Oxygen on Earth : A long history

Oxygen, key to life on Earth today, began to appear on the planet millions of years earlier than scientists had thought, new research indicates.

An analysis of a deep rock core from Australia indicates the presence of at least some oxygen 50 million to 100 million years before the great change when the life-giving element began rising to today's levels, according to two papers appearing in today's edition of the journal Science.

Previously, the earliest indications of oxygen had been from between 2.3 billion and 2.4 billion years ago when the "Great Oxidation Event" occurred.

The cause of the event is still not known, but before that the atmosphere was dominated by methane and ammonia. Today oxygen makes up about 21 percent of the atmosphere.

The discovery of traces of early oxygen was made in a study of a 3,000-foot-long rock core extracted in western Australia.

"We seem to have captured a piece of time before the Great Oxidation Event during which the amount of oxygen was actually changing -- caught in the act, as it were," Ariel Anbar, an associate professor in Arizona State University's school of earth and space exploration, said in a statement.

The two research teams were led by Alan Jay Kaufman, associate professor of geochemistry at the University of Maryland and Anbar.

Carl Pilcher of the NASA Astrobiology Institute said: "Studying the dynamics that gave rise to the presence of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere deepens our appreciation of the complex interaction between biology and geochemistry. Their results support the idea that our planet and the life on it evolved together."

Source : Daily Herald

Bad sleeping raises risk of heart diseases and sudden attacks.

Researchers say both too much and too little sleep is linked to a doubled risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. Teams from the University of Warwick and University College London examined sleep patterns and death rates among 10,308 civil servants.

They found a doubled risk among those who cut their sleeping from seven to five hours a night compared to those who stuck to seven hours a night.

But the risk was similar for those who increased to at least eight hours.

The research, to be presented to the British Sleep Society, was based on data taken in 1985-88 and on follow up information collected in 1992-93.

The researchers took into account other possible factors such age, sex, marital status, employment grade, smoking status and physical activity.

Once they had adjusted for those factors they were able to isolate the effect that changes in sleep patterns over five years had on mortality rates 11-17 years later.

Those who cut their sleeping from seven to five hours a night had twice the risk of a fatal cardiovascular problem of those who stuck to the recommended seven hours a night - and a 1.7 increased risk of death from all causes.

--Disturbed sleep common

Researcher Professor Francesco Cappuccio said: ""Fewer hours sleep and greater levels of sleep disturbance have become widespread in industrialized societies.

""This change, largely the result of sleep curtailment to create more time for leisure and shift-work, has meant that reports of fatigue, tiredness and excessive daytime sleepiness are more common than a few decades ago.

""Sleep represents the daily process of physiological restitution and recovery, and lack of sleep has far-reaching effects.""

Curiously, the researchers also found that those individuals who increased their sleep to eight hours or more a night were more than twice as likely to die as those who had not changed their habit.

Professor Cappuccio said lack of sleep had been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

However, he said the link between too much sleep and poor health was less clear, although he suggested that staying in bed for prolonged periods could be a sign of depression, or, in some cases, cancer-related fatigue.

""Our findings indicate that consistently sleeping around seven hours per night is optimal for health and a sustained reduction may predispose to ill-health.""

--Individual need

Dr. Neil Stanley, a sleep expert from Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital, said while public health messages focused on diet and exercise, people were given very little information about the need to get proper amounts of sleep.

""This study is yet more evidence of the importance of getting sleep, and the right amount of sleep for you,"" he said.

""Sleep need is like height or shoe size: we all have an individual one, and we sleep less or more then there are consequences to pay.""

(Source: BBC)

Scientists to barcode world's species

A group of Canadian scientists is working on an ambitious project to create a global database of up to half a million of the world's species using DNA barcoding technology.

The scientists are hoping to raise $150 million to fund an initial five-year stage of what they describe as the biodiversity equivalent of launching a rocket to the moon.

DNA barcoding, a technique for characterising a species using only a short DNA sequence, has wide-ranging implications for health and environment.

It could help remove illegal fish and timber supplies from global markets, get rid of pests such as mosquitoes and even reduce the numbers of collisions between birds and planes.

Paul Hebert, head of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding, is spearheading the plan. “We're now trying to launch in Canada the International Barcode of Life Project, which has a five-year life span,” Hebert said at a three-day seminar on DNA in Taipei.

“We hope to put $150 million into this through a 25 Nation Alliance.”

“The idea is collectively we would gather five million specimens and 5,00,000 species within that five-year period,” Hebert added, saying the entire project could take 15 years.

The seminar in Taipei has brought together 350 scientists from 45 countries to debate the “barcoding of life” concept.

Scientists estimate that while nearly 1.8 million species have already been identified, there may be another 10 million that are not known.

But DNA barcoding technology has progressed so rapidly that scientists predict science fiction-style powers to recognise previously unfamiliar creatures could become reality in a decade.

“Like in the film of Star Trek, anything scanned by such devices could display its image, name and function,” said Allen Chen from Taiwan's Academia Sinica.

“This could be done 10 years from now after a global barcoding data bank is set up,” said Chen, an expert in corals.

Scientists are already working on hand-held barcoders that would enable users to access a barcode data bank using a global positioning system, said Taiwan's Shao Kwang tsao, one of the conference chairs.

Hebert said the alliance would invest heavily in the development of such technology.

This week's conference is being held by the Washington based Consortium for the Barcode of Life, which was set up in 2003 in response to Hebert's initiative and now includes some 160 organisations.

Among them is Taiwan's top academic body, Academia Sinica, one of three chief organisers of the conference.

At its first conference in London in 2005, the consortium's data banks collected some 33,000 DNA references belonging to some 12,700 species.

Today it counts more than 2,90,000 DNA samples from some 31,000 species, including about 20 per cent of the world's estimated 10,000 bird species and 10 per cent of the 35,000 estimated marine and freshwater fish species.

The “barcoding of life” projects have drawn increasing attention, particularly from the US, Canada and Europe, as scientists explore the technique's applications, which range from food safety and consumer protection to the identification of herbal plants.

One British scientist is working on a project to barcode 2,800 species of mosquito or 80 per cent of those known to the world, within two years.

The project is aimed at reducing the scourge of malaria, which infects some 500 million people a year and is spread by some mosquitoes.

Best Hubble Space Telescope Images

NASA : Apply Online to be an Astronaut

NASA is now taking applications from people who want to be astronauts.

The space agency says those with a B.A. in engineering, science or math and three years of relevant professional experience are required.

The application period is open through July 1, 2008.

The interview process is expected to last for six months before NASA announces its 2009 Astronaut Candidate Class.

Click here to apply online.

Additional information about the Astronaut Candidate Program is available by calling the Astronaut Selection Office at 281-483-5907.

Bizarre Object Found Circling Neutron Star

An object recently detected orbiting a neutron star is among the strangest planet-mass bodies ever found, astronomers say.

Instead of circling around a normal star, the low-mass object—likely the "skeleton" of a smaller star—orbits a rapidly spinning pulsar, or neutron star.

The neutron star spins hundreds of times a second—faster than a kitchen blender.

The odd mass, which was spotted on June 7 by NASA's Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellites, orbits the bigger star in a little under once an hour.

The body is located about 230,000 miles (370,149 kilometers) away from the star—slightly less than the distance from Earth to the moon.

Neutron stars usually slow with age, but the gas spiraling from the bizarre object has likely maintained, or even increased, the star's speed.

The star siphons off gas from the orbiting body, as seen in the above artist's illustration. The gas flow occasionally becomes unstable and causes the bright outbursts that can be seen from Earth.

Astronomers suspect the system was once two stars, which formed billions of years ago. Eventually the larger star went supernova, leaving behind the neutron star, while the smaller star expanded into a red giant.

It's unknown whether the smaller star will survive much longer, however.

"It's been taking a beating," Hans Krimm of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said in a statement. The neutron star, after all, has been siphoning away its mass for billions of years.

Source : National Geographic

Indian University Course in Rocket Science

India's secretive defence research agency has helped launch a university course in missile sciences and opened its labs to students, hoping to infuse young talent into a stagnating technology program.

India's missile program has built short and long-range missiles, including one that can hit targets deep inside China.

But its projects have been hit by time and cost overruns and the program has also struggled to attract young engineers and scientists in the face of stiff competition from the more lucrative IT sector, experts say.

A first-of-its-kind masters course in applied physics and ballistics, launched this month at Fakir Mohan University in the eastern state of Orissa, hoped to change that, officials said.

"Students have high levels of creativity and we hope their association will help our research activities," said W Selvamurthy, a top Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) official.

"We expect the students from this course to join DRDO after completion of their studies," Selvamurthy, who is DRDO's chief controller of research and development, said by telephone from New Delhi.

Eighteen students selected after a tough screening program for the two-year course would not only study missile engineering and new technologies, but also get to use DRDO labs in the area where the agency has missile testing facilities, officials said.

"We are trying to open our labs to more and more universities," Selvamurthy said.

Formed in 1958 with a network of 10 laboratories, DRDO has 51 labs where 5,000 scientists and 25,000 other employees work, according to the agency's website.

In April, DRDO successfully tested its most ambitious and longest-range ballistic missile, the Agni III, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead more than 3,000 km.

Source : Sydney Morning Herald

Top 10 Scientific Discoveries

1. The Pythagorean Theorem. It's a staple of high school geometry: in every right triangle, a2 + b2 = c2 , where a and b stand for the two short sides and c for the long. The first to prove this was (probably) the Greek philosopher Pythagoras in the 6th century bc. But it's not the theorem per se that matters; it's the bigger idea it reflected. Pythagoras taught that numbers were the real reality, that the core of the physical world was mathematical. That's why he went around telling everyone, 'Here's a pure idea that is true of every actual object of a certain shape.' Coupling physics to mathematics proved to be one of the most fruitful marriages of all time. Even now we regard a scientific theory as really reliable if it can be proven mathematically.

2. The existence of microorganisms. In the late 1600s, when microscopes were new, Dutch lens maker Antoni van Leeuwenhoek scraped some plaque off his own teeth and looked at it through a microscope. Gasp! It was crawling with "animalcules." In fact, tiny creatures invisible to the naked eye abounded everywhere, he found. Less than two centuries later, knowledge of this invisible universe enabled Louis Pasteur to construct his "germ theory of disease,"which in turn enabled doctors to conquer a whole host of diseases: typhoid, typhus, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, smallpox tuberculosis, anthrax--the list goes on. The leading cause of death changed after that from infectious disease to heart disease, cancer, and "old age." See Bacteria.

3. The three laws of motion. Pythagoras would have been so proud of Isaac Newton! More than any scientist in history, this 18th-century Englishman succeeded in reducing physics to mathematics. Newton came up with three laws to explain the motion of all objects in the universe, from runaway trains to orbiting planets. (He also invented differential calculus, explained gravity, and discovered the spectrum*--not bad for one lifetime.)

4. The structure of matter. In 1789, five years before he was beheaded by a guillotine, French chemist Antoine Lavoisier published a list of "elements"--substances that he said could not be broken down further by any chemical process. His list was incomplete and contained mistakes, but he was onto something. Building on his work, chemists developed our modern view that all matter can be broken down into just 109 elements, that all elements are made of atoms, and that all atoms are made of just three types of particles--protons, neutrons, and electrons.

5. The circulation of blood. Each person has a fixed amount of blood circulating throughout his or her system in one fixed direction. This fact, first discovered in the 12th century by an Arab doctor named Ibn al-Nafīs*, was rediscovered--for good, this time--by the 17th-century English doctor William Harvey. Harvey's work opened the floodgates to research a full understanding of the physiology of living bodies, human and animal. See Circulatory System.

6. Electrical currents. Ancient people knew about static electricity--rub something and it gives off a spark. They knew about lightning bolts--get struck by one and you're dead meat. But not till 19th-century scientists (such as Alessandro Volta*) got electricity to flow did people become aware of this as a distinct force. Today, electricity powers everything from light bulbs to computers, of course. But the discovery of electricity is bigger than its practical applications. Once scientists knew about this force, they couldn't stop wondering what it was. That's when they discovered that electricity, magnetism, radio waves, and light are all different versions of one underlying force, a glue that holds the universe together.

7. The Evolution of Species. People used to think that every life form now on Earth was here from the start--that no new species had been born and none had ever changed. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, developed in the 19th century, revealed the dynamic nature of life on Earth. The word "theory" leads some to think that evolution itself remains controversial among scientists, but actually, no mainstream scientist doubts that old species die out and new ones come into being. It's only the exact mechanism of evolution that remains in play, and modified versions of Darwin's idea of evolution by random natural selection still dominate biological thought.

8. Genes. Gregor Mendel never described a gene, saw one, or used the word, yet this shy Austrian monk uncovered the principals of heredity simply by breeding snow peas, charting his results, and drawing brilliant conclusions. Mendel found that parents pass distinct traits to their offspring in combinations governed by predictable laws. Scientists soon decided some actual thing must carry these traits and coined the word "gene." Only in 1953, did Francis Crick and James Watson really figure out what genes are. That year, they discovered the structure of DNA, a molecule shaped like a twisted ladder and contained in every cell. Genes, it turns out, are the combinations of chemicals that form the "rungs" of this ladder. See Genetics.

9. The four laws of thermodynamics. In the 18th century, a series of scientists from Nicolas Carnot* to Baron Kelvin, Rudolf Clausius*, and others found four laws, just four, that governed the transformation of energy into work in any system--a locomotive, a body, a bonfire, a solar system, the universe--you name it. Engineering and inventions, especially of heat-engines, could not have moved forward without knowledge of these laws, for anything that runs on fuel is bound by them. But the laws of thermodynamics* have vast implications for the universe has a whole, not the least of which is this: The total amount of disorder is always increasing.

10. The dual nature of light. Newton learned that light behaves like a wave. Later, other scientists learned that light behaves like a stream of particles. So which is it--wave or particle? It can't be both--or can it? Early in the 20th century, Neils Bohr, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and others discovered that yes, light is both wave and particle.This paradox gave rise to quantum mechanics, the dominant achievement of 20th-century physics and our deepest current description of "what the universe is really made of." But the quantum picture of reality can't be "pictured." It goes against intuition and laughs at all our senses. The only way to understand the sub-subatomic world of quantum mechanics is mathematically--which brings us right back to Pythagoras.

Source : Encarta

Science Education Links : Space and Astronomy

General Astronomy Information

GRADE LEVEL: Middle School-High School; Secular

Comments: This site is provided by the Royal Greenwich Observatory in the United Kingdom. At this page you will find links to many different LEAFLETS the Observatory has created on many subjects such as: What are stars? Why do we use the phrase, "once in a blue moon"? What are the brightest and nearest stars? Where do stars get their names? What are planets?, etc. A wealth of information is available right here.

The MAD Science Library: Astronomy

GRADE LEVEL: Middle School-High School; Secular

Comments: This site is provided by the MAD Scientist Library. You will find links to "Ask an Astronomer", "Ask an Astronaut", or "Ask the Shuttle crew" which in itself is a valuable resource! There are also links here for your child to discover how astronaunts live while on the Shuttle and what they wear during a space walk. Need information on the nine planets or the sun? That is here too and more.

The Observatory: A Guide to Astronomy Resources on the Exploratorium Website

GRADE LEVEL: Middle School-High School; Secular

Comments: This site is provided by Exploratorium. It is really fun to calculate your weight on other worlds! Follow that link on this page and be astounded! Also there are directions on how to build an accurate model of a solar system using a piece of paper rolled around a toilet paper roll center. There are also links to SOLAR ECLIPSES, SUNSPOTS and AURORAS.

The Family of the Sun

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-Middle School; Secular

Comments: These are the words to a cute song called, "The Family of the Sun" sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell." The words contain the latest information about the planets and so is a very educational song too!

Edible Rocks

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-Middle School; Secular

Comments: This is an incredibly fun activity whose purpose is: "to observe and describe physical characteristics of edible samples chosen as models of real rocks or meteorites." Teacher pages and student pages (you will have to follow the link for that page) including vocabulary are given at this site. Children practice the scientific method in this activity--they approach observation, recording results and describing the samples much as scientists do with real meteorite samples. Would be a good activity for a support group to do or an individual family.

How Old Are You

GRADE LEVEL: Middle School; Secular

Comments: Using the provided chart showing how long a year is on each planet, one can calculate their age if they lived on that planet with simple math. This is a good math/science activity.

Orbital Forces

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-Middle School; Secular

Comments: There are both teacher and student pages available on this web page. The activity is easy to do using readily-available materials.

Gravity Forces and Rockets Activity Index

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-Middle School; Secular

Comments: On this page choose whether you want to learn about gravity forces or rockets. Both of these concepts show a teacher and a student page. Make an accelerometer out of simple materials to measure G-forces. Or, design a paper rocket propelled by alka seltzer and water to demonstrate how a rocket works.

How Much Do You Weigh?

GRADE LEVEL: Middle School; Secular

Comments: An activity sheet that shows how to calculate your weight on various planets.

CEPS Planetary Image Facility

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-Middle School; Secular

Comments: Would you just like some pictures and basic facts about the planets for a report? This would be the place. Each planet page lists basic facts, allows you to enlarge images of the planet and gives you a list of all the spacecraft encounters we have had with that planet and the dates of those encounters.

The Nine Planets Glossary

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-High School; Secular

Comments: Studying astronomy in school and need a definition or want to know who a particular person is? Try here. In addition to a definition, many times you can click on a word to see a picture or go to more information about that subject.

StarChild: A Learning Center for Young Astronomers

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary-Middle School; Secular

Comments: (There is evolutionary content here so be aware!) This site contains basic information about Black Holes, Stars, the Solar System, etc., etc. You can ask to see any particular page as LEVEL ONE (about a Grade 3 level) or as a LEVEL TWO (about Grade 5-6). You can also view any page in PRINTABLE VERSION FORMAT. Throughout the site you will see words in blue...clicking on these words will bring up a definition of the word from their site glossary.

Under "Space Stuff"you will find short biographies about Who's Who in Space, information on the Hubble Telescope, Astronauts and what they wear, Space Probes, etc.

If you follow the link to IMAGINE A UNIVERSE, you will come to a site that is designed for Age 14 and up.V Here you can ask an astronomer a question and read more technical discussions. Again, this site too is evolutionary...you will see the BIG BANG THEORY here. Still, you can learn alot of basic information about space here at both of these sites.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

GRADE LEVEL: All Ages; Secular

Comments: This site promises the following: "Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer."

Atomic carbon billiards

Physicists at UC Riverside have demonstrated that graphene – a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in hexagonal rings – can act as an atomic-scale billiard table, with electric charges acting as billiard balls.

The finding underscores graphene’s potential for serving as an excellent electronic material, such as silicon, that can be used to develop new kinds of transistors based on quantum physics. Because they encounter no obstacles, the electrons in graphene roam freely across the sheet of carbon, conducting electric charge with extremely low resistance.

Study results appear in today’s issue of Science.

The research team, led by Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, found that the electrons in graphene are reflected back by the only obstacle they meet: graphene’s boundaries.

“These electrons meet no other obstacles and behave like quantum billiard balls,” said Lau, an assistant professor who joined UCR’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2004. “They display properties that resemble both particles and waves.”

Lau observed that when the electrons are reflected from one of the boundaries of graphene, the original and reflected components of the electron can interfere with each other, the way outgoing ripples in a pond might interfere with ripples reflected back from the banks.

Her lab detected the “electronic interference” by measuring graphene’s electrical conductivity at extremely low (0.26 Kelvin) temperatures. She explained that at such low temperatures the quantum properties of electrons can be studied more easily.

“We found that the electrons in graphene can display wave-like properties, which could lead to interesting applications such as ballistic transistors, which is a new type of transistor, as well as resonant cavities for electrons,” Lau said. She explained that a resonant cavity is a chamber, like a kitchen microwave, in which waves can bounce back and forth.

In their experiments, Lau and her colleagues first peeled off a single sheet of graphene from graphite, a layered structure consisting of rings of six carbon atoms arranged in stacked horizontal sheets. Next, the researchers attached nanoscale electrodes to the graphene sheet, which they then refrigerated in a cooling device. Finally, they measured the electrical conductivity of the graphene sheet.

Graphene, first isolated experimentally less than three years ago, is a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms, and, structurally, is related to carbon nanotubes (tiny hollow tubes formed by rolling up sheets of graphene) and buckyballs (hollow carbon molecules that form a closed cage).

Scientifically, it has become a new model system for condensed-matter physics, the branch of physics that deals with the physical properties of solid materials. Graphene enables table-top experimental tests of a number of phenomena in physics involving quantum mechanics and relativity.

Bearing excellent material properties, such as high current-carrying capacity and thermal conductivity, graphene ideally is suited for creating components for semiconductor circuits and computers. Its planar geometry allows the fabrication of electronic devices and the tailoring of a variety of electrical properties. Because it is only one-atom thick, it can potentially be used to make ultra-small devices and further miniaturize electronics.

Source : Scientist Live

Matter-antimatter molecules in lab

Scientists at the University of California at Riverside have created molecular positronium, in which two positrons – antimatter siblings of electrons – are bound together by electrons, in the laboratory.

They say as electrons and positrons have equal and opposite charges, they can become bound together by their electrical attraction, just as a positively charged proton is orbited by an electron in ordinary hydrogen atoms.

In theory, positronium atoms – electron-positron pairs – should also be able to pair up to form molecules, just as two hydrogen atoms form H2, they said.

However, as physicist Clifford Surko of the University of California in San Diego, said, the hybrid molecule positronium, denoted as Ps2, is peculiar stuff.

“Rather than being two well-defined atoms stuck together, the four particles “do a merry dance around each other in a fuzzy, lump-less soup,” said Surko.

He, however, said these molecules are very hard to see because matter and antimatter annihilate each other, releasing a burst of energy in the form of gamma-rays.

When isolated in a vacuum, positronium atoms typically survive for less than a millionth of a second before they self-destruct, Sarko said.

”Almost as soon as they are made, they disappear again with a puff and a flash of light,” said Surko.

During their study, David Cassidy and Allen Mills at the University of California at Riverside, found, that if they could capture enough positronium, some of the pseudo-atoms might combine before they vanish.

If that happened, the positronium molecules would release a characteristic gamma-ray signature when annihilation eventually occurred.

So the researchers fired a beam of positrons (made with a technique developed by Surko) into porous silica glass, in an attempt to pick up electrons and make Ps2. They estimated a one-in-ten chance of two positronium atoms combining.

The clinching data, the researchers said, came from looking at how the intensity of the gamma rays changed, as the temperature was altered.

The pair now believes electron-positron annihilation should be more rapid in Ps2 than in lone positronium atoms, because the binding increases the chance of collision.

“And the positronium mix should have a greater proportion of molecules at lower temperatures, since the cold makes molecules more stable. So the gamma-rays should become more intense when the mixture is cooled. That's exactly what we saw,” the researchers wrote in their study in the journal Nature. (ANI)

Academy of Future Space Explorers

NASA and the Mad Science Group of Montreal, Canada, have teamed in an effort to spark the imagination of children, encouraging more youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The two organizations recently signed a Space Act Agreement, officially launching the development of the Academy of Future Space Explorers.

The organizations have leveraged NASA research, missions and initiatives to develop fun and engaging space-themed activities for elementary school-aged children. Space-inspired activities have been integrated into Mad Science's various enrichment initiatives, including after-school programs, birthday parties, summer camps and community events across the United States and Canada. More than 100,000 children have taken part in the initial launch phase of the program.

"Mad Science is noted for its trademark 'edu-tainment' philosophy, which cultivates incredible enthusiasm and a sense of wonder in children," said Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for Education, Headquarters, Washington. "Our goal with this initiative is to take children on an adventure of discovery, introduce them to the exciting world of space, and above all, to help make learning fun."

The Academy of Future Space Explorers will promote children's curiosity about Earth, the moon, Mars and beyond through creative, hands-on experiments and demonstrations. Participants will explore topics including: planets and moons; atmosphere and beyond; space phenomena; sun and stars; rocket science; space travel; space technology; and living in space.

"Children are born scientists. They are naturally curious about the world around them, and space is still a mysterious, exciting frontier. We look forward to our continued relationship with NASA to harness that curiosity in today's youth, and to help foster a lifelong love of science, math and learning," said Ariel Shlien, chief executive officer, the Mad Science Group. "The Mad Science Group is thrilled to partner with NASA on this unique initiative, to help change children's perceptions about the sciences, and inspire the next generation of astronauts, physicists and engineers."

With this program, NASA continues the agency's tradition of investing in the nation's education programs. It is directly tied the agency's major education goal of engaging Americans in Nasa's mission. NASA is committed to building strategic partnerships and links between formal and informal education providers. Through hands-on, interactive educational activities, NASA is engaging students, educators, families, the public and other agency stakeholders to increase Americans' science and technology literacy.

For more information about Mad Science, visit: http://www.madscience.org

For more information about NASA's education programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/education

Scientists discover reading process

A British research team at the BA Festival of Science in York has revealed new findings about the mystery of how our eyes read a sentence.

It was previously believed that, both our eyes focus on the same letter of a word when we read, but Professor Simon Liversedge and his team found that this is not always the case.

The researchers revealed that almost 50% of the time, each of our eyes simultaneously lock on two different letters and our brain can join two separate images to a single clear view of a page.

The experiment showed that while reading, eyes make small jerky movements, rather than moving smoothly over the text.

"We found that in a very substantial number of fixations (periods when the eyes are still) that people make when they read, they aren't looking at the same letter", said Liversedge of Southampton University.

“Instead, the eyes often focused on different letters in the same word, about two characters apart”, he added.

"They could be uncrossed, in the sense that the two lines of sight are not crossed when you look at a word, or alternatively the two lines of sight may be crossed," he explained.

We only see one clear image because our brain fuses the different images from our eyes together, therefore we use the information from both eyes and our brain does not suppress one image to process the other.

"A comprehensive understanding of the psychological processes underlying reading is vital if we are to develop better methods of teaching children to read and offer remedial treatments for those with reading disorders such as dyslexia", concluded Professor Liversedge.

Tots More Socially Cognitive Than Apes

Toddlers may act up like little apes, but researchers who compared the species concluded a 2-year-old child still has the more sophisticated social learning skills.

In one test, preschoolers who wanted a toy hidden in a trick tube intently copied a scientist's movements to retrieve the prize. Chimps watched the lesson, but then mostly tried to smash or bite open the tube. When it came to simple math, however, the apes seemed to know more than the youngsters, apparently "adding" how many tasty raisins researchers had hidden.

In a novel study, scientists lured 106 chimpanzees, 32 orangutans and 105 toddlers to sit through five hours of testing over several days. Researchers were trying to tell which innate abilities are distinctly human.

"Human children are not overall more intelligent than other primates, but instead have specialized skills of social cognition," concluded the lead researcher, Esther Herrmann of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "They learn in a way that chimpanzees don't learn."

But the findings, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, conflict with other research that suggests the great apes, humans' closest relatives, are quite good at social learning, too. In fact, a second study in the same journal suggests chimps and monkeys have some capacity to infer someone's intentions by their actions. That is pretty complex, human-like thinking.

In that work, the animals sought out food containers that a researcher had grasped purposefully, not just tapped, or a container that he had touched with his elbow when his hands were full, but not one elbowed when his hands were empty.

The chimps and monkeys expected someone to behave rationally and adjusted their own actions accordingly, according to the lead researcher, Justin Wood of Harvard University.

"That shows quite a subtle social understanding going on in these animals," said Dr. Frans de Waal of Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center, a well-known expert in primate cognition who was not involved in the research published Friday.

Scientists to create human-animal embryos

Plans to allow British scientists to create human-animal embryos are expected to be approved tomorrow by the government's fertility regulator. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority published its long-awaited public consultation on the controversial research yesterday, revealing that a majority of people were "at ease" with scientists creating the hybrid embryos.

Researchers want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with animal eggs, in the hope they will be able to extract valuable embryonic stem cells from them. The cells form the basic building blocks of the body and are expected to pave the way for revolutionary therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even spinal cord injuries.

The consultation papers were released ahead of the authority's final decision on the matter, which will mark the end of almost a year of intense lobbying by scientists and a fervent campaign by organisations opposed to research involving embryonic stem cells.

Using animal eggs will allow researchers to push ahead unhindered by the shortage of human eggs. Under existing laws, the embryos must be destroyed after 14 days when they are no bigger than a pinhead, and cannot be implanted into the womb.

Opponents of the research and some religious groups say the work blurs the distinction between humans and animals, and creates embryos that are destined to be destroyed when stem cells are extracted from them.

Two research groups based at King's College London and Newcastle University have already applied to the HFEA to create animal-human embryos, but their applications have been on hold since November last year amid confusion over whether the authority was legally able to issue licences.

If the authority approves the research, the applications will go forward to a committee, with a decision on both due within three months.

Professor Ian Wilmut, whose team cloned Dolly the sheep, is waiting for the HFEA's decision before applying to create hybrid embryos to study motor neurone disease with Professor Chris Shaw at the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

The consultation, a £150,000, three-month mix of opinion polls, public meetings and debates, found participants were initially cautious of merging animal and human material, but became more positive. "When further factual information was provided and further discussion took place, the majority of participants became more at ease with the idea," the HFEA's report says.

Most support was expressed for the creation of so-called cytoplasmic hybrid embryos, in which a human cell is inserted into an empty animal egg. Other hybrid embryos, such as those created by fertilising an animal egg with human sperm, or vice versa, were less well supported.

In December, the government sparked a revolt by scientists, patient groups and medical researchers when it published a white paper containing proposals to outlaw almost all research into animal-human embryos. The research has since been backed by Nobel prizewinners, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Commons science and technology committee, and the government's chief science adviser, Sir David King.

In May, the government withdrew its opposition in a draft fertility bill and now seeks to outlaw only embryos created by mixing sperm and eggs from humans and animals. The bill will be put before parliament before the end of the year.

Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said: "The HFEA's consultation reveals welcome recognition of the potential of this research, [with] 61% of the general public agreeing with the creation of human-animal embryos, if it may help understand diseases, with only a quarter opposed to this research."

Source : Guardian

Scientists Identify Height Gene

A team of scientists from Britain and the U.S. are on a high today as they have identified the first gene directly linked to a persons height, according to media reports Monday.

Examining DNA from 35,000 people, the researchers found that just one single letter in the human genetic code is likely responsible for making someone short, or tall, researchers said.

Scientists believe that inheriting a form of the gene HMGA2 that also carries the letter C in the genetic code instead of T will add a quarter of an inch in height. Two copies of the gene can result in a height increase of 2 inches.

One of the study’s lead authors, Dr Tim Frayling of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said that everyone carries two copies of the HMGA2 gene and that about 25 per cent of white Europeans will carry both versions of the “tall” gene and another 25 per cent will carry both versions of the “short” gene.

He said: “Height is a typical ‘polygenic’ trait. In other words many genes contribute towards making us taller or shorter. Clearly our results do not explain why one person will be 6ft 5ins and another only 4ft 10ins. This is just the first of many – possibly as many as several hundred – that will be found. Even though improved nutrition means that each generation is getting successively taller, variation in height within a population is almost entirely influenced by our genes.”

“Because height is a complex trait, involving a variety of genetic and non-genetic factors, it can teach us valuable lessons about the genetic framework of other complex traits such as diabetes, cancer and other common human diseases,” says JoelHirshhorn, a senior researcher on the study.

The study was carried out by scientists at Harvard University and Children’s Hospital Boston along with U.K. researchers at Oxford University and the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter.

Source : Ontario Now
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