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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Global spread of H5N1 Bird flu

Can wearing a face mask and regularly cleaning hands stop the spread of deadly bird flu. Students at the University of Michigan have started a living experiment to find out. They are using the peak of influenza season to see if simple cotton masks and little bottles of hand sanitizer will protect them. Health experts fear the H5N1 avian influenza virus might mutate any moment and start a pandemic — a global epidemic that could kill millions. If not H5N1, some other new virus could do the same, world health officials agree. They also agree there is no easy way to stop one. So low-tech measures will be the first line of defense against any rapidly spreading new disease. “There is some anecdotal evidence from prior pandemic outbreaks that masks may have helped, but no firm data,” Monto said in a statement. Monto’s team has begun handing out 800 cases of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in small bottles for students to carry, and larger pump bottles for their rooms. They will use the products as soon as influenza is detected and reported among students. The researchers will simply watch and see if the groups get influenza and related illnesses at different rates. The H5N1 flu remains mainly a disease of birds, but it has infected 270 people since 2003 and killed 164 of them. AFP - More wild birds have been found dead of the H5N1 bird flu virus in Germany, where domestic poultry were infected last month, authorities in Bavaria said Saturday. Imphal, Aug 12 (ANI): Health officials in Manipur have begun sealing poultry farms following an outbreak of bird flu in the state. Health workers sealed the farms yesterday after completing the second phase of culling, mopping and sanitizing procedure within a 5-kilometre radius here, where symptoms of the H5N1 influenza were detected. Though no human infection of the virus has been reported so . Reuters - India declared a fresh outbreak ofavian influenza among poultry, the first this year, but asenior official said on Wednesday authorities were yet toconfirm if it was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.The risk will increase if influenza viruses, such as those involved in the recent outbreak of flu in north China, combine with bird flu virus strains, said Zhong Nanshan, a renowned medical expert and academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Could some people have a little immunity to the H5N1 bird flu virus. PARIS.

Air Taxi Service

Air taxi startup DayJet late last week was in the final stages of proving runs with its small fleet of Eclipse 500 Very Light Jets in preparation for the launch of commercial operations by the end of the month, founder, President and CEO Ed Iacobucci said last week. Completing the proving runs and adding the Eclipse aircraft to DayJet's Part 135 certificate are the final steps remaining for DayJet to begin its "per-seat" air taxi service, Iacobucci told BA in a telephone interview Thursday.
The company had flown more than 25 hours with an FAA inspector on board by last week, he said, adding that the flights "have been going very well." The DayJet Eclipse fleet had accrued 855 flight hours by last week and the first aircraft just underwent a 300-hour check.

Operations could begin on a limited basis later this week if everything goes smoothly, Iacobucci said, but the company is actually targeting the end of the month to begin air taxi revenue flights.
Earlier this year DayJet was shooting for June to begin operations, but that schedule had to be scrapped after the Eclipse 500 experienced pitot heater problems and was limited to flights in visual meteorological conditions (BA, April 16/173). Those problems have since been resolved with a new design for the system. Iacobucci, however, said the pitot problems were only part of the reason for the delay in launch, and added that the additional time has proven useful to DayJet to ensure that all the necessary systems are in place for a smooth transition.
Launch comes just after DayJet secured $140 million in senior debt and financing. "Securing this initial debt facility is a significant milestone for DayJet, as it enables us to continue the uninterrupted growth of the world's first commercial VLJ fleet," Iacobucci said in the announcement of the finance deal. DayJet has taken delivery of nine Eclipses and should add three more this week, he said. DayJet hopes to continue to expand its Eclipse fleet in the upcoming months and have 30 to 40 aircraft by the end of the year -

if everything goes perfectly," he said.
The capital also is helping DayJet increase the number of pilots. DayJet had 30 pilots on staff and is in the process of adding seven more. Those numbers will continue to increase over the next several weeks, he said. The initial crews are comprised of high-time pilots, many of whom have experience with major airlines, while others come from regional airlines, corporate operations or the military. Iacobucci said the company wanted to ensure that the initial cadre of pilots had enough seniority to establish the proper culture for DayJet

Investors Waiting To See
The latest $140 million financing infusion comes on top of the more than $60 million already invested in the company, providing enough funding for the launch. "We're all set right now," Iacobucci said, adding the next round of funding that DayJet might seek would be "growth capital." But that wouldn't come until DayJet has established itself and proven its model over the next several months, he said. Iacobucci was confident that DayJet has attracted sufficient interest among potential investors, but those investors want to observe the company's initial in-service experience. "The next six months will validate whether the projections we made are or are not in synch with reality," he said, but added that he was pleased with early indicators.
DayJet is selling a membership service to potential travelers. Customers must register to fly on the air taxi service. Iacobucci said some 200 companies have subscribed and the number of individual members has grown to about 1,200, nearly double the number of members that DayJet had just a few months ago (BA, April 23/185). DayJet is now concentrating on spooling up its regional sales team to ensure membership is spread out throughout the network rather than concentrated at one location.
DayJet is initially operating permanent "Dayport" bases at five locations in Florida - Gainesville, Lakeland, Boca Raton, Tallahassee and Pensacola. But DayJet envisions expanding those Dayports to more than a dozen, covering four states over the next several months.

FAA in the past year has begun to scrutinize per-seat service - which the agency has termed "fractional charter" - and has narrowly defined what could be considered a Part 135 operation (BA, July 30/41). FAA told a couple of carriers that it viewed their negotiations with a second or third customer as a Part 121 transaction, not Part 135. FAA was primarily concerned that these carriers were guiding second or third customers to an already chartered flight.
Iacobucci said he was "very aware of this problem," calling the issue a complicated one. But he added that DayJet has worked very closely with both FAA and Transportation Department officials to ensure that the company's service is run in accordance with Part 135. The company retained a team of scientists and engineers to develop a sophisticated computer program that will mix and match customers and available aircraft with the customers' travel plans, he said

The service does not lure customers to particular flights, but matches based on customer needs, he said. Under the DayJet model, there is no pre-set flight or fixed schedule. "When DayJet members request flights online, the system 'individually negotiates' a price based on their travel window," Iacobucci said.
The company spent two years and $20 million developing the system, tweaking it as FAA and DOT continued to review the plans, he said. "Instead of saying you have to change the rules for us, we've said we want to embrace your rules," Iacobucci said. "This isn't something that we just whipped together."
Iacobucci acknowledged that DayJet is under a spotlight because the service is a new business model. "There are a lot of people watching us," he said. But that interest also has attracted business, he said, noting that DayJet has no shortage of people who have requested to be aboard the first flight.

A new research centre will focus on using human DNA to construct nanomolecules that can be used in battling disease

The University of Aarhus celebrated the opening of its new Centre for DNA Nanotechnology on Friday as a giant leap into the future of fighting disease using the building blocks of the human body.
Founded through a grant from the Danish National Research Foundation, the CDNA will develop new methods within nanotechnology for better treatment and diagnosis of diseases linked to DNA.
Researchers now work with materials so small that they can be difficult to work with using even the most powerful microscopes and equipment. CDNA researchers will focus specifically on using and developing nanotechnology with the most intricate, high-tech equipment available to manipulate the minute materials and create self-regulating units out of them.
‘We will then be able to produce medicines that only work in the precise areas of a person’s disease,’ Kurt Vesterager Gothelf, chemistry professor at CDNA, told Nyhedsavisen newspaper. ‘For example, we can make an anti-cancer drug that only attacks the cancer cells. It will result in far fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.’
These self-regulating molecules will be so specialised and so advanced that they will replace many of the bulky existing regulating devices, such as pacemakers.
In addition, nanotechnology can pave the way for substances which can locate bacteria in food or uncover dangerous substances during airport security checks.
The CDNA research team consists of three scientists from the University of Aarhus and two from the United States. The quality of the team is second to none, according to the university’s assistant dean, Mette Bock.
‘The new research centre and its team put us up in the international elite and give us many exciting development perspectives.’

More News.

DNA acts like a “piston”

Biophysicists have built a DNA nanomolecular device that expands and contracts with the addition of “fuel” DNA. Patrizia Alberti and Jean-Louis Mergny at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris constructed the piston-like device using a single strand of nucleotides. They believe that it could be used as a structural component in nanomolecular machines (P Alberti and J-L Mergny 2003 Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. to be published).
DNA is often called the “building block of life”. It consists of two linear strands wound into a double helix with one of four different “bases” attached to every sugar group along the strands. DNA is an attractive component for use in molecular machines because it can recognize specific base sequences. It self-assembles easily and complex molecular structures can be made from simple double helices. In addition, DNA can change its shape, which further expands the number of nanostructures possible.
Alberti and Mergny used an unusual “quadruplex” DNA structure, which contains four strands with twenty-one bases, folded in a special way. The structure is made to unfold by adding a fuel DNA strand, creating a “duplex” structure that resembles the more conventional double helix. To re-fold the duplex, the researchers add an “anti-fuel”, which combines with the fuel to form a waste product. The folding-unfolding cycle takes only a few seconds and fluorescence resonance energy-transfer spectroscopy shows that the expansion and contraction occurs over a distance of 5 to 6 nanometres.
The device oscillates between two well-defined states and can be compared to the movement of a piston in a cylinder, the researchers say. “This new type of extension-contraction movement ties in well with work by other groups who observe rotation and scissor-like opening and closing,” Mergny told PhysicsWeb. “From a nanotechnology point of view, it is possible to finely control the structure by the addition of strands with specific sequences.”
The sequence of bases along the chain chosen by the researchers is important biologically and the team now hopes to look at other sequences that exhibit the same type of movement. “We would also like to know if quadruplexes are able to form inside a human cell,” Mergny added.


Yahoo! Messenger Network Overrun By Bots

A large number of Yahoo!'s instant messenger chat rooms are being overrun by automated programs designed to hawk commercial services, Web sites and other wares, preventing millions of actual human users from joining most of the chat rooms on the company's network.

Normally, when Security Fix writes about automated robots or "bots," it's in the context of remote-controlled Microsoft Windows machines that have been hijacked by cyber crooks for use in online moneymaking schemes. In this case, however, we're talking mainly about relatively benign "chat bot" programs sold and marketed as walking billboards that lurk in the most popular chat rooms and periodically post links to various Web sites.

In a posting on the Yahoo! Messenger Blog subtitled "Bots, Bots and More Bots," product manager Sarah Bacon said the company was aware of the bot problem and was trying to devise a solution. "So stay tuned - we know this is a critical piece, if not the most important," she wrote.

From the tenor of the 620 comments that ensued, it appears many Yahoo! Messenger users are starting to tune out.

"Yahoo set out to fix a problem and the result is that you can not get into a room, or if you do the room is full of bots," wrote Yahoo! user "Bill," on Aug. 21.

Security Fix decided to download the latest (newly patched) version of Yahoo! Messenger and check out the situation last night. It wasn't pretty. Out of the 22 chat rooms I tried to join, only two let me in. The rest merely popped up a "Communications Problem" error message. One of the two that let me in (Amusement and Theme Park) appeared to be full of automated programs posting messages. The other summarily booted me from the room shortly after I joined.

I don't want to make light of Yahoo!'s network troubles, but I find it rather ironic that legitimate users are being kept off the network by bots whose sole purpose is to attract human eyeballs.

Yahoo! Issues Security Update for Messenger

Last week, Security Fix warned Yahoo! Messenger users to be wary of unexpected video chat invites from other Yahoo! instant messenger users, as the blueprints for exploiting security holes in the chat invite function of the program had been posted online. On Tuesday, Yahoo! issued an update to plug that hole.

This latest update, available at this link here, brings the Yahoo! Messenger program to version Users who downloaded the program prior to Aug. 21, 2007, and wish to continue using it should update to this latest version.

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Total Lunar Eclipse to Occur on Tuesday at 4:51 a.m. EDT.

The Earth's shadow will creep across the moon's surface early Tuesday, slowly eclipsing it and turning it shades of orange and red. The total lunar eclipse, the second this year, will be visible in North and South America, especially in the West. People in the Pacific islands, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand also will be able to view it if skies are clear.

People in Europe, Africa or the Middle East, who had the best view of the last total lunar eclipse in March, won't see this one because the moon will have set when the eclipse begins at 4:51 a.m. EDT. It will take an hour to reach full eclipse stage.

An eclipse occurs when Earth passes between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's light. It's rare because the moon is usually either above or below the plane of Earth's orbit.

Since the Earth is bigger than the moon, the process of the Earth's shadow taking a bigger and bigger "bite" out of the moon, totally eclipsing it before the shadow recedes, lasts about 3 1/2 hours, said Doug Duncan, director of the University of Colorado's Fiske Planetarium. The total eclipse phase, in which the moon has an orange or reddish glow, lasts about 1 1/2 hours.

The full eclipse will be visible across the United States, but East Coast viewers will only have about a half-hour to see it before the sun begins to rise and the moon sets. Skywatchers in the West will get the full show.

In eastern Asia, the moon will rise in various stages of eclipse.

During the full eclipse, the moon won't be completely dark because some light still reaches it around the edges of the Earth. The light is refracted as it passes through our atmosphere, scattering blue light _ which is why the sky is blue _ but sending reddish light onto the moon.

"When someone asks why is it (the moon) red, you can say because the sky is blue," Duncan said.

The next total lunar eclipse occurs Feb. 21, 2008, and will be visible from the Americas, Europe and Asia.

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'X' marks Fermilab future

Fermilab is floating plans for a new $500 million particle accelerator in hopes of paving the way for a much larger project and shoring up the lab's fragile position in the world of high-energy physics.

A road map for the machine, dubbed "Project X" for now, was quietly disclosed last week in the lab's daily newsletter. The new device would become the biggest project at the Batavia facility after the scheduled shutdown in 2009 of the Tevatron, currently the world's most powerful accelerator studying the fundamental structure of the universe.

Fermilab's long-range ambition is to host a mammoth project called the International Linear Collider, but that idea will take decades to bring to fruition. Project X would incorporate many of the technologies needed for the ILC, yielding new experimental opportunities and potentially strengthening Fermilab's chances of landing the bigger device.

"This would be a world-class machine at a cost that is much lower than the ILC," said Fermilab Director Pier Oddone.

If Project X is ultimately approved, construction probably would not begin until 2010 or later, experts said.

Securing such a substantial project would help address a looming crisis for Fermilab. The 40-year-old lab is hunting for a mission to keep it vibrant after the scheduled start-up next year of a European accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which will supersede the Tevatron as the world's premier high-energy physics instrument.

Replacing the Tevatron's central role at Fermilab won't be quick or easy.

The international physics community has agreed that the next logical step after the European collider would be the ILC, envisioned as a 20-mile gun barrel to speed up and smash together electrons and their antimatter counterparts, called positrons. The ILC, which could end up costing anywhere from $15 billion to $28 billion, would build on findings from the European collider, including the potential discovery of the Higgs boson, a key particle thought to impart mass to all matter.

But the ILC's daunting cost and the involvement of many nations could make for a drawn-out approval process. Even then, the collider may end up being built in Europe or Asia. In February, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Raymond Orbach, who oversees the high-energy science program that includes Fermilab, signaled that the ILC may not be ready until the late 2020s. He urged the U.S. physics community to consider other ways of making fundamental discoveries in the meantime.

If the ILC approval process drags out, Project X could be just the steppingstone Fermilab needs. It would consist of a linear accelerator that Oddone described as akin to the "front end" of the ILC. The device would shoot protons into the Main Injector, an existing circular accelerator at Fermilab. It would also provide a powerful source of neutrinos, mysterious particles that may offer insight into how matter formed at the dawn of the universe.

Building Project X also could give U.S. industrial suppliers important experience in making sophisticated superconducting devices needed for the ILC.

"If we build this, we're actually reducing all the risks involved in building the ILC," Oddone said.

The first step will be securing funding for research and development on Project X. Evaluating the project's merits will fall to a national physics advisory group called P5, led by physicist Abe Seiden of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Seiden said that although it would not make sense to do Project X and the ILC at the same time, the smaller project could be worth it if the ILC gets delayed.

"It's a tricky situation," Seiden said. "It may be wise at first to do a less expensive project that still does very good physics."

But embracing the project may have a downside for Fermilab.

One document on the Web site of the Fermilab Steering Group, which drew up the plans for Project X, listed as a potential concern the effect such a project might have on "international perception about [Fermilab] and the U.S.'s commitment on ILC."

The fear is that other countries will think the U.S. wants to do Project X instead of the ILC or has lost enthusiasm for the larger project.

"That's emphatically not the case," said Fermilab spokeswoman Judy Jackson. "We're doing this along the road to the ILC. But we also have to allow for the possibility that the ILC will take longer than everyone hopes."

Seiden's physics advisory group will begin evaluating Project X in September and may decide on funding for the research and development phase by early next year. Experts said a decision on whether to build the project probably won't happen until at least 2010, when the timeline for the ILC should be clearer.

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Can one theory explain all things physical?

Standard model' leaves out gravity and turns wonky at high energies

Ancient philosophers thought wind, water, fire and earth were the most basic elements of the cosmos, but the study of the small has since grown up. Physicists continue to carve the known universe into particles to describe everything from magnetism to what atoms are made of and how they remain stable.

Yet striking similarities in the world of quantum mechanics, as the study of particles and their forces is known, has led to one of the most important questions in modern science: Is there a single theory that can describe everything?

"We understand a lot about the universe up to the first few energetic microseconds, but earlier than that our physics break down," said Mark Jackson, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. "But those first moments are where the really interesting things happened."

If a theory can be designed to withstand the incredible energies of the early universe as well as incorporate gravity, Jackson said, then a universal theory of physics could become a reality.

Standard frustration
The "standard model" of physics views particles as infinitesimal points, some of which carry basic forces. In spite of the fact that it fails to include gravity and becomes gibberish at high energies, the time-tested theory is the best tool scientists have for explaining physics.

"You hear people complain about how good the standard model is," said Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago. "It's an incomplete model, and yet we can't find flaws in it."

Turner explained that discovering a mass-inducing particle, called the Higgs boson, remains the next big test for the standard model. If discovered, the heavy particle would definitively show that properties like electromagnetism and radioactivity are really different facets of the same force.

"It's the miracle that allows us to combine them together," Turner said of the Higgs, which may be found someday in the collisions of particle accelerators that "rewind" matter to the intense energies of the early universe.

Stringing in gravity
The stubbornness of the standard model has been too much for some physicists, however, leading to new theories that include gravity and work at extremely high energies.

Perhaps the most popularized of them all is string theory, which describes particles as strands of energy vibrating at different "frequencies." To explain the point-like nature of particles, string theory holds that strings are wrapped up in 10 or 11 dimensions-six to seven more than are currently recognized.

The idea is similar to viewing a building from far away. At great distances it looks like a point, but moving closer it appears flat and eventually as a three-dimensional structure. Wrapped within the building are extra dimensions that become smaller and smaller: pipes, and nooks and crannies within the pipes, the spaces between the nooks and crannies and so on.

The inability so far for string theory to prove up to 11 tiny dimensions exist is a hang-up for many, but Jackson thinks some strings could have been stretched across the universe into "superstrings"--ones large enough to detect in space today.

In spite of a present lack of such evidence, Jackson is confident string theory will weather the storm.

"It's hard to imagine that the universe has two different sets of rules for physics. When does it turn one off and the other one on?" Jackson reasoned. "We know there is quantum mechanics and we know there is gravity, so it seems there should be one overall theory. I'm betting my career that it's string theory."

Supersymmetric search
Fermilab cosmologist Scott Dodelson also finds a unified theory logical, but doesn't think a big departure from the standard model is required to conjure one up.

"There are basically two approaches; one is the bottom-up, which is taking data and fixing pieces of a theory to make it more elegant," said Fermilab cosmologist Scott Dodelson. "The other approach is top-down, starting with an elegant theory and working down toward the data. My chips are on the bottom-up people wanting to get down and dirty with data."

In either case, physicists, theorists and cosmologists alike are waiting for high-energy experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe to go online. They hope to find not only the Higgs in the aftermath of colliding particles, but also particle "super-partners" that Dodelson described as the overweight, hidden cousins of more familiar electrons, neutrinos and the like.

Dispatches from the Large Hadron Collider
Suspense on a subatomic scale
The theory of every-living-thing

"They're too heavy to have been seen so far," Dodelson said, adding that the intense energies LHC-like machines may be enough to get them to "pop out" of colliding particles. If so, the mystery of dark matter (much of the universe's missing mass) could be solved in addition to creating a more formidable standard model of physics.

"We may eventually pierce the 'cloak' of dark matter and detect supersymmetric particles in the lab," Dodelson said. "It would introduce a whole new class of particles and create a new standard model."

Michigan , a sleeping giant

EAST LANSING, Mich. - That giant is 750 miles of fiber optic cable that lassoes its three biggest research universities and Van Andel Institute to the future. Its first mission: To uncover the nature of the Big Bang by connecting U.S. physicists to their huge experiment ATLAS in Geneva, Switzerland, at the European Centre for Nuclear Research, or "CERN." The University of Michigan and Michigan State University together are creating one of the portals to these secrets for hundreds of U.S. physicists.

The "Michigan Lambda Rail" (MiLR) fiber bundle snakes through U-M, MSU, Wayne State University and the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids to hubs in Chicago.

"The Michigan Lambda Rail will allow university researchers to obtain very high-speed (up to 10 gigabits per second) point-to-point connections to national and international points in Chicago," said Shawn McKee, associate research scientist in physics at U-M and principle investigator of the ATLAS Great Lakes-Tier 2 (AGL-Tier 2) Computing Center.

Why squirt data at Chicago and why at such high rates of speed?

MSU physics professor Raymond Brock, co-director of the AGL-Tier 2 center explains: "You see, when it comes to understanding the fundamental constituents that make up the universe, it's often instructive to look in as well as up for answers. The insides of each proton literally carry the secrets of how the whole universe began. But, revealing those clues means taking the proton apart, and the only way to do that is to bang them together at enormous energies created by large particle accelerators."

The newest of these is deep underground, beneath the French-Swiss Jura Mountain range in a magnetic race track 17 miles in circumference called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Under construction since the 1980s, it is poised to come on line in May of 2008 involving hundreds of physicists from the United States, including 30 from MSU and U-M.

"But," Brock continued, "Einstein's T-shirt E=mc2 formula tells us that 'lots of energy' results in lots of elementary particles - some of the normal kind (electrons, protons, neutrons) and thousands of more exotic sorts." Each one is important and each one leaves detailed information as it traverses the ATLAS detector. But, thousands of particles are produced 100,000,000 times per second. That's lots of data, more than any laboratory can analyze, more than any country can analyze. So, the world will analyze it, by divvying it up.

ATLAS is a massive detector housed at CERN, soon to become the world's largest particle physics laboratory. ATLAS is designed to collect and measure the subatomic debris resulting from the collision of counter-circulating high-energy proton beams. Since "lots of energy" means very hot conditions - the hotter, the better - as the conditions begin to resemble the hottest condition of all: The Big Bang. So, each collision offers researchers a glimpse into the fundamental particles present during the dawn of our universe.

Analyzing the end products of these collisions often leads scientists to the discovery of both unknown particles and a deeper understanding of how these and other entities are produced and interact with one another.

"We expect to see new particles as a result of the ATLAS experiments," Brock said, "but, ultimately this is all about what happened in the first of the universe. Every time there's a proton-proton collision in such an accelerator as CERN or Fermilab we're going back and sampling the conditions which occurred at about a pico-second after the birth of the universe"

"The Michigan Lambda Rail is the next step," said John King, professor in the School of Information and vice provost for academic information at U-M. "What we're doing is talking about quantities of information that dwarf the normal capabilities. At the moment most people don't have a need to move this much data this fast," but that too will eventually change, and MiLR will help them too.

Initially, the raw data gathered from ATLAS will be spread out equally among 10 national laboratories. These initial data analysis locations, termed Tier 1 Computing Centers, are located throughout the world. In the United States, it's at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. Within each national region, additional "Tier 2" centers are established to serve the needs of their institutions and all of their national scientists. ATLAS as a whole has about 1,900 physicists, including some 400 students, participating from more than 164 universities and laboratories in 35 countries. are 1900 physicists (Including 400 students) participating from more than 164 universities and laboratories in 35 countries

In 2006, MSU and U-M high energy physics groups partnered together and proposed to become the ATLAS Great Lakes Tier 2 Computing Center. They were approved and together, the two Michigan universities will be major players in the second level of data simulation and analysis making it available to the hundreds of participating scientists from around the United States. Together, they are building a unified computing center on both campuses which will house some 25,000 PC-equivalent processors and a PetaByte of storage - equivalent to a mile-high stack of CDs. Only five universities and U.S. laboratories are designated as Tier 2 ATLAS Computing Centers in the United States.

Again, why Chicago? That's where major high-speed backbones connect like a tree trunk to dozens of "branch" institutions in the United States and where the stepping-off point originates to CERN and the rest of the high-tech "grid" world.

Physicists expect that their research at ATLAS will take them far beyond what the well-tested theories of their field tell them - because these theories contain a ticking time bomb, set to go off at ATLAS.

Forty years ago, physicist Steve Weinberg wrote down the equations that formed the basis of the "Standard Model" detailing how fundamental particles form and interact. For decades this theory withstood experimental attack. But all along, physicists have known Weinberg's Standard Model - even though astonishingly accurate - isn't completely solid.

Brock explained: "The Standard Model is only capable of predicting how particles will interact up to a certain energy level. As tests go above this energy threshold, the model begins to mathematically break down."

Now, that's all about to change. ATLAS will allow scientists to reach beyond that energy threshold and venture into new territory where the results will yield even more new entities and presumably an evolved model for fundamental particle interactions.

This notion is one that hopeful high-energy physicists from around the world have held for years.

"Most of us have been working since graduate school to get to precisely this point," Brock said.

The impact potential:

In the foreseeable future every automobile will connect to a network that feeds it information about safety, directions, etc. It will take huge amounts of bandwidth to move that information. In another example, consider that in as little as 20 years, all written human knowledge may be online, U-M's King said. Eventually, this kind of network capacity will enable students in high school physics classes to actually participate in global experiments, rather than just learning about them from a textbook.

"What's exciting is Michigan is one of the few places in the country that is doing this in its own backyard," he said. "It's being there at the beginning, that's the key thing. We have the opportunity to find out first, how it works, what doesn't work, what difference it makes and how to exploit it."

"Use of the Michigan Lambda Rail for research and educational purposes in general facilitates bringing high-end research into Michigan - for example the AGL-Tier 2 center -- which is known to have a large multiplier in terms of total economic benefit," said David Gift, vice provost, libraries, computing and technology at MSU.

The Michigan Lambda Rail can be used by commercial firms with which the research universities have collaborative research and development programs. Use of the high-speed cable to interconnect with other states' education and research networks facilitates interstate/interinstitutional opportunities that lets Michigan and its residents take advantage of opportunities that are arising in those other states, and could help us to leverage the relatively faster economic recovery that is occurring in surrounding states in the upper Midwest region, Gift said.

The collaboration

The high energy physics groups at MSU and U-M have a long history of working together to study complex scientific questions. But never before have the two groups formally banded together to participate in such a high-level physics research project.

A group of about 15 faculty, postdocs, and students from MSU will work closely with a team of scientists and students from U-M on ATLAS data analysis.

"The fire hose of data that will come out of the ATLAS experiment will be more than any single institution or even national laboratory can analyze," Brock said.

The computing model for ATLAS is tiered, involving both national labs and universities from around the world.

"We are pooling the resources of our two universities and making the one powerful center which will house the equivalent of 2,500 PCs and a million gigabytes of storage over the next five years… and more than that over the decades-long lifetime of Atlas," Brock said.

To hear an interview with Brock go to:

ATLAS is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation. Participating universities contribute space, equipment, as well as internal support.


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

UltraLight Project: Moving Huge Amounts of Data

In January 2007, scientists and engineers completed the largest particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), an underground ring 27 kilometers around located at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Straddling both sides of the Swiss-France border, the LHC sends subatomic particles careening into each other at near-light speeds, creating high-energy collisions similar to those that arose soon after the Big Bang.

The first particle beams could come online as early as this spring and the data streams will be enormous: as many as 10 petabytes of data (1 petabyte = 10^15) for some experiments, far surpassing almost anything that has come before.

Shawn McKee of the University of Michigan is a research scientist working on one of CERN's four main experiments, the ATLAS (A Torroidal LHC ApparatuS) project. Over the last several years, he has faced the vexing problem of building a network to share the massive amounts of data between 1,850 physicists participating in the experiment from more than 150 universities and laboratories in 35 countries.

The ATLAS experiment is critical, as it will try to determine whether the Standard Model of high energy physics is correct, specifically hunting for the Higgs boson, named after theorist Peter Higgs. While physicists have theories about the existence of the Higgs boson, it has never been observed in an experiment.


In 2001 McKee formed a High-Energy/Nuclear Physics (HENP) Internet2 working group, along with physicists Harvey Newman of Caltech and Rob Gardner of the University of Chicago, to investigate next-generation networking and how it might aid physics experiments on the scale of the LHC.

From this group emerged the UltraLight project, a collaboration led by experimental physicists and network engineers motivated to develop the information technology that would let scientists across the globe analyze the petabytes of data. McKee is now Co-Principal Investigator of UltraLight, along with Harvey Newman and Julian Bunn of Caltech, Paul Avery of the University of Florida and Alan Whitney of MIT.

Now entering its third year, the UltraLight infrastructure enables incredibly fast networks to efficiently move data from place to place.

During the initial instillation of UltraLight, McKee and his team shipped five data transmission computers, one large storage server with a 10 gigabit network card for connecting to the UltraLight network, a gigabit switch to interconnect the computers, and a remote Keyboard-Video-Mouse system to allow McKee and his colleagues in Michigan to have remote access and control. McKee then flew to CERN to install the equipment.

"Working at CERN can be challenging because of the distance involved," says McKee. "It takes about 13 hours to get there from Ann Arbor. Since we typically purchase our equipment in the United States we have to ship it over there for installation. As you can imagine it is problematic if something fails or needs repair."

Along with Caltech network engineers Dan Nae and Sylvain Ravot, McKee installed and configured the systems at CERN, doing everything from finding pallet jacks for moving the heavy equipment to finding and borrowing necessary tools, building equipment shelves and finding the right router interfaces.

Once everything was in place and connected, McKee spent hours labeling and documenting the configuration and installing a remote power strip, a device that allows the team to power-cycle equipment from Michigan nearly 7,000 kilometers away.

Test and deploy

For the last year-and-a-half, the equipment has been in use both for tests of UltraLight and tests to determine how well it can move ATLAS data, in addition to demonstrations during the 2005 and 2006 SuperComputing conferences. It is an international effort, with active partners in South America, Europe and Asia. "It is exciting to be able to test and deploy services on a global scale," McKee says.

As UltraLight network manager, McKee has to monitor and manage on a daily basis the UltraLight infrastructure from Michigan, ensuring that UltraLight related machines and equipment are functional and watch for problems such as bad performance or loss of connectivity.

Although UltraLight primarily focuses on high energy physics, McKee says that the project could be used in other areas.

"UltraLight has applications in a variety of other fields where a lot of information needs to be disseminated quickly," says McKee, "such as medicine, engineering, astronomy, bioinformatics, and weather forecasting." Hospitals are interested in UltraLight, McKee says, because patients' MRI scans or other large image data could be sent via UltraLight technology to other doctors in real time.

Over the next few years, McKee envisions huge changes in technology and the impact of technology. "Network capability for the past twenty years has shown that bandwidth doubles every nine months; this trend still holds true," he says.

Over the next twenty years, huge amounts of data will be routinely accessed very quickly, leading to on-demand access to information. "Data such as movies-now bogged down in slow downloading speeds-will soon be available almost instantaneously," says McKee. "Movies are one simple example...imagine the possibilities that will be enabled in such a world."

For more information, see the UltraLight website. Videos of ATLAS are available here.

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17-year-old hacker unlocks iPhone's secrets

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George Hotz remembers taking apart his first computer, an Apple II, when he was 4 or 5 years old.

He cracked open an answering machine, remote control, vacuum cleaner and more computers. He scavenged for more products to tinker with on trash night in his neighborhood.

Now the 17-year-old from Glen Rock, N.J., has reached the big leagues of hacking. He says he has "unlocked" the iPhone, finding a way to get around the device's restrictions and allow it to be used not only on AT&T's cell phone network but also on T-Mobile's network and overseas.

"I'm talking to you on it right now," Hotz said during an interview with The Chronicle on Friday as he traveled from an appearance on CNBC to an interview with Fox.

The feat comes two months after the highly publicized debut of the iPhone. Combining a digital media player, a camera, the Internet and a cell phone in one gadget, the iPhone represents Apple Inc.'s first foray into the mobile phone business. One of the most anticipated gadgets of the year, it's expected to transform the industry much as the iPod and iTunes helped change the digital media market. The Cupertino technology company said it plans to sell 1 million iPhones by the end of September.

Until now, however, the iPhone has come with a catch. Because of a revenue-sharing agreement between Apple and AT&T, the iPhone operates only on AT&T's network and requires a two-year subscription.

Hackers have spent the better part of the summer tackling that challenge. Hotz said it took him nearly 500 hours - about eight hours a day - to figure out how to make calls on his iPhone through T-Mobile. "It wasn't to be rich," Hotz said. "I wanted to use it with T-Mobile."

Holz published step-by-step directions on his blog at Another group, known as, said on its site that it also had found a way to get around Apple's locks and connect to T-Mobile. It offered proof to Engadget, a popular technology blog, which published a video demonstration, and said it plans to sell the software. In general, scores of hackers have been working on a way to make the iPhone compatible with other services since the phone debuted.

AT&T and Apple officials declined to comment. But it's highly doubtful Apple will let the hacking continue.

"Hackers are going to have to stay one step ahead," said Raven Zachary, an analyst with the 451 Group research firm and the co-founder of the iPhone Developers Camp, which brought software developers together last month to brainstorm programs for the iPhone. "Each time Apple hardens the operating system to minimize unlocking, it's going to get more difficult for the hacker community to find a workaround to unlock the iPhone."

Since Apple and AT&T began selling the iPhone on June 29, hard-core fans have made Herculean attempts to the bend the iPhone to their will.

For security reasons, Apple allows developers to design programs for the iPhone only through the Web and not directly to the phone. That hasn't stopped programmers from trying. One group, for instance, created a way to video conference on the iPhone, said Damien Stolarz, co-author of the forthcoming book "iPhone Hacks."

Hotz, who is driving with his parents to the Rochester Institute of Technology today to start his college career, had planned to spend the summer replacing the clutch on his green Mitsubishi and building a hot air balloon with his friends.

The car remains in pieces in the backyard. And though he bought some fabric, he abandoned the hot air balloon project to focus on the iPhone. Staying up by drinking vast amounts of Red Bull, Mountain Dew and other drinks, he purposely destroyed one iPhone to figure out how the pieces operated. Keeping one iPhone, he is selling another unlocked iPhone on eBay.

His parents occasionally worried he was spending so much time on the iPhone.

"We're proud of him. He worked all summer on it, so we're glad it was fruitful," said Hotz's father, also named George Hotz and a high school technology coordinator. "There are worse things teenage kids could be doing."

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Vital Infrastructure Investments

The bridge collapse in Minneapolis is giving rise to other concerns. Hundreds of billions is needed to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. It's not just roads and bridges. It's also generation and transmission.
Enter infrastructure investing: Public and private pension funds currently invest in varied assets that range from stocks to bonds to real estate. But some are now taking a look at vital infrastructure as a way to earn better-than-average returns as well as to guarantee the longevity of an area's economic growth. If such allocations could provide competitive returns, pension experts say that fiduciaries and trustees would not violate their obligation to act solely in the interest of plan participants.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System might get approval from their boards in the next few months to provide a slither of their combined $337 billion portfolios into water supply and conservation, toll bridges and tunnels and energy transmission projects.
"If we can find the right opportunities and we conclude we would earn good returns, we would invest these projects," says Clark McKinley, spokesman for Calpers. Pensions would supplement the financing available from tax-exempt bonds and other traditional government financing mechanisms for public projects. Calpers may invest directly or may partner with private equity firms to find the most compelling infrastructure investments that it says could earn 8-10 percent.
An increasing number of private investment firms such as J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Australia's Macquarie Bank have expressed an interest in financing infrastructure projects around the globe. While those professional managers charge fees, they do increase the odds of achieving higher returns.
With an estimated $11 trillion in assets, pensions could boost the long-term viability of the American economy. And with about $1 trillion of total infrastructure needs in the United States-an estimated $50 billion to $100 billion for transmission-the goal would be to get pension funds to give such assets a closer look.
In a survey conducted in the mid 1990s by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans in Brookfield, Wis., 25 percent of 118 benefit managers and trustees said they would invest in infrastructure projects if they were structured specifically for pension funds and other institutional investors. Three-quarters of the respondents agreed that such investments would help the economy. Nevertheless, the respondents were nearly unanimous in their opposition to any types of mandates.

Potential Opportunities
Private investors are looking to best the bond market that is typically safe, but which earns minimal returns. Infrastructure investing holds appeal because the fees that such essential assets generate are steady and oftentimes pay more interests than bonds.
New Jersey is now having this debate. The state may place as much as $2 billion in private equity funds that would own parts of toll roads, airports and utility wires. Meantime, Pennsylvania might lease the state's toll road -- a proposition that Morgan Stanley says would be worth $3.6 billion over 30 years. Separately, Illinois' public pension fund has allocated $600 million, or about 5 percent, of its investment portfolio to similar projects.
"It's a huge potential opportunity set," says Peter Keliuotis, a consultant with Strategic Investment Solutions that suggested to New Jersey that it allot a small percentage of investors' money to infrastructure, at a public hearing on the matter. In that state's case, its returns have been less than 4 percent a year -- considerably less than the vast majority of private equity funds in the market. By diversifying, the consultant says that New Jersey would have access to a market that could reach $5 trillion over five years.
To be sure, pension plan trustees don't want to be pressured to make infrastructure investments. That would confuse fiduciary standards. Along those lines, investment pros are concerned that they would be forced to make political statements through their investment decisions. Capital will flow naturally to deserving projects, they add, if they are competitive.
Arm-twisting could potentially come in two ways: Municipalities could require the contractors who they hire to ante up with infrastructure investments from their pension funds. Or, Congress could eventually link the pension tax preference to participation in infrastructure financing. If that were to happen, the repercussions would be widespread. Critics of the idea note that the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System had at one time lost a third of its assets by making investments in intrastate businesses.
The concern is real. A study conducted in 1995 by Clemson University economist Wayne Marr and Washington State University economist John Nofsinger said pension funds that include such investments under-perform other pensions by 1.18 percent to 2.10 percent. Over several years, the compound interest makes the difference dramatic.
Pension fiduciaries are duty-bound to ensure the integrity of their funds. Government is therefore unlikely to add any undue pressures on where they invest participants' money. But that does not mean they won't ask. Regardless, some money managers like the idea, saying that they are considering investing directly or in partnering with private equity firms that have the appropriate expertise to diversify their portfolios.
"For us, there's a huge capital need to create new infrastructure for many uses -- bridges, toll roads, water treatment systems, energy products and distributions," says Russell Read, who sits on the board of Calpers, in an interview with Bloomberg Magazine. "We see a $20 trillion market over the next 25 years for projects, including distribution of liquid and gas fuel."
It's not the role of pension managers to bring about social change. But activists' money managers such as Calpers are using their clout. They are now eyeing vital infrastructure projects that they say will serve the twin purposes of satisfying investor demands and allowing whole communities to thrive.

It Has Found Reason Foam Fell on Shuttle

NASA engineers think they have found the cause of and a remedy for foam falling from brackets on the space shuttle fuel tank like that which recently damaged the Endeavour heat shield tiles, agency officials said Friday.

N. Wayne Hale Jr., manager of the shuttle program, said in a telephone news conference that X-ray tests of brackets that hold fuel lines on the next external propellant tank set to fly indicated microscopic cracks in a thin layer of foam atop the metal brackets.

Cracks in this special heat-resistant foam material, which is less than a half-inch thick, can lead to the lighter insulating foam above it coming off during the stresses of launching, Mr. Hale said.

"The fact that we were able to identify the most likely cause with a simple test, X-raying the fittings, was heartening," he said.

Atop the underlying material, called superlightweight ablative foam core, is a layer of lighter insulating foam that prevents the formation of ice on the brackets holding a feed line that carries supercold liquid oxygen from the fuel tank to the engines.

About 58 seconds into the Endeavour launching on Aug. 8, a baseball-size piece of foam, perhaps mixed with ice or some of the underlying material, fell from a tank bracket and ricocheted off a metal strut into the shuttle belly. The foam damaged two heat-resistant ceramic tiles, forcing NASA engineers to study the problem extensively for days before deciding that the shuttle could land safely without trying to repair the gash with an emergency spacewalk.

Falling foam is a serious threat to the shuttles and their crews. In 2003, the shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew were lost while returning to Earth because of a hole in the wing caused by a chunk of foam during ascent. After that accident, NASA spent hundreds of millions of dollars to modify the fuel tank and greatly reduce foam loss at launching.

Mr. Hale said technicians were to remove all the foam from the oxygen line brackets and reapply just the light insulating foam. Tests have shown that the underlying heat-resistant foam is not needed, he said.

Engineers from the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the fuel tanks are built, will arrive at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida this weekend to supervise the work. Mr. Hale said the foam modifications should take about nine days, finishing in time to use the tank to launch the shuttle Discovery on schedule on Oct. 23 for a mission to the International Space Station.

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Apple: Never say never

Why would anyone pick up a sleek, beautiful new $500 iPhone and take a soldering gun to it?You could almost say Apple Inc. issued a dare.Hackers got credit for another victory Friday, as news spread that a New Jersey teenager broke into his iPhone and reconfigured it so the machine could make calls via a wireless carrier other than AT&T.
The iPhone, available since late June, is supposed to work only with AT&T, which has a five-year exclusive contract. But limiting the touchscreen phone to a single carrier immediately was seen by many tech-savvy tinkerers as an invitation to assert their control over the device.Hacking, of course, has a long history in the digital age. On top of that, many cell phone aficionados are rankled by the idea that they often can't choose which carrier to provide service for a cool new phone.So it's no surprise that 17-year-old George Hotz's accomplishment in making his iPhone run on T-Mobile's network joins a host of claims by other hackers manipulating the Apple device.YouTube is filled with videos of people who appear to have created their own iPhone by using Apple's software on other mobile gadgets, including a T-Mobile Wing smart phone, a Sprint PPC-6800 and Microsoft Corp.'s Zune music player.Technology analyst Rob Enderle said others already have unlocked the iPhone by getting it to work with a competing carrier: "We should have downloadable applications for these things in a week."To do what Hotz accomplished takes plenty of skill -- and time. Hotz said he spent 500 hours on the project."He's been tinkering with it all summer," his father, also named George Hotz, said. "It shows it can be done, but it's not an easy task."In a video on YouTube, the bushy haired Hotz shows his iPhone running on T-Mobile's wireless network before he makes a call to a landline phone in his bedroom. Then, he removes the T-Mobile SIM card he inserted into the phone as additional evidence.Also in the video, Hotz said he worked with other hackers to complete the task. On Thursday, he published a 10-step guide on his blog, http://iphonejtag, but acknowledged they may be challenging.Technology blog Engadget on Friday reported successfully unlocking an iPhone using a different method that required no tinkering with the hardware, according to The Associated Press. The software was supplied by an anonymous group of hackers that apparently plans to charge for it.Representatives from Apple and AT&T would not comment on the hacked iPhone, although one representative questioned the validity of Hotz's hack.The hack is being seen as an interesting but harmless accomplishment, said Martin Dunsby, chief executive with Vollee Inc., a maker of games for mobile devices.But Jeff Kohler, a wireless executive at Bathgate Capital Partners in Denver, said, "From an AT&T standpoint, on a marketing level, those people [at AT&T] have to be disappointed. There is the potential to lose the exclusivity and branding that goes with the iPhone."Dunsby said the hack will have no "business impact. But the message this sends is that subscribers want innovation and flexibility in their platform."Indeed, when Apple announced it had an exclusive agreement with AT&T to carry the iPhone, many mobile phone fans were excited because the phone would run on a GSM network, meaning perhaps a SIM card from another carrier would work.But Apple, in an unprecedented move, locked the SIM card into the phone so users would not be able to insert a card from T-Mobile or a European carrier to make the iPhone work. Buyers of GSM phones made by Nokia and Motorola, for example, can easily open the back of the phone and slip in a SIM card for another wireless carrier."The message [the hack] sends to the communications industry is that innovation is important, but being in a closed environment isn't a good thing," Dunsby said.He added, though, that most people won't see the benefit of doing a hack as complicated as the one Hotz achieved.According to interviews, Hotz said he used soldering tools and software to hack the iPhone. He said the two iPhones he hacked, one of which he's put up for bid on eBay, have all their features intact except the visual voice-mail function.Hotz's sudden popularity was noticed by major television networks Friday. He was picked up by a limousine for a trip to New York City for an interview with NBC, ABC and other broadcasters, his father said.On Saturday, he heads to college to start his freshman year."It's great he got it done in time," the elder Hotz said. "He can enjoy this moment of glory."

Sony Defeats Truman

This just in from video-game reporting headquarters: Sony may be a consumer electronics giant, but its public relations folks aren’t so powerful when it comes to prognostication.Yesterday, said spinsters made a bold prediction about sales figures for video game consoles that were due out today. Sony said it was confident the figures would show that in July its PlayStation 3 outsold the Xbox 360, made by its chief rival, Microsoft.The actual figures from NPD Group, a market research firm, did not bear this out. Sony came in third, behind the still piping-hot Nintendo Wii and Sony’s aforementioned chief thorn-in-side, Microsoft.For the record, NPD reported domestic sales of 425,000 Nintendo Wiis, 170,000 Xbox 360s and 159,000 PlayStation 3s in July. Dave Karraker, the Sony spokesman who predicted the PS3 would overtake the 360, told me that: (1) He was only wrong by a bit, and (2) NPD doesn’t provide an exact count but estimates some portions of the market and (3) No, he would not care to make a prediction about August’s sales figures.The results, in fairness to Sony, do represent a marked improvement relative to Microsoft. In June, PS3 sales were roughly half of Xbox 360’s 200,000.Could it be that Sony’s price cut has shaken loose consumer demand?While Microsoft and Sony battled it out for second place in the next-generation console competition, Nintendo continues to ride its less powerful processor, simpler graphics and gyration-inspiring game controller to fad-defying results. Nintendo’s July sales bested its June figures by around 50,000 units, further stumping analysts and video game software companies who keep waiting for the Wii to peter out.At this point, predicting a quick demise for the Wii might not be the wisest maneuver; it’s something even the folks at Sony wouldn’t attempt — at least not this month.P.S. The overall game market is on the mend, in a big way. Through July, domestic sales of hardware, software and accessories were $7 billion, up from $5 billion for the first seven months of 2006

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