David Kirkpatrick

June 13, 2010

World Cup fans of Spain …

Filed under: Science, Sports — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:27 pm

don’t start celebrating just yet.

From the link:

The World Cup offers fans of the globe’s most popular sport the chance to thrill and agonize over the ups and downs of their nations’ teams. For scientists, whether or not they are fans, it’s another chance to collect data and test hypotheses about how close the final match results reflected the relative skill and performance of the two teams — and if they used the best possible winning strategies.

When the dust clears after the  concludes next month, it’s likely that the champion will not be the team that played the best, said Gerald Skinner, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Following up on a lunchroom discussion with his avid fan tablemates, Skinner, who admits not being a great sports enthusiast, published a research paper in 2009 that worked out the details of his claim using statistical techniques familiar to astronomers. The findings backed up his posturing.

“It’s not entirely a , but the result of an individual football match has got a very large element of chance and  in it,” said Skinner.

June 12, 2010

The Singularity in the NYT

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:25 pm

Mainstreaming futurism. Well, sort of …

From the link:

Yet it also smacked of a future that the Singularity University founders hold dear and often discuss with a techno-utopian bravado: the arrival of the Singularity — a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.

At that point, the Singularity holds, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past.

USA-1, England-1

Solid first effort from the US side and a bit lucky. The story of the game of course is Clint Dempsey’s very soft goal against Robert Green. Fleet Street is going to have a field day with Green, and if England doesn’t make it out of the round robin somehow his life in the UK will never recover.

June 11, 2010

Friday video fun — graphene into fullerene

This time it’s fun with science watching graphene turn into buckyballs.

PhysOrg has an article covering this video with additional images.

From the link:

Peering through a transmission electron microscope (TEM), researchers from Germany, Spain, and the UK have observed graphene sheets transforming into spherical fullerenes, better known as buckyballs, for the first time. The experiment could shed light on the process of how fullerenes are formed, which has so far remained mysterious on the atomic scale.

“This is the first time that anyone has directly observed the mechanism of fullerene formation,” Andrei Khlobystov of the University of Nottingham toldPhysOrg.com. “Shortly after the discovery of fullerene (exactly 25 years ago), the ‘top down’ mechanism of fullerene assembly was proposed. However, it was soon rejected in favor of a multitude of different ‘bottom up’ mechanisms, mainly because people could not understand how a flake of  could form a fullerene and because they did not have means to observe the fullerene formation in situ.”

Latest satellite image of Deepwater Horizon spill

I’ll just let NASA’s image and caption do the work in illuminating BP’s ecological disaster:

NASA Visible Image of Gulf Oil Slick-June 10

Caption: NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, June 10 at 19:05 UTC (3:05 p.m. EDT) and the satellite’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument captured an image of the thickest part of the oil slick. In the image, the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is positioned in sunglint. In the sunglint region—where the mirror-like reflection of the Sun gets blurred into a wide, bright silvery-gray strip—differences in the texture of the water surface may be enhanced. In the thickest part of the slick, oil smooths the water, making it a better “mirror.” Areas where thick oil cover the water are nearly white in this image. Additional oil may also be present.

Credit: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team/ Holli Riebeek

Usage Restrictions: None

Related news release: NASA’s Aqua Satellite Saw Oil Slick in Sunglint on June 10

A bit on that other type of singularity

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:47 pm

I do a fair bit of blogging about the technological Singularity, but this post is about one the better known scientific singularities –  in this case the singularity that lies at the heart of a black hole and how to go about getting a glimpse of one in all its glory. All that would take is to destroy the black hole that hides the singularity. This physics arXiv blog post is something of an instructional guide on how to go about snuffing out a black hole. Pretty simple in theory, but you know the rest.

From the last link:

In general relativity, the mathematical condition for the existence of a black hole with an event horizon is simple. It is given by the following inequality: M^2 > (J/M)^2 + Q^2, where M is the mass of the black hole, J is its angular momentum and Q is its charge.

Getting rid of the event horizon is simply a question of increasing the angular momentum and/or charge of this object until the inequality is reversed. When that happens the event horizon disappears and the exotic object beneath emerges.

At first sight, that seems straightforward. The inequality suggests that to destroy a black hole, all you need to do is to feed it angular momentum and charge.

And:

To any ordinary physicist, a singularity is an indication that a theory has broken down and some new theory is needed to describe what is going on. It is a matter of principle that singularities are mathematical objects, not physical ones and that any ‘hole’ they suggest exists not in the fabric of the Universe but in our understanding of it.

Astrophysicists are different. They have such extraordinary faith in their theories that they believe singularities actually exist inside black holes. The likes of Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking have even proved that singularities are inevitable in gravitational collapse.

For them, removing the event horizon around a black hole raises the exciting prospect of revealing a singularity in all its naked glory. When that happens, we will be able to gaze at infinity.

Nanoscale circuits on graphene

Via KurzweilAI.net — For all those fresh graduates out there, one word — graphene.

Simple way to create nanocircuitry on graphene developed
KurzweilAI.net, June 11, 2010

method of drawing nanoscale circuits onto atom-thick sheets of graphene has been developed by researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Georgia Institute ofTechnology, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

The simple, quick one-step process for creating nanowires, based on thermochemical nanolithography (TCNL), tunes the electronic properties of reduced graphene oxide, allowing it to switch from being an insulating material to a conducting material.

Scientists who work with nanocircuits are enthusiastic about graphene because electrons meet with less resistance when they travel along graphene compared to silicon and because today’s silicon transistors are nearly as small as allowed by the laws of physics. Graphene also has the edge due to its thickness – it’s a carbon sheet that is a single atom thick.

However, no one knew how to produce graphene nanostructures with such a reproducible or scalable method until now.

More info: Georgia Institute of Technology

June 10, 2010

Nantech making better heat sinks

Really making a whole lot better heat sinks.

The release:

NANOTECH YIELDS MAJOR ADVANCE IN HEAT TRANSFER, COOLING TECHNOLOGIES

6-9-10

The journal publication this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/cBAKfE

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered a new way to apply nanostructure coatings to make heat transfer far more efficient, with important potential applications to high tech devices as well as the conventional heating and cooling industry.

These coatings can remove heat four times faster than the same materials before they are coated, using inexpensive materials and application procedures.

The discovery has the potential to revolutionize cooling technology, experts say.

The findings have just been announced in the International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, and a patent application has been filed.

“For the configurations we investigated, this approach achieves heat transfer approaching theoretical maximums,” said Terry Hendricks, the project leader from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “This is quite significant.”

The improvement in heat transfer achieved by modifying surfaces at the nanoscale has possible applications in both micro- and macro-scale industrial systems, researchers said. The coatings produced a “heat transfer coefficient” 10 times higher than uncoated surfaces.

Heat exchange has been a significant issue in many mechanical devices since the Industrial Revolution.

The radiator and circulating water in an automobile engine exist to address this problem. Heat exchangers are what make modern air conditioners or refrigerators function, and inadequate cooling is a limiting factor for many advanced technology applications, ranging from laptop computers to advanced radar systems.

“Many electronic devices need to remove a lot of heat quickly, and that’s always been difficult to do,” said Chih-hung Chang, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University. “This combination of a nanostructure on top of a microstructure has the potential for heat transfer that’s much more efficient than anything we’ve had before.”

There’s enough inefficiency in heat transfer, for instance, that for water to reach its boiling point of 100 degrees centigrade, the temperature of adjacent plates often has to be about 140 degrees centigrade. But with this new approach, through both their temperature and a nanostructure that literally encourages bubble development, water will boil when similar plates are only about 120 degrees centigrade.

To do this, heat transfer surfaces are coated with a nanostructured application of zinc oxide, which in this usage develops a multi-textured surface that looks almost like flowers, and has extra shapes and capillary forces that encourage bubble formation and rapid, efficient replenishment of active boiling sites.

In these experiments, water was used, but other liquids with different or even better cooling characteristics could be used as well, the researchers said. The coating of zinc oxide on aluminum and copper substrates is inexpensive and could affordably be applied to large areas.

Because of that, this technology has the potential not only to address cooling problems in advanced electronics, the scientists said, but also could be used in more conventional heating, cooling and air conditioning applications. It could eventually find its way into everything from a short-pulse laser to a home air conditioner or more efficient heat pump systems. Military electronic applications that use large amounts of power are also likely, researchers said.

The research has been supported by the Army Research Laboratory. Further studies are being continued to develop broader commercial applications, researchers said.

“These results suggest the possibility of many types of selectively engineered, nanostructured patterns to enhance boiling behavior using low cost solution chemistries and processes,” the scientists wrote in their study. “As solution processes, these microreactor-assisted, nanomaterial deposition approaches are less expensive than carbon nanotube approaches, and more importantly, processing temperatures are low.”

About the OSU College of Engineering: The OSU College of Engineering is among the nation’s largest and most productive engineering programs. In the past six years, the College has more than doubled its research expenditures to $27.5 million by emphasizing highly collaborative research that solves global problems, spins out new companies, and produces opportunity for students through hands-on learning.

Nanotech coating by Oregon State University.

This nanoscale-level coating of zinc oxide on top of a copper plate holds the potential to dramatically increase heat transfer characteristics and lead to a revolution in heating and cooling technology, according to experts at Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

Guns end lives …

… but sometimes guns save lives.

From the link:

When John Q. Citizen takes out a gun and the criminals flee, reporters don’t consider the incident “news” (at least when there are no injuries)–so guns are typically on the evening news when they are used by criminals.  As a result of that skewed coverage, it is no wonder that many people have a negative view about firearms.

I completely agree. I had an incident at my home just before New Year’s this past December at 9:00 a.m. where one assailant attempted to kick in the front door (it held) to the point the lock had to be removed before the door could even be opened, and a second assailant destroyed a section of fence to gain access to the backyard.

Both assailants fled after I racked a 12 gauge shotgun at the back door while looking at the second assailant through frosted glass. Who knows what would have happened had the front door not held or the backyard trespasser decided to more aggressively enter the back door, but I’m fairly certain someone wouldn’t have walked away from that particular situation.

June 9, 2010

Lithium-air battery news

Good news, that is. A nanotech catalyst improves the efficiency of lithium-air batteries to record levels and gets them that much closer to practical application in places like electric vehicles.

From the link:

A catalyst developed by researchers at MIT makes rechargeable lithium-air batteries significantly more efficient–a step toward making these high-energy-density batteries practical for use in electric vehicles and elsewhere.

The catalyst consists of nanoparticles of a gold and platinum alloy; in testing it was able to return 77 percent of the energy used to charge the battery as electricity when discharged. That’s up from the previously published record of about 70 percent, the researchers say. The work, which was reported online this week in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, suggests a new approach to lithium-air battery catalysts that could lead to the even higher efficiencies of 85 to 90 percent needed for commercial batteries.

Lithium-air batteries, which generate electricity by reacting lithium metal and oxygen from the air, are attractive for their potential to store vast amounts of energy. They could be a practical way to store more than three times as much energy, by weight, as today’s lithium-ion batteries, extending the range of electric vehicles, for example.

Air catalyst: Gold and platinum alloy nanoparticles (the dark areas) sit on top of a carbon black substrate (the lighter patterns); together, these materials improve the efficiency of lithium-air batteries.
Credit: Yi-Chun Lu

H+ Summit streamed live this weekend

Filed under: Business, et.al., Media, Politics, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:32 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Very cool news. Not sure if I’m going to be able to participate, but having the option to do so is good to know.

H+ Summit @ Harvard this weekend to be streamed live, free
KurzweilAI.net, June 9, 2010

The H+ Summit at Harvard this coming weekend will be streamed live, starting June 12 at 9 AM, according to David Orban, Chairman of Humanity+.

“Anybody can connect free, and ask questions using the #hplussummit hashtag. Moderators will monitor the Twitter firehose and choose the best questions for speakers during Q&A sessions,” he said.

It will stream at 24 fps in H.264 MPEG-4 for iPhone and iPad compatibility (as well as browsers) — with unlimited capacity, Orban said. Tip: download the high-res presentation files in advance (some are already up).

If you miss some of it, all of the more than 50 speakers are being recorded at 1080p 60fps HD video, to be released online under a Creative Commons Attribution license, starting in the weeks following the conference.

The H+ Summit is a two day event that explores how humanity will be radically changed by technology in the near futureVisionary speakers will explore the potential of technology to modify your body, mindlife, and world.

The 2010 World Cup ball — here comes the science

Filed under: et.al., Science, Sports — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:03 am

I’m getting pretty excited about this year’s World Cup. It’s a fun tournament and a truly international sporting event. There’s already been some controversy over this year’s ball, so how did it perform in the lab? Here’s research from the University of Adelaide.

The release:

Will the new World Cup soccer ball bend?

Physics plays a role in on-ground action

Physics experts at the University of Adelaide believe the new ball created for the 2010 World Cup, called the Jabulani, will play “harder and faster”, bending more unpredictably than its predecessor.

But why? And what will it mean for the game?

“The Jabulani is textured with small ridges and ‘aero grooves’ and represents a radical departure from the ultra-smooth Teamgeist ball, which was used in the last World Cup,” says Professor Derek Leinweber, Head of the School of Chemistry & Physics at the University of Adelaide, who has previously written about and lectured on the aerodynamics of cricket balls, golf balls and the 2006 World Cup soccer ball, the Teamgeist.

Along with student Adrian Kiratidis, who is studying for his Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Physics, Professor Leinweber has been reviewing the physics behind soccer balls and what that means for the Jabulani. Adrian is also a soccer enthusiast.

“While the governing body FIFA has strict regulations on the size and weight of the balls, they have no regulations about the outside surface of the balls,” Professor Leinweber says.

“The Teamgeist was a big departure at the last World Cup. Because it was very smooth – much smoother than a regular soccer ball – it had a tendency to bend more than the conventional ball and drop more suddenly at the end of its trajectory.

“By comparison, the aerodynamic ridges on the Jabulani are likely to create enough turbulence around the ball to sustain its flight longer, and be a faster, harder ball in play.

“The Jabulani is expected to ‘bend’ more for the players than any ball previously encountered. Players are also discovering new opportunities to move the ball in erratic ways, alarming the world’s best goalkeepers. By the time the ball reaches the goalkeeper, the Jabulani will have swerved and dipped, arriving with more power and energy than the Teamgeist.”

University of Adelaide students have also put the new World Cup soccer ball to the test on the soccer field. Based on Professor Leinweber’s theories, they’ve attempted to “bend” the Jabulani and have also kicked the Teamgeist and a regular soccer ball for comparison.

###

June 8, 2010

Life on Titan?!

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:19 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Obviously a lot more research needs to happen before we get too excited, but evidence of life on one of Saturn’s moons is still pretty exciting.

Have We Discovered Evidence For Life On Titan
Space Daily, June 8, 2010

Results from the Cassini mission suggest that hydrogen and acetylene are depleted at the surface of Titan, which, along with other studies, could indicate the presence of methane-based life.
Read Original Article>>

Looking for the next financial bubble

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:50 pm

As far as investment instruments go, bonds aren’t very sexy, but the bond market is shaping up to be the next major financial bubble. Food for thought for anyone currently rethinking investment strategies.

From the link;

Don’t let the lack of fanfare fool you. A projected $380 billion will pour into bond funds this year, more than went into domestic stock funds in the past decade. That’s on top of a record $376 billion last year.

“The bond market is a bubble,” says Robert Froehlich, senior managing director of the Hartford Financial Services Group. “And it’s getting ready to burst.” One major reason: Despite the recent rally in treasury bond prices and slide in yields — due to fears over the European debt crisis — the long-term direction for interest rates is headed higher.

Like all financial manias, this one is being fueled by a combination of fear and greed.

James Stack, a market historian and president of InvesTech Research, notes that many baby boomers who have stampeded into bond funds did so in reaction to their stock losses since the financial crisis began in 2008.

Anger and ideas for Deepwater Horizon spill

British Petroleum is about to get nailed six ways to Monday by what is safe to assume to be a multi-agency federal offensive. BP is taking a well-deserved public relations hit, and the Obama administration is taking it on the chin as well, because fair, or not, that’s the way these things play out politically.

This quote from the president should have BP quaking:

President Barack Obama said he wanted to know “whose ass to kick” over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, adding to the pressure on energy giant BP Plc as it sought to capture more of the leak from its gushing well.

In an interview with NBC News’ “Today” aired on Tuesday, Obama also said that if BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward worked for him, he would have fired him by now over his response to the 50-day-old spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It was triggered by an April 20 well blowout and rig explosion that killed 11 workers.

BP can’t say they aren’t being offered any solutions, but to be fair there’s no way to reasonably vet even a fraction of these 35,000-and-counting ideas for even a modicum of feasibility.

From the link in the previous graf:

BP has received almost 35,000 ideas in just over a month on how best to clean up the millions of gallons of oil from the biggest spill in U.S. history. So far, only four have made it into testing.

And:

If the ideas—which range from soaking up oil with human hair to enlisting oil-eating microbes—are seen as practical and don’t overlap with proposals already being explored, they’re sent to smaller teams of engineers to see if they can be applied, MacEwen said. About 800 proposals have made it to this stage, with just one-half of 1 percent of those in testing, he said. Most are duplicative or infeasible, MacEwen said.

Manufacturing graphene …

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:41 pm

… just got a little bit easier. This is good news out of Rice University. I written this many times, but there’s simply too much smoke in the graphene hype for there not to be a serious fire somewhere. I’m guessing some combination of display technology for handheld electronics is one of the best areas to monitor for market-ready graphene applications.

From the link:

Single-atom-thick sheets of carbon called graphene have some amazing properties: graphene is strong, highly electrically conductive, flexible, and transparent. This makes it a promising material to make flexible touch screens and superstrong structural materials. But creating these thin carbon sheets, and then building things out of them, is difficult to do outside the lab.

Now an advance in making and processing graphene in solution may make it practical to work with the material at manufacturing scale. Researchers at Rice University have made graphene solutions 10 times more concentrated than any before. They’ve used these solutions to make transparent, conductive sheets similar to the electrodes on displays, and they’re currently developing methods for spinning the graphene solutions to generate fibers and structural materials for airplanes and other vehicles that promise to be less expensive than today’s carbon fiber.

Making material: Sheets of graphene lay atop a mat of single-walled carbon nanotubes.
Credit: N. Behabtu/Rice University

June 4, 2010

Monkey controls robotic arm with its mind

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:36 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Very promising research in many ways and for a whole host of future applications. Pretty amazing video.

Advanced Robotic Arm Controlled by Monkey’s Thoughts
PhysOrg.com, June 3, 2010

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have taught a monkey to use its thoughts to control an advanced robotic arm with seven degrees of freedom and perform elaborate and precise maneuvers with it.

Sensors implanted in the hand and arm areas of its motor cortex send data to a computer that translates the patterns into commands that control the robotic arm.

Researchers hope to one day be able to use the researchto engineer and operate advanced prosthetics in a natural way to help paralyzed people live a close to normal life.

Read Original Article>>

Improving thin-film coatings

This research affects solar cells and a host of other applications.

From the link:

Understanding how thin-film coatings react to temperature changes could lead to more effective and durable sensors, solar-energy converters, safer medical implants and a host of other applications, says Jodie Lutkenhaus, assistant professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, who has found that heating some of these films can increase their stability.

The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of Soft Matter, a scientific journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, represent a significant step forward in the study of multilayer polymer thin-film coatings — material gaining increased interest for its potential versatility in a number of applications ranging from biomedical to industrial.

A cyborg transistor

Via KurzweilAI.net — Interesting, if not a little bit creepy.

Part-human, part-machine transistor devised
Discovery News, June 2, 2010

University of California, Merced scientists have embedded a carbon nanotube-based transistor inside a lipid bilayer (cell-like membrane) and powered it with an ion pump and a solution of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to fuel the ion pump.


Artist’s representation of a new transistor that’s contained within a cell-like membrane (Scott Dougherty, LLNL)

The research could lead to new types of man-machine interactions where embedded devices could relay information about the inner workings of disease-related proteins or toxins inside the cell membrane, and eventually even treat diseases. It could also lead to new ways to read, and even influence, brain or nerve cells.

The headline is misleading — the device is simply biomimetic. – Ed.
Read Original Article>>

No more all-you-can-eat data with AT&T

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:35 pm

The iPhone and iPad have killed off AT&T’s unlimited wireless data plan as of next Monday (June 7). There may be some billing surprises come July.

From the link:

Previously, AT&T offered an unlimited data plan for new subscribers for $30 a month. But this week the phone company announced it will end its unlimited data plan on June 7.

Now AT&T will offer two data packages: $15 a month for up to 200MB (plus $15 for each additional 200MB) and $25 a month for 2GB (plus $10 for each additional 1GB). Tethering will cost an additional $20 per month; tethering for the iPhone will be available with iPhone OS 4.0, expected to be released to the public this summer.

At least AT&T’s spin on this move is going to prove true for almost all of their customers. Only two percent of current smartphone customers soak up more than two gigs a month.:

Spinning usage-based pricing as a cost saver for customers, AT&T says that 98 percent of its smartphone customers use less than 2GB per month on average and 65 percent use less than 200MB. This means that many AT&T customers can take advantage of the cheaper data plans.

Free electric car charging station …

courtesy of the fed via the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009.

With apologies to Kevin Bullis, author of the linked post at Technology Review’s “Potential Energy” blog, I’m including the entire post below because it’s short and all three graphs have pertinent information on this program. If you own an electric car and live in one of the listed cities you really ought to look into getting your own federally-funded charging station.

From the link:

In an attempt to promote electric vehicles, a federally funded program will give away 4,600 charging stations to electric car buyers and business owners in nine metropolitan areas across the country, according to Coulomb Technologies, the Campbell, CA-based company that will provide the stations.

About 2000 of the charging stations will be installed in homes, where they can cut charging times in half compared to just plugging a car into a standard 110 volt outlet. The rest will be given to business owners for public charging stations. The business owners can use them to turn a profit via a payment system. Although the charging stations are free–paid for by a $15 million grant from last year’s Recovery Act–owners will have to pay for installation.

To sign up or get more information about the charging stations, go to the ChargePoint America website here. The systems will be available in Austin, TX, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, FL., Sacramento, CA., the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area, Redmond, WA, and Washington DC.

June 3, 2010

Spirit Mars Rover news

To join today’s post on the next generation of Mars rovers, here is news hot from the inbox on a current Mars rover.

The release (not from the link):

NASA Rover Finds Clue to Mars’ Past and Environment for Life

PASADENA, Calif., June 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Rocks examined by NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover hold evidence of a wet, non-acidic ancient environment that may have been favorable for life. Confirming this mineral clue took four years of analysis by several scientists.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

An outcrop that Spirit examined in late 2005 revealed high concentrations of carbonate, which originates in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolves in acid. The ancient water indicated by this find was not acidic.

NASA’s rovers have found other evidence of formerly wet Martian environments. However the data for those environments indicate conditions that may have been acidic. In other cases, the conditions were definitely acidic, and therefore less favorable as habitats for life.

Laboratory tests helped confirm the carbonate identification. The findings were published online Thursday, June 3 by the journal Science.

“This is one of the most significant findings by the rovers,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and a co-author of the new report. “A substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favorable for life were present at one time in that place.”

Spirit inspected rock outcrops, including one scientists called Comanche, along the rover’s route from the top of Husband Hill to the vicinity of the Home Plate plateau which Spirit has studied since 2006. Magnesium iron carbonate makes up about one-fourth of the measured volume in Comanche. That is a tenfold higher concentration than any previously identified for carbonate in a Martian rock.

“We used detective work combining results from three spectrometers to lock this down,” said Dick Morris, lead author of the report and a member of a rover science team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The instruments gave us multiple, interlocking ways of confirming the magnesium iron carbonate, with a good handle on how much there is.”

Massive carbonate deposits on Mars have been sought for years without much success. Numerous channels apparently carved by flows of liquid water on ancient Mars suggest the planet was formerly warmer, thanks to greenhouse warming from a thicker atmosphere than exists now. The ancient, dense Martian atmosphere was probably rich in carbon dioxide, because that gas makes up nearly all the modern, very thin atmosphere.

It is important to determine where most of the carbon dioxide went. Some theorize it departed to space. Others hypothesize that it left the atmosphere by the mixing of carbon dioxide with water under conditions that led to forming carbonate minerals. That possibility, plus finding small amounts of carbonate in meteorites that originated from Mars, led to expectations in the 1990s that carbonate would be abundant on Mars. However, mineral-mapping spectrometers on orbiters since then have found evidence of localized carbonate deposits in only one area, plus small amounts distributed globally in Martian dust.

Morris suspected iron-bearing carbonate at Comanche years ago from inspection of the rock with Spirit’s Moessbauer Spectrometer, which provides information about iron-containing minerals. Confirming evidence from other instruments emerged slowly. The instrument with the best capability for detecting carbonates, the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer, had its mirror contaminated with dust earlier in 2005, during a wind event that also cleaned Spirit’s solar panels.

“It was like looking through dirty glasses,” said Steve Ruff of Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., another co-author of the report. “We could tell there was something very different about Comanche compared with other outcrops we had seen, but we couldn’t tell what it was until we developed a correction method to account for the dust on the mirror.”

Spirit’s Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer instrument detected a high concentration of light elements, a group including carbon and oxygen, that helped quantify the carbonate content.

The rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last three months. Spirit has been out of communication since March 22 and is in a low-power hibernation status during Martian winter. Opportunity is making steady progress toward a large crater, Endeavour, which is about seven miles away.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rovers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the rovers, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

The US power grid and cyberattacks

A cyberattack is seen as the top current threat to the United States’ power grid. And given the mis-mash of legacy systems and out-dated infrastructure in places, the idea of a cyberattack isn’t all that hard to imagine.

From the link:

Cyber attacks, pandemics and electromagnetic disturbances are the three top “high impact” risks to the U.S. and Canadian power-generation grids, according to a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC).

“The specific concern with respect to these threats is the targeting of multiple key nodes in the system, if damaged, destroyed or interrupted in a coordinated fashion, could bring the system outside the protection provided by traditional planning and operating criteria,” states the report, “High-Impact, Low-Frequency Risk to the North American Bulk Power System.”

The contents of the 118-page report are largely the result of closed-door discussions held since November by NERC (which plays a key role in setting security standards for the U.S. power grid), power providers and U.S. government officials.

The report, which calls for better coordination between U.S. power-grid providers and the government, sets the stage for what may be new guidelines and processes required to combat the major threats identified, according to NERC officials.

Next generation Mars rover — a tumbleweed?

Maybe so, and here’s one wind-powered vehicle concept.

The release:

On A Roll: Designing The Next Rover To Explore Mars

The concept of a wind-powered vehicle that can be used to explore the surface of Mars – a so-called “tumbleweed rover” that would roll over the surface of Mars like a tumbleweed – has been around for more than 10 years, but so far there has been no consensus on exactly what that vehicle should look like. Now researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a computer model that allows engineers to test the attributes of different vehicle designs. This will allow researchers to select the best design characteristics before spending the time and money necessary to create prototypes for testing in real-world conditions.

“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “The model that we’ve developed is important, because it will help NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration] make informed decisions about the final design characteristics of any tumbleweed rovers it ultimately sends to Mars.”

The computer model developed at NC State determines how tumbleweed rover designs will function, based on their various design characteristics. For example, the model can show how a rover’s diameter, elasticity and overall mass will affect its ability to navigate the Martian surface successfully.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Langley Research Center are both pursuing the idea of sending tumbleweed rovers to Mars – but researchers are still exploring various options for exactly how the rovers should be designed. “We’re optimistic that our model can serve as a mission design tool that NASA can use to choose appropriate design parameters,” Mazzoleni says.

“You can’t just build hundreds of different rover designs to see what works – it’s too expensive,” says Alexandre Hartl, a Ph.D. student at NC State who co-authored the paper. “This model allows us to determine which designs may be most viable. Then we can move forward to build and test the most promising candidates.”

And the model doesn’t just test different rover designs in a stable environment. The model is flexible enough to allow researchers to look at how various designs would perform under different wind conditions and in different terrains – from Martian rock fields to craters and canyons. This is important, because the surface of Mars is marked by significant changes in landscape.

The research, “Dynamic Modeling of a Wind-Driven Tumbleweed Rover Including Atmospheric Effects,” was funded by NASA and the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium. The paper was published online June 1 by the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.

NC State’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is part of the university’s College of Engineering.

-shipman-

“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni.

“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni.

Google’s Chrome OS coming out this fall

As much as I love the Chrome browser, I don’t see myself switching to the Chrome OS, but it will be very interesting to see how quickly it’s adopted and how it actually works out in the wild stability- and privacy-wise. Particularly the latter of those two.

From the link:

Google said Wednesday it is planning to release its Chrome operating system, seen as a rival to Microsoft’s Windows system, for free in the autumn.

June 2, 2010

Ken Griffey Jr. retired tonight

Ending a great 22-year career as an excellent slugger for years. It’s a bit odd in a way, but how his career gradually wound down with no unexpected huge homer years or shocking bulking up makes him a prime (and maybe one of the only) examples of an almost certain non-juicer in the performance enhancing drugs era.

Wednesday video — just amazing

Filed under: et.al., Media — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:56 pm

This clip is titled, “World’s Luckiest Bike Rider !!!” I have to say, I agree. Talk about being at both the wrong, and the exactly right, place simultaneously.

(Hat tip: the Daily Dish)

Robotics news — LittleDog and a warrior PackBot

Both via KurzweilAI.net

First up is LittleDog, complete with very cool, if not a bit creepy video:

New “Brains” For LittleDog
Technology Review, May 27, 2010

The small four-legged robot LittleDog, from Boston Dynamics, has acquired an impressive array of improved locomotion skills thanks to researchers at the University of Southern California.


Read Original Article>>

And next is iRobot’s warrior bot:

iRobot Demonstrates New Weaponized Robot
IEEE Spectrum, May 30, 2010

iRobot has released new video of its Warrior robot, a beefed up version of the more well-known PackBot, designed for “deliberate breaching of anti-personnel minefields and multi-strand wire obstacles.”


Read Original Article>>

Copper nanowires may improve solar cells and displays

This is an interesting use of nanotech because it looks like it might be market-ready much sooner than later, and as team member Benjamin Wiley puts it, “If we are going to have these ubiquitous electronics and solar cells we need to use materials that are abundant in the earth’s crust and don’t take much energy to extract.”

Also from the link:

A team of Duke University chemists has perfected a simple way to make tiny copper nanowires in quantity. The cheap conductors are small enough to be transparent, making them ideal for thin-film solar cells, flat-screen TVs and computers, and flexible displays.

“Imagine a foldable iPad,” said Benjamin Wiley, an assistant professor of chemistry at Duke. His team reports its findings online this week in .

Nanowires made of  perform better than carbon nanotubes, and are much cheaper than silver nanowires, Wiley said

Redefining the kilogram

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:50 pm

Fun with science

From the link, the problem:

Now physicists want to do the same for the kilogram, which is currently defined as the mass of a cylinder of platinum and iridium called the International Prototype Kilogram.

That’s a problem because each time it is picked up, a few atoms rub off the cylinder making it imperceptibly lighter. For this reason almost nobody is allowed to measure the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram, which is stored in a vault in Sevres in France. So nobody really knows how much mass the kilogram is losing or indeed, whether it is gaining the weight of a thin layer of dust and impurities which must surely be gathering on its hundred year-old surfaces.

And one proposed solution:

So Fox and co have another suggestion. Why not make the kilogram equal to the mass of a certain number of carbon-12 atoms, specifically 2250× 28148963^3 of them?

Then a kilogram would be a cube of carbon 8.11cm on each side (8.11cm is roughly the length of 368,855,762 carbon atoms laid side by side).

With that definition, almost anybody could make a kilogram in their own kitchen given some carbon and a knife.

“The day we made a kilogram” might even be the kind of fun that could engage and inspire a new generation of scientists, which ought to be a good enough reason on its own on which to decide.

Note: it’s totally worth hitting the link just to read the comments.

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