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Monday, October 29, 2007

Stephen Hawking Plans 2009 Space Trip

Stephen Hawking Plans 2009 Space Trip

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says he wants to undertake a zero-gravity flight aboard an airplane this year as a precursor to a journey into space,

"This year I'm planning a zero-gravity flight and to go into space in 2009," he was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Hawking, 65, has said he hopes to travel on British businessman Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic service, which is scheduled to launch in 2009. The service will charge space tourists about $200,000 for a two-hour suborbital trip some 87 miles above the Earth.

Branson was keen to help the scientist realize his dream of space flight, Virgin Galactic spokesman Stephen Attenborough said Monday.

"Richard is very determined that if we can possibly make this happen, then it should," Attenborough said.

He said the company had not discussed the issue of payment with Hawking.

One of the best-known theoretical physicists of his generation, Hawking gained fame with the best-selling book "A Brief History of Time."

The scientist, who uses a wheelchair and communicates with the help of a computer because he suffers from a neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, has done groundbreaking research on black holes and the origins of the universe, proposing that space and time have no beginning and no end.

Hawking has warned that the survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth.

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Solutions to World's Energy Crisis

Solutions to World's Energy Crisis

Far-Out Ideas Could Provide Solutions to World's Energy Crisis

Getting out from under the thumb of foreign oil producers and saying goodbye to polluting power plants could be just a couple of scientific breakthroughs away.

Some of the brightest minds on the planet are working on solutions to the energy crisis, ranging from harnessing the power of the sea to recreating solar fusion in a doughnut-shaped tube.

But all of these new technologies have a common downside: They don't come cheap, at least not yet.

• Click here to visit's Energy Center.

Since the dawn of the atomic age, scientists have dreamed of colliding hydrogen atoms to create energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, which carries the threat of deadly fallout, fusion is safe. It relies on water heated to 100 million degrees and a magnetic field.

"It has the most potential energy, the most energy available of any technology," says Tom Jarboe, a physics and aeronautics professor at the University of Washington. "Essentially, you could heat the earth with it if you wanted to."

The U.S. government has invested $1.2 billion in the ITER Project , an international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power.

Participating in the project are the European Union, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Russia and the U.S.

Construction on a fusion plant is set to begin in 2008 and is expected to last eight years.

Another idea that's closer to reality is turning biomass into fuel.

Wood chips, corn stalks and food scraps all contain energy. Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are working on ways to use fungus to speed up the process of breaking down the biomass.

Researchers say there are 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass produced annually in the U.S., enough to fill up half the cars in America if it is converted to fuel.

But there are significant production hurdles.

"Our energy use is so large, this isn't something you can do in everyone's garage," says Jud Virden of the PNNL. "It needs to be scaled so it can fit into the nation's infrastructure, so there's quality of fuels and consistency."

Scientists are also looking to the skies, where NASA and Defense Department engineers are exploring the possibility that orbital platforms might one day beam solar energy back to earth.

The Pentagon's National Security Space Office (NSSO) wants to build a platform in geosynchronous orbit that would be larger than the International Space Station and capable of beaming 5 to 10 megawatts of power to a receiving station on the ground.

Military leaders envision using the technology to power troop operations in remote locations.

Other scientists are trying to capture wind power from the upper atmosphere. And back on Earth, scientists are working to harness the power of ocean tides.

"It's clean and renewable, no volatility in gas or oil prices," says Steve Klein, general manager of Snohomish Public Utility District in Washington State. "Mother nature provides the fuel for free."

Of all the alternatives to fossil fuels, tidal power is the closest to becoming a reality. Wave energy could be contributing to the power grid in five years, and by 2050 it could account for 10 percent of the nation's electricity.

Energy Illusions

As the sun sets on the cheap oil era, the need to focus on alternatives to fossil fuels has become increasingly apparent. During this period the public has been offered some persistent misconceptions about the nature of the problem, and what we should do to solve it. In general we tend to oversimplify the nature of the challenge we're facing, identifying it merely as the need to come up with new sources of fuel.

What's really going is much more profound than running out of gas-it's a crisis of sustainability, a test of our overall way of life. The consequences of the "limitless growth" model that's driven industrial economies for the last century is swiftly catching up with us. We're overproducing and overcomsuming ourselves into oblivion. Clinging to the old model can only result in a series of destructive resource wars and hasten the pace of catastrophic climate change. Throwaway culture is no longer a luxury we can afford. If we fail to break our old economic habits it will be "our world" that will be thrown out! That process is already underway, and gaining momentum.

Here is a quick checklist of popular misconceptions about the energy crisis:

The energy crisis is a separate problem unto itself. - It isn't! The energy crisis is bound up with larger questions about the sustainability of our prevailing growth model of economic activity. We need to recognize that our headlong consumption of fossil fuel is overheating the planet. If we want society to endure for the long term we need to question the cancerous logic of limitless growth, and learn to live within our means. This is especially true for the most prolific overconsumers on the planet: Americans!

The earth is running out of oil, and fossil fuel in general. - It's not! Huge reservoirs of fossil fuels exist, enough to meet current levels of demand for many decades to come. There are enormous reserves in the form of coal, tar sands, and methane hydrate deposits. What is coming to an end is the supply of cheap fossil fuel. We can get at the remaining reserves of fossil fuel, but doing so will be increasingly expensive and have unpleasant consequences.

Lack of fuel is the most pressing limit posed by this energy crisis. - Wrong! There is plenty of material to produce fuel from, if we're willing to pay the price. The most pressing limit we face concerning energy use is the amount of carbon we can dump into the atmosphere! Current economic activity is already helping to melt Greenland's ice pack. The process has been underway for years and is accelerating. As Greenland's ice goes, it will raise global sea levels by twenty feet. The homes of over half the human race will be inundated in the process. You do the math!

The problem can be fixed by finding more fuel to meet demand. - It can't! Part of the problem is we're consuming too much energy to maintain climatic stability. In the case of Americans the per capita rate of consumption is far too high. It makes no sense to try and sustain our way of life without asking ourselves if that way of life is sustainable to start with. The earth isn't going to adapt itself to our habits. Instead we need to adapt our habits to our home in space. We must ask ourselves hard questions about the kinds of activity we can reasonably expect to sustain over the long haul here on planet Earth.

The Hydrogen Economy will solve our problems. - It won't! Elemental hydrogen isn't a source of energy. Unlike oil it doesn't occur naturally but has be "manufactured" instead. In effect hydrogen is a form of energy storage, not a fuel source. It can't help us replace dwindling oil supplies.

Ethanol can be used to replace gasoline. - Not going to happen! Like hydrogen, ethanol isn't a fuel source, but a form of energy storage. Besides, don't we need the corn ethanol is made from to feed people? Can we morally justify starving people to produce fuel? Finally, the corporate agriculture which produces the corn ethanol is derived from is itself hugely dependent on fossil fuels.

Renewable energy can't solve the energy crisis. - This is one of two lies large corporations promote about renewable energy. The truth is that renewable energy can be most effectively pursued as a set of decentralized grassroots solutions by ordinary citizens. But that's a path which will break down the centralized control big energy and utility companies have over their customers. So while they pay lip service to renewable energy sources they package the concept as something complicated that needs further study, something that's beyond the reach of regular people. This leads us to lie number two. . .

Renewable energy solutions are large and complex. - Big corporations visualize energy solutions as large highly centralized projects because it mirrors their desire to maintain centralized economic control. So corporations tends to think of a solar solution as something that looks like this, or a wind solution that look like this. These kinds of projects are clearly too expensive for ordinary people to participate in. To the extent that we accept such ideas we'll be turned off to the notion of solving the energy crisis for ourselves, one household at a time. Of course this is exactly what big companies want.

What we need is the right fuel to replace gasoline. - This is another corporate friendly falsehood. The reason solutions like hydrogen and ethanol get a lot of attention in the press is that they maintain the current paradigm: energy needed to drive our cars can only be produced by large corporations using highly centralized production and distribution systems to deliver fuel. The problem is that the existing corporate system has been built on a "found object"-vast reservoirs of cheap oil pumped out of the ground at low cost. But unlike oil neither hydrogen nor ethanol is an energy source. You have to consume other energy sources to produce them. So it's very unlikely hydrogen or ethanol will ever drive the creation of another centralized system like the one cheap oil gave rise to. The real solution is to bypass fuel altogether, and go straight to electricity. Electricity is an ideal form of energy for transportation. This fact has been repeatedly demonstrated, most recently by a car produced by Tesla Motors. What they've produced isn't your Dad's electric car-it does zero to sixty in four seconds!

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Identify dark matter !!!!

In the growing catalog of nanoscale technologies, nanowires-tiny rows of conductor or semiconductor atoms-have attracted a great deal of interest for their potential to build unique atomic-scale electronics. But before you can buy some at your local Nano Depot, manufacturers will need efficient, reliable methods to build them in quantity.
The next method of detection is one of indirect observation. Looking out into space, Bertone says, scientists "look for some signal due to interaction of particles amongst themselves."

The strategy set forth in the article belongs to the third approach, which is to build a large detector and wait for a dark matter particle to interact with ordinary matter. "To show the power of this technique, we focused on an experiment called COUPP [Chicagoland Observatory for Underground Particle Physics]" Bertone says. "It is a bubble chamber, much like what has been used before in other fields."

He explains that when a dark matter particle enters the chamber, it releases a tiny amount of energy, and is visible in the form of bubbles. "In case positive detection, the idea is to change the target liquid in the bubble chamber and repeat the experiment. We would measure the rate in two different targets and by crossing the results, we can get the properties of the dark matter particles with better accuracy."

There are technological problems to this setup, Bertone concedes. "If you operate the bubble chamber at the ground level, you get a huge amount of bubbles, as many particles enter and they all interact with the nuclei." To reduce this "background" from ordinary matter, Bertone says that the bubble chamber must be brought deep underground.

"The group of Juan Collar has built a prototype at Fermilab in Chicago, still in its early phase and under development," explains Bertone. He points out that the bubble chamber detector's main advantage is that it can be operated at room temperature. "Most of the time, when looking for tiny signals, it needs to be done at very low temperatures. Being able to do this at room temperature makes things easier and cheaper."

Bertone says that plans to "scale up" the prototype chamber in Chicago are moving forward, along with the other dark matter experiments being attempted around the world. The technique they have proposed can however be applied to any experiment, and can even be used to combine data from different experiments. "We live in a moment of excitement," he continues. "I am eager to see the results from all the dark matter experiments. We could really be about to discover new things."

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Industrial-Grade Nanowire Device Fabrication

Nanowire electronics: Optical image shows metal electrodes attached to zinc oxide nanowires using the NIST technique. Dark spots near the center are the gold pads that start nanowire growth; red arrow shows direction of growth. Scale bar is 50 micrometers long. Credit: NIST.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology believe they have one solution-a technique that allows them to selectively grow nanowires on sapphire wafers in specific positions and orientations accurately enough to attach contacts and layer other circuit elements, all with conventional lithography techniques. They detailed their results in a recent paper.

Despite their name, nanowires are more than just electrical connectors. Researchers have used nanowires to create transistors like those used in memory devices and prototype sensors for gases or biomolecules. However working with objects only tens of nanometers wide is challenging.

A common approach in the lab is to grow nanowires like blades of grass on a suitable substrate, mow them off and mix them in a fluid to transfer them to a test surface, using some method to give them a preferred orientation. When the carrier fluid dries, the nanowires are left behind like tumbled jackstraws.

Using scanning probe microscopy or similar tools, researchers hunt around for a convenient, isolated nanowire to work on, or place electrical contacts without knowing the exact positions of the nanowires. It's not a technique suitable for mass production.
Building on earlier work to grow nanowires horizontally on the surface of wafers, NIST researchers used conventional semiconductor manufacturing techniques to deposit small amounts of gold in precise locations on a sapphire wafer. In a high-temperature process, the gold deposits bead up into nanodroplets that act as nucleation points for crystals of zinc oxide, a semiconductor.

A slight mismatch in the crystal structures of zinc oxide and sapphire induces the semiconductor to grow as a narrow nanowire in one particular direction across the wafer. Because the starting points and the growth direction are both well known, it is relatively straightforward to add electrical contacts and other features with additional lithography steps.

As proof of concept, the NIST researchers have used this procedure to create more than 600 nanowire-based transistors, a circuit element commonly used in digital memory chips, in a single process. In the prototype process, they report, the nanowires typical grew in small bunches of up to eight wires at a time, but finer control over the size of the initial gold deposits should make it possible to select the number of wires in each position. The technique, they say, should allow industrial-scale production of nanowire-based devices.

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Flas back ; Researcher Discovers Universe Building Block Evolution

The building blocks of planets and the life on them are formed inside of stars and returned to space in the form of stardust. In a new study, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher discovered the formation of this stardust does not happen as expected, resulting in implications for star and planet formation.
"Understanding the nature of the material returned to space by dying stars is essential for our understanding of galactic chemistry, planet and star formation and the cosmos as a whole," said Angela Speck, assistant professor of astrophysics. "We always knew this process took place; we are now taking a big step toward understanding how this works." click to enlarge

Stars, like the sun, eventually run out of hydrogen in their cores and become red giant stars and asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars. AGB stars are very bright, about 3,000 times brighter than the sun, but about half as hot as the sun. These stars are unstable and pulsate. The pulsations cause some of the atmospheric gas in these stars to be lost in surrounding space. As this hot gas drifts away from the star, it cools and forms dust grains. The material that sloughs off the star's outer shell and forms dust grains travels into interstellar space and is incorporated into large dust clouds that eventually will collapse to form new stars and planetary systems.

AGB stars in which the abundance of carbon atoms exceeds that of oxygen atoms have chemistries dominated by carbon and are known as carbon stars. One dust species known to form in the shells around carbon stars is silicon carbide (SiC). SiC has been found in meteorites; and many of these grains are believed to have formed around carbon stars. Results from the study of these presolar, meteoritic SiC grains suggest that the nature of the SiC forming in carbon star outflows changes as the star evolves. The star initially produces relatively large grains and the grains formed are progressively smaller as the star dies.

This finding is completely opposite of what was thought to be true," Speck said. "As the gas becomes denser the grains are getting smaller."

Speck presented observational evidence to confirm this suggestion at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The study's poster presentation - The Nature and Evolution of Silicon Carbide in the Outflows of Carbon Star - is authored by Speck and co-authored by Anne Hofmeister, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.; and Grant Thompson, Department of Physics and Astronomy student at MU.

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Vista vs. Leopard a race like battle .

Leopard introduces lots of new apps and interface features to Mac OS X. Can Vista match up

Let the Battle Begin!

Every time Apple rolls out a new big-cat-themed release of OS X, it manages to pack in a few interface features and useful apps that eventually make their way across the OS world. Now that Leopard is here, let's take a look through its key features and see how the built-in features in Windows Vista measure up.

At its recent WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), Apple sought to steal some of Microsoft's thunder by releasing just enough details of its next OS (operating system), Leopard, to make an early comparison to the forthcoming Windows Vista possible. Staying true to form, then.

It seems as though we've been talking about Vista for ages, and although RC1 (Release Candidate One) came out in September, it's likely to be February before most of us see the finished article. However, its features and general look and feel are fairly common knowledge -- and now we have something tangible to compare it to.

Implementation strategies Leopard is an upgrade to Mac OS X, whereas Vista replaces Windows XP almost entirely. Both Apple and Microsoft released OSes in the autumn of 2001 -- Apple's was OS X Puma; Microsoft's was Windows XP. The difference is that XP is still the current version of Windows, while Apple followed up Puma with Jaguar, Panther and Tiger - Apple has a lots-of-incremental-upgrades philosophy, compared with Microsoft's big-upgrade-once-in-a-blue-moon approach. The two major service packs for XP have been relatively feature-light.

Leopard looks to be idiosyncratic and entertaining in a way it's hard to imagine a Microsoft product being. The first major Leopard feature demoed at Steve Job's WWDC keynote was Time Machine, a backup utility that lets you step back to earlier versions of your system and files. This is not a revolutionary idea -- and Microsoft is planning a vaguely similar function for Vista -- but Time Machine's UI (user interface), which involves windows flying through space, is quirky and fun. By contrast, Vista has no strong sense of personality.

We're not saying it's always good for an OS to be playful -- we know people who gnash their teeth even at the way Mac OS X Dock icons bob up and down when it's alerting you to something -- but this contrast has become a defining difference between the two products.

Safety first

Apple can still get away with security not being a selling point for an OS upgrade; Microsoft has felt the need to introduce lubricating features such as User Account Control -- a function that keeps users aware of dangerous activities on their PCs. But you've got to wonder if Apple will be able to stay smug about security - we've been hearing about security holes in Mac OS X, and hackers seem prepared to target it. Let's face it, they weren't going to leave Apple alone forever.

Which brings us to stability issues. Although XP is considered to be the most stable version of Windows yet, Apple has been in the news recently after a number of its customers found their MacBooks were inexplicably crashing. So upset were these people that they set up

Of course, Leopard's stability is something that can't be properly assessed at this time -- betas, previews, Release Candidates or whatever you want to call them are notoriously flaky, and we'd caution anyone against making judgements about this issue now.

But it will be something that commentators will be watching very closely as the OSes get closer to release.

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Space : Metal shavings found in space-station joint

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Spacewalking astronauts doing construction work outside the international space station Sunday made a disturbing discovery: what appear to be metal shavings inside a joint that is needed to turn a set of solar-power panels.

The rotary joint, 10 feet in diameter, has experienced intermittent vibrations and power spikes for nearly two months.

Space-station managers were hoping a thermal cover or bolt might be hanging up the mechanism, which would have been relatively easy to fix, and were disheartened when Daniel Tani radioed down that metal shavings were everywhere.

"It's quite clear that it's metal-to-metal grating or something, and it's widespread," Tani said.

The shavings resembled small flakes and were clinging to the joint as if to a magnet, Tani said.

The astronaut used tape to dab up some of the shavings. They will be returned to Earth aboard Discovery next week for analysis. NASA is uncertain whether the flecks are actually metallic or some other material.

This rotary joint, launched and installed just four months ago, controls the huge solar-panel wings on the right side of the space station, to make sure they're facing the sun. The joint for the left solar wings is working fine.

The right rotary joint will remain in a parked position as much as possible until the problem is solved, said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space-station program manager.

It's too soon to know whether the joint - if it continues to malfunction - will affect science operations aboard the European laboratory that is scheduled to fly to the space station in December, or the Japanese lab that will follow, Suffredini said.

"We have lots of time to work through this problem. It's not an immediate issue," Suffredini said at a news conference Sunday afternoon after the spacewalk.

The problem overshadowed the rest of Sunday's spacewalk, the second of five planned for Discovery's construction mission.

The spacewalkers' first job out the hatch was to disconnect bolts and cables holding a 35-foot-long, 35,000-pound girder to the orbiting complex, so astronauts working inside could pull it away with the robot arm. It was the first time the girder and its attached solar-power wings were moved since being installed seven years ago, and the job went well.

The girder will be reattached to another spot on the space station Tuesday, and its solar wings unfurled to their full 240 feet across. NASA considers this one of the most difficult construction jobs ever attempted in orbit.

During their 6 ½ hours outside, Tani and Scott Parazynski also added handrails and other equipment to the outside of Harmony, the school-bus-size compartment that was delivered by Discovery and attached to the space station last week. They did not have enough time to finish installing a grappling hook to Harmony, and they had to skip some other work, too.

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There's a new high-end desktop chip in town : Quad-Core CPUs by Intel

24 hours news :Good news on computer update ,There's a new high-end desktop chip in town--namely, Intel's Penryn family of CPUs, which are the first built on a 45nm manufacturing process developed by the chip giant. Our first WorldBench 6 tests with the new chip showed only a minor performance gain for the 45nm, 3-GHz QX9650 Core 2 Extreme versus the 65nm, 3-Ghz QX6850 Core 2 Extreme chip that it is supplanting. (See our chart "Penryn Speed: Minor Gains in Mainstream Apps," or check out our review of the first Penryn-based system we've tested, a CyberPower Power Infinity Pro.) However, none of the applications in our test suite utilize the QX9650's new SSE4 instructions, which can greatly speed up tasks such as some key operations in video encoding in apps that use SSE4. (Intel's in-house benchmarks, and the demonstrations we saw at this fall's Intel Developer Forum, back up that claim.)

Let's Get Small
For now, the real news is that the 45nm manufacturing process Intel uses for Penryn should allow the company to keep churning out superfast desktop chips for the forseeable future.

If Intel were to have its own TV show, it would probably be entitled Honey, I Shrunk the Chips. The Penryn family of CPUs, set to launch on November 12, are built on a manufacturing process that shrinks the features of the chip down to a mere 45 nanometers (or about 1/18000 the width of a human hair). That's down from the 65nm process the company has used for its current Core line and the 90nm process it used on some Pentium 4 chips. The company has already demonstrated a 32nm process that it intends to begin using to produce chips in two years.

By shrinking the size of the transistors in its chips, Intel can produce more CPUs from the same amount of silicon, or build more-complex chips in the same amount of space. For example: A Celeron 300 made in 1995 using a 250nm process measured 131 square millimeters, yet contained a mere 7.5 million transistors; a current 65nm Core 2 Duo is a scant 11 square millimeters larger but contains 291 million transistors; and the new 45nm, quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX9650 that we tested for this article measures 214 square millimeters but contains a whopping 820 million transistors.

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Astronauts to move solar array truss

HOUSTON (AP) - Astronauts plowed ahead Monday with the mammoth job of moving a 17½-ton solar array truss on the international space station, a task made even more crucial following the discovery of contamination in an important part of the orbiting lab's power system.

A spacewalking astronaut on Sunday found metal shavings inside a joint that is needed to turn a set of solar power panels.

The rotary joint, launched and installed just four months ago, controls the huge solar panel wings on the right side of the space station to make sure they're facing the sun. It has been experiencing electrical current spikes in the past 1½ months.

NASA officials have limited the joint's motion to prevent the debris from causing permanent damage. But that also limits the system's ability to generate power for the station.

The glitch raises the stakes for the Discovery crew's ongoing attempt to move the giant solar array truss from one part of the orbiting complex to another.

Failing to install the girder or to unfurl its enormous folded solar wings could cause problems for the planned December installation of the European Space Agency's science laboratory, named Columbus. The lab is supposed to latch onto the new Harmony module that Discovery delivered last week.

Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager, said it's too soon to know whether the joint trouble will affect future flights.

"We have lots of time to work through this problem. It's not an immediate issue," Suffredini said on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, the astronauts were using two robotic arms to move the girder into place for its scheduled installation during a spacewalk the following day.

Tuesday's spacewalk schedule also includes time for an inspection of the joint for the left solar wings. That joint is working fine. Spacewalker Scott Parazynski has been asked to take pictures and samples like those gathered Sunday at the other joint so NASA can compare the findings.

The astronauts have spare parts for the joint with them in orbit, including extra bearings.

But space station flight director Heather Rarick said late Sunday that the astronauts probably won't have time to do repairs while Discovery is docked to the orbital lab. Even more inspections may be added to the two other planned spacewalks, and the three station crewmembers could troubleshoot later.

Discovery is set to undock from the station on Sunday and land on Nov. 6. Mission managers have determined the ship's thermal shielding is in good shape for re-entry.

Monday's schedule also includes some off-duty time for the astronauts. The day started well for astronaut and Boston native Stephanie Wilson, who heard from Mission Control that the Red Sox had swept the World Series.

"That's great news!" Wilson said. "Go Sox! Woooo!"

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BOCOG's environmental protection effort

Pal Schmit, chairman of IOC's Sport and Environment Commission, reads out The Beijing Communiqué at the 7th World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Beijing, Oct. 27. (Photo: BOCOG)

BEIJING, Oct. 29 -- The 7th World Conference on Sport and the Environment on Saturday passed the Beijing Communiqué on Sport and the Environment and acknowledged the environmental effort made by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).

The Beijing Communiqué acknowledged the UNEP report, "Beijing 2008: An Environmental Review," which pointed out that the staging of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, is proving to be a catalyst for accelerating environmental improvements across the city.
The Communiqué noted with appreciation that the Olympic city has cut greenhouse gas emissions by emphasizing energy efficiency, encouraging the use of renewable energy, adopting environmentally friendly commuting policies and practices, and the widespread afforestation and greening of the city.

The Communiqué also acknowledged BOCOG's Technical Report, "Beijing 2008: Environmental protection, Innovation and Improvement," which presents in detail the scope of the "environmental and sustainability actions and legacies in regard to the Games and the improvements made in policy and practice of environmental protection."

The conference called on the sports world to take actions "to ensure sustainable and ecologically responsible sports events and activities."

Liu Jingmin, Vice Mayor of Beijing and BOCOG Executive Vice President, said that the conference not only further enriches the connotation of sports, the environment, and sustainable development, but also provides a useful guide to help the organizers implement the Green Olympic concept."
He said the organizers would continue with their effort in environmental protection to create a fine ecosystem for the success of the Games, and with the opportunity of the Games, the organizers would incorporate sports and environmental protection into the harmonious development of the society.

Also present at the conference was BOCOG Executive Vice President Jiang Xiaoyu. Over 400 representatives from more than 80 national Olympic committees (NOCs), 20 International Sports Federations (IFs), the UNEP and other UN entities, NGOs, and other organizations attended the conference.

Weather and Climate : Tropical Storm Noel edges closer to Haiti

Haiti posted tropical storm warnings along its entire coastline and Cuba placed much of its eastern end under similar advisories Sunday as Tropical Storm Noel gained strength in the Caribbean Sea, forecasters reported.

National Hurricane Center forecasters are projecting Noel will pass over southern Haiti late Sunday and cross the eastern end of Cuba before turning northward toward the Bahamas.

At 5 p.m. ET Sunday, the storm had top winds of 60 mph (96 km/h) and was located about 125 miles (205 km) south-southeast of the Haitian capital Port au-Prince, moving north-northwest at nearly 5 mph.

Tropical storm force winds extend up to 115 miles (185 km) from the storm's center, the NHC reported.

Noel is the 14th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It is expected to dump heavy rains over southeastern Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola -- the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- with accumulations of 8 to 12 inches. Isolated areas could get 20 inches of rain.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the NHC warned.The storm could drench Puerto Rico, as well, with 3 to 5 inches of rain, the center said.

Tropical storm warnings and a hurricane watch were posted for the southeastern Cuban provinces of Granma, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Holguin Sunday afternoon, and Jamaica was under a tropical storm watch.

In Haiti, a tropical storm warning was posted for the country's entire coast, and the NHC recommended warnings for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic as well

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Good news for the aging brain

Good news for the aging brain

The aging brain is subject to a dreary litany of changes. It shrinks, Swiss cheeselike holes grow, connections between neurons become sparser, blood flow and oxygen supply fall. That leads to trouble with short-term memory and rapidly switching attention, among other problems. And that's in a healthy brain.

But it's not all doom and gloom. An emerging body of research shows that a surprising array of mental functions hold up well into old age, while others get better. Vocabulary improves, as do other verbal abilities such as skill with synonyms and antonyms. Older brains are packed with more so-called expert knowledge -- information relevant to your occupation or hobby. (Older bridge enthusiasts have at their mental beck-and-call many more bids and responses.) They also store more "cognitive templates," or mental outlines of generic problems and solutions that can be tapped when confronting new problems.

Eric Kandel, 77, who shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in medicine, maintains an active lab at Columbia University and mentors younger scientists. "I think I do science better than I did when I was younger," he says. "In science, judgment is so important, and I now have a better understanding of which problems are important and which aren't."

Growing awareness that old brains aren't necessarily senile brains is already fueling a slew of consumer offerings. Brain exercises developed for older adults by Posit Science Corp. in San Francisco are being offered by retirement communities, senior centers and assisted-living facilities, as well as by insurers such as Humana to their Medicare enrollees. The computer-based program includes exercises intended to improve memory and attention, as well as sharpness of hearing. Continuing, peer-reviewed studies conducted by Posit scientists suggest it can roll back the mental agility calendar by at least a decade.

Some retirement communities and assisted-living centers are installing a touch-screen-based cognitive fitness program developed by Dakim Inc. of Santa Monica, Calif., that gives seniors practice on seven cognitive skills, including language and the kind of visual-spatial processing that helps you read a map.

Discoveries of brain functions that hold up, or even improve, through the decades could affect corporate and public policy. As baby boomers age, many are resisting mandatory retirement. Air-traffic controllers are asking federal agencies to reconsider the requirement that they retire at age 55, and the Federal Aviation Administration in January proposed pushing back the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots, currently at 60.

The emerging neuroscience is on their side. One of the most robust cognitive abilities is semantic memory, which is recollection of facts and figures. "Semantic memory is relatively resistant to the effects of aging," says psychology professor Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Semantic memory includes vocabulary, which increases with age so reliably (at least in people who continue reading) that a younger person should never challenge a sharp 75-year-old to a crossword puzzle.

Expert knowledge -- information about an occupational or even hobbyist specialty -- resists the effects of aging, too, which is why mumbling "accrued post-retirement liabilities" to an 80-year-old actuary makes his relevant synapses fire as robustly as they did at age 40. Synapses that encode expert knowledge "are written in stone," says neuroscientist John Morrison of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

The longevity of expert knowledge and cognitive templates lies behind the finding that air-traffic controllers in their 60s are at least as skilled as those in their 30s. When Kramer and a colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave older controllers standard lab tests for reaction speed, memory, attention and the like, they found the usual: Performance declined compared with that of 30-somethings.

But on more fast-paced, complex -- and hence realistic -- tests in which they juggled multiple airliners and handled emergencies, the senior controllers did as well as or better than the young ones. They kept simulated planes safely away from each other, and when they ordered planes to change their altitude, heading or speed to avoid a collision, they used fewer commands than younger ones. It was as if their experience had equipped them with the most efficient algorithm for keeping the planes safely spaced.

The findings, Kramer says, suggest the need to revisit "the whole notion of when we need to retire people."

That 60-somethings can mentally juggle multiple 747s seems to go against the idea that aging hurts the ability to pay attention. But studies show that selective attention, the ability to focus on something and resist distractions, doesn't decline with age. For controllers, that means they can focus on planes in their sector despite a hubbub of activity in the control tower.

For other seniors, it means no problem keeping eyes and mind on a highway despite flashing road signs or noisy passengers.

The biggest benefit of an older brain is that fewer real-life challenges require deliberate, effortful problem-solving. Where once it took hours of methodical scrutiny to understand a prospectus, for instance, older lawyers and investment bankers can zoom in on crucial sections and fit them into what they already know.

While younger brains solve problems step-by-step, older brains call on cognitive templates, those generic outlines of a problem and a solution that worked before. Yes, older people forget little things, and may have occasional attention lapses, but their cognitive templates are so rich that they more than hold their own. Their brains can keep up even with a diminished supply of blood and oxygen.

As a result, older professionals can readily separate what's important from what's not, a big reason so many of them fire on all cognitive cylinders well past age 65.

"Some things you just need to grind into your system for many years until they become automatic and seemingly effortless," says Naftali Raz of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University in Detroit. "Automatic functions are least sensitive to aging. So, if the decisions are based on knowledge and skill, older folks may have an advantage over younger decision makers just because they have to do less mental heavy lifting."

More research is coming.

The National Institutes of Health, the nation's leading funder of biomedical research, doesn't break out "healthy aging" as a separate budget item, but spokeswoman Linda Joy says more funding is going to studies of people who reach their 60s, 70s and beyond with little or no disease. Scientists hope that by identifying which mental functions are largely untouched by aging, they will be able to develop treatments or exercises to shore up functions that do deteriorate.

The benefits that come to the mind and brain with age extend beyond thinking. They also include a greater ability to put yourself in another person's mind, empathizing and understanding his thought processes -- emotional wisdom.

Civil engineer Samuel Florman, 81, remains active in his Scarsdale, N.Y., construction company and says that as he has grown older, he "has gotten better with people, more understanding of young people and more patient with aggressive ones."

That likely reflects the older brain's greater control over emotions, especially negative ones such as impatience and anger. A 2006 study of 250 people ranging in age from adolescence to their late 70s documented for the first time "positive changes in the emotional brain," according to the Society for Neuroscience, which publishes the Journal of Neuroscience. In the experiment, Leanne Williams of the University of Sydney showed the volunteers pictures of faces expressing emotions. Using fMRI brain imaging, it was found that circuits in "medial prefrontal" areas -- right behind the forehead -- were more active in older people than younger people when processing negative emotional expressions. The greater activity suggests better control of reactions to other people's anger, fear and the like.

Older brains often show a keen emotional intelligence and ability to judge character. Elderly volunteers given a list of behaviors that describe a made-up person ignored irrelevant information (favorite color, place of birth) when asked to judge the person's character and focused on revealing traits better than younger people did, according to research by Thomas Hess, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. They were more likely to infer correctly that the person was dishonest, kind or intelligent -- a skill that is arguably more important than the ability to memorize a list of words in a lab experiment.

Mind games

A number of companies have recently introduced brain exercises meant to stop or even reverse the mental decline that comes with normal aging. Few have undergone rigorous testing to measure their effectiveness, but scientists agree that they do at least target abilities, such as short-term memory and attention, that tend to get worse with age.

Adapted from Dakim Inc.:

1. If you get 120 Japanese yen for a U.S. dollar, and a euro is worth $1.25 U.S., how many yen do you get for 20 euros?

A. 300 yen B. 3,000 yen C. 500 yen D. 5,000 yen

2. 40 subtracted from the square of this number is a perfect square. What is the number?

A. 5 B. 7 C. 8 D. 9

3. Each of the following nonsense words can be turned into a common two-word phrase by dividing the word in two and adding the same letter at the beginning of each. For example, "obtory" becomes "sob story."

A. readasket B. encilusher

C. ofthoe D. oonsense

4. Which of the following is NOT a definition of this word: weigh.

A. The watery part of milk separated from the curd.

B. To have importance or consequence.

C. To raise an anchor.

D. To bear down as a burden.

5. Find the word that can be used to fill both blanks -- one using the entire word, and the other using just a portion of the word: She told me my painting of the gods standing watch over Scranton was , not realizing I had only painted it in .

A. inspiring B. breathtaking

C. majestic D. wonderful

Timed exercises from Nintendo Brain Age:

6. Take two minutes to memorize this list of 30 words. Then write down as many as you can remember.

talk city ween jaws fans lime

tail face town claw mule hair

heat card girl this nail tail

roof wait poof tags inch heap

zoom hold band hump card dead

7. Count the number of syllables in the following sentence as quickly as possible: The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Answer key: 1. B 2. B 3. bread basket, pencil pusher, soft shoe, no-nonsense 4. A 5. C 6. The more, the better. 7. 11

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Opera Beta Improves Syncing code-named Kestrel

Opera Software ASA has released a beta of its upcoming desktop browser, code-named Kestrel, which can synchronize bookmarks between a PC and a mobile device.

The update to Opera 9.5, released Thursday, also fixes "hundreds of bugs" that were in the alpha version, said Huid Kleinhout, desktop team manager, in Opera's desktop blog. "Web site rendering has been significantly improved, along with performance, stability and usability," he wrote.

The synching feature, called Opera Link, can sychronize bookmarks between Opera's mobile and desktop browsers. When a person uses Opera Mini 4.5, a mobile browser that's also in beta, and the desktop browser, new bookmarks are copied to a server and made available in both browsers.

The bookmarks can also be accessed from any other browser by logging into the Opera Link Web page.

Opera Link is designed to help people who want to visit a Web site on their mobile device that they have bookmarked on their PC, but don't want to search for it again or type in the address. Or for people who are at work or a friend's house and want to find a Web page again that they bookmarked at home.

The synchronization also works with Speed Dial, a feature that presents thumbnail graphics of a person's favorite Web sites in a new tab.

Opera Link is available for Macintosh, Windows and Linux computers, and users will need to sign up for a free Opera account. Opera Link was also in the alpha release of Opera 9.5, but it was buggy.

Opera, based in Oslo, is a distant third in browser market share behind Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer and Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox.

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Apple Mac OS X Leopard arrived

After delays to make way for the iPhone, Apple's new operating system arrived. We put it to the test,

Seven months late and two and a half years after the last upgrade, Apple's latest operating system is finally here. The new version, Mac OS X 10.5, better known as Leopard, has more than 300 new features, but how much of a difference will users notice?

While the changes are numerous, switching to Leopard won't present too steep a learning curve to those who upgrade. It is certainly nothing like the leap up from Windows XP to Vista - Microsoft's new operating system - earlier in the year.

More evolution than revolution, Leopard includes a major graphical overhaul, giving a slick system more polish than ever. The dock where your favourite programs sit is now 3D, for example, and you can search for files using the Cover Flow interface that lets iTunes users flick through images of CD covers.

Another time-saving feature is a tool that shows a preview image of files before you open them, helping you find what you're looking for more quickly.

As well as the new coat of paint, there are more substantial changes and additions such as Stacks, Time Machine and Spaces. Stacks is a new way of grouping together multiple programs into categories such as office or photography.

Time Machine is an automatic system backup application that will create copies of files on an external drive, so you can fly back in time to access files you might have deleted. It is, of course, graphically impressive and easy to use, but also an incredibly powerful and impressive bit of kit.

Spaces tries to keep you desktop clean and tidy by dividing it into 16 desktop screens, each of which can have applications running. It can get a bit confusing at times, but you can set certain programs to open in certain spaces, keeping them out of the way.

After playing with the system for a couple of days, it becomes apparent that there is plenty on offer, ranging from small improvements such as being able to see which wi-fi networks are locked or open to more drastic changes such as smart folders. The allow you to assign files automatically to certain folders, so one may contain all photographs or another contain any file with the word 'work' in the file name.

Should you upgrade? For £85 it's probably well worth the investment, if only for the safety net of the Time Machine.

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2007 AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference novel techniques that will not only make air travel more efficient, but also safer.

Professor Natasha Neogi with some of the remote-controlled aircraft used to simulate air traffic.

Recently, the Department of Transportation released findings that won't shock many frequent fliers: The airline industry is suffering from its worst on-time performance since comparable data was first collected in 1995.

And with air traffic expected to triple in the next 20 years, it's only going to get worse.

Several researchers in the University of Illinois' Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL) are actively involved in the Center for Distributed Air Transportation Management, an ambitious new effort to tackle this growing problem.

Natasha Neogi, a resident assistant professor at CSL, recently unveiled at the 2007 AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference novel techniques that will not only make air travel more efficient, but also safer. The new system calls for changes in flight patterns, restructuring airport usage and designing new sensors for aircraft, among other endeavors.

"We're looking at the problem from end to end," says Neogi, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering. "It's a complete rethinking of the way we fly."

For example, some of the congestion arises from antiquated air traffic control equipment and procedures that are essentially the same as when they were developed in the 1960s. Planes still follow narrow, fixed routes between cities, filed in advance to make it easier for controllers to monitor aircraft from hundreds of miles away.

The next-generation air transportation system would give pilots more control over their airspace. So pilots can respond to current traffic conditions and take more direct routes to their destinations, reducing weather delays and increasing efficiency.

The new systems would allow the industry to increase traffic to meet demand without causing delays on the ground. But it also means that airplanes will need more sophisticated sensor systems that would allow pilots to detect and respond quickly to conditions in their airspace. The research team is testing new algorithms for such high-tech computing systems.

Neogi and her colleagues are also working to develop new airport usage models, which may include diverting flights to airports that aren't as busy.

The team is testing the new procedures on scaled-down, remote-controlled aircraft at an airfield near the University of Illinois. Researchers, who simulate other air traffic, run the planes through various flight patterns to determine how they respond when onboard systems fail. Once perfected, the systems will be tested on full-sized aircraft.

The University of Illinois is the lead institution for the center, which also includes researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University. Other collaborators include the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and industry partners such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.

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Research : Mate Tea Lowers cholesterol .

Cup and straw with dry mate tea leaves -- a traditional drink from Argentina. (Credit: iStockphoto/Natallia Yaumenenka)

When a study in her lab showed that mate tea drinkers had experienced a significant increase in the activity of an enzyme that promotes HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, University of Illinois scientist Elvira de Mejia headed for Argentina where mate tea has been grown and taken medicinally for centuries.

She returned with a five-year agreement with La Universidad Nacional de Misiones to cooperate in the study of 84 genotypes of mate tea, both cultivated and wild, never-before-studied, varieties.

"Our studies show that some of the most important antioxidant enzymes in the body are induced by this herbal tea," said de Mejia of her study in September's Planta Medica.

"Because Argentina has the different mate varieties, we'll be able to do more comparisons and characterizations between the different genotypes and the benefits of different growing conditions--whether in sun (on a plantation) or in shade (under the rainforest canopy)," she added.

Not only does de Mejia hope to identify the most nutritionally beneficial genotypes of the herbal tea, she hopes that Argentine experience with drying and processing mate will lead to improved extraction of the tea's bioactive compounds. "Food companies are very interested in adding tea extracts to juices, soda, and even beer to increase the nutritional value of their products," she said.

In the cholesterol study, blood levels of the cardio-protective enzyme paraoxonase-1 were measured before and after healthy volunteers consumed either 0.5 liters of mate tea, milk, or coffee. Activity of the enzyme increased an average of 10 percent for mate tea drinkers compared to the other drinks.

"The tea used in the study was prepared at the same concentration used in South America, although they usually drink 2 to 3 liters per day," said de Mejia.

In South America, mate is usually drunk from a dried gourd and consumed through a metal straw. About 50 grams of dry leaves are packed into the gourd and hot water is poured over them; this is repeated many times, with as much as ½ to 1 liter of water. This method of consumption allows tea drinkers to slowly extract the antioxidants and polyphenols before they can be oxidized.

"To duplicate these results with mate teabags, you would need to use four or five teabags instead of one. It's a strong taste, but many people say that coffee has a strong, bitter taste. This is more of a grassy herbal taste. It may be an acquired taste, but I seem to have acquired it," said graduate student Caleb Heck who accompanied de Mejia to Argentina.

Heck characterized the tea consumed in the cholesterol study in de Mejia's U of I labs and is now working with the tea brought back from Argentina. He said that mate is high in xanthines (mainly caffeine), and he has found 12 polyphenolic compounds at different concentrations, depending on where the tea was grown. Polyphenols are thought to have a protective effect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

He is quickly becoming something of an authority on the subject, and he and de Mejia have written a comprehensive review of mate tea, including its chemistry, health implications, and the technological considerations involved in its processing, that has been published in November's Journal of Food Science,The study was funded by the University of Illinois Research Board.

Heck and de Mejia of the U of I and Teresita Menini and Alejandro Gugliucci of Touro University co-authored the study of the effect of mate tea on HDL cholesterol, which appears in the September issue of Planta Medica. The study was funded by the University of Illinois Research Board and Touro University.

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Men who smoke cigarettes run an increased risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction

A team of researchers led by Jiang He, Professor of Epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, examined the association between cigarette smoking and erectile dysfunction in a 2000-2001 study in China involving 7,684 men. The researchers used questionnaires to assess the status of cigarette smoking and erectile dysfunction. Those surveyed were men between the ages of 35-74 who did not have vascular disease.

The team found that there was a significant statistical link between the number of cigarettes that men smoked and the likelihood they would experience erectile dysfunction. The association between smoking and erectile dysfunction was even stronger in participants with diabetes. An estimated 22.7 percent of erectile dysfunction cases among Chinese men might be attributable to cigarette smoking, says the study.

Although erectile dysfunction is not a life-threatening condition, it compromises well-being and quality of life. The Tulane study results suggest that smoking prevention should be an important approach for reducing the risk of erectile dysfunction

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Alternative fuel :Microbes Plus Sugars Equals Hydrogen Fuel?

To isolate bacteria present in swine waste samples, microbiologists Rhonda Zeltwanger and Michael Cotta work in an anaerobic glove box. Because most of these bacteria are strict anaerobes, many manipulations must be performed in the absence of oxygen. (Credit: USDA, Photo by Keith Weller)

Wanted: Bacterium that can eat sugar or sludge; must be team player or electrochemically active; ability to survive without oxygen, a plus. Thus might read the bacterial "job description" posted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Washington University (WU) scientists, who are collaborating on ways to make microbial fuel cells more efficient and practical.

According to Mike Cotta, who leads the ARS Fermentation Biotechnology Research Unit, Peoria, Ill., the project with WU arose from a mutual interest in developing sustainable methods of producing energy that could diminish U.S. reliance on crude oil.

Cotta's team specializes in using bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms inside bioreactors to do work, such as ferment grain sugars into fuel ethanol. At WU in St. Louis, Mo., assistant professor Lars Angenent is investigating fuel cell systems that use mixtures of bacteria to treat organic wastewater and catalyze the release of electrons and protons, which then can be used to produce electricity or hydrogen fuel.

In September 2006, the researchers pooled their labs' resources and expertise to undertake a three-year cooperative project. One resource they'll share is the ARS Peoria-based Microbial Culture Collection, which houses about 87,000 accessions of freeze-dried microbes from around the world.

Using the collection's database information, the team is searching for microbes that "eat" biomass sugars (e.g., glucose and xylose from corn stover) and are electrochemically active. That means they can transfer electrons from fuel cell sugars without help from costly chemicals called mediators. The electrons, after traveling a circuit, combine with protons in a cathode chamber, forming hydrogen, which can be burned or converted into electricity.

Bacteroides and Shewanella are among bacteria species used to start the process.

Hydrogen's appeal stems from its natural abundance and capacity to store and release energy in a nonpolluting manner. The challenge is commercially producing it from sources other than fossil fuels, which are in limited supply and nonrenewable. About 95 percent of U.S. hydrogen comes from petroleum or natural gas via a process called steam reforming.

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Study :organic really is better for health

THE biggest study into organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people's lives.

The evidence from the £12m four-year project will end years of debate and is likely to overturn government advice that eating organic food is no more than a lifestyle choice.

The study found that organic fruit and vegetables contained as much as 40% more antioxidants, which scientists believe can cut the risk of cancer and heart disease, Britain's biggest killers. They also had higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc.

Professor Carlo Leifert, the co-ordinator of the European Union-funded project, said the differences were so marked that organic produce would help to increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. "If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can't get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day," he said.

This weekend the Food Standards Agency confirmed that it was reviewing the evidence before deciding whether to change its advice. Ministers and the agency have said there are no significant differences between organic and ordinary produce.

Researchers grew fruit and vegetables and reared cattle on adjacent organic and nonorganic sites on a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University, and at other sites in Europe. They found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organic herds were up to 90% higher than in milk from conventional herds.

As well as finding up to 40% more antioxidants in organic vegetables, they also found that organic tomatoes had significantly higher levels of antioxidants, including flavo-noids thought to reduce coronary heart disease.

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