up the air in the stratosphere through a series of filters, which will then be sealed for analysis back on terra firma.

Clara Juanes-Vallejo, who is directing the Cranfield University research team, said: ‘There are theories that life on Earth came from space, so we need to know that life can survive the conditions of space for this to be true.

‘The environment in the stratosphere is very extreme. It can get down to -90 degrees C and is a near vacuum. If we know that life can survive in such an extreme environment, then it could also survive in places like Mars or on asteroids. in places like Mars or on asteroids.’

Friday, October 1, 2010

Saturnian Cosmology In The Bible

"For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." -- Isaiah 65:17

"For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain." -- Isaiah 66:22

"Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." -- 2 Peter 3:13

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." -- Revelation 21:1