Daily Bulletin for 04/21/2017

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04/21/2017
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Where Did Language Come From?

Cormac McCarthy, Nautilus

I call it the Kekul Problem because among the myriad instances of scientific problems solved in the sleep of the inquirer Kekul’s is probably the best known. He was trying to arrive at the configuration of the benzene molecule and not making much progress when he fell asleep in front of the fire and had his famous dream of a snake coiled in a hoop with its tail in its mouththe ouroboros of mythologyand woke exclaiming to himself: It’s a ring.

The Myth of the Successful College Dropout

Rindermann & Wai, Conversation

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked to give this year’s commencement address at Harvard, he asked for advice from Bill Gates.Zuckerberg said, They know we didn’t actually graduate, right?To which Gates replied, Oh, that is the best part! They actually give you a degree!

Physicists Excited by Latest LHC Anomaly

Davide Castelvecchi, Nature News

The latest in a series of anomalies spotted in five-year-old data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could point the way to an entirely new elementary particle, physicists hope.The most recent finding, reported at an 18 April seminar at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, may turn out to be a statistical fluctuation that fades as new data are analysed. But it is intriguing because it seems to chime with previously-reported oddities.

How Anti-Vaxxers Caused a Measles Outbreak in MN

Anna Swartz, Mic

Minnesota’s Hennepin County is in the midst of the state’s largest measles outbreak since 2011. Nine cases have been reported since last week, and officials expect the number to rise.So far, all of the cases are among unvaccinated children. They have something else in common too: The affected children are all part of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Somali-American community.

Da Vinci Relics Could Provide His DNA

Rossella Lorenzi, Seeker

Italian researchers say that they have found two relics belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, which may help in sourcing the DNA of the genius whose work typified the Renaissance.The mysterious relics were traced during a decades-long genealogical study into Leonardo’s family.Historian Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in Vinci, will announce their findings on Thursday at a conference in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where the artist was born in 1452.

Sorry, Scientists. Explaining Science Won’t Fix Things.

Tim Requarth, Slate

If you consider yourself to have even a passing familiarity with science, you likely find yourself in a state of disbelief as the president of the United States calls climate scientists hoaxsters and pushes conspiracy theories about vaccines. The Trump administration seems practically allergic to evidence.

Oceans Cover 90 Percent of Habitable Alien Planets

Daily Galaxy

When it comes to exploring exoplanets, it may be wise to take a snorkel along. A new study, published in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, has used a statistical model to predict that most habitable planets may be dominated by oceans spanning over 90% of their surface area.The author of the study, Dr Fergus Simpson of the Institute of Cosmos Sciences at the University of Barcelona, has constructed a statistical model based on Bayesian probability to predict the division between land and water on habitable exoplanets.

Top Causes of Death Vary Between Sexes

Alex B. Berezow, ACSH

Watching an autopsy has a way of changing one’s view on death. Every single one of us — rich, poor, white, black, male, female, religious, atheist — will one day be on a cold metallic cart with a tag on our toe. And the medical examiner will open us up, poke around, extract and weigh a few organs, then ship your lifeless corpse on to the funeral home.So, the question isn’t if we are going to die, but when and how. Science has little to say about the former, but it has collected quite a bit of data on the latter. That’s what makes the CDC’s weekly report on the dead and dying so morbidly…

Your Brain’s Amazing, Dual-Hemisphere Design

Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, LS

The human brain evolved to have two halves and a new review of previous research suggests that this dual design may confer special benefits.Scientists have long known that the differnt halves of human brains perform different functions. For example, the left half or left hemisphere is generally responsible for language and speech, whereas the right one generally handles emotions and facial recognition. (This division of functions is real, and is separate from the popular, but wrong, notion that people who are logical or analytical are “left brained" while those who are creative…

Naked Mole Rats Survive 18 Minutes Without O2

James Gorman, NYT

And, the award for strangest mammal goes to If there were such a prize, the naked mole rat could well win it.For one thing, it’s naked. Not that most other animals wear clothes, but quite a few have noticeable hair or fur. The mole rat is, you might say, pinkly, wrinkly.They are coldblooded, which seems wrong. No other known mammal is.

New Ring-Laser Installations Sense Earth’s Spin

Eric Hand, Science Magazine

The aluminum hatches are the only clue to what lies beneath. Buried amid the corn and wheat fields of Frstenfeldbruck, a sleepy monastery village 20 kilometers from Munich, Germany, is an inverted pyramid of concrete, steel pipes, and precision sensors, as deep as a three-story building. Last month, when lasers began coursing around the edges of the tetrahedron, Rotational Motions in Seismology (ROMY), as it is called, began its reign as the most sophisticated ring laser in the world, capable of sensing how Earth itself twists and turns."It’s a structure that has never been built before,"…

Mining Threatens Fossils of Oldest Animals

David Cyranoski, Nature

Palaeontologists are fighting to save a site in China that contains fossils of some of the earliest animals on record. This month they gained a temporary halt to the phosphate mining that has already destroyed some fossil beds.The threatened site is part of the Doushantuo geological formation in the Weng’an region of Guizhou province in southern China. It is rich in minerals that preserve soft tissues and cellular structures and became famous in the late 1990s, after scientists began finding well-preserved fossils of sponges and embryos of other unusual animals, dating to around 600 million…

Dangers of Cloning the Human Voice

The Economist

UTTER 160 or so French or English phrases into a phone app developed by CandyVoice, a new Parisian company, and the app’s software will reassemble tiny slices of those sounds to enunciate, in a plausible simulacrum of your own dulcet tones, whatever typed words it is subsequently fed. In effect, the app has cloned your voice. The result still sounds a little synthetic but CandyVoice’s boss, Jean-Luc Crbouw, reckons advances in the firm’s algorithms will render it increasingly natural. Similar software for English and four widely spoken Indian languages, developed under the name of Festvox,…

Immune Cells Help Regulate Heartbeat

Beth Mole, Ars Technica

Having a regular or irregular heartbeat may come down to moonlighting immune cells that surprisingly help power blood-pumping pulses, a new study in Cell suggests.In a series of experiments, Harvard researchers caught immune cells hanging around and helping heart cells conduct electricity for their rhythmic beats. The immune cells, called macrophages, are best known for surveilling the body and devouring invading germs and debris. But in the heart, they snuggled up to heart cells and formed pores through which electrical current could pulse through the organ, allowing for synchronous heart…

Soyuz Rocket Lifts New Crew Members to ISS

Robert Pearlman, Space.com

An astronaut and a cosmonaut launched on the first two-person spaceflight in 14 years, bound for a 5-month stay on the International Space Station.Astronaut Jack Fischer with NASA and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos lifted off on Russia’s Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft, atop a Soyuz-FG rocket, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. EDT (0713 GMT; 1:13 p.m. local time) Thursday (April 20). Launched on a “fast-track," six-orbit rendezvous. Update: Soyuz MS-04 docked to the space station at 9:18 a.m. EDT (1318 GMT).

Flawless, Optical-Grade Glass Can Be 3D Printed

Cathal O’Connell, Cosmos

Ancient material meets advanced technology. Researchers in Germany have developed a way to make clear, smooth, and intricate glass structures using 3D printing.The work, described in today’s issue of Nature, means optical-grade glass can be 3D printed for the first time, and opens up a host of new possibilities.Glassmaking is at least 5,000 years old, and produces a material so ubiquitous you probably never think about it. Glass is used everywhere we need to bend or transmit light; in our windows and spectacles, in lenses and mirrors, from the optical fibres that transmit data around the…

Rethinking Critical Thinking

Ross Pomeroy, RealClearScience

Let’s face it, when more than half of undergraduates believe that a full moon causes people to behave oddly, when two-thirds of them believe that Bigfoot exists, and when students of all ages have a “dismaying" inability to tell fake news from real news, it’s obvious that critical thinking education is failing. Students are being sent out into a modern world rife with misinformation without the needed skills to tell fact from faction.

Why FBI Kept a 1,400-Page File on Einstein

Mitch Waldrop, Nat Geo

Albert Einstein was already a world-famous physicist when the FBI started keeping a secret dossier on him in December 1932. He and his wife Elsa had just moved to the United States from their native Germany, and Einstein had been very vocal about the social issues of his time, arguing publicly against racism and nationalism.By the time of Einstein’s death on April 18, 1955, that FBI file would be 1,427 pages long. Agency director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply suspicious of Einstein’s activism; the man was quite possibly a communist, according to Hoover, and was certainly an extreme radical.

Antihelium Trapped by Giant Space Magnet?

Joshua Sokol, SM

Sam Ting speaks softly and deliberately as he gets ready to deliver some juicy news to his audience. “You normally cannot hear me anyway," jokes the physicist at the start of a talk this past December at CERN, the particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, while a technician fiddles with his microphone.Ting may be soft-spoken, but few would call him retiring. Two decades ago, Ting persuaded funders to spend $1.5 billion to build the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). In 2011, NASA launched the 8.5-metric-ton magnet on the penultimate space shuttle flight and attached it to the…

Harnessing People Power Proves Pointless

Stephen Skolnick, Physics Central

This week, we had a reader write in:Why has no one developed a battery that can be attached to a recumbent bike to gather energy when someone is pedaling? Thousands of hours of manual work is being wasted (not counting the health benefits)The short answer is “conservation of energy"if you’re putting work into charging a battery, it’s going to make it harder to get where you’re going by pedaling. However, some people have tried creating an electric bike with a motor and regenerative brakes, which allow the rider to simultaneously charge up and slow down. Unfortunately, converting between…

Dingo Wins World’s Most-Interesting Genome Award

Kacey Deamer, Live Sci

Meet Sandy the dingo, owner of the world’s most interesting genome.The wild-born, pure Australian desert dingo recently took first place in the World’s Most Interesting Genome competition, and will have her DNA decoded thanks to the Pacific Biosciences SMRT Grant Program. The grant provides genome sequencing for “a particularly fascinating plant or animal."In a public poll, Sandy secured 41 percent of the votes to beat out a pit viper, a solar-powered sea slug, an explosive beetle and a pink pigeon for the top prize.

Sentinel Satellites to Monitor Earth’s Volcanoes

Morelle & Amos, BBC

A UK-led team of scientists is rolling out a project to monitor every land volcano on Earth from space.Two satellites will routinely map the planet’s surface, looking for signs that might hint at a future eruption.They will watch for changes in the shape of the ground below them, enabling scientists to issue an early alert if a volcano appears restless.

How Two Meters of DNA Untangles Itself

Elie Dolgin, Nature News

Leonid Mirny swivels in his office chair and grabs the power cord for his laptop. He practically bounces in his seat as he threads the cable through his fingers, creating a doughnut-sized loop. It’s a dynamic process of motors constantly extruding loops! says Mirny, a biophysicist here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.Mirny’s excitement isn’t about keeping computer accessories orderly. Rather, he’s talking about a central organizing principle of the genome how roughly 2 metres of DNA can be squeezed into nearly every cell of the human body without getting…

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