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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Robots may soon replace our soldiers.

Little Robot With Big Guns Could Replace Human Soldiers.

25-year-old Adam Gettings, a self-taught engineer, has recently created Robotex AH - a two-foot tall, 10-mph-traveling machine that can blow a 10-inch hole through a steel door from a quarter mile away. It's also remote-controlled over an encrypted frequency that jams nearby radios and cell phones

It took Gettings just six months to create Robotex, with assistance from shotgun maker Jerry Baber and ex-Disney imagineer Terry Izumi.

Izumi created this video of Robotex for Fortune Magazine. The robot can do some impressive tricks, including climbing stairs with its four wheels, rolling through a foot of water, and smoothly gliding over rocky terrain - while simultaneously firing its machine guns at specific targets, at 300 rounds per minute.

At a cost as low as $30,000 per robot, and with funding not from the government but from angel investors, the project is truly independent. Izumi, Gettings and Baber's unique skills and mentality for quick results lead to Robotex and a new company of the same name.

Now the inventors are facing perhaps a bigger challenge: trying to sell the robot to the government. Baber plans to get several robots on display in military company Blackwater's lobby, and hope they cause a stir and the public stands up for the technology.

"If moms and dads around the country find out this system is available while their sons are off sopping up bullets in Iraq, they're going to tear the White House down," he says. "This will take the soldiers out of harm's way

Researchers have designed a product that its inventors claim could easily produce between 15 and 20 times the total electricity the world uses today

Energy Tower: Power for 15 Earths?
Researchers have designed a product that its inventors claim could easily produce between 15 and 20 times the total electricity the world uses today. Not only that, it could also be used as a desalination device and may be able to reverse the effects of global warming.

Those are pretty big claims, but the researchers from the Technion - Israel Institute of Science seem confident that the "Energy Tower" could be a major solution to the world's problems. They've been working on the concept since 1983, and together have spent more than 150 man-hours researching, designing, testing, and analyzing.

As project founder Professor Dan Zaslavsky explains, the Energy Tower works on the basic principle of convection: hot air rises and cold air falls. The 3,000-foot tall tower, with a diameter of 1200 feet, would take advantage of the heavy falling weight of cold air.

Any kind of water - from a sea or drainage ditch - would be added to the top of the tower. The water would cool the hot air at the top, and the heavy cooled air would sink downwards, gathering speed as it falls, and would be used to power turbines at the tower's base. The turbines would be connected to a generator, which produces electricity.

Because it relies on the sun for hot air, the Energy Tower is considered a type of solar power. Due to the original hot air required at the top, the concept would work best in hot, dry climates. The team has identified regions in about 40 countries where towers could work, including in the Middle East, Australia, North Africa, California, and Mexico.

The researchers also predict that the project would be cheap - electricity generated from this method would cost just 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is less than a third of the cost of electricity in Israel today. It's also cheaper than solar, hydro-electric, and wind power.

Zaslavsky explains that the tower design could also be used for water desalination, producing fresh water at only half the cost of existing desalination technologies. The water reserves might be used locally for a number of purposes, including desert irrigation, the production of bio-fuels such as sugar, or for fish farming - an energy-efficient form of agriculture.

Finally, the Energy Tower might help the Earth cool itself, and actually reverse global warming. "Hadley Cell Circulation" is a natural process whereby the earth cools itself, but it mostly occurs only near the equator. But by cooling air around it, often in desert regions, the Energy Tower could expand the effects of this global cooling process.

While the researchers are confident in their technology, they're still waiting for investors to finance the project before taking the next steps, including building a prototype. But in the end, they hope that the Energy Tower could be the key to providing cheap energy for large populations

Memory often becomes more elusive in middle age

They decorate my computer, reminding me how to do things like create a folder, undo an error or save an attachment without opening it. They adorn my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets to help me remember what to buy, what to order and when I have to be where.

Also on my refrigerator is a cartoon by Arnie Levin in The New Yorker showing two elephants. One, covered with notes, says to the other, "As I get older, I find I rely more and more on these sticky notes to remind me."

I have notes that say, "Take Lunch," "Take Phone," "Turn Off Computer!" lest I forget such important tasks when I leave home.

Why do I still remember the symbols for all the elements known when I took chemistry 48 years ago, but don't recall what I wrote about yesterday?

I know I'm not alone among the over-50 generation. A good friend, two and a half years my senior, endured a six-hour battery of neuropsychological tests because she feared encroaching Alzheimer's disease. (She got an all-clear.) We tease each other about always having to go everywhere together, because we each supply half a memory.

If my husband precedes me in death, my memory of the movies and plays I have seen will die with him. Though eight years my senior, he remembers not only what we have seen, but also where and when.

And why don't I have a politician's memory for names? As a reporter for The Minneapolis Tribune in 1965, I covered Hubert H. Humphrey's first visit to his home state as vice president. Everywhere he went, he greeted people by name and asked about their relatives, also by name. And seven hours after being introduced to a half-dozen reporters, he said before departing for Washington: "Goodbye, Miss Brody. I'll give your regards to Brooklyn next time I'm there."

When I'm introduced to a new person, the name is gone from my memory before the handshake is over. Probably it was never there to start with, because I've known since childhood that I'm a visual, not an aural, learner. If a new acquaintance has no name tag, a verbally stated name goes in one ear and out the other, bypassing my brain's memory cells.

Blocking and blanking

Few of us escape the experience of walking from one room to another and not remembering why or what for. Chances are an extraneous thought in that brief trek blocked out its original purpose. But if you go back to the first room, you nearly always recall your mission. It's annoying but not really embarrassing, not like blanking on the name of someone you know well.

Like the time I tried to introduce my stepmother of 25 years to another guest at my party and could not for the life of me think of her first name. "Sandra, I'd like you to meet my motherhuh, huh, Mrs. Brody," I finally blurted out.

In "Carved in Sand," an enlightening and rather reassuring new book on fading memory in midlife, the writer Cathryn Jakobson Ramin speaks of "'blocking' (or 'blanking') when names will not come to mind and words dart in and out of consciousness." Ramin has often been stopped cold in the midst of writing when unable to think of what she knows is the perfect word.

Her research found that "word-retrieval failures occur not because of the loss of relevant memories, but because irrelevant ones are activated."

Daniel L. Schacter, a psychologist and memory expert at Harvard and the author of "The Seven Sins of Memory," notes that the concept of blocking exists in 51 languages and that 45 of them have a specific name for it.

In English, it's called "tip of the tongue," lapses that become increasingly common and challenging from midlife onward.

"People can produce virtually everything they know about a person or everything they know about a word, except its label," Schacter wrote.

How to cope

Mnemonics can be useful, if you can remember them and what they stand for. When my 7-year-old grandson told me to "never eat Shredded Wheat," which he knows I like, he laughed and said it helped him remember "north, east, south and west." To remember what I have to do or buy when I can't write it down, I try to concoct an unforgettable mnemonic like "Babies are little children" for bananas, apples, lettuce and cereal.

Whenever possible, I associate a new name with a tangible object: "Cucumber" for Kirby, the lifeguard at the Y; "ravioli" for Ralph, who sits at the desk; and "sherry" for Sherry, the locker room attendant.

For fellow Y members, after learning a name, I use it every chance I get: "Hi, Jeanette," "So long, Sue, have a nice day," "Cynthia, you're early today" and "Aviva, how's your new job?"

And I continue to say their names aloud even after I think that they are etched in stone in my memory.

At a dinner where I'm to be seated with a table of strangers, I check the list of others at the table in advance to help me remember their names when we are introduced. And for groups that meet infrequently, I campaign for name tags. No one should have to remember the names of people she sees once or twice a year.

Though I have long worked in a state of organized chaos (I know where everything is, as long as no one moves it), I needed a better system as I advanced in years. Now, every potentially important piece of paper must go in a labeled file (even if that file has only one thing in it), and the files stored alphabetically in a labeled drawer or box, lest they never be found again.

Also, I resist all urges to reorganize my files - or my clothes, shoes, groceries or tools - because I seem to remember only the first place I put something. Move it to a new location, and it is lost until and unless I stumble upon it accidentally.

Finally, to remember when things must be done like move the car, pick up the grandchildren and turn off the oven, I invested heavily in good kitchen timers and scattered them about the house. The best I have found is made by West Bend. The model number is 40005X, and it runs for a very long time on one AAA battery.

A new giant species of spitting cobra

A new giant species of spitting cobra -- about 2.6 metres long and with enough venom to kill up to 20 people in one bite -- has been discovered in Kenya, a study said Friday.

World's largest spitting cobra species found in Kenya: study

A new giant species of spitting cobra -- about 2.6 metres long and with enough venom to kill up to 20 people in one bite -- has been discovered in Kenya, a study said Friday.
The large brown spitting cobra, initially included under the black-necked spitting cobra species, was discovered at a snake farm in June 2004, but confirmed as a separate species this year.

The black-necked species grows to a maximum two metres, with an average of 1.5 metres, scientists said, making the new species the largest in the world.

The new Naja Ashei species, named after James Ashe who founded the Bio-Ken snake farm in Watamu on the Kenyan coast, produces 6.2 millilitres of liquid venom, which is the among the largest amounts of venom ever extracted from a snake at a single milking.

It confirms Ashe's fears that the Naja Ashei was a different kind of snake that was classified under the wrong species, yet it was qualified to form its own species.

Herpetologist Wolfgang Wuster and Donald G. Bradley in a study said the new species was found in the dry lowlands of northern and eastern Kenya, northeastern Uganda, southern Ethiopia and southern Somalia.

"But the most common area you can find this species is along the Kenyan coast," said herpetologist Royjan Taylor, who manages the Bio-Ken snake farm.

The discovery brings to six the number of African spitting cobra species, the study said.

Although cobras have the highest public profile among venomous snakes, "our understanding of the taxonomy of the group has until recently remained woefully inadequate, particularly in terms of understanding the species limits within different well-differentiated groups," the experts said.

But after observing morphological variations between the brown and black cobras, the pair concluded that the "differences are indeed a result of the population being different evolutionary lineages."
The discovery appears to resolve the status of the eastern and northeastern Africa species, which was the remaining puzzle in the systematics of the African spitting cobras, which were lumped into a single species in the 20th century, the experts said.

Effectively, the massive, combative and venomous Naja Ashei takes its position among the dozens of known cobra species, including the King Cobra, the longest snake in natutal habitat known to produce prodigious amounts of neurotoxin.

Experts have witnessed the new species successfully swallowing a rabbit, a two-and-half long foot monitor lizard and five-foot-long puff adder.

Taylor explained that although the new species is not listed as endangered, conservation efforts must be increased since the reptile is threatened by human activities and encroachment.

"Although I am a naturalist and conservationist who is passionate about all wildlife, my heart goes out to the reptiles that are often misunderstood -- especially snakes," he added.

Because of this discovery, he said, he would help develop anti-venom for Naja Ashei bites.

"More research work needs to be done on their venom and its implication to snakebite treatment and anti-venom manufacture," said Taylor, whose contribution led to the new discovery.

World-renowned conservationist Richard Leakey said the discovery of the giant species was "exciting."

"There have to be many other unreported species but hundreds are being lost as their habitats disappear under the continued mismanagement of our planet," said Leakey.

More than 200 international climate scientists issued a declaration today urging politicians at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali

Scientists issue declaration at Bali

International researchers put their names to a proposal for emissions cuts.

More than 200 international climate scientists issued a declaration today urging politicians at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali to agree on strong targets for tackling climate change.

Global greenhouse-gas emissions need to be reduced by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050, the declaration says. For comparison, the Kyoto Protocol aims for a reduction in developed nations of at least 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.

They declare that the goal "must be to limit global warming to no more than 2 ÂșC above the pre-industrial temperature". Many countries have already taken this limit as a benchmark figure for attempting to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, which would put millions of people around the world at risk from extreme-weather events.

Drawing on data from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, they note that to achieve this, greenhouse-gas concentrations need to be stabilized at a level well below 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalents. This could mean peaking at 475 p.p.m. and then going down to 400 p.p.m. over the next 15 years, says co-signatory Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Even aiming for a stable level of 400 p.p.m. means that "we are only giving ourselves a three-quarter chance" of guaranteeing a less than 2 °C rise, says England.

These numbers have all been discussed before (see for example Dangerous climate change). There is still significant uncertainty when it comes to understanding what level of greenhouse-gas cuts would lead to what level of climate change, and scientists concede that there are no guarantees that the targets in this declaration will be sufficient to avoid dangerous consequences.

Some researchers have recently questioned the wisdom of setting firm targets for greenhouse-gas levels, saying it would be more useful to continually adjust targets as time passes and the consequences of our cuts become apparent (see Climate sensitivity inherently unpredictable).

Researchers have successfully treated sickle-cell anemia in mice by using stem-cell

Healthy blood cells can be made to replace sickle-cells by transplanted stem cells.

Stem cells treat anaemia in mice

Results provide proof of principle for therapeutic promise of induced pluripotent stem cells.

Researchers have successfully treated sickle-cell anemia in mice by using stem-cell lines created from cells at the tip of a mouse tail. It is the first demonstration that ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ — adult cells that have been reprogrammed to behave more like embryonic stem cells — can be used therapeutically.

The work is a critical step towards establishing whether these cells could one day lead to therapies derived from an individual’s own tissue, eliminating the risk of rejection by the immune system. But researchers are quick to caution that there is still much to be done before the cells are ready for human trials.

"It demonstrates a very important, pre-clinical proof of principle," says George Daley, a stem-cell researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts, who was not an author on the study. “But it also highlights that many, many questions linger about the safety of these cells.”

More than five years ago, Daley and Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used therapeutic cloning to create embryonic stem cells capable of correcting a genetic immune deficiency1. But that method was technically challenging and, for some, ethically worrisome because of its use of embryos.

Since then, researchers have learned how to reprogramme mouse and human adult cells to behave more like embryonic stem cells. The resulting cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, are able to differentiate into many different cell types. But their therapeutic potential had not yet been established. Researchers have been clamouring to try out the new cells on their favourite disease models.

Model disease

Jaenisch decided to use the cells to tackle sickle-cell anaemia because the genetic basis of the disease is well understood and the mouse models closely mimics the human disease. So Jaenisch, along with Tim Townes of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and their colleagues, generated induced pluripotent stem cells from a mouse with a sickle-cell mutation in one of its globin genes.

The team then engineered the induced pluripotent stem cells to become healthy blood-producing cells, by replacing the defective globin gene with a normal copy. The stem cells were then transplanted back into three genetically identical sick mice, which had been irradiated to destroy their faulty blood-producing cells.

Twelve weeks after the procedure, mice treated with the engineered stem cells had more normal blood, including higher red-blood-cell counts and hemoglobin content, than untreated sickle-cell mice. The results are published this week in Science 2.

Weighing the risks
Transplantation of induced pluripotent stem cells can carry a high cancer risk. The researchers lowered this risk by not using one particular cell reprogramming ingredient: a cancer-causing protein called c-Myc. Three months after the transplant, there was still no sign of tumours in these mice. But that doesn’t mean that tumours won’t show up eventually, cautions Jaenisch.
Researchers won’t really know how well these cells stack up against adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells until they are directly compared, says Evan Snyder, a director at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California. “Ultimately one really needs to do this with all the various flavours of stem cells out there,” says Snyder. “One needs to compare them head-to-head, and let the data dictate which is the safest and which is the most efficacious."

It may be that different diseases will be best treated by using different kinds of stem cells, or even combinations of stem cells. “It’s just like an artist who has a really wide palette of colours,” says Snyder. “To give you a beautiful picture, we want to be free to dabble in all the colours.”

scientists use transgenes to express green fluorescent protein exclusively in amphid sheath cells

New method exploits ancient mechanism to switch genes on and off at will.

Since our ancestors first harnessed fire, we’ve used heat to cook burgers, forge steel and power rockets. Now, Rockefeller University researchers are using heat for another purpose: turning genes on and off at will.
By exploiting the heat shock response, an ancient mechanism that protects cells from dangerously high temperatures, researchers have developed a new method to introduce foreign genes, called transgenes, into an organism and control when and where these transgenes are expressed. Unlike other techniques, which are labor intensive and inefficient, this new method makes controlling transgene expression as easy as turning the dial on an oven.

During heat shock, a protein called heat shock factor-1 travels from a cell’s cytoplasm to the nucleus, where it binds to a specific sequence of DNA. This interaction initiates the transcription of heat shock protein, a shield that deflects excess heat from cells and protects them from damage. Since these two proteins are expressed at a specific time — when organisms experience heat shock at a specific temperature — scientists had long designed transgenes to be expressed the moment heat shock factor-1 binds to this sequence of DNA. However, while scientists could know when this transgene was expressed, they couldn’t limit its expression in specific cell types and study a particular protein’s effect on them. To do so, they would have to target a single cell with a laser beam until the heat shock response kicked in for the transgene to be expressed. In Caenorhabditis elegans, that’s 34 degrees Celsius.

“If you’re good, each animal would take a couple of minutes,” says Shai Shaham, head of the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics. “And you would need to repeat this many times if you wanted to study a cell’s function and that cell’s role in behavior.”

To bypass this time-intensive work, Shaham and Taulant Bacaj, a graduate student in his lab, used two transgenes — one called the driver, the other the responder — to transform mutant worms that had a deficient heat shock response in every one of their cells into those that had an intact heat shock response in just one cell type. The cell type with the intact response depended on the transgenes being used. In this two-part system, the driver consisted of a portion of DNA that was exclusively expressed in one cell type as well as the gene that encoded heat shock factor-1; the responder consisted of the promoter of a heat shock reponsive gene as well as the gene of interest. Whenever Bacaj turned the dial of the incubator to 34 degrees, the specific cells expressed heat shock factor-1, which induced the expression of the gene of interest.
They first tested this method on glia, cells of the nervous system that are tightly associated with nerve cells and that have been extensively studied in the Shaham lab. They went on to show that the method works in nerve and muscle cells as well, suggesting that it is likely to be generally applicable.

“So, instead of using a laser beam to ablate cells,” says Bacaj, “you could create a responder with a gene that encoded a toxin, one that killed the cells whose function you want to specifically study. Since the heat shock response only occurs in those cells, all you have to do after you create these transgenic animals is turn up the heat to 34 degrees.”

Shuttle Has 1-Minute Launch Window Sun

NASA workers are seen near Space Shuttle Atlantis' solid rocket boosters and external tank at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Saturday Dec. 8 2007. NASA managers continue to assess the risk to launch Atlantis on Sunday with malfunctioning sensors inside the external tank .

With erratic fuel gauges still a possible threat, NASA aimed for a Sunday launch of space shuttle Atlantis after senior managers signed off on a plan to tighten flight rules and shoot for a slim one-minute window.
Managers believe the extra precautions will keep Atlantis and its seven-man crew as safe as possible if, indeed, the shuttle lifts off with a European lab intended for the international space station.

On Saturday, two engineering departments at NASA recommended delaying the launch and doing additional testing to figure out why so many fuel gauges acted up during Thursday's launch attempt. But in the end, they did not oppose trying for a liftoff, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.

"We'll fill up the tank and we'll see what we get," Cain said. "If we meet our criteria, we'll go fly and if we don't, we'll scrub and we'll get a good tanking test and we'll go forward from there."

Under the new rules, NASA will proceed with the countdown only if all four of the gauges in Atlantis' big hydrogen tank are working properly. Two of them failed when the shuttle's tank was filled for liftoff on Thursday and a third one subsequently acted up. NASA passed up launch tries on Friday and Saturday because of the perplexing problem, which has plagued the shuttle program off and on for more than two years. After meeting again Saturday, shuttle managers decided to press ahead with a Sunday afternoon liftoff, but only if all the fuel gauges behave.

The fuel gauges - officially known as engine cutoff sensors - are part of a critical backup system for preventing the shuttle's main engines from running too long during the climb to orbit. If the engines kept running and the fuel tank was empty because of a leak or other unexpected trouble, they could ignite or explode.

Last year, after struggling in vain with the problem, NASA loosened its launch rules to require only three of the four fuel gauges to be working before liftoff. Managers went back to the four-of-four rule Saturday - for this mission only - after concluding that Atlantis' system was suspect and that it would be too risky to attempt a launch without every single gauge functioning.

NASA also decided to shorten the five-minute launch window to a single minute to put Atlantis on a more direct path to the space station and keep more fuel in the tank, just in case of sensor trouble. And new instrumentation for monitoring the condition of the fuel gauges will be used during flight, enabling flight controllers and the astronauts to intercede in case of multiple failures.

The plan was put forth by the astronauts themselves.

Cain said the rules put an added burden on commander Stephen Frick and his crew, as well as Mission Control. He said Frick was "very deeply involved" in all of the decisions.

Packed aboard Atlantis is the European Space Agency's $2 billion science laboratory, Columbus. It will be the second lab added to the space station; Japan's Kibo lab, or Hope, will follow on successive shuttle flights next year.

Columbus has been waiting to fly for years. It was stalled first by NASA space station design problems, then by Russian space station holdups, then by the Columbia tragedy in 2003, which grounded all shuttle flights for 2 1/2 years.

NASA is up against a tight deadline for launching Atlantis in December. If the shuttle isn't flying by Thursday or possibly Friday, the mission will have to wait until January because of unfavorable sun angles and computer concerns.

green tech, green chemistry is the latest movement that's both a source of technology innovation and a rallying cry for environmentalists.

Green chemistry's 'race to innovation'
Green chemistry calls for designing chemicals to be environmentally benign and commercially viable. But its reach goes far beyond reducing toxins in drugs or children's toys, the latest being the recall of the Aqua Dots toy on Wednesday.

Experts say the principles of green chemistry, such as reducing waste and making materials safer, can affect everything from climate change to the global supply of food and water. And big problems often translate into big business opportunities.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
That's why start-ups are increasingly relying on advanced materials to get an edge in biofuels, bioplastics, green building materials, or environmentally friendly home products. For large pharmaceutical and chemical companies, green chemistry is a way to reduce industrial waste and avoid regulatory headaches.

"No matter what industry you're in, you can integrate green chemistry into your operations," says Paul Anastas, a pioneer in the field of green chemistry and professor at Yale University's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. "We want to create a race to the top, a race to innovation," he said.

Anastas and other leaders in the field organized the Green Chemistry Business Summit held recently in Haverhill, Mass., where speakers argued that the field is a nascent but promising field for technology investment.
Although the term "green chemistry" is still esoteric, the negative effects of traditional chemistry practices are becoming front-page news, in much the way that global warming and environmental problems have.

This year saw several recalls of toys with harmful chemicals. A number of deaths were linked to the use of diethylene glycol, an antifreeze used as a cheap replacement for glycerin in cough syrups and toothpastes. California passed a law restricting the use of potentially harmful chemicals, including phthalates, in everyday items like shampoo and nail polish.

The root of these chemical hazards is that the people who design the compounds in everyday products are not adequately aware of toxicity, said John Warner, director for the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and chief technology officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

And as new chemicals come onto the market, including materials made with nanotechnology, there isn't enough understanding about the associated risks of individual chemicals, or how they react with others.

"Right now, the synthetic chemicals made since the end of World War II are bio-accumulating in the biosphere and we don't know the risks of those chemicals even on a one-by-one basis," said Anastas.

VCs get chemistry 2.0 bug
Rather than dwell on the harm of toxic chemicals or call for more stringent regulations, speakers at the Green Chemistry Business Summit--and green-chemistry investors--have a decidedly upbeat spin.

Innovation around materials is integral to the investment parameters of Rockport Capital Parters, said Daniel Hullah, an associate at the venture capital firm. That focus on materials touches biofuels, building materials, battery technologies, and power electronics.

Green-chem companies Rockport has already funded include: EcoSmart Technologies, which makes a naturally derived pesticide, and Advanced Electron Beams, which has developed a way to clean bottles in factories without chemicals and using far less energy.
The markets for chemicals--both specialty and commodity chemicals--are huge," said Hullah.

High-profile green-tech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said on Tuesday that he has already made a number of investments in start-ups inventing advanced materials for water filtration, bioplastics, and building materials, not including his substantial bets in biofuels.

One of the drivers behind green chemistry is growing consumer interest in environmentally friendly products. Another theme is using materials to make industry more energy-efficient, and potentially more cost-effective, as in the case of water purification, Khosla said.

Anastas said smart chemistry will allow for biofuels that don't threaten the food supply and that produce less greenhouse gas than fossil fuels. Although biofuels come from renewable plants, studies have shown that production of corn-based ethanol, for instance, can be nearly as polluting as gasoline.

Closely watched start-ups like Amyris Biotechnologies and Codexis, which won the Environmental Protection Agency's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award, are using chemical engineering to optimize the attributes of biofuels.

Most industrial hydrogen producers currently make the gas by heating methane and water to 815 degrees Celsius and causing a reaction.

A new electrode for cutting the price of making hydrogen

Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it's a royal pain to make.

Most industrial hydrogen producers currently make the gas by heating methane and water to 815 degrees Celsius and causing a reaction. Unfortunately, this process generates 9.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kilo of hydrogen, so it's not environmentally friendly or cheap.

Other companies like Signa Chemistry have come out with chemical catalysts that can strip hydrogen from water.

Then there is electrolysis, which involves cracking water molecules with electricity. Electrolysis doesn't produce any greenhouse gases or chemical residues so it's the most environmentally friendly. It's also expensive and time consuming. QuantumSphere says it has a way around this problem.

It has devised an iron-nickel power for coating an electrode that speeds up the electrolysis process, according to CEO Kevin Maloney. It's a classic nano play. Coating a surface with small, independent particles increases the reactive surface area, which means more simultaneous reactions between molecules. Quantum's Stingray electrodes have more than 2,000 times more catalytic surface area than standard electrodes coated with standard sized particles, he said.

The Stingray can produce 2.4 kilograms of hydrogen in 25 minutes. Standard electrodes can take hours or days, he said. As a result, the Stingray can produce hydrogen at $2.50 to $9 a kilo, not including subisidies. That's in the range that excites the Department of Energy.

No, the hydrogen economy doesn't exist yet. But researchers around the globe continue to ponder ways to produce, store and transport the stuff cheaply. Some car makers still maintain that hydrogen cars will come out within a decade or so.

A spin-out from Caltech, QuantumSphere also makes particles for rocket engines and other industrial applications. We wrote about them a few years ago here.

Nanoparticles for energy, explosions
Nanotechnology specialist QuantumSphere has developed technology that eventually could help heat homes--or blow them up.

The San Diego-based start-up has created a manufacturing process for producing small, stable metallic particles that consist of only a few atoms. By reducing the number of atoms per particle, manufacturers can better exploit the inherent properties of these elements in chemical reactions.

With aluminum, that means more powerful explosions. Munitions makers will likely be able to create aerial bombs that are smaller and lighter, but more powerful than current weapons. A rocket with nanoaluminum-enhanced fuel will reach a target velocity faster.

"It will accelerate to Mach 8 because of the higher burn rate," said Douglas Carpenter, chief scientific officer and co-founder of QuantumSphere. "If you can shoot someone down before they can shoot you, that is good."

By contrast, nanonickel could be used to replace platinum and other fairly expensive elements in catalytic converters and fuel cells. This shift could lead to cheaper hydrogen fuel cells for homes and cars in the growing alternative-energy market. Some Japanese manufacturers will come out with hydrogen fuel systems for homes in the first quarter of next year. Both metals can also be used in new types of coatings.

"Nickel is pretty much a garden-variety material," said QuantumSphere CEO Kevin Maloney. "It is a direct replacement for platinum."

NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and Ballard Power Systems, among others, are already customers.

As space-age as it sounds, nanotechnology--the science of making products out of components or molecules that measure less than 100 nanometers (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter)--has begun to sneak into the general market. Pants, bicycle components and car parts sprinkled with specialized nanoparticles have already, or soon will, come out. Socks with silver nanoparticles aim to prevent foot odor by killing bacteria.

Apple has the amazing ability to turn the mundane—opening a new branch of a store in this case—into an event.

Apple Store opening, 14th Street, New York

Apple has the amazing ability to turn the mundane—opening a new branch of a store in this case—into an event. I experienced this first hand with the opening of the 5th Avenue store in New York over a year ago. That gave me a few expectations heading into yesterday's grand opening of their new store on 14th street on the far West Side. But I thought there might be a number of key differences this time around that might thin the crowds somewhat.

For starters, the new store is now the third in Manhattan; the other two appear to be constantly packed (although I haven't visited the 24 hour one at four in the morning), so opening a third seems to be a no-brainer. Apple chose to put it in an area called the Meatpacking district (formerly home to slaughterhouses). This is an area that has recently become home to trendy clubs and restaurants, with a smattering of galleries and upscale boutiques.

So there was nothing like the first store's flagship status, nor the second's fantastic location and architectural distinction. There was simply no way that the third store was worth the same sort of attention. The timing of its opening wasn't brilliant, either, it being a Friday evening with the holidays closing in. Freezing temperatures and an afternoon dusting of snow should have intimidated people. I was all set for a far shorter line than the one I encountered at the 5th Avenue store opening. Man, was I ever mistaken.
I arrived a bit before 5pm, and the line was already huge. It looped around barricades down 14th Street at the store's entrance, turned north, and then headed halfway down the block on 15th street. I settled in at the end of the line, and people continued to stream in behind me. Eventually, Paul Kim of Noodlesoft joined me in line and held my place as I searched for its end. I caught sight of New Jersey before I finally came across the end of the line, which was now somewhere near where 14th ran into the West Side Highway. In between, police were busy trying to make sure cars could enter one of the few gas stations in Manhattan without running someone over; the owner appeared to be busy thanking them personally.
Aside from the area near the gas station, the back end of the line was largely self-organized and operated smoothly without any police or security involvement. Unfortunately, it all went to hell right near the store entrance, which had the largest concentration of security and police anywhere. Nobody bothered to put up barricades to separate the line from the intersection, and people simply piled in while the police and security announced that cutters were the other's responsibility.

Last opening, I published a picture of the lone line cutter I saw and was accused of racism; this time around, I'm pleased to report that the cutters belonged to nearly every ethnicity available. Pretty much the entire left third of the line in this photo has cut, and that included a woman who appeared to be a retiree. Probably the worst aspect of the cutters is that, after they squeezed into place, you were stuck standing next to someone who had just seriously pissed you off for an hour. The experience of waiting in these lines is largely based on who you are waiting with, especially when it's so cold that you're losing the feeling in your fingers. Therefore, standing next to someone you detest doesn't help matters.

Fortunately, my other neighbors in line (including Paul) had been excellent companions. When asked, most of them claimed they were whiling through several hours in the cold for the free stuff but—amazingly—they were mostly looking for t-shirts for other people. It was enough to raise my general opinion of humanity. A social worker that helps recovering addicts was there to nab one for her husband. Another, Melinda, was there because a friend, "the sortof close friend that you can't say no to," as she put it, had asked her to grab one. She'd dragged along a coworker in what was the first (and, quite possibly, the last) time they had decided to socialize outside the office.

I didn't have the heart to tell any of them that i suspected we were probably too far back in line to grab one (in part because I would have hated being wrong). Neither did a few of the other neighbors that had enough Apple Store experience to know as well. One man, an army brat who was from too many places to count, had been at 5th Ave. opening and iPhone day. Another couple, whose jobs had dragged them around the country, had hit opening days at local stores in about four different cities.

They made up a nice group to chat with as the line snaked towards the front of the store, where the cutters piled in and it became apparent that the line made a large loop down 14th St. Paul Kim reasonably decided that it was time for dinner, and the social worker started weighing the merits of grabbing a t-shirt on eBay. I started contemplating whether seeing the inside of the store in detail was really essential to this report.

Fortunately, at this point, conversation drifted in a way that brought up the fact that the multi-opening couple (the female half of which was warning the rest of us against succumbing to weakness and leaving) were scientists. One was now an administrator in the CUNY system, and we chatted a bit about alternate career paths for scientists. The other worked in the American Museum of Natural History on the phylogeny of the carnivores—we discussed whether I could stop by and see the working side of the museum.

Let that sink in for a second: I'm arranging possible science content for Ars while waiting in line at the Apple Store opening. I'm sure there's a message there somewhere, but what it is (beyond "don't send the Science Editor to cover Apple events") hasn't become clear to me yet.

That, plus the fact that my digits had gone numb, helped the remainder of the wait go quickly. Suddenly, we were rushing into the store. The women on my left, who had earlier convinced a pizza delivery guy to skip the actual delivery and sell it to them, were especially energetic. Unfortunately, they lost their footing during the rush, resulting in a multibody pile up. T-shirts were in fact gone, but Apple was still handing out posters in tubes with prize tokens inside, most of them $10 iTunes gift cards. This being one of those nights, I wound up with the iTunes card and a poster that had been ripped and crumpled a bit while being put in the tube. I'm very happy to report, though, that Melinda won an iPod Shuffle for her troubles.
While he was still around, Paul had indicated that the story would need a celebrity sighting. As time passed without one, he began suggesting that I could make one up; nobody would be able to say for sure that I was lying. I'm happy to report that Steven Colbert was in the store, and I have photos (above) to demonstrate it. Celebrity sighting—tick. Had I not been getting really hungry, I might have stopped and argued in favor of bears for a bit, but I decided not to interrupt his visit.

The store itself is nothing all that exceptional. It's got a corner location and large windows on the walls facing the street, giving it a much brighter, airier feel than the other two New York locations. Still, the building isn't architecturally distinguished, and there wasn't a lot Apple could do about that without replacing it. The interior has the same clean, uncluttered look of the rest of the stores.

The now-mandatory glass spiral staircase was impressive at two stories, but nothing out of the ordinary in Apple Store terms. If anything, it looks like Apple, compelled by its gradually rising market share, might have devoted a bit more space to computers in this store—there were two floors of computers to one devoted to iPods, and that's without any towers in sight. The new professional tutoring section was closed for the night, but indicated with signs. Possibly the most notable thing about the store, however, is how little I can find to say about it.

The only other thing worth mentioning is the location. The neighborhood is mostly notable for its nightlife, and it seems pretty unlikely that clubgoers are going to mean big business for an electronics store that closes at midnight. There are some galleries and clothing shops in the immediate area, too, but they appeared likely to be catering to an exclusive and small clientele. In short, it doesn't look like the store has been placed in a location with a pre-existing, Apple-oriented shopping audience in place.
So, the store is going to have to pull shoppers in on its own merits. Right now, nearly any retail location in New York will be doing well thanks to the incredibly weak dollar. Still, there are no other tourist attractions nearby, so I expect that the out-of-country shopping crowd will mostly give this branch a miss. That is a disappointment, since I was hoping it might reduce the crowds at the 5th Avenue location, which is easiest for me to reach.

The last factor that argues against a large audience for the new location is the fact that it's a long walk west from most of the subway lines, something that was driven home as I slogged across town to Union Square to catch the train that would get me closest to my apartment. On the platform, I saw someone walking my way carrying one of the boxes that had the elusive t-shirts, and I half-contemplated pleading with him on behalf of the social worker (I had her husband's phone number from when I loaned her my cell phone to call him). At that moment, I was distracted by a rat scurrying past on the tracks below; my attention lingered as it scampered past a $10 iTunes gift card that someone else had decided wasn't worth the effort and thrown onto the tracks. By the time I looked back up, the t-shirt and its new owner were gone.

the federal government’s nuclear weapons laboratories may have originated in China

China Link Suspected in Lab Hacking

A cyber attack reported last week by one of the federal government’s nuclear weapons laboratories may have originated in China, according to a confidential memorandum distributed Wednesday to public and private security officials by the Department of Homeland Security.

Security researchers said the memorandum, which was obtained by The New York Times from an executive at a private company, included a list of Web and Internet addresses that were linked to locations in China. However, they noted that such links did not prove that the Chinese government or Chinese citizens were involved in the attacks. In the past, intruders have compromised computers in China and then used them to disguise their true location.

Officials at the lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, said the attacks did not compromise classified information, though they acknowledged that they were still working to understand the full extent of the intrusion.

The Department of Homeland Security distributed the confidential warning to computer security officials on Wednesday after what it described as a set of “sophisticated attempts” to compromise computers used by the private sector and the government.

Government computer security officials said the warning, which was issued by the United States Computer Emergency Response Team, known as US-CERT, was related to an October attack that was also disclosed last week by officials at the Oak Ridge laboratory.

According to a letter to employees written by the laboratory’s director, Thom Mason, an unknown group of attackers sent targeted e-mail messages to roughly 1,100 employees as part of the ruse.

“At this point, we have determined that the thieves made approximately 1,100 attempts to steal data with a very sophisticated strategy that involved sending staff a total of seven ‘phishing’ e-mails, all of which at first glance appeared legitimate,” he wrote in an e-mail message sent to employees on Monday. “At present we believe that about 11 staff opened the attachments, which enabled the hackers to infiltrate the system and remove data.”

In a statement posted on the laboratory’s Web site, the agency stated: “The original e-mail and first potential corruption occurred on October 29, 2007. We have reason to believe that data was stolen from a database used for visitors to the Laboratory.”

The laboratory said the attackers were able to gain access to a database containing personal information about visitors to the laboratory going back to 1990.

The US-CERT advisory, which was not made public, stated: “The level of sophistication and the scope of these cyber security incidents indicate that they are coordinated and targeted at private sector systems.”

The US-CERT memo referred to the use of e-mail messages that fool employees into clicking on documents that then permit attackers to plant programs in their computers. These programs are then able to copy and forward specific data — like passwords — to remote locations.

Despite improvements in computer security, phishing attacks are still a big problem. In the case of the Oak Ridge intrusion, the e-mail messages were made to seem authentic. One described a scientific conference and another referred to a Federal Trade Commission complaint.

Computer security researchers cautioned that despite the US-CERT description of the attacks as sophisticated, such threats are frequently undertaken by amateur computer hackers.

Classified federal computer networks are not supposed to be connected physically to the open Internet. Even so, sensitive data like employee e-mail databases can easily be compromised once access is gained to computers inside federal agencies.

Hackers Breach Security at Major U.S. Labs
In a major development that has raised concerns about security for American military laboratories, hackers managed to hack into the computer systems of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, two of the most vital scientific labs in the United States.

While some details are available about the attack on the Oak Ridge lab, not much is known about the attack on the Los Alamos facility. This lab is considered a sister institution of the one at Oak Ridge. Scientists believe the two attacks are interlinked, though there is not enough information to confirm the attack on the Los Alamos facility was totally successful.

Even though there is no official word to the effect that the attack on the Los Alamos lab was successful, there are pointers that indicate this to be the case. For instance, a lab spokesman earlier said the staff had received information about an attempted breach on November 9, which was just a few days after the attacks at the Oak Ridge facility.

One can surmise that the notification could only mean that the attack had been successful, and that there had been attacks on other laboratories across the U.S. as well. There is no information yet, however, on whether the hackers had targeted other laboratories across the United States as well.

An Oak Ridge spokesman said the attacks occurred in the form of phishing e-mails with malicious attachments that the hackers sent to the e-mail ids of personnel working at the lab. The general assumption currently is that these attachments, if opened, would have resulted in the release of Trojans that had the ability to sidestep all the security systems in place at the lab internally. The first wave of attacks started on October 29.

Describing the attack on the Oak Ridge laboratory as a ‘sophisticated cyber attack’, a lab spokesman said the hackers had gained access to a database the lab maintained about visitors to the lab between 1990 and 2004. The visitors’ information on the database included vital data such as their birth dates and social security numbers.

Thom Mason, the director of the Oak Ridge lab, said the hacking attempt as a ‘coordinated attempt to gain access to computer networks at numerous laboratories and other institutions across the country.’ He said the lab could not give out any more details about the attacks for a while, till they were able to understand exactly what the attack was all about, as the whole matter was of a highly sensitive nature.

What makes the hacking of the Oak Ridge lab computers all the more worrisome is the fact that about 3,000 people visit the lab each year, and the visitors’ list here makes up literally the who’s who of the U.S. science community.

The Oak Ridge lab serves multiple purposes. This science laboratory specifically dabbles in military research, and is where the technological expertise that the homeland security people use originates. It also is home to one of the fastest supercomputers in the whole world.
The Los Alamos lab is another multipurpose lab, though its area of specialization is specifically research in nuclear weapons. Currently it is one of only two labs in the U.S. working on an issue of such a highly sensitive nature.

However, over the years, security at Los Alamos has become somewhat of a laughing matter, with a number of security breaches being recorded over the past few years. As recently as August this year, the lab apparently released highly sensitive data related to nuclear research over e-mail. Again, in 2006, a USB data stick with information on nuclear weapons tests had been recovered from a drug dealer.

The latest attack is another blot on the security apparatus at Los Alamos. What is more worrying probably is the fact that the two attacks on the two different facilities could be part of one coherent and cohesive plan possibly involving a rival government. Another possibility, all the more worrying, is that the theft of data could merely be a cover for something much more serious.

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