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Posts tagged science

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Nasa validates 'impossible' space drive

David Hambling, Wired (UK):

Nasa is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that “impossible” microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or Nasa has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.

"Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma."

This last line implies that the drive may work by pushing against the ghostly cloud of particles and anti-particles that are constantly popping into being and disappearing again in empty space. But the Nasa team has avoided trying to explain its results in favour of simply reporting what it found: “This paper will not address the physics of the quantum vacuum plasma thruster, but instead will describe the test integration, test operations, and the results obtained from the test campaign.”

"Science can’t explain this." — NASA, 2014

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ESA Science & Technology: Gaia: 'Go' for science

The ESA’s Gaia satellite begins its mission today:

The satellite was launched on 19 December 2013, and is orbiting a virtual location in space 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.

Gaia’s goal is to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. It will make extremely accurate measurements of the positions and motions of about 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars in our home Galaxy to help answer questions about its origin and evolution.

Repeatedly scanning the sky, Gaia will observe each of its billion stars an average of 70 times each over five years. Small apparent motions in the positions of the stars will allow astronomers to determine their distances and movements through the Milky Way.

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How Brainless Slime Molds Redefine Intelligence

Ferris Jabr, Scientific American:

Compared with most organisms, slime molds have been on the planet for a very long time—they first evolved at least 600 million years ago and perhaps as long as one billion years ago. At the time, no organisms had yet evolved brains or even simple nervous systems. Yet slime molds do not blindly ooze from one place to another—they carefully explore their environments, seeking the most efficient routes between resources. They do not accept whatever circumstances they find themselves in, but rather choose conditions most amenable to their survival. They remember, anticipate and decide. By doing so much with so little, slime molds represent a successful and admirable alternative to convoluted brain-based intelligence.

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Scientists use MRI to measure precisely how your butt deforms when you sit down

Discover magazine’s Seriously, Science? blog has discovered a study from 2013 about, well, uh:

AIM OF THE STUDY: The aim of this study was to describe an individual’s 3-dimensional buttocks response to sitting. Within that exploration, we specifically considered tissue (i.e., fat and muscle) deformations, including tissue displacements that have not been identified by research published to date.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The buttocks anatomy of an able-bodied female during sitting was collected in a FONAR Upright MRI.

Another mystery of the universe solved. Presumably.

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Megan Gannon, Live Science:

Last year, as part of his annual Flame Challenge, actor-turned-science-advocate Alan Alda invited scientists to come up with accurate, vivid answers to the deceptively simple question, “What is color?” On Sunday (June 1), Alda announced the winners here at the World Science Festival during an event that explored what color is (and isn’t) made of, how the brain perceives it and how some individuals can even “see” it in music and smells.

The prize in the video category went to Dianna Cowern, an outreach coordinator in the physics department at the University of California, San Diego who runs a YouTube channel under the name Physics Girl. In her less-than-4-minute clip, Cowern wears costumes and interacts with animations, asking her viewers to imagine themselves as color to bring them on a journey from a wavelength of light to a reflection to a brain signal to a perception.

I love the idea of the Flame Challenge.

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Why Game Research is Hard

Bradley Goodnight at Project Reset:

People who have an opinion about video game violence research typically fall into one of two camps: They either unconditionally accept that video games are bad, or they completely reject even the possibility that games can cause harm.

Although we don’t believe that the truth must necessarily lie somewhere in the middle, we think that this issue is more complex than can be conveyed in 140 characters. Our goal here is to highlight where there is need for improvement and explain why things are the way they are.

He looks at two meta-analyses and the flaws he found in the research. The best conclusion we have at the moment is “seems like there might be a link, but we can’t really be sure.”

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Stem cell scientist Haruko Obokata found guilty of misconduct

Ian Sample, The Guardian:

A young researcher who shot to fame in scientific circles when she published an apparently radical and simple way to create stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct by a committee charged with investigating her work.

Haruko Obokata, at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, announced the breakthrough in January in two articles published in the scientific journal Nature, but the discovery was thrown into doubt after researchers elsewhere failed to replicate her work.

The ruling has not settled the debate over whether her breakthrough was real, though. In a bizarre twist in an already convoluted story, the committee’s ruling against Obokata came moments before an independent researcher claimed to have succeeded in making the cells using a slightly different procedure.

Never heard of her or her research before now. This is weird as heck.

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Mugshots built from DNA data

Sara Reardon, Nature:

Leaving a hair at a crime scene could one day be as damning as leaving a photograph of your face. Researchers have developed a computer program that can create a crude three-dimensional (3D) model of a face from a DNA sample.

There’s still a whole lot we don’t know about how our genes end up making us who we are, so the team went about it the only way we know how: with a mountain of statistics applied to genomes and facial scans.

Reardon also talks about a Chinese team doing much the same work.

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The Creation Museum Wants Some Airtime on Neil deGrasse Tyson's 'Cosmos'

Abby Ohlheiser on The Wire:

Answers in Genesis (the organization that brought you the Creation Museum) is demanding some airtime on Cosmos, the Neil deGrasse Tyson reboot of the classic Carl Sagan science series currently airing on Fox. Their argument? Basically, it’s that the science program is not balanced without the inclusion of their religious beliefs. Although this will never happen — Tyson has personally ruled out debating Creationists on the issue of evolution — it’s just the latest example of how the show is worrying a particular set of evangelical Christians in the US.

"Do they do any interviews with scientists themselves," Janet Mefferd asked Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis on Thursday, "and do they ever give creationists some time?" Faulkner responded that "Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all."

Colin and I have watched the first two episodes together and are tentatively enjoying the show, the second episode more than the first, but we both have some major reservations about the production (especially the sound design).