Saturday, December 05, 2009

Selected reading 12/5/09

Interesting reading and news items.

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

Fuelling fears
There is an awesome amount of energy tied up in an atom of uranium. Because of that, projections of the price of nuclear power tend to focus on the cost of building the plant rather than that of fuelling it. But proponents of nuclear energy—who argue, correctly, that such plants emit little carbon dioxide—would do well to remember that, like coal and oil, uranium is a finite resource. [The Economist, 11/30/09]

The Coming Nuclear Crisis
The perception is that nuclear power is a carbon-free technology, that it breaks our reliance on oil and that it gives governments control over their own energy supply. That looks dangerously overoptimistic, says Michael Dittmar, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who publishes the final chapter of an impressive four-part analysis of the global nuclear industry on the arXiv today. [Technology Review: the physics asXiv blog, 11/17/09]

Henry Markram Calls the IBM Cat Scale Brain Simulation a Hoax
This is a mega public relations stunt - a clear case of scientific deception of the public. These simulations do not even come close to the complexity of an ant, let alone that of a cat. IBM allows Mohda to mislead the public into believing that they have simulated a brain with the complexity of a cat - sheer nonsense. [Next Big Future, 11/24/09]

I have a long post on the subject: here

Immune System vs. Cancer
The comeback of an old idea in immunology prompts a rethink of cancer progression and approaches to treatment. [The Scientist, 11/1/09]

There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Simple’ Organism
What may be the most thorough study ever of a single organism has produced a beta code for life’s essential subroutines, and shown that even the simplest creatures are more complex than scientists suspected. [Wired Science, 11/30/09]

Americans' Eating Habits More Wasteful Than Ever
After their biggest meal of the year, Americans might reflect on the fate of those moldering Thanksgiving leftovers. Nearly 40% of the food supply in the United States goes to waste, according to a new study, and the problem has been getting worse. [ScienceNOW, 11/25/09]

A New Spin on Electronics
Some physicists aim to develop a whole new technology called "spintronics" that would encode information in the directions in which electrons spin as well. Those efforts could lead to ultra-low-power electronics and even futuristic quantum computers. Now, such technologies may be an important step closer to reality thanks to a group of researchers that has managed to polarize the spinning electrons in silicon, the most common commercial semiconductor. [ScienceNOW, 11/25/09]

First programmable quantum computer created
Using a few ultracold ions, intense lasers and some electrodes, researchers have built the first programmable quantum computer. The new system, described in a paper to be published in Nature Physics, flexed its versatility by performing 160 randomly chosen processing routines. [Science News, 11/23/09]

Membrane Awakening
The boundary of a living, metabolizing cell is surprisingly similar to that hedge. The cellular membrane, once thought to be an inert barrier, is one of the most dynamic parts of the cell. The membrane and the plethora of proteins that stud its surface direct the exchange of information between cells, tightly control the flow of materials from inside to outside the cell, and provide surfaces for some of life's most vital chemical reactions. [HHMI Bulletin, 11/1/09]

Superior Super Earths
Astronomers have discovered hundreds of Jupiter-like planets in our galaxy. However, a handful of the planets found orbiting distant stars are more Earth-sized. This gives hope to astrobiologists, who think we are more likely to find life on rocky planets with liquid water. The rocky planets found so far are actually more massive than our own. Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University, coined the term “Super-Earths” to reflect their mass rather than any superior qualities. But Sasselov says that these planets – which range from about 2 to 10 Earth masses – could be superior to the Earth when it comes to sustaining life. [Astrobiology Magazine, 11/30/09]

Nanoparticles for gene therapy improve
Nanoparticles, made of biodegradable polymers, offer a chance to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to realizing the promise of gene therapy: The viruses often used to carry genes into the body can endanger patients. Furthermore, the particles created at MIT now rival viruses’ efficiency at delivering their DNA payload. [MIT News, 11/6/09]

Cancer research gets into the groove
The out-of-control cell growth that defines cancer results from runaway growth genes activated by regulator proteins, known as transcription factors, that sit on DNA and turn genes on and off. Transcription factors are often mutated in cancer, but scientists have been largely unable to design or find drugs capable of blocking the proteins. A creative method of targeting these gene regulators has recently been applied to cancer by a multi-institutional collaboration of researchers. [Broad Institute, 11/12/09]

Building a second sun: Take $10 billion, add coconuts
The balmy south of France has always been a magnet for sun worshippers. So it is perhaps fitting that here, not far from the Côte d'Azur, an international team of researchers is building a machine to recreate the sun. ... [An] eclectic mix of ingredients will be turned into ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor - the next big thing in nuclear fusion research. [New Scientist, 10/12/09]

Out of your head: Leaving the body behind
In the 15 years since that dramatic incident, Brugger and others have come a long way towards understanding out-of-body experiences. They have narrowed down the cause to malfunctions in a specific brain area and are now working out how these lead to the almost supernatural experience of leaving your own body and observing it from afar. They are also using out-of-body experiences to tackle a long-standing problem: how we create and maintain a sense of self. [New Scientist, 10/13/09]

Researchers unravel brain's wiring to understand memory
These are a few of the cutting-edge experiments that neuroscientists are performing in the latest efforts to understand the mysteries of how the brain learns, remembers and forgets. The work is shedding new light on how the brain handles memory storage, loss, fear, addiction and aging. Some explore the role of sleep — even a brief nap — in consolidating long-term memories. Others are building colorful wiring diagrams, nicknamed "Brainbows," that use different shades to show which neurons connect with which. [McClatchy, 9/22/09]

Scientists seek to manage dopamine's good and bad sides
Dopamine [is] a natural brain chemical that's linked to pleasure, addiction and disease. This little molecule -- it consists of only 22 atoms -- is essential to life but can be a curse sometimes. Too much or too little of it can lead to drug abuse, reckless thrill-seeking, obesity, the tremors of Parkinson's disease, even restless leg syndrome, an irresistible urge to move your legs. [McClatchy, 10/6/09]

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