Friday, December 25, 2009

Selected readings 12/25/09

Interesting reading and news items.

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

The Psychology of Climate Change Denial
Even as the science of global warming gets stronger, fewer Americans believe it’s real. In some ways, it’s nearly as jarring a disconnect as enduring disbelief in evolution or carbon dating. And according to Kari Marie Norgaard, a Whitman College sociologist who’s studied public attitudes towards climate science, we’re in denial. “Our response to disturbing information is very complex. We negotiate it. We don’t just take it in and respond in a rational way,” said Norgaard. [, 12/9/09]

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]

How epigenetics is changing our fight with disease
Sequencing the human genome was supposed to answer our questions about the genetic origins of disease but the burgeoning science of epigenetics is telling us it's a whole lot more complicated. [ABC Science, 10/1/09]

Accelerators and Light Sources of Tomorrow (Part 1: From Linacs to Lasers)
From their humble beginnings as offshoots of the ordinary electric light bulb, particle accelerators have evolved in surprising directions. Among the most productive and promising developments have been light sources, first in the form of electron storage rings -- of which the Advanced Light Source is the world's premier source of soft x-rays -- and increasingly as versatile and sophisticated free electron lasers, the next generation of light sources now being studied at Berkeley Lab. [, 12/22/09]

Accelerators and Light Sources of Tomorrow (Part 2: Accelerating with Light)
Accelerators are far from achieving the highest energies their builders aspire to, but size and cost may limit the kinds of facilities funding agencies can support. In the future, new kinds of machines will be needed to make further progress. Perhaps the most promising is the laser plasma accelerator. [, 12/22/09]

Stars Fueled by Dark Matter Could Hold Secrets to the Universe
The first stars in the universe may have been very different from the stars we see today, yet they may hold clues to understanding some of the mysterious features of the universe. These "dark stars," first theorized in 2007, could grow to be much larger than modern stars, and would be powered by dark matter particles that annihilate inside them, rather than by nuclear fusion. [, 11/3/09]

Like built-in GPS, brain maps help you find your way home
Scientists have long known that a small, seahorse-shaped region in the brain, the hippocampus, contains neurons called "place cells" that specialize in geography. In recent years, working mostly with laboratory rats, they've discovered additional types of neurons in or near the hippocampus known as "grid cells," "head-direction cells" and "border cells." Taken together, "these cells form a map of the environment," said Edvard Moser, a leading expert on brain mapping. [McClatchy, 10/30/09]

Herschel Space Observatory sees stars being born
Peering into the heart of a dust-covered stellar nursery, a new infrared observatory has spied some 700 stars in the making. At the moment, the soon-to-be stars are just clumps of dust and gas. But about 100 of the clumps are protostars, embryonic bodies about to initiate nuclear fusion at their cores and become bona fide stars. The other 600 objects are less mature but will ultimately develop into new stars. [Science News, 12/21/09]

Building a Search Engine of the Brain, Slice by Slice
Brain dissection is a craft that goes back centuries and has helped scientists to understand where functions like language processing and vision are clustered, to compare gray and white matter and cell concentrations across different populations and to understand the damage done in ailments like Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. [New York Times, 12/21/09]

Search for extraterrestrial life gains momentum around the world
The instruments, the initial phase of the planned 350-dish Allen Telescope Array, are designed to systematically scan the skies for radio signals sent by advanced civilizations from distant star systems and planets. Fifty years after it began -- and 18 years since Congress voted to strip taxpayer money from the effort -- the nation's search for extraterrestrial intelligence is alive and growing. [Washington Post, 12/22/09]

Starring Intelligent Aliens
When scientists search the heavens for habitable worlds beyond Earth, they don't necessarily know what to look for. A new study has found that the most probable place to find intelligent life in the galaxy is around stars with roughly the mass of the sun, and surface temperatures between 5,300 and 6,000 Kelvin (9,100 and 10,300 degrees Fahrenheit) - in fact, stars very similar to our own sun. [, 11/5/09]

Old discovery could bring new cancer therapies
The reason for cancer cells’ peculiar metabolism - and the question of whether it plays a key role in driving cancer - remained largely mysterious to scientists. Over the past few years, however, biochemistry research has led to a resurgence of interest in cancer cell metabolism - the ways in which cancer cells generate energy to function and grow. [Boston Globe, 12/21/09]

At a Mine’s Bottom, Hints of Dark Matter
An international team of physicists working in the bottom of an old iron mine in Minnesota said Thursday that they might have registered the first faint hints of a ghostly sea of subatomic particles known as dark matter long thought to permeate the cosmos. [New York Times, 12/17/09]

Two events hint at impact of dark matter particles
Two talks from members of the CDMS consortium, which runs a detector designed to spot the presence of a likely dark matter candidate, have indicated that they've spotted two events that bear the signatures of something called a neutralino, a hypothesized particle that has many of the properties of dark matter. With only two of these detections, however, there's still a 23 percent chance that random background events produced the signals. [Ars technica, 12/17/09]

Researchers show off functional single-molecule transistor
As semiconductor manufacturers continue to push down the size of their products' wiring, a number of research labs have started looking into whether they can simply take the process to its logical conclusion: a transistor made from a single molecule. A number of these items have been demonstrated, and they do manage to control the current flow through the molecular transistor, but they do so through a variety of tricks that have nothing in common with the methods used for the semiconductors in our electronics. In today's issue of Nature, an international team reports producing the first voltage-gated molecular transistors. [Ars technica, 12/23/09]

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