A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘science

[LINK] “Mr. Fusion? Compact Fusion Reactor Will be Available in 5 Years Says Lockheed-Martin”

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Universe Today’s Tim Reyes reports on Lockheed-Martin’s remarkable claim of imminent commercial fusion.

The Farnsworth Fusor; Pons and Fleishmann. It seems the trail to fusion energy has long gone cold — stone cold, that is, and not cold as in cold fusion. Despite the promise of fusion providing a sustainable and safe energy source, fusion reactors are not a dime a dozen and they won’t be replacing coal fired power plants any time soon. Or will they? Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works announced a prototype compact fusion reactor that could be ready within five years. This revelation has raised eyebrows and sparked moments of enthusiasm.

[. . .]

For every Skunk Works project that has made the runway such as the Stealth Fighter or SR-71 Blackbird, there are untold others that never see the light of day. This adds to the surprise and mystery of Lockheed-Martin’s willingness to release images and a detailed narrative describing a compact fusion reactor project. The impact that such a device would have on humanity can be imagined … and at the same time one imagines how much is unimaginable.

The program manager of the Skunk Works’ compact fusion reactor experiment is Tom Maguire. Maguire and his team places emphasis on the turn-around time for modifying and testing the compact fusion device. With the confidence they are expressing in their design and the ability to quickly build, test and modify, they are claiming only five years will be needed to reach a prototype.

What exactly the prototype represents was left unexplained, however. Maguire continues by saying that in 10 years, the device will be seen in military applications and in 20 years it will be delivered to the world as a replacement for the dirty energy sources that are in use today. Military apps at 10 years means that the device will be too expensive initially for civilian operations but such military use would improve performance and lower costs which could lead to the 20 year milestone moment if all goes as planned.

Their system uses magnetic confinement, the same basic principle behind the tokamak toroidal plasma confinement system that has received the greatest attention and government funding for over 50 years.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 22, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] “Were Lunar Volcanoes Active When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth?”

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Universe Today’s Bob King reports on suggestions that the Moon might have been volcanically active to geologically very recent times, perhaps even only 50 million years ago.

The deposits are scattered across the Moon’s dark volcanic plains (lunar “seas”) and are characterized by a mixture of smooth, rounded, shallow mounds next to patches of rough, blocky terrain. Because of this combination of textures, the researchers refer to these unusual areas as “irregular mare patches.”

Measuring less than one-third mile (1/2 km) across, almost all are too small to see from Earth with the exception of Ina Caldera, a 2-mile-long D-shaped patch where blobs of older, crater-pitted lunar crust (darker blobs) rise some 250 feet above the younger, rubbly surface like melted cheese on pizza.

Ina was thought to be a one-of-a-kind until researchers from Arizona State University in Tempe and Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in Germany spotted 70 more patches in close-up photos taken by the LRO. The large number and the fact that the patches are scattered all over the nearside of the Moon means that volcanic activity was not only recent but widespread.

Astronomers estimate ages for features on the moon by counting crater numbers and sizes (the fewer seen, the younger the surface) and the steepness of the slopes running from the tops of the smoother domes to the rough terrain below (the steeper, the younger).

“Based on a technique that links such crater measurements to the ages of Apollo and Luna samples, three of the irregular mare patches are thought to be less than 100 million years old, and perhaps less than 50 million years old in the case of Ina,” according to the NASA press release.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 15, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] “Birth control pill threatens fish populations”

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Aly Thomson’s Canadian Press article, hosted by the CBC, notes the inadvertant effects of birth control on fish populations (estrogen from birth control pills in sewage systems).

[Lead researcher Karen Kidd of the University of New Brunswick] said their study set out to build on that research to determine whether the estrogen would affect the fathead minnow’s ability to reproduce and whether there were larger effects on the lake’s ecosystem.introduced in their habitat.

Reseachers started introducing small amounts of estrogen into an Ontario freshwater lake research facility in 2001, Kidd said.

“Right away, the male fish started to respond to the estrogen exposure by producing egg yolk proteins and shortly after that they started to develop eggs,” she said in an interview from Saint John, N.B. “They were being feminized.”

Kidd said shortly after introducing the estrogen, the number of fathead minnow crashed, reducing numbers to just one per cent of the population.

“It was really unexpected that they would react so quickly and so dramatically,” she said. “The crash in the population was very evident and very dramatic and very rapid and related directly to the estrogen addition.”

Written by Randy McDonald

October 15, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Canada, Science

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[LINK] “Elephants Start Contraception at South Africa’s Oldest Reserve”

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Paul Burkhardt’s Bloomberg article explores the use of birth control to limit overgrowth of elephant populations. I wonder what the elephants will think of the effects of this.

Elephants at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa’s oldest game reserve, have begun receiving a contraceptive vaccine to control the pachyderm population.

[. . .]

“The immunocontraceptive program allows elephant populations to be managed humanely, especially in small enclosed parks and private conservancies,” said [the Humane Society International], along with Ezemvelo, the conservation authority in KwaZulu-Natal, the province where the park is located.

While elephants are endangered across much of Africa, in Southern Africa many parks are overpopulated, leading to damage to ecosystems as the animals, which can weigh six metric tons and stand 3.3 meters (10 feet) at the shoulder, tear down trees.

In the past, including in South Africa, they have been culled, leading to protests from animal rights organizations. Moving the animals from one area to another is usually considered too expensive to be viable as a conservation method.

The about 600 elephants in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi come from a population of 160 that were introduced between 1985 and 1991 when they were moved from the Kruger National Park, which was considered over populated with elephants, according to the park’s website.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 15, 2014 at 9:15 pm

[LINK] “The Anti-Vaxxers Are Spreading Ebola Conspiracy Theories”

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Jesus fucking Christ. What the hell, people? What the hell. From io9’s Mark Strauss:

The anti-vaccination movement sees itself fighting against the shadowy forces of the CDC, Big Pharma, the media and their “lies” about immunization. And now, with the Ebola outbreak, they’ve cranked their crazy-meter up to 11, declaring the disease to be everything from an autism cover-up to a complete fraud.

I’m something of a connoisseur of conspiracy theories. Every time there’s a major world event, I play my own version of the Kevin Bacon Game and try to see how many steps it will take for people to draw a connection between Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the faked Apollo Moon landing. (Bonus points if either extraterrestrials or the Freemasons are involved.)

But, rummaging through the anti-vaxxer websites gets downright creepy, given that there’s already enough misinformation and panic about Ebola—and it adds yet another layer of ugliness to the psyche of people who embrace junk science at the expense of children’s health.
​U.S. Emergency Rooms Are Bracing For An Ebola Panic

There have been 5,000 Ebola false alarms since the first case in the U.S. was confirmed on…Read more

As with all conspiracy theorists, the anti-vaxxer crowd is all about the “strange coincidences” of the Ebola outbreak. Thus, the tragically misnamed site, Child Health Safety, noted that the disease became big news at around the time that discredited CDC whistleblowers were preparing to make a statement about autism.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 15, 2014 at 2:53 am

[LINK] “If the World Started Over, Would Life Evolve the Same Way?”

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Wired shares Emily Singer’s article from Quanta suggesting that evolution might actually have a direction to it, that the range of all possible organisms is more limited than many might think. Might. Fascinating stuff.

In his fourth-floor lab at Harvard University, Michael Desai has created hundreds of identical worlds in order to watch evolution at work. Each of his meticulously controlled environments is home to a separate strain of baker’s yeast. Every 12 hours, Desai’s robot assistants pluck out the fastest-growing yeast in each world — selecting the fittest to live on — and discard the rest. Desai then monitors the strains as they evolve over the course of 500 generations. His experiment, which other scientists say is unprecedented in scale, seeks to gain insight into a question that has long bedeviled biologists: If we could start the world over again, would life evolve the same way?

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent division of SimonsFoundation.org whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Many biologists argue that it would not, that chance mutations early in the evolutionary journey of a species will profoundly influence its fate. “If you replay the tape of life, you might have one initial mutation that takes you in a totally different direction,” Desai said, paraphrasing an idea first put forth by the biologist Stephen Jay Gould in the 1980s.

Desai’s yeast cells call this belief into question. According to results published in Science in June, all of Desai’s yeast varieties arrived at roughly the same evolutionary endpoint (as measured by their ability to grow under specific lab conditions) regardless of which precise genetic path each strain took. It’s as if 100 New York City taxis agreed to take separate highways in a race to the Pacific Ocean, and 50 hours later they all converged at the Santa Monica pier.

The findings also suggest a disconnect between evolution at the genetic level and at the level of the whole organism. Genetic mutations occur mostly at random, yet the sum of these aimless changes somehow creates a predictable pattern. The distinction could prove valuable, as much genetics research has focused on the impact of mutations in individual genes. For example, researchers often ask how a single mutation might affect a microbe’s tolerance for toxins, or a human’s risk for a disease. But if Desai’s findings hold true in other organisms, they could suggest that it’s equally important to examine how large numbers of individual genetic changes work in concert over time.

“There’s a kind of tension in evolutionary biology between thinking about individual genes and the potential for evolution to change the whole organism,” said Michael Travisano, a biologist at the University of Minnesota. “All of biology has been focused on the importance of individual genes for the last 30 years, but the big take-home message of this study is that’s not necessarily important.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 11, 2014 at 12:15 am

Posted in Science

Tagged with , , ,

[LINK] “Why Not Eat Octopus?”

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The New Yorker‘s Sylvia Killingsworth tackles the question of whether it is ethical to eat the intelligent octopus by, among other things, talking to chefs.

I wondered whether word of cephalopod intelligence had reached the food world, so I asked a few chefs if they had any misgivings about serving the animals at their restaurants. For Ashleigh Parsons and Ari Taymor, of Alma, in Los Angeles, the question is not what we eat but where the food is coming from and how it is treated. “The only octopus Ari can get is frozen and shipped from Japan,” Parsons told me in an e-mail. For them, sustainability is paramount, and can trump the cachet of an ingredient.

Ignacio Mattos, the chef at Estela (and formerly at Isa, where he served a whole squid), said that he recently put cuttlefish on the menu, and recalled telling his staff about how smart the creatures are. “I remember seeing this Discovery Channel documentary about them and it really blew my mind,” he wrote to me. Mattos confessed that he loved their elegant texture and taste, but added, “I might in a way have started consciously avoiding using them somehow.” Dave Pasternack, chef and co-founder of the upscale midtown seafood restaurant Esca, spoke with me last week during dinner service from a wall-mounted phone right behind his station in the kitchen. As he called out orders for sole and scampi, he assured me that he had never heard tales of octopus intelligence. “The smarter they are, the more you’d want to eat them, right?” he suggested. (I’ve always been suspicious of people who eat brains.) He insisted that there was an art to cooking octopus correctly. His includes a Neapolitan trick: a wine cork in the cooking liquid. Éric Ripert and Harold McGee dismiss this step as mere legend—to which Pasternack gleefully responds, “Éric Ripert is full of shit!”

Michael Psilakis, a successful Greek-American chef and restaurateur in New York (Kefi, Fishtag, MP Taverna), said that he’s been serving octopus for about twenty-five years but only noticed its increase in popularity over the past ten. “I remember first cooking octopus as a special, only on the weekends, and we’d do twenty orders the whole weekend. Now we do two hundred for a single shift,” he told me. He had heard about octopus intelligence many years before from a customer and Googled it. One of the first results he got was a list of the twenty-five smartest animals. “Pig was, like, number two, and sheep was on that list, too. That’s three animals specific to my cultural identity.… I sort of wondered, does that mean anything?” Psilakis said.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2014 at 2:30 am


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